Part I: Santiago, Chile (Or, an Introduction to Pisco Sours)
November 24 – 27, 2009
After an uneventful afternoon flight to Miami, Pam and I were excited to spend our 6 hour layover with a nice restaurant and drink. Unfortunately, we were in for surprise when we found almost nothing of interest in the Miami International Airport. But, given that traveling is part of the adventure, we made do with a simple meal at The Islander and then with a cosmo at a small bar (hey, for $2.50 more we could have gotten a double!) where we watched with amusement as a college aged boy tried to pick up a college aged girl while his friend sat nearby playing on his phone. We also took advantage of a deserted gate to stretch in preparation for our approximately 8 hour flight to Santiago.
The flight wasn’t full, but we missed an opportunity to change seats and stretch out for sleeping, possibly because we were too distracted by all the unreadable paperwork that was given to us to fill out. (We were still pondering when a mysterious tray of chicken dinner was delivered.) By the time we were settled in, people had stretched across the rows of five seats and we were the only two sitting side by side with no room to stretch out. With no video MahJong to play and our Valerian swallowed, we settled in to sleep for as long as we could. (I did wake hungry at 4 am EST, but downed a bag of edemame and promptly fell back into sleep!)
Long past the time when we woke, we were given a slightly better tray of breakfast and talked until touching down in Santiago on time at 10 am on Wed, November 25. We were ushered into a line to pay the reciprocal entry fee of $131 US, then moved along into a short immigration line where we threw everything on a security belt and very efficiently had most of our snacks (veggies, fruit, trail mixes) confiscated.
Our tour guide for Chile (Maria, and driver Edison) met us easily, helped us into a van, and took us into the city in about 40 minutes (with traffic). Maria told us all about the city and gave us some advice about where to exchange currency and buy bottled water. She also told us about the elections — we couldn’t help but notice that campaign posters were everywhere (a throwback to Greece, it seemed)! Apparently the outgoing (female) president of Chile has an 80% approval rating but cannot run for re-election. People need to take down all signs one week before the elections are held. It was simply amazing how many signs there were littering the city!
We were unable to check in to our room at Hotel Plaza San Franciscoright away, but were hungry so we settled with the lobby bar and had the best club sandwich and caipirinha’s ever! But, when the bill came, we realized we had no idea how much money we had just spent. (It turned out to be about $50 US.)
After lunch, we checked into a magnificent hotel room and cleaned up, determined to set out to get money, water, and maybe a scarf or some other retail purchase. We walked down Estado Street and around the pedestrian mall, which was filled with more shoe stores than even we could handle! We found Augustina Street where we were unsure about what to do to get money at the exchange places — we had been under the impression we could use a credit card, but they only took cash. This set us on an adventure to use an ATM to get some Chilean pesos (which is what we had originally planned to do at the airport.) That would be great, but we couldn’t understand which options we were picking! Somewhat frustrated, we went back to the hotel and found their concierge of little help. But, we did look up some words we had seen on the screen in Pam’s Spanish / English dictionary, and took it with us. Every time we tried to use the ATM, it spit out our cards with an error about “foreign traveler”. Then it hit me — there was an option early on in the menus for “foreign traveler,” so I pressed that button and viola! The options were now in English! Unfortunately, we had no idea of the conversion rate, so guessed at the amount to take out, and did quite well – taking about about 40,000 pesos which was about $80 US. We were pleased that this ordeal was behind us and also at our huge accomplishment! (And, of course, we made a mental note to do better research next time. 🙂
We ended up walking further down Estado Street and running into Plaza de Armas where we sat for a bit to admire the jacaranda trees, watch the many games of chess going on, and duck when all the pigeons in the whole square seemed to fly from one end to the other.
We didn’t stray far for dinner, opting for an Italian place right next to our hotel — and we weren’t disappointed. I think we may have spent about $20 on dinner for the both of us, so that was awesome.
Compared to other countries I have been where I didn’t speak the language, Chileans seemed much less likely to switch into English (because they don’t know it I think). This made our excursions and interactions a bit more challenging, but also a bit more rewarding — kind of like the ATM. It’s amazing how much one takes for granted the easy tasks, until they are hard to do!)
