Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Buenos Aires Chronicles - Part Three

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, December 21, 2008)

There are so many more distractions this week, all of them of the personal nature instead of the political. (Well, except the Rick Warren thing, but I don't fell that's as big of a deal as some people seem to think it is.) The roof of our house decided to spring a whole slew of leaks during our recent rain storm and I awoke to find the kitchen looked like a built-in swimming pool. On the same day, the kitchen sinks backed up and everything smelled like rotting vegetables. Then, that evening, Skip hit a patch of icy water and lost control of the car. He totaled it. He's banged up, but okay. But we can't afford to buy another car, even with the insurance payout (which we expect to be only around $5000). We have a second car, but it's in bad condition and I don't trust driving it anywhere but close by. (When I drove it to pick Skip up, it wouldn't start again once I got there and the tow truck had to give us a jump start.) We'll have to try to fix that piece of crap up. With all these costs, we may have to cancel our trip to Rome, but we'll see how it goes over the next couple of months. This type of thing always seems to happen to us at the end of every year, but this year is so much more…intense…than past years. When it rains, it pours…no pun intended.

So okay folks! Here we go with the final three days of our trip to Buenos Aires. Next week I'll be back with a Thin White Rope tour story. I just have to decide what story to tell, but I think it's going to be a story that took place during our Soviet Union tour in Lithuania, where I was colder than I've ever been in my life. After that, it will be a new year and I have a lot to talk about, including the best of 2008 and what the future holds for 2009. But now, let's return to Argentina, where Skip and I are just waking after a visit to Uruguay the day before.

Check out the other two segments of this report here: and Skip's trip photos here:

On Sunday October 19th, we woke early and were met by a large van outside the hotel. We were packed in with a bunch of other tourists and taken to the square that was just across the street from the Casa Rosado. At that point, we were told that we had half an hour and we were urged to walk down the street where a street fair was going on. There were lots of leather goods for sale cheap, but it really didn't interest us much, so we walked back to the square and after a short wait, we were all herded onto a large bus for the trip to the Pampas. This was a drive that lasted a couple of hours, with one stop at a gas station for a bathroom break and some yummy empanadas for snacks.

We finally arrived at Fiesta Gaucha Don Silvano (, which is a sprawling ranch in the middle of a countryside that reminded me of the Inland Empire region of Southern California (Riverside, San Bernardino). I was really looking forward to riding some horses with the gauchos. I partially grew up on a ranch in Northern California and loved horseback riding. Although I haven't done it in years, I was a pretty good rider and the thought of running through the Argentine countryside on a horse sounded like the best thing in the world to me at that moment.

Unfortunately, we arrived to find a rather touristy, almost theme-park version of a gaucho ranch, although it was a working ranch. The horseback riding consisted of a bunch of tired looking horses that trudged around a large field, looking rather depressed and hungry. I opted out of that. It didn't look fun at all.

When we first arrived, we were shown to a shack where we were handed our choice of empanadas and then led to an area where we were briefed on our afternoon on the ranch. We could ride the depressed horses, shop for cheap leather goods, go visit some of the other dozen or so animals caged in a livestock area, or drink heavily and wander around aimlessly. We choose the later. Eventually, there was to be a huge lunch held in the barn with entertainment that included song and dance. After lunch would be a gaucho demonstration of horse and roping skills. And then we would all head home.

The place was extremely crowded, but it seemed to be mostly local Argentines instead of foreign tourists. We asked about that and we were told that it was Argentina's Mother's Day and families were out in force to celebrate with their matriarchs. We also asked about the lunch and the head gaucho told us that it would be opening in about an hour and that we could head in any time. He stressed that there was no hurry and we should take the time to see the ranch. But we noticed a huge line already forming at the door, so we decided to stay close by.

About a half hour later the doors opened and everyone jammed inside. We waited for awhile to let everything calm down and then walked to the door, only to have our tour guide rush us in, telling us that everyone was waiting. We were led to our table to find everyone already sitting and talking and drinking beer, wine and water. So we joined right in. We were seated across from a Mexican woman and her daughter, who now lived in San Diego, and right next to four loud and crazy Dutch people, who seemed to be having the time of their lives and were noisily letting everyone else know it. After a short period of irritation, we started finding them to be lots of fun though, perhaps because we were catching up to them in inebriation.

As soon as one wine or beer bottle would empty, a full one would replace it. Then the food started arriving and I thought that it would never stop. There were sides of salads and potatoes. There were local chorizo sausages and earthy and wonderful black sausages (that most of the tourists wouldn't touch). There was grilled chicken, beef, pork and mutton. And there was ice cream and dolce de leche for dessert. It was endless and didn't end until we begged the servers to stop.

While this food orgy was going on, a man took the stage with a guitar and introduced himself as that afternoon's master of ceremonies. Before the show, they had asked where everyone came from, and the man now started playing national anthems and theme songs from each of the countries represented. Every now and then, one of the tourists from that country would get up on stage and sing the song with the man. I found it curious that when he got to the United States, he sang, "When the Saints Go Marching In"! It was a strange choice.

After he got done with his musical tour of the world, he introduced a pair of dancers, who took us through the history of Argentine dance, including some beautiful versions of the Tango. It was during this that the dancers decided that they wanted some audience participation. Making a beeline down several aisles and through the crowd, the female dancer went directly to me, and despite protests, managed to drag me out of my seat and up to the front of the stage where several other tourists were trying to learn the dance steps. I was full of meat and woozy with alcohol, but I do remember bouncing around embarrassingly with the dancer for a few minutes before she kissed me on the cheek and allowed me to return to the relative safety of my seat. Thankfully, Skip was also tipsy enough to forget to take pictures of the incident, although I'm sure some tourists somewhere has all the blackmail material they need on a digital camera to keep me in their employ if the need should arise.

The lunch broke up shortly after that and we all headed out to the field to watch some well built cowboys, or gauchos, ride horses, rope inanimate objects and pluck rings from posts that enabled them to requests kisses from various females in the audience. It was actually quite entertaining and despite the touristy aspect of the whole afternoon, Skip and I decided we had really had a great time out there.

We were all packed back on the bus, except the Dutch tourists who decided to spend the night out there, and a few hours later, we found ourselves back in front of our hotel. We only had a few minutes to get ready before we had to leave to walk to the Niceto Club ( where we were slated to see Mudhoney (, a grungy rock band from Seattle. I'm not the biggest Mudhoney fan, but I enjoy them and the chance to see an American band in a setting like this was too much to pass up on. And it was great. It was packed in the typical rock club (they're the same all over) and the kids went crazy, practically swinging from the rafters. The band responded in kind with a blistering set of Stooges inspired rock.

I had introduced myself to the manager of the opening band, Los Natas (, during their set because I was enjoying them. They were the perfect Subpop-like band to open for Mudhoney. He invited me to their after show party, but towards the end of their set, they brought on their lead singer, who was missing for the first two-thirds for some reason. He was horrible, like some bad copy of David Lee Roth. So I passed on the party because I didn't want to face the band and tell them they should dump the idiot. (Although looking at their Myspace page, it looks like the idiot has been dumped.)

Instead, we walked down the street and had some great Argentine pizza and beer at a late-night restaurant called Pekin. It was delicious and after a few more beers, we walked the rest of the way to the hotel and called it a night. After the events of the day, we were exhausted.

We decided that for our last two days, we would take it easy and just see a few things that we hadn't had time to make it to yet. It was Monday the 20th and we woke up and took the subway a few stops and then walked down to Cementerio de la Recoleta ( Along the way, we stopped at a small place called La Juvenil, where we bought a selection of empanadas and dolce de leche for brunch. Recoleta is the cemetery that Eva Peron is buried at, which makes it a must see tourist destination for anyone visiting the city. It was absolutely gorgeous, reminding me of the cemeteries around New Orleans, where all the dead rest in mausoleums above the ground. Here, they were huge and beautiful. Some were classically done. Others were art deco in style. We spent several hours walking around looking at these structures and visiting with the wild cats that made their home there. And we visited Eva Peron's resting place, which had the largest crowd around it, of course.

Our plan was to walk back to the subway and take it out to the Puerto since we were having dinner in the area that evening, but we ran into a wine store on the way and found a couple of bottles and a fake Anvil wine case, that we had to have, so we ended up buying those and taking them back to the hotel. Then we made our way to the Puerto because we wanted to spend some time walking around the marshes that surround the area and were supposed to be an amazing wildlife preserve according to our tourist's books. But when we got there, we found the whole area closed off, so we just walked around the outskirts for awhile and peered in, which allowed us to see a few birds and plants growing nearby. We never did find out why that was closed, although there was a heavy homeless presence there, so we thought that might have something to do with it.

So instead we walked into the Puerto and ended up at a restaurant called Asia de Cuba (, which I believe is a world-wide chain, where we enjoyed more wine and ate some light appetizers that weren't very good. The restaurant we were having dinner at was a ways away, in the San Telmo region, so we left and slowly made our way to the address. We arrived much earlier than we thought we would, so we settled into a bar across the street, Territorio Bar y Provisiones, where we enjoyed even more wine. And when the time came, we walked over to the restaurant, which was very crowded, and after a very short wait, we were taken upstairs and seated next to a party of Argentines who were eating very enthusiastically.

The restaurant, La Brigada ( is considered one of the best parrillas in the city. A parrilla specializes in grilled meats, much like you get in the pampas with the gauchos. As per our other restaurant experiences, this one included tons of meat and great wines. My favorite thing was the short rib roast, which is one of the only cuts of meat in the country that is recommended to be served very rare. I have never had short ribs that weren't cooked like a pot roast, falling off the bone. These were grilled rare and were delicious. Afterwards, there was a whole menu containing nothing but desserts and after a short time to look through the dozens offered, I decide on crepes filled with dolce de leche, which is always a good choice. The place was almost like a big party and everyone was talking and enjoying the company of the tables around them. Our waiter was quite a character and his friendliness, and that of our neighbors, helped make the meal one of our best.

Afterwards, the restaurant called a cab for us and we went back to the hotel. It was our last night there and we made the best of it by sitting up and drinking wine with Rodrigo. Then it was to bed, so we could at least get a little done on our last day.

We woke up and decided that we didn't feel like going anywhere, so we walked over to Oro & Candido for lunch. It was a great lunch of new Andean food and we enjoyed a llama Carpaccio and some yacare on a stick, which is a small alligator found along the rivers in Argentina. We talked at length to the owner this time and discovered he used to live here in Los Angeles, and we talked about the vast differences between the two cities.

But we were running out of time and we wanted to see Nacho again, so we made our goodbyes and left to go to the Lobby Wine Bar. There we gave Nacho an Andrew Murray baseball cap, and took a picture of him in it so we could send it to Andrew. We also enjoyed another bottle of wine. As we made our goodbyes to Nacho and his staff, he presented us with a bottle of wine that he said was one of his favorites. (We drank it once we got home and it was wonderful.) And with that, we were gone, although Skip and I are going to get a bottle of the Andrew Murray Roasted Slope Syrah that Nacho is so obsessed with and send it to him. We wanted to get it to him before Christmas, but still haven't found the exact bottle we want. We'll get it to him soon though and Nacho can finally try it. I suspect he'll love it.

When we got back to the hotel, we found our cab driver waiting there already. Earlier that day, we wanted to take advantage of the return fare discount that was offered to us on our initial cab ride from the airport. So Rodrigo called the company and arranged for the cab to meet us in time to get to the airport with a couple hours to spare. But the guy was about an hour and half early and we didn't want to leave that soon and just sit around the airport. We would rather sit around the hotel and drink and talk to Rodrigo. The cab driver didn't seem to mind and we invited him in for a glass of wine, which he turned down. After a bottle or so of wine, it was time to leave, so we got our luggage and made our goodbyes to the wonderful staff of Che Lulu. And with that, we were gone on our final drive through the city to the airport.

We arrived and gave the driver a giant tip, which I'm sure made his wait really worthwhile and made our way into check-in, where we found out that our suitcase weighed too much and we had to pay about $100 in excess fees. Next time we'll know to bring two suitcases, even if one is empty on the way over. Then we found out we had to pay airport fees and they got us for another $50 or so. But we finally found our way out of there, through customs and on the plane. It was early evening and once again we were flying at night. But this time I had no problem sleeping. A day later, after another short stop in Miami, we were home.

As I said in my initial thoughts, I really loved Buenos Aires. ArgentinaSouth Africa did. It was very foreign, but intriguing and inviting. After Cape Town, I was obsessed with Africa and wanted to go back to every country, something I would still like to do. I feel the same way about South America now. It's strange, but very inviting, society that has a history built on revolutions, dictatorships and strife. I find it all terribly interesting and look forward to experiencing more of it in the future. The more places I travel, the less I feel like I'm strictly an American. With each trip, I feel more like I live in this world and not just in this country. It's a feeling I like and it's a feeling I wish more people had. Perhaps the world wouldn't be filled with so many human problems if they did.

1 comment:

  1. Let me portray one good thing about Argentina: it has all the seasons that last the exact same amount of time. And I like the fact that they celebrate every time a new season starts, because there are things to do at any kind of weather. I remember when I was looking for buenos aires apartments, they all had stoves and air conditioning, since if you stayed for longer than 3 months, you were going to need both!