December 25, 2002 – NY
--> Buenos Aires
(by Derek White)
(by Derek White)
We woke up on x-mas and it was snowing but not sticking. We had a big x-massy breakfast and got packed for our trip. The forecast was bleak so we headed to JFK early (around 3 p.m.) in the frozen rain. By the time we were boarding it was snowing hard and sticking, but they boarded us anyway. Ended up sitting in the plane at the terminal for over 5 hours. It was unbearable. There was no air circulation and it was really hot and dry. We couldn’t see out the windows because they were covered with snow. We all felt hot and claustrophobic, except maybe the patient Chinese tourist group that made up about half the plane. Part of that time was spent trying to get to the de-icer and then de-icing. By the time they finished the second wing, they would have to go back to the first wing and de-ice over again. It reminded me of the performance artist who took the trans-Siberia railroad across Russia with the windows boarded up and then turned around and went straight back without ever getting off the train. We sat there for over five hours going nowhere, but we couldn’t really see, so for all we knew we could be anywhere.
Eventually we were air-born and woke up over the Amazon and Paraguay after a night of restless sleep attempts and watching “Blue Crush”. I read 1001 Arabian nights in its entirety on the plane. Fitting in a Jorge Borges type of way. Jess was shedding her skin (from Jamaica) and dreamt that she had alligator hide underneath.
Despite the 5-hour scheduled layover we had in Buenos Aires, we missed our connection because of our delay in leaving JFK. Aerolineas Argentinas was cool about it and put us up in a hotel and arranged transportation and everything, but it was a pain sorting that all out. But at least we got to spend an evening in Buenos Aires. We took the Manuel Tienda Leon bus (supposedly any other brand and you would get robbed) to the Embajado hotel on Ave. 9 de Julio, the wide 21 lane avenue, possibly the widest avenue I have ever seen.
We got a free lunch of steak and then hit the streets. Went down Ave. Santa Fe to Plaza San Martin, all sorts of palaces and government buildings. There was some “Isla Malvina” (to the British, Falkland Islands) memorial with live guards. Then we strolled down calle Florida, the pedestrian-only street with lots of shops and people wanting to be seen. Most fascinating was the abundance of outdated arcades with these dance machines that guys were lining up to have a turn. They took it very seriously, stomping out the patterns on the lighted dance floors. Then we cruised up Lavalle and saw the Obelisk. Huge intersections, but not really that much traffic (comparatively). Buenos Aires feels like a city that was, but is no longer. A washed up ex-wife. You can sense that at one time, from 1930-1970 it was hip and cosmopolitan, but now everything is dated and there is a certain randomness like life is just plodding along with no pre-meditated intent, or like everyone that is anyone has already fled to the States or to places like San Martin de Los Andes.
We went down Ave. Saenz Pena, past Boston Bank, which was covered with anti-American and anti-capitalist graffiti. We hung out in Plaza de Mayo in front of the Casa de Gobierno where Peron gave his (and her) speeches. Everything was more or less deserted, but there were signs of previous turmoil. The statues in the plaza looked like they had been painted over numerous times to cover up the graffiti and scorch marks from fires. Sketchy looking guys would loiter and eye my pockets. But there was always a cop with a bullet-proof vest (that they wore on the outside) nearby.
We went back to the hotel to rest, we were beat. No jet lag, but our bodies had to adjust to the shift in daylight hours. Woke up later and had dinner at some outside café on 9 de Julio. Jess and I had pasta and chicken, with salads and beers for something like $8. Everything is really cheap. Since the peso devaluated (US$1=3.5 pesos) the prices remained the same, so everything is about a third of the price as the states.
Had breakfast in Buenos Aires then a car picked us up to take us to the “Aeroparque” (the domestic one). A cool airport with a view of downtown. You can even leave the airport and go look at the “Bahia La Plata” which literally means the “Silver bay” but should probably be called the "puke-brown bay", and its hard to tell whether it’s a bay or a river. There were a lot of people fishing, and some were actually pulling out these big carp looking fish.
Our flight to San Martin was eventful. We stopped in Neuquen on the way. Every time the plane landed everyone clapped. We needed to refuel in Neuquen and the stewardess kept telling everyone to sit down, but all the Argentines completely ignored her. It was comical, she was yelling, “for your own safety you need to sit down” (in Spanish) but everyone just acted like they didn’t hear her and stood in the aisles. This seemed to be the prevailing theme anywhere you went, reaffirmed by what Jeff and Sandra told me-- Argentina is basically an anarchist state and people have no regard or respect for law and order. Kind of cool, but also a bit grating if you want to get anything done or get anywhere.
On the way to Neuquen I noticed big burned out patches that bled into the black rivers. The whole country was pocked with these splotches, a veritable wasteland. Neuquen from the sky looks pretty cool, a lush green valley surrounding a river and rows of tall cypress trees, but most of the rest of Argentina between B.A. and the Lake District is pretty flat and desolate. And then finally, after 48 hours of traveling and waiting, we arrived in San Martin. From the plane we could see the whole White family in the loft of the lodge-like airport. Lucas and Simon snuck past the security guard to the baggage claim area, but they stopped Jeff. So I had to wait to see Sandra and Jeff until I got my bag. It was great to meet her and see everyone at last. Sandra is as beautiful as the pictures and very down to earth. Lucas and Simon were as good as ever, just a lot bigger.
