B.A. - the Big Apple!

Trip Start Mar 06, 2005
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Trip End May 27, 2005


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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

If Santiago reminded me of Budapest and New York, then Buenos Aires is Paris and New York. I arrived here on the fast ferry this morning (departure from Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay at 9:15, arrival in Buenos Aires at just before 10:30 - to sunny, clear blue skies and a cool - almost cold temperature.)

As has become my habit on this trip - usually with very good results - I headed straight for the tourist information office. (I don't know why I never did that before, but these tourist information people really are knowledgeable and helpful! Many of them have become friends as well.) This time things were no different: As it turns out I was within walking distance of the hotel that I had selected from my travel guide. (I was very afraid that I would have to take a taxi across town - and Buenos Aires taxi drivers don't have a very good reputation.) The very kind lady at the tourist information office even called the hotel for me to check the price: $40 a night - by far the most I will have paid on this trip, but the hotel is within a short walk of the ferry terminal where I landed and, as I find out from the tourist information lady, it is also very close to both of the airline offices that I have to visit to change my flights.

So as soon as I got checked in, I headed for the TACA office to change my Lima to Amsterdam flight. (Although the flight is with KLM, the ticket was issued by TACA. Don't ask - it's a long story!) I had to wait for exactly an hour to get served, and by then I was starving. But I was on a mission - a mission to get myself home - so on the way to the KLM office to change my Amsterdam to Bangkok flight, I grabbed a sandwich and ate it while walking down the busy streets. Nobody seemed to care, unlike when I've eaten on the street in, say, Vienna - where everybody will give you a funny look - as if you're walking around without your pants or something.

As my hotel ("The Waldorf", believe it or not) is rather expensive, I spent the late afternoon trying to find something better. (By "better" I mean "cheaper".) And boy did I! A walk to another section of the city (more residential than where I am tonight, which is the center of the business district) revealed a whole host of hotels at half the price or less than what I'm paying tonight. After looking at about six of these other hotels (all in the 20 dollar a night range), I settled on The Ritz (I'm not kidding, that's really the name) - at 18 dollars a night, and every bit as nice as the Waldorf! It reminds me of the old European hotels I stayed in on my first trip to Europe some 25 years ago. So I'll move to there first thing tomorrow morning, and from that point I'll settle in for a week and start exploring the city.

Speaking of which: So far I feel like I'm off to a very good start here. I was able to get my airline business completed (I'll start my return trip home on 04 May) and already very quickly I am getting a feel for and orientation of the city. It's even easier to find my way around than some of the smaller cities I've visited on this trip.

On yet another unrelated matter: On the next street over from mine, there happens to be a Thai restaurant. I went there to see if there were any Thais working there. None! But the chef had apparently been there. And speaking of Thais: I am very surprised to report that I have not seen a single Thai on my entire trip! And that in spite of the fact that it is the Thai New Year - the time of the year that Thais travel. Come on, Thais - where are you?

Starting tomorrow I should be able to put up some pictures of this spectacular city. As a note, Buenos Aires was one of the major inspirations for this trip. And the movie Evita, starring Madonna, was one of my main reasons for being interested in Buenos Aires. It's a great movie and I would recommend it to all of you. There is a song about the time when a young Evita came to Buenos Aires for the first time - very much like when a young Randy does the same thing. The lyrics go something like this: I want to be a part of B.A. Buenos Aires Big Apple. (It sounds better when Madonna sings it. And note the clever wording: "be a" and "B.A." and "Buenos Aires" and "Big Apple". All very clever if you ask me.) So tomorrow I go out in search of Madonnaīs - I mean Evita's grave. As a further note on this matter: Much of the movie Evita was filmed in Budapest!

Oh, and one other thing: Remember the stock that I sold in desperation last week? Well, today it had it's second 3%+ daily gain in three days when it was upgraded by Goldman Sachs. You'd think I would have learned by now . . .

Wednesday, 27 April

I thought I would be able to upload some pictures of Buenos Aires today but the very nice internet shop near my hotel that I'm using now has a hole for me to plug my card reader into - but the computers here don't have the software to read what's on the card! So I'll have to find another place to upload my pictures.

