When we dock, we are on a long wharf and surrounded by small expedition-style ships. At least five. Maybe a third the size of The World and all containing zodiacs and kayaks They are unloading the past week's passengers and getting ready to load the next week's group. It ain't exactly going to be lonesome for The World group. But, they will tough it out and, I'm sure, make sure their pictures don't include the other ships!
In order to avoid a tight airport run, we have booked a private car (outrageously priced) to take us the five-minute ride to the airport. The group bus was going to be cutting it close. This turned out to be one of our best decisions of the trip. The shuttle buss the ship had arranged finally arrived at the airport sometime after noon, along with maybe three other buses full of passengers and the lines were huge. We saw ship passengers and some vacationing crew running to try to make our flight....the only flight out that day!
We heard from our driver the first news of the central buzz in Argentina. There have traditionally been 6 currency rates - 1 official and 5 unofficial. This has led to the government having difficulties in international monetary matters and the new President of the country decided to do away with all of them and have only 1 official currency. It went into effect last week and it was inflationary. Horrible for local citizens....great for us. The predominant exchange rate for dollars had been around seven pesos to the USD. Now, all of the sudden, it was 13 pesos to the dollar on Sunday and by Monday had risen to 14 pesos. So we found food and wine cheap and fabulous. But we also saw lots and lots of demonstrations over it.....more about those later.
We were picked up at the airport in Buenos Aires and taken to our hotel. We were starved so walked two blocks to a recommended steak restaurant (we do love our beef!!), Fervor. Beautiful restaurant, great staff, great wines and of course, the prices were unbelievable Merchants have not been able to keep up with the inflation and the menus carried the old prices. So a beautiful ribeye with appetizers, sides and three bottles of wine came to about $75/person!! Had a great meal, lots of laughs and a nice walk on a beautiful night.
We only had a little over 24 hours in Buenos Aires, so we set up a four hour bus tour for Tuesday afternoon. We laughed when a 30 passenger bus showed up. That was the only one they had so the four of us crowded in and made do! We had driven through slums on the way to the hotel from the airport and weren't too impressed. We misjudged the city. They call it the Paris of South America with good reason. Yes, there are some nasty slums, but it is a beautiful, prosperous city with a very European feel to it. After a while, it became obvious that the reason is in large part because it is populated almost entire by European immigrants. We saw no Indians (Incans) or descendants of Indians. Very different from Chile. Huge French, Italian and Spanish influences in an almost entirely white population. Very homogenous. The country is 94% Catholic and it shows.
The current democracy seems to be indulgent of all sorts of public protest. There are demonstrations everywhere, every day. Our guides couldn't even explain what they were protesting about, but the police presence is high and they just stood by and let them disrupt traffic. That was a sight we were to repeatedly witness. In fact, as we toured the government center, including the pink palace where Evita so famously addressed the shirtless ones, the police had cordoned off the main thoroughfare because a huge demonstration was planned to protest the closing of a factory.
As we went through the main cathedral, where Pope Francis I gave mass before becoming Pope, we started hearing lots of noise and what sounded like gunfire. As we walked outside, we heard lots of loud bangs but people walking around just ignored it, as did the police! It turns out it is customary for demonstrators to shoot off fireworks to get attention and that is what we heard. No problem as far as the police were concerned. We are shortly face to face with the front of the demonstration.....loud bullhorns, lots of rowdy people and fireworks. And citizens just went about their business without really paying attention. Of course, the TV cameras were there!
The architecture is a combination of French colonial and Italian. The wealthy families would bring in famous European architects to design new building and homes and it really shows. Lots of very broad streets, the largest as 22 lanes of traffic. Lots of trees, parks, flowers and green grass, One of the highlights is the main cemetery which is a mausoleum much like the one in New Orleans. Hundreds of above ground crypts and mausoleums......all very elaborate, ornate and frankly a bit creepy. They all have underground chambers as well and entire generations of families are often interred in them. It would make a great location for a zombie movie!!
We wrapped up our tour just in time for a late lunch before heading to the airport. Once again we decided to go with proven excellence and we headed back to Fervor. This time, we had mixed grilled seafood and veggies.....a bit healthier but tasty and cheap!!
We met our car and headed for the airport just as the skies clouded up and it began to rain. Once again, as we headed into the airport, we were delayed for about 10 minutes by the same protestors who were not letting cars through. Again, lots of police, but they did little and it seemed like just a nuisance to everyone. We learn later from folks on our flight that the protestors blocked the entrance highway completely for over an hour and folks missed flights. Four or five passengers on our flight came running up to the gate out of breath in the last moments of boarding with that tale!
We are all tire of traveling. Tired of suitcases. Most definitely ready to get home and start getting into the Christmas spirit. Speaking of that, we were struck with how weird it is to see all the Christmas decorations, trees, etc., just as we see at home, but it is the middle of summer! The Christmas trees are made to look like they have snow on them just as is done in our malls, but again, even in the deepest South of the continent, it is their summer.
Epilogue.....Some final words. First, we four spent three weeks together.....nearly every waking hour. Shared cars, tours, an apartment, every single meal. We have been friends now for over seven years and our friendship has been one of world-traveling for the last five or so. I don't know who first expressed it Saturday evening as we sat watching the pristine wilderness glide by, but it went something like this...."we manage to be together in complete harmony for these extraordinary periods of time. Never an upset, never a disagreement. We end up sad to part and looking forward to the next get together. It is hard to imagine a better, simpler friendship. Yet, when we are not together we may not talk live for months at a time. Jill and Joni share Facebook stuff. But, then, when we next meet, everything picks up. It is a wonderful and special thing."
Second, I don't know that any of us are believers in "bucket lists". For my part, I do not have one nor care to have one. I just want to experience life in the now and whatever the next adventure is, great. I just don't need to have done something or gone somewhere to have decided my life is fulfilled. This trip could be on some folks bucket lists. I know this: It is a special experience and I am glad I did it It was too long and a bit more sedate than I prefer, but it was unique and wonderful. We saw places I never imagined seeing and did it with great friends and the absolute love of my life. It just doesn't get better than that. Will we go back to Chile? Hard to know. Not on my bucket list!!!
Thanks, Marty for allowing me to hijack your travelog! And thanks to you both for being the best travel companions (and always bringing sexy back to wherever we happen to be!) Until the next one......