Archive for January 2010

Back in the USA

January 18, 2010 - 7:50 pm 1 Comment

We arrived at New York’s JFK airport at 6:15am. Pitch black outside. Just think, yesterday at this time, I was on Warren’s balcony in Buenos Aires, underneath a blazing sun.

A couple of hours later, we were back in DC. Including our connections, we took a total of 13 flights in 23 days. That’s a lot of flying.

We visited the American Airlines baggage desk to ask about our lost baggage credit, and the lady told us to send copies of our receipts to the corporate office. What are the chances I also get them to pay for the sweet Brazilian clothes I bought in Rio?

On the cab ride home, a few things stuck out. Mounds of dirty snow along the roads, relatively courteous drivers, and an uncomfortable familiarity with my surroundings. After three weeks of the exotic unknown, Columbia Pike is a bit of a downer.

Tomorrow, we’re back at work. Traveling somewhere amazing, and knowing that there are so many other places out there bigger and better that you have not seen yet, makes the daily grind at work seem pretty insignificant.

A friend once told me that one of the best things about traveling is that you’ll be sitting in a boring meeting at work one day and your mind will wander to some far-off place a lot more exciting. You’ll remember jumping the waves on Ipanema, being on Copacabana Beach for New Year’s, braving the streets of Salvador, being sprayed by the mist of Iguazu Falls, going into a hookeria, visiting the southernmost city in the world, or hopping around glaciers. And while everyone else is busy talking about something that really doesn’t matter, you’ll sit there and smile.

He was right.

This really was a great trip. We saw a heckuva lot in three weeks, and I think we timed everything just about perfectly. The food was amazing, truly a steakation. Doug (he’s “Doug” now that we’re back on American soil) estimates that we each put away about 30 pounds of steak.

Having completed two big trips with Doug, I’ve decided that we’re pretty compatible travel partners. While I took care of pretty much everything on our first trip, he really helped out with some of the trip planning this time around. He doesn’t annoy me, and we keep each other laughing. He took photos when I was too scared to take out my camera, and he proved to be quite the videographer. And he always let me have the window seat.

Where should we go next year? 🙂

Our Last Hurrah in Buenos Aires

January 17, 2010 - 11:26 pm 2 Comments

It was just after midnight when we landed in BA. Our taxi took us to the address Warren had given us. Huge condominium. Walked into the lobby, signed in with the security guard, and headed up to the 21st floor.

Warren welcomed us with a big smile and led us to the balcony, where three attractive, dressed up young women were sitting and laughing and drinking. By the look of the empty wine bottles, it looked like they had been at it for a little while.

WTF? A moment to elaborate on our surprise. Warren is a nice guy who likes to have a good time, but he’s never been known to have women draped all over him. Now here he was, in a penthouse in Buenos Aires, with three attractive girls sitting on his balcony and getting drunk. Was this another hookeria?

Warren dragged us inside and gave us a quick tour of his enormous, ridiculous, four-bedroom penthouse. The 21st floor IS Warren’s place. Fully furnished, with giant couches, huge flat panel TVs, wood floors IN the showers, huge windows all around with a 360° view of Buenos Aires.

Warren is my hero.

Gog and I were wearing stinky Patagonia clothes and flip-flops, so we flipped a coin for bedroom choice (I won), cleaned up a bit, and joined everyone on the balcony. We sipped wine and chatted, with the red blinking lights of the Buenos Aires skyline all around us.

A couple of more people showed up. One, a local named Diego, offered to take us all out to one of his favorite clubs, Esperanto. So at 3am, we headed over.

People were pushing to get in, bouncers were screaming at people and each other. We arrived at Esperanto in two groups, and there was a bit of drama getting us all in, but we made it.

The place was raging inside. We walked upstairs to the main dance floor, which was packed. We drank, we danced. Why didn’t Gog and I discover places like this our first time through Buenos Aires? Why aren’t places like this in any of our travel guides?

And the girls… I was ready to concede that the women of Argentina were nothing special until we got here. THIS is where all the attractive women in Argentina were. Amazing. Diego told us to just grab them by the hand and start talking or dancing with them. I don’t do either very well, so I couldn’t hold any girl’s interest for more than a few seconds. You gotta speak the language.

We emerged from the club at 6:15am, with the sun blazing. The street was a mix of early risers and people stumbling out of clubs. What a night. I feel like Gog and I didn’t give BA a fair shake our first time through. We’ve only scratched the surface.

Sunrise in Buenos Aires (more…)

Trekking Across Perito Moreno

January 16, 2010 - 9:30 pm No Comments

Exhausted this morning, but the adrenaline of a glacier hike pushed me through the process of sitting up and putting pants on.

Our bus this morning took us to a small dock on Lago Argentino, where we got onto a small boat and went straight to Perito Moreno. A small spit of land sticks into the center of the glacier and separates it into a north face and a south face. Yesterday’s catamaran tour took us to the north face, but today we’d be doing a “mini-trek” along the south face.

Approaching Perito Moreno

Sun Over Icebergs

Docking at Perito Moreno

Cooney was our English-speaking guide. He was fluent but had a pretty strong accent and had this funny habit of finishing every phrase with “Yes?” almost as if he needed to make sure we understood what he was saying. “Today we go on top of the glacier, yes? If you have health problems, you talk to me, yes? Pregnant women cannot take this excursion, yes?”

Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno Glacier

Peligro - No Pasar

We took a short hike through the forest and were led to a shed at the base of the glacier. There, we strapped on some crampons. Very cool feeling walking around in those things. Cooney gave us a quick lesson on how to walk properly on the slippery ice, and we were off.

Atop Perito Moreno Glacier

Doug & Jeff on Perito Moreno

Doug on Perito Moreno

On the glacier, the sun was warm, the breeze was cool. The ice was crunchy beneath our crampons, almost the consistency of granola. Everything was melting, so the ice got a bit slushy in places and little streams of water flowed across the surface. Larger holes and cracks led to rushing torrents of water deeper in the glacier. The deeper the crack, the deeper the blue.

Blue Hole

Blue Crack

Jeff in the Crack

Melting, cracking ice makes some pretty amazing shapes. The rock dust is a natural occurrence, but I imagine that the scene would be really amazing if the formations were perfectly clean.

Ice Formations on Perito Moreno

Ice Formations on Perito Moreno

The water trickling across the glacier is pure. Although light sprinklings of rock dust make it look dirty, Cooney assured me that the water is safe to drink. So I bent down and had a sip of pure glacier water. Cold and delicious.

Jeff Drinks Glacial Water

The hike had lots of ups and downs, but when you consider how enormous Perito Moreno is, we really didn’t cover very much ground at all. We didn’t come anywhere near the unstable and dangerous front edge, which is too bad, because that would have been cool.

In our group was an Italian couple. The guy was the ultimate douchebag, with his designer jeans, designer sunglasses, and gelled-up hair. It’s funny how Italians never dress down for anything, even hikes across glaciers.

Before packing it in, we stopped at a little table that was set up with glasses. Cooney and the other guides used their picks to chop up some ice from the glacier and served whiskey to the group. Very cool. I just wish I liked whiskey.

Whiskey with Glacier Ice

The Edge of Perito Moreno

Climbing Perito Moreno

Perito Moreno Through the Trees

Perito Moreno Glacier

The box lunch packed by our hotel consisted of a vile ham and cheese pie, a mealy apple, and a bottle of water. But it was the only food around, so I did my best.

Our boat came to take us back to the bus, and then we were whisked off to the tourist-filled viewing platforms offering impressive views of the north face.

North Face of Perito Moreno

Standing in front of the glacier, you hear all kinds of sounds: cracks, pops, and rumbles. Everyone waits patiently for a chunk of ice to crack off and splash into the water, and every few minutes, it happens. It’s hard to photograph because you never know which part of the enormous glacier will rupture.

Calving on the North Face of Perito Moreno

What I find interesting is that, after inspecting older photos, the front edge of the glacier seems to have been in the same basic shape for the last decade, despite the constant calving. The little archway of ice between the north face and the south face has looked the same for years.

It was when I was leaving the platform that I tripped on a step and fell on my ass, rolling awkwardly to keep my camera and tripod from hitting the ground. For a fleeting moment, everyone turned away from the glacier, looked at me, and went silent. To the best of my knowledge, there is no photographic evidence of this event.

North Face of Perito Moreno

Just as we were heading back to the bus, we heard a deep rumble and turned around to see an enormous pillar of ice topple over and crash into the water. The booming sound it made was tremendous. Pretty amazing to watch.

Chunk of Ice Falling...






There is so much in this part of the country we just didn’t have time to see. I would have liked to get to picturesque Cerro Fitz Roy, I hear good things about Bariloche, and Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park looks amazing. We could have easily spent another week down here. Next time.

Before leaving El Calafate, we stopped at Borges y Alvarez and I had my first South American burger. A major disappointment. This country takes its pride in high-quality meat, and its steaks are amazing, but this burger was obviously sliced from a loaf.

A guy named Mario was our driver back to the airport. Very friendly guy. His English wasn’t so great, but we all bonded over our mutual appreciation of Boca Juniors futbol. He carried our luggage, walked us inside, joked around with his airport friends, and walked us all the way to the gate. One of the few guys who actually earned his tip.

Our Flight to Buenos Aires

Lago Argentino

We’re now on a flight back to Buenos Aires. Somehow, the Patagonia package that Gog purchased included Business Class seats on this flight. Sweet! I’ve never flown through the pink clouds of sunset before. Fact: they’re only pink on the outside.

Unfortunately, this vacation is winding down now, but we have a last hurrah in BA before we head home. We’ll be there tonight and then all day tomorrow. Warren has graciously offered to let us stay with him at the ridiculous luxury penthouse he has just rented for himself in the city center.

A Night in El Calafate

January 16, 2010 - 4:03 am No Comments

Gog and I walked up a hill near our hotel to get a nice view of the Patagonian sunset. The sky blew up with wonderful colors last night, but our view was obstructed by power lines and light poles, so we were determined to find a better spot tonight. After short hike, clouds prevented the sunset from being truly dramatic. Oh well.

Sunset Over Lago Argentino

At night, it’s pleasantly cool. We started with dinner next door to our hotel, a restaurant called Barricas de Enopio. Cool-looking place, but my dry salad and Patagonian lamb stew were mediocre. I really want my salad dressing and vegetables. Stopped for a quick drink at Borges & Alvarez before heading over to La Tolderia, the club where we were supposed to meet our friends from the boat.

Borges & Alvarez

Dead on the outside, but packed with locals on the inside. The music was loud and Spanish, kind of refreshing not to hear any American music at all. TVs all around the bar showed lots of boobs.

One of the shows, called “Naked Wild On,” featured two completely naked women sitting on stools and eating popsicles, sometimes even sharing the same popsicle. While nobody else in the bar seemed to care, Gog and I were fixated. And this was on E! Cable programming down here isn’t the same as it is back home.

We looked for our friends but couldn’t find them. At one point, Gog looked across the smoky club and thought he spotted the girl from the boat, but we couldn’t tell for sure since her head was always turned or obstructed by friends. Finally, Gog moved in, put his hand on her back, and smiled. Not her. Awesome.

Walking out of the place at 3am, we bumped into the guy from the boat. He said the rest of his friends were coming in 30 minutes or so. Wait, doesn’t he work tomorrow? Yes, at 6am. When does he sleep? He said he doesn’t really sleep, just tries to fit it in whenever he has time. Gog and I are amazed. How do they live this lifestyle? He invited us back into the club, but Gog and I were done.

Cold and tired, Gog and I walked back to the hotel. In the night sky, Orion is upside down.

My feet stink.

The Glaciers of Lago Argentino

January 15, 2010 - 8:36 pm 3 Comments

The flight across Patagonia was mostly flat and boring. Cloud-covered mountains near Ushuaia were replaced by brown, pockmarked desert plains as we got closer to El Calafate (el kal-ah-FAW-tay). We landed with barren desert on the left and the brilliant blue Lago Argentino on the right.

Ri?o Santa Cruz

Douglas x 2

After dropping our stuff off at Sierra Nevada, our hotel, we went for a walk around town. El Calafate’s smaller than Ushuaia, and more of the people here seem to be tourists. Like everywhere else we’ve been on this trip, the tourists here seem to be mostly old people, with very few English speakers.

Sunset on Av. Libertador

We went to a place called Rick’s for dinner and decided to mix things up a bit by having an all-you-can-eat meat buffet. The quality was a little disappointing compared to what we’ve been eating, but sitting at the table next to us was a young and very cute Argentinean girl. With two of her boyfriends. After dinner, we grabbed a drink at a local bar called Borges y Alvarez and ran into them again there.

Cute Girl in Argentina

We’re a bit north of Ushuaia, and the brilliant Patagonia sunset comes a bit earlier up here. We went to bed relatively early last night to rest up for our tour of Los Glaciares National Park early this morning.

At 7:30am, we picked up the box lunches prepared by our hotel. A huge coach picked us up and took us through brown scrubland and snow-capped mountains in the distance. It’s in those mountains, the Andes, where all the glaciers live, and we had scheduled an all-day catamaran tour up and down rivers and lakes to see them.

The Andes

We got our VIP tickets and made our way onto the boat. Turns out that the VIP tickets entitled us to seats in the front section of the boat, free alcohol, and conversation with two teenage, Spanish-speaking hosts.

Most of the trip, though, we preferred to stand outside on the deck, with the cool wind in our hair and natural beauty all around us. The water of Lago Argentino and its tributaries is greenish-gray, colored by the minerals and dust from rocks grounded up by advancing glaciers. The little icebergs that floated by looked like they were made out of blue Styrofoam.

Mountains & Icebergs

Melting Icebergs

The icebergs and surrounding mountains got larger and larger, and eventually we found ourselves at Upsala Glacier. It’s surrounded by icebergs so large that getting close to the actual glacier was impossible. Some say the rapid break-up of the glacier is caused by global warming, but other glaciers in the area are not retreating at all, so who knows.

Upsala Glacier

Iceberg House

Iceberg Close-up

Iceberg House

From there, on to the more impressive Spegazzini Glacier. We were able to get quite close to this one, circling a couple of times so that people on every side of the boat could get their photos. It’s amazing how thick these things are, even more amazing when you consider how much of them are underwater.

Boats & Icebergs

Jeff Holding Glacier Ice

Boat at Spegazzini Glacier

Glacier Close-up

Glacier Close-up

Glacier Close-up

Doug in Patagonia

Blues of Patagonia

Finally, we visited the crown jewel of Los Glaciares National Park, Perito Moreno Glacier. The glacier is enormous and slightly bluish, with a deeper blue glow in the cracks that makes it look like it is illuminated from the inside, even in broad daylight.

Perito Moreno Glacier

Glacier Close-up

Glacier Close-up

It even put on a little show for us, shedding off a few chunks of ice right in front of our boat.

A Chunk Falls Off Perito Moreno Glacier

Tomorrow, we have a little glacier hike over and around Perito Moreno, so we hope to see more of that. Preferably not under our feet.

Leaving Perito Moreno Glacier

On the way back, our young hosts became chatty with us. The girl guessed Gog was 40-something, refusing to finish her estimate when Gog’s eyes started bugging out. She guessed I was 25. Nice. We conversed in broken Spanish for a bit, and she invited us out dancing tonight in El Calafate with her friends. She gave us the name of a club, and when we asked what time to meet, she said 1 or 2am. WTF? Gog asked her when Argentineans sleep, and she said that they don’t.

We’re back in the room now, collecting ourselves for what might be a late night on the town.

Souvenirs from the End of the World

January 14, 2010 - 4:54 pm No Comments

Gog and I spent the day wandering up and down San Martin, Ushuaia’s main road. DirecTV satellite dishes on the side of every building point almost horizontal, straining to reach satellites in equatorial orbits. Pig carcasses cook in every other restaurant window. I like meat, but is that really supposed to make me hungry?

