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What a Difference Sleep Makes – Time for a Big Update

Posted by on July 10, 2010

Up early, feeling surprisingly good. Really impressed with the hostel – considering it’s in a major city and presumably has high costs of its own, for 5 Euros including breakfast and wifi it was very nice.

So to get up to date, my flight from Gatwick was delayed two hours, and then my flight from Madrid was delayed by about three. So spent most of Madrid sitting around with Anna from Poland, who was starting a semester of Study in Buenos Aires, Victoria from Austria – a high school teacher meeting friends for a holiday in Argentina, and Gustavo, a Colombian who had been working as a rickshaw runner in London and was heading home for a bit. We eventually got underway as the very last plane to leave Madrid around 3am.

Air Europa is certainly no frills. A 13 hour flight in a relatively small A330, with 8 seats across, 12 films to choose from, and two small meals – it’s adequate. Still beats any RyanAir flight! I attempted to drift in and out of sleep, but eventually gave up and messed around on my laptop until we could see over Brazil, and then country-watched from there.

It was at this point it started to dawn on me just how big South America is. It’s always interesting flying over countries – you realise ejust how many farms there must be in the world. You see rivers snaking their way between mountains, so many mountains, and tiny villages that you’ll never know the name of below you.

Finally after passing over Lago Rincón del Bonete in Uruguay, I could see the Río de la Plata flowing into the bay between Uruguay and Argentina up ahead, and the skyline of Buenos Aires started to show. We flew in over the city, with its many skyscrapers and landed at Ezeiza airport. Interestingly, along with the USA and Canada, Australians are charged an arrivals tax. Not New Zealanders though :)

Outside was the usual chaos of taxis and touts and people calling “my friend, my friend”. Went to use an ATM, found that out of order, but luckily had 20 Euros I could change. The four travelers said our goodbyes, and I found a new ATM in the next terminal. Alarmingly it’s the first time I’ve seen an ATM that gives you your card back last, which is a little unnerving.

I’d been told there was a local bus but at this point I didn’t want to deal with hassles, so hopped on a coach which was allegedly going to San Martin plaza, from which I could catch the subway. Took a while to get going aby which point I was dozing off a bit, but soon enough we were passing through suburbs and streets and the photographer in me got excited. I also find it helps keep me awake when I need to focus – a day at Wimbledon in the sun after camping overnight is a prime example of this.

We pulled up at a stop and about half the passengers got off. I grinned as I’d once again entered the ‘not a clue what’s going on’ stage. I hopped off anyway to see what was going on, and found they’d taken my bag out already. I looked around but saw no indication, so went in and asked for directions to the subway. After some wild gesticulating and lots of words, from which I think I got ‘one block’ and ‘left’ out of it, I ventured outside onto a big street. Wandered down the street for a bit, looking for signs for San Martin plaza, and after a few blocks and random turning, I stumbled across it. I love it when that happens. Wandered in and found the overground, and then the subway, bought a ticket (about 20p, Londoners, and no zones!), and began traversing the city.

At this point I’ll diverge and talk about ‘things which work here which wouldn’t work in London’. After sitting down on board, I noticed all the windows wide open, with simply a sign which I roughly translate as ‘danger of head being ripped off’. Health and safety would have a field day in London. Next, a chap starts walking down the carriage, handing out books. To everyone. Books like ‘My First English Dictionary’ and ‘Starting to Learn Maths’ (but in Spanish). I look around, waiting for someone to throw them back at him, or at least expecting some puzzlement, but everyone seems to think it’s normal and most are having a look through them. He then walks back down, collects most of them and takes money from those who want to keep them, although he doesn’t appear to say a price, but everyone seems satisfied.

Next change, and a band is playing on the train. A full band, with microphones, guitars and drums. ON THE TRAIN. Lots of cheering, clapping and applause at the end, they take some tips and get off. Fantastic stuff, and I decide I like that aspect, as I turn down a kid trying to offer me crayons for sale.

