Entry #060: Friday, February 14, 2014 (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Hola, mis amigos, and welcome to Argentina! Or, at least, a blog entry about Argentina (unless you happen to be reading this in Argentina, in which case we should totes meet up!). It's been an interesting few days, not least of which because my sleep pattern has been royally screwed up. As such, every time I've wanted to write and post this entry, I've become all tuckered out and dozed off. But let's not talk about that (yet). Let's talk about what's been the goings-on in the last couple days.

So, when we last left off, I was sitting in the Auckland airport, getting ready to leave. I continued to do that for a while. As often happens to be the case for me, I was among one of the last groups to board the plane. But still, I got on and got to my seat with little issue. I had an old...English, I think, couple sitting next to me (my confusion comes from the fact that the woman had a English accent, and they'd eventually be going to Heathrow, but whenever the man spoke to the woman, he always seemed to do so in a foreign language). They seemed nice enough, but our conversation was generally limited to the basics. Not there was even much conversation on this first leg, because for reasons I couldn't understand - it wasn't even 7pm yet - I was dozing off during takeoff, and only woke up when the meal was being chosen. Looking at my overall schedule, it seemed like I was going to have a good number of meals, so I just titled this one "First Dinner". It was a fairly good chicken stir fry. I watched the new Thor movie while eating (and afterward; it didn't take me that long to chew), which was really dumb but fun and enjoyable nonetheless. I then just listened to some music in the last portion of the first flight, resting a bit more.

When we landed in Sydney, I listened carefully to the announcements, hoping that I'd be able to stay on while they brought on new people. No dice; everyone had to get off for the hour we'd be down there. So we got out, and in one of those situations that always makes me wonder, I had to go through security again. Now, I didn't mention in the last entry, but the first time I went though security in the day, I had to chug my one-liter bottle of water to avoid throwing it away. Of course, after I made it through, I refilled it. Now I had to chug a second liter of water. Other than that, everything went smoothly, and I got to the gate and waited a bit. When the boarding procedure began, though, there was a very mild chaos, due to the fact that they called for boarding groups C&F first. Why? Who knows, but it messed everyone up, so I, with my F ticket, had to end up pushing my way through grumbling folks. I was curious if we had to get off in order to get on a new plane, but nope, I ended up sitting in the exact same seat I was in before, with the same old folks sitting next to me. After a slight delay due to people being babies about putting their bags up top ("But I don't want my bag three rows behind me!"), we took off. Since it was getting close to midnight back in New Zealand time, I decided I should try to get some sleep. (In retrospect, this probably was a mistake, as I should have already tried switching my time zones over.) I ended up waking up for what I thought was going to be a light meal (because it was relatively late and all), but nope, full on Second Dinner, which I had some salmon with (the other option was tagine, which would have been nice to bring back some memories, but I wasn't so hot on having lamb). I then went back to sleep. It wasn't terribly comfy, but it got the job done, and I think I got something like six hours of sleep, meaning that there were only a few hours left before we arrived in Dubai. I filled up some of that time by watching that Captain Phillips movie, which was fine, but I personally didn't see why Tom Hanks was in contention for an Oscar; I don't think he was that great, but maybe that's why I'm not in the Academy. At that point, I was definitely feeling the fact that I was sitting for ten-plus hours, so I got up and did some stretching, which encouraged the old couple to do the same. I then got back down and listened to my Bill Bryson audiobook a bit, until we finally came to our destination.