After dinner we were eager to hit the hot tub, but found that the fitness / pool area was closed and all the staff were having a holiday party in a nearby area of the hotel. Let’s just say it’s a real good thing we checked before coming down in robes! With that plan dead, we decided to do Yin Yoga after being on the planes for so long. During corpse pose, we heard a march for a candidate going down the express lanes of O’ Higgins Avenue (the main street on which our hotel was located) and watched out the window for a bit.
We slept well and woke to our wake up call, which Pam placed with a confident “Necesitamos desparatar a la siete un punto” the night before. We got ready and had a good buffet breakfast in the hotel restaurant. We then waited for our tour bus to take us for our 1/2 day city tour, and were outside basking in the warm sun when Maria and Edison came over! We were just tickled that they were our guides for the half day, and even more excited that we weren’t actually on a huge bus with a bunch of annoying American touristas. They took us all around the city — we saw the magnificent grounds and buildings of the horse race track, the Presidential palace and the changing of the guard there (which happens every two days), and the Pre-Columbian Art museum.
Then Maria even stopped and walked us through Mercado Central (the vegetable and fish market, surrounded by restaurants that use these super fresh ingredients in their offerings). As we were walking through the fish market (clearly looking like tourists), one young man in a white smock asked me (in English) where I was from. I smiled and said “Boston”. He said “free fish?” I replied, “no, gracias”. At which point he said “I love you.” Now this whole conversation took place in the span of a few seconds, but I must say, this tops the butt grab in Rome and the guy on the bus in Florence — how funny!
We also drove up Santa Lucia Hill to see the lovely view of the city from this massive and well maintained park, and heard the cannon go off to mark mid-day. We ended our tour at a small shop in a classy neighborhood where they offered us Pisco Sours (or wine) and we bought lapis lazuli earrings. We were instantly hooked on Pisco Sours, the national drink of Chile. I think we had them at every meal after that.
After our tour ended, we freshened up and went back to Mercado Central to find lunch. Every restaurant had someone who came up to us and kept trying to get our business. The first place, El Galeon, had a very good English speaking host who offered us free Pisco Sours if we ate there. After making the rounds, we decided they were in fact the best place to be, so we got our free drinks with the salads and Chilean sea bass covered in king crab, which of course we paid for. The salads came with an amazing potato salad-like section, which were potatoes cut home-fry size, cooked perfectly “al dente”, and drizzled in a light cheese sauce. We were also very pleased at the aqua sin gas, which came chilled but not freezing, in fancy glasses but never with ice. Ahhh…and, while I’m on the topic, we were NEVER frozen with air conditioning while in Chile. Everything was either fresh air cooled or just slightly conditioned. Why do we live in the U.S. again? OK, enough ranting on that for now. 🙂 Let’s just say it was lovely to be comfortable.
After doing more walking around the city, we decided to take a nap around 4:30, then headed back out at 6 pm to go to Patagonia, a restaurant Maria recommended. After looking at the other options in the neighborhood (where Maria lives) we opted to stay at Patagonia, and ordered our first dinner completely in Spanish. We had a fabulous table outside in the warm, gentle breeze, and jacaranda flowers kept falling on our table as we enjoyed probably the best Pisco Sours in Santiago. We were entertained by a number of street performers (singers — some good, some not so much; a drummer, etc.). It was really very pleasant and we were thrilled to be in Santiago! We walked back to our hotel past Santa Lucia again, ending our day talking about ways to simplify our lives and enjoy these sorts of things when we’re not on vacation. (Sigh.)
Friday morning we slept in a bit, given that we had no commitments whatsoever. After breakfast, we decided to check out the “interesting places” that were marked on our map of the city, mostly in Barrio Bellavista. After lots of walking and some minor navigational issues, we came to a cute place for lunch called La Boheme. I had more great fish there and Pam had another fabulous salad with amazing olive oil, and a vegetable tart. The Pisco Sours weren’t bad either! We made our way back to the hotel slowly, stopping to sit and take in all the beautiful parks along the way. We also took our daily 4:30 siesta, got a little dressed up, and went back to Patagonia for dinner because we just couldn’t bring ourselves to go anywhere else. After dinner we walked some more and ended up at Cafe Oceanica, where we managed to end our day by successfully ordering two perfect cups of chocolate gelato from a boy who didn’t speak any English!
