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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Buenos Aires

Apologies for the delays! We had lots of visitors over the past few weeks, plus moved out of the hotel (after two months without a microwave, kitchen, or real fridge!) and into the house.

In between all of that, we took a few days and went down to Buenos Aires to work on our visa paperwork.

The Posadas airport.

The Posadas airport is adorably small. There are maybe five check in counters, three gates, and a single restaurant/gift shop combination. It’s the type of airport where people wait for their loved ones while reaching through the gate to the tarmac. When you board, you just walk out of the terminal, take forty steps across the tarmac, and go up into the plane. Bonus–free parking!

Flying really seems to be  a luxury here. Domestic plane tickets are expensive (the 1.5 hour flight to Buenos Aires cost us around $350 USD each), so it’s not odd to see people getting their photo taken in front of the plane, people dressed up to fly, and a core group claps whenever the plane lands.   Another fun Argentinian aircraft habit? They hurry like crazy just to wait in line. The plane touches the ground, and it’s seatbelts off, grabbing stuff out of the overhead bins, and waiting in the aisle to deplane.

Immigration was a unique experience… one that we get the joy of doing once a year now.  After we finally found the building (Google Maps is not useful in South America, and apparently every street has multiple buildings with the same street address… on opposite ends of the street), the place is a bit of a madhouse. There is no logical sequence (first you do this, then you wait in line and do this), and instead just a long line curls out of the building filled to the brim with people of all nationalities trying to navigate the system.

We had a helper assigned to us by our company to help navigate this nonsense, but we still have our US phones. We were given our helper’s cell phone number, but couldn’t figure out how to get the call to go through. In Argentina, you use a different phone number depending on if you are 1) a cell phone calling another cell phone, 2) a landline calling a cell phone, 3) in a different province than the person you want to call, and 4) other random rules that we have yet to figure out.  We blessedly found an American family waiting in line, who helped us try to find some other combinations of numbers. We ultimately found our helper, hours later, after begging the surly immigration officer to call her. (As an immigration helper, she knew everyone in the immigration office. So when we gave her name, they knew exactly who we were talking about, and refused to acknowledge us. But that’s a different story on the difference in customer service expectations in Argentina.)  At that point, we were kind of out of luck for the first day’s appointment–which we’ll be making up in a different province later this week. The next day was more straightforward–we got to the immigration office at 7:15am, where a line had already started to queue. We met our wonderful helper Georgina, who walked us through the process. I am still not entirely sure what all of  the random steps were that led to us finishing hte paperwork (there was a lot of Georgina telling us “wait here” or “sign this” without quite knowing what was going on), but we ultimately ended up getting our precarias, or provisional residencies. What this means is we will get our DNIs, or national IDs, in about two months. A random post man will show up, we will hand him our receipt from our immigration day, and he will give us our DNIs. It’s a completely confusing system.

However… when we weren’t fighting our way through immigrations, we had the chance to see some of Buenos Aires. We didn’t stray too far from our hotel (Sheraton Libertador), but still got to see a lot of cool shopping, restaurants etc.

Buenos Aires skyline from our hotel room

Buenos Aires skyline from our hotel room

The city is absolutely bustling with people–and terrifying traffic. We walked up and down Avenida Florida, which is filled with blocks and blocks of shops. There were many malls, some more upscale than others, and one was entirely filled with little tech shops where you could buy a motherboard or headphones or a router. One of the malls was very upscale and we partook of some American food (Subway, FYI, is the same in any culture. It was also the first time I had seen turkey down here). We also found the fastest WiFi yet in that mall… so we hung out there for a bit and window-shopped all the expensive clothes.

By far and large, the most popular products on the avenida were leather goods (endless coats! endless purses!), figurines (jade or stone), and shoes. Lots of clothes, and a fair number of cell phone stores, and some other random ones. I found a make up store and picked up some essentials. (I was meaning to see what they had and try some of the South American brands–plus I left all of my nail polish in the states, and with all the sandals I’m wearing down here, wanted something pretty for my toes.) Prices for most makeup is right on par for what I’d pay for it in the States–which surprised me, since most imported goods are incredibly expensive.  Other than that, we didn’t get anything too exciting–we went to the fancy farmacia (drug store) and picked up some items we hadn’t found in Ituzaingo or Posadas yet.

The other big win in our trip? We found a restaurant called California Burrito Company, started by a few expat Americans who clearly also missed Chipotle. No guacamole, but some pretty good burritos! Now we know where to get our fix if all else fails. 🙂