Up early today – 5:30am start to get our taxi at 6:45am to the airport. Taxi arrived right on time – and we were pleasantly surprised to find it was one of the local shuttle bus companies with a nice comfortable mini-van. Arrived at the airport in plenty of time and was delighted to find free WiFi that I could use for the hour or so before our flight boarded.
The flight with LAN airlines was around 2 hours – I was surprised at how quickly we crossed the Andes. There was a bit of snow in isolated areas on the highest peaks – but generally it was very dry and brown everywhere … this area is largely desert it seems. Once well over Argentina the land became progressively greener, and eventually developed into large areas of farmland.
We arrived in Buenos Aires ahead of schedule, but timed it badly – landing just after a full flight from New York which made quite a wait for immigration. Fortunately our bags were already out when we arrived. We had a driver from the hostel waiting for us, and after finding an ATM to get some Argentinian Pesos, we were driven in to town, which took about half an hour.
First impressions of BA were of a much greener city – obviously higher rainfall here than in Santiago. Felt much more modern and developed than Santiago – and I was surprised at how orderly the traffic was (although lane changing was pretty casual).
We arrived at the hostel early afternoon, and seemed to climb endless stairs up to our room – which was essentially on the roof of the building. This hostel is more like a motel style – indeed they call it the “Telmotango Hostel Suites”. The name kind of makes sense when you realise we are in the San Telmo area and they pride themselves in teaching guests the Tango. We have a double private room (“matrimonial suite” they call rooms with a double bed) with an ensuite – it is very pokey compared to our room in Santiago (which was huge), but it has a fan, which makes a huge difference to the comfort level.
We spent a while trying to find places to put all our gear – the packs had to go under the bed, there was no other space for them! We rested a while and had a bit of a snooze to try and catch up on some sleep … I guess you could call it a late siesta – we could get used to this lifestyle!
Eventually we decided we had to go out and find some water (once again, the tap water was too strongly chlorinated for the filter to make it drinkable … it’s bottled water for us again), and to get our bearings. We also hadn’t had lunch and it was after 4pm – so were starting to get a bit hungry.
We got some maps of the local area, and it took a few moments to orientate ourselves – even though the city runs in a nicely structured north-south grid, they like to print the maps on an angle to fit in the main suburb areas into the typical long rectangular shape of the maps.
Fortunately there is a small supermarket directly opposite the hostel, so we stopped there for some water and a block of chocolate, and then wandered around the block to work out where we are. The streets here are very narrow, with buildings built right to the footpath on both sides of the road (which are mostly one way streets). There is barely enough room to walk two abreast on the footpath, so you tend to spend all your time twisting sideways to let people past coming in the opposite direction. Made us nervous at first – but all the streets are like it in this area, and there are lots of people out and about just going about their business.
Just at the next street corner is a small service station and we both noted the policeman on duty out the front. We thought that was ominous, but as we walked around the block and headed towards town, we came across more policemen (and women) standing around on street corners. Indeed, we’ve seen more police here in the space of an hour than I think I’ve ever seen in Sydney!
I quickly got the hang of the grid pattern to the streets and located our hostel (on “Chacabuco” between “Chile” and “Mejico”). We wandered towards the downtown “Microcentro” / “La City” area and came across the occasional wide avenue – and some of them area very wide. Indeed the locals proudly tell you that at 16 lanes wide, Av 9 de Julio is the widest in the world! Seems to be that there is only a fixed amount of street width you are allowed here, and in order to make a few wide streets, you need to build lots of narrow ones first.
Once I was used to the nice grid pattern, of course we came across some confusing diagonal streets. At least I had the map worked out by then and was able to navigate our way to the Plaza de Mayo (founded in 1580). Lots of fascinating old buildings everywhere – beautiful architecture. We sat in the shade people watching for a while – and enjoying a cool breeze that made it very pleasant to be outside.
Indeed, I have been surprised at how pleasant BA is weatherwise – the temperatures are the same or higher than in Santiago (28 – 32 degrees), but the humidity in Santiago was quite low (around 40% or less), while here in BA it is much higher (typically 65% or more). However, it was quite still in Santiago – so not much relief from a cool breeze – unless you manage to climb a hill like Cerro Santa Lucia or Cerro San Cristobal. But there has been a good breeze blowing here in BA (especially if you pick the right street – the wind fairly howls down), which has made it very pleasant. Of course if you get into a still spot in the sun, it quickly becomes very hot.
We headed towards Plaza de la Republica on Av 9 de Julio and the Obelisco – the 68m high obelisk celebrating the 400th anniversary of the first Spanish settlement on the Rio de la Plata, then gradually worked our way back to the hostel, winding our way through the narrow streets.
By this time we were starting to get quite tired and hungry – we had gone out for a short stroll and ended up seeing a large part of the downtown area. We had showers and then given the cooler conditions outside, decided to dress up a bit (by which I mean Leanne put on jeans and I put on some long pants and we wore our boots rather than our sandals). We headed back to where we had seen some restaurants – but they were deserted still – despite being after 8pm (most restaurants only open at 8pm, but don’t tend to fill up until after 10pm – they eat late here). We prefer to eat at places where other people eat (especially locals) – always a good indication of the quality of the food (or at least the value of it!).
We ended up wandering quite a long way towards town before settling on a place that seemed to have a range of food options. We ended up being a bit disappointed with the food – my steak tasted quite good, but was very fatty, and Leanne’s chicken with creamed spinach wasn’t that great. We decided to skip dessert, and instead I bought an icecream at the supermarket (still open at 10pm!) before we got back to our hostel.
I headed downstairs to see if I could use one of the computers for a while – fortunately one was available when I got there – this is a busy place and there are only three computers and no WiFi – so there always seems to be a lineup to use them. People aren’t just checking their emails either – they are usually researching the next part of their trip or booking flights or accomodation – so it can take a while for them to finish what they are doing.
I caught up on a few emails before heading back upstairs around midnight, exhausted by the long day. The room is hot, but the fan made it pleasant enough for sleeping … although I found the bed a bit too hard and found myself waking up and needing to rollover fairly often.
I’m writing this Wednesday morning (BA time) sitting out in the courtyard on the roof of the hostel, enjoying the cool breeze and the overcast conditions (would be too bright otherwise). I’ll post this online later when I can get a computer.
Tweets from today
- testing VoIP over WiFi at SCL – too much background noise here
- 22nd January, 2008 8:31 AM from web
- at Santiago airport waiting for flight to BA
- 22nd January, 2008 7:36 AM from web
- packing ready to head to Buenos Aires – cab booked for 6:45am *sigh*
- 21st January, 2008 10:08 PM from web