In 2012 when we canceled our trip to Argentina, we informed the hotels after the notification date, so they held our deposit. Once we booked our airline tickets for the 2013 trip, I contacted Miravida Soho and Lirolay Suites to book reservations and asked if they would apply our deposits as credits against our stays and both agreed to do so. Unfortunately, Miravida Soho did not have any rooms available on November 28, thus, our stay at the Vain Hotel. In order to use our deposit credit, however, we booked Friday night November 29 at Miravida Soho so that became the focal point of our remaining time in Buenos Aires.
We slept fairly late on Friday morning partially due to the four hour time change and also a function of the poor sleep obtained on the overnight flight. Continental breakfast was included in our one night’s lodging so we enjoyed a relaxing meal of fresh pastries and fruit in the bright Vain Hotel dining room, and then we packed our bags, checked out, and walked to the Miravida Soho Hotel that was approximately three blocks away in the same Palermo Soho section of Buenos Aires. Because we booked with Miravida first, we corresponded with the staff extensively from Denver ahead of time, and they made all of our reservations. Miravida sent us several lists of attractions, activities and restaurants that described them in detail, and we set our itinerary using this information.
Our first reservation on Friday was a bicycling tour and that was scheduled to begin at 1:30PM. Julie was the Miravida employee at the check in counter when we arrived, and our room was not ready, so we stored our luggage. Julie then helped us obtain a taxi that transported us to San Telmo, the headquarters of the bicycling tour company. Julie was the first Miravida employee that we met, and she was originally from Germany, and a very interesting person, and she was very helpful as were all the Miravida employees that we met. It was fun to connect the faces to the names that we’d seen on the email correspondence that went back and forth before our trip. The three names most often signed on the emails were Frauke, Nadia and Felipe; and we met all of them over the next two days. Julie and Gabriel were new names and fresh faces that proved to be equally friendly and adept at assisting us in translation, currency exchange, hiring taxis and providing directions.
Our taxi arrived in front of the hotel and we climbed in the back seat and made the cross city ride to San Telmo where we exited, paid the driver in pesos, and crossed the street to the bicicleta. A young lady greeted us and confirmed our reservation, and since we were a couple hours early, we asked her for ideas on places to visit and also a recommendation for lunch. She was quite helpful and provided directions to Defensa Avenue and an indoor antique market and then a lunch spot nearby. Jane and I departed with a nice bicycling map and walked a short distance down Defensa to the market where we browsed the various stalls and then checked out the produce and meat market at the one end. We didn’t purchase anything here but when we exited back on to Defensa we noticed Plaza Dorrego with numerous street merchants around the perimeter of the square. We circled this area and purchased quite a few gifts for our family and friends back in the U.S. We attempted to haggle a bit; however, were fairly unsuccessful except for one buy where we obtained a two for one discount.
We checked our watches and realized we needed to find a restaurant for lunch as only an hour remained before the start of our bike tour, so we retraced our steps east on Defensa to Indepencia where we turned north and found a tiny storefront advertising empanadas. This was the place we were seeking so we entered and were instantly amazed by the array of art, souveniers, momentos, and crafts displayed in this tiny shop. Items were hanging from the ceiling and attached to the wall everywhere in a clear case of sensory overload. We were here for the empanadas, and sure enough there was a glass display case with six varieties of the delectable pastries in front of us. We ordered three doughy treats, one corn and two chicken, and waited for the counterperson to heat them up. Once again the man behind the counter spoke no English, so it was difficult to know what we were getting, and the communication process involved a fair amount of repetition and sign language.
After 15 minutes the empanadas were delivered to our seats at the counter along the wall, and I discovered that the corn version contained cheese, so Jane was forced to eat it plus half of one of the chicken varieties, while I consumed 1.5 chicken empanadas. They were quite tasty and after eating, we quickly returned to the bicycle shop and waited for the tour guide and two additional paying members of our tour. Our tour guide, Sondra, arrived and helped us adjust our seats and fitted us for helmets, and then Anna and Jens from Denmark arrived and joined the tour. Off we went on a cobblestone street under construction and then we stopped at Plaza Dorrega where Jane and I had already spent part of our morning.
Unfortunately we were unable to get on the morning tour of the northern areas of Buenos Aires and ended up on the southern circuit which covered many of the same landmarks and areas that we’d visited the day before on the bus tour. However, it was still interesting to have a different tour guide who added stories and information to what we’d heard the day before, and touring by bicycle was a more intimate experience with more time to look around and see things that we quickly passed while inside a bus. Sondra did a good job of taking us on secondary streets that were less traveled; however, there were some intersections between La Boca and Puerta Madero that proved challenging due to the heavy traffic and cars and trucks turning in various directions.
One exciting deviation from the bus tour was a detour into a natural preserve where we pedaled down a crude park road and eventually stopped next to a huge body of water. Had the guide not informed us otherwise, I would have assumed this to be the Atlantic Ocean due to the waves and inability to see any land in the distance, but Sondra announced that this was the Rio de la Plata and the widest river in the world. My own research reveals that there is some debate as to whether this body of water is really a river or estuary. At any rate it was quite large and impressive and an interesting diversion from the bus tour route.