Part II: Valparaíso and Viña del Mar (Or, the Saga of the Missing Black Sweater)
November 28 – 30, 2009
On Saturday morning, we traveled with Maria and Edison first to Valparaiso. We stopped along the way to use a restroom and ended up seeing a llama too. (Outside the restroom, of course.) We also passed many crops including grapes, almonds, olives, etc. Our first look into this protected UNESCO World Heritage Site included a seemingly endless flea market in the Almendral section, near where the Chilean Congress meets in an incredibly modern building.
Our first official stop in Valparaiso was to poet Pablo Neruda’s house, which was gorgeous inside and out (complete with prickly pears and lemons growing freely), and offered fantastic views from every floor. We also stopped at the port and looked at the trinkets they had for sale, while fending off men who wanted to give us boat rides. We were practicing our Spanish while walking over to the best vendor who had these cute little, handmade notebooks, ready to say “cuánto cuesta” (how much does it cost) when he looked up at us and said “May I help you?” We laughed and sighed and asked him not to speak English. So, we bought little notebooks. Mine (a large one and a little one) cost me 2000 pesos, or a couple of US dollars.
After tiding ourselves over with some snack bars during the drive, we thankfully ended up at a great little restaurant in Viña del Mar, where we had fabulous salads with palta (avocado), palmitos (hearts of palm) and tomate. We also ordered crab appetizers that were absolutely to die for, and (of course) Pisco Sours. After a quick look at the beach nearby, Maria and Edison dropped us off at the Sheraton Hotel where we were to stay. The hotel itself was pretty, but the room nothing very special, save for the view from our private balcony, which was magnificent.
It was pretty windy and chillier than in Santiago, but we decided to try and see if we couldn’t lay out by the pool. After a quick test run, we decided, absolutamente! So we dashed upstairs and changed in lightening speed. Five minutes later we were on a deck chair with a pillow and towel and Pisco Sours (unfortunately, the worst ones we had the whole trip). After laying out for quite awhile, we decided to change and then just have dinner in the hotel restaurant. Because the original restaurant we wanted to be in was closed, we made a pit stop at the business center to check email before deciding what to do. And that’s when I lost my first item.
You see, I was originally at one machine but noticed someone’s cell phone there and moved soon after sitting down, somewhat absentmindedly leaving my dressy black button down Ann Taylor sweater on the original chair. After about a half hour of email and FaceBook, I turned around to grab the sweater and it (and the cell phone) were gone. We immediately went down to the front desk thinking that someone must have turned it in thinking I left it (or took it by mistake), but no luck. As we left, they had people talking about looking for it, looking at security cameras, and “getting back to us”.
Despite this sweater issue and feeling like something about what we were being told was a little off, we ate at the restaurant and shared a dessert before stretching, doing some Tracy Anderson mat workout, and plotting on replacing said sweater with a trip to the mall in the morning, since it really was quite windy and cold when you weren’t laying out in the sun. That, or fantasizing that a handsome carabinero de Chile would have to be called to deal with the issue (for Pam, of course).
In the morning we woke up to a completely disappointing breakfast buffet experience at this new hotel. I don’t think I’ve ever seen scrambled eggs with that much liquid in them, coffee that nasty, or that many unidentified items (in any language). Between that and the fact that no one took our room number or seated us, we were starting to get the feeling that this hotel was no San Francisco! Which was true, given that we ended up again talking to the lovely Vanessa, who went on and on about not having “any information yet” on the missing sweater. Sigh. We decided to not let it spoil our day, so we got ready to go out.
It was chilly early but we decided to walk many blocks to the mall to find a new black sweater. (Not an easy feat for me, even in the U.S.) Instead I found a cute zip up, v-neck sweatshirt, a top suitable for dance or work, a bag, and earrings. (Pam also found a bag and earrings.) Between that and being able to get a cappuccino from Dunkin Donuts (despite some language barriers), we were feeling much better about our situation! (Apparently retail therapy helps in any country.)