In the meantime I want to mention some unusual professions that I have observed here in Buenos Aires. Since the economic meltdown of a few years ago, many people were pushed over the edge - into poverty. Some people have responded by becoming thieves. Others have responded by creative thinking. And still others have chosen something in between these two extremes. I'll explain:

One of the more creative jobs that I saw here in Buenos Aires is that of "Professional Dog Walker". That's right - you can pay someone to walk your beloved canine - and then to clean up his mess from the sidewalk once he's done his business. It took me awhile to figure out that what I was seeing were professional dog walkers. The first time, I just thought that the lady I saw had simply acquired too many dogs as she was struggling to control about a half a dozen of the mutts. When, over the course of several days, I saw several other instances of people struggling with a half a dozen dogs at one time, it clicked in my brain: Aha! Professional dog walkers! One guy had a special belt with six hooks on it so that he could attach all of the dogs' leashes to himself. He also had another hook for plastic bags to scoop up doggy poop. A true professional!

Another creative - but, if you ask me, borderline criminal profession, is "Taxi door opener". That's right, some usually rough-looking people stand on busy street corners and when a taxi stops, they open the door for the passenger to get out. For this a tip is expected. I always have a problem paying for unsolicited, unnecessary help. Especially when I get the feeling that the unspoken part of the deal is "Pay up, or else."

Related to this is the profession of "Professional Parking Space Indicator", in which a guy stands along the road with a white rag, waving it to passing cars to indicate that there is an empty parking space. Although the space of course does not in any way belong to the flag-waver, it is understood that a fee is to be paid for his service - once again, "or else". In this case the "or else" is potentially much worse because you are in your own car, which can be damaged in the event of non-payment. Another one of those professions that we could live without.

Some good news: I found a GREAT all-you-can-eat buffet right near my hotel. Great, unsalty food at a very reasonable price (about 3 and a half bucks). The best thing about these all-you-can-eat buffets, from my perspective, is not the all-you-can-eat part, because, frankly, I can't eat all that much at one sitting. The great thing about them is that you can choose a variety of things and go back for more of those things that you liked the most; and, it is not necessary to interact with waiters, which, given my lack of Spanish, is worth a lot to me!

Thursday, 28 April

What can I say? Buenos Aires is a city with character. A city to love. Of all the places I've been on this trip, this is the place where I think I could most easily live.

I just finished uploading a dozen or so pictures, so that's all I have time for now. It's lunch time and my stomach is growling.

Thursday evening, 28 April

Here's a link to the lyrics of that song about Evita sung by Madonna. The setting, as I mentioned, was when Evita was on her way up in life and wanted to be a part of the excitement of the big city, Buenos Aires. It's really a great song:

Click here to see the lyrics of that song!

So, yesterday and today I've been basically walking my feet off exploring the city. Actually today a little less walking than yesterday now that I've figured out how to ride the busses - more or less. You'd think it was a straightforward thing to ride a bus. But actually the way of riding busses actually differs in just about every city. Here, for example, you get on the bus and, from what I understand, although I don't quite understand why, you tell the driver your destination, and then you proceed to put coins into a vending machine directly behind the driver. The machine then gives you your ticket and change. So I'm not sure why it is necessary to tell the driver anything, unless the fare differs according to something and he programs the ticket machine accordingly. (He does have a sort of keyboard with lots of different keys that might have to do with different prices, but I'm not sure about that.) Maybe my buddy Marco, whose wife Karin is from Buenos Aires, could explain this to me? Anyway, I got on one bus next to my hotel this morning, and it ended up exactly where I wanted to go. And after a bit of walking around, I got on another bus going in the general direction I wanted to go, and by sheer luck, it passed right in front of my hotel!

I tried to take a tour of the Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires' opera house (which is supposed to be one of the five best buildings in the world for acoustics - but then again don't all opera houses make that claim?!), but I was told that the main hall would be dark today due to rehearsals, which would have kind of defeated my purpose of seeing the inside of the place, so I declined to take part in the tour and will try again tomorrow. No big deal as it is just a short walk from my hotel.

Another one of my observations: Big cities offer the greatest potential for entertainment and interaction with people - just from the sheer number of people there. At the same time, they are the most difficult places to meet people. In smaller places - especially ones that don't get many tourists, people are usually glad to talk to strangers. In big cities like Buenos Aires, well, everyone is a potential wierdo (myself included - I mean, can people tell just by looking at me that I'm a gentleman world traveller?). So the result is that I have seen a lot of Buenos Aires, but I have not really gotten to know any people. Of course I've exchanged a few words here and there with some people, but nothing meaningful. Another irony is that Buenos Aires is the place where it is possible to find the most English speakers of all the places I've visited so far - by far. Indeed it is the exception when somebody here doesn't speak at least some English. So the potential for meaningful exchanges is there - but breaking the ice is difficult. I suppose that if I would meet the first person, then I could get introduced to friends and friends of friends, etc. But cracking that first one is a real chore. We'll see if I can manage it before I leave.