I'm not sure what time it was in my mind/body, but it was about 5am in Dubai. And while I would have loved to spend some time in the city (which, looking back Epimethean wisdom, may have been a better decision overall), I only had about an hour and a half to spend in the airport. So, I went through security, where I had to drink another liter of water. I didn't mind, though, since I felt it was a good way to force my body to stay hydrated. I then walked through their main shopping center, where I came across a Starbucks. Not just any Starbucks, in fact, but the exact same Starbucks where I had found out on my way to Hong Kong that my credit card number was ripped off and buying lingerie in South Africa. I decided to give it a shot, to see if the card would be declined again. Thankfully, this time it was not. So, I got my drink and headed to the gate, where I just sat for a bit, utilizing the free WiFi to the best of my ability. While waiting, the morning call to prayer came on through the PA system; y'know, even through I'm not Muslim, nor would I like the idea of somebody telling me when I need to pray, there's something about the call to prayer that I like, even if it's just how musical it is. Anyway, when it was time to board, I had to show them my reciprocity receipt (man, it would have been awkward if I had forgotten to print that out), and then got into the plane. It was a smaller plane - well, smaller than a massive A380 - but I had an entire row of seats to myself, which delighted me to no small extent. I mean, if nothing else, I could lie down if I wanted to sleep again. As we were flying out, I was able to look out to the airport grounds to see both the sunrise (and BTW, I think Sunrise in Dubai would be a good book title), as well as the absolute monopoly Emirates unsurprisingly has here. Anyhoo, I started out by reading the in-flight magazine. You may remember that, the last time I was flying Emirates, I praised their in-flight magazine for having some of the most interesting articles I've seen in such a magazine. Well, on the first leg of the journey, I was actually disappointed at the issue. Oddly enough, the magazine on this leg was different, with enjoyable articles again (the cover story being about what technology likely holds for us in the next 40 years). We then got our breakfast (second breakfast, actually; I forgot to mention that we already had one on the way in). I was a bit weary about breakfast, simply because of the food sickness I got on the Malaysia airlines flight after some bad eggs/meat/mushrooms, so I just went with a plain omelette. I then watched the movie The Butler, which was pretty much exactly the movie I was expecting it to be. While I was watching though, some woman had the absolute gall to sit in my row. She was from the row behind me, which only had two people anyway, so it wasn't like any extra room was being saved. Also, she just sat there, not even making any attempt to see if I was okay with it. I suppose I really had no reason not to be okay with it, as I should be a rational individual, but it just burned my butter for some reason. Anyway, I then took out my laptop and used up some time by playing some games. In fact, I was able to make it fully through some games I've been meaning to play for a while. And when I was done with that, I still had more than five hours left (this was a fourteen hour flight, mind you). I was feeling a little bit tired at this point, so I decided to recline my chair and take a nap.

And that's when it began.

I'm not sure exactly why it happened. Maybe my playing games for a long period while flying triggered something. Maybe it was karmic retribution for the seething annoyance I felt at the woman sitting in my row. Or maybe, just maybe, the human body isn't meant to be in a plane for about 38 of 41 consecutive hours. Whatever the reason, almost immediately after closing my eyes and leaning back, everything started spinning super hard. I don't know if I can officially call it vertigo, because I'm not sure I've ever officially had vertigo before, but I basically felt as though I had put my forehead on a baseball bat and spun around a hundred times. Even just staring into the blackness of my eyelids, I could feel the world rushing from right to left, right to left, right to left. Feeling imminently perturbed, I opened my eyes, and tried focusing on the chair in front of me. Completely against my desires, I could see my view shifting over to the left of the chair, before focusing on it again, only to see it slide away again. I put up my seat and closed my eyes again. This wasn't good. I could tell this wasn't good, though I didn't know what the end result would be. So, I got up, past the woman in my row, and just went to the lavatory. There I just sat down. I didn't know if I was going to end up vomiting, but in case I did, I wanted to be prepared. The one thing I noticed was that looking down helped a bunch - it was worst when I looked forward. In any case, I was in there for a long time. A good long time. I'm not entirely sure, because I wasn't exactly of clear head, but I may have even fallen asleep in there for a little bit. At one point, I figured I should go back to my seat. I did so, and tried to recline my seat again, but this time it was even worse. Again, I didn't know if vomiting was a possibility, so I grabbed an airsickness bag and stuff it in my pocket. I then got up again and went to a different bathroom. I sat down again, this time on the floor, and just waited there as long as I could.

I was eventually kicked out of the bathroom. Well, not kicked out, per se, but there was a knock on the door, which meant that people were noticing. I got out, and I knew I wasn't looking too hot, because the guy who had knocked had an expression which changed from annoyed to concerned. In any case, I made my way to one of the open flight attendant areas, where I just stood with my back to a wall and kept my head down. Eventually, some of the flight attendants talk to me, and I do my best to try to explain the situation to them. Most of them just asked me if I wanted some water, but when the head attendant - a very nice Australian dude - came up, he actually did something about it. They went to one of the four-seat central rows and cleared it out for me to lie down, and even brought some actual fluffy pillows from first class. I lay down on my side, which actually did help quite a bit. I tried falling asleep, but was having no luck, at least not until I ended up vomiting in the airsick bag I had brought with me. After that (and going to the bathroom to wash out my mouth), my body was in equilibrium enough to sleep. And so I did for an hour, if even that, before one of the attendants woke me up for landing. So I sat up, and while I was better, I was nowhere close to good. I was still dizzy and lightheaded, and even vomited a little bit more during the landing, basically clearing out any food left in me. (I will note that none of this occurred until after I had these breakfasts, so I still wonder if there is any connection.) After landing, I moved to get to my seat where - after making sure that woman hadn't stolen any of my belongings - I began packing my stuff and putting on my shoes. Some of the staff came to talk to me. Those who knew of my situation were checking if I was feeling okay, those who were not aware scolding me for not getting off the plane yet. I just mumbled to them while I tried to hurry up.