On the way back, we stopped at a little place for the best little salad lunch (and Pisco Sours — have you caught on yet??). On top of this, we sat outside and had a waiter who could maybe pass for 15. He was adorable and would apologize for his English even though when he spoke it, it was very good. After interacting with him a few times, he said “it’s my first day”. Awwwwwwww. We showed him how he was supposed to grind the pepper for us (rather than leave the massive thing on the table) and tipped him well. Then, we were off to lay in the sun again. (In Santiago, 4:30 was nap time. In Viña del Mar, it was laying out by the pool.)
To try to make the experience more enjoyable, I went into the little restaurant and got us some strawberry daiquiris. They were just OK, but hey, it helps to have a fruity drink when laying by a pool. After this leisure time, Vanessa apparently saw us go back upstairs, so she called and asked if she could come up to talk. She said, and finally apologized about the sweater and offered to make reservations in the restaurant for tonight for a free dinner. We were just thrilled that it was all over. I think all we wanted was some sort of acknowledgement, rather than being strung along about it (because clearly the sweater was not going to be found). We were so thrilled about this that we put on some dance music and danced like mad out on our deck in our bare feet. It was so much fun!
For dinner, of course we went all out. Cosmos, water, fish (tuna and bass) and chocolate soufflé for dessert. Our waiter was fantastic. It was the best experience at this restaurant we had had. (Well, apart from hearing “Home on the Range.”) And, while we were at dinner, two interesting things happened. First, a man and woman were outside, had ordered champagne, and it was pretty clear that he had proposed to her. Second, an American at the table over from us (who happened to be sitting with Vanessa but was checking Pam out big time) came over and asked us if we “saw the show.” We were puzzled when he suggested that she had said no and wanted a “woman’s opinion”. After mulling it over for a bit with him and seeing some of his photos of the area, he just walked away. Quite puzzling we thought, though we had long ago decided he was not all that.
Afterwards we came upstairs and sat out on our deck with blankets over us, talking about everything under the (nearly full) moon and listening to Sting. And that’s when my stomach started to hurt. Yup, bad shrimp on my bass at the restaurant!!
After paying my dues that night in the bathroom, we went out the next day to a pharmacy and tried to figure out how to ask for the right medicine, since all of it was behind the counter. We did OK and what I took thankfully seemed to help. We wanted to find a place that was noted on our map as “authentic Chilean food”, but walked and walked in somewhat uninteresting areas and found nothing at all. At this point we were very hungry, so we went back to the main drag where there was a little mall and several little restaurants. After much struggle over the language and the fact that we couldn’t pay with a credit card, we ended up getting a strange (but authentic-looking) dish that consisted of french fries layered with a fried egg, sauteed onions, and chicken on top (usually it’s carne). It wasn’t very good nor very satisfying. So we went off to the pool to remedy things.
After the pool we had more difficulty finding good food, even walking down the way we had become familiar with. Two places we had considered eating at the day before had apparently burned to the ground overnight, and the charred remains littered the sidewalks on both sides of the road. We settled for so-so salads at this little place, then froze trying to walk back to the hotel. (It had become very windy after the sun went down and the temperature had dropped too.) The tomato/basil/avocado salad I had just eaten wasn’t enough, so I convinced Pam to stop into Cap Ducal’s Restaurant where we had amazing chocolate mousse and I finally had a nice normal cup of coffee (even if it was decaf)! A short cold walk back to the hotel, we spent the rest of the evening re-packing for our travels the next day.
Part III: Buenos Aires, Argentina (Or, the Search for Authentic Tango)
December 1 – 4, 2009
Our last morning in Viña del Mar, we had what was probably the most editable breakfast at the hotel, and after we checked out and I mailed some postcards, we were even more pleasantly surprised and happy to see that Maria and Edison were the people going to take us back to the Santiago airport for our flight to Buenos Aires. The countryside during the drive was absolutely breathtaking. When we arrived, Maria walked us in and waited with us in line until we had our boarding passes.
