Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Today we had a flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina to catch but we were able to squeeze in one last early Chilean adventure beforehand. Brandon was too slow getting out of bed and we had to leave him behind for this one. As the hotel room door closed I whispered to him "I will remember you, will you remember me?"

I'm going to be sad when we leave here.

Mailboxes and fire hydrants are always wildly different country to country. It's like a rule.

Our mission's main objective was only available in the mornings so we couldn't have taken care of it earlier. Locally known as "café con piernas", or coffee with legs, it's pretty much a coffee Hooters that you go to before work. The ones we read about were so seedy that they black out the windows like a strip club. The one we chose, Cafe Haiti, was much classier but had a definite Trump faux glitzy style to it. The place was covered in mirrors which I assume was for the purpose of creeping on the poor waitresses. Luckily they had hot cocoa so I didn't have to stand there empty handed. I still don't really do coffee. Zoe's drink came with cream in it which just ruined her vegan morning.

It was a pretty damn fancy hot cocoa, I'll give them that. I was eating thick whipped cream for a while before I could take my first sip.

By the time we made it to the Central Market we were out of time so it was good that there wasn't anything there that we wanted to buy.

We then headed to the airport to be catapulted through time and space to Argentina in a ritual that is still pretty disorienting even after all that practice.

I've burnt my last free night of Ritz-Carlton splendor. Time for someone to sign up for another credit card!

Seems like a good opportunity for an Indiana Jones air travel montage.

Buenos Aires is really a gem of a place. It's not really fair to compare it to other cities in South America because it feels so European. I hope that the reason I like it isn't because I'm boring and it's just more culturally similar to what I'm used to.

In any case it's a place of variety. Many buildings were sporting those French domes on top. There were cool statues and landmarks scattered all over the place. Buildings situated on street corners also sometimes had cool rounded edges which I thought was fun. It was already clear that this was not the rice and beans for every meal Latin America I've been enduring thus far.

I was amused to see this giant Stranger Things 2 billboard. I can already tell I'm going to like these people.

Lydia's dad Evan booked us an Airbnb in the Recoleta neighborhood, like a block away from the famous cemetery where Evita now rests. I'm a rotten, lazy person so I'm going to borrow a description of the neighborhood from Wikipedia:

Recoleta is a strollable, affluent area known for Paris-style townhouses, lavish former palaces and posh boutiques. A main attraction is Recoleta Cemetery, where national icons like Eva Perón rest in extravagant tombs. The National Museum of Fine Arts exhibits Argentine masterpieces, while the Recoleta Cultural Center offers cutting-edge temporary shows. Grassy Plaza Francia hosts a weekend handicrafts market.

The Airbnb was in an apartment building that had awesome old school elevators with the gates you have to pull closed.

The walled corner of Recoleta Cemetery was only like a block from the apartment and there was a little mall right across the street. I was impressed with the location. Only the top echelons of Argentinian society have the privilege of being buried so close to a TGI Friday's.

We quickly hit the supermarket which is just my favorite thing to do. I'd been itching for a good supermarket throughout Chile but my poor little wish had never come true. There were 4 of us and we'd be in Buenos Aires almost a week so it made sense to stock up on essentials anyway.

The most awesome thing at the supermarket were these whole, frozen, skinless goats that had each been sawed in half lengthwise. I was tempted to buy one then put it in one of my apartment-mates' beds while they were sleeping. Woulda been a real hoot I think.

All the food groups.

We snacked a bit at the apartment on a fruit cake sort of thing.

We wandered around a bit in a cool kid neighborhood to find some dinner.

Later in the night we went to the Esquina Carlos Gardel Tango Show touristy extravaganza. Lydia had wanted to see a flamenco show in Spain but it never worked out, so I supported the tango suggestion even though I wouldn't have chosen it myself.

Tango was born in Argentina and one origin story I heard was that Argentina was flooded with European immigrants but they were predominantly male. So the huge gender imbalance led to men dancing with each other while waiting their turn at brothels. I feel like that legend has some major plot holes but there you have it.

The show was really cool. One memorable part was all the close quarters spastic leg kicking going on. It seemed like this would be a painful artform to practice. The live band was on a lit up balcony above and behind the stage. When a band only segment of the show was happening the balcony would move forward to give you a better view of the musicians. The two accordions occasionally gave the music a German polka quality which was pretty amusing when contrasted with the sensual dancing it was accompanying.

There were some singing segments.

The janitor was even dancing with some brooms while waiting his turn for... a mop? He did shatter my long held belief that it takes two to tango.

I thought this place must be a tourist trap but the guy started singing a song that the audience seemed to know the words to, so maybe they are at least domestic tourists?

Fun was had.

I thought it was fun that the currency had Evita! on it.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Chilean Roadtrip to a Winery then Valparaíso

I'd given up trying to hide the fact that four of us are in the room at the Ritz-Carlton Santiago. Ultimately the cost won't be on me so I'll let the others deal with the responsibility. Being a spy is hard work.

We booked a tour for the day so I got a nice long bus ride of the city and the countryside. Now that Christmas has passed the city has come back to life. The most interesting sight were the really long yet orderly lines of commuters waiting for the bus.

Our tour guide Javier was annoying me majorly. Not because he was doing a bad job but we got conned into yet another bi-lingual tour. A tour company thinks "hey we have half a bus of English speakers and half a bus of Spanish, let's just combine them and give them a bilingual guide. Profit!" It's sucky for us though because then we effectively are getting half a tour. I got the feeling that there were times when we were rushed because we'd wasted time listening to the same speeches twice every over and over. I spent most of the drive napping so I missed a lot of the riveting Chilean trivia. 

Also, Chile's Atacama Desert is the driest in the world.

