Good Times in Buenos Aires

Trip Start Sep 15, 2006
Trip End ??? ??, 2007

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Where I stayed
Plaza Hotel

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

My cousin in London hooked us up with her friend Maria in Buenos Aires, so we had a place to crash when we arrived late Saturday night.  Maria was away on vacation, but had invited us to use her place anyway and care for her cat.  She'd left the keys to the apartment with Paulo, who worked in the duty-free shop, and the first thing we had to do after clearing immigration was find him.  "Paulo?", we guessed to the youngest employee in the shop.  Nope, not him.  His manager knew Paulo, who was working somewhere else, and went to fetch him.  We got a big set of keys and help getting a bus into town from Paulo, not to mention a little education on Argentinian hellos.  Handshake for the guys, kiss on the right cheek for the ladies. 

On the way into town, we kept noticing how nice everything looked.  Clean, well-lit highways, pretty billboards.  We felt like we were back in the States. 
After only a few minutes of fumbling with the keys, we were inside Maria's small but cozy place, and getting to know Margarito, her crazy cat.  He was definitely a stalker, attacking the tops of plants, toothbrushes, and everything else.  But his personality was sweet, and his claws, though sharp, never did any damage.  Standoffish at first, he relented sometime in the night, rubbing against my head while purring in my ear.  Whoa, fellow, I'm married.  Then I awoke later with him sleeping across my neck like a still-breathing mink. 

I don't know why I have this effect on cats, but it always happens.  They might try to stay away, but they just can't help it, they're drawn to me.  Perhaps I sweat catnip.  But I'm not complaining.  With the news of Mikey's still so recent, a furry companion in the night is comforting.  Even if this one is kneading it's claws in my armpit.  Ow, that tickles!
In the morning, we lazed around for a while and didn't get up and out until nearly noon.  Turns out, there's nothing to miss on Sunday in Buenos Aires.  The streets are empty and most of the businesses are closed behind locked steel doors. 

Recoleta Cemetery was nearby, so we strolled among the mausoleums for a while, eventually spotting the crowd staring at Eva Peron's.  We walked over and gawked for a bit.  The individuality of the tombs was incredible.  No two were alike, and the design of each one gave clues about what the occupant must have been like.  Some immense and imposing, others a bit fanciful.  One looked like a bank vault.  His relatives must not want that guy getting out again. 

We wandered in the direction of the docks, checked on ferry fares to Uruguay, then continued to Puerto Madras, the dockside tourist district where business is hopping even on Sunday.  The restaurants looked nice, but were a bit beyond today's budget.  Still, we enjoyed reading the menus and savoring the smells drifting across the sidewalk from the tables outside. 

A Sunday antiques fair captured Cierra's attention after lunch, so we pressed in with the rest of the crowds.  Cierra was looking at the wares, I was examining the people selling.  Rastafarians and hippies chatted with each other behind the sidewalk blankets covered with junk.  Cierra bought some glass earrings for next to nothing.  A Tango demonstration caught our eye and we watched as the man pulled a Chinese tourist from the audience and danced with her while his partner rested. 

On our way back to Maria's, an ice cream place drew us in with its unusual atmosphere.  The plain decor reminded of a small-town coin-op laundry from the 70's.  Surely if this place was in business, they made great ice cream.  We bought a cup of Swiss Chocolate and had a delicious treat.

The next day, we skipped breakfast, planning to save up for a great buffet lunch that came recommended by another traveler we'd met.  Instead, we went to write in a nearby park and provided breakfast for the local mosquito population, numerous and vicious beyond belief.  They were big, fast, and left welts the size of dimes on your arms.  After a minute or two of swatting, we ran back to write indoors.

It took over an hour to walk back to the port area and the fancy restaurant that Cierra was treating me to for a late Valentine's Day meal.  A huge buffet piled high with salads, sushi, cheeses and meat had us loading up our plates.  Delicious.  Waiters came up to our table with meats from the grill on a 3 foot skewer, and would slice off a healthy portion for anyone at the table who didn't protest.  They seemed disappointed in us when we started to run out of room and refuse their offerings.  Then, after we were completely stuffed, dessert... delicious chocolate and raspberry confections that nearly made us late for our next appointment.

Cierra's little brother Krin had come to Buenos Aires on a vacation with his friend's family, the Peases.  We were supposed to meet them at the Plaza Hotel at 4 pm.  We got there at 3:59, to see Krin circling the block.  He looked right past us and kept going back into the lobby of the hotel, so we snuck in after him and almost got close enough to jump on top of him when he sensed us and turned around.  Well, if we can't get a sneak attack in, we'll settle for a great big hug from Krin. 

