Have you ever prepared for a potential trip to another country by searching for how to handle cultural differences, language barriers, and in general ‘not seeming like a jerk’ to the locals of whatever place you happen to be researching? That was definitely this trip for me.
Last year, Dan got a chance to travel to Buenos Aires, Argentina for work. He would be handling a demonstration for a potential new client, being the technical person the sales people needed to help make the deal a reality. Hearing that this was his destination, I instantly knew I wanted to go along. My problem was that I had only recently begun working at my current job and did not have much notice, as his work continually gives him fairly short notice for travel plans.
I knew what kind of history and what kind of architecture there was in Buenos Aires. I also knew the climate was something I would appreciate. I desperately wanted to go along, but I was so afraid of the language barrier. I had read about the language, while it is Spanish, it would be unlike the Spanish dialect I am more familiar with spoken by the Mexican population in Oregon. My anxiety rose when I read more about the language and discovered Lunfardo, slang that apparently dotted the speech of many Porteños. The idea that I would be unable to understand nor communicate with the local people made me feel very uncomfortable. This is not because I felt it would be burdensome for me. I dislike the idea of going somewhere and inconveniencing the people there by simply not being able to communicate with them.
I did a lot of searching and could not find a lot of travel blogs that focused on such things, mostly just about what to see and do, nothing about the humbling nature of attempting to interact with people who may speak a different language. This did not comfort me, it only made my anxiety rise higher. How would I know what to expect if no one touched on these topics? Those types of things are what I really want to read about in a travel blog.
So, although I was nervous, I felt this would be the opportunity of a lifetime and one that I should not let slip by. I ended up discussing the trip with my boss and to my delight, he allowed me to take the vacation. So in early September of 2011 I found myself attempting to brush up on some Spanish even though I truly felt it would not help me with the dialect being so different.
The trip to South America would be my longest yet, the furthest I had ever been from home. I also realized this would be the oldest city I have ever seen, with amazing European style architecture. I had read that Buenos Aires is known as “the Paris of the South”. I could not wait, not that I had ever been to the actual Paris to compare it to!
I did such a massive amount of research on Buenos Aires that I was not sure if it was helping fuel my anxiety or lessen it. I was just trying to figure out how to prepare myself for what would be a completely unique situation. I read about all kinds of scams, thefts, and other things that concerned me since I would be spending most of my time alone. I try not to do loads of research on a place before I visit because I think my tendency to over analyze things does make my anxiety worse, however with this situation I think it was best that I knew what I was getting into.
It was the the beginning of the end of winter in Buenos Aires, however I knew the weather would likely be perfect for me. It definitely made it easy to pack. I had read about a lot of issues with items being stolen from checked luggage but I never keep anything valuable in my checked bag. I felt completely fine checking my bag as I really hate the idea of dragging luggage all over, particularly when layovers are involved and by this time, I had been diagnosed with sleep apnea which meant I also had to travel with medical equipment. I was not looking forward to the exceptionally long trip. I am also an incredibly light sleeper so it is difficult to sleep on a plane, sleep apnea or not.
Our first flight was to Houston, Texas. This would be the shorter of the two flights. It must have been unremarkable in every way because I sure don’t remember much of it! I do remember eating at some seafood restaurant in the airport, trying alligator for the first time and then instantly feeling guilty for eating a reptile because I have pet snakes at home.
Our layover was long enough to get some food and stretch our legs, then we were boarding for our approximately eleven and a half hour flight to Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza International airport. I was delighted to see it was the largest jet I have ever been on, and the seats were actually quite comfortable despite being in economy. I imagine it’d be nice to fly first class particularly on such a long flight but I’ve never done such a thing. I was glad that I didn’t regret that decision and actually was able to nod off a few times.
Thanks to my ridiculous amount of research, I knew that once we arrived, we would be required to pay an entry fee. They call this the ‘reciprocity fee’ and only charge it to citizens of countries that charge the same amount to Argentine people requesting a Visa. The reciprocity fee is not a Visa, as Argentina does not require one for people of these particular countries. The fee, once paid, is valid for ten years. I have just read that it is now required before travel to Argentina, so be aware if you are planning a trip. The fee must be paid online prior to arrival. When we went, however, we just paid the fee at immigration and received a sticker on our passports.
Immigration/customs was pretty quick, and I could tell that the man behind the counter was used to explaining to unknowing people that they would have to pay this fee. He seemed like he was trying hard to avoid a confrontation, so I was happy to explain we were already aware and ready to pay. I believe we paid around $130 each for this fee, I have read that it is now $160.
After getting our sticker showing we paid the entry fee and getting our passports stamped, we moved on to collect our luggage. At the luggage carousel there were airport employees double checking our bag tags against our passports, I suppose as an added security measure due to theft issues I had read about.
When we retrieved our bags, we got a taxi at a stand and proceeded to the Sheraton in the area of Buenos Aires known as Retiro. This is across from the Retiro train station and our room overlooked the Rio de la Plata where we could watch the BuqueBus, a ferry service that operates between Argentina and Uruguay.
While we were checking into the hotel, we were the only people at the desk at the time and I had set my bags down in front of me between my feet and the desk. While Dan discussed the room with the front desk clerk, I noticed a man come up behind us. He seemed unusually close but I ignored it. Suddenly I saw him drop down out of the corner of my eye, and I turned around to look even though I assumed he had just dropped something behind me. However what I saw was his hand snaking out to grab the strap of one of my bags and pull it away! He saw that I caught him, instantly stopped, said “Sorry!” and took off quickly. I was in so much shock and when I looked around, it appeared none of the hotel staff even noticed that had just occurred. I knew then that the warnings I had read about theft were not overblown and that I would need to be very aware of my surroundings. I’m sure that there are people who prey on tourists who check into hotels exhausted from their flights and may not have their wits about them.
We were given a surprise room upgrade up to the club level. I’m not sure what the perks were besides a room on a higher floor with a better view, free bottled water, and access to the club lounge on the top floor where breakfast was served daily for free, though I assume all of the hotel had access during breakfast time.
The room was decent, a fairly typical Sheraton in my experience. The one window looked out at the Rio de la Plata as mentioned, and a small desk sat in front of it. There was a mini-fridge which was nice; no need to dump ice cubes in the sink this time. There was a gigantic mirror in the bathroom, with another smaller mirror for makeup or whatever one needs one of those mirrors for, plus a bidet which I thought was awesome.
Pretty sure, as usual after a long flight like this, all we did the rest of the evening was sleep. Maybe we ordered really overpriced room service. Then rest. I’d be on my own the next day in a giant city full of strangers I found intriguing and intimidating, with traffic that nearly made my heart stop it was so terrifying. Watch for more on Argentina in two weeks!
All images, text and related content copyright Danizilla Conquers the World unless otherwise stated.
Danizilla Conquers the World by https://danizilla.wordpress.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.