I’m off yet again, this time for some fun and sun on the island of Honolulu. I’ll be back mid-week.
My blog the past few weeks has suffered from a case of neglect, which I will explain away as the result of me being away for significant portions of the past three weeks. Since I’ll be away again at least two of the next three weekends, don’t look for the situation to improve significantly.
I will try to get a coherent writeup posted on my trip down to Charlotte, especially around Patty-Whack and Paula. Although, really, you had to be there.
Rita bears down on Texas as the Wall Street Journal maintains a running blog of activities. I assume no journalists want to be scooped this time, so there will be a swarm looking for that desparate-cursing-mayor money shot all over the area.
Still, with the storm a Category 5 right now, it’s likely to come ashore as a monster event. And if it does hit certain parts of Texas, there will likely be yet another disruption to the already stretched refineries on the Gulf coast.
It’s nice to read that I’m not the only one who noticed the breakdown in politesse the talking heads typically extend to politicians. Slate has even more examples.
In an end of time style declaration, Tom Delay recently declared that there was no fact left to cut in the federal budget. He was quoted as saying “Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we’ve pared it down pretty good.”
Friday I began making my way back to the states, having staged the return in two phases. In the first half, I planned to make my way from Mendoza to Sao Paulo, connecting in Buenos Aires. Overall, the travel was uneventful, though the decision to do so was prudent. Buenos Aires is served by two airports, Jorge Newbury, where most domestic flights arrive and depart, and Ezezia, where most international flights arrive and depart. Because they are on opposite sides of the city, it is necessary to travel, via bus or taxi, across the city.
I arrived tired and confused in Buenos Aires, knowing I had to arrange transportation between the two airports but not sure where to go. While waiting for my baggage, I went to one of the counters and booked a seat on a shuttle bus to take me to Ezezia for AR$63 (about US$22). With my bags in hand, I entered the terminal proper and went in search of my bus. I wandered around for a solid fifteen minutes, without any idea where exactly this bus would be. Fed up with trying to locate it on my own, I returned to the other side of the counter where I bought the passage, where a waiting woman quickly handed me off to a driver. We went out to the private car waiting to whisk me to the airport, and I began smarting from my foolishness.
That smarting began to wear off once we hit traffic on the main highway, backing cars up for several kilometers. It wore off even more when he spoke comprehensible English (the first and only driver to do so on the entire trip), and was gone by the time he began aggressively navigating roads parallel to the highway, allowing me to smile while we whisked by. I happily tipped him by the end.
Ezezia was a mass of chaos at check-in. The waiting area was not any better, and the flight monitors displayed the wrong gate, causing me to almost miss the flight. Once we arrived in Sao Paulo, I was finally confronted with the dreaded Brazilian immigration policy. I had heard the stories of Americans waiting for hours in line for our time to be fingerprinted and photographed, in retaliation for the process we impose upon Brazilians (among others). Downstairs in immigration, though, that line was closed. I waited in the nearly empty foreigners’ line and was surprised when, upon my turn, my documents were casually read and stamped. I had found the loophole.
The Marriott was nice, but brusque, lacking the warmth I’d experienced all week in Argentina. The airport experienced a power outage all morning Saturday, so I did some light reading. After a buffet lunch and some additional light reading and writing, it was time to return to the airport and take the final leg home.
So, now, I close out the trip here in the British Airways lounge, waiting for my flight to depart and my return to the USA. While this may have been my first trip to South America, may it certainly not be the last. Many thanks to all those who made this a fantastic trip.
The flight to Mendoza was about an hour and a half in duration, with a level of service that puts to shame anything I’ve experienced on the similar Newark to Detroit flights, even in first class. The “international” airport of Mendoza truly was the smallest I’ve ever been, with only one or two jetways, two baggage claim carousels, and just a holding room once you clear security only designed for one flight’s passengers at a time.
Upon landing, I was greeted with a large crowd, cameras in hand, hovering right outside the baggage claim area. Bringing to mind my similar experience in Costa Rica, where my jacket went missing right at the start of a later damp trip, I was momentarily filled with trepidation. The source of their excitement became clear when the approximately 15 children, all in matching gear, descended the steps from the arrivals area and a throaty cheer arose from the crowd. Some local team, of an unkown sport, had returned to their adoring home town.
I made sure to be the last to leave baggage claim, letting the fans have their heroes.