We settled in with everyone in the plush hotel room, and waited for family patriarch Rick to return from his business meeting.  Sharon Pease delivered a big cookie care package from Cierra's mom with a smile.  Always generous, Cierra tried to share it immediately, but there were no takers, and Sharon explained they'd gotten a care package too, just to make sure they didn't eat ours. 

When Rick returned, we started to get an idea of what the family dynamic was like as he good-naturedly ribbed his son Brandon, and his two friends Matt and Krin.  When we all left the hotel for a stroll, we walked past a McDonald's.  Rick and Matt had to stop and get their picture taken in front of it. 

I should stop here and mention that Rick is a business executive, who each year puts in enough airline miles to make the traveling we've done look like a trip to the corner grocery to pick up eggs.  Despite this, he still appears delighted to find himself in front of one of the approximately 6 million McDonald's franchises springing up like dandelions all over the globe.  Turns out, Rick has a tradition where he must eat at McDonald's at least once in every country he visits.  We successfully got him to pass that one up, but when a couple blocks after, a second pair of golden arches appeared, with a third in the distance, he started to argue it was a sign from God.  I burst out laughing.  Later, Rick teased that he was tempted not to share his purchase because I made fun of his beliefs.  No, no... I would never do that, Rick.  Believe what you will.  But if you look at the nutrition information, you might find some evidence that McDonald's is not working with God.  Maybe with the Grim Reaper. 

Sharon has been reading this thing the whole time we've been gone, and she was kind enough to tell me some lies about how it's all hilarious and that I haven't been going on and on past all interest.  Which means that you'll all have plenty of blather to sift through in the future, I'm afraid, but it was awfully nice of her to say.

After a short tour of the type we've become accustomed to, (pointing and staring at the outside of important buildings), we returned to the hotel and said goodbye as they all headed out to dinner.  Still full from our lunch, we bought a bottle of wine for just over a dollar, and went back to Maria's for a nightcap.

I slept late the next day and we barely had time to wash up before hoofing it over to the Plaza to meet everyone for the city tour Rick had booked.  Our guide was Laura, and she was a live wire.  Among the little self-revelations included in her audio-tour: I like to break the law while driving, and I don't like Uruguayans.  Despite the way this makes her seem, she was actually quite nice and funny, and gave a great tour.  She took us into the Cathedral, kept breaking the rules by talking (such a rebel!), and then to the Italian neighborhood La Boca, where Cierra got to dance the tango with a street performer.  She did really well, and if it wasn't for the embarrassed look on her face, it would have appeared effortless.

We went to Recoleta cemetery for a second look at Evita's tomb, and were joined by a in a green shirt for the whole time.  Usually when Cierra and I mooch off someone else's English-speaking guide, we're really discreet, following at a distance and pretending to be looking at other stuff while they're talking.  This was right in the middle of the group the whole time, and even asked some questions.  If Laura hadn't said goodbye to her when we were walking towards the van, she might have gotten a ride to the Plaza as well!

Saying farewell to Laura, we struck out on foot for lunch.  Rick had decided to treat us all to the Argentinian parrilla experience.  Another huge hunk of meat later, I was sated for the day, and great conversations caused the hours to speed by unnoticed, until we finally stumbled away a bit after midnight.  They were all returning to Uruguay in the morning and we would stay in Argentina for a bit longer.  We gave Krin another big hug in the lobby and said goodbye for a couple of months.  After how long we've been gone, a few months seems like nothing, but it's hard to say goodbye to family after such a short time together.

We were going to walk in some gardens the following morning, but rain drove us into museums.  First, a visit to an art museum, then one focusing on the life of Evita.  What a forceful and purposeful woman, what a life cut tragically short. I had no idea of the changes she made in Argentinian society, nor that she died of cancer at only 33.

We went back to wait for Maria's return and watched her patio fill with the rainwater.  Maria danced in after dark and we finally got to meet our benefactor! A really friendly and energetic person, we made fast friends, and Cierra was able to give back a bit with some tips for a new pet owner.  But Maria's place is pretty small, and there wasn't room for us all, so we left to search out a hostel.

The one we found was in a very old place with impossibly high ceilings, eighteen feet at least.  The ceilings were high but prices were low, due to the renovations that continued while the owner tried to replenish the structure's faded beauty.

One of our roommates had promised his alarm would rouse us before 9, but instead it was me shaking him awake at quarter past, him late for work and us late for our appointment with nothing at all.  We strapped on our packs and headed to the bus station.

We thought we would go to a small town in the countryside called Tandil, but on arrival at the station, the soonest bus was in 2 hours, and the trip took 5.  So we decided to go to Rosario instead, birthplace of Che Guevara, and that's all we had time to look up in the guidebook, because the bus was leaving right away.
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