Turn My World Upside Down (Part 4 – Time to Tango)

The Avenida de Nueve de Julio in Buenos Aires is the widest boulevard in the world.

Evidently, we’re in hell.  We miss our flight out of  Ushuaia and wind up having to wait for a later flight that also stops in El Calefate.  The flight from El Calefate to Buenos Aires started off scary with the snow swirling wickedly around the plane. But, the white knuckle take-off transforms into a pretty smooth flight north to Buenos Aires where the weather is cool and  snowless.

On our way from the Jorge Newbery Airport to the Etoile Hotel we fly through city streets in the hands of a demonic cab driver. This guy is out-and-out insane. We’re lucky the streets are fairly empty. He is weaving from lane to lane and cutting off other drivers, after which he sidles up next to the driver of the car he just cut off and glares at them like they did something wrong.

Other drivers are so unnerved that they look away.  Our mouths form the word “help” but it’s English and they don’t understand.  He is sincerely deranged and we’re hoping we get out of this taxi alive. When he drops us off at the Etoile Hotel he suddenly adopts a Mr. Nice Guy persona. We are really shaken by this fifteen minute brush with El Diablo and can’t wait to get away from him!  Unfortunately this is not the last evil cabbie we run into in Buenos Aires.

Etoile Hotel entrance to our room

The Etoile is like a homecoming. We’ve been gone for two days and now we are ready to explore Buenos Aires. We are given an oddly enormous suite on the 10th floor.  It has a wood-paneled entry room with a wet bar, table and chairs.

Giant bathtub with steps to get in.

Off the long hall is a gigantic bathroom and a separate room off of that with the toilet and a bidet facing each other.

Toilet to the left of me, tub to the right.

The tub/shower has columns and stairs to get in and out.  Our first thought is about how obviously unsafe those marble stairs are going to be when they are wet.  I imagine my death in this Buenos Aires hotel room, discovered lying naked on the floor with a broken neck, sprawled out on all of these lovely, slippery tiles.  I vow to be REALLY careful getting in and out of that tub.

The bedroom is also curiously oversized with a large column in a peculiar spot.  This room could have easily been split into a bedroom with a living area.

The balcony

The narrow balcony overlooks stacks  of apartments and a courtyard far below.  We’re not complaining about this place.  But, it doesn’t feel spacious. It’s big and empty with an odd layout. At least with all this room we won’t be tripping over our backpacks or each other.

Friday morning we are up and ready to go.  After breakfast in the hotel (included), the front desk clerk points us down the street to a small store hidden off in an alley where we drag our dirty laundry.  With this stopover lasting several days, we have the time to have our clothes washed for us.  They charge us $7 but all they do is wash and dry it.  Had we known, we would have paid extra to have them fold it instead of shoving the wrinkled pile into plastic bags.  This is definitely not our wonderful little laundry in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico that made our clothes look like new.  Oh well. The lifestyle maintenance chores are taken care of and we are now free to play.

Recoleta Cemetery from Etoile Hotel 14th Floor

Time to see dead people!  The Recoleta Cemetery is across the street from our home base.  The view from the hotel’s spa on the  14th floor is amazing.  The cemetery resembles a mini city with avenues shooting off the main, tree-lined boulevard.

Me and the Morte Map

Down on the ground, inside the gates and we are not disappointed.  Entrance is free but we are compelled to cough up $1.50 for a map to navigate the Who’s Who of Argentinean elite housed in 4,800 vaults. The crypts are ornate and as varied as the people they house. Many are monstrous.

Inside a crypt

Families are here to visit their dead relatives.  Some setting up chairs and altars while they stay and pray.

We try to remain respectful but some of these familial monuments are so over the top or macabre that we cannot help but gape and, well… sort of make fun of them.

One of the many over-the-top crypts in Recoleta Cemetario

The big draw is Eva Peron’s family crypt.  As I get closer, in my head, all I can hear is the song, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from the musical Evita.  By the time I reach the Duarte (Peron’s maiden name) crypt I am ready to belt out my own rendition.  Luckily for everyone around me, I stifle myself.

Eva Peron Reincarnated?

There is a cat who has decided to stretch out near Eva’s tomb.  This is no ordinary sun seeking kitty.  Because this cat is in the shade, I wonder if it’s a reincarnation of the former First Lady basking in the glow of adulation from the crowd rather than toasting itself in a nearby slice of sunshine.

It’s time to really get the lay of the land. Wherever we go, we find that the best way is using a hop-on hop-off tour bus.  The Buenos Aires Bus is reasonably priced at $17 for 24 hours or $22 for 48 hours.  We opt for the 48 hour ticket.

After waiting much longer than the schedule indicated (we should have picked up on this clue), a big yellow bus finally arrives.  For the first go-around, we stay on board to see all of the sights.  Later we will figure out which places we want to return to spend more time exploring.

Casa Rosada

The tour snakes its way through hip Puerto Madero, the revitalized port area, Plaza Congresso and Casa Rosada,  or the Pink House – Argentina’s equivalent to the United States’ White House.  The balcony evokes images in my head of Eva addressing her people. Please. Make that song stop.

