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Argentina
May 2000

Buenos Aires
I arrived in Buenos Aires (BA) at 8:00am after an overnight flight from Miami. I had no problem finding my driver even though he didn’t speak any English and went directly to the hotel. The weather was overcast and a steady but not too hard rain. The traffic on the expressway into the city was heavy and (in my opinion) traveling too fast and too close for the rainy conditions. Driving in BA was no different later in the week when it was dry and sunny – it’s fast, it’s aggressive, and because most of the downtown roads are very narrow, it’s very close together. (Although not as close as Bombay – cars in BA have outside mirrors so that adds a couple of centimeters to the space between cars.)

After checking into the hotel and cleaning up after the flight I still had some time before my first meeting so I went for a walk to get some fresh air. I used an umbrella but got wet up to my knees and had to change again. Into the office for the afternoon of work and an early night to catch up on the lack of sleep flying in from Miami. I must have slept very soundly because I missed what turned out to be a very violent storm.

Tuesday morning I left the hotel for the airport and it was raining fairly hard and the wind was blowing. Being downtown I didn't realize fully what was going on. The office had arranged for me to meet up with the Services Manager from Neuquen who was in BA and on the same flight back to Neuquen as I was taking. It was a good thing because:

  • The car that was to pick us up didn't arrive and we ended up with a taxi. (In down town BA it seems like 2 out of every 3 cars is a taxi but I was warned not to take them and even the local staff use hired cars rather than a taxi.)
  • between down town and the airport there were a number of intersections that were under water but all passable.
  • The main road to the airport runs along a river/estuary which separates Argentina from Uruguay (time to hit the maps?) and there were a number of big old trees that were up-rooted or had lost branches. The river looked more like the ocean because of the waves which were breaking over the road in a number of places. To me it looked like the normal rough sea that you would get with any minor storm but it is a river and it does not usually have  2 to 3 meter of surf so everyone else was considering it as very unusual - hey, my first time here!
  • Got to the airport and the board was showing delayed and cancelled fights and at the check in counter all the computers were down so no one was being checked in. It was a very slow Q!

Anyway, I was glad to be with someone who spoke the language or I would have been really lost. What was happening is that they would (maybe) issue manual tickets when the posted boarding time got near but they did not announce anything and unless you asked at the right time you had no way of knowing what was happening (even if you did speak Spanish).

We did make it out to the plane at something close to the original flight time but then sat on the ground for over an hour. The wind was really blowing the plane around and the crew had to keep the door closed as much as possible because the inside plastic lining of the door was trying to blow off. Whenever the door was open it was flapping around in the wind and I’m surprised half of it didn’t blow away. We sat on the ground for about an hour while they boarded late passengers and tried to decide what to do. The flight, once we finally took off was much smoother than the time spent on the ground. We did make it to Neuquen (another look at the map). The news the next day said it was the "storm of the century". When I drove to the airport on the following Friday the area immediately surrounding the airport still had a lot of area under water and there were quite a number of trees that had been damaged or completely up rooted.

Neuquen is a small city (and also the name of the State) in central Argentina. There is a river running through the center of the city and except for the river valley, the surrounding area is fairly flat and arid. There are a lot of orchards and vineyards in the area all in neat plots divided by tall poplars (reminded me of some of the orchard areas in New Zealand). It was the beginning of fall so there were a lot of autumn colors.

I spent only one night in Neuquen because I had to go back to BA earlier than planned to pick up a visa for Brazil. My travel agent had not bothered to tell me I needed one and I had found out (mostly by accident) after I arrived in BA. The Neuquen – BA trip was a mess all the way. The flight I had was cancelled because there was not enough passengers, however, there was another airline leaving about the same time which was also not very full so everyone was able to get on it. When I got to BA the driver had been given the wrong hotel (there is more than one Sheraton in BA), didn’t know where the right one was (it had only recently become a Sheraton and was still known mainly by it’s previous name) and didn’t speak much English. It was almost midnight by the time I did get to the right hotel. The only nice thing that happened on the Neuquen – BA trip was when I finally did get to the hotel they upgraded me to their Presidential Suite – the biggest and best room in the place.

Imagine thpresidential_suiteis for a hotel room – a large sitting room area that also included a dining room table, desk and wet bar. A bathroom all in black marble with double sinks, a separate glass enclosed area for the toilet and bide, a sauna, shower wipresidential_suiteth a fixed head, a hose head and 6 side nozzles and a Jacuzzi with it’s own phone and TV.  A separate bedroom that included a sitting area and desk. Three TV’s, three phones plus a fax machine, two mini bars and an entertainment center. The suite was on the 20th floor at one end of the building and was the full width of the building so that it looked out in three directions. Regular cost including taxes US$1,500.buenos_aires

BA is a large and fast moving city and is very European as far as the city layout, building styles and the people themselves. Many buildings in the downtown area are over 100 years old and both the architecture and condition of most of them is impressive.