We were now in Rio, by the by. I left the plane, still feeling a bit iffy, and definitely thinking that I was feeling feverish. I went through security again (I only had half a liter of water to drink this time, because I was sipping through the whole flight), but some of the staff noticed I wasn't looking to hot. I asked if there was a doctor I could go to in order to check me out. They said he was a distance away, and I was told to sit down. I was then brought some more water, which I sipped on dutifully. I waited, and waited, and waited, but was getting a bit worried about my flight. When I asked the lady who was helping me, she said that she could take me to the gate if I wanted. "I should probably wait for the doctor to come." "Oh, no," she replied, "The doctor is not coming here." This actually annoyed me quite a bit; why was I waiting there, then. I then went up to my gate, where I talked to the staff there. They were quite accommodating, and said that I could go to see the doctor (whose office was some distance away), or if I felt well enough, I could just wait for the flight. I was very unwilling to miss my flight, so I initially scoffed at the idea of leaving the gate, but before long, I was feeling off enough that I relented. I sat down in the wheelchair they offered me, and one of the staff started taking me to the doctors. Thankfully, they had also called the doctor, so he was able to meet us halfway, saving me a lot of time. Before that happened, however, I could tell that I was going to vomit yet again. I searched my backpack, and took out a Ziploc bag which had a couple of leftover chocolate chip cookies (or choc chip cookies, as they're called in New Zealand). I then vomited into this, and this time it was almost pure water I was throwing up. We found a trashcan to throw the bag away in, and even at the time I recognized the fact that I was now "tossing my cookies," as it were. Anyhoo, when I finally met the doctor, he took my temperature - I turned out to not be feverish - and did a number of other tests. He eventually decided that there was some sort of inner-ear imbalance, and gave me an intramuscular shot of "dramine" (not sure if he meant Dramamine) in my left arm. I was then free to go to the plane, which I was able to do without any assistance. So, I got on the plane, and after some confusion with a guy sitting in my seat (it turns out he couldn't read the row number on his ticket), I sat down and fell asleep almost immediately. I don't even remember hearing the safety briefing for that particular leg. I was woken up when the meal came, which I groggily accepted, but I fell back asleep without even having a single bite. And that's pretty much how I remained until we landed in Buenos Aires.

So I had made it. I was now in South America, and the longest flight I've ever been on was over. To be perfectly honest, it actually went pretty well for the most part - it was only the last several hours where everything fell apart. In any case, upon getting off, I was feeling much better in terms of dizziness and all that, but despite the fact I'd been gotten on-and-off hours of sleep, I was tired. More than that, though, I was exhausted. I just wanted to get back to my hotel and go to bed, for real this time. My trip through immigration went pretty smoothly, they didn't even bother asking me any questions. I then went to the luggage carousel, where I was surprised to find that my bag was actually one of the first ones out, already making its way around. I was a bit saddened, though, when I saw that my Oreo Bear keychain was broken, and the bear completely. Either somebody had stolen it, or it had - more likely - gotten caught in some machinery and pulled off. While I didn't have the attachment to that bear that I do to some of my possessions, it was still a bummer. So, wherever you are, Oreo Bear, thanks for hanging off my bag for the last four months.

Anyway, I got out into the main terminal, and after getting some cash out of an ATM, I began looking for a way to the hotel. Before coming here, I had originally planned to use public transportation to reach my destination, but I really wasn't in the mood for that now, either the hassle or the time involved. So I decided to take a taxi, but unfortunately, I got the worst guy possible. Basically, it was a guy in a nice suit and tie who came up to me and asked if I needed a taxi. The thing about Buenos Aires is, there's lots of official taxis, and they're all clearly marked. It's not like Africa. But this guy, it wasn't anything like that. In fact, he was suspicious as all hell. He said he had a fixed price, but refused to tell me what it was before we started. He just assured me, "It's the same for everyone," and when I asked him what the number was, he said, "Don't worry." For all I know, this guy could have been a kidnapper, but I was too out of it to fight it at this point, so I just decided to swallow the absurdly high price he was asking for. And all the way, he was speaking friendly enough to me in English. However, when we arrived in front of the hotel, I asked if he had change (I only had $100 peso bills, and the ride cost $315). Suddenly - and this must be my most hated tactic - he couldn't speak English anymore. He just argued with me in Spanish. I told him I'd go to the store next door to get some change. So, I bought myself a cheap little item, and gave him what he needed. Oh, but then I needed to pay for the toll booths he went through. Again, in angry Spanish. At this point, I was contemplating gouging this guy's eyes out, but instead gave him the money and told him he was walking a fine line. I was still too tired to care anyway. He drove off, and I went into the hotel (it's actually a hostel, but I'm using it as a hotel, so good enough). I checked in, trying to do so exclusively in Spanish with the receptionist. It went...decently. I still must have sounded like a toddler to him, but we were able to get all aspects of the exchange taken care of. I went to my room, turned on the blessed AC unit we had in side, and immediately went to bed.

