Nos Vemos Buenos Aires

My landlord will be here in exactly half an hour to collect my keys, inspect the apartment, and refund my security deposit. After this, I’ll embark on my final ride on the Subte, up to Retiro to catch an overnight bus to Cordoba.

It feels strange to be leaving. I’ve only been here for a month, but never before have I felt so at home in a foreign city. Although I do tend to form strange attachments to pretty much everywhere I visit (in particular I remember wondering to myself while eating breakfast at a little cafe in Hope, British Columbia whether I’d ever be in that particular town again), this is the longest I’ve spent in one place without actually full-on living there. It’s a strange feeling to be able to give directions to tourists, call out a cab driver on trying to take a bullshit route to up the fare, be on a first name basis with the lady that sells you orange juice in the middle of the night, and run into people you met weeks prior on the other side of town, all while in a city that you really have no ties to. I can say with almost one hundred percent certainty that I will never again set foot inside my apartment at 1186 Corrientes, but much like the apartment in which I grew up on Oakley in Chicago (which I’ll also never be inside again), I’ll always remember strange little things about it, like the bathroom that floods everytime I shower and the futon that doesn’t quite fold up all the way, as well as the doorman who tries to teach me a bunch of crazy old phrases in Castellano.

Trying to organize and pack up my apartment.

My life in one bag.

My ticket out of town tonight.

I’ve been hoarding one peso coins for the bus. I won’t need them anymore, so I’m gonna make someone’s day at the bus station when I buy snacks with them.

Landlord is here. Time to go.

This entry was written by brett, posted on March 29, 2009 at 5:06 pm, filed under Buenos Aires, Travel. Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink.

To Uruguay and Back

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I’ve been back in Buenos Aires since last Friday. Here is the long overdue update (which was written last night):

It (this blog entry) was going to happen last night, however my doorman struck up a conversation upon my return home from dinner just past midnight, and I received a three-hour Spanish lesson while drinking orange juice out of the carton on the front stoop of my building and observing the ridiculous state of affairs that is Corrientes Avenue in the early AM.

As I wrote on Tuesday of last week, the decision to take the Buquebus to Uruguay before the weekend was spur of the moment and fueled by strawberry ice cream. While a short trip to Uruguay had been in the cards all along, it was originally thought that it would take place post-weekend (this week). The plan was to take advantage of the perfect beach weather and get back to Buenos Aires for the weekend- which was exactly what we did.

After finishing our ice cream on the street in front of my apartment (which is a faux pas here, for the record), we ran inside to check the Buquebus schedule online, only to find out that the last rapid ferry to Colonia left from Puerto Madero in two hours. Quickly, we through together a plan (which is the first time I’ve really had more than the next day of my life planned out since I left Chicago) which involved spending the night at a cheap bed and breakfast in Colonia, catching an early bus to Montevideo (where we would either hang out for a bit or immediately board another bus to PDE), catch another bus to Punta del Este, spend a night or two on the beach, and then figure out how to get back for invsn Friday night in the city. The planning went quick and the packing even quicker- swimsuits, a change of clothes, notebook, camera, passports, and pesos- in a discreet little AA book bag that by no means says steal me (this bag did a wonderful job of allowing me to walk around with valuables in Brazil as well).

After a quick and cheap cab ride, we began a surprisingly non-furiating bureaucratic tour of the Buquebus terminal, in which tickets are booked at one counter, purchased at another, and checked in at yet another. Had there been lines, I may have suffered an aneurysm. After going through an airport style security check, we were stamped out of Argentina and into Uruguay, and proceeded to wait in the ridiculously comfortable gate area for the boarding of our boat. Upon boarding, we were surprised to see that the cabin of the ferry shared more in common with a Las Vegas casino (red carpet, bar, tacky duty free shopping) than that of a marine vessel. Nonetheless, the ride was smooth and just over an hour from port to port. We arrived in Colonia and walked through the eerily quite evening darkness (around 9 pm) to the main bus station where we exchanged Argentine Pesos for Uruguayan Pesos (which are currently 23 to 1 with the dollar, for the record) and asked for directions to our lodging (which was four blocks down the quiet and dark riverfront street). Two cab drivers and the guy at the currency exchange, as well as the the girl at our hostel all insisted that Colonia is the safest town on Earth, however having spent the month or so in some of the most densely populated cities in the world, the silence and stillness of the streets was extremely creepy. Nonetheless, after walking two blocks up the hill, we found the main street with cafes and restaurants and people, where we shared a parrilla for two and some drinks. After strolling through the old part of town (which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site), we decided that we’d wake up super early to see the town during the day before catching our bus out.

