As you may be familiar from some of his past columns about his travels (Sevilla, Spain, Prague, New Zealand,etc.), Notes from Vivace always makes a point to try to locate the local music scene in each of the places he is exploring at one point or another during his trip.
On this vacation, I focused my pre-vacation planning in three areas. The first was to buy a computer tablet. I was tired of always going to an Internet café. I got super jealous after seeing my fellow travelers in Edinburgh surfing the web on their tablets in the hotel lobby. Now I could have gone with an iPad or a Samsung Galaxy tablet, but doing so would be contrary to my cheap nature (though I suppose my cheap nature disappears when it comes to camera equipment). I ended up purchasing an Amazon Kindle Fire at Best Buy. My second focus, as always, was to do some research into the local music scene. I came across a blog called “Going Local Travel” by Vicky Baker. She appeared to have a good grasp of the local music scene in Buenos Aires so I shot her an e-mail. I got a response with a nice list of bands to check out. I ended up checking out two of her suggestions along with a venue. So if you’ve come across this travel post, you just might enjoy Going Local Travel, as well. Also, finally for the first time on my various trips, I was planning on meeting up with a friend who was attending school in Buenos Aires.
As is my recent norm, my trip started on Black Friday — yes, I skipped the whole Black Friday shopping day (however, this didn’t prevent me from driving past a Best Buy on a Wednesday to look at folks camping out two days in advance of Black Friday, I find certain things amusing). My public transportation travel was rather mundane. The boring was observed such as just like my United Kingdom trip, I got to the Blue Line just as the train was pulling away (PLEASE WAIT FOR ME!!!). When the next train pulled up, I ended up in a car that had a plaque dedicated to Glendale, CA. When I got to the shuttle bus to LAX, it was filled with TSA employees.
I got to the airport in about two hours. And as I went through security, I was given an irate grunt when I forgot to take off my belt before going through the x-ray machine. When I got to the gate area, I decided to take out my new tablet and see if I could get any use out of it. I powered it up and came to the realization that I had to pay for Internet access at LAX. Forget that. I put it back into my carry-on.
An elderly gentleman approached, “Is that your computer?”
“Can you get WiFi?”
“No, they don’t have free WiFi. They have T-Mobile and you have to pay.”
He looked as disappointed as I did, “Most airports have free WiFi.”
“Not here,” I responding while thinking, he’s one world traveler and just as cheap as me.
He headed off and I heard him saying to his wife, “No free WiFi.”
My flight plan took me to Dallas Airport where there also wasn’t any free WiFi. This was also where I started to regret my purchase of the Kindle Fire (though I’m currently pleased with it –there are limitations to it, but what does one expect from a $200 purchase). I turned it on to check for free WiFi. No such luck. I then went through the most painful process of trying to shut down the stupid tablet. I started to feel really dumb not being able to shut down a $200 product. I actually started to look for a way to open it up and pull out the battery. When the time came to board the jet, the tablet must have gone through whatever internal gyrations it needed to go through, because it finally shut down.
Now one of the reasons why I chose to travel on Black Friday was because the last time I traveled on a Black Friday the international leg of the flight was only about a quarter full. This trip to Buenos Aires wasn’t as empty, but it was empty enough that I didn’t have someone sitting next to me.
As for the plane, I was disappointed. I had no personal seatback monitor like I’d grown used to on a handful of previous trips. I was looking forward to watching various movies and television shows and playing some games. A little entertainment for the long flight. No such luck. Instead, I was stuck watching the cabin flight movie, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” which is an awful movie and that was it.
I did get to witness some wheeling and dealing by the stewards.
There were three individuals in the second to the last row of the jet (I was in the third to the last row). One of the stewards asked, “Were you assigned these seats?”
“Hmm, usually these seats are left empty for us when the jet isn’t full.”
A few minutes later, the stewards were convincing them to move to another row – they really wanted that row for themselves. “It is too noisy back here. You should move up to those seats.” “Those seats” were one row up, which I’m sure made a world of difference in terms of noise pollution.
