Monday, October 13, 2008

Two last posts from Buenos Aires....

"Fly away from the city lights…" (Sunday 12 Oct– Day 17)

(Where am I now: Window seat 6L in an LAN Airbus 320 over beautiful Buenos Aires on my way to Mendoza) (What is the time now: 20:18 pm on Sunday 12th Oct, What am I listening to: No woman no cry, Bob Marley)

I don't like window seats – especially on long flights as I feel bad about the people next to me when I have to make them stand up to go to the toilet, get stuff from the overhead compartments etc. Most of all though, because I like standing up and walking around, it helps kill time and also allows me to stretch (and check out the people I am flying with…) I chose a window seat this time, I also did it in the Iguazu-B.Aries flight, since they are both under 2 hours it's perfectly manageable.

Ultimately a very rewarding choice. Aeroparque Newberry is the airport for domestic flights in Buenos Aires. If you lived in Athens in the 80s and early 90s you would think you were actually transformed back in time. Don't misunderstand me, the airport is mega modern and new, it's the location that reminds you so much of the Paraliaki (Coastal road) of the 80/90s before we got the new airport in Spata. The runway runs (…) parallel to the coastal road and right next to the river. The river is so wide you just think it is the sea spanning in front of you. Boats, windsurfers and waterskiers make the picture even more convincing. Little shops and people walking at the waterfront side complete the so 80's picture. If you add the lack of new cars on the road and the traffic, you can't get closer…

I started talking about my seat. The flight was delayed for about 1.5 hours, so I will probably end up in Mendoza at 22:00. Who cares, as long as they keep my reservation in the hostel, else I heard they have some nice benches on the 5 parks spread across the city. It was already night by the time we boarded the plane and it took off. It only occurred to me then that this was the last time I would see Buenos Aires on this trip. I say on this trip because I think I will be back (read the post below that I wrote while waiting for the plane). As the plane took off on the southbound runway I know that I got lucky with the seat. Right in front of me beautiful Buenos Aires was spreading as far as my eyes could see. First the high rise buildings of Microcentro, then Avenida 9 de Julio with it's 6 lanes per direction ending up to the beautifully lit Obelisk, I was so happy I could recognize the landmarks of the city. A strange feeling swelled inside me and a smile on my face… As it grew smaller and smaller you could appreciate the amazing zone planning and the perfect "cuadras" (squares/blocks) of the vast city, interrupted by the two Diagonales cutting through the center. It seemed like a quilt (you know that patched blanket thing) with each square made out of little lights. I wish I could take a photo but you know: "please turn off all your electronic devices bla bla". It's not "goodbye", it's probably "see you soon…"

About airplanes - also Empanadas, Alfajores, Parillas and food in general...
I wanted that damn Star Alliance round the world ticket. Not the Oneworld one. I wanted to use the business class lounges, a lovely legacy of accumulating miles during my last assignment. Me (the scruffy backpacker) mingling with the rest of the people that are usually travelling for business… Tough luck, they don't fly to Latin America or Australia, live with it.
I've used LAN for my internal flights. It's strange; LAN is the official Chilean carrier but flies in Argentina and Brazil. LAN is great. I mean it. Planes are brand new Airbuses, staff is friendly (and better looking than the average non-smiling Lufthansa/Swiss blondie) and you feel quite comfortable. Food could be better but you could say that the lunch box they give you on a 1.5hr flight is actually representative of the Argentinean food culture. Ok no, they didn't serve a BBQ stake or spare ribs (…good idea) but the lunch box in the photo. It includes one pack of tasty crackers and 2 pieces of sweets: Chocolate biscuits and an Alfajor. Alfajores are chocolate coated cakes (they're soft, come in a million varieties and brands) and with the damn grill probably the reason I feel I've gained weight the past 2.5 weeks. All right the damn beer isn't helping either…

I am using this opportunity to talk about the food in Argentina. It consists mainly of 3 things (and I apologize to the people that will say that there are regional dishes – I am sure – but what people around me have been eating the past weeks is also a good indication on what is preferred)

Parillas (read pari-y-as) means grill and if you are not a meat lover just change country because people here love their grill. There's one practically in every back year, in every balcony, in every trailer. Meat is great, tasty and come in huge portions and is cheap. If you like grilled meat, welcome to paradise, if not, hmmm…
But still it is prepared as grilled meat. Punto. Nothing more nothing less. Their food is not spicy, doesn't feel inspiring. It's nicely cooked, quality is great but I am missing some flair. It's not my point of view only, I talked with a few people living in BA and they had the same point of view.

