I successfully made it on the plane to Chicago, and I found myself sitting there, thinking “What in the world am I going to do in Buenos Aires for 4 days?” I’d spent so much time getting organized for Brazil, figuring out what major cities I should visit, Carnaval reservations, etc, that I actually have no idea what the capital of Argentina has to offer. I figured I wouldn’t worry much about it on the plane; there was really nothing I could do until I got there. So I picked up my in-flight magazine, flipped it open, and read “Three Perfect Days in Buenos Aires,” a 4-page article, detailing step by step, what to do in the city if you only have 3 days: right down to the last cafe and ice cream stop! Just goes to show I’ve still got lucky traveler’s syndrome even without my dearest Caitlin by my side! *Knock on wood*
Okay… The knocking on wood didn’t work. It has been almost a full day since I was joyfully on the plane to Chicago and thanking my stars that I’ve still got luck on my side. My luck continued for a little while, I must admit. I got to Chicago without a hitch: had a perfect view of the city skyline with a sunset backdrop! I even arrived at the airport a FULL 30 minutes ahead of schedule, and easily found my gate across O’Hare’s oversized airport. A minor glitch in the system meant we had to be moved to another flight to DC, but that left me with, not only a whole row to myself, but the entire back half of the plane! Once again, I arrived 10 minutes early in Washington, caught my connecting flight with practically no wait time, and set out towards Buenos Aires.
I didn’t sleep a wink on the entire 11-hour flight. Nor did I on the previous 8 hours of flights and connections. By the end of the 19-hour journey I just wanted to go to crawl into bed. My eyes were burning from lack of sleep and recycled air; not to mention, I was at that beyond-tired stage that leaves u feeling physically ill. When we landed in Buenos Aires safe and sound, I thought, “At least I’m only tired; overall, I think I’ve done pretty well on my own. I’m so glad it’s all over and nothing horrendous happened”
That’s when everything went horribly wrong. ..
The plane landed at 9:30am; however, we were left stranded on the tarmac for some unknown reason. So we sat… and we sat. People were itching to get off the plane after such a long flight, and I thought I was going to be sick from the heat and exhaustion. At 10:10, 40 minutes after landing, they allowed us to begin unloading, and only then did they inform us what the problem was. Apparently, the ENTIRE Buenos Aires airport was malfunctioning and there was zero electricity! Not to worry, we were told, the immigration and customs offices were moving “just a little slower”. So we all walk off the plane into a dark airport. Luckily it was morning and some sunlight could come in, but, as soon as we shuffled downstairs to immigration, only a couple small overhead lights, from a backup generator, lit the path. It was 33 degrees outside, but with all the bodies and no AIRCONDITIONING, it was many degrees hotter in line. The escalators and elevators were out of service and flight crews had to try to carry people in wheelchairs down the large flight of stairs. Soon, more planes began unloading from other berths. This caused a rush as people from all directions started pushing their way haphazardly to the front (The “front” being the top of the broken escalators where guards stood to prevent people from going further). After about a half hour I pushed my exhausted body to the front of the line and made it down the escalators. I was lucky. The Aussie guy next to me had been there for 3 hours and had missed his connecting flight in the next terminal over. At the bottom of the stairs, we had to wait in a line to pay for our visas on arrival. This process was excruciatingly slow considering all the computers were down. From there, I was pushed into another 2-hour line up, to make it through what I assumed was customs. We waited in a long hallway, in the dark, all squished together in the scorching heat of the EZE airport. My line, which was all foreigners from Canada, the USA and Australia, was pretty tame. Not much you can really do I guess! The Argentinean line, however, was in an outrage! Everyone was pushing, shoving, and shouting louder than the person next to them. It was chaos (and their line was twice as long)! After finally collecting my backpack (thank God it was there), I turned the corner towards the exit; there, I was faced with 3, GIANT lines for customs. You have got to be kidding me! Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as it appeared. Maybe 10 minutes and I was through the real exit. At this point, I have been on the ground for over 3 1/2 hours.
Hours awake: 24.
