Sunday, May 18, 2008

10 Traveling Lessons For the Inexperienced...Like me

Throughout my trip to Buenos Aires I kept a list of "Traveling Lessons". These are things I wish I had known before leaving the safety of my beloved Utah. They are very simple and you may think "duh, how could you not know that", well...I didn't, so here they are. I hope if nothing else, they make you laugh!

When Traveling to Argentina...

1. Know the language or travel with someone who does.

Pretty obvious right? Well not for us. We believed people who told us that everyone in BA speaks English. This is false. And to be honest, I think it is pretty rude to expect that everyone there would cater to our language when we were in their country. None the less, we somehow survived off of knowing 30 word of Spanish. :)

2. Always have a map and know how to read it.

Again, another no brainer. But let me tell you, when you get dropped off in San Telmo at the wrong place and you have no idea where to go, it gets pretty scary. Lucky for us, "hablas de Englais?" was one thing we knew. The first person I approached for directions was from Spain and was carrying a map of the city. He told us "if you are going to be here for any length of time, you might want to get one of these." Point taken. Lesson number 2 learned.

3. Carry a (cheap) watch with you at all times. Make sure the battery works!

Neither Heidi or myself wear a watch. So it is no real surprise that neither of us thought to pack one. We ended up carrying my brick phone with us every where we went. When we went to Uruguay, we talked about how silly this was and stopped into a local shop to buy a super cheap watch (side note: never Carry an expensive watch unless you want to get mugged). Well about 3 hours later we discovered that the watch had stopped. We went back to the watch store and pantomimed that the watch was no longer working. They changed the battery and everything was fine until we got back to our room and the back fell off. Still, I recommend carrying one.

4. Keep a hotel business card with you to give taxi drivers (room key can double for this as well).

Luckily this is a lesson I already knew and served us well our entire trip. I found that even if I told the taxi driver the address, my pronunciation was so horrible I would have to show him the address anyway. Me: "Honduras". Taxi Driver after being shown the address: "Oh, si! Honduras (pronounced without the h and rolling his r's)". Me: "That's what I said, Honduras".

5. Make sure the taxi driver has change for larger bills before getting in.

This is a lesson that Santiago taught us. Apparently some taxi drivers will give you fake currency for change or they will not have it at all. So if your taxi ride is going to cost around 17 pesos, don't hand the driver a 100 peso bill. Most hotels will have change so it is best to do that before leaving.

6. Know how to make local and long distance phone calls.

I few days into our trip, Heidi and I went to an ATM to pull out some money. My card was declined for some strange reason. I completely panicked! Went back to the hotel, checked my account online and there was plenty of money so I had no idea what was happening. I emailed my bank but they were taking too long so I wanted to call them, but I had never really made an international call. I looked online and got several different answers. The front desk of my hotel told me another answer too. Best to know in advance. Oh, and the reason my card didn't withdraw money (I figured it out the day before we left) was that it was pulling from the wrong account. Again, all the more reason to not only be able to speak Spanish, but read it as well.

7. Men are encourageable. Stay guarded at all times. Never be too friendly.

Now this rule serves true no matter where you are. The fun loving spirited Argentine men we ran into seemed to be very nice...but they didn't catch on to our we're trying to be nice, subtle hints. Best to not tap dance around things. Be firm if you do not want or appreciate their company. It is not only the best way, it's the only way!

8. Expect to pay airport taxes.

What can I say? At the airport, after waiting in line to get checked in, we then had to wait in line to pay "airport taxes". It was not big deal...about $18 US dollars. Just expect it, that's all.

9. Remember to bring your American Express for airport VIP lounge.

After waiting through countless lines and going through security it is always nice to unwind before boarding a long 10 hour flight, right? So when Heidi and I saw that there was an American Express VIP lounge we got excited! Only 2 problems: 1. I don't own an AE card and 2. Heidi didn't bring hers. We ended up using our last 20 pesos to buy 2 beers and sit in a crowded area of tables instead. Would have been nice though...

10. Get to the airport a minimum of 2 1/2 hours early when leaving.

Luckily Santiago advised us of this as well. I think we were both a little skeptical, but very glad that we heeded his advise. There was a line to check in, a line to pay taxes, a line to go into the terminals, a line for security, and another line for security once we got to our gate. It is always better to be early than late. Missing our flight would have sent us over the edge!

