Argentina Diaries: Day 3 / by vanessa

On Monday, and now definitely older, we got up at a decent hour. Hav can handle one late rising per trip. He really likes to drink a location up. It's not that he does touristy stuff, he just likes to see -- to watch as much as possible. So we had massages scheduled at 10 a.m. in Barrio Norte. We wanted to arrive early to check out the other areas of town. Barrio Norte is a nicer, older, monied neighborhood to Palermo Viejo's young sassiness. Hav was kind enough to go out and get us coffee and mini-croissants (called medialunas) and we ate in the apartment.

We cabbed it over to Barrio Norte where our driver kindly explained (yay! we're learning!) that today was Argentina's new president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's inauguration day. You see, I thought by the way the cabbie scoffed at us when we tried repeatedly to enter his cab by way of a tempermental door handle that he wrote us off as dumb tourists (I once had a cab driver in Las Vegas ask me if I was stupid, so my fear wasn't outside the realm of possibility). He turned out being really sweet and a slow speaker, the kind we wish we could have kept as our pocket translator.

We arrived at 10 at Aqua Naturale Medical Spa. Hav thought the word "medical" in the name couldn't be a good sign, but I reassured him -- *THE* NY Times called it one of BA's best. Indeed, we got inside and it was hardly sterile. A zen-ish oasis in the middle of a big, smoggy city. Let me say this though -- and it's not a complaint so much as an observation -- foreign standards of luxury are not the same as in the U.S. At home it would be unacceptable for a top spa to have water stains on walls or peeling calk or mildew in the showers or, ahem, Palmolive soap.

We pieced together that we had ordered a massage and a facial. Scott went with the masseuse first. My facialist and I spent an hour trying to teach each other Spanish and English. She had been learning since grade school. I did what I could to augment her studies. For example, when she told me I still have "water in my skin"; I explained that in English we say "moisture". Glad I could be of service. She taught me how to say "I'm trying" but I've since forgotten. I should have got her to tell me how to say "I've forgotten." I'm finished is "terminale," so you know. As a side note, I felt like I was cheating on my ridiculously expensive LA facialist. Would she be able to tell? I prayed that Maria wouldn't leave any tell-tale signs. We finished and she handed me off to the masseuse. Hav traded places. I wished we had switched -- he does not see the value of any aesthetic treatment that results in pain.

My massage felt good. I strained to relax though because the room was so cold. My yoga client / friend Nina would have asked them to turn up the heat. I, thinking of all the other guests and realizing that each room didn't have individual thermostats, simply resigned myself to being cold. I always do that. I should stop doing that.

We eventually met again in the waiting area and then they told us that we had a whirlpool waiting. For the two of us. We spent over 9 years together and yet our respective disrobing felt awkward and foreign. The aesthetician presented the whirlpool with pride but we were in no mood for hospitality. Three hours had passed since we first got there and we're tourists damnit! We had places to go. (Not really.) People to see! (Not really.)

Not 5 minutes into the 20 minutes they had scheduled for us, Hav says he's getting out. I felt bad -- like I was being a poor houseguest -- but not bad enough to wait the next 15 minutes out. In my attempt to turn the water off completely, somehow I managed instead to drain the water but turn on the jets. Havis was worried; his ample experience with hot tubs told him that jets - water = bad for whirlpool. Uh oh. He went to ask the front desk (in his robe) how to shut it off. In the 60 seconds he was gone, I succeeded in turning on some short of trick option where water began shooting in the air. Holy shit!

Water spilled over the edge of the whirlpool, on to the cedar steps, out the glass door, and down the hall. It was flooding the room (seem familiar?).

Havis returned -- "Oh my God Vanessa! What'd you do?!"
"I don't know! I was trying to turn it off! Get someone!"

And this is when every ounce of Spanish I've learned in the last few days, which had gotten us by barely or enough, promptly disappeared. A maid or maintenance person walked around the corner unsuspecting until she saw the commotion. Immediately she looked at Scott. I tried to tell her I did it but that wasn't really the point now. She deftly pushed a magic button that couldn't have been there before and all the jets, water, everything - turned off. Still the flood required attention. At this time the aesthetician, who had drawn the bath for us in the first place, walked around the corner. She spoke English earlier during my facial but I think her vocabularly is limited to the innoculous. May it stay that way.