Sad Piggies

I did a bit more research and discovered that Ushuaia isn’t quite as far south as I thought. It looks way down there the way it just down towards Antarctica on a map, but we’re actually at the same latitude as London. That might explain why the weather is so mild.

Ushuaia bills itself as “Fin del Mundo,” or the End of the World, and you’ll see the phrase everywhere. There’s no shortage of souvenirs with the phrase, and you can even get souvenir stamps in your passport. I didn’t know you were allowed to put unofficial stamps into a passport.

Proof I Went to the End of the World

Gog and I picked up a few souvenirs, stopped by a museum, grabbed a light lunch, and said goodbye to Ushuaia.

Ushuaia from the Air

Gog does not enjoy flying through bumpy clouds. Next stop, El Calafate!

More Steak and the Climb Up Isla Redonda

January 14, 2010 - 4:18 am No Comments

Rainbow to Ushuaia

Went to a restaurant called Bodego Fuegino for a steak dinner last night. The place is friendly but a little cramped inside. And that’s not even bad, since it makes conversation with the other tourists around you pretty easy. Gog and I sometimes play this game where we overhear a foreign language and try to guess where the people are from. The older couple next to us was making a lot of guttural noises, but it was too bouncy and happy to be German, so I guessed it was Dutch. I was right! We ended up having a little conversation with them, and it turns out they’re familiar with the part of the Netherlands where my last name comes from.

Due to some confusion when ordering, the waitress brought us a single salad and a single serving of steak. Gog and I just decided to share what we had, and it turned out to be the perfect portion. So rather than trying to put down huge piles of meat every time we eat, Gog and I might share some meals over the next few days.

Bodegon Fueguino Restaurant

Nighttime in Ushuaia

Last night, we made our way over to Dublin and found it PACKED with people from Scotland, England, and Australia. Eureka! Who would have thought that Ushuaia would be where we’d find the loudest bar in South America?

Walking to Dublin

Most of these people were traveling around South America together on a big bus, staying in hostels and doing group activities, similar to what I did with Oz Experience in Australia. I would have liked to do something similar with Gog, but these overland South America tours take upwards of six weeks. We just didn’t have the time.

This morning, I woke up to see clouds rolling over the charcoal-colored mountains outside our hotel window. No rain. We’ve really lucked out with the weather.

Frasco was our guide again for today’s tour. Our group consisted of three Ukrainians named Alex and a few others who were much less interesting. Tierra del Fuego National Park, just outside of Ushuaia, was a short drive away.

Our hike today took us along up and down hills, through forest, and along the coast of Beagle Channel. Walking the well-trodden, mushy trails, we were treated to scenic views of crystal clear water and impressive snow-capped mountains just across the border in Chile. We ended up walking about 8 km of coastline.

Patagonian Roots

Limestone and Mountains

Crumbling Rock and Mountains

Doug in Patagonia

Purple Shells and Orange Rocks

A Slice of Patagonia

We’re only about 750 miles away from Antarctica down here. Standing on the quiet shore, I gazed to the south at mountains in the distance, knowing that Antarctica is just beyond them. I wonder what Antarctica is like. Gog and I actually considered taking a cruise down there on this trip, but they’re frightfully expensive and we just didn’t have the time for it.

The Way to Antarctica

Bird at Lunch I

By the time we reached Bahia Lapataia, the morning clouds had cleared, the sun was out, and the air was crisp. We reached the end of Route 3, one of the most famous and longest stretches of road in Argentina.

Glassy Water, Green Mountains, Blue Sky

Sign at Bahia Lapataia

Stream in Patagonia

While the rest of the group went on a canoe ride, Gog and I were taken by Zodiac (inflatable boat, like a raft with a motor) to Isla Redonda, a quiet little outcropping in the middle of Lapataia.

It was on Isla Redonda that I found Rocky, the world’s friendliest dog, some locals who live in a little cabin right by the dock.

With the Friendliest Dog in the World

A View of Chile

Under the Sun

Gog and I hiked through forest and over some rocky ledges, finally making our way to the top. We sat on a conveniently placed bench and admired the majestic view all around us.

Crystal clear water. Rolling green hills. Mountains dappled with snow in the distance. Blue sky and a friendly sun overhead. Cool breeze. Silence. Perfect.

The Top of Isla Redonda

It was at the top of Isla Redonda that Gog and I were at our southernmost point. Strange to imagine myself standing upside down on Planet Earth.

After the tour, we got cleaned up and walked up a steep hill to eat at a highly rated restaurant called Kaupé. The view was good, but a radio tower and power lines ruined photos. The food was good, but the portions were small. The service was good, but the meal was a little expensive.

Almond Ice Cream

As we explored Ushuaia later that evening, Gog managed to set off a bank alarm by brushing his hand up against a window as we walked by. We were determined to find someplace other than Dublin to hang out, but all of the places in our travel guides had moved or were closed down. Seems to be a running theme for us in South America. Up-to-date listings and reviews of bars and clubs on TripAdvisor would be invaluable to the young, social traveler.

So we ended up at Dublin. Watching TV at the bar, Gog and I caught the tail end of a tournament football match between Boca Juniors and their archrival, San Lorenzo. After trailing for most of the game, Boca’s best player, Martin Palermo, hit dramatic header to tie the game with seconds left. Nobody else in the bar seemed to care, but Gog and I erupted in our seats.