Although Maria’s recommendations were usually good, we had a poor experience at the Gatsby restaurant in the airport. After using Pam’s English / Spanish dictionary to decipher the menu, we tried to order salads, and the waitress told us we couldn’t, because there was “no lechuga” (no lettuce). Hmmm…OK, we need another 10 minutes to figure out something else. We then ordered wraps from a different waitress (one who was actually paying attention to the fact that we’d been sitting there waiting) and the original waitress (who was snippy to begin with) got even more so. Oddly enough, our wraps (which were only so-so) had lechuga on them — so I guess they found some after all! During lunch, we were also in a prime position to watch the drama of people saying goodbye to loved ones before they flew away. It was really amazing to watch how long people stood and hugged, and how many men cried.
After lunch, we had a fun time ordering at Starbucks — the two girls behind the counter were happy to practice their English while we practiced our Spanish. While walking to the gate, we realized there were tons more food choices (Ruby Tuesdays!) that we had missed because Gatsby’s was outside of security. 🙁 Oh well. Even though I drank an entire mocha cafe and was listening to dance music on my iPod, I fell asleep at the gate. The couple hour plane ride to Buenos Aires was uneventful, except for the fact that I was able to read an entire Yoga Journal in one sitting (that NEVER happens)!
It was cloudy when we landed, and thankfully a guy (really a boy) from our new tour company was there waiting to give us a ride. He left us outside at the airport while he brought the car around, and didn’t talk at all during the drive. I think Pam and I both figured we were totally spoiled by Maria and Edison, and now we were back to reality.
Soon after checking in and noticing that my suitcase zipper was ajar to the point where my vitamin case (lost item #2) must have slipped out, our phone rang. It was “Erica”, our assigned contact in Buenos Aires. She wanted to confirm the time of our transfer back to the airport, tell us what time to be ready for our 1/2 day tour tomorrow (she called again later to change the time), and ask if we had “any doubts”. I asked her where to go to learn how to Tango and take in a Tango show. After the phone call, we noticed that it was thundering and lightning outside so we decided to have our first dinner in Argentina in the lobby of the Sheraton Buenos Aires Hotel and Convention Center. (Hey, it had been great in Santiago!) We spent about $50 on Pam’s puny salad and my weirdly textured burger. We decided to get online after that, and I looked up the Tango place and noticed it wasn’t too far. I worried that it would be full of American tourists, and I longed to go somewhere the locals would. We decided to go to bed and look forward to exploring tomorrow.
The next morning I woke up with a sore throat, and worried that I was getting sick. Pam didn’t sleep well because the hotel was noisy. Our room was right next to the elevators (convenient), which dinged every time they hit the floor (loud and annoying!) and apparently someone above us had woken up early and was stomping around like an elephant. Strangely, I had slept through all that commotion. (That alone should have clued me in that something was wrong. 🙂 We were pleased to find that we were back to a fabulous breakfast buffet. During breakfast, a waitress came over to me with a cordless phone. Apparently Erica was trying to track me down to make sure I got her message from last night about the time change for the tour. I sighed in relief when I realized the call wasn’t some emergency. (Who would be calling me in the restaurant!??)
Of course after all the fuss, we waited for 20 minutes in the lobby for the tour pick up. The good news was we were the last ones on the bus, so we didn’t have to drive around picking others up. The bad news was we had terrible seats (though all windows were blocked with curtains pulled to the sides). The tour was awful. Completely terrible. First, a young man took everyone’s picture, Disney style. (Gee, we wondered, what would we be asked to pay for later?) Second, we learned NOTHING about Buenos Aires. The tour guide kept saying (in both languages) “and in a minute on the right, you will see a very important monument”. Great. And at one point, we think she lost her place in the script and repeated the same thing she had said earlier, but in a completely different location!