The problem was when I went to bed, it was maybe only a little after 9pm, local time. I'm definitely not used to going to bed at 9pm. As such, I woke up at 4am, and couldn't, for the life of me, fall back asleep. So, I just used the time to catch up on emails and some other stuff, as well as look into what my options for the day were. What I eventually decided on was to do a couple of free walking tours that were offered in the city, provided that it didn't rain (apparently, there were some huge thunderstorms in Buenos Aires, including the afternoon before my flight came in). I then went down to have breakfast, which was a really interesting deal. There was some cereal, tea, toast and everything available, but the main offerings were, like, this kind of breadstick which I wouldn't be surprised was called an Argentine churro, as well as this kind of flan-like stuff with raisins in it. Apparently, Argentine breakfasts are an even more carb-heavy affair than other cultures. After that, I headed out into town and down to where I was supposed to meet up for the morning tour. There were two things I immediately noticed about Buenos Aires. First off, it was a lot more white than I was expecting. Like, it's near impossible to tell locals from tourists, until they speak in something other than Spanish. There's a perfectly good reason for this, which I'll note later. But regardless, it meant that nobody could tell I was a tourist until I took pictures. Second, I would call BA the drippiest city I've ever seen. Seriously, walk by buildings, there was just water dripping everywhere. At first I thought this was a result of the aforementioned storms, but upon closer inspection, it was from the ubiquitous air conditioning units that were on full blast to head with the hot, humid day.

I got to the meeting point a little early, and there I met some folks, primarily from Germany (everywhere, they're everywhere), Sweden, and the US. I also eventually met with Mariano, our tour guide, and the owner of the free walking tours company. He seemed like a nice guy. After waiting to see how many people would show up - we got about fifteen total - we set out on what was planned to be a roughly three hour tour. Because Mariano had an interest in architecture, it seemed as though the tour as a whole was very architecturally focused. And I won't lie, I liked this. Architecture is one of those things that I've studied very little - really, I think my one course on Greek and Roman design was the only window into it - but that I find very interesting. And Buenos Aires is probably one of the most interesting places to see this, because there were will be anywhere between four to eight different architectural styles on a single block. They call BA the "Paris of South America", and that's mostly because the buildings look very European (and have a lot of French influence). In that regard, it's a lot different from almost every other city in South America. So it doesn't appear terribly exotic, but I personally like impressive-looking buildings, and it has those in spades.

There were a few other things we learned on the tour. First of all, apparently BA was a huge place for immigration. Apparently, in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, there was a huge influx of immigration from Europe, to the point where, I think, one in four locals was a European. (This explained why the place looked so white.) Second, I learned that Argentina has a fully screwed-up economic situation. Like, they've had three currency crises in the past 50 years, and are due to have another one in the next couple. I have no idea what is happening that makes them keep having these prices, but one of the weird effects is that the Argentine government has locked in the exchange rate between the peso and other currencies, in a way that does not keep up with the realities that the country is facing. As a result, a huge black market has emerged, with people on the street yelling "Cambio! Cambio!" to have you hopefully change your dollars for pesos. And here's the weirdest part: the black market money changers are actually, for the most part, legit. And you get a better exchange rate. Like, the official rate, which I get when I use an ATM, is about 7.5-7.8 pesos to the dollar. The black market rate, though, is more like 10.5-11 pesos to the dollar. That's about a 40% increase in value. It's so weird. But as Mariano said, "The exchange rate is whatever people think it is." I will say, though, that using the black market rate makes the prices for things seem a bit more tolerable. Otherwise, Argentina is generally not that much cheaper than Australia or New Zealand. The third thing I learned about was Jose de San Martin, the dude who basically won South America independence from Spain, and is probably the most beloved character in all of Argentine history. He is also the subject of some of the most badass monuments in the city. And he seemed like a pretty cool guy, so I'll have to do some more research on him.