We pass the barrio La Boca where couples stroll along the riverwalk and tourists take in the Tango.  It’s getting late so we go back to the hotel.  We’ve read that this can be a dangerous place to be at night so tomorrow we will come back to explore.

Our new best friends at the front desk direct us to an Italian restaurant in the Puerto Madero neighborhood called La Parolaccia for dinner.  They call us a cab and we walk to the end of the block to meet the driver.

Our taxi pulls up and I step off the curb onto the cobblestone street, my nemesis, and twist my ankle.  I don’t hear the snap of the bone like I did many years ago in Savannah when I broke my other ankle on a cobblestone street, but it immediately begins to swell up so I’m sure it’s broken.

Our taxi driver should have been wearing a cape because he becomes our super hero.  He jumps into action.  He and Mike help me into the back seat.  I’m not going to let a stupid broken ankle ruin my vacation – we’re still going to dinner!

On the way to the restaurant we stop at a pharmacy to get one of those instant ice packs.  Mike goes in while we wait in the car.  After a few minutes Mike comes out empty-handed.  This driver will not accept defeat.  With a better grasp of Spanish, he leaves us in the running taxi and emerges with exactly what we were looking for.

Upon arrival at the restaurant, the waiters are next up for the title of super heroes.  They cautiously escort me to a booth where I can sit with my ankle elevated. They swaddle it in makeshift ice packs then discretely camouflage it with napkins.

All this adventure makes us thirsty. Mike and I manage to put away a bottle plus a couple of glasses of wine while we discuss my dilemma.  Booze is probably not the smartest medicine to use, but I wanted to dull the pain. It’s not a liquid dinner, though, by any means.  The Fusilli Bianco (pasta with white sauce), Risotto Gamberetti (shrimp risotto) and Pollito Parolaccia (house chicken) are excellent.

After paying our $92 tab and tipping generously we return to the scene of the crime.  Mike and the driver steady me up onto the sidewalk.  I limp back to the hotel.  Luckily there is a 24 hour pharmacy next door so we stop in and buy a neoprene ankle brace, a large one so it fits over the swelled up limb.  Oh, in addition to the broken bone, I’m starting to get a cold.  And the smog is killing me.  So in addition to the brace, I load up on Kleenex and cough drops.  An umbrella that can double as a cane rounds out the purchases.

I will NOT let this keep me down.  We are in Buenos Aires and dammit, we are still going to play, albeit a bit more slowly.

The next morning after a pretty uncomfortable night, I notice that, at least, the swelling has not gotten any worse.  The show must go on and I am determined to get back to La Boca and take in some Tango…as a spectator, not a dancer.  I’m not that crazy.

The metal flower (that opens and closes with the sun) near the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

Of all of the times that I really need the yellow tour bus to be on time, this is it.  I have hobbled to the closest stop by the art museum and we wait and wait.  Finally, one rounds the corner 45 minutes after the scheduled time.  The driver stops for a second to tell us that the upper level is full.

Colorful Buildings in La Boca

We insist we are fine sitting on the bottom level of the double-decker. But, they ignore us and instead leave us in a cloud of exhaust.  After waiting for over an hour, we are feeling ripped off.  We had bought the 48 hour ticket so we could use our tickets as cheap transportation.  Riding the bus is a great option but not with this company.  Now I have to hobble back with my umbrella/cane and broken ankle to a safe place to get a taxi.

Tango in La Boca

A daytime trip to La Boca is a very touristy thing to do so we are on the lookout for traps and thieves. Not impressed with the first set of dancers on the main pedestrian drag or Caminito, we are awestruck by the second duo we see and quickly grab an open table in the sidewalk cafe La Barricha.

Wow!  This is like watching sex on the street.  Only nobody is naked and … you know.  The dancers’ sensuality is mesmerizing.  When the show’s over, the dancers pass a hat and we gladly give them a generous tip.

Drum Trio

Next up for our entertainment pleasure is a trio of drummers strolling down Caminito. They are also entertaining so we slip them some cash too.  For the price of a couple of sodas and tips, this experience is a steal.

Art on the streets of La Boca

It’s time to start moving. My experiment in ankle stabilization seems to be working.  I won’t be running a marathon anytime soon but it doesn’t hurt too much.  The Advil has kicked in and I am ready to explore.

This neighborhood has a rich and colorful history.  The houses were built with scraps from the nearby shipyard.  The discarded corrugated metal was painted with abandoned paint resulting in the color explosion it is today. The plethora of artsy creations grapples for our attention.  Sculptures and works of art are everywhere.

Mike and Jill Tango

Before leaving the area we succumb to the most touristy thing yet.  Just because I can’t dance (with or without a broken ankle), doesn’t mean I can’t fake it.  We stick our heads through holes in a piece of plywood.  The artist places a fake flower in my hair and a hat on Mike’s head.  We get three shots (with our camera) to put on our Tango faces.   It’s a fun memento.

With my ankle starting to throb, it’s time to cross town and go back to the hotel.  Screw the damn yellow bus.  We take a cab.  To add insult to injury, we are taken for a ride by the driver who also rips us off with a counterfeit bill scam.