As if we weren’t frustrated enough, at one point they dropped us off in this little shopping area where clearly people took total advantage of tourists. Bottled water was pricey, people were dressed up as Tango dancers (nearly on every corner) and kept hounding you to get a picture, and silly Tango-related trinkets showed up everywhere. It was really very bad. Toward the end of the tour, the young man who took our photos at the beginning reappeared, complete with a packet that contained a photo of us as a Tango dancer, a CD of Tango music, etc. I had been thrilled that I had escaped this cheesy touristy Tango exploitation at all stops, and now here was my head on a Tango dancer’s body. ARRRRGH!!!!! And most people actually bought them!! At the first opportunity we could, we got off the bus. Conveniently, it was near Puerto Madero and we were able to get a nice salad lunch, while sitting outside and being thankful that we could now explore the city on our own.
We walked back to the hotel the length of the waterfront, checking out other restaurant possibilities for dinner. I started to agonize again over the Tango place Erica recommended for lessons, which we were going to for a 4-6 pm lesson. We changed and started off to Confiteria Ideal with what we thought was more than enough time, but didn’t realize our orientation of the map was completely off. We ended up by a rather ominous bus station (the completely wrong direction). After some quick re-orientation from Pam, we were back going the right way, but now I felt late and stressed. Ugh! That is not supposed to happen on vacation. We arrived a bit late and paid 28 pesos per person for the two hour class (that’s about $7 each)! We sat down on the side of the main floor to put on our shoes. There were many people on the floor dancing, and almost as soon as Pam commented on the similarity in characteristics of the people there, an old man came up and tried to ask me to dance (which I figured out only after a few minutes). I didn’t know how to say I didn’t know how yet! We tried to communicate with him but we weren’t doing very well. But of course, Pam’s Spanish to the rescue. We think he got the point. After about 10 minutes of waiting, we didn’t see any instructors coming out onto the floor or anything, and just as I was about to go back to the front desk and ask what was up, the same old man came back to us and pointed out that the lesson was over in the back of the room (kind of between the main dance floor and the bar). Oh! We quickly went over to join the circle of students that surrounded the instructors.
The male instructor mostly spoke Spanish, and his female counterpart translated for us. They started with connection and partnering skills, including forward pitch, frame, and sensing your partner’s movement. After they described each concept, they took turns dancing with each of the students to give us feedback. After the connection and partnering concepts, they taught us the basic 8-count pattern, and the some ocho variations. I was a little nervous at first with this type of class, and not really surprised when they both told me that I was a good follower, that I wasn’t forward enough, and that I needed to relax. 🙂
At one point during the class, as there were more women, I was standing there and a middle-aged man who was by himself approached me with “práctica”, which I understood from Pam talking about practicing her Spanish. I smiled and partnered with him. While we were trying the basic step, he kept saying things to me that I couldn’t understand, not even one bit, and seemed to be getting frustrated with me over a time. I also was frustrated! I kept saying “no entiende” (I don’t understand) and “no hablo español” (I don’t speak Spanish) with seemingly no effect. After some time, I let out an “I’m sorry, I don’t understand Spanish!” At which point he looked at me quizzically, and responded “you speak English? Well why didn’t you say so?” and proceeded to talk in perfect English. 🙂 And this man (Christian), I learned, was actually from Germany originally. How funny!
Toward the end of the class, I believe both Christian and the male instructor thought I was doing well. After some initial hesitation, I did one set of dances with Christian out on the actual floor (where of course, he tried to show me all sorts of more complicated stuff he really didn’t lead). But hey, I did it!! (And, the place was clearly full of locals. 🙂
After our lesson, Pam and I went to dinner at a cute little cafe on Florida Street where we had pollo empanadas and salads. Outside on the corner, a street performer was laying on a pile of glass, while a bunch of spectators stood on his back to press him down. Conveniently, across the street from our cafe was a gelato place, so Pam ordered us two cups of chocolate mousse and chocolate almond gelato. Heavenly! After that, we easily found our way back down Florida Street to our hotel (and realized how we had messed up earlier!), and did Yin Yoga before turning in.