"Mi disculpa!" I pleaded. She started asking me questions in Spanish. "No entiendo" I answered, which, directly translated means "I don't understand", but as I used it, "Jesus help me!"

"I am sorry," she answered. "We'll have it ready for you again in 9 minutes."
Uh oh. They wanted us to get back in.
"Uhh, that's okay. We were getting out."
"No, no. 9 minutes."
"No, no. Terminale," I answered.

This seemed to sting. This was a word she had taught me earlier. Hav and I cowered back to the changing rooms. I had planned to shower before leaving because I hate having the grease of massage oil on me but I could no longer show my face.

I quickly changed, went to pay, and gave what I thought was a decent tip for BA -- they say between 10 and 15%. I gave 13%. That's fair, right?! The real story is that in Argentina they don't have the concept of reserving funds on credit cards. So, in the States where at a restaurant they run your card through for 25% more than the bill, then submit the actual amount later, here you leave the tip in cash. So I had to pay cash but I didn't have small bills. Rollin'. So I left what I had in small bills, amounting to 13% each (masseuse and facialist). When I got outside Hav talked some sense into me so I walked back in and asked them to change my 100. I left another 20 a piece for each brining the tip up to 20%. Am I redeemed.

Nextstop, internet cafe. We had to meet the apartment owner to pay the deposit we owed her. We found a shop where I sent an email to the agency asking them to arrange a time for us. After that we went on a mission for food, having not eaten in the last 5 hours. Massages will wear you out, you know.

First we went to a place in our guidebook which turned out to no longer be there. When Hav and I don't have a plan around food chaos erupts. And by chaos I mean bickering and passive-aggressive finger pointing. For all intents and purposes we become helpless. So I'm not sure how we did it but we settled on a cafe on the edge of Barrio Norte facing Av. Santa Fe. By this time I'm so sick of bread and I really want a salad and oh yeah, I'm, uh, starving. I ordered a salad saying "Soy vegetariana y no carne." Big mistake. I'm in the land of gilded beef where not only is the concept of vegetarianism slightly suspect, but also not altogether understood.

"Ahhh," the waiter says, "bien -- no carne; con avi." I should have checked my damn book. "Avi" apparently means "bird." Motherscratcher. My salad came, which I'm dying for, and its chock full of turkey shreds. Not even the kind I could pick around or out. I suppose the chef felt sorry for me, having abstained from red meat, and in an effort to save my soul, heaped disproportionate amounts of this avi stuff. In retrospect, duh. So I ended up eating the pizza after all. Did I mention I really need to learn Spanish?

After filling up (what an American concept) we headed back to the internet cafe to see what time we needed to pay the deposit. 8:30. Great! Time for more exploring. We were carrying around my laptop (don't ask *why* I brought it) so we decided to see Recoleta cemetery some other day and instead drop off our bags at home. Before home we caught a cab to Centro to go to Chaten travel -- the agency we were using for our bus travel to El Chaten. We didn't know what time they closed but when we got in the cab at 4:30 and 20 minutes later we found ourselves still stuck in a traffic jam, we decided to go it on foot. I can't believe we understood the cabbie's directions, but by the grace of God we got there before they closed and booked our travel for the next day.

We hopped on the subway, and this being a holiday, we rode for free. I thought it odd that policemen still guarded the ticket checks when no tickets were needed. P.S. if you take the subway in a foreign city where you don't speak the language, this means you're brave. The 20 minutes on the subway gave us rest for our shoulders so that instead of returning home, we went shopping. Naturally. Back in Palermo Viejo we each got a few things (Hav bought me the cutest shift for my bday!) before settling at Bar 6. Have you ever had a Rob Roy? No? Don't.

I wrote, Hav read, and we ordered more drinks to neutralize the former. Hav left to go pay Cristina and I ordered food for us. Bar 6 is cool digs. Exposed brick on one side, lots of couches and low slung tables capped off by good food (despite that even one mixed drink will result in a hangover WHILE you're drinking it). Hav came back and as usual, ordered the better meal.

I packed for Patagonia and went to bed.