Saturday, November 04, 2006

A New Continent

Day 15
Woke up after a nice sleep an hour before Sao Paulo. Full English breakfast with coffee, juice and a smoothie, then we land. It's hazy, can't see much. Lots of TAP and Varig planes about. We don't come off the plane here, and anyway I'm still wearing my First pyjamas (aye!), so I spend the time trying to connect to two unsecured wireless networks I can just about see. No success. Half an hour on the group, then a 2 1/2 hour flight down to Buenos Aires. Seems like no one boarding into First, but there are new passengers in the "lower" classes. We get new stewardesses too. Last ones were very good. I'm slightly apprehensive about arriving in BA.. Nothing organised, and the only hostel I emailed (on Rob's suggestion) is full. It's easier in places like Bangkok where all of the dive locations are all in one street (Kao San Road), but from what I can gather in my brief research, they're fairly spread in BA. Well at least I'm arriving early, so I'll minibus into town then see how I get on. I think it's going to be fairly warm, so the desire to dump full pack will be strong.

We land in the best possible way, with a nice circle in the beautiful weather over the whole city. Buenos Aires looks huge, and lots of green too. Exciting!

Landed, through passport control, then pick bag up. An old woman asks me in Spanish if our belt is for the Mexico flight. I plead "Inglese", but then go check for her, and call out "Signora, signora, perdon! Mexicana estas uno"!! I'm almost fluent!! My bag comes out quite late for one marked First and Priority. I shall have to have words with the powers that be. Not that I'm flying BA for a while. LAN Chile now until Oz. Anyway, out into the terminal. An instant sign that I'm in a completely different country to Egypt is that I don't get hassled at all. No "taxi?" questions or people following me with "hello my friend" crap. So refreshing. It is hot though. I find an ATM, and whack my card in. ATMs here all seem to be in glass rooms. Makes me wonder whether there is a tradition of grabbing the money off you as it comes out. I shall have to be wary. Anyway, usually when one uses an ATM abroad it asks you which language then it's all easy. Not this one! I work out that I have to put the PIN in, then I press the green button. Nothing. Cancel, card back in, same problem. Is the green button broken? Then I twig - need to press the screen. Then it asks me which network I want to use - Visa plus, Cirrus, Link or something else. I don't know!! I try link. Then I get a page of choices in Spanish. I try demandez or something. Then another page of choices! This is a nightmare! I press something else, and key in 100 pesos. Seems to work, I get a single 100$ ($ is used as symbol for peso) note. Bus is 1.35$, and you need coins. Difficult…

Considered buying water, but that costs $5, so it's not going to help. Then I see a post office in the corner. I buy stamps and happily am given two peso coins as change. Out to the bus which comes immediately. I board, drop coins into machine, and surprisingly get change. Anyway, sit down, and relax. It's cooler outside the terminal than in. Sun is shining and there's a lovely breeze. It's very English-spring. Bus whizzes off. Now I have to say, most cities in the world do not give you a good impression on arrival. Anyone taking Heathrow Express into London will see some rather ugly looking areas. This bus though, trundles through lovely little villages, with big detached houses, large mowed greens everywhere. The place is amazing! I'm so impressed at how pretty the country is so far, and we're nowhere near the centre yet.

Bus trundles on. I doze off. Turns out (according to guide book), it takes about 2 hours to get into city centre. It's about 35km, so this is not great going. I may need an alternative strategy for getting to airport in a few days for an 8:45am flight. Anyway, the road we are travelling along gets busier and busier - it's like a cross between Oxford Street and Soho running from Shepherd's Bush to Bethnal Green. On and on it goes. I see smart swanky glassy cafes, and small dirty joints with hand-written signs. Eventually we get onto the tourist map I picked up at the airport, and it's soon time to leap off, just opposite the hostel. No joy there, so I ended up at Grand Hotel de Espana just round the corner. My room costs 45 pesos per night. I have no idea what the exchange rate is, but I know a bottle of water was 5 at the airport, and stamps for postcards to Europe were 4 each. So this room costs 11 postcard stamps. It can't be too much. I'm assuming the rate is approximately 4 to 5 to the pound.