When I arrived in Argentina, there was a line specifically for U.S., Canadian and U.K. citizens. I figured it was a passport issue, but no. There was a $140 reciprocal fee. Now all is fair as since 9/11 America requires a similar tax on Argentinean visitors to the U.S. The problem was that I hadn’t read about that fact in the travel book that I’d purchased. Others also seemed caught by surprise. A guy in front of me mentioned what I was thinking, “The travel book I purchased didn’t mention anything about a reciprocal fee.” Perhaps we bought the same book. Hopefully, other folks were more aware of this reciprocal fee, because that is a large chunk of money for a family that might be off on a vacation. Anyways, I came to the realization later on (actually on the flight back to the US) that the fee was mentioned in my travel book. Yes, I am obsessive enough to look through a travel book post-issue. The problem was that it was mentioned only once. I would think one would mention it in multiply places. Like perhaps in the sections about the airport or “Before You Go” — my complaint about the book.
After paying my reciprocal fee, I followed directions from the book (okay, so the travel book was useful) and went to a booth where I bought a shuttle bus ticket into Buenos Aires. The bus had free WiFi so I finally got a chance to use my tablet. It worked out rather well. The bus dropped me off at a station and from there I was driven in a mini-van to my hotel. When I walked into my hotel room, I was shocked. It was the smallest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. It was way smaller than the room I stayed in at London, which is known for small hotel rooms. And it was a bare bones room. A twin bed. A television that was smaller than my computer monitor. I was constantly hearing doors slamming and the whirl of the engine. The mini-bar refrigerator was broken. The door would not close and the motor had probably long ago burned out. The door had a window so the light came through from the hallway all night long. And I would soon learn that having a room next to the elevator was a bad thing. The elevator required you to manually open and close the door. It also was not fully enclosed. There was no way I could go to sleep before 2 a.m. and I was awake by 7 a.m. (when our complimentary breakfast was served). I will say that the bathroom was nice. I learned quickly that the staff was extremely friendly. One remembered my name the whole week. Another looked unapproachable, but when I asked for help she was more than helpful.
First impression of Argentina/Buenos Aires: It was a steamy hot day and it felt similar to a summer day on the East Coast.
I then headed off to get me some Argentinean pesos. A bank was just down the street from me and so I headed over to grab some money. I went to the door and it was locked. What? I’m sure there are parts of Los Angeles like this, but where I live I’m used to just walking up to an ATM. After a quick look, I noticed a card swipe to the side and took out my ATM card, hoping it would work. It did. I then proceeded into the room where there were various types of machines. Now which one was the ATM? I decided to go to one set of machines. I did have much luck with those. A couple walked in and headed to another set of machines. They motioned to me to use those machines and so I walked over – who knows what the function of those other machines were. I had read that you didn’t want to request $1,000, because you wouldn’t get any small bills. Instead, you wanted to type in a number like $995 so that you’d get smaller bills. I typed in a number, but was denied as with fees I had hit the withdrawal limit. I typed in another number and that attempt was successful. (Just to let you know, $1,000 Argentinean pesos is about $250 US.)
I took off for a little sightseeing. I went off to La Casa Rosada (Pink House, official executive mansion) or as my friend would later describe it, the Barbie House (a political statement, no doubt). I took a tour of the executive mansion. My first attempt at taking the tour wasn’t successful. I read that there was a tour that started at the front of the house. So I stood in the first room and I eventually noticed a group gathering. So I headed over and the tour guide was talking in Spanish, naturally. I soon came to the conclusion that this was a special tour. I looked around and noticed that folks were lining up at the other end of the room. Ah. I got in line and waited. When I got to the front, I was cut off as they had allowed the maximum number of folks into the tour. I noticed a discussion between those in front of me and the staffer. The folks in front of me then got out of line. I watched them go. They went to the side and talked to another staffer who handed them a slip of paper. Hmm. I got out of line and also went over to get a paper ticket. Then I got back into line. So when the next group was allowed through I got to see the famous Eva (“Evita”) Peron balcony.
From there I went to check out a cathedral that was down the street and then I went to a restaurant called Picnic. I got a veggie-burger, which was devoid of taste, but it worked to fill the stomach. From there I headed to the hotel for a nap.