Heading home at 3:30am, the early sunrise filled the sky with light.

Tomorrow, we have a day to chill out before catching a flight north to El Calafate, a town surrounded by rugged mountains and giant glaciers.

Ushuaia: End of the World

January 12, 2010 - 5:47 pm No Comments

The clouds over Ushuaia (oo-shoo-WHY-ah) were thick. Didn’t see anything until we were touching down, and even then, just runway and airport. The forecast for the next few days is for clouds and rain, but we’re hoping for the best. The soggy roads and overflowing streams all around Ushuaia are evidence that it’s already been raining for a few days.

Our hotel, the comfortable but difficult to pronounce Los Ñieres, is just outside of town, so we dropped off our stuff and headed back into town to get some dinner. We chose a seafood place on the water called Volver and had an enormous dinner with a couple of King crabs watching us from their tank.

Being the southernmost city at the height of summer, the sun stays up in the sky much later. I confirmed sunset as having occurred at precisely 10:07pm, probably the latest sunset I’m ever going to see. There’s actually a hint of light in the sky all the way up to midnight.

We stopped at an Irish Bar called Dublin, recommended to us by one of our drivers, for a quick drink. While it was the closest thing to a bar that we’ve seen in South America, there weren’t many people, and the best-looking girl in the place looked like Gheorghe Mure?an. So we called it a night.

Woke up early this morning to find clouds in the sky but no rain. Lucky. We were picked up by a guy named Frasco and joined a small group for a canoe trip through Beagle Channel and trek through the forests of Tierra del Fuego. Frasco’s tour was conducted almost entirely in English, which was wonderful.

Despite the strong currents, the canoe ride was peaceful and scenic. The older Austrian couple we shared our boat with were good paddlers and good conversationalists.

Doug in the Canoe

Paddling Over Kelp

Orange Lichen on the Beach

We visited Hammer Island, also known as Penguin Island, one of the only places in South America where Magellanic and Gentoo penguins have nesting grounds. We weren’t allowed to get to scratch their bellies or anything, but it was pretty cool seeing them in the wild. A stiff, rainy breeze make things pretty chilly for us humans.

On Penguin Island

Our trek through the forest took us over moist, squishy ground that sounded hollow when you stomped on it. The rugged wilderness, with its varied landscape of snow-capped mountains, thick forest, rocky shores, and crystal clear water, reminds me a lot of New Zealand. I imagine it’s what Alaska is like, too.

Rain on the Barn

Broken Fence

Stopping at streams that had been dammed by beavers, Frasco explained how they are an invasive species, destroying forest and growing uncontrollably due to the absence of natural predators.

Dam Beavers

Considering how far south we are, I’m really surprised with how lush and green everything is. Looking at where this place is on a map, I figured we’d be wearing five layers of clothing to keep warm and tramping through snow, but it’s actually pretty warm when the sun comes out, and the only snow is on top of mountains in the distance.

Back at the hotel now, dirty and hungry. Not sure if it’s the ozone hole overhead, but the redness on our faces that was just starting to fade away is back again after today’s hike. We only have five hours of daylight left, so we better get a move and find some dinner.

A Few Days in Buenos Aires

January 11, 2010 - 6:26 pm 1 Comment

Our first full day in Buenos Aires (pronounced “BWEH-no SIGH-deez”) was a day of errands. It was so nice going to the lavadero and picking up our clothes, clean and folded pretty and wrapped in a plastic bag, but not so nice to discover that the secret US$100 that Gog left in one of his pockets was gone. We went back to talk to the lady who did our laundry, but of course, she played dumb.

After Gog got ripped off, it was my turn. I had a bunch of Brazilian Reals left over, so we went to the currency exchange place near the hotel recommended by the receptionist. I walked in, pulled my pants down, bent over, and took it like a champ. They really screwed us with the exchange rate, but we tried not to worry about it. We had a whole city to explore.

The original translation of Buenos Aires is “fair winds,” and that certainly applies. The weather has been absolutely perfect, with a warm sun and gentle breeze during the day and pleasantly cool evenings. A refreshing change from the oppressive heat up north.

We’d spend afternoons sitting at an outdoor cafe, camped out under an umbrella, watching locals, tourists, pigeons, and stray dogs eat sandwiches, sip coffee, smoke cigarettes, and enjoy live accordion music. There’s definitely a European vibe here. The cafes and restaurants are reminiscent of Paris, and the people of BA definitely have a thinner, lighter-skinned, Italian look. We blend in more here than we did in Puerto Iguazú or in Brazil.

The women of Argentina are nothing special. Most are average-looking and lack the curiosity and friendliness that women had in Brazil. They don’t make eye contact, and they seem self-conscious just like the women back home. The three best-looking women that Gog and I have seen turned out to be tourists from Brazil. Tati was right, Brazilian women are better.

Most of the Spanish I’m hearing is familiar, although it seems to have a bit of an Italian swing to it here. Gog’s been handling the bulk of the communication with locals. The funny thing is that when Gog doesn’t understand, locals don’t slow it down. They just repeat themselves at the same speed and volume.

Gog’s teaching me lots of little tricks and inflections. Dropping the S’s in casual conversation (“esta bien” becomes “ta bien,” “buenos dias” becomes “bueno dia”), and pronounce your initial V’s like B’s (“vominos” is pronounced “bominos, “veinte” is pronounced “beinte”). And I’ve been picking up a little vocabulary:

“wiki” : “whiskey”

“tah-KEE-no” : “bacon”

“moo-ee deh-LISS-ee-oh-so” : “very delicious”

“the-nada” : the casual way they say “thank you”

¡Estoy vomitando! : “I am vomiting!”