Colonia is quite beautiful and incredibly tranquil. It reminds me of a small town in the upper midwest of the United States with a flourishing downtown (if that exists anymore), only it’s subtropical and full of beautiful old buildings from the time of Portuguese colonialism. Beyond this, everyone either rides a bike or a moped, and there is a little harbor full of sailboats. As far as great places to retire are concerned, Colonia is outstanding (however there is little to do for more than a day).

The port of Buenos Aires from the ferry.

The absurd tourist class cabin of the ferry.

The entrance to the port.

Our hostel was on this block.

The view of the Rio de la Plata and a barn from our balcony.

The river.

Old Colonia.

I bet this place is delicious.

So many mopeds.

The site of our delicious parrilla the night before.

After momentarily playing with the idea of renting a car and driving ourselves to PDE (about 5 hours each way), we decide that it makes more sense to take a bus. We bought tickets with COT, a major bus liner in Uruguay. 3 hours to Montevideo, an hour layover, and another 2.5 hours to PDE, for a total of about 15 US dollars. Bus travel in this part of the world is incredibly comfortable and really cheap. We were able to get seats on the 11:00 bus out of Colonia at 9:30 in the morning, which allowed us another hour or so to wander the city before falling asleep on the way to MVD.

I’d have liked to have spent time in Montevideo, but this trip was a bit rushed and it was not in the cards. Driving through, it seemed like quite a nice city. This comes despite the fact that I’ve talked first hand with three people who have been robbed there, and heard talk of a minor crack epidemic amongst the bored middle class youth. The bus terminal was the cleanest and most efficient that I’ve seen in a large Latin American city (which is relative, because at just over a million people, it’s the largest city in Uruguay, however it’s tiny compared to most of the other capitals).

Coming into Montevideo from the west.

Uruguay is the land of the ham and cheese sandwich. This works well for me, as I am a great consumer of said comida. These ones were from the bus station and they were excellent.

The ride to PDE was shorter than the one to MVD, and quite a bit more scenic as the countryside became a bit more rolling, allowing for some views of the Atlantic. Our hotel (which was actually cheaper than most hostels in the area, and even pretty nice) was only a block from the bus terminal.

The town of Punta del Este is situated on a peninsula that (at the point in which the downtown sits) is only three blocks wide from the river beach to the ocean beach. During the Summer season (Dec through late Feb) the place is packed with rich people from throughout South America- and it shows. On some blocks you’d think you were in Newport Beach (with the Valentino and all the sushi), however just around the corner there’s always a little bakery or market and a kid on an old moped to remind you of the fact that you are in no such place. As we were there in the middle of March (the weather is still perfect, but all the kids are back in school and parents back at work), everything was half the price of the high season and the beaches were relatively empty. I couldn’t ask for any more. We decided to stay until Friday, at which point we’d make our way back to Buenos Aires.

The Uruguayan flag at the tip of the peninsula.

The main surfing beach.

Everyone in PDE gets around on two wheels- some with engines, some without. We took it upon ourselves to acquire a 125cc scooter, which was actually too easy. It was actually large and fast enough that I would not be allowed to drive it at home without a motorcycle license. Needless to say, this was the highlight of my time in PDE, and I had it on the highway at speeds in excess of 100 kph. This great increase in mobility allowed us to explore some private beaches and unpopulated parts of the peninsula.

Pretty much the best thing ever.

Being mobile is nice.

We found this place about 20 km outside of town.

The scooter parked up on the sidewalk at the Disco Supermarket, feeling a bit intimidated by the Mini behind it.

Dinner at Lo de Charlie (a highly recommend spot in PDE) was outstanding, and included whitefish ceviche with mango and avocado, grilled swordfish, and Valencian paella. Our snack at the golden arches the following day was the opposite of outstanding.