When I woke up, it was time to head off to catch Bomba Estereo, a suggestion from Vicky Baker. They were playing at a venue called Club Niceto. Now here is where I was decidedly crazy. I decided to walk it. I figured it was good way to see Buenos Aires. And anyways, I didn’t have any loose change for a bus and I wasn’t sure how to use the Subte and I didn’t want to take a taxi as for some reason my travel book suggested that taking a taxi was considered a danger. The problem was that I didn’t realize that it was one long walk. Every fifteen minutes or so I’d look at the map and realize that based on the map I wasn’t progressing very quickly. Now I won’t tell you how long it took me to get to Club Niceto, because then it would obviously indicate my degree of stubbornness, but let’s just say if you ever are able to figure out how long it took me, you’ll call me crazy for sure.
As I was nearing the end of my walk, I was on Av Juan B. Justo. The side of the street I was walking on had a number of abandoned buildings, which actually caused me great concern regarding my safety (adding in the fact that I was the only one walking down this side of the street). I looked over to the other side and deemed it to be far safer. On the way back, I noticed a door guy opening a gate for a young lady who was exiting a tower for a taxi ride – she obviously was far more comfortable taking a taxi versus your writer.
I made it to the venue. The ticket was $110 ($27 US). The ticket gal spoke a little bit of English and she was able to convey to me that Bomba Estereo was going on at 10 p.m. I had made it to the venue at 9 p.m., but there was an opening band that hit the stage at 9:15.
Tremor was the opening band. There was a Latin flavor to their set. Drums. Flutes. But trust me, it wasn’t anything traditional like the music you catch when walking around Universal CityWalk. No, this was heart pounding rock. The main drummer had flair like the best entertaining guitarists/bassists in Los Angeles.
Noticed: Major photo pit action. For Bomba Estereo, I noticed seven photographers in the photo pit, most using Canons.
Forty-five minutes after Tremor finished their set, Bomba Estereo hit the stage led by Ms. Columbia’s version of Gwen Stafani. She bounced around the stage. The audience danced. She had us in the palm of her hands. And towards the end of their set, she tossed out roses to the audience.
Noticed: There were no smoking signs everywhere, but it didn’t seem to matter as folks were smoking right next to the signs. Or maybe they were smoking here signs . . .
The audience at Club Niceto was far more enthusiastic about the set than what you’ll see at The Satellite or Viper Room. And I’m not talking about just those who are hanging out at the front of the stage. There was dancing from the front of the stage all the way to the back wall. Now maybe Argentineans have one over us Angelinos when it comes to music enthusiasm, but I say we also have one over them. There was a demand for an encore but the screams didn’t last long. In the US, you know the audience wants that encore. Los Angeles may not dance around with such enthusiasm as those in Buenos Aires, but when we want an encore we demand an encore. I’m just saying.
Noticed: There were a lot of English words around Club Niceto. The band name Tremor. Blue 100.7FM. Lucky Strike. Wild at Heart t-shirt. And though not the English language, I did notice a lot of folks were wearing Levi’s and Van shoes.
It was back to the hotel via walking, arriving around midnight. A number of my Argentinean friends warned about thieves, but I felt safe enough as I walked home. As a travel book said, there were plenty of people on the streets.
Much of the day was spent hanging out with my friend. She spent a number of years in SoCal, which is where we met. She returned to Argentina to finish up her schooling. After she finishes up with her schooling, she’s heading (maybe at the same time that this is published) to France to be with her boyfriend who has a job in Ireland, but plans to transfer to France. Talk about international.
Anyways, we hung out at La Boca, a working class neighborhood with colorfully painted houses. Though colorful, it is poor. You can tell by the fact that many of the painted walls are just metal sidings. It must be hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. I suspect the colorfulness of the area makes it a tourist magnet which provides income for the area.
Our big discussion revolved around the economic status of Argentina. She insisted that Argentina was a third world country. I argued they were a developing country.
It was steamy hot all day long. We called it a day and I went back to my hotel room to nap.
Check back tomorrow for Part II of Notes From Vivace’s Buenos Aires Adventures