Buenos Aires–Puerto Madero

T and I got back on Sunday from an excellent tourist trip to Buenos Aires! The past few times we’ve been there, we didn’t really see any of the tourist sites (and the immigration office sure isn’t a tourist site). We had a few days off due to Paraguayan holidays, so we decided on a whim to buy bus tickets and see some of the more famous sites. I’ll probably break the trip down into a few posts.

First, the bus. We took the bus from Ituzaingo to the Retiro Bus Station in Buenos Aires. All in all, it was about a 13 hour trip. The long-distance buses in Argentina are less of the sketchy Greyhound variety, and more of an Amtrak train that just so happens to have wheels. There are different levels of buses, and each bus tends to be all of the same level. We chose a “cama” option, which meant that our seats were much larger than normal, had a foot rest that folded down, and reclined to a nearly flat position. You can go even higher to the “cama ejecutivo” option, which allows you to completely recline your seat into a bed in your own pod (something we may consider for the next time). We also got dinner and breakfast, plus drinks while we rode. They showed a movie–one the way down to Buenos Aires it was some unidentified movie in English, and coming back we saw “Captain Phillips”.  The buses are all double decker, with a bathroom on the lower floor and an RV-style kitchen on the top floor. We had the front seats on the top level, so we had a birds-eye view of the road, when we didn’t have the curtains drawn. We found the bus to be a good option–significantly cheaper than the flight to BA (which is about $345USD round trip) and much more comfortable. We had plenty of places for our luggage, and could stretch out fairly well. T was still uncomfortable in the seat and didn’t get much sleep–which is why we may just suck it up and try the “cama ejecutivo” the next time.

Not my photo--courtesy of rumbofamiliar.com

Not my photo–courtesy of rumbofamiliar.com

Not my photo. Courtesy of metroflog.com

Not my photo. Courtesy of metroflog.com

We got to Retiro Bus Station at about 8am, and walked from the station to the Sheraton Convention Center, which was only a few blocks away. If you visit BA and decide to take a bus, do know this–the bus station backs up against a favela, a highly impoverished shantytown. There’s a wall that separates the favela from the actual bus station, but I can’t imagine it’s a good place to be at night. In general, watch yourself and your personal belongings well at Retiro–I counted no less than five people actively begging, and a few other suspicious characters roaming around.

The Sheraton, on the other hand, has become one of our favorite experiences. We got a good deal on the club level rooms through Travelocity, which affords us snacks, breakfast, and some excellent views. The Sheraton is well appointed, most staff speak English, and in general is a lovely experience. Also, the breakfast is American-style (which means eggs, bacon, sausage–PROTEIN!).  Normally, an Argentinian breakfast is all about the pastries. The breakfast on the bus, for example, was crackers and alfajores.

One of the places on our list of “things to see” that came highly recommended by our Argentinian colleagues was Puerto Madero. Indeed a port, the area was used in the 19th century to accept cargo ships, but was phased out when the Port of Buenos Aires was finished in the 1920s. It quickly fell into neglect, and for quite a while was an unsavory neighborhood, although only a few blocks away from some of the most important government buildings near Plaza del Mayo.  In the 1990s, a massive redevelopment effort was launched, and today Puerto Madero is the most modern portion of the city we’ve seen. It feels strongly like Inner Harbor in Baltimore–even down to having TGIFriday’s. (For those interested–the menu is exactly the same to that as its US version.)  We were appreciative of the clean, new walkways, the nicely spread out benches, and the gleaming buildings–but it felt a little too much like the US at times. (Perhaps this is why our Argentinian colleagues liked it–several lived in the US for a few years, and remark about how they miss some of the commercialization.)

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It was pretty interesting how they left a lot of the cranes intact around the port–giving the area a very old-meets-new vibe. There were also a lot of little “extras” in the neighborhood–like a fitness park on one side for able-bodied people and one on the other focusing on those who were handicapped.

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While we were at Puerto Madero, we paid our two pesos each and visited the Buque Museo Fragata A.R.A. “Presidente Sarmiento” which is a museum ship in Puerto Madero. It was built for the Argentinian Navy, and is one of ht elast intact training ships from the 1890s. It is named after Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, who was the seventh president of Argentina.  We had a good time walking around the ship and exploring, and of course T spent a lot of time in the engine room poking around at the boilers and bearings.

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The Sarmiento went on a number of cruising voyages in its career, including a number to the US. There was a picture of President Taft with the ship’s crew in one of the exhibitions. Also, there was a mildly creepy taxidermied dog (T: “That can’t be a dog. That has to be a wolf.” S: “Nope. Perro. Mascota. Dog. Pet. Totally lived on this ship once.”) as well as a single torpedo.

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Of course, we got an exciting photo of T steering the ship.

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There was a barbershop on the ship, with some rather scary looking grooming tools. It definitely made T feel better about using his electric razor!

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After we were done with our adventures on the ship, we decided to explore the Puente de la Mujer, or Women’s Bridge. The focal point of the Puerto Madero barrio, or neighborhood, it was designed by Santiago Calatrava, a Spanish architect. The internet tells me that it is a Cantilever spar cable-stayed bridge–but all I know is it is a nifty looking footbridge with some character.

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Finally, because we are us:

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I’ll add more on our Buenos Aires adventures later.

I did find an old picture on the camera, though!  To clear fields here, they burn them in controlled fires. A few months ago, the sky was constantly filled with smoke because of these fires, which led to some pretty cool pictures. This actually isn’t uncommon–we saw the same thing in Romania.

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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.