We continued for a while, actually more like four hours than three. This was partially because people were stopping to ask a lot of questions, and a lot of locals (mostly old folks) were coming in to interrupt and talk about some fact about the site we were looking at. We finished at the Recoleta Cemetery, which I was told has one of the highest number of monuments in a cemetery in the whole world. That seemed like a dream place for me. We ended there so that, if we wanted to, we could explore the cemetery or some of the other surrounding areas. However, the tour, which was supposed to end at 1:30, actually ended at 2:30, and the afternoon tour would begin at 3pm...at a place that Google maps told me was a half-hour away. And I hadn't had lunch. I debated whether I should stay in this area to explore for the rest of the afternoon, or to do the tour, but I eventually decided that I'd like to get the tours "out of the way", as it were. First, though, I needed to eat. There were a number of cafes nearby, but there was also a McDonalds, so I saw this as a good time to continue My Disgusting Quest™. However, it wasn't until I was already knee-deep in there that I found out that there really wasn't anything in the "normal" food section that seemed distinctly Argentine. There were some items I hadn't seen before, but I could easily see them as being new the world over. In fact, the only seemingly unique items were varieties of ice cream McFlurries. I had no interest in one of those now, so the quest would have to wait. I just quickly got a chicken wrap, ate, and headed down with about fifteen minutes to spare. I really hoofed it, not letting myself get caught up for anything, and I managed to make it there in a brisk twenty minutes. So I was still late, but just barely. And they hadn't even left yet, so all was good.

We had a new guide on this tour, a lady named Anna, who told me I was crazy (in the most polite way possible) for doing both tours in one day. "So much walking," she said. Interestingly, the group was also pretty different, not just in a literal "different people" way, but also because the general age seemed to be way lower than the morning tour, and bit more European and hostel-dwelling. Anyway, this tour seemed a bit more historical, as we were walking by some of the more political places in the area (the National Congress, the "Pink House", a huge sign of Eva Peron, etc). It wasn't really as good as the early tour, but I think that may be because Anna had only been doing this for a couple months, whereas Mariano had founded the whole thing. Didn't really learn as much on the new side during this tour, except that mate is a thing, and if you have a cup of yerba made out of it, it's like a physical stimulant-high type thing. It's apparently drug-like without being a drug, but what turns me off to the idea is that it's apparently really bitter. Maybe I'd try it out at some point, but I would need a lot of sweetener added. I also learned - not from the guide, but from a fellow American on the tour - about an online application called Xoom, which basically allows you to wire money to someone (like, say, yourself), and has exchange rates closer to the black market. Since I didn't like getting screwed on the ATM front, and really didn't want to spend my emergency USD in the black market, this seemed like a useful thing to know.

At the end of the tour, I spoke with the American guy - Todd, I think it was - and we decided to go to dinner with some Dutch guys...oh, wait, the Dutch guys just ditched us. Okay, I guess it was just us. Both of our hotels were in the same general area, about a mile-point-five south, so we walked that way, keeping an eye out for any places to eat. (This turned out to be a challenge, because the guy was both celiac and lactose-intolerant.) Meanwhile, we chatted a bit. Apparently, he was working in the IT industry, but I could tell in his voice that he was very disillusioned with what he was doing, so he was taking a break and doing somewhat of a world trip, although just a couple of countries, and he really didn't have much planned or figured out. He did know he was going to South Africa, so I gave him what advice I could. When we were back in the San Telmo neighborhood (where my hotel generally was), we found a cafe, and looking at the menu, it has a special celiac sub-menu. We decided to go in there, and this was my first time experiencing how slow - I'm sorry, "relaxed" - Argentine restaurant service is. Apparently, when you get a coffee, you're supposed to sit around for hours with it, and dinner is not much better. You order it, and then you wait. And then they don't give you the check ("la cuenta") until you ask for it. It's kinda similar to Australia, except that here, you are expected to tip. Anyway, I also got a taste of the fact that, because fresh fruits and veggies are so expensive here, most Argentine food is going to consist of meat, potatoes, onions, and red peppers. And sure enough, that is exactly what arrived on my plate. To be sure, the portions were fairly generous and the flavors good, but man, it was just meat, potatoes, onions, and red peppers. I was actually craving some broccoli. I'm gonna have to get used to that feeling, I think.

After finishing up, Todd and I said our farewells and parted ways. I went back to the hotel, and did some more research about stuff that I was interested in visiting. In fact, this was partially based on some of the places we walked by in the tours, so that proved very useful. I then went to bed, actually fairly late (1am), considering how early I had woken up. And even though this place is pretty old (being in the old neighborhood of BA) and clearly used to be more of a hostel proper, it was a really comfortable sleep.