Then you have the empanadas (chicke/cheese/meat/whatever-stuffed pastry). I see this like the greek tytopita: Ever present, ever nourishing, I think I've never eaten so many of these in my life. They're good, especially after a 14 hour bus ride, I saw the merits of eating a few…

And then the deserts. If pollution and cholesterol don't kill you in Buenos Aires, you'll bite (…) the bullet through the deserts. Chocolate cakes, flans, cheesecakes whatever, mercy, I don't even like deserts that much – why am I eating them? I am going to hit the Australian beaches looking like one of the blues brothers, no suit just sunglasses. I've attached some photos below so you see exactly what I am talking about. Overall though, come and try this place. If you have an iron deficiency and you need protein, this is the place to get cured. If you are a salad lover, you have to look a bit deeper, they do exist you just need to find them.

Impressed Tourist (1st week)

Santa Fe (BBQ in the background, Martin & me)

Saturday night with Matias in the Farm house

"Goodbye with a Tango" (Sunday 12 Oct– Day 17)
(Where am I now: in
Aeroparque Newberry – the domestic flights airport of B.Aires, waiting from my delayed flight to Mendoza) (What is the time now: 16:40 pm on Sunday 12th Oct, What am I listening to: Tributo a B.Marley – Cultura Profetica)

I always get butterflies in an airport. It's this strange sensation of anticipation for the flight and the next destination but also the inner feeling that something can go wrong (miss the flight, issue with your booking, overbooking, whatever). I am not afraid of flying, I am just anxious during the pre-flight process. That's why I am also the king of web check-in. It was really impressive to put my Ref Code in the LAN website to check in for the simple domestic flight to Mendoza and get a full listing of ALL the next flights I am supposed to take. Just so I don't forget there's so much more ground to cover.

These are my last hours in Buenos Aires. I wanted to write a posting that will try to capture the essence of being here for more than 15 days (ok excluding the SantaFe/Iguazu trip). I am not sure I will manage according to your expectations but I will try nonetheless.

I've been privileged enough to see 2 completely different faces of Buenos Aires. And in accordance with what I always believed, a feeling for a place and the impression you get is a combination of many things but most of all its people. And you can simple talk about the people and have a point of view based on your interactions with taxi drivers, waiters, barmen, tour operators and the occasional person you ask directions from in the street or you can try and go "under" and see what life in this city is real about. I saw two very distinct sides of it. Don't ask me which I prefer or whether I would like to live here, I am not able to answer that yet but I can definitely tell you that this is a place worth seeing.

Actually I realize that I've seen 3 faces: Menelaos' (although Greek, he has penetrated a part of Argentinean culture that I didn't see in many locals I talked to), Matias' which gave me a glimpse of what it means to have a well paying job and good family background in a city like BA and Mine (as a tourist)

Let's start with Mine simply because if you came here, this would probably be the way you would also see it. The place is beautiful, it's huge and noisy but there are so many things to do. To be fair, a hard currency helps because you can enjoy some things you'd have to pay 5 times as much in any European city. It's a place that can keep you captivated for a week or two without blowing away your budget, even if you stay in more upscale accommodation. It has it's downsides. I would just point out two and leave it to that because I thought they were the most obvious: Downtown is extremely polluted. You will agree with me regardless where you live (unless it's next to the thermoelectrical plant of Megalopoli or Mexico City). Downtown is really tough and I come from Athens, although I admit the past 5 years in Geneva have made me soft on this aspect.

The second is public transport. It is unbearable. Ok yes you can take a taxi for 4-5 Euros anywhere you go but if you really want to see what a city is all about you got to take the public transport.
Metro is old and out of capacity. I thought these images from Japan were funny with the guys in white gloves are gently pushing the people to get in… Forget this, no gloves here, people just shove to get inside the metro cars. It's not that they are impolite, it's just impossible to get in if you don't push. And a really mean push and compress. Thank God for deodorant and mild weather…

The worst though is the bus. I would got to the US tomorrow, get $1bn of a loan (yeah right now because there's so much liquidity in the world at the moment) and SCRAP completely the bus system. I don't care if the ticket costs 30 US cents. It is killing the people of Buenos Aires.
Buses, known as "colectivos" (communal/ shared) are a complex network of antiquated metal pieces of crap that connect (I admit well) most parts of the city. If you are a classic bus collector, come to Buenos Aires and buy the lot. Buses from the 60s and 70s with more than 2 million km on them (I bet my Spitfire on this) with absolutely no capacity for handicapped or elderly people (I couldn't even get on with my backpack on my back – and I am not that old yet...), they are a joke.

