After 11 hours in the air and 20 hours in Buenos Aires I jumped on a plane to Ushuaia, my final destination before Antarctica. The twenty hours spent in Argentina’s capital were not particularly inspiring. We flew into a world of grey and the oppressive heat hit as we exited the aircraft. We cleared customs at light-speed (by New Zealand standards) and were soon faced with the logistics of finding our accommodation, situated in two locations at the centre of town. To save on taxis I jumped in the cab ordered specially by One Oceans for our guides, Kevin and Shaun. After a few minutes of discussion with our driver (where the driver spoke at Spanish at 100 miles an hour while the three of us periodically interjected with ‘si, si, bueno’) everything seemed to be arranged.
We left the airport bustle for a multi-lane highway which propelled us toward the city. It was just past 5pm and I settled into the leather seat of the Renault Kangoo in preparation for the endless gridlock that surely lay ahead. (I have fond memories of being broken down in the middle of the road with my Swiss family’s goat in the back in just such a vehicle.) Dilapidated neighbourhoods passed by in a blur, their flat-roofed, balconied buildings huddled together in an effort to hold each other up. While I wouldn’t look to Buenos Aires for advice on a building code, Auckland could do with some Argentine input on traffic management, in a city of 3 million we were well into the centre before we had slowed to people-watching speed! Our route to Kevin and Shaun’s hotel took us past a number of grand cathedrals and, grandest of all, a shrine to democracy in the form of the Congresso Nationale. The signs of homelessness lining the streets either side of the stately steps of the Argentine parliament serve as reminders of the enduring inequality and political mismanagement which plague the nation.
On arriving at the guides’ hotel we realised we had mismanagement issues of our own. It seemed as though our previously amicable driver now wanted 40USD to take me to my hotel (roughly 3km away). Kev assured me that this was a ridiculous amount so we considered looking for a better deal elsewhere. By this point the driver, two hotel employees and the three of us kiwis were engaged in an animated bilingual negotiation across the lobby. Unfortunately, an 11 hour flight is no way to prepare for hard-nosed dealings so it wasn’t long before I was back in the taxi and the driver was 40USD richer. In retrospect I suspect he had told us my individual fee from the airport to my hotel at the beginning of the journey and we had placidly agreed without really doing due diligence to understand what he was saying. In any case, half an hour later than expected, I arrived at our hotel where I met up with the rest of the crew.
After a quick shower, we headed out into the weed-scented melee of central Buenos Aires in search of dinner. This quest was hindered by navigational issues on the part of Kev and Shaun who, while they might be expert route finders on a crevassed terrain, seemed to be somewhat thrown by the urban environment. Eventually we piled into a busy multi-story restaurant called ‘La Churrascita’ and set about deciphering the menu. How we managed to successfully order 6 steaks and a risotto still remains a mystery, particularly given the quality translations provided by Google including: lockets of beef and, especially concerning, a dish comprised of herbs and fishy old woman.
Our alarms sounded at 5am the next morning and we headed out to the airport after a traditional (?) Argentine breakfast of strong coffee, mini croissants and cake (tasted like Züpfkuchen! No complaints from me.). One step closer to Antarctica!