We returned to the bicycle office by 5PM and while waiting there for a taxi, I initiated a conversation with two couples that were returning bikes and were speaking English. Much to my amazement they were from Allentown, Pa. and Doylestown, Pa., and we knew some people in common that worked for Air Products, one of my former employers. It truly is a small world, and due to technology, becoming smaller all the time. Scheduling a taxi was proving to be a challenge since we were now in rush hour, so the shop employee suggested we walk a block south to a busy boulevard and flag one down, and we followed his advice and quickly found an empty cab parked along the curb in front of us. We jumped in and showed the driver a card with the address of the Miravida, and he executed a quick turnaround and we were on our way.
The next hour would prove to be one of the most exciting adventures of our stay in Argentina. The first ten minutes passed by fairly normally although Buenos Aires traffic even under normal conditions is chaotic with high speeds and a general disregard for traffic signs and lane markers. As we traveled down a major avenue and stopped at a traffic light in the leftmost of three lanes, the driver threw up his hands in despair and pointed ahead. Jane and I could now see a barricade blocking all but one lane with a parking lot of cars jammed into the block between us and the single lane. I’m sure most taxi drivers are by nature impatient personalities, but fortunately for us, ours appeared to possess an extremely hyperactive nature.
He immediately made a 90 degree right turn and cut off two lanes of cars with sudden starts and stops until he cleared the intersection and inched along in the jam packed street filled with rush hour vehicles trying to avoid the traffic snarl in front of us. The next thirty minutes were just amazing as the driver constantly honked on his horn and crossed back and forth between three lanes attempting to find the least resistant traffic flow. While this was taking place, he glanced back at me several times and motioned toward the steering wheel. I assumed he was asking if I wanted to drive, so I just laughed and shook my head to the negative. After the second pantomime session seeking my agreement to drive, I uttered the word relax. Apparently he recognized this word as there is a close cousin in Spanish because he began to roar with laughter and repeated the word relax over and over.
In another example of utter bravado we came upon another jammed intersection with cars in the two left lanes waiting to cross traffic and make a left hand turn. These drivers were far more timid than ours, and after honking his horn repeatedly and during a temporary lull in oncoming traffic, our man swerved around two cars and crossed the intersection in the lane designated to carry oncoming traffic. What a thrill ride we were on!
Finally we managed to make a left turn and travel four or five blocks and get back on the main boulevard that was blocked causing this mess in the first place. Once on the major thoroughfare more space opened up, and Mr. Impatient pressed the accelerator and raced down the left lane in the open space like a dog released from his restraining leash. We were moving along rapidly in the left lane, but I noticed cars sticking their noses into our lane attempting to merge and our driver was having none of it as he honked and pressed on with nerves of steel.
We arrived at the Miravida and vacated the cab in one piece after paying our fare along with a hefty tip. The fare ended up being roughly 30% greater than the morning trip, and that is a tribute to the skill set of our favorite taxi driver. My hands were still shaking as we entered the hotel and checked in for the day. Nadia was now at the counter so we introduced ourselves to her, and Frauke excused herself from a meeting in the next room to greet us as well. We were assigned a small room on the second floor and moved our luggage from the storage area and showered and changed into our dinner clothes.
We chose Sarkis as our dinner spot for Friday night, and the Miravida crew informed us that it was ten blocks away and within walking distance. Sarkis did not take reservations so Nadia and Frauke suggested that we arrive at 8:30 to avoid a wait and we made that our plan. We had a bit of time to kill so we departed the hotel early and did some browsing and window shopping on the streets of Palermo Soho on the way and arrived at almost exactly 8:30. The advice was accurate as we were quickly escorted into the spacious Armenian restaurant with rows of tables on opposite sides of a main aisle. We ordered a bottle of Malbec and pita bread with hummus as an appetizer. For our main course we both ordered lamb; Jane enjoyed a roasted lamb shank while I had ground lamb shaped like a long sausage served on top of a pita with large amounts of tzitziki sauce spread over the top. It was all delectable and we overindulged before paying our bill and returning to the hotel where the staff once again ordered a taxi for yet another trip to San Telmo.
Our last venture was to attend a tango show and we chose the Taconeando as our venue, and it turned out to be within two blocks of the bicycle tour starting point. The taxi ride was uneventful for a change and we both jumped out and entered the tango building. We were seated on the upper tier and ordered drinks while many of the patrons finished their dinners. Finally at 10:30 the musicians climbed on to the stage and played an instrumental and then a trio of dancers joined them and performed a brief routine. Throughout the remainder of the show, a male singer, a female singer and the dancers alternated between dance numbers and singing solo ballads in Spanish. As neither Jane nor I could understand the Spanish, we enjoyed the dancing much more than the crooning.
At the end of the performance, the host took the microphone and went around the room and asked where everyone was from. We were the only attendees from the United States with guests present from Chile, Columbia, Belgium, Brazil and the Netherlands. Once the introductions ended the dancers reappeared and invited paying guests to join them in a final dance. Dave was left sitting by himself as the tallest most handsome male dancer approached Jane and swept her off her feet for a final dance.
One final time we flagged a taxi and crossed Buenos Aires to our hotel where we found our room and crashed after a fun filled full day.