Friday, 29 April

Today has been mostly a "housekeeping" day. I started off by dropping off my dirty clothes at the laundry, then I went to the bank to change money, then I changed my underwear (that was just a joke to see if you're paying attention. Actually I didn't change my underwear at all!) And I went to the supermarket and to the bookstore to buy a couple of books for the long, long flights home.

A note on the Spanish language:

Having been here for two months, you would expect me to have picked up some of the language. And I have. Given Spanish's similarity to English, many words and phrases are easy to figure out. Here are a few examples:

No tengo = No, I don't tango - but thanks for asking.
disfruta = this fruit, as in "Disfruta no good!" (Actually I've been seeing that word all around and I still haven't figured out what it means!)
joyeria = area of joy, or, as we call it in English, a brothel. Their windows are usually full of jewelry because they apparently accept jewelry in payment for their services.

More later as I learn new words.

Friday evening, 29 April

Just got back from my third (futile) visit to the Opera House. Twice I went to take part in the tour but they said that it was dark inside, so I found a clever way around that: To attend a ballet there tonight - for less than the cost of the tour - with Sleeping Beauty thrown in for free. The fact that I'm writing this message now should tell you that THAT didn't work out. After rushing to the theatre and standing in line for a ticket, I was told that tonight's performance had been cancelled. I was disappointed, but not as much as the lady behind me. She was there to buy tickets for a group of twelve people who had come over from France and had booked the tickets for tonight long in advance. When I left, the lady was still arguing with the staff there, asking why she was not informed since she had reconfirmed by fax with a Buenos Aires telephone number at which she could be reached in case of any changes. She was right, of course. Me - I can just go and sit in an internet cafe when my plans change. What is that lady going to do with her dozen guests?

Just a comment now on the price of public transport here: Cheap! A bus ride across town costs 25 U.S. cents, and a ride on the subway (or underground/metro/U-Bahn/or Subte as it is called here) costs about 20 cents. Oh, and I figured out why it is necessary to tell your destination to the driver before buying your ticket: For a short trip, the price is a bit lower, and the driver programs the machine to sell you the cheaper ticket. So there was a reason afterall.

One of the drawbacks to the beautiful buildings in Buenos Aires is that they make me look UP when I should be looking DOWN! Remember all those dogs you saw being walked? Well, they're not just walking. They're also pooping. And twice so far I've stepped into squishy, smelly piles. And my shoes happen to be of a type that collects the poop in their grooves. What a mess!

So now a little bit about the purpose of my trip: One of the "themes" of my trip has been to see if I could find a place in South America where I would like to live. For that reason, just about every city that I visited was pre-selected from the perspective of being a potential place to live based on various criteria such as climate, cost of living, things to do, etc. And I must say that many of the places that I visited are quite livable indeed. And most of the most livable cities I found to be the major cities of Argentina: Mendoza, Cordoba and now, Buenos Aires. But of all the cities that I visited, I would have to rank Buenos Aires at the top, for the simple reason that in addition to meeting all the other criteria, it also has enough to do to occupy a person with time on his hands. This is by no means insignificant. Although I was born and raised in a smallish city, my adult life has been characterized by living in increasingly larger cities. And by now I consider myself to be a full-fledged urban creature. Smaller towns are friendlier, usually have a lower cost of living, are cleaner, etc. But again, I willingly give up those things in exchange for activities with which to occupy myself.

It's not that I'm on the verge of moving here or anything like that. But I must say that I find Buenos Aires to be a very livable place. I felt at home here from the moment I got off the boat. (It hasn't hurt that I haven't had a single over-salty meal since I've been here!) And unlike many big cities, I don't find Buenos Aires intimidating at all. In sum, I like being here! So who knows - after ten years in Bangkok, this just might be a place to start thinking about considering for the next phase of my life. We'll see . . .

Saturday, 30 April

You wouldn't believe what happened this morning: I was on the Bus 39 on a return visit to the lovely neighborhood of Recoleta, and who gets on the bus but my friend the knife seller! He did a double-take at me and after recognizing me gave me a hearty handshake. He then proceeded to make his sales presentation and afterwards went to the front of the bus for something. He returned from his visit with the bus driver, handing me a small slip of paper with his name and address on it so that I could send him the pictures that I had taken of him a few days earlier. I then got off the bus and immediately went to a Kodak shop and had the pictures that I took of him printed out. I then went back to the place where he gets off the bus and I waited for about a half an hour before he turned up again. He was a bit surprised to see me again - and he was even more surprised to be presented with the already-developed photos of himself!

