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.