Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Buenos Aires Chronicles - Part One

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, December 07, 2008)

Hey folks. Today you're going to get the first part of my report on my recent trip to Buenos Aires. I've been trying to decide how to document this trip. My first thought was to divide it into categories; such as food, wine, culture, sport, etc. But that idea just didn't seem to work very well. So I'm back at the tried-and-true formula of unfolding the trip in day-by-day episodes. That worked fine for Cape Town and I guess it will work fine for Buenos Aires as well.

First of all, you can find all of Skip's pictures of the trip at:

We spent a total of eight days on this trip and I'm realizing that it's going to take me longer to tell you about this trip than I thought it would. This week I'll talk about the first couple of days. Next week I'll talk about more. And we'll continue with that until I wrap up the whole trip. That should take three or four weeks. The week after that, you'll be getting another Thin White Rope road story. That will probably be over New Year's weekend. After that, into 2009, I have plenty I want to write about and it should run every week without interruption until I leave for Rome in March.

This week's reviews will be up and out on Thursday morning. I'm postponing it a day because I'm going to a special Christmas show Wednesday night that features the Pretenders, Bloc Party, CSS and the Black Kids and I want to talk about that. After that show, I have no night time plans except for some movies and a few dinners until next year. I'm actually looking forward to the nothing we have planned. I can finally relax and catch up on TV we have stored on our DVR.

So enjoy this first part of our Argentina Chronicles. (If you haven't read it yet, I posted some opening thoughts on this trip last week.) Have a great week and I'll see you here next week at the same Bat-time, on the same Bat-channel.


We woke early on Monday, October 13th and headed to the airport. Our flight wasn't until 1 PM, but we liked to get to the airport as early as possible to avoid long lines and the confusion that has been a regular event while traveling due to 9/11 and our Homeland Security's incompetence. It was a good thing we did, because things were pretty crazy there. We only had one bag to check between us and we both had small carry-ons, but there was enough meandering craziness going on around us to keep us in lines until just before boarding time. We settled into our too-small seats and after a short battle with another traveler who seemed to think that our footspace was where she got to store her carry-on; we were able to relax and enjoy the trip as much as we possibly could.

There was a time when I used to get extremely excited whenever I knew I was going to fly. Now I just face it with dread. The terrorists have been successful in ruining travel for me. It used to be relaxing and fun. Now it's always a battle against rude and ignorant airport and security personnel, rude and ignorant fellow passengers who seem to think their full-size baggage is small enough to carry on, and a lack of time, space and comfort that I don't remember dealing with on trips I took a decade ago.

Anyways, we had a few hours to Miami, where we had a two hour layover before boarding the plane to Buenos Aires. The layover happened without any major incident and we settled in for the all-night flight. I have trouble sleeping on moving vehicles, so I prepared for this flight by taking a dose of Tylenol PM, a double dose of melatonin and an over-the-counter sleeping pill. They did no good. I couldn't sleep and sat up all night in a drug-daze and read the complete "Don't Try This at Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs", a book of true stories by famous chefs about the most major cooking disasters each of them had faced in their careers. It was entertaining as hell, especially the stories from Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, Anthony Bourdain, and Mario Batali.

I was disappointed that our flight was at night (as was our return trip in eight days) as I was hoping to catch glimpses of the Amazon and the Brazilian Rainforest and the Andes Mountains from the air. I managed to catch the Andes as we flew along the Peru and Chile/Argentina border in the morning, but that was about all I could see on that flight.