Another noisy night (apparently) in the hotel passed, but I didn’t notice, because on the second day in Argentina, my throat is totally blocked up and once I started moving, I realized that I had a full blown cold. I also realized that between my stomach issue in Santiago, this, and a mysterious rash on the top of my hand / wrist, that I should never travel without a mini medicine cabinet in my bag! This day started my love/hate relationship with ridiculously small and rough Kleenex. (Speaking of which, we almost never visited a restaurant that gave us cloth napkins, and the paper napkins that always looked like they were made for babies. They were so small! Maybe we’re really messy in the U.S.)
Although I quickly started resembling Rudolph (hey, it is December, isn’t it?) we took a 14 peso cab ride to Jardín Japonés. After visiting the Japanese garden in Portland, OR and Montreal, I must say that this was pretty pitiful (and noisy!) in comparison. The poor fish probably had no idea where they were swimming, as the water was so dirty. We remarked that the Japanese would probably be appalled at the condition of the place, but found some nice sunny, warm spots to sit, and some places to take a few nice photos.
We walked back to the hotel, taking different paths through the Recoleta neighborhood, along Alvear Street, and back to Florida. We had planned on trying another little restaurant on a corner that we had seen yesterday, and by the time we reached the place, I felt like I was ready to pass out from being sick. We didn’t have good service at this place. They were either non-existent, or they came over and poured salt and way too much olive oil on your salad, or vinegar (which I didn’t want at all)! But, we were sitting and eating, and apparently I was really hungry because I downed a whole big salad plus a bowl of pumpkin soup. One of the waiters (the one who took the liberty of prepping my salad for me) ended up being interviewed for a TV show on the street. He definitely was quite a character! Pam apparently had an interesting interaction with him when she was paying (as he was trying to get her to leave more of her change for a tip). Although I felt better after eating, we came back to the hotel afterwards and took a nap. I felt a little bad that I might have been a drag to Pam, but at least we had the Tango show this evening so we’d go out for that.
At 7:30 sharp, a driver picked us up from the Sheraton for our dinner and Tango show excursion. First we picked up an American couple from one of the cruise ships who we surmised *may* have met via online dating and didn’t know all that much about each other. On the way to picking up the last (Spanish-speaking group) we learned that Bill’s upstairs neighbor in NYC had passed away and that he had trouble spelling “anxious” and “condolences” — don’t worry, “Suzette” from New Orleans helped. They asked us about our hotel and talked about how they needed one for the day tomorrow, between leaving their cruise and flying later on that evening (!). Luckily, we arrived at El Viejo Alcamen in the San Telmo district pretty quickly. We were taken in an elevator one party at a time, to one of their three floors of dining rooms. In the dining room, we were able to select from a menu: one appetizer, a main course, a dessert, and a drink (one alcoholic, one not). Since I wasn’t feeling well still, I opted to stick with water, but had two great carne empanadas, trout, and amazing flan. After dinner, we were taken back downstairs and across the street to pre-reserved tables right in front of a stage in a beautiful auditorium! Here I asked for water and was brought that plus champagne!
Before the show started there were various antics going on. A very tall man was seated at the first table, and blocked the view for a few of us. Most of us just moved over a bit (though it was really cramped), but two English-speaking women in back of us were going on and on about how they couldn’t see anything, and asking to be moved – maybe, because the only other place was in the balcony. The woman seated with the man (they seemed like a group of work colleagues) kept leaning back in my face to take photos, and bumping her chair against my knees until the kind tall man with the unfortunate seat told her to be careful. Then one of the women in back of me — who I guess had her legs crossed — kicked me in the butt! I had a sip of champagne and didn’t have to wait long before all that was forgotten because of the show.
The show was amazing. They alternated between two types of bands playing, groups and spotlight dancers dancing, male and female singers singing. All very high quality and with all the performers REALLY into what they were doing. I don’t think I ever saw a piano player jump that high off the bench while playing, or an accordion player with that expressive a face. Everything was really smashing. We were particularly surprised and pleased with the oldest tango dancer couple doing some incredible lifts and entertaining us with much groin-frighteningly high kicky foot action. Of course we rolled our eyes at the older male singer (the Argentine Wayne Newton, we called him), but it really could have not been more fun. And, when we rode back from the show two hours later, dropping people off at all the other hotels first, we marveled at the fact that the whole evening cost us just 340 pesos ($85).