The dogs in Uruguay like to hang out.

And sometimes they come inside to do so.

Playtime and empanadas.

We were able to book a direct bus from PDE back to the ferry terminal in Colonia through Buquebus, which also included first class ferry fare back to BA. The bus ride was about 5 hours with a stop for snacks in some really sweet small but kind of big Uruguayan town in the middle of nowhere. We were stamped out of Uruguay and into Argentina and then waited for about an hour at the terminal before boarding the ferry, at which point the sun was going down over the Rio de la Plata. The ferry was quick and came with complementary champaign and terribly obnoxious closed-circuit television consisting of circuses and fashion shows.

The bus ride back to Colonia.

The Uruguayan Pampa.

This is the outskirts of the town where we stopped for snacks.

Sunset over the Rio de la Plata from the Colonia ferry terminal.

A fifteen minute walk from the terminal brought us back to my apartment, at which point the past week of my life in Buenos Aires begins. I was still tour guiding through Wednesday night, which meant sightseeing, window (and actual I suppose) shopping, copious eating, and of course going out at night.

This morning I walked across microcenter to acquire a delicious chicken and mango pico de gallo burrito at CBC before wandering up to the bus station to purchase a ticket out of this city for Sunday night. I was still undecided between stopping in Cordoba or going straight to Mendoza or Santiago, but decided at the ticket counters based on the fact that the line for Sierras de Cordoba (a reliable service to the center of the country) was much shorter than that of Andesmar. So now it is in stone (well, 95 pesos worth of stone) that I leave Buenos Aires for Cordoba at 11:10 pm on Sunday.

On the way from Retiro terminal to Ave Tucuman and Ave Montevideo to pick up my laundry I witnessed first hand a broad daylight bag snatching- and quite the audacious one at that. The offender simply cut the strap and ran while the owner of said laptop bag was hailing a cab. The precession of screaming old men running down Ave Santa Fe through Barrio Norte (one of the richest parts of town) failed to catch the offender.

Here are some photos from the past week in BA:

My hood.

That’s the Carrefour next to my apartment. I buy all their orange juice and pasta.

You can’t find guacamole here (outside of a few Mexican spots), so we made our own.

The park at the Tribunales Subte stop.


We stumbled upon a protest on Ave de Mayo the other day.

Homero is watching.

This entry was written by brett, posted on March 27, 2009 at 5:54 pm, filed under Travel. Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink.


An impulsive post strawberry ice cream decision yesterday afternoon has led me to Uruguay by boat. Spent last night in Colonia, five hours on two buses today and now I’m in Punta del Este- the so called Monte Carlo of South America. Words and photos and all that coming this weekend when I get back to Buenos Aires.

This entry was written by brett, posted on March 18, 2009 at 4:31 pm, filed under Travel. Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink.

Photo Re-Up

So I most definitely ‘got my wander on’ yesterday. After dropping off my laundry for a good old fashioned thirteen peso wash/dry/fold, I hopped on the Subte Line D at Callao and rode to the end of the line at Congreso de Tucuman in the neighborhood of Belgrano. This was not aimless wandering, as I had the intentions on checking out an instore from some local bands at some fancy hair salon. Upon arrival at said salon I discovered that no such show was taking place, but took this as an opportunity to wander around a strange place that I’d never been and will most likely never be again. Belgrano is like a different world- very upper-middle class and far from downtown, but by no means a suburb. The apartment buildings and storefronts are strangely fascinating. I actually ended up walking home, which took over three hours.


Callao Station on the D Train.

For some reason Belgrano makes me think of Jersey City, if it weren’t the worst place ever.

Always a nice sunset in the southern hemisphere.

Not sure why I’m so fascinated with the apartment buildings here…

I take my laundry to Lava Show. It’s pretty much awesome, as well as terribly convenient.

I’ve recently developed a terrible habit of drinking soda water out of the pressurized bottle. It’s a bit like going to the dentist every time you take a drink.

This entry was written by brett, posted on March 13, 2009 at 3:17 pm, filed under Buenos Aires, Travel. Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink.

