After a nice relaxing month in New Zealand, we had to say goodbye and hit the road again. We set off from Rotorua late morning, on what was to be an extra-long May 31st. We took a leisurely drive along the eastern coast of the North Island, through lush countryside, filled with vineyards, citrus farms, and avocado farms. The countryside is mesmerizing in its beauty, and makes you want to sell up and just emigrate there ASAP! If only it weren’t so far away, and if only house prices weren’t exorbitantly high…. oh well, maybe in a few years time, we will return. We already found our retirement home in the sleepy little town of Thames, on the Firth of Thames, not far from Auckland, and close to the untamed Coromandel Forest Park. Yes, this could be a place for us when we get old.
We had fresh fish and chips off the pier out in the winter sunshine in T-shirts (winter takes on a new, friendly meaning here), and then it was time to head for the airport. Our flight to Buenos Aires departed on-time at 8:05 pm on May 31st, and arrived at 4:55 pm on… May 31st! Yes, we traveled back in time, LOL! Needless to say, the kids thought this was fascinating. The flight was around 12 hours long, and quite comfortable, as long as you didn’t think too much about where you were – deep over the southern Pacific Ocean, about as close to Antarctica as you can get on a commercial aircraft, I think. God forbid you need to make an emergency landing out there…
Anyway, we didn’t need to, and we arrived in BA safe and sound, but a bit worse for wear. Our trusty Uber app worked well, and got us into a car to take us to our flat in the Palermo district. The views we had from the car weren’t too inspiring, driving through some dark and dinghy neighbourhoods, abandoned cars and garbage littered the streets. We got stuck in a decent sized traffic jam caused by a defective traffic light. Well over an our later, we got to our flat, and our doorman was waiting to let us in. Our flat was on the 8th floor of an old building, and the elevator was one of those that you need to manually close the outer and inner doors before it moves, and you just hope and pray it doesn’t get stuck, because there is no emergency phone / button / thing.
The flat was freezing since the heating had been switched off. Our doorman spent a good 10 minutes trying to get the gas heater going, but that was not going to help much for the first night. We decided to head out and grab something to eat. Our neighbourhood is full of cafes and restaurants, so we were somewhat overwhelmed. We ended up in a bakery and bought some empanadas and bread, and got our first sticker shock from Argentina – a smallish loaf of white bread was 50 pesos (nearly CAN$5!). No bargains to be had here, then, I thought. Another thing that became clear was that our Spanish was pitifully bad, despite doing our Duolingo lessons every day for the last couple of weeks. Oh well, it could only get better, eh?
So, here we are, five days later, after having managed to achieve quite a few things with our very limited Spanish: buy a SIM card and recharge it with some cash, buy a SUBE (Subway) card, charge it with cash, and use it on the subway, order at cafes (very much hit and miss!). One thing we found is that life can be counter-intuitive here, and you end up asking yourself “why?” quite often, but once you figure it out, then it’s OK.
The Portenos (inhabitants of Buenos Aires) are surprisingly restrained and inexpressive. I suppose the years of oppression and economic woes will do that to people. Before arriving, we had heard bad stories of other travelers having their stuff stolen etc. and it has to be said that there is a huge police presence on the streets and all public places, so crime is definitely an issue here. But the people are friendly enough, and we have been offered help on a few occasions.
Traveling on the subway is a great way to observe the locals in their element. You can find many exciting things going on on the trains here: vendors of tissues and small gadgets, they will say their little speech, then go along the carriage and place the item in your lap if you are sitting down. Most people just leave the item there, and it gets collected later on by the guy, but quite a few people buy it, to encourage him mostly, I think. Then there are the buskers: they enter the carriage with their guitar and amp setup, and you are treated to 90’s grunge, or crooner latino singing, whether you like it or not. On one occasion, a busker got a round of applause from the commuters, and quite a few donations were made. This was quite touching really, and I haven’t seen this happen on any other subway I’ve ever been on.
We have done quite a bit of visiting the city on foot and by subway now, and it definitely grows on you. Although not a kid-friendly city, there are so many parks and green spaces, wide boulevards with impressive statues at junctions, that you don’t feel claustrophobic here. There is a lot of space to breathe, and when the sun comes out, the city shines.
Tomorrow we leave for Salta in the north of the country, slowly making our way up into the Andes. More updates to come!