A Change in Schedules

One of the toughest changes of Argentina has been adapting to the daily schedule. We still get up and go to work six days a week. We still eat three square meals a day. But everything is a little… off.

For example–store hours. I’m not quite sure when things are open and when they are closed. Since almost every store in the town is a mom and pop venture, they choose their hours seemingly at random.  Not much is open past 1pm on Sundays, and there’s a siesta period every afternoon where all the stores are closed.  But, beyond that, it’s a gamble if the store you’d like to visit is actually open. Most people run their errands at night this time of year (a combination of Ituzaingo being a tourist town and that it’s been in the high 90 degrees most of the time we have been here), and some stores are open later into the night. Errands often require multiple tries for us to find the store open, and someone at the counter.

Even more than the store hours, we’ve found the meal schedule to be perplexing to our American stomachs. Breakfast and lunch are reasonable. Lunch normally comes from the on-site cafeteria, and tends to be either spaghetti, lomito (steak), or milanesa (veal), often with a “salad” of rice, carrots, and tomatoes. It’s much heartier than I’m used to eating… but they need all the nourishment they can get.  Dinner isn’t normally served until 10pm in Argentina–and we’ve gotten quite a few “Oh, you silly Americans” looks from servers when we show up at a restaurant at 8pm. (On a side note, I know I’ve seen multiple articles back in the States saying that if you eat past 9pm, you’re doomed nutritionally. Clearly, the Argentinian press has not picked up on these articles.)

The whole concept of time seems to run slower here. It is very much a mañana (tomorrow) culture, without the constant pressure to provide immediate gratification one sees in the States.  Although people are incredibly friendly here, they don’t rush. There isn’t the pressure to run from one activity to another to another after work. If we have errands, we try to do them. If we can’t… there’s always another day.  (Frustratingly, this attitude seems to be amplified within government bureaucracy. But more on that adventure in another post.)

With the exception of still not being quite used to 10pm dinners, the change in pace has been a good one. After a 2013 full of stress and deadlines (planning a wedding, going on the honeymoon, buying a new car, buying a new house, and packing everything up for the Argentina move), we are glad to have the time to sit in the evenings and catch up on reading and personal work.

Capybaras or Carpinchos

It is no surprise to anyone who knows me that I have a soft spot for most rodents. (Minus rats, which I attribute to horrible experiences in the L’Enfant metro station in DC. Sorry, Clara.)

Argentina happens to be home to the largest rodent in the world. Known in the US as a capybara, down here they are called carpinchos.  Looking vaguely like a brown, webbed-foot guinea pig, they live near water in groups of 10-20 and can weigh more than 75 lbs when fully grown. And, more importantly, they are the most judgmental animals known to man.  Mr. Winks can look incredibly judgmental of what you’re eating for dinner, the movie you’ve chosen to watch, or what time you’re going to bed, and he is only about 3 lbs. Multiply that, and give them wilderness street smarts… and you’ve got a highly judgmental giant rodent. Or I could just be projecting.

Watch out for capybaras! And marsh deer. And jacares.

Watch out for capybaras! And marsh deer. And jacares.

On our way to work, T and I pass through a wildlife preserve with a sign that encourages us to not hit the wildlife, including capybaras, marsh deer, and jacares (a type of crocodile).  We spent the first week trying to see a herd of capybaras. The locals seem to afford them the same attitude that Pennsylvanians have towards white-tailed deer: adorable, and even tasty, but don’t hit them unless you would like to get a new car.

We saw herds of what we were sure were capybara in the distance (or, for all we know, could have been anything vaguely brown and round-ish). But last week, we hit the jackpot. Driving home, we saw a herd of capys right next to the guard rail. And not just a herd–a family! What follows are photographic evidence of 1) how tolerant T is of my obsession with rodents that he backed up, turned around the car, and stuck his head out of the window to get photos of them, and 2) how adorable capys are.

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Capybaras can actually be pets in the US, albeit only in the most exotic-friendly states. They can be trained to wear leashes, but they would probably be a horrible pet to clean up after. They prefer to do their business in water, so they need to have access to a pool. Which one then has to clean for them.  However, much like their smaller guinea pig cousins, they have wiry hair, enjoy eating lots of veggies, and tolerate people petting them. According to the Google (through which all things must be true), however, capybaras hate hugs.