We arrived in Buenos Aires about 9 AM on the 14th. I was in a real daze after our trip, but it wasn't any worse than I'd experienced before on the band tours I'd participated in, where sometimes sleep just wasn't an option. We breezed through passport control and customs with no problems. Now I was faced with finding the easiest and most logical way to get into the city. There were buses, but I'm always wary of trying to figure out those schedules. I had been warned by several guide books that we should stay away from cabs. There were supposedly many bootleg cabbies that had been known to rob, strand or even kill foreign travelers. But once we walked into the central terminal, I saw a kiosk for the National Cab Service. The traveler told the representative where they want to go and was charged a flat fee at the kiosk for the trip. There was no need to deal with money with the driver and so there was no worry about cabs taking a longer route or other rip-off things that cabbies love to do to people not from that particular city. We paid about $30 US, a cabbie was called and met us by the kiosk, where he carried our luggage to the cab and got us all in comfortably. The journey to the hotel ended up being over an hour long, so we felt the price for the service was quite a deal, but a lot of that was because of the difference between dollar and peso, which was about 3 to 1 at that time. We were told that it was standard to tip can drivers with whatever change was left from the transaction, but we gave our driver a 50 peso tip and he was so happy that he gave us a coupon that stated if we called him the day we were going to leave, he would take us back to the airport for about 2/3 of the price it cost us to get there. That was a deal!

We were staying at a hotel called Che Lulu Trendy Hotel ( Check in wasn't until 3 PM and we were there at noon, but we were told that they knew we were coming in early, so they had made sure our room was ready. We were staying in one of the few "private bathroom" rooms, Lulu 1. It was a small, but comfortable, room with a shower and toilet right off the main room. The hotel is located in the Palermo district of town, which is one of the most up and coming areas. There is lots of new construction going on and many of the new, popular restaurants, bars and clubs are located there.

The hotel seemed surprised that we didn't want to take a few hours to sleep off our trip. I was exhausted, but I knew better than to try to sleep. If I slept during the afternoon, I'd have a hell of a time trying to sleep that night and jetlag would be a problem for the rest of the trip. I knew from experience that I should just force myself to stay awake until my normal hour of bedtime. It would be hard, but I was excited to be there and was running on quite a bit of adrenaline. It also helped to keep moving, so we decided to see the city the best way possible, by walking. We planned to walk down through Palermo to the main street of Av. Del Libertador and then walk until we ran out of steam.

We walked for miles. We saw parks and statues and fountains and amazing buildings. It was all a wonder and before we knew it, we were at the Port area, Puerto Madero, and we had been walking for more than six hours. The Puerto is a beautiful section of town and one of the most expensive. There is lots of upscale construction going on there and many big hotels are set to open soon. There are also a lot of great restaurants there. We found that we ended up there a lot on this trip. It's also the place where you'll find the Puente de la Mujer, or Woman's Bridge, a footbridge, dedicated in 2001, that we found stunningly beautiful. (

We decided that it was a good time to stop for a drink, but we noticed that we had actually not seen any bars. So we stopped at a restaurant called Claxxon and asked them if we could just buy a bottle of win and sit on their deck and drink it. They had no problem, but the fact that we didn't want any food seemed to surprise and somewhat disturb them and this was the first time we experienced the Argentines reluctance to drink alcohol without eating.

I should state here again that we ran into very few people who could speak English fluently. Most of the people who worked at out hotel could understand if we spoke slowly and we found people who could speak a few words here and there. But I know from experience that it's possible to communicate with anyone if you really want to. At one point, while trying to find our way to the Puerto, we got a bit lost and a man stopped to help us get our bearings. He didn't speak a word of English and we know little Spanish, especially the strange Spanish that these people spoke. But he still managed to get us going in the right direction and followed us a ways to make sure we didn't stray wrong. People were like this everywhere we went.

So it took us some time to convince the restaurant to let us drink wine on their patio. Once the figured out that we were barbarians and we didn't want any food with our wine, they were fine with it and we enjoyed a great bottle of Pinot Noir from Argentina, the first we had ever had. We didn't even know they made Pinot there.