A $5 taxi ride had me in the city proper, right outside my hotel, in about twenty minutes. A fair place, clean and functional, with a staff friendly and skilled in the ways of English. I dropped off my things and went exploring, finding out where to book some of the tours I was interested in taking during my two full days there. I found the place, booked a tour for the following afternoon of two wineries, and had a delicious dinner of lamb (not beef, amazingly enough), served by a friendly staff, at Bistro M in the Park Hyatt hotel.
The tour of the two wineries Wednesday was a contrast in styles, with the first making wine in a more traditional, hand-crafted, manual style, while the second used the more common large production methods. Still, the differences I saw in their process were mostly cosmetic, with both performing the first fermentation in stainless steel or, more interesting to me, concrete tanks, with the longer barrel aging in oak. Most of the real differences were in production size, with the first being a much smaller producer, and in the bottling and labeling process, where the second used the more modern, technological process. While both wines were fair to good, the second produced wines in the more known international style, heavily fruit-forward affairs that compare with the Californian and Australian wines so many of us are familiar with.
Dinner, again delicious, was this time at Azafran. Language appeared to be more of a barrier here, with the wait staff trying hard. The steak was only of so-so quality here, compared with several of the other restaurants at which I’d eaten recently. Not that it was bad, and without any context it would be judged favorably enough.
The final day in Mendoza I went to 1884, the oldest operating winery in Mendoza, for lunch and a tour. With regards to wine tourism, it struck me as very similar to the Mondavi model, at least when the Mondavis still owned their winery. The meal was pumpkin ravioli, with an incredible chocolate dessert. The tour was perfunctory, but our guide was very friendly. Attending the tour was Lee, a British “gent” a few years older than I, who had crossed over from Chile. We chatted with our guide for awhile during the tasting period, trading stories and experiences on places and travel and politics. Lee and I shared a cab back to the Placa Indepencia, as a convenient central point, and later met up for dinner.
One of the peculiarities I, with my American upbringing, must highlight again is that everyone is up until what we consider the later hours of the night. While I saw this every night, at Azafran I was the first diner at the restaurant around 8:30 pm, and when I left after 11 pm the restaurant had been filled. I was consistently reminded of how wonderful this country was, with its late night atmosphere that is often lacking in the USA. A conversation I had with Guido, on duty at the hotel in Buenos Aires around 2:30 one morning, demonstrates. He laid out for me his previous day before coming to work, as he and some friends celebrated his girlfriend’s birthday.
8 PM – Dinner at girlfriend’s parents’ house
11 PM – Head out for drinks with friends
1 AM – Go to dance club
6 AM – Breakfast at McDonald’s
7 AM – Share “matti” (insert explanation here) with friends
9:30 AM – Sleep until evening
When I explained that in the USA, in most places, bars close by 2 AM, he was honestly surprised. His question, “What would you do after that? I would be bored.”
A six hour layover was all that stood between Buenos Aires and me. I was lost in the Sao Paulo airport, desperate for any sign of an Aerolineas Argetinas staff member who might be able to help. Exhausted from an overnight flight that arrived at 6 am, in an airport where English is rationed, without the ability to leave the extremely confined region where international transit passengers may tread, I was trapped. It wasn’t until just before our originally scheduled boarding time that someone from Aerolineas appeared. Or, he looked like he might be related to Aerolineas. Desperate for a boarding pass, I handed him my credentials. He told me something in Spanish, then left the secured area altogether. Ten long minutes passed as I pondered whether my passport and tickets had just been stolen when he reappeared with all the required elements. He attempted to tell me that the flight was delayed, first on his own, then using the broken English of a woman on the phone.
Moments like this were common throughout my eight day trip through South America. Visiting Argentina, primarily, for seven days, with a final day in Sao Paulo, Brazil, communication was a barrier from time to time, while a combination of luck and friendliness carried the day.
Once I arrived in Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina, it was time to meet up with the Flyertalkers (http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/showthread.php?t=396602). The community forum of Flyertalk, a website devoted to travel and frequent flyers, had advertised a gathering in the city over Labor Day weekend, with meals on both Saturday and Sunday, and two sessions of a wine tasting hosted by a Buenos Aires native who owns and runs a wine store. One of several concerns I had as I left on this particular adventure is what to expect of my fellow Flyertalkers. Would they be friendly? Crazy? What would everyone talk about? Fortunately the dinner my first night put all that to ease. They were, in many ways, a very normal group of individuals who would, at times, fall back to discussions about “miles and points”. Otherwise, just your average group of 30+ individuals going out to dinner on a Saturday night. Dinner started at 9 pm and ran until nearly 1, with multiple rounds of food and wine. While sampling the incredible beef, we became aware of another peculiarity (from our US-centric view) – where children are taken out to dinners that don’t even start until midnight. In what would become a recurring theme, the restaurant was only half-filled around 9 pm when dinner started, but would be filled by the end of the meal, usually between 11 pm and 1 am.
