Saturday, November 17, 2012

Headed South–Buenos Aires, Argentina

Map picture


I actually have very little time to send this blog about our one day experience in Buenos Aires; however, there were a number of interesting things that I thought worth sharing.

Our 24 hour journey from Kansas City to Buenos Aires was relatively uneventful, with the exception that when we landed I found I had a good old-fashioned cold. So instead of doing anything on our first day, I spent the entire time in bed sleeping; I literally slept away the day.

Thursday was our one full day in the city, and we arranged for a guided three hour driving tour of the city which ended up taking four hours. Buenos Aires is architecturally a beautiful city of over 3 million people. It has wide boulevards, and lovely, violet trees that were just beginning to blossom. DSC08894The city is so beautiful that in fact, it reminds me of being in Europe. The weather was absolutely beautiful, without a cloud in the sky, and temperatures in the mid-70s.


But underneath this beautiful exterior, there lies what I would call a “rotten core;” I started to notice that things were not exactly as they seemed. By way of example, when we entered our car I commented to our driver that his radio was missing. It was missing for the simple reason that it had been stolen the week before. The thieves broke his window, and stole the radio in the short time between when he parked to go get a cup coffee and returned to the car. When I made the comment, "well at least it's covered by insurance," he told me that the window would be covered, but not the radio. Apparently the theft of a radio is so common that insurance companies no longer provide coverage that was my first clue that the city had an underlying problem.

One of our stops was at the plaza in front of the Presidential Palace and the city’s main Cathedral. DSC08931Standing in the plaza, we could clearly hear only a few blocks away, the sounds of a riot. People were yelling, there was constant gunfire, which we assumed to be rubber bullets or teargas. The only affect the nearby mayhem appeared to have on the local populace, was that the constant gunfire would scare the pigeons into flight. Other than that, the people simply ignored it. When I asked what was happening, and why there was gunfire, our guide merely shrugged her shoulders and said there are demonstrations everywhere around Buenos Aires all the time.

As we were driving, our guide gave us a serious lecture about security while traveling in the city. We should not have anything on us of significant value since pickpockets are everywhere throughout the city. In addition, we should have our cameras around our necks at all times, and we should always travel together as a group rather than allowing anyone of us to become separated. Also, we must carry copies of our passports with us at all times, but never the originals because they could be easily stolen as well.

As we traveled through the five districts of the city, some districts were elegantly opulent with their own private security forces scattered at every corner. In other parts of the city it was run down and in shambles. At one point, our driver and guide made sure that all of the doors in the car were locked. Our tour guide put her purse underneath her seat, and when she needed to make a phone call she refused to take her phone out and use it until we had left the confines of that district. I asked her why she did not use her phone, wondering if there was some crazy restriction regarding phone usage, but she replied that if she had it in view, then there was a large chance that someone would break the window and take it. Obviously, that did not give us a great deal of comfort when she suggested that we go for a 20 minute walk by ourselves through the central area of that district.DSC08966

It really is hard to explain the dichotomy that we are seeing. Parts of the city as I said are lovely, and yet there are other parts were even our guides were afraid to go even in broad daylight. I have never been to a city where I have personally witnessed in just one day so many protests, some of which were obviously becoming violent.

In fact, Lisa just reminded me that on our drive from the airport to our hotel, we stopped at one traffic light and looked to our left only to see a huge stair leading to a governmental building which was filled with people all of whom had dropped their pants and underwear and were standing there with their butts hanging out. The police seem to just be standing around and not paying much attention. In fact, the only attention they appeared to be getting was from the TV cameras taking a picture of the scene. According to our guide, this was some protest by Greenpeace, and she had no idea what it was about.

On a lighter note, Lisa and I were fascinated by the appearance of a large number of mostly young people who were walking through the parks with as many as 20 dogs in tow. These were referred to as “dog walkers.” Since most people in Buenos Aires live in apartments, if they own a dog, then they hire a “dog walker” to take them out during the day while they are gone to work. It is quite a sight to see someone handling so many dogs at one time, but much to my surprise, all of the dogs seemed to be really well behaved. Also somewhat surprising, all of the dogs were really large. It would seem that small dogs are not in much favor in Argentina.

On a quick final note, I asked our guide point-blank why Argentina felt that the Falklands islands belonged to them. Argentina calls the islands the Maldives and they are shown on every map of Argentina as if they belonged to this country. Our guide became quite animated at the question, and said with more than a little anger that the islands had been taken from them by Great Britain, and that they belonged to Argentina and should be returned immediately. When I challenged her on that version of history, she flatly told me that I was wrong. So I spent the afternoon researching the subject, and she and I will have another conversation as she takes us to the airport since her version of history was not exactly accurate.

Tomorrow morning we leave the hotel at 5:45 to catch a charter flight to the city of Ushuaia, which is at the very bottom of South America. There we will join our ship and enjoy an 18 day cruise of the Antarctic area. So stay tuned – more to follow.


P.S. After writing this blog, Lisa and I went to dinner at a REALLY wonderful Italian restaurant called Bella Italia Ristorante. There I was presented with the most creative and impressive wine list I have ever seen. Are you ready: it was on an iPad! You could press a button and change to one of five different languages. You could turn the pages as with a traditional wine list, or it offered the option of selecting wines by color, variety, or price. If a particular wine was of interest to you, merely selecting it would bring up a picture of the bottle and a full description of the wine. If you decided that was your selection, you pressed a button which then transmitted your choice to the staff, which would then show up with your choice. Besides being creative, the food was wonderful, and the price reasonable. What a wonderful way to end our stay in Buenos Aires!

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