After competing with the thousands of other travelers the summer before in the South of Chile for transport and accommodations, this time we micromanaged our agenda, estimating how many days we ought to spend at each place. We called ahead to rent apartments for specific dates at each destination, only to discover that the pickings were already pretty slim in each city. Adding to the complication, the majority of the people and agencies we spoke with wanted deposits made in advance, requiring Western Union-style cash transfers since we were moving money internationally from Chile to Argentina.
Fortunately we ended up making only one such deposit after all. On the night of our departure, we boarded a sleeper bus with wide, well-cushioned, 1st class seats that recline horizontally. We were hoping to sleep through the ride, waking only to present our passports at the border high in the Cordillera between Santiago and Mendoza. We traveled at night because the mountain pass was under construction and was down to one lane, with traffic heading from Argentina to Chile by day, and from Chile to Argentina only at night. But rather than wake up to the anticipated bustle of everyone getting off the bus to wait blearily in line at customs, we heard the ticket-taker walking down the aisle, informing us that we were heading back to Santiago.
It turned out that some summer rain had washed out the road on the Argentine side of the mountains, stopping all movement across the border for a week. All our carefully arranged plans suddenly fizzled as the bus turned around and slowly wended its way back down the twists and turns between us and Santiago. I tried to sleep, but found myself endlessly going over new ideas in my mind, how we might be able to do something with our precious weeks off work.
If the mountains could not be traversed by land, the only way left to us was to go by air. A quick perusal of flights revealed prices at well over US$1000 per person for anything at such short notice. But since we already had one-way tickets back from Buenos Aires to Santiago at the end of our planned trip, I was able to speak with someone at LAN Airlines who turned our one-way tickets into a round trip, departing from Santiago the next morning, for only an extra $100 per person. In the end, a modest price to pay to salvage our trip. We'd miss Mendoza, Córdoba and Rosario, but we'd extend our time in Argentina's famed capital city, by some accounts South America's premier metropolis.
We also had a nice balcony from which to contemplate our warm, humid, urban surroundings. Buenos Aires in February can be very hot, not unlike Florida in the Summer.
Those restaurants surely benefit as much from tourist traffic as much as from the new commercial district on the other side of the canal, where you can see new glass skyscrapers springing up and providing lots of new office space in what is already an expansive downtown area.
Seeing as how this particular street is known for its many cafés and restaurants, and given the general prestige of the neighborhood, I expected such notoriety to equal overblown prices. But not at all, and the pizza was damn good, especially paired with a cold beer,. In keeping with the spirit of the experience and the avenue we were on, we couldn't resist a cup of coffee as a bajativo.
We also had the opportunity to witness firsthand what we had heard was so fundamental to porteño culture. At a table by the window, we noticed a gentleman reading a newspaper with an espresso on the table. He was there when we arrived, and he was still there when we left. He hadn't ordered anything else during all that time, as far as we knew, and there was no pressure for him to. And why should there be, especially since it was a quiet Sunday afternoon?
But even if the restaurant had been full, I imagine such a scene would still be common. Perhaps taken from the city's Italian heritage or Parisian pretensions, the custom of spending time outside the home, in public, in the park, in a café, is something embedded in the culture.
The monument itself was fenced off, but the gate was open and a few people were gathered at the top of the stairs leading up to it. So we walked in and climbed the stairs. And were promptly told by a guard that we needed to get out.
With the sun going down, we got back on the metro and back to our home away from home in Palermo. It was a fine first day in Buenos Aires. With a week to spend getting to know the city, downtown was an excellent place to start.