At some point T and I plan on going to the fancy-schmancy hotel outside of Posadas and getting the full wildlife tour they offer.

The weather here has gotten slightly cooler. Whereas early last week was easily 100 degrees, it’s a chilly 85 out there now after some strong storms over the weekend. We spent the weekend watching “Los Simpsons” and “Que Esperar quando Esperando” (What to Expect When You’re Expecting) on Fox. A fun adventure in learning colloquial Spanish from a show and movie we already knew the storyline to.

Something that is blessedly similar worldwide–technology jargon!  Everyone knows what an iPhone is. Everyone can identify the word “internet.” They all know “wifi.”  Thank goodness for the importation of American jargon. I actually used the word “user-friendly” in a meeting today when I couldn’t possibly think of the Spanish equivalent, and the tech guy totally understood what I was saying.

As a final note, I remembered that T took a picture of us in the plane on his iPod right before we took off. Here we are in all of our traveling glory:

Delta time! BWI to ATL

Delta time! BWI to ATL

Ciao!

Getting Down Here… otherwise known as, Aerolineas has a unique attitude on customer service

Well, we made it! At least the two humans did. I know I am way behind in actually getting this blog up and running, but I figure I can just do mini updates every day, and hopefully get myself caught up to date shortly.

The rules of air travel for pets indicate you have to book your animal’s flight about a week before you leave. Basically, this lines up with how the animal needs to be seen, and approved by, a USDA vet before it can travel on a plane. Delta, bless them, deals with pets fairly often, and were more than happy to help me figure out the details to get Tesla down to Buenos Aires. Aerolineas, the domestic Argentinian airway we needed to use to get from Buenos Aires to Posadas, was less than helpful. I have never spoken to a human being there, but have been on hold with them numerous times. (Pro Tip: Their phone system times out after 30 minutes on hold. However, they do respond to grumpy Facebook messages. Not helpfully, but at least they respond.)  Anyway–the day after Christmas, I decided I would try to book Tesla’s ticket–only to find that Aerolineas had suddenly changed their pet policy from “ok, sure, just have a health certificate and they have to go in the cargo hold” to “we are never dealing with animals ever again.”

As a result, Tesla is vacationing with my parents (Thanks, Mom and Dad!) along with Mr. Winks  the guinea pirate until we are set up in our house and can drive the 11.5 hours to Buenos Aires to pick him up from the international airport.

So, sans rabbit, we left the US on Jan. 6 with a grand total of 5 checked bags and four carry-ons. The flight from BWI to Atlanta was non-eventful (my favorite type of flight!), and we really lucked out on our 10.5 hour flight from Atlanta to Buenos Aires. T and I got stuck in the two middle seats of a four seat row. Blessedly, one person didn’t show up, so T got to stretch his legs out and try to catch some sleep. (We were both incredibly sleep deprived–packing up everything for the storage container and getting the house ready for long-term maintenance was not an easy task.)

Ezeiza Airport is the international airport in Buenos Aires. It’s not great, but not bad either. We grabbed our bags and tried to get through customs… which was a mess. (Or, as they say here, a quilombo.)  There is no strict attention to rules, and the line of hundreds of people trying to get through the xray machines at customs was snaking around the baggage carousels and into itself at several points. Combine tired travelers from a number of early morning arriving international flights with the Argentinian habit of not taking rules very seriously… and you get the idea. The airport personnel didn’t seem very fazed when everyone started clapping in unison (which is apparently the Argentinian way to expressing displeasure at a situation–exactly what an American audience does if a show is running really late, but they use it for any instance of group disapproval).

T procured a taxi for us to take to Buenos Aires. You don’t just pick up a taxi on the street here–you use remises, which can be anything from a normal taxi, to a towncar, to a minivan. You pay the gentleman at the remises counter, and he personally introduces you to your driver. You don’t have to pay the driver anything else–but a tip is always appreciated. If you just grab a cab from the curb, you’re liable to end up in an unsavory neighborhood with the price suddenly increasing ten-fold. In other words, it ends poorly.