Chile is a big wine exporter because they produce a ton of it but Chileans don't drink much of it themselves. Javier listed a few of the cocktails that the local wine is tortured with. One was red wine mixed with Coke. One that actually sounded interesting was melvin. A portmanteau of melón and vino, melvin is a cantaloupe with a hole cut out of top and filled with white wine and sugar. It sounded like a nice summery concoction.

Emiliana Vineyards had me at organic. They lost me again with burying moon crystals.

Organic I get. No chemicals, better for you, yada yada. Biodynamic was a word that I was not familiar with. Well on our tour of the vineyard we got an education. It's like gardening mixed with astrology. They plant things depending on the stars and the phases of the moon. I did some good guffawing when our guide told us they bury quartz in the vineyards because it soaks up the moon energy.

It was too bad these people were nutjobs because it really was a beautiful place full of flowers, vines, and animals.

They had various flowers planted between the rows of vines to attract/repel various kinds of insects.

They also had chickens running around everywhere on bug eating duty.

We got a doggy bag at the gift shop.

All of that bus ride time gave me a lot of opportunity to write down the well crafted story that you are currently reading. Meta!

After the winery we were herded back onto the bus to Oda Pacifico for lunch. I thought the place seemed decent but it was soon apparent that this was less a restaurant than a warehouse for tourist bus cattle.

I wanted to sample as many foods as I could so I ordered a ceviche as an appetizer for everyone to share. That was a mistake. The waiter brought it and sat it in front of me when bringing out everyone else's food. When my entree didn't show after some time I knew they were going to bring it after everyone was finished eating and screw me. I flagged the waiter down and asked him to cancel the entree and his annoying reply was "I'll ask the chef". Like I'm not asking for permission to not buy the food that you refuse to bring me. I better not see that plate and I better not see it on my bill.

I was determined to tip this doofus negative dollars but the tip was already added on the bill. Someone had already paid the group's tab before I realized what was happening. My wrath simply transferred to the tour company for taking us there in the first place.

On the bright side one of the girls we sat next to while I was busy not eating an entree works at Facebook so I had fun chatting with her. She said she has a weekly budget of some sort where if she say, takes some friends out to get their nails done, and she posts a picture of it on Facebook with a special hashtag then Facebook takes care of the bill. Not too shabby! She had a disappointing lack of insight into whether Zuckerberg is going to run for president. Specifically she worked at the Oculus Rift division that does the cool virtual reality headsets. She seemed like a good person to connect with and I was kind of kicking myself for not exchanging info with her. Networking without seeming like a douchebag is hard to pull off.

The whole encounter reminded me of when we were on that tour in Belize with a woman who worked at Google. On the plus side when she asked me what I did I was happy I could say "something something Anheuser-Busch" instead of "hard to explain business I run from my couch" or "school you've never heard of" or whatever other lame answers I always seem to have.

Walmart apparently ate a local retailer.

The next stop was actually pretty cool. It was another of Pablo Neruda's houses named La Sebastiana. You know a house or sword is going to be legendary when it has a proper name. Neruda seems like a big deal poet but I found every explanation of why he was important to be pretty weak, If you're a businessman or a soccer player success is all about the numbers. A guy kicked 800 sticky wickets in the absolutely not pointless game of water-hiking. Awesome for you. Neruda did win a Nobel Prize which is impressive but who knows what it takes to win one of those? Maybe I need to read some of his stuff for myself. I guess a lot of his writing was devoted to macking on the ladies which does makes some sense. 800 ladies macked on in one season. One of the lines he wrote that I saw somewhere was "I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees." So smooth.

I respected the "no photos" rule in the house but it was really interesting inside. It had an insane view of the harbor and I could see several warships and some commercial ships. Neruda once spun some yarn about a naked lady who'd climb from the beach to his window and his friends bought it so well that they would stay up late at night searching for her.

The house was a hodgepodge of cool junk he'd collected from auctions and flea markets.

Lydia said he reminded her of me because he liked to drink whiskey straight, took naps, wrote stuff, and collected weird things from cool places. I'll take that as a compliment.

While I didn't take any pictures in the house I am not above using one of Zoe's.

Afterwards we had some time to tour the city of Valparaíso. 

The city was a really important port in the time period before the Panama Canal was built and people had to sail around the tip of South America to get from one ocean to the other. Once the canal was built though I think the party was over and the city went into decline. As a result the place has a sort of hip, crumbling former glory that reminded me a lot of Havana.

I noticed a strange amount of antique Coca-Cola signs in the city.

When standing at a viewpoint I could see multiple funiculars hauling people up and down the steep inclines of the city.

There was an amusing skirmish between a hobo and some feral dogs in the middle of the street. I assume it was over one owing the other an old sandwich.

Back in Santiago Lydia found a good place for dinner called Bar Nacional. It had all sorts of the Chilean specialities I'd been searching for. In particular they had the local Christmassy cocktail cola de mono, or monkey's tail. It had coffee, cream, and aguardiente in dimensions reminiscent of a White Russian. It sounded very festive and I felt honor bound to try one. We were also excited to see melvin on the menu but the waiter responded that they were out of melon. Embarrassing!

I went for a steak but I got it "a lo pobre", or poor man's style, which caused it to arrive covered in fried onions, fried eggs, and french fries. It was really good but way too much food for one person. Poor guys really know how to eat around here.

We hit a convenience store to stock up on water but as is my custom I was on the lookout for some weird local stuff. I happily walked out of there with a bottle of water and some Chilean horse jerky.

El Golf is the funny name given to the upper scale neighbourhood of Santiago that the Ritz is located in.

Take it from me: nothing goes quite as well with horse jerky as a bottle of Chilean moon-beam wine.