I actually woke up at a semi-regular hour, and went downstairs to have some breakfast. To my disappointment, the raisin-filled flan-like stuff was unaccounted for, replaced instead with even more bread items. After a little bit more time spent in the hotel (working on my taxes, of all things), I headed out for the day. My first priority was to find a place to find a place to get a new SIM card. I'd actually survived pretty well so far in the city without one for the past day or so, thanks to abundant WiFi hotpots and the fact that GPS doesn't need a signal. But still, I wanted to get something. I had been told by numerous sources that pretty much all three of the mobile providers in Argentina were absolute garbage, though one called Personel was marginally less garbage. So I found out where one of their stores was on Google Maps, and walked to there. Unfortunately, this store didn't exist. Either it was hidden away (possibly on an upper floor), or closed down. In any case, I couldn't find it. Instead, I went to another provider called Claro, where I got a SIM card. Again, the entire exchange was done in Spanish, though "exchange" may be too generous to me, as I mainly just said a couple of semi-confident sentences and then just gave one-word responses to what the lady was telling me (or at least, what I could understand of it). Still, I understood the gist of it, and the transaction was made, so that's a success, right?

(Really, I wish Spanish worked like it did in the old 1950's Zorro TV show, where "Spanish" was just English, except for "Buenos Dias," "Señor", "Gracias", "Por Favor", and "Adios". That would make everything so much easier, while still retaining all the flavor.)

After leaving the store, I was surprised to find that my phone already had a connection, even though I hadn't topped it up. I could only guess that this was the "slow" connection, and that if I paid the 2 pesos a day, I'd get the faster connection. But it was doing me fine so far, so I didn't see any need to spend the money yet. I continued walking, and I should note that I finally finished the audiobook for At Home by Bill Bryson. So that's been a long-time coming. But yeah, it's about as good as any other Bill Bryson book, which is to say, pretty good, so I can recommend that one. Anyway, I continued my way to the cemetery, which took quite a while, since it was a couple miles away from the hotel. I wanted to walk, though. The thing was, though, that I think I went the wrong way, and so took the long way around the cemetery, to an entrance that didn't actually exist on the far side. In fact, I lost all bearings of where I was completely. I used this opportunity to explore some of the rest of the area, seeing some of the outdoor sites, attractions, and monuments. Additionally, it was during this time that I had my first experience with Argentine mosquitoes. Three of them, in fact, all at once. One landed on my knuckle, one on my left arm, and one on my right elbow. I managed to kill all of them (one in a bloody mess), but not before each of them had injected their proteins into me, which is itchier than I would have expected.

I eventually found my way back to the main entrance of the cemetery, and after visiting the church next door (called the Basílica Nuestra Señora del Pilar, it is one of the few colonial buildings still left in Buenos Aires after the new government wanted to tear down everything reminding them of Spanish rule), I went inside. This place is not the kind of cemetery that you imagine. It's almost exclusively mausoleums, just lined up, one after another after another. No grass, very few individual graves, and even those are impressive monuments. It's a very cool place. There are two howevers, though. The first is that it's kind of sad how in some of the mausoleums, the glass on the door has been busted open, and inside, you can see old beer cans, styrofoam cups and plates, and other trash littering the insides of these final resting places. I cannot understand the mindset of someone who can do something like that to another person's tomb. Second, even though the place was really cool, and statuary was present everywhere, and there was a lot of ambiance, I would actually not say it was my favorite cemetery I've visited. I'm not sure what would be, but it wasn't this; and that's because it was too damn crowded. One of the reasons I like visiting cemeteries, in addition to trying the tombstones and statues and implied history, is the fact that nobody else does it. They're always empty, there always peaceful. You can go and have to worry about running into other people. But here, there were tours, and people walking and talking and laughing and just being loud. I didn't get the sort of peace and solace I enjoy when I'm in cemeteries. So that was a shame. Regardless, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and spent a cool couple hours there.

Afterward, I decided to have lunch at a small cafe. I ended up just having a club sandwich, as it was fairly cheap. One thing I learned is never order water in one of these places. They don't serve tap water (even though it's actually safe to drink in Argentina), and 500ml of mineral water costs 20 pesos (that's about $2.60 on the official exchange rate). But that's a mistake I made this time. In any case, I again was communicating exclusively in Spanish, and I can definitely tell that my voice is much, much softer than when I speak in English. That has to be the most clear indicator of confidence, I feel, since I know I'm confident in English. Anyhoo, from there I walked to the MALBA, short for the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires. I'd read good things, so I decided to check it out. I purchased a ticket with my Spanish, but when I saw that my change was short 10 pesos (I got 50 instead of 60), I became nervous. See, the thing when you're learning Spanish is that I can easily say, "The dog wants milk and rice." (El perro quiere leche y arroz.) What you don't learn in Spanish lessons are things like, "Sorry, but you accidentally gave me 50 pesos when I should have gotten 60." I did my best to muddle out an approximation of that, which confused the cashier, but thankfully she soon realized her mistake herself and gave me the correct change. I then went through the museum. It was a neat place with some pretty nifty exhibits, but it seemed really small. Like, even one of the floors was flat-out closed. So I was able to make it through pretty quickly.