Apparently, pronunciation has to be bang on. With a cab driver, I went through three different iterations of Paraná, the name of a street in Buenos Aires, and he stared at me cluelessly. When I finally nailed it (“pah-dah-NAH”), he looked at me disapprovingly and grunted before hitting the gas.

La Biela, one of the cafes near our hotel, became our regular brunch spot and a great place to people-watch. It was at La Biela where I discovered golf sauce (mayo and ketchup mixed together) and had my first submarino, a glass of hot milk with a melting stick of dark chocolate in it. One swirl, and the milk turns into a more conventional-looking hot chocolate. They really enjoy their ham and cheese sandwiches here, and for dessert, you’ll probably have something with dulce de leche. And when you order water, you have to specify “sin gas” or “con gas.”


In general, we’re been going to the top-rated restaurants in our travel guides and on TripAdvisor, and the food has been amazing. We’ve been eating a lot of steak (Gog mooed in his sleep last night). It’s everywhere, and it’s cheap. You’re going to eat lots of meat in Argentina, and there’s not much you can do about it.

Pile of Meats

Cow Wrestling

The meat is almost always served with potatoes, and there are hardly any other veggies. I’m craving a plate full of cheesy broccoli and cauliflower, but it’s nowhere to be found. Salads are usually served without dressing. They’ll sometimes give you little bottles of oil and vinegar, but that’s it. How about a little Ranch dressing?

Many restaurants will put a “cover charge” on your bill, even when there’s no performance of any sort. Don’t really understand that. Service is generally pretty good, with hosts and waiters tolerating our English and broken Spanish.

Gog and I resisted the temptation to explore BA on scooters, mostly due to the crazy local drivers. Lane markers are a formality, headlights at night are optional, and many of the grid-like intersections don’t have stop signs or traffic lights. The only courtesy that drivers extend to each other, it seems, is flicking their brights a few times instead of laying on the horn when someone is in their way. How nice.

Instead, we explored BA by foot. We tried downloading “walking tour” MP3s to our iPhones, going to predetermined spots on a crudely drawn map and listening to very in-depth and boring commentaries in our earphones. It was a little clunky, so we did the rest on our own. Gog took over navigational duties, using his maps and notes to explore different neighborhoods around BA.

In Recoleta, we visited some of the more important landmarks and Floralis Gene?rica, the giant metal flower that has come to symbolize BA.

Over La Recoleta Cemetery

Floralis Gene?rica

Iglesia de Nuestra Sen?ora del Pilar

Universidad de Buenos Aires

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

Then off to La Boca, a neighborhood originally settled by Italians and now a waterfront tourist trap.

Republica de La Boca

Estadio Alberto J. Armando, also known as La Bombonera, is the home field for the Boca Juniors, one of the most famous local football teams in BA. Gog really wanted to take a tour of the place.

Estadio Alberto J. Armando

Estadio Alberto J. Armando

Doug at Estadio Alberto J. Armando

Doug Standing Where Maradona Used to Shower

A few blocks away was Caminito, a little street with colorfully painted buildings, artists and sculptors selling work that you’re not allowed to photograph, and streetside cafes with outdoor tango shows. Lots of character here.

Pastels of Caminito

Tango in La Boca

Dancers on Caminito

Jeff & the Tango Dancer

San Telmo’s Plaza Dorrego was similarly filled with artists and souvenir stands. We caught the tail end of another tango show there. Walking the streets of San Telmo, we met an American tourist named Molly. She was as relieved as we were to run into other English-speaking tourists. She’s from Alaska, and she’s done quite a bit of traveling for an American. When she told me that she used to live in Humboldt, California, she was impressed that I knew of the tendency for earthquakes in the area, and I was equally impressed when she told me that her Dad discovered the San Andreas Fault.

We sent our last day exploring Microcentro, the city center. Our walk took us across Avenida 9 de Julio, an enormous 12-lane road that cuts through the middle of the city. In the middle of Avenida 9 de Julio is the Obelisco de Buenos Aires, similar in shape but quite a bit smaller than the Washington Monument.

Obelisco de Buenos Aires

Juggling Girl in the Street

Peru? Station

We ended our tour in the Congressional Plaza in front of Congreso de la Nación Argentina, home of Argentina’s government.

The Thinker

Congreso de la Nacio?n Argentina

Over the course of a few afternoons, we were able to hit BA’s main attractions. But finding nightlife was more of a challenge. Gibraltar, the most popular tourist bar in BA, is closed for a year for renovations. Another supposedly trendy bar we tried to go to, Bar Uriarte, had just recently shut down. Travel guides and friends have said that San Telmo crawls with tourists at night, but we found the streets to be dark and vacant, lined with trash bags and mumbling homeless guys. It was a borderline slum. The only places that seemed to have people were the restaurants in Palermo, filled with locals sitting at outdoor tables sipping wine and absorbed in their own conversations.

Gibraltar: Closed for Renovations

Where did locals go to mingle? Where did locals go to drink? How do the locals meet each other? And where did all the other English-speaking tourists go? We’d see them walking around during the day, but where did they go at night? Seems that locals don’t even have a word for “bar.” Asking “Como se dice ‘bar’ en español?” simply confused them.

