Entry #061: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 (Mendoza, Argentina)

You have no idea how much I want to make a Simpsons/McBain reference now that I'm here in the city of Mendoza. Really, I do. Still, I'm gonna keep a stiff upper lip and resist the temptation. Still, it's hard to believe two things. First, I'm almost done with my time in Argentina. Admittedly, that's gonna happen a lot while I'm in each South American country, so I'll get used to it. Second, as of today, I have exactly two months before my flight home. But now's not the time to contemplate my triumphant, rose-raining return to American shores, but rather the last couple of days, and the things happening therein. It includes cream sauces, I promise!

So, as of Saturday, it seemed as though I'd actually begun to adjust to the new time zone, because I had gone to bed at a normal - normal for me - hour, and was now also waking up a normal hour. So that was good. I went down to have breakfast, the primary dish this time being some sort of fruit-based pastry, not too dissimilar to one of those odd Entenmann’s danish things. I will give the hotel this: their breakfast is fairly small, and very carb-filled, but they have some good variety from day to day. After finishing the food and a nice cup of tea, I went back to my room. I didn't have any big plans for the day, so I looked into stuff I could get done online. As it turns out, I was able to accomplish quite a bit. There were still a number of things I hadn't worked out in my future planning, which just doesn't sit well with me. So, I just opened up the relevant sites and started booking, booking, booking. And as of this moment, I have all accommodation for the rest of my trip booked, as well as all of my transport, with the exception of two bus trips that I can't make online (due, I think, to them being international). So that's good. What wasn't quite as good was that during one of the bus bookings, my card was blocked - possibly wisely, because random transportation purchases in South America could definitely be seen as suspicious - so I had to make a phone call to my credit card company. To their credit, as has been the case every time I've contacted them, they got it sorted out quickly, and I was even able to go through the remainder of my trip, with dates for every country I'd be in. So hopefully I'll be set from here on out.

Even though that occupied only a paragraph in this entry, it took up a few hours in real time. So when I was done, it was more than time to head out for lunch and some time on the town. I went out, and almost immediately found a place to get some food. Like, seriously, it was right across from the hotel; I have no idea how I hadn't seen it before. But I went inside, and decided to get some empanadas, which is one of the major Argentine pride dishes, which I really haven't tried since coming to Argentina. So, I bought three (and they were only 22 pesos for the lot; really, when you see everything as 10 pesos to the dollar instead of 7, everything seems rationally priced), had them heated up in the oven, and then walked down the street, munching away happily. They were quite good. At one point, I walked through a movie set without realizing it. Not sure if they were filming, but hey, if you happen to find yourself watching Argentine cinema, keep a sharp eye out for my cameo.

My plan for the day was to head out to La Boca, one of the most well-known (and photographed) parts of the city. I had read a variety of reports on it, including one that flat-out said the place was completely phony, but most of them agreed it was worth a visit. One funny one noted that, being a working-class part of town, it could be a dangerous place if you weren't careful. In fact, in 2008, three tourists were robbed. I recognize that it's difficult to convey sarcasm in writing, but I found that statistic to actually be more comforting than worrying. The thing is, I don't look like a tourist. If I'm not taking a photo of something, or struggling to speak en español, I look like I could very much be an Argentine myself; there's that much diversity. Anyway, after walking for some time, I first realized I was actually in the barrio (neighborhood) when I ran into their soccer stadium, which is one of the attractions...well, one of the attractions during soccer games. Now it was just a big stadium that I had no reason (or way) to get into. So that wasn't terribly exciting. The thing was, I wasn't exactly sure where the main part of La Boca was, since it wasn't as prominent of a landmark on maps. So, I just decided to wander around, going up and down the streets one at a time. This tactic seemed to work, and I eventually got to the famous part and WOW, it was super touristy. (I should note, I do recognize, and have always recognized, the inherent hypocrisy when complaining about a place being touristy when you yourself are a tourist visiting it.) There were buses shipping people in and out, cameras and cargo shorts, and just a general feel that this place was tailored to be a safe-yet-quirky place for people to spend their money. I could understand why the one report called it phony. In any case, I walked around for a little bit, taking in the brightly colored houses which act as the main draw, and then decided to head back, a tad bit underwhelmed.