I then wanted to make it to the Bosques de Palermo, which seems to be just a big park (or maybe a collection of parks), but was rated as the number one outdoor activity on TripAdvisor. I'm...I'm honestly not entirely sure if I made it there. I definitely went through some big parks, but there was nothing to confirm what parks they were. I could have just kept going until there were no more parks to be found, but it was starting to sprinkle, and I didn't want to be stuck out in the rain. I was also about five miles away from the hotel, so I figured I should walk back. I did consider taking a taxi, as I was told that legit cabs in Buenos Aires are actually quite cheap. But it was one of those things where I wanted to walk until I really felt like I needed a ride, but then the further I got, the less I wanted that ride because, hey, I'm almost there. But this meant it took a good long while to actually make it back - five miles is a long way after a full day of walking already, and it seemed to be taking forever at times. I protracted this feeling by stopping at a grocery store (where the main thing I got was a box of generic Argentine Frosted Flakes knockoffs, which are surprisingly good), as well as sitting down in a couple nice looking parks. Thing is, I don't think my new shoes are fully broken-in yet, so my feet were getting pretty sore by the end of this.

By the time I got back to the street my hotel was on - which was, patriotically enough, Aviendo Estados Unidos - it was dinner time, so I decided to stop into this one restaurant on the end of street. I did some quick research on how to ask for takeaway, and then ordered a calzone. I had heard good things about Argentine pizza, so I figured having a pizza sandwich could be good for a lark. I ended up getting the Calzone Verde, which had spinach as the main ingredient, because hey, I like spinach. And I got the "grande" size, since it was just five pesos more than the chico size. After waiting some time, watching the muted TV news in the corner of the room talk about Argentina's shameful January inflation (which predicts that their inflation for the year will be something like 30-35%), I got a heavy box tied up with twine, and brought it back to my hotel room. As it turns out, this calzone was huge, easily big enough for four people. So, I could either have a couple really big meals, or split it up into several. Unfortunately, I forgot one important point. While I like spinach a lot, I like raw spinach. Cooked spinach I actually find quite repulsive. And the mass of this calzone was probably about 40% cooked spinach, with the remaining 60% having essence of cooked spinach on it. So it wasn't as tasty as I was hoping it would be. I ate a little bit, but couldn't take too much more, so set it aside. I then set up a money transfer to myself using that Xoom program, which would basically "earn" me $70 if it all went smoothly. I then wanted to write, but was feeling really tired again, and so drifted to sleep without showering or brushing my teeth at 10pm

My erratic sleep schedule continued this morning when I woke up at 3am. 3am. And try as I might, I couldn't fall back asleep. So, in order to pass the time, I alternated between watching some videos (actually hoping they'd lull me to sleep) and doing some writing. This continued until breakfast time, and in fact after breakfast time, as well. In some ways, I was just trying to relax. I was spending enough time in Buenos Aires to really see a good amount of the sites without really cramming everything in all the time. Also, my left foot was still a tad sore after the breaking in of my shoes the day earlier, so I felt I'd take it a bit easier on them, at least for the first part of the day. When lunchtime rolled around, I looked at my calzone, ate of it what I could (and really, cooked spinach isn't great, but day-old cooked spinach might be worse), and then brought the box, still with a good amount of foodstuffs in it, down with me when I left the hotel to throw in the dumpster.

When I headed out, I knew there was one place I needed to go, and that was a...I don't know what you'd call it, actually. It's not a bank, but a money center. Like whatever you'd call a Western Union, that's what this was. It was also where my Xoom money transfer was supposed to pop up. When I got there, I saw a huge line of people standing outside the door. Man, I thought, this place must be busy. So I stood and waited in that line for about twenty minutes. Then a bus came and the line disappeared...oh. So, after properly wasting that time, I actually went into the office itself, and waited in another line, this one definitely the right one. While waiting, I practiced my Spanish for "I am picking up a money transfer," which is another phrase they don't teach you. I was hoping I could just say that, show my confirmation number, and be done. Unfortunately, no. The guy replied with a quick sentence, and when I asked him to repeat, the only actionable word I could recognize was "pasaporte". Thankfully, I had the foresight to leave my passport in my vest, so I showed it to him. Whoops, no, he needed a photocopy of my passport. So, I had to leave and get to a nearby copy center. That exchange went smoothly until the payment, when I gave the guy 60 pesos instead of the 60 cents he had actually asked for (I did think the pesos price was high, but eh). I then brought the photocopy back to the money center, where I had to wait in line all over again. When I went back up to the teller, I gave him all the necessary documents, but then he started asking questions. This is seriously where I fall apart. Like, maybe if they asked slowly, I'd be okay, but asking complex questions quickly just breaks me down. Whenever he saw me struggling, he countered by changing it up and asking a simple, one- or two-word question, like "Tu ocupado?" That I can do. (Although I lied and said I was a student, because I don't know the Spanish for "marketer".) Finally, he had me sign some forms, but I screwed up royally on this when I saw a line next to the signature line which had a word I completely didn't recognize, and still couldn't write here. But hey, it was where the date line is on most signed documents, so it might have been a synonym for "fecha". Nope, it was where I had to write my name in print. I have to believe I was bright red with embarrassment over that gaffe. I'm tryin', Lord, I'm tryin'! Thankfully, after that was all taken care of, I got my money, and was able to slink out of there without further incident.

