Prior to touch down in Argentina, we are kept busy filling out a long questionnaire that asks where we have been, what flights have we taken, what were our seat numbers? Do we have any health concerns? Cough? Fever? Where are we going? I’m talking detailed.
This is when the swine flu scare was raging in the media but not killing as many people as the hysteria led folks to believe. Nervous that any misstep in reporting our health could cause us to be detained, I skip mentioning a tiny scratchy throat that I am sure is caused by bad air and exhaustion.
After exiting the plane, we are greeted by medical personnel and have to walk through a heat sensor which will presumably set off alarms for anyone who is feverish. Whew! We pass with no problems.
From medical to money, our next task is to find an ATM. On the way, we pause at the info desk to pick up maps and to see if they have any literature on ski areas in Ushuaia (our destination tomorrow). We get a bit of advice but neither person working in this booth has been there so it’s basically no more than we already know. What we really need is Ushuaia hotel information and they can’t help us with that either. Oh well.
The closest working ATM is at the domestic terminal so we hoof it over there. I have trouble with the machine and am not sure if I will be debited with a withdrawal without getting any cash. I make a note of the machine serial number and customer service phone number along with the date and time in case I need it later.
There’s another machine a few steps away. We get cash without a hitch and are on our way to grab a cab to the Etoile Hotel in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Friends stayed there a few months ago and recommended it.
Taxi drivers in Buenos Aires have a bad reputation. I have read a lot about scamming taxi drivers here so I am on guard. The most well publicized scam involves handing a driver a bill and they substitute it with a counterfeit one and threaten to call the police to report the unsuspecting passenger. Of course the passenger pays with more real money. The driver ends up with more than double the fare plus they might try to slip a counterfeit bill into any change. We have been warned to always have small bills when taking a cab and never hail one on the street. Instead have a business call one.
With this in mind, we arrange for a taxi from a kiosk in the international terminal. We pay about $20 for the 18 mile trip. Carrying our own backpacks we are escorted to the taxi by a man from the booth. He takes our bags off our backs and places them in the trunk. He then extorts more money – not allowing the taxi to leave until we pay him another $5 “tip.” Lesson learned. We will always handle our own bags from now on.
Ministro Pistarini International Airport (EZE) is located south of Buenos Aires. It’s getting dark by the time we leave the airport. The area looks pretty flat and desolate but we can see the glow of the city lights in the distance. It doesn’t take long to get into the hustle and the bustle of the city.
Our stop for the night is the Etoile Hotel. It’s located across from the gates of the Recoleta Cemetery where former First Lady of Argentina Eva Perón is entombed. We reserved an “Executive Deluxe Suite” for $116 + tax per night totaling $140. There’s a problem with the toilet in the first room so we are moved to another one. The first one was a king bed, this one has two doubles and a balcony that overlooks a courtyard surrounded by multi-story apartment buildings.
After checking in, we take the elevator up to the 14th floor to check out the spa and pool area. There’s also a balcony with a spectacular view of the Recoleta Cemetery and all of the above-ground crypts. We really want to explore it when we come back in a few days.
We realize that we haven’t really eaten today and are hungry. The clerk at the front desk suggests an Italian restaurant called Piegari Vitello e Dolce. This restaurant is also in Frommer’s South America guidebook so it looks like a good choice. It takes us 10 minutes to walk there past the exclusive Alvear Palace Hotel and several embassies. Our destination sits proudly across the street from the Four Seasons Hotel.
We are seated in a bright room with an international mix of customers and some definite regulars. Argentina is renowned for it’s meat so I order a steak. As the evening progresses, the service goes from bad to non-existent. On the rare occasions he does show up, the waiter displays no sense of space. His arms are in Mike’s face every time he places something on the table.
My steak arrives and is it so tough, it’s inedible. I send it back. The second one comes much later, after Mike is finished with his meal. This one is no better. By now, our waiter won’t even look at us. He’s fawning all over the regulars at the next table but to him, we don’t exist. When he finally comes over, Mike, in broken Spanish, asks for the boss. When the Patron comes to the table Mike uses words he learned decades ago while working in bakeries in Los Angeles. His kitchen-Spanish gets the point across, calling the waiter an asshole after it’s obvious that the manager isn’t going to do anything to make it right.
On this night, everyone is busy kissing up to the locals and treating the travelers poorly. We pay the $100 tab (no tip) and go back to the hotel. Not a great introduction to the city. But failures such as these are rare. We’re done with it. We walk back to the hotel and prepare for a very exciting day tomorrow.
We have a 10:35 am flight to Ushuaia, Argentina in Tierra del Fuego. This time we are flying from Buenos Aires’ nearby Jorge Newbury Airport (AEP) on Aerolineas Argentinas. Their drab blue uniform and decor is a stark difference to the modern up-tempo feeling of LAN. We feel like we are flying in the 1970s.
It takes three and a half hours to fly along the coast to the world’s southernmost city. That picture, up there at the top of this blog, in the header, was taken during the approach to Ushuaia. It’s pretty darn cool. Can’t wait to start this adventure!