I get off at Carlos Gardel and follow the directions to my hostel. Just up the road I’m surprised to encounter the only honest individual in Argentina! He welcomes me to his country and insists I remember that when an Argentinian is talking, he is lying, and I should not listen to anyone. I question whether I should then be listening to him, but he shrugs it off as a genuine question and lets me know that with him it is ok, but everyone else, no. How fortunate!

is an interesting neighbourhood, quite close to the center of town (40 min walk). A variety of shops, big and small, from internet cafes to grocery stores to department stores.

The hostel informs me that to use a locker I’ll need a padlock, so I wander around wondering what on earth ‘padlock’ is in Spanish. Randomly I encounter a closed locksmith, but it’s closed. Turns out it’s 9 de Julio, which is a holiday – the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in Argentina. Anyway I look at the sign in the window and take the word which I believe to be Spanish for padlock, and after finding an open hardware store down the road, I made the stab-into-lock-and-turn gesture for a key and lock and asked for a cuchilla. I now know that it actually means ‘blade’, and the actions I describe didn’t help my cause…

Everything stashed away in my locker, I now ventured out with camera gear and tripod, and bought a drink to keep me going. The girl on the counter looked at my gear and wanted to know if I was a photographer or journalist. It occurs to me that in some ways I am now, as I finished my last job a week ago, but after getting an interview published in an online newsletter on Thursday, I guess my ‘main’ form of income for the next while is from writing! Bizarre.

A text from Amal, one of my friends that I’ll be travelling with, indicates that his flights were cancelled and had to be rebooked, and will be in Buenos Aires for the evening. We arrange to meet in Plaza de Mayo – naturally – and I head towards there.

Plaza de Mayo is the political centerpiece of the city, with the Presidential Palace (Casa Rosada) at one end, governmental buildings and the National Bank around the sides, and the town hall at the opposite end. It has a pyramid in the middle and celebrates the 25th of May 1810 – when a revolution starting there lead to the independence of Argentina.

After taking some photos and saying hi to a few stray dogs (those who have traveled with me know this habit well), I was approached by someone talking very fast and brandishing a leaflet. I couldn’t really read it, but it sounded like a concert and at the Basilica de San Francisco nearby. I headed down, because, hey, free, and after having a look around the Catholic church, took a seat. I quickly realised that concentrarse meant mass, and this was a regular church service, completely in Spanish. Which was quite interesting, although I’d get a surprise everytime everyone around me suddenly crossed themselves or responded to the priest’s statements.

By this time it was time to meet Amal back in the Plaza, so headed back and found the bearded man himself. He’d just arrived on a nice redirection from Toronto via Santiago. We headed up the Avenida de Mayo – an avenue originally meant to emulate Paris’s great avenues with restaurants and cafes, but now there seems to be less of this. Eventually found a place that suited and we could vaguely read the menu, had some local beers and food. And helado. Naturally. At one point a kid comes along and drops socks on the table and walks off. Amal looks confused, but as the ‘experienced one’ I nodded as if it was normal, and sure enough the kid soon came along and took them again. On the television a news article came up about the eclipse on Sunday, which is the goal of going to El Calafate, so it was starting to get exciting and close!

After that headed back to the hostel, spoke to Blair online briefly who has already arrived in El Calafate after his four day bus trip from Santiago, and crashed into a deep sleep.

Amal flew off at 7am this morning, whereas my flight is a more respectable 3.30pm. With a bit of a headache I went for the easy option and caught a cab. I impressed myself (and to a lesser extent, the driver) with some Spanish, managing to say where I wanted to go, where I was from and lived, and that I was going to El Calafate for the eclipse on Sunday (really pleased I got that across!). (He was kind enough to indulge in my very limited Spanish, although I think it helped that he didn’t seem to speak English – others have just switched, which is frustrating when you want to practice.) So I’m now at the Jorge Newbery ‘borrowing’ their internet and power while taking my sweet time drinking a coffee. Which also explains this lengthy update :)

Time to go check in for my flight to El Calafate, where we’ll be for the next few days, with Daniel joining us tomorrow for the eclipse. Current forecast is for partly cloudy, but it’s been jumping through all the conditions from windy to snow to rain, so we’re keeping those fingers crossed.

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