The hotel is old-fashioned, with a wire lift running up the staircase. My room number is 42 but it's on the 5th floor. It's on the inside of the building, and is quiet, I suspect this is a blessing. I don't have a "do not disturb" sign, but I suspect that's part of the deal. Initially I thought the room was a bit grotty, but I've come to realise it's just dark. It is clean and more than enough for me. On coming back after a wander I asked for room key cuarante - due… nice Spanish Italian mix there! Doh!

There are cafes, restaurants and bars everywhere. I'm afraid the only thing I've eaten since arriving was a half pizza and a coke at a fast foody place, but it was very genuine, the pizza was really good and they were making them rapid-fire in the window. Reminded me of the best pizzarias, the really simple ones, in Naples. I need to eat meat of course, being in Argentina, but stomach is still cramping, giving me that "I might make you go to the toilet at any moment" feeling, though I haven't needed to since arriving. I wonder whether eating a big meal would kick things off though. Yucks. I'll see what happens with dinner, assuming I don't doze off and sleep through (it's not 6pm and I'm feeling a little schleeeepie!).

Argentinian women are very pretty! There seem to be lots of different colours here, everything from dark Indian looks to fair blondes. Haven't noticed many black people though. Argentinian women tend to be brunette, fit, with a sultry expression. Usually this comes off as a rather plain look, but maybe one in five it works and they end up looking really good.

I've fooled two people into thinking I speak Spanish. Both occasions it was probably not very helpful! Firstly in the airport, I made up my first Spanish sentence that someone bought! I said, pointing to the ATM with a huge number of people queuiing for it, "Estas la solo cajero automatico?", i.e is that the only ATM? And I received a stream of Spanish back, with her pointing in two directions! Thank goodness for the pointing! Gracias! Second time was when I arrived at the hostel Rob suggested. He said did I have a reservation in Spanish, I heard the world reservation and said "no", then I asked using my phrase book if he could recommend somewhere, and again, waffle waffle waffle. I nodded and said "Mmm" occasionally, so he carried on, though in fact I hadn't the foggiest as to what he was saying! So I walked off, tried two more hostels, both full, so I had my excuse! Into the nearest hotel!! Hurrah! I did try to do the "slumming it" thing!

So where have I walked? Out from hotel, I headed back to the wide avenue near the hotel. Along to see the Obelisk (just when I thought I'd escaped them after leaving Cairo!) in Plaza del Rupublica [GPS: 34.60394S, 58.38156W]. Then across to Plaza de la Mayo, where the Presidential Palace is. Then down to waterside, and back up via Belgrano Road. Managed to pick up emails after battling with a really weak open wifi signal for about half an hour. Wandered along Peru (all the streets here are named after things or people), which turns into Florida for the nice pedestrianised shopping district. I note that any kind of vehicular emission limits would make three-quarters of traffic illegal. The fumes are terrible. Buses lorries, cars and bikes all spill out soot into one's face walking along. Crossing the road is also something people seem to do with caution. That said, first impressions are stll so good. I feel at home here already. It's so nice to be somewhere where people don't hassle you continuously. Egypt gets its tourists for one reason alone, the ancient monuments it is blessed with, but seemingly does little to maintain. Everything else about the country is damn hard work. Here I can just wander the shops without someone claiming to be my "friend" and giving me the hard sell, and moreover getting upset if I'm not happy as I get harassed!!

Plan tonight would be to put trousers on (they all dress smart casual at a minimum), then find some food, a beer, and ideally some tango. There are tourist shows, but I'm not interested in that. More a real club where people dance. Need some of the moves!!

Update.. Erm, just fell asleep. Nothing like a 15 hour sleep to recharge the system, eh :)

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