After dinner, several of us headed out to a club, Mint (see daily candy link, if available). Our connections and passes got us in ahead of the general crowd, so we were inside around 1 am when the place was still empty. By the time the group split up near 3 am, the place was becoming filled.
Exhausted, I crashed back at my hotel around 3 am, waiting for the next day of fun to come.
Sunday was a free day in Buenos Aires. I wandered off to the pedestrian mall in Aviendha Florida, taking in the street performers, hawkers, and crowds. A quick lunch at the Galleria Pacific food court was followed by some shopping, and a surprise realization that the mall had incorporated within it a modern art museum on its upper floors. Not that I went, as I detest that crap, what with paintings similar to my own scribbles from my childhood. Why pay to see such blather, even if it was only a dollar.
Eventually it was time for another dinner with the Flyertalkers, where the service was an improvement but the quality decreased significantly. The “Baby Beef” clearly hadn’t shed its baby fat, and when asked about the appalling quality of the meat, the maitre’d responded with a negative attitude that soured the rest of the dinner. In the end, we skipped out on dessert in search of other delights, only to end up sitting in a café nearby until 2 am, where I did have a chance to enjoy some magical brownies.
I woke up Monday earlier in order to reach Alex’s wine shop in time for the noon tasting he hosted for us. A member of Flyertalk who lives in Buenos Aires, he deals in fine wine from Argentina and the rest of the world. As part of the weekend’s festivities, he offered this event to anyone interested, which turned out to be a wonderful continuation of all the wine consumption that had already occurred that weekend. A delight round of five wines, all from Argentina, accompanied with some delicious, fresh light snacks of cheeses, crackers, hams and vegetables, was followed with a significant lightening of the wallet downstairs in the showroom. Ah, but the consumption once the wines arrive will be wonderful indeed.
A leisurely lunch, followed by a hasty trek through a mall and a walk over to the Recoletta, where I missed the last entrance of the day to the cemetery where many famous Argentines were buried, capped off my afternoon. I said farewell to several Flyertalkers back at the hotel who were returning stateside, and met up with a few remaining for dinner.
Tuesday morning, I had the chance to visit the cemetery, where a slightly odd yet friendly woman gave a tour in English to us visitors from foreign lands. We saw, of course, the grave site of Eva Peron (yes, of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” fame). Among all the stones, it was not the most outrageous or ostentatious. And, in fact, it was clear that there was a fair amount of ambivalence about her life, whatever the movies from the U.S. tell us.
That afternoon was checkout time, as I parted ways with Buenos Aires for Mendoza, the source of so much of the fine wine of Argentina. On the way to the domestic airport, my taxi driver attempted to make polite conversation (having done this several times on this trip, I can attest that it can be an embarrassing affair, given I know as much Spanish as they do English). Somehow, at one point, he asked who I voted for in the presidential elections in 2004. When I said Kerry, he became very excited, and began drawing a line across his throat while saying “Bush, Bush”. I’ll admit I’m no Bush fan, but I can’t say I wish death to the guy. Especially with Cheney in line as his replacement.
I haven’t posted in a few days, since I’m away in Argetina right now and my access to reliable internet access has been spotty. I’m now sitting in my hotel room in Mendoza, finishing up a few things before heading to a typically late dinner.
CNN may finally be growing a set. My general disdain for talking heads on the news networks is exceeded only by my disdain for the GOP. This evening, though, I saw a brief glimpse of the breakdown of the cozy relationship between the talkaratti and the politicos.
Anderson Cooper had a brief chitchat with Mary Landrieu on CNN about the prepardness and the leadership from Washington, basically accusing them of a) being asleep at the wheel, and b) being self-contragulatory because they’re busy passing a $10 billion emergency supplemental spending authorization to “aid” those affected by the disaster. While I can only imagine what special interests the spending supports, the fact that he was arguing that the politicians are completely incompetent was stunning. After all, the two groups generally rely on and feed upon one another. To see him throw aside the general deference that they typically provide gave me brief hope that we could see a media that actually challenges the political class to help real people.