On the way back, I found myself walking by the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Buenos Aires (MACBA, basically their equivalent of the MOMA). Admission was only 25 pesos, so I decided to head inside. I'm not really a fan of modern art, at least not the kind that try to be really self-important with their message. I'm not sure if that's what these artists were trying to do, as there were no notes by the pieces other than names and mediums, but if there were, I was able to look past them, because there were some genuinely visually interesting pieces, using color and geometry. I'll admit, I have a bit of bias towards classical style art, but I enjoy cool patterns too. Having finished that, I continued back to my hotel, where I found myself walking through the more historical parts of the San Telmo district. I had planned to come here for the Sunday market, but it already seemed like there was a market going on. Additionally, in the main square, there was a tango happening. It was actually pretty nice. Not just the tango, but the whole thing. Seemed a lot more subdued than the La Boca region. I was looking forward to visiting it the next day. However, I was confused when I walked into an actual big market, an indoor one, filled with all sorts of shops and stands. Was this the same as the Sunday market? It reminded me of the night markets you'd see in Southeast Asia. Except, nicer. And by that I mean, nobody hassled me, or anybody else. There wasn't people constantly fighting for your attention. I'll get to this a bit later.

After returning to the hotel, I just milled about for a bit, and looked for a place to have dinner. I decided on this one restaurant called Don Ernesto, which was classified in TripAdvisor as both "Argentine" and "Steakhouse". Sounds like a good combination to me, since I haven't really had any solid Argentine steak yet. So, I went out, and ordered a "Garlic Rump Steak". Take a few moments and visualize that in your mind's eye. What should that look like? I'd think, a nice piece of steak with some garlic cloves pushed in here and there, or maybe with crushed garlic, or garlic butter. What I wasn't expecting was some thinly sliced pieces of kinda fatty meat (it'd probably be more accurately called a "roast" than a "steak"), with a creamy garlic sauce smothering everything. It looked sub-Denny's. And it was served with potatoes, but a weird style where they were sliced and fried, kind like horribly misshapen French fries. I tried scraping off the sauce to have some meat, but without it, it tasted like corned beef, but not-quite-right corned beef. Not top quality meat, is what I'm trying to say. I ended up rubbing the sauce back on, as that made it more edible, though made me feel like a bad person. I can only imagine the problem is one of two things: First, I could be too much of a cheapskate to ever shell out for the quality meat I need to have that true steak experience. Second, I could just be at a point where I don't really care for steak/roast meat. Really, chicken is my animal of choice. Either way, I decided to give up on this crazy dream. Hey, at leas the fruit salad I had for desert was pretty good.

I went back to the hotel, where I almost immediately felt sleepy. However, I wasn't going to allow this, because I needed to train my body to follow my sleep patterns. So, I fought to keep myself up. One thing I did during this time was upload my photos from Katoomba and the Blue Mountains (in Australia) to Facebook. If you'd like to see those, you can do so here:
Australia 2 - Katoomba & The Blue Mountains (12/1-2)
I was actually pretty impressed I was able to upload photos from here. It wasn't nearly as fast as back in Auckland, but really, I'm in South America, I was expecting the connection here to be just above Tanzania levels, which may just be because I'm ignorant and a horrible person. Still, I'm not gonna complain about a pleasant surprise. After that, though, I was even more tired, but at least now it was an acceptable hour, so after doing a tiny bit of writing, I went to sleep.

I got up on Sunday a few times. The first was at 6am, but I wasn't gonna let that fly, so I went back to sleep. I then kept getting up and going back to sleep every hour or so until 8:30, when I finally got up for real and had some breakfast. I'm not sure why, but this was a particularly relaxed breakfast; I even had two cups of tea. Who knows, maybe the laid-back Spanish-Argentine lifestyle is affecting me already. Anyway, I went back to my room, did a little bit of work, and then headed out to the San Telmo Sunday market, which is basically what everyone everywhere says to do in San Telmo (which, I just realized I've never mentioned, is the old part of Buenos Aires). I was wondering if it was going to be any bigger than the market I saw the day before.

It was.

Quite a bit bigger, in fact. Whereas before, the outdoor stands only occupied a some of the sidewalk, here there so many that the nearby cafes had to lower their seating counts. There were stands everywhere, so there was plenty to explore. I passed by a number of people selling artwork, and then in the main square, the focus seemed to be on antiques. A weird variety, in fact. Some were your standard old-silverware-and-wine-glasses kinds of stand, but others had painted lead soldiers, some had old weapons and cowboy equipment, some had old lanterns and door knockers, one baffling one contained nothing but antique seltzer bottles. How a person could possibly make a profit with that, I haven't the foggiest. Though I think the one that seemed the most simultaneously interesting and perplexing was a stand that sold old photographs. And not promotional photographs or anything; they were just random pictures, taken out of old family albums from what appeared to be the 40s-60s. Certainly, there's some sort of artistic project to come out of that.