Well that is it! My 10 traveling lessons for going to Argentina. Hope you enjoyed them and will either learn from them or be grateful that you already have traveling experience and at least got a chuckle out of my lack of common sense!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Our last day

On Saturday we met up with Santiago again for lunch to return some business cards he let us borrow and say our goodbyes. I truly am so grateful to him. He showed us around, took us sailing, introduced us to his wonderful friends and gave us a lot of advise and recommendations.
After lunch we met up with a client/friends good friend to give her a present. She was delightful and I enjoyed getting to meet her. She seemed very moved by the gift too. We all went to Freddos and had some gelato together.
After saying goodbye to Santiago and my clients friend with the traditional kiss on the cheek Heidi and I headed to the airport where we learned how fun it is to stand in lines and that sometimes you have to pay unexpected airport taxes and that sleeping on airplanes continues to be the worst experience nights sleep you will ever get.
I learned so much from my first trip to South America. I fully understand why people in other countries think that Americans are stupid. Truthfully I felt stupid most of the time. Maybe Stupid is the wrong word, I felt naive. It is a large world and Utah is a bubble, a bubble that I have grown accustomed to. I am so grateful to have explored outside of the bubble. I learned a lot and I will always cherish the memories from this trip!


Shopping, the museum and our last night

On Friday Heidi and I decided to go to a nice mall called Alto Palermo. We asked the front desk if it was walking distance or if we should take a taxi. They said we could walk it and showed us where to go on the map. Turns out is was about a 30 minute walk, which normally I wouldn't mind, but the air quality is so bad. It is what I assume downtown New York is like. There are so many people and so many cars and the smell of exhaust is quite overwhelming. The mall was really beautiful. Probably 4 stories tall filled with designer shops.
Buenos Aires has a lot of amazing museums. After spending a little money at the mall, we went to the Malba Museo. It was so amazing. It was my first time in a museum of that size. The architecture of the building was incredible and the art work was very modern. They even had an original Frida! How many people can say they have seen one of those!
For our last night we decided to treat ourselves to one of the very best restaurants in Buenos Aires. It was at the Hyatt hotel and is called Duhau Restaurant and Vinoteca. It was so elegant. We had at least 4 people waiting on us. The food was amazing...except the forgua (I am not sure how to spell that) which is duck kidney pate. Guess my tastes are not that refined.
After dinner we went to another expensive and classy hotel called Faena Hotel and Universe. We had some super expensive champagne and observed all of the rich and beautiful people in a red swanky room with antique looking furniture.

Taking the day easy & Las Canitas

On Thursday, Heidi and I decided that we needed to take it easy. Buenos Aires is incredibly overwhelming for a foreigner like me who does not have a lot of traveling experience plus my 30 words of Spanish haven't been taking me too far. So we shopped around in the Soho area that surrounds our hotel. We ate the most amazing pizza I have ever had for lunch at a local bar/cafe. It was very different from Pizza in the US (duh). Very thin crust, no sauce, lots of cheese and very fresh. We also had some Gelato at a place called Freddos. Gelato is basically the most amazing ice cream ever. It is water based instead of milk based, but tastes the same...well better...but you get the point.
Thursday night Heidi and I got all dressed up to go see Opera Pampa, unfortunately, we waited for 2 hours for our shuttle bus and it never showed. The Hotel manager recommended that we go to an area called Las Canitas to eat. The area is a hot locals spot which was really buzzing because there was an intense football (soccer)game on. We ate at a place called Jackies Steak house. It had half a pig roasting right when you walk in (that's how you know it's good lol). Our waitress didn't speak any English and we had no idea what anything on the menu was. We ended up ordering some yummy sausage (chorizo) and really tuff steak with french fries. After dinner we went next door to a pub that looked like an Irish pub. After that we hailed a cab to a club that the hotel manager also recommended. It was fun, but let me tell you, Argentine men, at least the ones who approached us, drink way to much and are way too aggressive. It was not a very fun experience.

Tango! Oh La La!

Wednesday night Heidi and I went to see a tango show at a "touristy" place called El Querandi. For the first time, the food was actually pretty bad. Guess that is what happens when you go to the touristy places instead of the more authentic places. The show however, was amazing. It was tango through the ages (we think). There were live singers and 3 couples dancing. It was a lot of fun to watch.

Friday, May 9, 2008


On Wednesday we went to Recoleta to see the amazing cemetary. It had rows and rows of these amazing tombs. There is no way to fully understand just how amazing this place is without seeing it. We took a ton of pictures trying to capture the beauty and creepyness of the place. We found Evitas tomb and found out that it was her birthday so there were tons of flowers and people singing anc crying. Her actual tomb, you would think would be very large and impressive, but it is the opposite. You could walk right past it and not notice it at all if it were not for the flowers.
A funeral procession was going on while we were there. How odd it must be to try to have a funeral among the tourists everywhere.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Heidi's Birthday Dinner

Tuesday night we made reservations at the 647 Diner Club which was recommended by one of Heidis friends. We had looked it up online and saw that it was very hip and trendy. Once we got there we had the wonderful amazing experience of having a lovely waitress who spoke perfect English!!! I had never been so happy! After traveling in Uruguay all day and being inundated with Spanish and culture all the time, I can not tell you just how wonderful it was to be in an American friendly beautiful restaurant. For the first time since we arrived we were able to just relax and enjoy our meal (which was amazing) without worry of confusion. Ahh! The things we take for granted! I think it was the perfect present and ending to Heidi's birthday.