Sunday, 01 May

Well, I finally managed to make it into the Opera House (Teatro Colon) last night. Instead of taking the tour, for which they charge us gringoes six times the price as locals (kind of makes me feel at home - just like back in Thailand), I bought a cheap (5 pesos - or less than 2 dollars) "standing" ticket for the ballet Sleeping Beauty. But I ended up with a much better seat, based on a tip-off from an old man who explained the system to me when I was buying my ticket. The trick is to buy a ticket for the cheapest seat and then move to one of the empty more expensive seats once the show starts. So that is exactly what I did.

My main objective was to get a view of the inside of the famous theater, which I accomplished. But I took so many pictures that the usher told me that I would have to stop. Since other people were still taking pictures, I just kept right on myself. (I think he might have realized that I bypassed the more expensive tour and he was angry with me for saving money at Argentinaīs expense.)

As for the show, well, I have to admit that I couldnīt make much of a story out of the dancing. People were just prancing around without any rhyme or reason, so I just left at halftime.

Today I once again walked my legs off. I started the day with a walk to and around the San Telmo (Saint Thelma) Sunday antique market. Following that I got on the subway and rode out to Belgrano and walked completely through it to Palermo. So far I find Palermo and Recoleta to be the nicest neighborhoods, but Belgrano has a few nice areas as well.

By then it was late afternoon, and you know what THAT means: Off to my all-you-can-eat buffet. As the restaurant is near the National Congress building, I arrived to see massive demonstrations for May Day. Can you believe that there are still people in the world clamoring for socialism? The only people to have ever benefitted from socialism are the leaders - who manage to be, in the words of George Orwell, more equal than the others. I was able to make some pictures of the demonstrations from my hotel window, as my hotel is located on the main road right between the Congress Building and the Pink House, which was the route of the parade. And as a testament to how used Iīm getting to sleeping with noise, I was able to take a nap Sunday afternoon while the demonstrations were passing by my window.

Tuesday, 03 May

Well, it's my last day in South America (outside of airports, that is), and I've been mostly walking around and doing a bit of shopping for things to eat in airports over the next few days. I'm REALLY not looking forward to the flights home. It all starts with a 3:30 a.m. pick-up from my hotel, arriving at the Buenos Aires airport at just before 5 a.m., 2 hours before my 7 a.m. departure. Then a couple hour flight to Lima - with a whopping 10 hour wait until my 12 hour flight to Amsterdam. There, only a two hour wait for my next 12 hour flight - this time home to Bangkok. I should arrive home early Friday afternoon Bangkok time. Like I said, I'm REALLY not looking forward to this return trip. But what can I do? He who goes far must also return home.

I might be able to update my website from the internet cafe in the Lima airport. In any case, I will make a final posting once I get back to Bangkok - to kind of summarize and wrap things up, as well as to mention anything that I forgot.

So, wish me a good series of flights back home. And thanks for being with me on this trip.
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Comments

laladodah
laladodah on

omg wtf
ok u no nothing i mean nothing about spanish no tengo doesnt mean i dont wana tango stupid! tengo mean i have got it. wtf dont mess people up wen there trying to search an effin spanish word and joyeria doesnt mean an area of joy! dont ASSUME things alright delete this damn thing and whatever the other word you wrote in spansih its not right either but the rest was good bye good luck with life

supaburger on

are you retarded? you lived there for 2 months and you speak cr*p like this?
"No tengo = No, I don't tango - but thanks for asking.
disfruta = this fruit, as in "Disfruta no good!" (
joyeria = area of joy, or, as we call it in English, a brothel. Their windows are usually full of jewelry because they apparently accept jewelry in payment for their services."

No tengo = i don't have
disfruta = enjoy
joyeria = jewellery

Maire on

The overall article was great and I enjoyed reading it. I'm in love with Baires, as a matter fact I will be living there in less than a year. It is funny how people can misunderstand spanish or english words...but we all do there is nothing wrong with that and I don't get why people love to leave rude comments.

Very nice article, keep the good work!

bangkokrandy
bangkokrandy on

When I wrote that bit about the Spanish words and what they mean in English, I assumed that everyone would realize that it was a joke. Judging from some of the comments I have received on the topic, I was obviously wrong.

I won't delete those comments, though, because I find them even more ridiculous that what I wrote. Now there's something for everyone to laugh at.

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