Arriving in a new city at midnight can be a little daunting. We do not speak the language and we have no local currency. Argentinean pesos are hard to get outside of the country and somewhat hard to get inside the country; More on this later. Normally, we’d take an Uber from the airport to our rented apartment but we did some homework prior to arriving and this is not the best idea. Uber is semi-legal in Argentina. It’s here, we’re using it, but the airport is sort of off-limits. The taxi drivers, described by an Argentinean blogger as a local mafia organization, have a hold on the airport and will charge tourists whatever they darn well please for a ride into the city. It is a requirement in Buenos Aires to negotiate a fare before getting into a taxi. They have meters but they do not use them. Not being able to speak the language makes negotiation difficult. We are not strangers to negotiating taxi fees in foreign languages. We did this all the time in Colombia. But who wants to do this at 1 am in a new country?
Not knowing the location of the apartment except for Google Maps, having no local money, and not speaking the language sets us up as targets. We decided to arrange for a driver ahead of our arrival. Cindy spent some time on TripAdvisor and found Carlos, a highly rated private driver. Over email, she negotiated a fare into town. The private driver is about double what a taxi cost and triple the fare of an Uber but was well worth the extra money for peace of mind. Having a person waiting for us outside of customs with a sign and knowing he’d be there even if the plane were delayed took a lot of worries away. On the plane Cindy and I were chatting, this is the first time in our lives we have had a person with our names on a sign at an airport. During our careers, we both traveled but most often rented cars or had a co-worker pick us up at airports.
We touched down at midnight and cleared immigration and customs about thirty minutes later. The immigration officer got a kick out of all the stamps in our passports. We purchased the extra-page passports knowing we’d fill them up. It’s fun to page through and look at all the places to where we have traveled. Outside of customs, we met Carlos. We texted him when we landed and he told us exactly where he was standing and texted us a picture of him holding a sign. Carlos spoke limited English and offered to carry our bags. Because of the taxi mafia, he is forced to park in short-term parking. There is no reserved section for private limousines. It was after 1 pm before we set off for the city center. We text the AirBnB guys to let them know we’re on our way as they plan to meet us at the apartment.
Normally, I’d feel bad about meeting someone and keeping them up until 2 am. However, Buenos Aries has the same vampire culture as most Central and South American cities. Nothing ever happens in the morning. The museums don’t open until 11 am. All the people are night-owls here, especially young people. Argentineans eat dinner at 10 or 11 pm and would never think about going to bed that early. Night clubs stay open until 6 am. When young couples go out, they met in the evenings at about ten. We arrived at our apartment and were shown about. Isn’t it awesome when something looks good online and it’s even better when you get there? We are thrilled with our choice. We have a huge 2 bedroom loft in the Recoleta neighborhood, one of the more upscale areas of Buenos Aries.
The apartment has a lot of character. It has a washer and dryer and a full kitchen which we are going to love while here. It includes a massive projection TV complete with surround sound, Apple TV. The 3rd-floor unit is accessed by elevator opening directly into the apartment. On a side note, Argentina uses the European method of labeling building floors. In the USA, floor 1 is also the ground floor. In Europe (and probably most of the world), the first floor is actually the second-floor by USA standards. The Europeans recognize the ground floor as being below the first floor. So depending on where you are reading this, we are on the 3rd-floor (Europe) or 4th-floor (USA).
We fall into bed exhausted. Our travel time from boat to the apartment was 17 hours. The bed is super comfortable! It isn’t long before we are both lights-out. Awaking in a new city, we find ourselves hungry with no food in the apartment, no local money and groggy from the previous day’s activities. Venturing out onto the streets, we search for breakfast and find a great little café within a couple of blocks. We make sure they accept credit cards before we order. Next stops: grocery store and ATM.
A Coto Supermarket is located within a couple of blocks from the apartment. Cindy and I begin our ritual of trying to figure out groceries. This happens whenever we arrive in a new country. Each country has its own cuisine. Items considered staples in some countries are not sold in others. For instance, we looked for but did not successfully find Pork ‘n Beans. The spice section was very limited as was gravy and cookies. A limited selection of cookies is a big disappointment.
Argentina is a producer of beef. Cindy and I gave up the hope of getting good beef long ago during our travels. We have high hopes here. Both of us are looking forward to sinking our teeth into a big juicy tender flame-grilled steak. I think it is a good sign of how Argentineans enjoy a good steak is when in the Coto store I see charcoal bbq briquettes are merchandised next to the meat section. The meat prices are unbelievably low. More on this in a future post, but two large porter-house cut steaks, US$3.50!
Our first experience at an ATM didn’t go well. We were warned in various publications about ATMs in Argentina. They are expensive and offer very limited amounts of cash. The ATM fee can range from US$6.00 to US$12.00 depending on the bank. A withdrawal is usually limited to AR$4,000.00 about US$70.00. Our first ATM got us for a US$12.00 fee because we had no cash and were pretty desperate for walking about money. That’s a 17% fee for the cash! In a real pinch, some of the merchants will take US Dollars if they do not take credit cards, but the exchange rate is going to be worse than the ATM fee. A few days later, we are able to find an ATM dispersing up to AR$8,000.00 for a US$6.00 fee. Not great, but much better.
One of the best things about our nomadic life is when an ordinary day blossoms into a great memory. We decided to test Argentina’s claim about having the best beef in the world. What better way to do this than go out for a hamburger. I say this tongue in cheek but, I do love a good hamburger. I Googled “Best hamburger in Buenos Aries”. One place that kept popping up over and over, The Burger Joint. It is run by two locals who went to New York City and returned with the idea of opening a burger joint. The hamburger fad has hit Buenos Aries in a big way. There are tons of places to get good burgers. We hailed an Uber from our apartment and are whisked off to an area called Palermo. Riding in the Uber, I have very high hopes. The Burger Joint has 4.5 out of 5 stars and almost ten thousand reviews.
The hamburger lives up to my expectations but not only that, the location of the restaurant is in the heart of an older neighborhood with cobblestone tree-lined streets. We decided to stroll about the area and take in the sights. I think this was a young person’s part of town. It has local fashion shops, many cafes and beautiful bistros. I later read it is known as the neighborhood that never sleeps. We couldn’t help but notice, we were the oldest people wherever we went. I never expected to find such a cool neighborhood in Buenos Aries. What a great surprise!