Fair Winds?

Perhaps those who named this city were referring to the “wind” circulated through the train by the open windows as the sweltering and way-too-crowded-for-10:00-on-a-Tuesday-evening Subte Line D careens (underground) down the left track from Estacion Nueve de Julio in downtown Buenos Aires to Plaza Italia in the slightly too cool for school Palermo Soho. Most certainly they were not referring to the gusts that propel the endless procession of solicitous literature (read: for a good time…) down Corrientes Avenue as I use the occasionally functional payphone in front of my apartment, but I digress…

Buenos Aires is a proper city. It was built as a logical grid of one-way streets that run (generally) north/south or east/west, with the occasional deviation from this grid to accommodate the urban sprawl to the northwest along the Rio de La Plata. Its avenues are grand and chaotic and its side streets cramped and shady. Independently run buses compete with taxis, motorbikes, and fiats (and hoard coins, causing a ridiculous situation in which there is actually a black market for change) alongside sidewalks that are packed with people and lined with 24 hour kiosks, late night cafes, and bookstores. The subway is always crowded and quite useful, although annoyingly non-functional between 11 pm and 5 am. In many ways it’s the antithesis of the sprawling and uncontrolled disaster that is Sao Paulo (this is not to say that I am no longer in love with Sao Paulo).

I’ve been walking a shit-ton since I’ve been here- upwards of ten miles a day according to the gmap pedometer. The fifty or so blocks back to my place from Niceto Vega in Palermo is actually quite enjoyable, and a great way walk off the beef tenderloin stuffed with ham, cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes (kind of like a ham and cheese burrito, except that the tortilla is a steak) that you just washed down with a bottle of Malbec at La Cabrera before finding out that your friend left his debit card in an ATM machine in Barrio Norte just before dinner.

Unlike many cities that are extremely walkable during the day (why does London come to mind?), Buenos Aires remains this way throughout the night, quite possibly because people are always out. It seems as though one would have try quite hard to get murdered in most parts of this city. Perhaps there is a backpacker conspiracy to keep tourism at bay (not working, as the city is flooded with foreigners, present company included), because I’ve heard countless tales of carjacking, robbing at gunpoint, and general conniving, but for some reason feel more at ease walking home at 3 am here than I do in my own neighborhood in Chicago. I suppose by ‘some reason’, I actually mean the fact that there are families with children eating dessert, single women walking their dogs, and countless cabs and buses, occupying the same space at this hour. Beyond this, there is also most likely some doofus from Los Angeles walking around with a digital SLR around his neck and a three hundred dollar pair of sneakers on his feet that will make a much easier target, be it for a bird-poop-splatter camera jacking or a good old fashion “gimme ya shoes” 9 mm stick up.

As I’ve been hosting a friend from Chicago for the past six days, I’ve been out all day everyday, trying to do as much “Buenos Aires Stuff” as possible in less than a week. Amongst these activities were parties (Invsn and Zizek), shopping (Florida Street, Palermo, Recoleta, Vila Crespo), eating (Steak and Empanadas, some of which happened at the mall), and general nonsense (post-punk show in an old house in Flores, 4 am conversations with women of questionable morals at streetside cafes downtown). Regretfully, I’ve taken very few photos. However, the camera is charged, notes have been taken, and as I’m on my own time now, the next few days will be quite productive in the picture making department.

For now, enjoy this random assortment of images and observations from the past week of my life:

My apartment was a mess. Now it’s all clean and I’m cozy in bed watching MTVla and blogging.

There is this place on Lavalle, about 6 blocks from my apartment, opened by a SF expat, that apparently thinks it’s that other white-people oriented burrito establishment from Denver. The only difference is that it’s much better and it exists in a city that is completely lacking of spicy food…

…And they have mango pico de gallo. And guacamole does not cost extra. Number three on my list of things I’ve learned in South America is that mango makes everything better. More on numbers one and two later.

Puerto Madero is the “newly revitalized” (read: River North in Chicago) neighborhood of glass skyscrapers, hotels, and really overpriced food and entertainment immediately east of downtown.

It pretty much blows (these winds are not fair), but Calatrava’s bridge is quite nice.