While walking through the market, I came across a big church. I had actually seen in the day before, but had been unable to go in, as its gate was locked. Being Sunday, it was well open now, so I decided to head on it. I looked around, took some pictures, and - as I am wont to do when I go into churches - I sat down in one of the pews for a few minutes meditation. It was especially nice here because there was a live choir o about five people in the inner balcony, singing some arias. What I didn't realize, though, was that this was leading into a Mass. Well, I did realize it, but not until the priest actually came out. Seeing as the last time I was in a church service was on Christmas (and I don't even remember what came before that), I decided to stay put. A few things I noticed during the homily, of which I could only understand about one in four words:
  • One of the advantages of being in a tradition-based religion like Catholicism is that, regardless of the language the service is in, you know exactly what's going on. You may not know the translation of what they're saying, but you know how to respond to it (in your own language).
  • For such a big church, there was very little sitting room. There were probably about twenty rows, each of which could hold maybe eight people. The entire attendance of this Mass could fit in one corner of any of the churches I was in when young. Maybe that's why there are so many churches in the city; you can't fit enough people in one.
  • I'm fairly certain I was the only person in the entire attendance between 13 and 30. Most people were over 50, even the altar boy (though I suppose you'd just call him an altar assistant). Rare is it to see such a clear example of declining relevance. Who knows where this church will be in twenty years time?
The only part of the Mass I felt comfortable in was the Our Father, because I mastered that in high school...except now I realize that I had only retained my mastery of the first half. The second half, I completely forgot. Oh, and I had a weird stream of consciousness when kneeling on the hard tile floor (my pew didn't have a kneel pad); it eventually ended up with me realizing that I've made good with everyone in my life, in terms of "saying goodbye" and whatnot, and I could die right then and there in that church, and it would be fine. I wasn't expecting to, mind you, it was just something that randomly came up in my mind, but hey, it seemed like a comforting enough thought.

After finishing the Mass, I went back into the market. I went around the antique section again. There were definitely some things that made me wish I could get souvenirs, like a bunch of old metal Spanish signs from what had to be forty years ago, or some neat statues. Actually, the area also had a bunch of permanent antique stores, though these specialized in much more high-scale items than the stands (the kind of high scale items whose tags are just reference numbers). Looking at all the different types of art, statues, furniture, etc, I came to the conclusion that I am an utter sucker for marble. If it's made of marble, I automatically love it, and it takes some real problems to knock it down in my estimation. I also found that I like leather, though this was another thing I kind of always knew. Outside of the main square were a bunch of arms, like an octopus. The stands on here were less antiques, and more of your basic crafts and nick-knacks. A lot of it was the kind of stuff you'd find in a swap meet anywhere, but there were a couple neat things. Two that got my attention were some bags and such made out of roughly-sewn leather for that rough-and-tumble appearance (though I sincerely questioned anyone's claims that they personally made them by hand), and the other were these mask-like things, faces with veils over them, all made out of leather. Hard to explain, but I really liked them. I was disappointed, though, that none of the personalized name keychain stands had a "BORT" option. (Look it up if you don't get it.)

All throughout the market, which went on for blocks and blocks, there were singers, musicians, tango dancers, puppeteers, all sorts of other performers, orange juice and empanada vendors, and even some folks with "Abrazos Gratis" ("Free Hugs") signs. It was a very lively atmosphere. In some ways, it reminded me of the Jamaa el Fna in Marrakesh, which I still have oddly fond memories of. One thing that was definitely unique to this place though, is that you were pretty much never hassled by anybody. If you specifically stopped and looked at an item for more than ten seconds, the stand owner would talk to you, but other than that, they didn't bother. It's like they didn't need my business, and I loved it that way. I don't like having to wade through people literally crying out for attention and grabbing your shirt. Let your wares speak for you, I say. Even the guy yelling out for his squishable "Tomate Loco" and "Rata Loca" didn't care if you passed him by. It was exactly the kind of marketplace I enjoy walking through.

At one point, I decided to get some lunch. I went a bit out of the market, and to a pizza place. My last attempt to get pizza didn't go so hot, and I had heard Argentine's pride themselves on cheesy pizza, so I just got a basic small cheese pizza. And boy, they weren't kidding; that thing was covered with cheese. It was only, like, an eight-incher, but I could only eat half of it, and was happy to leave the rest (not because it was bad - it was delicious - but because I respect my body enough to prevent that much cheese from going in). It was also during this lunch that I have decided that Argentine napkins are terrible. Most of the napkins I've discovered here are all cheap, thin, and plastic-y. Should a culture be judged on its napkins? I think it should. Anyway, I'll mention two more food items I had during this time, even though they were each eaten hours apart. The first was some eucalyptus candy. I had seen a big bag in the store, and was genuinely curious what it would taste like, but was hesitant to commit to so much. So when I saw a tiny bag in a pharmacy, I decided to give it a go. I had a couple pieces, trying to figure out what the stuff tasted like. Then I realized what it was: Vick's VapoRub. It basically tasted like what I imagine Vick's to taste like. Truth be told, it wasn't very pleasant. Speaking of not very pleasant, I decided to go to a nearby McDonald's to properly continue My Disgusting Quest™ by getting a McFlurry. I don't think getting ice cream has ever seemed like such a burden, but I wanted to get it out of the way. I got a McFlurry Vauquita, which is basically a dulce de leche McFlurry. It was sweet. Too sweet. I mean, I like sweet, but this was sickeningly sweet. I could really only go through half of it before throwing it out. But hey, I got that out of my system (or, into my system, I suppose).