The rest of my dilemmas could have been avoided by three simple things: planning ahead, listening to my mother, and my following my experienced traveler’s voice. Unfortunately, I decided I was either too busy or too lazy to make it to the money exchange in Vancouver and get Pesos at a better rate. As well, I was too focused on booking flights and hostels that I didn’t really think about HOW to get anywhere. On top of that, I knew Adam would have my back when it came to a guidebook, so who really needs one in the first 4 days of the trip, right? So I walk out of the airport, into freedom, with absolutely ZERO Argentinean pesos. I have $11 American, 15 Brazilian Reais (thank you Cathy) and about $15 Canadian dollars (thank you mom). As for directions to the hostel, I have AN ADDRESS! That is all. No district, area, bus route, taxi cost, approximate distance from airport by car, nothing. But this is not an issue, because I know that I can go to the currency exchange or the ATM at the airport and grab some cash. Then I can flick on my iPod, connect to the free wireless Internet the EZE airport has so kindly offered, look up hostel directions, and then be on my way! Only problem: You need electricity for ALL of these things. All the staff at the currency exchanges were just hanging around with nothing to do. Computers were down; Zero exchanges were being made in any currency. ATMs: completely turned off without power. Wifi? Haha, forget about it! I don’t even know what the exchange rate is remotely CLOSE to! I thought of even finding an American who would switch me a dollar for some Pesos, but I had NO clue what I’d be getting.
So I go to the information desk and tell them my dilemma. Will the bus take Reais or Dollars? Can you give me a terrible exchange rate just so that I can get on a bus and get the Hell out of here? His response: “Hahaha! You’re fucked!” …Thanks buddy. So I’m sent to another terminal to check there. No luck. So I walk to Terminal C: nothing. Then, BEYOND Terminal C I see a bank, and it’s got power! Success! However… There is a line longer than rides at Disney land and by the time I wait five minutes, the whole bank is out of money. Is this really happening? Then I think my luck is changing when some guy tells my there’s one exchange place open at the back of Terminal B. When I find it, I ask to change in the 10 American dollars I have and the attendant agrees! I’m ecstatic. I blabber on about how thankful I am, because I’ve been wandering through terminals forever now, when his computer shuts down too and tells me I’ll have to come back later. What! When? “I don’t know, an hour, maybe two, it’s hard to tell”. Jerk! Finally, I find this tiny coffee shop in the back of Terminal C that is using an old school cash register and has a chalkboard sign with the exchange rates of US Dollars, Euros and Reais. The girl behind the counter looks bored, now that the whole airport has essentially shut down, so I go talk to her. She speaks absolutely zero English, so I ask her in my best Spanish if I could buy a bottle of water and pay with American money. She says yes, but the change will have to be in Pesos… YES!!!!! I get some change, run out to the bus stop JUST as my number 8 bus arrives. How far is it to the center of town? I asked some guy in the airport earlier, “40 minutes, give or take, depending on traffic”. Not bad. AN HOUR AND FORTY-FIVE MINUTES later all I want to do in life is get off the goddamn bus! The map I grabbed at the airport is all gibberish to me, the streets all look the same, and the bus is so hot and crowded I think I’m about to die. Ironically, however, the first song that plays on my Ipod is Aloe Blacc’s “I Need A Dollar”. I’m so out of it, I find this hilarious and literally laugh out loud on the bus! (Thanks for the song suggestion Adam. Who knew it would be so appropriate!)
Hours awake: 28.5
I met some Japanese girl on the bus who made me feel slightly better about my predicament. She has been traveling for a year and a half now. By herself, she managed to bus from Bangkok to Turkey in an epic 10-month journey. From there, she made her way down through Africa and into Cape Town, South Africa: another 6 months by bus. She then flew to Morocco, made her way by boat to Italy, and hung out in Naples for a little while. Three weeks ago, two men ran up behind her, slashed her backpack off her back with a machete, and stole all her worldly belongings: clothing, toiletries, laptop, diary and photos! As much as I can complain about electricity, things could have been a lot worse.
Hours awake as I’m writing this: 32.
Anyways, I’m surprised I’ve written out so much after such little sleep. I’ve now been awake for 32 hours and haven’t eaten in 12 (I’m on a roll!). So I’m off to find some food 🙂
To conclude: after a fantastic All-You-Can-Eat-Meat BBQ and a bottle of wine with my roommate Connor, I managed to get some shut-eye after an epic 40-hour day. As for the Japanese girl: back at the hostel, her new friends pulled together to donate as much as they could to her; hand-me-down clothes, a sleeping bag, a new backpack, the whole works. She then flew to Buenos Aires and has a further 7 months of traveling to go. Down through Patagonia, and then busing back up through South and Central America to San Francisco (Wow).