Debbie, the wife of one of my co-workers, was kind enough to give Traci and me a ride to Washington Dulles, our local airport. Somehow Traci got the TSA pre-check status that allowed her to go through security without removing her shoes or conforming to other regulations. I was not given this status. In fact, I was turned away when I showed up at the pre-check entrance with Traci. However, this turned out to be a good thing for me. There was a line in the pre-check lane but no one in the 'normal' security lane except a bunch of bored TSA personnel. I went through the security check in no time and ended up waiting for Traci.
We had many hours of travel to get to Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was a three-hour flight from Washington Dulles to Dallas, Texas and then a 10-hour overnight flight (in the middle seats - blah!) from Dallas to Ministro Pistarini International Airport (EZE) in Buenos Aires. One warning I will offer for those who are considering traveling to Argentina: Make sure you pay the reciprocity fee ($160/person at the time) before you arrive in Argentina! It cannot be paid in Argentina. You will not be allowed to board your flight to the country unless you can show proof of payment. I met a lady from San Francisco on our cruise who did not know about the fee. She ended up spending the night in the Mexico City airport. She had to go online to pay the fee and then pay $1,600 to catch another flight to Argentina. (UPDATE: As of August 2016, the reciprocity fee is no longer required from U.S. citizens.)
Upon our arrival in Buenos Aires, we got a taxi from the Taxi Ezeiza stand in the airport. They allow you to pre-pay in U.S. dollars or Argentine pesos but not with credit cards. We were charged $37 USD for the approximate 30-minute white-knuckle ride to the Hilton Buenos Aires hotel downtown.
The Hilton Buenos Aires is a very nice, modern hotel - attentive service, spacious room, granite countertops, evening turn-down service, nearby attractions and restaurants - the whole nine. It is located in the Puerto Madero section of the city and is about a 10-minute ride by car from the cruise port. We arrived at the hotel in the early afternoon and thus had to wait about an hour for our room to become available. We were given complimentary drink vouchers while we waited.
view from our room at the Hilton Buenos Aires
When our room became available, we got changed and headed out to explore the city on foot. Since Argentina is in the southern hemisphere, its seasons are opposite of ours in the northern hemisphere. We were there in February which is Argentina's summertime. The hot and humid weather was a shock to our bodies which were accustomed to the cold February weather back home.
As we walked the streets, Traci mentioned that Buenos Aires reminded her of Barcelona. I did not share the same sentiment. I was not sure the city reminded me of any one place we have been. It was more of a jumble of places. Buenos Aires is a large sprawling modern city with skyscrapers, European-style buildings, and billboards but also with palm trees that made me think of the tropics.
There were not many people who look like us. Being a black man, some people thought I was Colombian or Brazilian. We had to deal with the language barrier because I don't speak Spanish. Traci remembered a little from her high school days. She had to put it to use because we encountered very few people outside our hotel who felt comfortable speaking English.
exercise park near our hotel
Traci and I walked along Florida Street. It is a pedestrian-only shopping street consisting of boutiques, small convenience stores, banks, and fast food restaurants. I did not come across any souvenir shops. We mainly browsed. Because of my curiosity of snacks in different countries, I bought a bag of lemon chicken-flavored potato chips. They were just okay. In fact, my favorite snack from this trip was actually the bag of maple bacon-flavored potato chips I bought at the Dallas airport before our flight to Argentina.
Florida Street: pedestrian-only shopping street
We eventually ended up in Plaza de Mayo which is perhaps the most famous square in Buenos Aires. It is the site of three hundred years of triumphs and tragedies. Victories, bombings, protests, and rejoicing have all taken place here over the years. The revolution that led to Argentina's independence from Spain began here in 1810. The pink Casa Rosa building located in the square is the workplace of the Argentina's president. It is also from its balcony that Eva Peron (a.k.a. Evita) gave her speeches in the 1940's. The Metropolitan Cathedral is also located in Plaza de Mayo. It is known today for being the former parish of Pope Francis. There was a large white tent in the square as Traci and I walked through. I heard speeches which I initially assumed were part of a church service. I then heard Indian drumming and flutes. I soon began to realize this was a protest. Several groups demonstrate here regularly for a variety of causes. The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo is one such group. They meet here to demand information on the whereabouts of their children who went missing during the military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983.
We were getting hungry so we left the square to find food. But first, I needed to get some Argentine pesos. I read that credit cards are not widely accepted. The banks had already closed for the day. My ATM card was not accepted at the machines I tried. We stopped by a tourist information booth to get directions to a currency exchange office but the man at the booth struggled with English and we had almost no shot at understanding his Spanish. I remembered that the receptionist at our hotel told me that there is a currency exchange place on Florida Street so we set off to find it. Along the way, we were approached by several people offering a black market currency exchange. They would say "Cambio! Cambio!". I did not want to take a chance with a street transaction like this. We eventually found a currency exchange place at the opposite end of Florida Street. We were asked to show our passports. The man accepted our photocopies since we were not carrying our passport booklets. He then sent us to a back room where a muscular man behind a barred window exchanged our U.S. dollars for Argentine pesos at a rate of 13.50 pesos/USD. It was not until Traci and I went to the mall across the street that we realized we could have gotten a better exchange rate. There was a currency exchange booth in the mall offering 14.50 pesos/USD. Doh!
The mall looked like every other mall we've been in. The only difference was that everything was in Spanish. We did not spend too much time there.
at the mall
We made the walk back towards our hotel. I knew that there were a lot of restaurants along the waterfront there. To my surprise, Traci and I settled on the first restaurant we encountered. Normally, we walk for what seems like hours just reading menus before deciding on a place but not this day. We chose the Johnny B. Good restaurant. It was an interesting restaurant. Music videos played on large screens all over the dining area. I was hoping to see videos from Argentine artists but I only saw videos from American and European artists. The seating was an eclectic mix of living room furniture arranged around tables. Because it was the day before Valentine's Day, there were candles and balloons at each table. The waiters and waitresses were a young group sporting tattoos, piercings, and dyed hair. I enjoyed observing the cultural differences. Argentines greet each other with a kiss on the cheek. This is true for man-to-man, woman-to-woman, or man-to-woman. I first noticed this greeting between the janitorial staff at the airport. At the Johnny B. Good restaurant, I saw several of the wait staff greet each other in this manner as they passed one another.
Traci and I shared an order of baby back ribs and fries. I had a Sprite which I noticed was sweeter than the Sprites in the U.S..
Johnny B. Good Restaurant
We decided to walk off our meal with a stroll along the waterfront of Puerto Madero. Puerto Madero used to be an industrial shipping port. It fell into disrepair until a revitalization project turned it into a promenade lined with restaurants. There were even some chain restaurants that I recognized such as TGI Fridays. But a majority were restaurants unknown to me. The promenade is very long and exists on both sides of the river. There are many empty buildings available so I guess more businesses will be taking up residence along the waterfront at some point.
The Puerto Madero waterfront was not visually appealing to me. The old cranes that were used to load and unload ships remain. They are now decorated with lights. Vegetation floats on the river which makes it look more like a swamp. Even though these things were an eye sore for me, I totally loved the vibe of the place. There were families strolling along eating ice cream. Lovers cuddled on the benches. Runners and roller bladers flowed along. The evening air was much more pleasant than the daytime heat and humidity. I thought Traci and I were going to do a short walk but we ended up walking for over an hour up one side of the waterfront, across a bridge, and down the other side until we returned to our hotel. According to the pedometer I was wearing, I had done over 28,000 steps that day! We used our complimentary drink vouchers at the hotel lounge and then turned in for the night. What a wonderful day in Buenos Aires! Continue...