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.

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.

Bye SP, Hi BA

Last night a bunch of us bought all the makings for a burger feast at a friend’s apartment in Vila Madalena. Upon returning to the apartment from the grocery store, it became apparent that there was no cooking gas (in many apartments here you buy canisters of cooking gas instead of being hooked up to a line). As desperate times call for desperate measures, the burgers were cooked in the toaster. Rest assured they were delicious.

Around 1 am we left the apartment and walked to Matrix Bar. The following five hours were filled with the most remarkable musical selection and hilarious dancing I’ve ever witnessed in one evening. 60’s-70’s pop hits, 90’s britpop, 90’s american hiphop, a bit of typical new indie stuff, 80’s manchester, all seamlessly mixed and perpetually on point. Before last night I didn’t know it was possible to follow cypress hill with iggy pop. At 6:00 am when the lights went on for last call, the crowd was not having is- thus a human ladder was formed and proceeded to unscrew the light fixtures and resume the dance party. Although I’m not exactly the type to wear my sunglasses at night, they sure as shit would have been nice in the morning for the walk home.

This morning I bought a flight on Pluna, the Uruguayan national airline, to Buenos Aires, departing Sao Paulo international at 3:00 tomorrow afternoon. I don’t really want to leave Sao Paulo, but I have a meeting Monday morning at 10:00 to acquire the keys for my apartment in Buenos Aires. Hopefully customs isn’t a huge pain in the ass, since I have both my stamped brazilian entry and exit card because apparently the customs agent in Rio neglected to keep their half. I suppose it’s better than having neither.

A bunch of friends are meeting up in Cuzco, Peru in April. Halfway considering ditching my flight out of Santiago in April, getting one out of Bogota for later in the month, and bussing up the Andes.

Although I’m not too keen on leaving Brazil, I must say, I’m pretty excited to speak Spanish.

This entry was written by brett, posted on February 28, 2009 at 2:27 pm, filed under Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Travel. Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink.