Buenos Aries has been on the bucket list for a while. Often referred to as the Paris of the Americas, I have long wanted to see if it lives up to the reputation. It is quite a long hop from Panama to Buenos Aries, about 7 hours by plane on a direct flight. We’ve watched the airfares over the past couple of months as normally the high cost was prohibitive. Most times when we checked, tickets were well over a thousand dollars each. Although still pretty expensive, the fares dropped by half and one Tuesday morning over breakfast aboard Cream Puff, we took the leap and purchased tickets on Copa Airlines. We’re off to Argentina. Cindy hums the Barry Manilow song Copacabana whenever I mention Copa Airlines.
Not wanting to spend two weeks in a hotel, we started to hunt for an apartment to rent. I really do not enjoy hotels. Perhaps this was caused by the years of travel my career required travel to cities all over the USA that burned me out on hotels. For me, there is absolutely nothing glamorous about staying in a hotel. The worst part for me is having to get dressed for everything. If I want some tea in the morning or a glass of warm milk at night, I hate the effort needed by me to satisfy these otherwise trivial desires. The hunt for a nice AirBnB began. It didn’t take long before we struck gold.
Because Buenos Aries has been on the list for a little while, I had already spent some time previously looking about the city on Google. The Recoleta neighborhood is in the heart of everything and offers some reasonably priced options. I love how a person can walk a city on Google Maps and completely check out a neighborhood. After booking an apartment, we both became pretty excited about being off the boat for a couple of weeks. As crazy as this may sound, taking a mini-vacation from a life of sailing and travel is awesome.
We booked our flight on a Tuesday when the rental car from Avis was due to be returned in Panama City. This saved us from having to get a ride from the marina (located about an hour and a half outside of Panama) to the airport. The people at Avis joked with us about finally turning in their car. We’ve had it for about 3 months. Not the same one, because we upgraded to an SUV while Mona visited. We get a great 2-week rate from Avis in Panama and have made a bi-weekly trek to Avis in Panama City to renew the rental usually keeping the same car and just doing the paperwork. We have a big fat file at Avis because of all the rentals. The lady behind the counter speaks limited English but enough to understand we are not done renting yet. We told her we’d be back after our visit to Argentina. We’re probably paying the rent for this particular off-site Avis office.
The Uber driver taking us from Avis to the airport got a little lost picking us up. I learned years ago to never rent cars at the airport if at all possible. The airport locations are loaded with fees and taxes. Most of the fees are not one-time fees but for some reason are daily fees drastically adding to the overall price of the rental. Here’s a travel tidbit for you: take an Uber or Taxi from the airport to an off-site car rental location. The minuscule amount of money spent on this will be more than offset by the savings on the car rental. When returning the car, I have found it can usually be dropped at the airport for no additional fee. The only advantage of renting a car at an airport is most of the counters are open 24 hours. This is not the case with the off-site offices. This practice has often saved us hundreds of dollars on a single car rental, especially if it is for a week or longer.
Sometimes I feel a little bit sorry for the Uber driver who picks us up. They have no idea they are about to become involved in a game of charades. Due to our lack of Spanish, I should say more so my lack of Spanish since Cindy continues to grow her vocabulary, the driver becomes subject to our various pantomime gestures for communication. We had to call the Uber driver to tell him where we were located since we watched him drive by us a couple of times forcing him to circle the block. He answers and we quickly find this task was going to be difficult without someone translating. Cindy handed the phone off to the Avis lady who was happy to communicate to the driver where his next fare was patiently waiting. He arrived within a couple of minutes after the conversation. I love how the Panama Uber drivers put the radio on the English language music station when Gringos enter the car. We listened to Lionel Richie’s Stuck on You as we headed off to the Tocumen International airport. Wouldn’t it have been funny if the radio had played Barry Manilow’s Copacabana!
This is not the first time we have flown out of Tocumen. It is an interesting airport since all flights leaving Terminal 1 are international. I think they might only be one terminal so I’m not really sure why it is called Terminal 1. Panama is not that big of a country so if a person is hopping on a plane it is most likely due to the fact they are traveling to another country. The last time we flew, we arrived very early not knowing what to expect and planned to have lunch before leaving because it seems nowadays airline companies think humans can go for days without food. On that trip, we had trouble finding a decent restaurant in the airport and spent a small fortune on two sandwiches. This time was a little different. We are becoming pros. We discovered the food-court. It’s hidden and it’s a big secret. Sorry, I am not allowed to tell you where the food-court is located. We had to swear to this before we could enter.