Even though we are on the lookout for any monkey business, this happens very fast.  It’s the first time we have ever been taken in our travels.  We’ve thwarted attempts in the past but this time we were blindsided.  Here’s how it unfolded.

Our first mistake is that we didn’t have any bills smaller than a $100AP (approximately $25US).  From the backseat, Mike hands the driver money for the fare. We are watching him.  The driver puts the bill in front of him where we can’t see it, switches it with a fake bill and hands it back to us telling us it’s counterfeit.  He makes us feel the difference in the paper it’s printed on.  Of course we end up giving him more money.

Counterfeit Bill

In retrospect, we knew we weren’t passing fake bills because we got them from a bank ATM.  Also, the bill we got back had a corner torn off so he could identify it easily in his stack of good bills.  The bill we handed him was intact.

I’m so pissed off that we got taken.  I had been warned and it still happened.  Lesson learned – NEVER let the money out of our sight.  Lean over the seat and watch the driver carefully and overtly. What’s he going to do? Accuse us of not trusting him?

Dessert at Cafe Victoria

To lick our wounds, we stop in the nearby Cafe Victoria for some sweets.  While lovely to look at, we leave unsatisfied.  It might be the bile in our throats from being a victim of a crime.  The cabbie thief was long gone before we realized what had just gone down.  I need to recharge, reenergize and elevate my ankle.

More sweets at Cafe Victoria

We’re starving.  The sweets didn’t do it for us and we skipped lunch.  We are in the mood for Indian food.  We want to change things up a bit and go to a different part of the city so we find a restaurant in the Palermo neighborhood called Mumbai.

We get there so early that it’s not open for dinner yet.  Across the street a bar beckons. The sidewalk tables are where it’s happening.  Unfortunately it’s an extremely smoggy night, and our table is at exhaust pipe level from passing vehicles.

We choke down our drinks and are at Mumbai when the doors are unlocked.  Happily out of the thick air and plopped into a booth with a couple of beers, we sink our teeth into a couple of orders of Chicken Tikka Masala.  Of course we order it “Indian hot” hoping it will be flaming, spicy hot.  It’s not, but it’s good. We round out the meal with some daal maharini (creamy lentils), basmati rice and naan (Indian bread).  For this nice but not memorable meal, the check is around $50 plus tip.

A new adventure is in the works for tomorrow – a day in Uruguay!  That and one more day of discoveries in Buenos Aires in my next blog.

About Journeys By Jill

I have spent most of my adult life working in and around TV, film & radio production. As an avid traveler, I have a goal to visit at least 100 countries using the Century Traveler's Club Country List. At the moment, I have 54 to go. My favorite form of travel is to get off the beaten path and discover weird & wonderful attractions. Basically, I wing it. I'd love for you to come along for the ride.
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6 Responses to Turn My World Upside Down (Part 4 – Time to Tango)

  1. Todd says:

    Thanks for the article! i am flying to BA on February 2nd and staying at Hotel Etoile as well. Unfortunately they just informed me the pool/spa/health center is all closed. Boo. I guess that just leaves me more time to see the city.

    • Hey Todd – the only time we used the spa was to take a shower after we vacated our room and were waiting for a late flight, otherwise we never had time to hang out there. If there is any chance, you should check into going to Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina. It was the highlight of that trip. And if you can’t go there, definitely plan for a day trip to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay (there are blog posts on our trip to both of these places.) Colonia is a charming colonial town and the fast ferry gets you there in an hour. Our schedule for ferries gave us long enough to walk around town and have lunch. It was winter and a cold rainy day so it was plenty of time on that day. I’ll bet it will be more lively since it’s summer.

      If you do the tour bus, buy a ticket for one day, stay on it and get the lay of the land and don’t depend on it for transportation. Do not take your eyes off your money for a second when paying cab drivers. It might seem rude to lean over the seat and watch but do it to protect yourself from getting ripped off.

      Don’t miss El Ateneo bookstore – it’s a short walk from the hotel – not more than 10 blocks or so. And Cabana las Lilas was our best meal there. I’d be jealous but we are headed to Easter Island in March! 🙂

      If you have any questions, I’m happy to help.


  2. I am doing 3 nights in BA then flying to Punta del Este for 3 nights then back to BA for 4 nights. I have a friend meeting me for the 2nd part in BA. I’m very excited. I am spending my Friday evening tonight in the freezing rain in Ohio just doing research and printing stuff out. I’ve already started packing, LOL. It was 98 degrees in BA today. A lot warmer than the 13 degrees when I woke up. Probably too hot but it looks to cool down into the 80s about the time I arrive.

  3. lidipiri says:

    Jill, To read your post took me back to Buenos Aires in an instant. I was there last year for about a month and all you say is absolutely right on. Buenos Aires, which I love, has turned into an unsafe city. Perhaps Puerto Madero is the only truly safe area there. Regardless, I have this love affair with it that just doesn’t want to go away. 🙂 thanks for bringing it back to me.

    • I’m sorry to hear that BA has become more dangerous. We never felt threatened (except for that hellish cab ride) but definitely were careful because we had heard stories. And of course there was the other cabbie who ripped us off. Still, great memories for us too!

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