At the far eastern edge of Puerto Madero, beyond the ugly new development, you can find an old walkway lined with little independent parillas.

They look like this and they serve Bife de Chorizo and Quilmes on little tables on the sidewalk.

Walking further down the edge of Puerto Madero we saw some little parrots hanging out on a ledge.

Walking back towards the proper part of the city from Puerto Madero.

Vila Crespo is a neighborhood south of Palermo that has an overabundance of leather shops, some nice tree lined streets, and a ton of auto repair shops.

We found a little cafe on a street lined with auto shops and had a delicious meal for next to nothing.

This building is on Corrientes, in the Abasto neighborhood, on the (long) walk home from Vila Crespo.

This is also in Abasto, which was once the home of the famous Tango musician Carlos Gardel (whom the subway stop is now named after).

This is Jerome in Puerto Madero. He’s on an airplane right now, probably over Brazil at this point, bound for Dallas (poor guy), at which point he’ll get on a flight to Chicago and finally develop his four disposable cameras from this past week. Let us hope for the best.

I promise not to eat any more steak at the food court at Alto Palermo Mall. And to take more pictures. And to stop hoarding my one peso coins. Seriously.
Yours Truly,

This entry was written by brett, posted on March 11, 2009 at 10:31 pm, filed under Buenos Aires, Travel. Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink.

BA Life

I’ve been living in Buenos Aires about a week now. I haven’t taken many pictures yet, though I plan on it in the coming weeks.

I was a bit unsure about the city at first, but I think I’m starting to love it. Last night around 11:30 we ate gigantic steaks on the sidewalk at a little cafe in San Telmo and the bill with drinks and service came to 50 pesos, which is less than $15 US. We got on the list for the party at Niceto, which gets you half off entry, as well as a free drink and hotdog (srsly) in return for entry before 3 AM. At 3 AM the place was empty. At 5 AM it was ridiculous. The late thing is true. In fact I plan on napping for a few hours after writing this entry, and waking up to shower and grab dinner just after midnight. We’re going to the Zizek party tonight in Palermo and probably won’t even head over there until 4 or so. I’ll go to bed after the sun comes up and wake up late for some empanadas in the park on Sunday. These hours tend to accommodate my needs much more so than those of the states (sorry California).

Argentines seem to have an infatuation with the Simpsons, and the show is used to promote anything and everything. In fact I have a carton of Homer Simpson Peach Orange and a carton of Lisa Simpson Orange Juice, as well as a little juicebox of Bart Apple in my fridge.

A ride on the subway here costs less than a stamp in the United States and a ride across town in a cab (which can be quite exhilarating, as was the case the other night when our cab driver decided to race a cop and another cab down Corrientes Avenue at speeds in excess of 120 kph) costs less than 20 pesos. The city is laid out pretty logically on a mathematical grid, similar to that of Chicago, and I’ve found it pretty easy to learn my way around.

Pictures soon, nap now, dinner later.

This entry was written by brett, posted on March 7, 2009 at 3:40 pm, filed under Buenos Aires, Travel. Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink.

I’m in BA, Trick.

Saturday night I was back in the hostel by 2:30 AM. I walked fifteen or so blocks back to Alves Guimares from a party in Vila Madalena, which given everything that’s said about the safety (or lack there of) of Sao Paulo, probably lands this particular action amongst the most irresponsible decisions I’ve made in my adult life, although I had atleast enough sense to stuff my id and debit card in my shoe and wad up some two real bills as booty should some entrepreneurial individual decide to run up on me with a grenade (as happened to others in Rio a few weeks ago). As I’m now writing this from the comfort of my newly acquired (this morning) studio apartment on Ave Corrientes in downtown Buenos Aires, I assure you I made it out of Sao Paulo just fine.

With the fear of detention at customs looming over my head, I left for Sao Paulo International Airport quite early to be sure I’d not get held up to the point of missing my flight (see aforementioned entry card issue). Originally my plan was to walk to the subway, take two trains to the bus station, and finally take the airport bus from the station to the airport. In light of it being 31 degrees C with 90 percent humidity at 10:30 in the morning, I decided to take a cab to the subway in lieu of walking up the hill with my life strapped to my back. The cab driver was cool and very interested in talking to me, so he offered the ride to the airport for 50 real, which given my lack of sleep, food, and ambition to walk, I had to accept. Going rate for a ride from Pinheiros to GRU is over 100 real, so whatever.