From there, we decided that we were too tired to walk all the way back. We really didn't have the time anyways. So we made our way into the city center where we were going to try to figure out their subway system. That trip took us past Casa Rosado, where Evita Peron spoke to the Argentine public from the balcony, and the Obelisco, the famous tall, white tower in the middle of the world's widest street, Avenida 9 de Julio. This brought us to our subway station and we quickly figured out the system. ( It's the oldest in the Southern hemisphere (1913) and is shaped liked a fork, which can be inconvenient as you have to travel all the way into downtown and then transfer to one of the six lines to take you back out to where you want to go. We were already downtown, so it was no problem and we found our line to Palermo. We got to the platform to find a huge crowd waiting and when the train came, it was packed. It actually took a couple of trains before we were able to squeeze on, but trains come frequently, so we didn't have to wait long. We found the subway to be like this all day long, rush hour or not.

We arrived at our station in Palermo and walked up the few blocks to our hotel, where we met Rodrigo, the night manager, who would become a good friend during our stay in the city. He spoke English well, as he used to be a flight attendant for American Airlines. We asked him about a place for a quick and quiet dinner and he suggested a restaurant just around the corner called Oro & Candido, but we had seen the place and it didn't look that impressive, so we opted for a Mexican Restaurant right next door called Maria Felix ( The food there was good, but not great. There are few places outside of the Southwest of North America that really know how to make Mexican food, but we like to try their attempts when we can. It came in huge portions though, so it was lucky we were very hungry.

After a few hours and many margaritas, we went back to the hotel and chatted with Rodrigo for awhile over a glass of wine. It was about midnight when we finally hit the sack. After almost 48 hours being awake, I wasted no time in falling into deep sleep.


It was Wednesday, the 15th and we woke up late, around 10 AM. I seldom sleep longer than seven hours, but considering the lack of sleep I had for the two days following, ten hours probably wasn't too much at all. I quickly showered and got ready and while Skip was preparing, I went into the lobby to figure out what we would do for that day.

While I was sitting in the lobby, the lady who worked the morning shift (whose name sadly escapes me and who we found out later was Rodrigo's mother) asked me if there was anything I wanted. I told her that I had read about mate, a tea-like drink that Argentines love, but is supposedly an acquired taste for foreigners. She agreed to make me a cup and showed me how to drink it. The cup was packed with the herb and the hot water was poured down the side, so it wouldn't soak the mixture. The liquid was then sipped up through a silver straw. It was very bitter and I loved it, although she later told me that she had added lots of sugar to it to soften the taste.

(I later found out that not only was asking for mate considered rude, but keeping the whole cup for me was rude as well. One needs to be invited to drink it and then it's a very social event, with everyone sharing the same cup and straw. It's not something for the germ-phobic. By the time I found this out, I had stopped drinking it though. I asked for it again the next morning and asked them to make it with no sugar at all. They were reluctant, but did so and were very surprised when I loved it more than the sugared version. But I found I was making frequent trips to the restroom and then I read that mate was a natural diuretic, which may answer why these people can eat so much and stay so slim. I gave it up, but I have a great mate cup, with Che Guevara on it, and a bag of mate here anytime I want to take it up again.)

By this time, Skip was ready to go. I had picked up a few postcards the day before and wanted to mail them today, so I asked where the post office was. It turned out that it was right across the street from the Botanical Gardens, which was right next to the Zoo, where we had planned to spend the day anyways. So we made our way down to Av. Santa Fe, where we found the post office after a bit of a search, and then stopped in for a delicious ham and cheese sandwich and glass of wine at Al Queso Queso, an amazing little cheese shop on the avenue.

After we ate, we walked along the Botanical Gardens, talking to and petting some of the wild cats that beg passing humans for food on a daily basis. There were hundreds of them. That took us to the zoo. ( I like to visit zoos in foreign countries. There're always a few animals in every zoo that you can't find elsewhere and I also think zoos show a city's personality. This zoo turned out to be a strange one.

The first thing we noticed was that there were several small animals running free amongst the humans. One of these looked sort of like a jackalope without the horns. ( The other looked sort of like a muskrat. ( It had large, orange teeth. Both animals were not shy about begging for food, but I was a bit worried about putting my hand down next to those teeth. They were awfully cute though and were everywhere in the zoo, along with various water birds and turtles, and even more of those wild cats.