All in all, I was in the market for a good five, six hours. I was amazed by how far it stretched. I followed the longest arm up about ten blocks, until we got to one of the big squares of the city, where the Casa Rosada (the Pink House, their equivalent to the White House) stood. While I had seen the outside on the walking tour, I decided to visit the inside, at least as far as I could get without paying, which was really only into the main lobby. Inside, they had paintings of all the famous figures from their history. I was actually surprised Pope Francis was prominently featured there yet; he had a major presence in the market (as well as everywhere else in the city, including on signs for taxi services). There were a couple of guards inside, dressed in very old-school ceremonial uniforms. I couldn't tell if they were actual guards, or just there to take photos with people, because they sure were taking photos with a lot of people. I tried to get them to take a photo with Factoria the Travel Monkey, but oddly, they simply would not take and hold her, forcing me to stretch out my arm awkwardly. I can only guess they have a policy about not accepting anything from strangers, in case it's a weapon or something.

After finishing in the Pink House, I headed back to the hotel. I had some time until dinner, and I needed to charge my phone, so I passed the time by uploading another photo album onto Facebook. This time it was of Alice Springs (two-thirds of which is just from the reptile center there). So you can check that out if you want:
Australia 3 - Alice Springs (12/4-5)
After that was finished, I went out to get some dinner. I wanted something quick and simple, so I decided to get some empanadas from that nearby place. Unfortunately, it was either closed, was somewhere different from where I thought, or never in fact existed at all, because I for the life of me couldn't find it. So I continued down back towards the market area. It was still jumpin' down that way, with a girl playing some very impressive electric guitar by the ice cream shop. I passed by and went to a couple of nearby spots. I considered very briefly the possibility of getting another pizza, but didn't want to do that to myself, and instead got a few empanadas and a salad. In an odd-but-not-unwelcome turn, the price I should have paid, according to the menu, was 60 pesos, but they only asked for 47. I used that saved money to get a drink on the way back home, and then enjoyed it all while relaxing in my air-conditioned room. I then did some writing and enjoyed the rest of the evening before heading to bed.

I woke up Monday morning with no set itinerary. Really, I think I had seen all of Buenos Aires that I had wanted to see. The only other potential place to visit would be the Palacio Barolo (which was the Dante's Inferno inspired building). I knew that tours were actually offered on Monday's, but when I looked at the pamphlet, I noticed that all of them were in the late afternoon and evening. There was the possibility that I'd be able to make one of the earlier ones (the probability, in fact), but part of me didn't want to risk it, because who knows what could have happened. I dunno, maybe I made the wrong decision there, but if that's the worst decision I made in Buenos Aires, then I had a pretty smooth time. Anyway, the first thing I did upon waking up was start packing, which I had done none of so far. Oddly, it was here that I re-realized how little stuff I had, something which had been mentioned to me numerous times in New Zealand, but which had been lost upon me personally until now. One thing that had been brought up in conversation with me a few times (twice in the past week, in fact), is that'll be hard to adjust back to living in the States, especially since my clothes are all in a storage unit. But really, I've been wearing the same few outfits for the past almost-year; I think I'll manage a couple weeks back home.

In any case, I had breakfast, and stayed there a long while to enjoy it, despite the fact that it was probably the least enjoyable offering so far (it was just some pound cake and croissants, or as they're known here, medialunes - "half moons"). I then went back to my room. I didn't know what time I had to check out, but the safest assumption was that it would probably be around 10am. In the interim, I continued working on my taxes, making sure everything was getting taken care of. Unfortunately, I couldn't finish it before the deadline, and so tried packing the last few items before heading out. As it turned out, I didn't leave the room until 10:20, but this seemed like the kind of place where absolutely nobody cared. I could never even tell how many other people were staying here. So, I went downstairs, turned in my keys, and then asked if I could leave my stuff here and wait in the lobby. I will say, while I have to manually translate questions like these before I ask them, I do feel it is helping the process a bit, at least with the confidence part. Like, there's some older guy here - his accent seems to connote German - who just talks to the staff in English, even though I'm not sure how well they understand. That actually makes me feel actually pretty good about putting the effort out there. Regardless, when I asked, they seemed fine with the issue, and so I sat down, took out my computer, and continued working. And hurrah hurrah, I finished my taxes! I can tell ya, that's a weight off of my shoulders. Another nice bonus was that I got a fairly appreciable refund out of the detail. Yay for suddenly severed income streams, I suppose. While that money was always technically mine, it's nice to have it officially be there for me now, as a kind of cushion for me when I get back home. (Well, a cushion in addition to the cushion I had already budgeted myself. A memory foam sheet on top of my box mattress, if you will.) I then just stayed there for a couple hours, alternatively getting some work done and going through my backlog of videos to watch. Like I said, there wasn't much left for me to see in the town.

Even so, I eventually did go out, this time to get some lunch. I initially was thinking of going to the place across the street to get something small and quick, but decided to make a thing of this trip, to prove to...I'm not really sure who, but to prove I wasn't just a lazy sack. So, I walked back down to the San Telmo market area, which was today just an empty shell of its Sunday self. I went into this place that claimed to have the best pizza in Buenos Aires, and (having learned my lesson about how much you need the day prior) got two small slices of pizza fugazzeta, which I had mistakenly thought was a mushroom pizza (pizza funghi). As it turns out, this was actually the most authentic Argentine style of pizza, with cheese and onion on a kind of focaccia bread. It was fine, I guess, but I'm really not a big fan of onions in general (I used to think I was allergic to them, actually), so it's not something I'd rush to have again. After finishing that, I left the restaurant, and just...walked. I had no set itinerary, and I completely lost my sense of direction at points. My only real M.O. was walking to someplace I hadn't been before. And I definitely got a good bit of that, having seen a lot of new areas. Unfortunately, I didn't find any of these areas particularly interesting or inspiring, so after a couple hours, I just decided to head back. I went through this one shopping area, which seemed like a lesser version of the San Telmo market, with all of the least interesting vendors sitting on tarps with their wares. I briefly stopped inside a small consumer electronics store to see their video game section, just for kicks. I discovered the following: First, it seems like the new-generation consoles have yet to come out in Argentina yet. Second, the PS3 has a much stonger presence than the Xbox 360. Third, neither had a very strong presence at all, with almost every game for sale being from before I left the US. Fourth, the only strongly advertised game was PES Football (2013, maybe even 2012). Finally, and unsurprisingly, everything was way too expensive for what it was.

After getting a little lost on the way back to the hotel, I finally made it, and then just got my stuff and settled in again, doing some work online, watching some videos, and doing some writing. I'm not sure if my presence in the lobby was resented in any way, but it's not like I was really going out of my way to bother anyone. It seems like all the staff do here anyway is sit in the lobby and watch TV (which consists mostly of either stolen/transferred content from Starz, or overacted Argentine sitcoms and soap operas). I had to be careful about getting to the bus station with plenty of time to spare, but not getting there too early.

While I was sitting there, I was able to eavesdrop on that older German guy I mentioned earlier. He went up to the current manager at the moment, and asked if he spoke English. The manager said that he didn't, and I could tell the guy was getting frustrated. So, I offered my services as the world's worst translator. Turns out, the guy wanted to go a nearby town and needed to get to the bus station, but refused to do so on the subway (the Subte). "I'm done with the Subte!" he exclaimed rather forcefully. I - who a couple days earlier had been embarrassed just trying to fill out a form - was able to get the conversation going, though I really didn't need the manager to tell the guy that really, you could just walk or take a cab to the bus station. After he was satisfied, I continued doing my thing, and he asked me a bit about what I was doing there, and I told him a bit about my travels. "Always be sure to keep an eye on your things," he commented out of the blue, "People will try to take them." Warnings about thievery, refusal to go back on the subway - I'm guessing this guy was a pickpocket victim. I'd even heard that the Subte was pretty bad for getting your stuff yanked. If that was the case, I could understand his irritability. Even though, I excused myself to go out to get some dinner. I was initially hoping to head to that little place, but found that they, indeed, did close prior to 6pm, which seemed like a less-than-ideal business idea. So, I continued walking around, until I got to this place that offered "Chicken Verde". I could use some chicken, so I ordered that to go. It was packed up, along with a thing of fries and a loaf of bread, and I went back to the hotel (after paying a price that the owner clearly made up on the spot). Now, when you hear/read "chicken verde", what do you think? Me, I wasn't sure, but I was thinking it might have a salsa verde on the side, or maybe some green peppers. What I definitely wasn't thinking was that the whole thing would be covered - drowned, really - in a cream sauce. What is with these people and their cream sauces?! What a waste of chicken. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the "verde" in there came from the fact that there were green onions in the sauce. Still, I ate the chicken, scraping off what I could of the sauce, and had a few fries (and felt like I could kill for some raw spinach and broccoli), but wrapped up the bread for later.

Having about forty-five minutes before my bus left, I grabbed my stuff, said my goodbye and thanks to the manager (it was a really nice place to stay, I'm not gonna lie) and went out onto the street. One nice thing about Buenos Aires is that the taxis are very clearly taxis, and they are everywhere, including these side streets. So, I was able to see a number of them passing by. I waved down the first I saw with a "Libre" LED sign in the windshield. I asked him if he would take me to the Retiro (the transport station). "No," he said flatly, and then drove off. ...Huh, I thought dully to myself. That's probably the first time I've been flat-out rejected by a taxi, especially for such a common destination. Luckily, the next one was more than willing to take me where I needed to go. And we were on our way...for a bit. Then we stopped. Between the weirdly heavy traffic and the light timing patterns, we were getting nowhere fast. In fact, it took us ten minutes to go four blocks. The driver assured me that we'd make it on time, and sure enough, after one particularly diabolical stoplight, we began moving pretty quickly. The driver asked me which platform I should go to. I checked the ticket I had printed out. Unfortunately, since I had purchased it so long ago, there was no platform information. So, he just dropped me off wherever, and I had ten, maybe twelve, minutes to figure myself out. I looked up at the TV screens, hoping I'd be able to figure it out there. Sure enough, there was a 19:45 to Mendoza...in fact, there were two of them. One at Platform 24, the other at 42. I had no time to waste, so I went to Platform 24. I went to the attendant, showed him my ticket, asking him if I was in the right place. He glanced at it, nodded, and had me give my big bag to the luggage guy. I did so (and then gave him a 5 peso tip at his behest), and then went upstairs to my seat. But there was a woman sitting in my seat. Unfortunately, this was not a situation I could immediately think of the right Spanish for, so I muddled my way through asking if she was in the right seat, showing my ticket. Her husband looked at my ticket and then pointed out that the company name was different. I was on the wrong bus. Suddenly nervous, I apologized, rushed down, and quickly explained that I needed to go to a different bus. I got my luggage back, and then ran, Home Alone-style, to Platform 42. Thankfully, buses are not as wide as planes, so it wasn't that far. But still, when I got there and showed my ticket to the attendant who was just about to board, the luggage compartment was already closed. In fact, I didn't even make it up the stairs to the top floor before the bus started leaving. I was literally thirty seconds from missing my bus.

But I didn't miss it; that's what's important. Also important was that I learned a really valuable lesson: first-class bus seats are AMAZING. Like, seriously, I had heard good things about the quality of South American buses, especially when you were traveling first-class (and there isn't a major price increase). Coming from your standard buses in New Zealand, there was no comparison. It was especially impressive when you compared it to the wrong bus I initially went on, in which the top floor looked like the bottom floor. Here, the top floor seemed like a lounge, with huge leather chairs that reclined to 180 degrees and afforded quite a bit of space. You also had your own TV and headset, a pillow and blanket, got served meals, had free WiFi, and could even get free champagne if you were so inclined. I'm not sure how much of that was afforded to the regular-class customers, but if nothing else, having fully reclining seats on an overnight bus made it all worthwhile. The only downside of the whole thing was that I couldn't find any sort of electrical outlets, meaning I couldn't plug in my phone or computer, meaning I had to be judicious with the WiFi use, lest I drain my stuff's batteries. Even so, yeah, first-class bus travel is the way to go.

I was individual seat on the right side of the bus (there's only three seats to a row, that's how big they are), but I was next to an American couple. (At least, I assumed so, because I could hear them whispering very quietly and saw a Target shopping page on the girl's iPad.) I was a bit apprehensive to take off my jacket and shoes/socks, because my sprinting for the bus, combined with the Buenos Aires heat and humidity, meant that I was super sweaty, and probably stank. As I took off my shoes and socks, I covered everything with my blanket and pillow to absorb any smells (and I couldn't smell anything, but aren't you the last person to ever notice your own odor?). Once I was able to assure myself that there was, in fact, no smell, I lightened up and enjoyed the ride. I eventually found out that the couple was, in fact, from North Carolina, and were vacationing for two weeks in South America. They then asked me about why I decided to do a world trip, and I bit my lip as I told them my "All my friends were getting married and having babies" reasoning, because the girl herself was pregnant. We were going to chat a bit more when the stewardess turned on the microphone and announced that we were going to play bingo. She gave everyone (in both classes, apparently) a small four-by-four number grid, as well as a coffee stirrer to puncture your numbers (although as the game went on, everyone's stirrers seemed to break into at least three pieces). I didn't bother listening to the instructions because, hey, it's bingo. My devil-may-care attitude caught up with me, though, when I called "Bingo!" and was told by the stewardess that I needed to have my entire grid covered. Whoops! I came I think I ended up missing only two numbers when the game finished (thus missing out on a bottle of chardonnay), but the whole thing was really fun in a silly way; it was like being in high school Spanish class again, learning numbers. The girl was also helping her boyfriend/husband, since he apparently didn't know Spanish, though she made a couple of mix-ups between numbers in the sixties (sesenta) and seventies (setenta). Sometime after this, we got some drinks, and were then served dinner. I had no idea we'd be getting dinner on this trip, since we left at 7:45. It does make sense, considering Argentines eat late, but that's neither here nor there. The offering was some bread, ham, cheese, a spinach torte, a meatloaf-like thing with a hardboiled egg in the middle, mashed potatoes, and mashed sweet potatoes. I only had little bits here and there; in fact, the only thing I ate in its entirety was the fruit salad cup dessert. I also had a cup of water which was spilling all over the place whenever we hit a rough patch of road; it made me happy I wasn't drinking red wine.

While eating, I decided to watch a movie. Most of the offerings weren't terribly exciting, but it did offer the Disney movie Frozen. I had pretty much no idea what the movie was about - except ice and snow - but I knew a number of people who'd seen it and enjoyed it. So I watched it, and probably enjoyed it more than any Disney animated movie since that fish one. I will say, though, that it really made me upset that we can't have animated films that don't need to cater to kids. In addition to having the ditzy comic relief - which was completely unnecessary, considering the ditziness of a lot of the characters - the movie would have probably been greatly served by adding another half-hour, or even hour, to the movie. It felt really too compact, which resulted in some jarringly fast plot movement. And that's all because kids can't sit still for more than ninety minutes without throwing a hissy fit. It's a damn shame, really, and doesn't endear me to the kiddies. Still, I'd say it's a movie worth watching.

Once the movie was finished, I got down to the business of sleeping. I shut my window shades, put on the eye mask I took from my last flight, reclined my seat as far as it would go, snuggled up under my blanket, put on some relaxing sounds in my ears, and went to bed. Aside from waking up briefly only an hour later, I managed to make it through the entire night, waking up at, like, 6:30 or 7am. The only sort of discomfort I had had was that I wish I could have put my feet up. When I looked around the bus, though, I saw that I had completely missed the fact that my foot rest could be lifted up to act like a little ottoman. Oh, well, next time. I had a couple more hours before we arrived in Mendoza, so I just looked out the window to the passing scenery, seeing the colors of dawn coming up. It was a mostly barren landscape, with only the occasional abandoned-looking home passing us by. I may never fully understand why, but I really like that aesthetic. Not just the wide open spaces (I love that), but old, poor, and abandoned looking homes. Like, part of me wishes, if I had the money, to live in a place with poor people aesthetics and rich people comforts. Like, I'd love to live in a small, Mexican style adobe house in a sleepy pueblo...so long as I have clean water, electricity, Internet, etc. While I was considering this, we were served breakfast, which was mostly just a variety of small pastries, and a freshly-grilled breakfast sandwich. ...Not much more to say about the remainder of the trip, I feel.

Eventually, we got to Mendoza at about 9am. I grabbed my stuff, and decided that before I did anything else, I should get my ticket to Santiago. I wanted to make sure they weren't sold out, and wanted to watch my budget. Considering how bad the official exchange rate here is, and that I didn't want to do another wire transfer, I wanted to try to perfectly spend the rest of my cash. So, I've actually been keeping really close tabs on my remaining money, subtracting every transaction from my total. And I wanted to make sure I took the cost of a bus ticket out of that amount. So, I went to the office of the same company that I was just on - I figured they did a fine enough job for me to trust them again - and asked if there was a trip going to Santiago on Friday. It turns out, there were several. There was only one, though, that had first-class seats and was both leaving and arriving at a reasonable hour, so I went with that. I was forced to get a seat next to someone else, but considering it was the last first-class seat available, I wasn't going to worry about it. I got my ticket and then headed out. I doubted I'd be able to check into my hostel at this point, so I didn't bother getting a taxi. I walked the mile-point-five to get there, only to find out that it was more of the kind of hostel I was used to in New Zealand (in fact, it was under the Hosteling International banner). I wasn't in a dorm room, but still, it was a youth hostel. The staff there spoke good English, and told me that, as I expected, I wouldn't be able to check in until 2pm. They let me lock away my stuff, and so I grabbed a couple of items, and then went for a walk.

I was able to get a map from the reception, and it pointed out a number of the major sites and attractions, as it were, in the city, as well as the massive park to the west. They also provided a list of some of the activities that you could do in the area, from trekking to horseback riding to wine tours. So, I decided to do a bit of sightseeing in the city, following the map to many of the points of interest. Unfortunately, they didn't turn out to be all that interesting. In fact, I found the city rather boring. And this isn't the kind of boring that you'd find with, like, an Omarama of New Zealand (which has a population barely reaching a thousand). This was actually a fairly sizeable and important city; but the architecture wasn't nearly as interesting as in Buenos Aires, there wasn't any particularly grand nature to look at, and it was all fairly pedestrian, all things told. So, I decided to head to the huge park and walk around there. Unfortunately, that was also very uninteresting. Aside from what appeared to be a small remaining section of an old fortress, there was nothing really there to see. There was a "World Cup Stadium," but you couldn't get within a thousand feet of it. The place was also really confusing, as there were roads that took you into places that I couldn't exactly tell if they were private property or not. Regardless, I got a lot of strange looks. It definitely didn't seem like a walking park, I'll tell you that much. In fact, it didn't seem like much of a park at all. Kind of disappointing in that respect. What wasn't disappointing, though, is that there were prickly pears all throughout the place. As I've mentioned before, the concept of eating wild fruit is just so damn appealing to me, so I couldn't resist take a number of them. I did get a few spines in my fingers, but it was worth it. I had several prickly pear fruit, as well as that leftover bread from before, and that was my lunch. My fingers were absolutely stained, but man oh man, did it feel good to eat that fruit.

I left the park and headed the long way back to the hostel, trying to stop at some more of the points of interest on the way back. Every single time, I was disappointed by the reality. Even the presidential palace, while quite large, was nowhere near as impressive in design as even some random apartment buildings in Buenos Aires. I could now understand why wine tours and adventure activities are so heavily promoted in Mendoza - there's really not that much else to do. Considering I had two full days in this city, I was now thinking that maybe I should do one of those. The main issue there, though, was that I had just enough money in my budget to go for food, or for one of these activities, but not for both. So, if I wanted to do anything like that, I may have to bite the bullet and use a credit card, with the exchange rate that comes with it. Anyhoo, I arrived back in the hostel just shortly after 2pm, and so was able to check in and go to my room. Nothing to write home about, definitely - just a bunk bed in an empty room with an ensuite bathroom - but it would get the job done. As I went to sit down on my bed, however, I slammed my back on the support of the upper bunk, renewing my disdain for bunk beds. I was also a bit disappointed how, despite literally being one floor up from where there routers were (almost at exactly the same spot), I had absolutely no WiFi signal from my room. Oh, well, can't win them all. On getting in, I was finally able to change out of my sweaty clothes (it's not as humid as in Buenos Aires, but still hot), and then took a nap. I didn't actually realize I was so sleepy. I then got up and just watched some videos for a while before writing. When dinner time came around, I put some money in my pocket and looked to see what inexpensive options were around. (Odd tangential anecdote: While at the grocery store, I saw a bottle of Hellman's ketchup with the picture of a little kid wearing my goggles. No joke, I swear they're exactly the same Voodoo Tactical Flexframe Goggles that I wear.) I eventually decided on this small place next to the hostel, where I was able to get three hot dogs (panchos) and a drink, for 45 pesos. It was a pretty feel-bad meal, though. The hot dogs with foot-longs, topped in mustard and mayonnaise (blech), and the drink was a regular, sugar-laden coke (in a big 1.25 liter glass bottle; the surly owner lady seemed shocked that I'd leave without finishing it). I then walked a bit more around town just to let the food digest. I saw a sign for a vegetarian restaurant, which sounded nice, if only to have the opportunity to eat more plants in future meals. Unfortunately, the place looked closed down. Of course. So, I went back to the hostel, where I finished up this blog entry.

So who knows what the next couple days will hold for me in Mendoza. Maybe they'll be super boring. Maybe I'll spring for some of the out-of-town activities...which could still be boring, I suppose, but may also not be. Not sure if I'll be able to make a new blog entry before I go. Maybe I will, maybe I won't. You'll know when you look at the title of the next one. So, if I don't end up making anything new until Santiago, so long Argentina! (And if I do have one more entry here, ignore that last sentence, and this one. Okaythxbai.)

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