On Friday (the day of our leaving), I woke up feeling even worse than the day before (if that was possible). We had a nice last breakfast buffet (complete with our own pot of green tea), took our time repacking our luggage for the long trip home, and stretched, expectant of many hours of sitting ahead. At noon we checked our bags and became homeless for the next 5 1/2 hours, which would have been fine if I had felt OK. Even though I had to keep finding places to sit (which were scarce), we went back to Florida Street and ended up having a fun time. Pam even got good at fooling the people on the street who kept trying to push their shows or stores by rebuffing them in Spanish. At one point when I got really dizzy, I dragged Pam into a Havana cafe, where she ordered tea and I a cappuccino. We were thrilled over the fact that the waiter brought not only the drinks we ordered, but also a little glass of aqua sin gas, plus a little chocolate mint wafer cookie, all on cute little trays! When I went to the ladies room, Pam got chatted up by a man at the next table as well. 🙂 Not long after this little pit stop, I realized I probably needed to eat, so we revisited the good cafe and got our pollo empanadas and salads again. Then, we found a little store that had great scarves, so we purchased some. We were also intent on bringing back some Havana alfajores, traditional Argentine cookies with dulce de leche, chocolate, or fruit fillings. So, in the mall we puzzled over finding the dark chocolate ones, trying to read the English parts of the wrapper upside down until we figured out how they were color coded, how much the singles cost, and how many pesos we had to get rid of. After successfully purchasing those, we walked back to the gelato place and got cups of the chocolate mousse and dark chocolate flavors (since Pam had deciphered more of the menu)! After all that it was around 5 pm, so we headed back to the hotel to wait for our ride back to the airport.
The driver’s early arrival had made Pam feel happy — she was anxious about the reliability of this tour company. So, we got in, and then I got anxious because with traffic, it was over an hour ride to the airport. We asked the driver whether the traffic was normal, and he indicated yes, as people were leaving the city for their weekend places. When we arrived, getting through security was a breeze. I decided then that it might be awhile until I had some decent food again, so I tried to order a bottle of water and a ham and cheese croissant, which turned into a language nightmare. The woman had thought I wanted a different sandwich (one that was twice the price) and trying to 1) get the right sandwich and 2) get a refund on my credit card was exhausting. She ended up giving me the difference in efectivo (cash, or pesos!), which of course I needed to get rid of. So, I ate some of my sandwich (saving the other half for the plane) and tried to exchange these extra pesos before boarding. Unfortunately, it didn’t meet the minimum, so I bought some more candy, and we kept a few 2’s as souvenirs.
Right as we were on the ramp to board the 777, our bags were researched and my completely brand new bottle of water was confiscated, even though I bought it past security in the Buenos Aires airport. Sigh. Of course, the man indicated that I could “drink it right now”, which wasn’t feasible. But luckily my apple and 1/2 ham and cheese sandwich survived. When we got on the plane, our worst nightmare came true. Somehow our seats had been switched to the middle set (in the middle), and the woman on the end spilled over into a second seat. We tried to distract ourselves by doing a plusses/deltas retrospective on our trip (so we can prepare better next time), and playing Tetris. Valerian helped us sleep again, but I kept waking up hungry even after eating almost everything I had left, and nibbling on the really bad pasta they gave us. By the time we landed in Miami (9 hours later with NONE of the customary touchdown “thud”), I was glad my brain had in fact not exploded, but my blood sugar was totally screwed up and we were back in the near foodless terminal. I ended up getting a blueberry muffin (in retrospect bad, at the time, good) and that made me feel better temporarily. We slept most of the flight to Boston too, and though it was painful, my brain stayed in my head for that landing too. 🙂
I am fortunate that after texting Kevin from Miami, he met us at baggage claim with two different kinds of medications, water, real tissues, and fruit ready for eating in the car. Pam and I also had cravings for…which kind of food do you think? Chinese and Thai. We separated with some sadness at the thought of not being together anymore, but happy that we had made it there, had an adventure, and made it back safely. (The fact that we came from near 80 degrees and sun to 30 degrees and snow is a whole other matter!)