The zoo itself was in a bit of disrepair, but it was obvious that the city was doing what it could to spruce up the place and get it ready for summer crowds. (Since Argentina is in the Southern hemisphere, summer was rapidly approaching.) There were lots of animals there that were indigenous to Argentina and Brazil that I hadn't seen before. Spending the whole afternoon there was a fun pleasure.

We then headed back to the hotel for some rest before dinner. Buenos Aires is a late eating city, like many in Southern Europe are, and most restaurants don't even open until 8:30 PM. It turned out that the restaurant we choose for the evening was also in Palermo, just a few blocks from our hotel. La Cabrera is a parrilla, or charcoal grill restaurant, that is very popular and is becoming well known by tourists, much to the concern of locals who love the place. As per most Argentine restaurants, it focuses on meat, and lots of it. With your meal, you get a whole array of appetizers and side dishes that is really a meal in itself. I ordered the rabbit stuffed with ham and cheese. Skip ordered the sweetbreads. When our dishes came, they were such huge portions that despite how delicious they were, we couldn't even come close to finishing them. I basically had a whole stuffed rabbit sitting in front of me. This turned out to be a problem at almost every restaurant we went to and we quickly learned to order one main course to share. But locals were woofing down the meal like it was their last on earth. Their lunches tend to be equally huge and they also enjoy tapas after work. I have no idea how they can pack so much away and stay so fit. Our meal was washed down with an amazing bottle of Argentine Malbec. And for some reason, our waiter kept refilling my glass of champagne I had ordered upon arriving at the restaurant. I must have drunk eight glasses of the wonderful stuff on top of everything else I drank.

(One of the main reasons we went to Argentina was for the wine. We have drunken Malbecs from the country here before, but had remained unimpressed for the most part. We had heard that they keep the real good stuff for themselves and after our visit, we realized how true that was. We had some stellar wines there, both expensive and cheap. Fortunately, the exchange rate allowed us to order the equivalent of $300 bottles of wine for a third of the cost. More on wine next week.)

After dinner, we were walking to the hotel when we passed a bar that was covered with punk rock graffiti. Loud music by the Clash was pouring out the door, so we went it. It was called the Post Street Bar and the bartender was a friendly guy who spoke limited English and gladly made me fernet cokas, a drink combining the bitter Italian Fernet Branca aperitif with Coca-Cola. I had been told by someone at the hotel that the drink was very popular in Buenos Aires and I was eager to try it. Needless to say, I loved it and drank a lot of them in the city when I wasn't drinking wine. I had heard that the Ramones were almost the equivalent of the Rolling Stones in Argentina and it was here that we found out how true that was. Every person we met had a story about how the Ramones saved their lives, even if their favorite music was now New Order or Madonna. The bartender here told us his story and then led us to a private room upstairs. All the bands who had visited the bar had signed spaces on the wall and there were hundreds of them. The Ramones got a whole wall to themselves and the graffiti and art they had left there was a wonder for any Ramones fan to see. (Unfortunately, Skip's pictures didn't turn out.)

After a couple hours of talking, we wobbled back to the hotel where we ran into a couple of American tourists from Portland Oregon who had just checked in. Their names also escape me, but the guy was a 40-something music fan who loved Thin White Rope and was eager to talk to me about the music business once he realized who I was. His girlfriend was in her early 20s and had a whole different viewpoint of the music business than any of us older folks. She quickly grew frustrated because she didn't believe we knew where she was coming from. I think she was too drunk to realize we understood her more than she thought. We sat up for several hours and finished four bottles of wine between the five of us. (Rodrigo was also included.) Plans were made and we made plans to do a bunch of stuff together, including going to an upcoming Mudhoney show at a club near the hotel. We finally turned in around 3 AM, but when we woke up the next morning, they were gone and we never saw them again. We have no idea what their true story was.


And that's it for this week. Next week we'll eat some weird meat, visit an amazing wine bar and see a crazy soccer game. And if I have time and space, we'll go to Uruguay. Until then, thanks for reading. And have fun.

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