We had time to kill in Buenos Aires, and visited the company lawyers to work out some of our visa paperwork. I wish I would have taken photos as we were driving around in the taxi–but I was absolutely exhausted. The outskirts of Buenos Aires are filled with high-rise shacks, to be honest. It was not a very welcoming sight, but made for some interesting vistas.  Downtown Buenos Aires was much more like downtown Washington, DC–although I’ve heard Buenos Aires referred to as “The Paris of South America.”  Lots of stores and restaurants, lots of tall buildings, and surprisingly a lot of very pretty little parks and public spaces. We saw the building with Eva Peron’s (Evita) face on it and an obelisk whose name and importance escapes me right now.

After our interlude with the lawyers, we hustled over to Aeroparque, the domestic airport of Buenos Aires. Much smaller, it mainly handles Aerolineas and LAN flights. We grabbed dinner and waited for our flight. Thomas had warned me that Aerolineas was not very good about taking off on time, so we were prepared for that.

Security is different than in the states. You don’t take off your shoes, belt, or have to take out your liquids. They are more interested in your technology–since there is a huge market to smuggle technology from the US. Argentina taxes imported tech almost 100%, making iPods, phones, laptops incredibly expensive. Another difference–the TV screen above security that discusses all of the desaparecidos (missing people) in the area. Buenos Aires is not nearly as crime ridden as some other Latin American cities–but the sex trade is rampant throughout the entire continent, and Argentina is no different.

We walked through the mall portion of the terminal to get to our gate, and waited. Once we finally got on the plane (which was late, of course), we settled in and were prepared to be almost to our destination in about an hour and half. WRONG. We encountered some turbulence, and started descending. I woke Thomas up, thinking we were close to landing. Just then, the pilot announced “Sorry–we’ve been circling Posadas, but can’t land. We’re going back to Buenos Aires.” Groans all around. Another hour and a half back, and I thought we would just grab two tickets for the next flight, possibly get a voucher for food and/or a hotel, and move on with our lives. WRONG AGAIN. Aerolineas, although a member of the SkyTeam alliance, doesn’t seem to follow their rule of “at least be nice to the customer.”  I ran over to the counter as soon as we landed, only to be told “No, that flight isn’t cancelled.”  My response: “I was on that flight. It was supposed to go to Posadas. I am not in Posadas, and neither are the other passengers. Therefore, the flight is, by any definition, cancelled.” Their response was that I should wait around, checking every few minutes with them, as to if the flight would be cancelled or if they would try again that night (and it was already close to 9:30pm at that point).  Once they cancelled the flight (which I only learned about by maniacally refreshing the Aerolineas webpage), it took another few hours to get our bags on a carrousel and to rebook our tickets for the next morning. No refund, no hotel voucher, no meal voucher. Since T and I had an endless amount of luggage and it took two normal size taxis to transport everything, we had to spend the night in the food court of the airport.  Blessedly, we had wifi, plenty of books on our kindles, and there were some very fluffy seats to lay on in one of the cafes.

Our tower of luggage and table full of tech while stuck for the night at Aeroparque.

Our tower of luggage and table full of tech while stuck for the night at Aeroparque.

By the time we finally made it to Posadas the next morning, we were tired of travel. We left on Monday at noon, and arrived on Wednesday at noon. Then–we had to pick up the rental car and load up the taxi with the rest of the luggage. Because nothing is simple in Argentina, or at least in their travel, the car battery was dead, and we had to push start it. It is an hour’s drive from Posadas to Ituzaingo.

The landscape is filled with flat land, filled with scrub mixed with trees planted in straight lines–the clear marker of land clearcut previously. I wasn’t sure if it was for timber or for cattle, because both were in abundance and likely targets.

We’re currently staying in the Manantiales Hotel and Casino.  The casino is not like Atlantic City. It’s more like “we have a room that just so happens to have casino games of chance.”  The people there are nice, very used to the small parade of Americans our company sends to stay in their hotel, and tolerant of our limited Spanish.

In sum, when travelling to Argentina–be prepared for nonsense, at least once you’re in the country.