After that fiasco, I decided to head down to the Teatro Colón, considered one of the five best opera venues in the world. Unfortunately, it seemed like you were unable to visit the place (aside from, I guess, the ticket office) without getting a guided tour. While the tour was a hefty 130 pesos, I was at least able to get one in English. And, as if to continue my streak of tours being filled with geriatrics, this tour was filled with geriatrics, most of which seemed to be part of a big group. We were able to go around all the "public" parts of the theater, so we didn't get to see anything backstage, which was a real bummer. But still, there were some really interesting things to see, and the inside of the auditorium was quite amazing. I was actually pretty sad that they were in their holiday season, because I would have loved to see an opera or orchestra perform there. And it's cheap! The nosebleed section, which apparently still sounds great thanks to the near-perfect acoustics in the hall, only cost about 40 pesos a head, and the Presidential box - the best seats in the house, including the seats where actual presidents of Argentina have sat - only cost about the equivalent of $150. But alas, there weren't any performances until mid-March.

After this, I continued walking in this part of town until I reached the Palacio Barolo, an old building which used to be the tallest building in South America. Apparently, the designer was a huge fan of Dante, and so the building was designed around the Divine Comedy, with the lower floors being Inferno, the middle floors being Purgatorio, and the upper floors being Paradiso. While the building is now mostly used for office space, they apparently have tours that would show you the place, as well as take you to the lighthouse on top. So I thought it might be cool, since I enjoy cultured cultural references like that. However, when I stepped inside, the guard immediately honed in on the fact that I didn't belong, gave me a brochure, and bade me to leave. The brochure said that the tours only ran at certain times, and only on Mondays and Thursdays. Unfortunately, I had just missed my opportunity, and I was doubtful as to whether I'd be able to get it on Monday. So I just left, and instead walked to the nearby Cafe Tortoni. This was another place that's really famous, though I don't really know why. Apparently, it's been named one of the top ten most beautiful cafes in the world - and it's very nice indeed, I suppose - but I guess it's most famous because a lot of famous people have eaten/drank there. They also had a tango show there, but only at night. I decided to stop in, just to say I did. I had to wait in line outside for a while, and then was shown to a nice little table. After looking at the menu (and neglecting to see if they had that yuerba mate stuff), I just ordered a hot chocolate and churro combo. The serving process was actually quite ornate. I got an empty cup, a little pot with the chocolate, another little pot with some hot milk, the churro plate, and a glass of carbonated water to, uh, cleanse the palate or something. I remembered what I had heard on one of my tours - that a coffee break could last hours - so I tried to make this last as long as possible. I was pretty impressed with myself in that I was able to go thirty minutes between when the food was placed in front of me and when it was finished. Afterward, I walked around the place. It was nice, to be sure, but I didn't have any huge desire to come back to see a tango show or anything (especially as I've heard there are sometimes free tangos in the San Telmo Sunday market).

So, I went back to the hotel, mainly to recharge my phone a bit and to check for a place to eat for dinner. I eventually decided on a well-reviewed placed called "Waffles Sur". However, when I walked down there, I found out that the owner had decided to change it up to a completely new type of place, called the Yuass Club. What their focus or even gimmick was, I had no idea. Still, I decided to give it a shot, and had their meal of the day. It was a simple dish: rice, meat, and some shredded veggies all mixed together, with a side salad. It was pretty good, especially for only costing 60 pesos. They didn't even charge us for the bottled water, which  I was so tickled with that I tipped them the amount I was willing to pay for that water. I then went back to the hotel, where I got back to doing things like writing. I'm actually a bit surprised I was able to finish this entry without falling asleep again. (Though I do think I may have nodded off at some point.) It's not ideal, but I need to work my body into respecting this new time zone. So power through it, I say. But yeah, even though there were some bumps in getting over here, Buenos Aires has been pretty cool so far in it's own way. So hopefully it's a portend of good things to come in South America, especially if my Spanish improves.

Oh, and it's also apparently Valentine's Day today. I would give you a message based on that, but I don't think anybody ever reads these on the actual days they're posted, so eh.

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