BA does have its clubs, though. One of the most famous, at least by tourist standards, is Club Niceto, commonly known as Club 69. Gog and I gave it a shot.

The thing about nightlife in BA is that is doesn’t really get going until about 2am. Locals party until they close at 6am, and then, somehow, they go to work. It has taken a few days for Gog and I to adjust to this schedule. With steak-induced cardiac issues and sleep deprivation, I wonder what the immune systems of Argentineans are like. How do these people do it?

We headed out to Club Niceto around midnight but found that the place didn’t even open until 1am, so we sat at a restaurant next door and got a round of drinks. I decided to try a fernet and Coke. GROSS. Fernet tastes just like paint thinner. I don’t know how people drink it.

Club Niceto filled up quickly. Inside were a legitimate bar and an enormous dance floor. There was definitely an Indian theme to the place, but the music was your typical club techno. Dancers in traditional Indian garb, including a few overweight transvestites and a much older guy who creeped me out a bit, roamed the dance floor and danced with the locals.

The place was getting packed. Gog and I, in our old age, are becoming less and less tolerant of being pushed around on crowded dance floors, so we took a spot upstairs, against a railing and overlooking the dance floor. One of the attractive dancers came over to us, and Gog got a little jiggy with her for a few minutes. With the spotlight on them, Gog and his friend put on a little show for the rest of the club.

Club 69

At the end of the night, we wanted to stop for one more drink, so we asked our cab driver to take us somewhere in Recoleta. We peeked inside one of the bars, scarily named Sodoma, but found that it was another hookeria. The guy wanted us to pay cover at the door, and then presumably more for services rendered inside.

Seems like the only bars in BA that are easy to find and always open are hookerias. Is BA really like this, or is it just Recoleta? Our travel guides didn’t mention that hookerias were so prevalent here. It’s almost as bad as Bangkok.

A quick peek inside Newport Pub confirmed the obvious. Get to the hookeria before 4am or all the women will look like lagoon creatures.

One morning, we received a random message from one of our buddies back home. Warren had decided to move to BA for a couple of months, and he was going to be arriving while we were there. A complete coincidence. When we finally met up with Warren, it was like one of those dreams where people you know are together with other people you know when it would be impossible for these people to be in the same place at the same time in real life. Weird.

For our last couple of days in BA, Warren and Molly were good company. We found a pretty cool bar called Sugar on the first night, and another one called La Puerta Roja the next. What a relief it was to speak a little English.

English Speakers

Gog and I capped off our stay in BA with an absolutely fantastic dinner at La Cabrera, a steakhouse rated highly in every travel guide and recommended by friends who have been to BA.

La Cabrera

Gog, Warren, and I arrived without a reservation, but they gave us a wait time and stuck to it. Inside, the smell of perfectly cooked steak fills the room. They put us at a comfortable table in the corner, and our knowledgeable, friendly, beret-wearing waiter helped us order and correctly portion our meal. He didn’t even ask us how we wanted it cooked. They know.

Our Kobe beef and seasoned tenderloin was cooked to a medium-rare perfection and served with miniature side dishes, each one rich and delicious. We enjoyed a really wonderful Malbec from Mendoza, and for dessert, the crème brûlée. The food and service were exquisite. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

Ready to Eat Cow

A Nice Malbec from Mendoza

Ready for a Feast

On the way home, Lauryn Hill’s “Too Good To Be True” came on the radio, and Gog sang along, dedicating his rendition to Kobe beef:

You’re just too good to be true, Kobe beef.
Can’t take my eyes off you, Kobe beef.
You’d be like heaven to touch, Kobe beef.
I wanna hold you so much, Kobe beef.
At long last love has arrived, Kobe beef.
And I thank God I’m alive, Kobe beef.
You’re just too good to be true, Kobe beef.
Can’t take my eyes off you, Kobe beef.

Pardon the way that I stare, Kobe beef.
There’s nothing else to compare, Kobe beef.
The sight of you leaves me weak, Kobe beef.
There are no words left to speak, Kobe beef.
But if you feel like I feel, Kobe beef,
Please let me know that it’s real, Kobe beef.
You’re just too good to be true, Kobe beef.
Can’t take my eyes off you, Kobe beef.

I need you Kobe, and if it’s quite all right,
I need you Kobe to warm a lonely night.
I love you Kobe, trust in me when I say OK.
Oh pretty Kobe, don’t let me down, I pray.
Oh pretty Kobe, now that I found you, stay.
And let me love you,
Oh Kobe, let me love you, oh Kobe…

Overall, I have to admit that I’m slightly disappointed with Buenos Aires. While there is a European beauty to it that sets it apart form the rest of South America, there isn’t anything particularly scenic or exciting about it. Nightlife has been mediocre, and hookers are the only locals who want to talk to us. But Gog and I have recharged our batteries, and we’re ready to continue our adventure.


At the moment, I’m on the plane to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, where Gog and I are sure to have many geeky geographical moments. We’ll be in Patagonia for six days. I’m very excited.

Recoleta: Hookers and Dead People

January 7, 2010 - 3:40 pm 1 Comment

Before leaving Puerto Iguazú, Gog and I scrambled to find a place to stay in Buenos Aires. Grabbing the first decent place that offered live online booking, we got a room at a little boutique hotel chain called Urban Suites in Recoleta, which seems to be one of Buenos Aires’ nicest, most upscale neighborhoods.