If it wasn’t for the fact people are pulling wheely bags, a person at the Tocumen airport would think they are in a shopping mall. It seems to me, the primary purpose of the airport’s design is to house as many duty-free stores are possible. The fact that someone might want to board a plane seems to be an afterthought. The duty-free concept constantly intrigues me. For some reason, I really have a hard time understanding why a person would buy a bottle of liquor, haul it to flight, carry through immigration and customs at the other end, and then all the way home. For what? A savings of $5? It seems duty-free has evolved over the years and has ventured way beyond booze and cigarettes. This airport had a Victoria Secret store. If you think I might be baffled about the savings of a couple of dollars on booze, imagine my bewilderment regarding skimpy overpriced underwear for skinny people. Does a person really arrive at an airport only to realize the opportunity to purchase laced undergarments without import duty should be the next priority? Oh, forget the plane home. I’m buying underwear!
Eureka! Upon sighting a camera shop selling Nikon equipment, I had a moment of clarity. It has never dawned on us to buy our Nikon camera gear from a duty-free store. Nikon stuff is stupid expensive but over the years I have developed an admiration for the quality of their products. Most of the pictures you see on this blog we take with our Nikon equipment. In the past, my go-to store to purchase Nikon stuff was B&H Photo in New York. We have been buying from B&H since they had an 800 number listed in classifieds at the back of photography magazines. I even saved a few extra dollars on some expensive lenses by purchasing grey-market from B&H. Grey market is product manufactured by Nikon and shipped to countries where it is sold to stores for a lot less money than in the USA. It is sold for so much less, that companies like B&H can buy products cheaper than they can buy it directly from Nikon. Nikon tries to dissuade customers from buying grey-market by voiding the warranty unless you can prove you purchased the product personally in the country where Nikon sold it. This is why they always require a sales receipt for a warranty repair. However, B&H sells a warranty on grey-market items eliminating this fear. In all the years I have purchased Nikon equipment, I have never needed a warranty repair. I’ve needed repairs, but never within the warranty period. Atlanta has a fantastic authorized Nikon camera repair store.
So here I am in the Panama airport staring at Nikon lenses and wondering if I have gotten it wrong after all these years. Should I have been going to the Airport rather than an 800 or online retailer to buy my camera equipment for extra savings? I pulled out my phone. Using five minutes of the allotted 30 free minutes of public Wi-Fi at Tocumen, I looked up the price of the same lens at B&H. B&H is lower. Not only are they lower with the USA warranty stuff, but they are also much lower still on the grey-market lens. So my confusion and befuddlement regarding the attraction to shop at Duty-Free stores continues. It is still cheaper to buy from a reputable on-line retailer and have it shipped to me rather than lug the item halfway around the globe.
With a couple of hours to kill before taking off and impending imprisonment in the germ-tube for seven hours, we manage to find the food court at the airport. It is located on the second level. We had no idea there was a second level. It is not exactly well signed. We saw an ad for Carl’s Jr Burgers. Neither one of us has even eaten at Carl’s Jr. The ad said Carl’s was located by gate 135. We went to 135. No sign of Carl’s Jr. We walk up and down the concourse looking for Carl’s while avoiding the temptation to buy anything Chanel without duty. We finally asked someone for help because our feet were starting to hurt. The very kind person (willing to participate in charades) said it is by gate 135. We are not totally sold on this since we have passed gate 135 at least ten times now. I guess it shows in our faces. Then finally the person adds, it is upstairs in the food court. We have an “ah ha” moment. This time we notice the teeny weenie sign pointing the way “up” to the food court.
We are flying south and our path takes us over the Andes mountain range. Do you remember the 1993 movie Alive? I do. It is the true story of flight 571 in 1972 about a plane crash in the Andes where the surviving passengers were forced to eat the dead frozen passengers. Their choice was to eat them or die. To make matters worse, most of the passengers know each other because the flight was transporting a rugby team and families of the players from a small town. I was about 16 years old when I first heard of this and read the book. Apparently, I was severely traumatized by this book. I know this now because why else would I be at an airport getting ready to fly over the Andes Mountains and thinking about this event? Yep! Classic suppressed trauma. I didn’t tell Cindy about the plane crash. And, I’m hungry. Perhaps there is an underlying desire to enter the Copa flight with a full belly. This way, in the event of a crash into the Andes, I can delay the need for cannibalism for as long as possible. At this point in my life, I know two things: I still do not understand why people shop at duty-free stores. And, I am not going to die without ever having eaten a Carl’s Jr. hamburger.