First Impressions of Argentina: April 9, 2013

Place

Well, the airport is nice.

 I say this with some authority as we spent several of our first hours in Argentina here. I came to know the area where you first deplane as U.S., Canada and Australia passport holders must pay a $160 USD reciprocity fee before entering the country. If this fee is not paid before going through immigration, you will be put on a plane and sent back. We did not know this beforehand, of course. However, the staff from our airline graciously took my passport and credit card and processed the fee for me. During this time, I had plenty of time to stare at the shiny granite and marble floors, and marvel at the clean bathrooms.

 Once we passed the immigration and customs lines, it was time to hurry up and wait — again. Bjorn and I decided to take the bus into Buenos Aires as it costs $1.25 per person (USD) vs. $45 for a taxi. Unfortunately, buses only accept coins or transportation cards that are preloaded with credit. We couldn’t find a place that sold the the cards and none of the many business in the airport would give out coins in change, nor would any of the people. Finally, FINALLY, Bjorn managed to scrounge up enough change for our bus fare and we left  the airport around 11 a.m. (We had arrived at around 7 a.m.)

The bus ride through the province next to Buenos Aires was eye-opening. It’s definitely rural. Green grass, ponds and horses are frequent sights. Indeed, we passed a horse-driven wagon on the road (more on that later). The town was reminiscent of border towns in Mexico.

 So I was greatly surprised when we drove into Buenos Aires. Baires (as it is sometimes called, and only if you have lived here a while, as my husband cautioned me) looks to me like New York City. The main arteries are lined with shops that have apartments above them. They look crazily similar: eclectic architectural details and styles mash together on the same street (not surprising as I found out later that New York City and Buenos Aires were founded roughly around the same time, give or take 100 years). There are definite, different neighborhoods. This looks like Wall Street, I thought as we walked through Plaza de Mayo. Palermo is the West Village. Our street in Flores looks like one on the Upper West Side (sans the money) with its shorter buildings and tree-lined streets. Once had the gritty appeal of the Lower East Side. When I lived in New York, I always wanted to explore it with someone I loved. Being in Buenos Aires, I feel like I get to do that — albeit with a Latin flavor.

We arrived during their autumn, so the weather is sunny but the air is crisply chill.  Hooray for no humidity! However, I am still plagued by pollution. Instead of choking on the smoke from cooking stoves or coughing from the noxious fumes of cars, I find myself choking and coughing on cigarette smoke. Smoking is a common occurrence here, to the point where nonsmokers are a rarity.

 People

As mentioned before, we drove past a horse-driven wagon. Bjorn decided to take a picture of the novel sight. Apparently, one of the occupants inside the wagon did not take kindly to this photographic intrusion, so he stood up and angrily pantomimed blowing us away with finger guns.  As we walked down the street from our hotel at night, a man on a garbage truck began wolf-whistling at me. We ignored it and kept walking but that made the man whistle more and louder. As we rounded a corner away from him, I heard a soft splotch. I turned around, and lo and behold, discovered he had a lobbed an egg at us (fortunately, we escaped unscathed). When we went to a pizzeria, the countermen broadly and loudly mocked our accents. I thought at first they were doing this in a jokey, good-natured way, but they did not laugh when we did or smile back at us.

That all happened on our first day.

I am happy to report that people have been more pleasant and gracious to us in the following days, with many happy to give directions or point out shops (of course it helps that Bjorn speaks Spanish). It’s odd to be in the minority now; I see some Asians but the sightings are few and far between. People no longer turn to me and pour forth a stream of foreign-sounding and unintelligible sounds; now it is automatically directed toward Bjorn. It still leaves me out of the conversation, but in a different way. However, I have a better gist of what is being said (thank-you high school Spanish!).

I also have noticed that people are above-average in looks here. As the Conchords would say, they’re beautiful enough to be part-time models. Or trees. (And yes, my single friends,  I am on the lookout for your potentials.  )

P/food

I can forgive all mockery and flying eggs after trying the food here. Everyone (alright, 2) kept telling me to try the alfajores. But for the life of me, I couldn’t say the name right (almajer? almuedera? almador?), much to Bjorn’s exasperation. Finally, after eating one and receiving an epiphanic tip (Bjorn: “It’s alfajore! Like alpha — number one!”  Me: Ohhhh — so like “Number One Prostitute”?), I shan’t easily forget the name again. The alfajore is delicious — similar in appearance to a moon pie, but much, much better. Dulce de leche/different flavored creams are sandwiched between two or more crumbly cookies (similiar in taste to shortbread), then entirely coated in chocolate. SO GOOD.

 The pizza and empanadas are quite tasty as well, but different from what I’ve tried in the  U.S. The cheese is not spared when making the pizza, and it sits on on thick, fluffy bread (to me it tastes like a white-bread dinner roll.). Besides cheese,  the cebollas (onions) slice is the other main pizza offering (very tasty, but requires quite a bit of gum afterward.) The empanadas I tried in the States were usually the size of my palm and the outer shell was crispy and flaky. The empanadas here are about size of two fists, with the fillings enfolded into a soft, chewy and sweeter dough.

 Soy milk also tastes different here, in a good way. It comes in unusual flavors; I’ve seen orange, apple and tropical fruit. I tried the tropical fruit flavor and it tastes like juice — but looks like it’s mixed with milk (I found this out the hard way when I tried shaking the carton and ended up spraying it all over me.)

 Though I loved the food in Thailand, cheese and pizza were not done well there. The pizza in Thailand never had enough cheese on top, and what little there was  tasted gritty. Cheese, in all its gloriously melty, stretchy form, is rampant here and I am eternally grateful. However, I’m not sure I can say that I like the food here better than Thailand. I’ll let you know in about three months.

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