Take-Off from Cataratas del Iguazu? International Airport

On the flight to BA, an American–sounding Dad and his two sons sat in the row behind us. The kids were loud and obnoxious in the airport terminal, so I feared the worst. Sure enough, shortly after take-off, the kids lowered their tray tables and started pounding on them like orangutans. Gog was sitting in front of Dad, so he didn’t feel anything.

Dad was teaching them how to play poker, and they’d slam the table every time they were dealt a card. I exhibited unusual patience, but finally, I turned and explained that they were shaking my chair, politely asking them to stop. And they did stop. For five minutes. It took everything I had not to have a meltdown.

The land around BA is flat, with a dull gray haze reaching out to the horizon. We landed in the smaller airport near the city center, with BA’s downtown buildings zooming by as we touched down.

Our taxi driver to Recoleta was very friendly, though he spoke hardly any English. He was ashamed, telling us that the fact that his daughter is an English professor makes him want to kill himself. With Gog’s translation help, he told us a little about himself and BA and even warned us to look out for counterfeit money, which is apparently a pretty big problem.

We checked into our hotel and got settled in our snazzy room. There don’t seem to be a lot of guys our age traveling together, and I get the impression that hotel receptionists are assuming Gog and I are gay. A few times now, we’ve had to specify that we want two beds instead of one queen-size bed. And I think that other travelers also assume we’re gay. We’ve had to set the record straight a few times.

The hotel is great, especially the rooftop view across La Recoleta Cemetery and Buenos Aires. The ocean, visible in the distance, is disappointingly brown.

La Recoleta Cemetery

Doug on the Roof

The only thing not so wonderful about the hotel is the exorbitant price for laundry. They have an itemized price sheet, with a pair of shorts costing US$5 to wash. And it goes up from there. We’re going to have to find a Laundromat.

Craving nightlife and English conversation after four days in quiet, non-touristy towns, Gog and I headed to BA’s in trendy Palermo neighborhood for dinner and drinks. We sat a place called Cronico Bar, which was ornately decorated, colorfully lit, and packed with people. We did some people watching. My initial impression is that girls in Argentina are not was well endowed as Brazilians but thinner, lighter-skinned, and more uniform-looking.

Gog and I walked around a bit, finding most of Palermo’s people in restaurants and on patios, sipping wine and having their own conversations. Mingling would involve breaking into a conversation and interrupting, which obviously doesn’t feel right.

We walked into Macondo Bar, filled with tables of people engrossed in their own little conversations. There was a real bar in there, but it seemed more like a service bar than anything. We got a couple of drinks and relaxed for a few minutes before a transvestite grabbed a microphone, bounced around a bit, and made a spectacle of him/herself to jazz up the crowd.

A little frustrated at the lack of a real bar scene and a chance to meet the locals, Gog and I headed back to Recoleta. Before turning in, I pulled Gog into Newport Pub, next to our hotel, for one last drink. Inside were lots of beautiful women. Heading to the bar to get a drink, Gog and I were getting a lot of attention. Had we found the Holy Grail of Buenos Aires?

Two of the girls came over and introduced themselves. Laura, a local with impressive boobs and decent English, took an immediate shine to me, while her less attractive friend started talking to Gog. We told the girls that we were a bit worn out from our day of traveling, and they asked us if we wanted some speed. Gog and I thanked them but declined. Gog and I offered to buy the girls a drink, and one of them wanted speed, so it was then that we figured out that Speed is a drink like Red Bull. We sat at a table and made smalltalk. Laura explained that she was from just outside of town and that she was in town for work.

I excused myself to go to the bathroom. A young guy came in and set up shop at the urinal next to me. Straining like he was trying to shit out a watermelon, I thought the guy was going to have an aneurysm getting a few drops out. I completed my own urination without issue.

When I got back to the table, I heard Gog telling his friend that she was free to go talk to other guys if she wanted to. I disregarded the somewhat dickish comment and continued chatting with Laura. She expressed concern that Gog and her friend were not getting along but said that she was still interested in me. And that to have her for the night, it would only cost me 500 Argentine pesos (about US$130).

Everything made sense. When I told Laura that I had no idea that she was “working,” she explained that every girl in that bar was “working.” It was a hookeria. I felt like an idiot for not figuring it out sooner.

Gog and I were done. Heading out, the guy with the prostate problems took the stage in the back of the bar and started singing with his band. While I had at least passed the evening talking to an attractive woman, Gog was pissed that he had been stuck with a “lagoon creature.”

This morning, we had brunch at an outdoor cafe near our hotel called La Biela and ran some errands, dropping our stinky clothes at a Laundromat a few blocks from our hotel. We also toured the famous La Recoleta Cemetery, with rows and rows of giant tombs and the resting place for some of Argentina’s former leaders and elite. The most famous grave belongs to Eva Perón, popularly known as Evita. It took some reading and historical photos to replace Madonna’s image from my head with the real Evita.

Tomb of Lazaro Repetto and Family

A Peek Inside

Despite last night’s adventure, I get a pretty good vibe from BA. It seems stylish, friendly, and safe. And the weather has been perfect. Four days of hiking in the oppressive humidity of Salvador and Iguazu Falls has gotten the better of us, so I think we’re going to skip side trips to Córdoba and Mendoza and just chill out here for a few days. Gog and I are looking forward to some relaxation.