The ticket counter at Pluna didn’t open until noon, which left me sitting around GRU terminal 2 section C with my bag, wondering why it is that an airport in a supposedly “developing” country is so much cleaner, more efficient, and generally attractive and inviting (both staff and patrons) than any I’ve ever had the indignity of calling my home airport (ORD, MDW, LAX, SNA).

The ticketing process went smoothly, as did the dreaded encounter with Brazilian exit customs. I received a goofy smile and an exit stamp, and made my way to duty free to debate buying a bottle of cachaca, which I did not. I did however, indulge in a chicken empanada and a Coca Cola while wondering what would motivate anyone to buy a pair of designer sunglasses at a duty free shop at the airport.

The flight to Montevideo was smooth and furnished with plentiful ham and cheese sandwiches and orange juice. The decent was a bit rough as it was raining in MVD, but the pilot handled it well (I’m alive) and the most of the passengers applauded our arrival.

This favela comes all the way up to the runway at Sao Paulo International.

Take off…

Sao Paulo is ridiculous from above.

This is the Uruguayan Pampas, north of Montevideo as we approach MVD airport. This is where the best steak in the world grows.

Green farmland outside MVD airport. The approach to the airport was nothing but dirt roads, little houses, and big farms. When it seemed we were ten feet off the ground, the runway finally came into view.

Pluna stops their flights in the middle of the taxiway and the passengers disembark the plane by moving stairway, at which time they board a bus and drive 100 meters to the terminal. Inside the terminal we were separated into groups according to whether we were traveling on to Buenos Aires or Santiago. Much to my surprise we filled out Argentine immigration papers and were stamped into Argentina by a girl at the gate at the airport in Uruguay. Who knew.

The flight to BA from MVD is 35 minutes. The plane doesn’t have time to reach cruising altitude and there is no drink service. It’s a three hour/ thirty dollar boat ride, and much as if I’d flown from Chicago to St. Louis, I feel like less of a person for having flown it. Nonetheless, I’ve now been in Uruguay- for thirty minutes. I shall return via boat in a few weeks, as I will soon require some beach time and some frivolous gambling in Punta del Este.

Taking off from MVD, Montevideo is at the point.

We landed at Aeroparque, the downtown airport for domestic flights (and Uruguay). Coming in at night was quite spectacular, and I imagine that flying into the now defunct Meggs Field (sorry, “Northerly Island”) would have been quite similar. Bags were unloaded on the tarmac, avoiding the usual headache of baggage claim. A quick change of 10 euros and 20 US dollars into local currency (at a rate so poor it could only happen in an airport) and I have enough pesos for a radio cab to the hostel, payment of the hostel, dinner, and a few drinks at the hostel bar.

As I knew I’d be arriving late on a Sunday evening, I booked the hostel in Sao Paulo the night before, knowing I wouldn’t be able to move into the apartment until Monday morning. The hostel was booked solely on location, as it is a mere three blocks from my apartment, allowing me to wake up twenty minutes before my appointment and stumble down the block, which is exactly what I did. I had expected to have an early night on Sunday, but met some kids from Chicago, as well as some locals and a guy from England down in the hostel bar while checking my email. It turned into a later night rather quickly.

The formalities involving the exchange of dollars, signatures, and keys went well, and I now have a tiny studio apartment on the tenth floor of a downtown Buenos Aires midrise to myself for the month. Today was spent locating a voltage converter, grocery shopping, unpacking, wandering around downtown getting my bearings, eating sandwiches in the park, and watching MTVla.

I ate a sandwich and drank two juice boxes here.

Snapped this on my walk home from the supermarket. I live a block to the right of the Oblesico (the thing that looks like that thing you saw in DC in eight grade).

Tomorrow I must find a laundromat!

This entry was written by brett, posted on March 2, 2009 at 9:34 pm, filed under Buenos Aires, Travel. Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink.