Argentina Diaries: Day 1 / by vanessa

So here we are in Buenos Aires. It's Sabado (this is my way of seriously trying to learn Spanish). We arrived EARLY. We found our cab driver but of course needed to get cash. Wait - let me back up - the Miami airport is nasty. Havis and I got a slice of Pizzeria Uno which we were both looking forward to until we took a bite. Puke. But then we shared a beer. Not puke. We've been sharing a helluva lot of beer. Anyway, Hav suggested we get cash while still in the States, but I disagreed - we could get cash in BA. We rented an apartment for our stay and per the email agreement, we needed US$138 to pay the remainder of our balance. I went to the ATM. I tried to get out pesos. Simple enough, right?

Unlike Europe or even Mexico, most Argentinians do not speak English, or at least they don't let on that they do, which could be why Buenos Aires is called the Paris of South America. The ATMs are only occasionally with English options. I cobbled together my Spanish to withdraw money. As it turns out, I pulled out 300 pesos (US$100) and it wouldn't let me get any more. I'd reached my limit, as best as I could tell. Havis changed his US$40 that he was smart enough to get out in Miami. So now we had 420 pesos. All the while the cabbie waited patiently.

He took us to our apartment. We learned that there are an awful lot of Bolivians in BA, which evidently didn't please him. He told us that Argentinians are "Italians who speak Spanish [when Spanish is not 'Espanol' of course, but 'Castellano', pronounced cast-eh-zhano. This is true. The inflection sounds very Italian. The national pride is reminiscent as well. They all say "ciao" (spelled "chau") and occasionally I hear "prego" save that here, because there's an innate aversion to finishing or even enunciating words, it's pronounced "preg-ah."

Anyway, so we get to the apartment. The cab driver tells us it's US$32 or 100 pesos. Uh, what? I thought it was included in the remainder we owed Casa San Telmo, our rental agency. Okay fine. We paid him and went inside.

Eva, an employee of CST, met us an introduced us to Cristina, the woman who owns the apartment. Eva's English is like my French, which got us far enough along to understand that they didn't want US$138, they wanted US$368! WTF?!

So the email string I had was not clear. I thought I paid the rental fee and the deposit was included, but apparently not. This was, perhaps, lost in translation. One problem -- we only had about 464 pesos ($155) left. Not enough. So Cristina left and Eva walked me to an ATM while Hav waited in the apartment. We walked, and walked, and walked some more. ATMs are not on every corner. We found one eventually, and I tried, and tried, and tried to pulse out money. Shit. I had apparently already reached my maximum withdrawal for the day. Seriously? US$100 is all you can extract in a day? (Later in the trip I found other ATMs that provided me work-arounds.) That's so weird. Why? $100 does get you very far. Actually here it does. So Eva, who, btw, has been married for a very long time and has four daughters, from 24 to 16, walked me back to the apartment. Shit. Am I in trouble?

By this time Eva and I have been gone almost 45 minutes and I'm worried about Scott being worried. When we returned, Eva called Mercedes, the owner of CST. She said a whole bunch of stuff in Spanish or whatever to her boss, then hands me the phone. Mercedes tells me we're to meet Cristina on Monday to pay the remaining balance. Okay, this I can handle. Eva gave me her personal email address (we are now friends -- amigas, if you will), and left.

Hav and I made a plan to go see the city. Let's hit the city! See Palermo Soho -- all that good stuff. Ok. I let the water warm up as I prepared for the shower (which entails grabbing a camel-load of Sonya Dakar products, change of clothes, and a towel). I hopped in. The water filled up around my ankles but I couldn't figure out how to turn it off. Oh well. And then it happens.

Scott: VANESS!!! Oh my God!
Me: What? What's wrong? (I'm thinking he saw a rat or somethin'.)
Scott: Water -- EVERYWHERE! Shut it off. Shut it off!

I opened the shower curtain. Sure enough the bathroom floor is three inches deep in water It's out the door. I shut if off. Scott ran in and handed me a HAND towel. (I haven't been hand towel size in over two ears.)

"What's his name? Ernesto?"
"Armano," I answer. Scott runs out to the balcony and called for the building maintenance man who miraculously met only an hour earlier and happened to be in the courtyard two floors below. Armano ran up to our apartment. Water is literally spilling onto the balcony. Meanwhile I've been upgraded from hand towel to beach version. After about 10 minutes, Armano produced a huge clog of hair from the drain. He is talking at us but of course we didn't understand. No entiendo, we tell him. He speaks louder. Our faces turned puzzled. He says, somehow, that he'll be back. He returns with a girl who speaks a little English. She tells us that a huge wad of hair was blocking the drain but he cleared it. We ask if we're gonna be in trouble -- we just rented the apartment less than an hour earlier. That apparently didn't translate b/c he answered with, "There are always people coming and going from this apartment." GREAT. In addition to questioning our hygiene, we're also drug dealers. We thanked him and his friend after we all pitched in to shoo the water into the drain in the bathroom floor. I signaled with my hands a question of, "will the floors warp." Of course they won't... the floor is laminate. And then, after several very uncomfortable silent moments, they left. Problem solved. Hav showers and we're on our way.

First stop: food. We're hungry. We walked around, or got lost as it were, but saw a street fair so it was okay. We found our first restaurant choice, Krishna, a vegetarian joint where nothing on the menu save lassi, seemed recognizable. The music, however, looked familiar. Gopala, Gopala, Devikananda, Gopala. Yay. And then, Pink Floyd. Gopala?! Go figure. We ended up with some really good food by sheer luck.

I'll digress from my account to say that I really love Buenos Aires. It's both prideful and arrogant at once. In leaving to go to Patagonia, it already feels like we're leaving home. Fo the most part, the people have been exceedingly warm when engaged. There's a cool exterior to be sure, but once the formalities are done away with, there exists a warmth that bleeds sincerity.

Also, though I've been challenged, I really look forward to speaking Spanish. Part of me is a little disappointed when someone speaks back to me in English. I could see myself having a vacation home here.

So I'll return to my story. Saturday night, after Krishna, we walked around a lot more then finally returned to the apartment where it smelled like mildew. I showered and went for dinner at 9. We held off as long as we could. People eat very late here. 9 is early. We went to Bar Uriarte where we sat at the bar next to some girls from Austin. Had I been myself I would've been like "you're from Austin? I lived in Austin!!" but I think Hav wanted the anonymity. The night ended up uneventful: a long dinner (2 hours) then back to the apartment. We fell asleep around 1 and planned to get up at 9. I set my alarm incorrectly so we slept in till 10.

I forgot to mention that on our way out to dinner we stopped and had mate at a cafe. Making mate is an experience steeped deep in tradition. you get hot water, loose leaf mate, and a special instrument that looks like a cross between a straw and a perforated spoon. Also a special cup is used, called a gourd, I suspect because real gourds are used. You place your mate in the cup, slowly add hot water, sugar if you like, then place your straw-thingy in the mix and drink. Buenisimo! That is all.