We went back and saw the house and met all the pets, etc. They have a great little setup, a quaint and rustic home in a beautiful landscape, surrounded by beautiful gardens. It was weird that it was summer. The days felt strangely long. We hiked up the mountains near their house, met some of their neighbors, had empanadas and wine, etc. Everyone is really laid back and has dogs and yards and rustic homes. Lots of open space. We opened our presents and had a belated x-mas of sorts.
We stayed up pretty late, and even though it got light early, it was so quiet that we all slept in until past 10 a.m. Then we got ready for our camping trip, which is no easy feat when you have kids, etc. But eventually we got on our bikes and took off. Sandra took the jeep with the supplies to meet us there.
We rode down the mountain and through “La Vega”. At points it became epic as we lost the trail and went by slaughterhouses with unidentified corpses hanging from rafters and mangy dogs barking at us. We crossed freezing rivers and traversed wild-flower filled meadows. We went around the north side of Lago Lacar and into a Mapuche park, past Mapuche farms with old men driving yoked bulls along the road. We got to this beach and took a swim while we waited for Sandra. When she showed up, we continued on to this more secluded spot. Parked in front of a Mapuche farm, where Jeff and Sandra reluctantly paid them a few dollars to camp on their land. Getting down to the beach was a pain. I was expecting a 5-minute “walk” so I didn’t bring a pack since I was just carrying a change of clothes. But we had to wheel our bikes and stuff down this steep hill and then along this steep cliff face. Simon slipped at one point and almost fell down this steep embankment. We climbed over fences and over roots and fallen logs, crossed rivers, stepped in piles of cowshit, etc… it was an adventure. Jeff and I had to do it twice as we couldn’t carry everything in the first trip.
We eventually settled into our camp on a beautiful beach. Hung out and swam and threw sticks for Sancho. At sunset we built a fire and had a tasty Argentine bbq. The meat was good, but hard to get used to eating so much meat.
Woke up and swam more, skipped rocks, talked, drank maté, etc. Then packed everything out. Jess and Sandra drove back, but the men/boys took the brutal back way up steep dirt roads in low gear the whole time. It was a great workout with some great views. Not only on the legs, but my forearms were burning from the bumpy downhills. Got back to town and ate a late lunch at some place along the beachfront in San Martin. Saw Jeff’s shop, which is quite impressive. After that we drove up to Chapelco and saw the ski lodge and where Jeff and Sandra got married. Had maté on the porch with a view of the Chilean Alps in the distance. Went back to the house and chilled out.
I dreamt a movie, and part of the “script” of the movie was that a guy with a red backpack climbed up a ladder that was propped up against the screen. In each city the movie played, they would have to hire a real “live” person to climb the ladder. Not sure why I dreamt this except maybe it was because Argentina was so foreign and surreal compared to NY, that it all seemed like a dream.
Had a late breakfast/lunch along the lake, and then spent the rest of the day in Quilaquina, swimming and goofing around having chicken-fights, etc. We rented canoes and kayaks and paddled over to these cliffs. I climbed out of my kayak into this crack, that was actually pretty good climbing and more than vertical so I didn’t have to worry about falling. But I was in bare feet and my kayak was drifting so I had to jump in the freezing water. Then Lucas and I scampered up to this one point where you can jump off. Refreshing.
Went back home, changed, and then went out to a nice dinner at La Reserva. Sancho (a.k.a. Houdini) was missing us so he decided to jump through the window! He’s a funny dog. To smart to keep tied up or fenced in. By the time we got done with dinner it was something like 1:30 a.m.
Woke up late and went into town to have breakfast and do some last minute shopping. Climbed up the bronze statue surrounded by monkey puzzle trees. Met more of Jeff and Sandra’s friends. Everybody kisses each other whenever they see each other or even when you first meet. Even guy to guy, or even when you are meeting one of Lucas and Simon’s friends.
And then suddenly our time was up. Went to the airport and said our sad goodbyes. Jeff, Sandra, Simon, Lucas, and Sancho were all standing behind the fence as we were in our plane. A picture-perfect family. We could see them even as we were taxiing and they could see us through our porthole.
Celebrated an uneventful New Years on the plane. Half the plane was made up of Hasidic Jews. Weird to see them speaking Spanish. Didn’t really sleep much, watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” which always makes me cry uncontrollably. Jess sleeping the whole time on my lap. A few of the stewardesses put on red wigs and handed out Champagne at New Years, but it was a bit anti-climatic, but nevertheless interesting to think that New Years was spent somewhere over Paraguay, and actually hard to say which time zone we should’ve celebrated it in (NY was 2 hours ahead of BA).
Around The White House
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