Welcome to the Big City

Trip Start Aug 26, 2007
Trip End Jan 05, 2008

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Friday, September 7, 2007

I had mixed feelings as I was leaving El Calafate and heading to Buenos Aires. I had lost and found my fear in the Chilean desert, loved life and the end of the world in the Patagonia, got slapped in the face by high altitude in Bolivia and befriended and eaten a sheep in Argentina glacier country! What possible adventure could Buenos Aires, the so called "Paris of the South" really bring me? I was extremely skeptical as I boarded my taxi and headed for the airport.

The taxi driver looked at me in fright when I mentioned that I was going to Buenos Aires by myself.

"A lone woman, by herself, in Buenos Aires? That is sooooo dangerous." he commented in Spanish as if he couldn't imagine a worse fate. I dared to ask him why and he proceeded to tell me every criminal horror story he could think of that involved naive tourists and a city full of people out to get them! He described well-known scams from which there was seemingly no escape.

"I'm not trying to scare you, just please, whatever you do, don't go to crowded places, out at night, or ride taxi cabs! They are NOT safe. Here's what they do, once you're in the cab, they make a call to their accomplices and use code words to let them know they have a passenger to mug. They then purposefully drive to where the accomplice is and pretend not to have anything to do with the car jacking/mugging. They take everything from you and if you're lucky, they don't hurt you."

At this point, I was tired, slightly sleepy and starting to get a bit homesick. I briefly considered staying in El Calafate for a few extra days and skipping Buenos Aires all together, just to not have to deal with the big city horrors described by my Patagonia taxi driver. Then I pulled myself together and remembered that I was a tough chick and could deal with anything Buenos Aires had to dish. I was born in the Bronx, damnit, and grew up in some of the toughest Providence neighborhoods, including the most dangerous projects and managed to walk away unscathed. I thanked the taxi driver for his advice and boarded my plane to the city of Evita Peron.

I arrived in Buenos Aires and the local airport experience was (gasp!) smooth and wonderful. The mob of maliants looking to prey on tourists consisted of ZERO people. There was not 1 single vendor or aggressive sign waver greeting the people leaving the airport. Matter of fact, there was a series of organized booths where you could request a "remise", which is a car service. It's only a tiny fraction more expensive than a taxi, but you pay in advance and the cars are extremely comfortable. To give you an example, my hotel in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Palermo was about 25 minutes away and the ride only cost me $10. A small price to pay, given I was still a bit unnerved about the taxis, though they looked perfectly normal to me as I saw them all over the city.

When I arrived in my hotel, I was happy to take a nap and then set about exploring my new home for the next few days. Palermo, is one of the biggest Buenos Aires neighborhoods and was very charming. I walked and explored to get my bearings, all while stopping in eclectic neighborhood shops and getting recommendations as I created my itinerary for the next few days. I felt completely safe the entire time I was there and exercised the same common sense I have in any big city I'm in, whether it is New York, Barcelona or Paris. It hasn't failed me yet. Rule #1, blend in at all costs. Walk as if I know where I'm going, even if I'm desperately lost. NEVER pull any guide book or tourist map in public. If I get lost, which happens often, I go to a restaurant restroom or internet cafe booth and pull out my map there in private, figure out where I am and then head back out to the streets, confident and headstrong.

The next morning, the friendly front desk staff at my wonderful budget hotel, helped me map out a walking route to the major Buenos Aires sites. Given how spread out the city is, they also included the subway (known as the "Subte") stops. The walk to the subway station was 45 minutes, but felt like forever. The temperature in Buenos Aires was an extremely warm, muggy and humid 88 degrees. I was also surprised by how much smoking occurred in public places. All of the health benefits I reaped from spending the last 10 days hiking, walking and climbing in Chile, Bolivia and the South of Argentina, were wiped out by the 3-day inhalation of second hand smoke and city car fumes from all of the traffic! I'm just going to come out and say it. I hated Buenos Aires. It's not that I couldn't appreciate the beautiful architecture, but after spending such wonderful soul-finding moments embracing nature, deserts, mountains, lakes and ice, I just couldn't get into the whole big city thing. As much as it looked like Paris, the love I felt for the real Paris just couldn't be replicated without being in France. Buenos Aires also had a very different feel to it than Paris did. My favorite, actually, was the political feel to it. There was political graffiti everywhere and though it wasn't always pretty, I loved some of the statements. There was also a very moving political protest at the white house (which is pink!) and I felt moved by how involved the citizens of Buenos Aires are in letting the government here their voice. I absolutely loved learning about Evita Peron and her history by visiting the museum created to honor her life.

I took all of the obligatory pictures, but I just couldn't get into it. It also didn't help that I was feeling homesick the whole time I was in Buenos Aires and was relieved that my first trip back home was coming up in less than a week. I was coming home to celebrate my 30th birthday and the day couldn't come soon enough!! In the meantime, I was excited about my upcoming day trip to Uruguay and I had high hopes for my last day in Buenos Aires.
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