Here's though how it works: Colectivos are a group of "companies" (could even be 1 bus – 1 company) that have agreed routes and timetables. So far, great. Let's say me, Giorgos, Aris and Afroditi have buses we want to drive around. There's absolutely no standardization: does Afroditi like pink curtains in her bus, she's got them, does Aris want DeathMetal music playing, no problem, rock on, do I like "black-lights" and tinted windows to create a sexy atmosphere for my dear passengers, well lights-on guys! Now you think I am exaggerating but all the examples mentioned above are true. And of course because we have not centralized any form of income management, each bus has a COIN COLLECTOR machine (think jukebox - no music) and passengers need to individually enter from the front door, pay in coins at the machine (the driver doesn't carry any tickets/change) and move to the back. Imagine doing this in pouring rain with a queue of 30 people waiting at the bus stop.

This is the capital of the second largest country in Latin America and it is out of change. NO HAY MONEDAS (No coins) is a sign I saw more than 50 times the past 2 weeks in Buenos Aires. And how could there be any, 15 million people need coins to get to work, shop, meet their friends, whatever… Fix it. Now.
But it's fun… I have a pocket full of them and make sure I always keep a stock – you never know when you need to take a bus…

I decided not to write about the 2 other faces of BA. I don't feel like it at the moment. I might do it later. Maybe it's the flight delay, maybe because I am a bit tired. I still have to write about the food and so much more. This city is great. Believe me or even better come and see for yourselves.

Good bye Tango city, I will be back: Some
Taxi advice
I'll end this post with a little story just to take a bit of weight out of my previous post. I took a taxi from Matias' place today to come to the airport. An old guy with a Peugeot 405 from the previous millennium came to pick me up. Scruffy, glasses and all, the guy was nice.
He heard me speaking English to Matias and as he was loading my backpack in the boot he asked if I speak Spanish.
"Claro que hablo", I said and we got into the car.
"Where are you from ?" (Ah, here it is, I see it coming)
"De Grecia."
"Aaaaaaaaa (each "a" is 1 second) de Greciaaaaa"

"So how is the merchant fleet doing?" (What a bloody odd question – how would I know, ask Giorgo and Ody, they're in the business)
"Very well" I say
"And Piraeus port?" (It' still there, I took a boat to go to Sifnos this summer)
"Yes, still busy", I said
"Εγω, σε καραβι ελληνικό παλια" (I was working in a greek merchant ship)
(Ok, now I get it and I just thought all Buenos Aires taxi drivers are interested in Greek shipping)

"Are you married?" he aksed (great, here's the other hot topic)
"No, not yet"
"But don't you like the Argentina girls?"
"They are wonderful, but you see, I am leaving in 10 days"
"Yes, there are some really nice ones but they are (peligrosas) dangerous" (ok you got me interested now, keep talking)
"Really, why?"
"They are great the first few years, then they…" he made a circular gesture with his hands indicating something that moves out and about…
"Well, thanks a lot, I will keep that in mind in case I get married the next 10 days" (and make sure to tie them up after Year 3)…

Have a great week everybody. More to come from Mendoza… Until then, here's the last fabulous tango...


George "Teriax" T. said...

Ok, its 07:10 in Milan and i managed to read only the first of the two part post...The "leaving Argentina-bus-taxi" I mean...Nice one once again (told you to become a writer but you simply dont listen !!!)

Well, just so i can play the devil's advocate...The ARgentian bus system reminds me of the KTEL system in Greece some years back (we were in university) where the buses where so ooooold and you did had the collector guy sitting in his "little" office, next to the door, at the mid of the bus...

Well, as a nationality say, Vat to do ?

Still seems that Argentina is very advanced is certain aspects (they look "civilised", more than us i guess) and it others it lacks behind. I guess the economical crisis some years back had something to do with it...

When i say civilised, i think you know what i mean....They do not seem to have brought down all the old and beatiful building to create beatiful, grey, cement like polykatikies (apartment buildings) like we are in Albania or something !

From what i hear from you and few photos i have seen it must be really beatiful.

Next time however you meet another nationality who asks about ~Greek shipping just let them know that yes it is still going strong (about18% of the merchant fleet and lots and lots of newbuildings).


Have fun and keep the posts coming !

Evi T said...

I was anxious to read the description of George's bus... why did you leave that out? :)

Aaah those lovely "are you/ when will you get married" questions... At least you get them from taxi drivers ot friends teasing you while many of us get them from worrying grandmas/ aunts etc etc :P

Travel on - write on!

peekaboo said...

WOW!!! Didnt know you were touring the world! I absolutely, profoundly ENVY you! Mpravo Kosta gia to blog, I will be visiting. Kai mia pou to efere i kouventa, edo mporeis na diavaseis ta dika mou: (aka aspasia ;-)

peekaboo said...

ooops typo, the blog reads as follows: