August 8, 2008

Buenos Aires


July 18, 2008

Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina


(Boy, it was tough sailing here.).

We thought we had died, and gone to restaurant and service heaven. Buenos Aires has, by far, the best combination of great restaurants and impeccable service we have ever experienced. Coming from Venezuela, the contrast was especially striking. Perhaps the whole country was like this…. Pero, no!

More about Buenos Aires later. Here are a couple of “cute” stories. The first is called “La Gran Aventura del Acondicionador de Aire de Iguazu” (the great Iguazu air conditioner adventure).

We took a side trip from Buenos Aires (BA) to Puerto Iguazu, near the superb Iguazu Falls at the triple border of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. Right away, there was tsouris. Aerolignea Argentina, the national airline, has not paid its employees for several weeks. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t work so well. Our flight left 5 hours late (even though it was listed as on time before we left the hotel). Not only that, but they killed us with small tortures, changing the departure time and gates every 1/2 hour. Not only that, but one of their other flights to Iguazu, that was scheduled to leave after our flight, left before ours (you can tell I’ve discovered how to use the underline function in Word; now I’m going to have some real fun).

We stayed at the 4 star Hotel Esturion. Upon checking in to our room, the bellhop went through the usual ritual of showing us how everything worked, including how to turn on the air conditioner (as many of you probably already see where this is going, and, in interest of fairness, I’ll point out that Puerto Iguazu, being in the southern hemisphere, is in winter, but has a delightful spring like climate {high seventies}). It was a little hot and stuffy in the room, so the next morning, I reported to the front desk that the air conditioner wasn’t working. The unfriendly front desk person, dressed as they all were in identical faux safari outfits, made a big show of taking my room number, indicating it would be fixed quickly, perhaps even faster than I could get back to my room. Instead, we went out for the day. Upon returning, we noted the air conditioner wasn’t working. I spoke to the very same explorer at the front desk. He explained, with a straight face, that the air conditioner only goes on about 9 or 10:00 PM in the winter (of course, this makes no sense, as it’s hotter in the daytime than at night, even in the Southern hemisphere). However, trying to be good emissaries for our country, we accepted this explanation in good spirits.

As you might guess, it didn’t go on at 9, 10 or any o’clock. The next morning, I cheerfully approached the very same clerk, who this time explained (with the same straight face) that the air conditioner does not work at all in the winter. I calmly asked to speak to the gerencia (manager). He graciously listened to my story, and asked incredulously, why I didn’t say something to him sooner, so that they could put a fan in our room, which they did.

There’s a humorous follow up to all this. After our first comfortable night, the maid came in to make up the room. There’s another funny long story (that I’ll spare you) about how they deal with electricity, but the short version is that they turn it off (inconsistently-some do and some don’t) when they make up the room. So, when we got back, the fan didn’t work. I didn’t realize the electricity was off. I asked the maid to show me how to turn the fan on. With a pitying look (these stupid Americans), she turned on the electricity, and, like a miracle, the fan went on. On her way out, she asked “Why don’t you just use the air conditioner”? I didn’t have an answer.

The second story is called “La Grand Adventura de la Piscina Iguazu” (the great Iguazu swimming pool adventure). We had decided to ignore the standard advice that “Iguazu is only worth 2 or 3 days” (it’s “worth” much more than that), and stayed for 5, planning at least one day lazing around. The hotel has 2 parts: the main hotel (with pool) and a second, mysterious “lodge” somewhere, also with pool. The main pool was being repainted when we got there, but we weren’t ready for our down day yet, so it didn’t matter. We were told the pool would be available “manana, (that dreaded word) en la tarde”. A few manana’s later (I refuse to bother putting a tilde where it belongs) we were ready. I asked my explorer friend at the front desk if we could use the pool. “Of course, senor”. Unfortunately, the pool “boy” (about 82 years old), told us we couldn’t. There were no towels there, and, the water was “fria”, because it was just pumped in from the river. “Use the pool at the lodge”. He pointed across the street. Dutifully, we packed up our stuff, and went across the street to find the other pool. Nothing appeared to be across the street. A taxi driver asked us where we were going. He indicated that it was down the street towards town, on the same side as our hotel. We walked about a block, and found another pool. Unfortunately, it was in another hotel. We almost used it anyway. Instead, we went back to Jungle Jim, who decided to escort us to the pool. Incredibly, it was across the street, through a huge, ancient, unmarked gate, and down a long jungle path, the nerve shattering scream of jaguars clearly audible nearby. By the way, there were no towels at that pool either, and the water was the coldest we’ve ever swam in (this from someone who has stupidly swam in the Pacific Ocean, temperature 68 degrees). It was a beautiful day, though.

Iguazu Falls is in a national park, at the border of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. The falls are breathtaking (Eleanor Roosevelt, Zsa Zsa Gabor, or someone like that, upon seeing them said “poor Niagra Falls; it makes them look like a kitchen faucet”). The surrounding park is full of exotic plants and animals. We were lucky enough to be there on a full moon, so we also took the excursion at night, only available 4 nights a month. Wow!

The town is charming, and in spirit reminds me of Healdsburg (around the same size, with lots of interesting restaurants). If it weren’t for Tarzan, we’d give the whole trip an A.

BA is also wonderful. We went there because a very charming man we met from Montevideo , Uraguay (how’s that, Hector?) told us not to miss it. “It’s the best city in the world” (he’s been around). I already mentioned the restaurants. Portenos (people from BA) are obsessed with good food and service. We stayed in a charming neighborhood (Palermo Viejo) which reminded me of Greenwich Village, North Beach and the French Quarter. Small, tree lined, cobblestone streets, with great restaurants, shops and green squares everywhere. We walked all over the city, also using the easy to understand subway system. The Portenos, despite their reputation, are friendly, and very attractive and stylish in an understated way. I have no idea how they stay so thin, the way they eat. The national dish is parrrilla, which consists of a huge plate of several dead cows and pigs. Restaurants don’t even open until 8PM at the earliest. Then, everyone goes out to boogey until early in the AM, and still manage to get up to go to work.

Even the corny touristy things were fun, like the tango show we went to, and the Evita museum (an historical note: after she died of ovarian cancer, Eva Peron was embalmed. Her corpse was stolen, and hidden in Spain for 14 years. During that time, her face was smashed in and she was raped [that’s after she was dead]. After her husband Juan Peron died, his hands were cut off and stolen. The magistrate who has been investigating the case had his office broken into just a few days ago, and all his records were stolen. These people know how to do politics). If you like shoes, leather coats, dogs, little children and wine, you’re in the right place. BA is very European, like Paris.

Here are some shameless commercial plugs: the Hotel BoBo, where we stayed, was wonderful, particularly the 3 chicas lindas at the front desk, Vanessa, Belin and Gabriella. The travel agency we used to arrange our Peru trip was equally great (Mawa Travel on Malabia). Our favorite restaurant (a tough choice-they were all good) was Don Julio (probably the best for the money I’ve ever eaten in). Malbec wine from Mendoza is delicious. Try it.

Next up is Peru, and all the usual suspects, like Machu Pichu, Cuzco, and, that perfect name for all of us with a 12 year old boy’s mentality, Lake Titicaca. More later.

Puerto de Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires Cematary

Coatamundes at Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Falls with Rainbow

Fresh Produce

Public Display of Affection

We have their CD

Palermo Viejo

A great restaurant on every corner

No speaka the signish


Tango 2

I give you the 15…oops….10 commandments

Three corners: Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay


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