I’m in Argentina!  The year turned while I was in the air traveling somewhere over Central America and I had a brief layover in Sao Paolo, but I’m going to say that 2012 started in Buenos Aires since BA was my destination.  I flew TAM, a Brazilian airline, so I got to hear a lot of portuguese for 10+ hours.  Both of my flights were uneventful and everything ran smoothly; I was a bit shocked that at JFK they started boarding an hour prior to our departure time and we actually pushed off 20 minutes ahead of schedule.  I don’t think I’d ever seen that happen before.  The service was efficient, food was edible enough, and the movie selections were fine.  Overall, I had no complaints.  The real question is, will I get the miles posted to 2011 or to 2012…???

I felt exhausted towards end of the flight so I had my mind set on taking a taxi into the city (EZE is quite far from Buenos Aires, just like JFK is from Manhattan) but as soon as I cleared customs and saw the Manuel Tienda Leon booth, something made me stop.  An American woman was just buying her ticket to take the bus to BA and I found myself doing the same.  Since I had not a single Argentine Peso on me I had to change some money first- I tried to get some in NY but Citi told me that Argentine Peso and the Brazilian Real are the only two currencies they don’t carry, and AMEX told me they didn’t have any ARP either.  Luckily for me just around the corner at EZE was the Banco de La Nacion booth where I knew I’d get a great exchange rate (I think the best I’d ever done in all my travels: the official exchange rate was 4.30 and this bank used 4.29!), and in front was the same woman I had just seen buying the shuttle bus ticket.  While waiting we started talking and our conversation continued on the bus.  She was also a solo traveler heading down to Patagonia, and we were both shocked and amused by all the things we had in common…

It felt as if we were meant to get to know each other better so we made plans to meet up later.  From the Manuel Tienda Leon’s office in Retiro, I was driven to my hotel, Design Suites.  It was a good, clean, modern hotel.  I was pleasantly surprised that my room had a living room, kitchenette, jetted tub, and an espresso machine to boot.  I would have offered two enthusiastic thumbs up but I have to give it a slight downgrade due to all of their free wifi signals not working the whole time I was there.  A grateful shout-out goes to a couple of friendly Italian guys who showed me where to get another signal.  Thanks Andrea and Gerry!

I was tempted to take a nap but I furiously blinked my eyes open, and speed-walked over to Recoleta to meet my new friend.  We spend the rest of the afternoon eating, sharing a yummy bottle of Malbec ($98 ARP ~ $23 USD- what now?), and walking around Palermo.  The streets were practically empty and all the shops closed (it was Sunday and January 1), but we had a wonderful time anyway.  Unlike in the States where I was sad to see the sunset at 4:30PM, it was still light out at 7:30PM and the cool breezes were so nice that I felt as if I could walk all night.  But independently from how I was feeling my eyes were beginning to tell me that I had to return to the hotel to get some much needed rest.

Almost 9 hours later I was up and ready to test out the espresso machine, happy and ready to get going.  Every guidebook, travel site, and blog I read on Buenos Aires noted certain safety issues (petty theft, prevalence of counterfeit money, taxi scams, etc) so I was fully expecting to be on guard and as I walked, I clutched my bag with both hands and I was ready to fight off any would-be robber.  Maybe it’s because I was expecting the worst that I’m a bit taken back by how friendly these Porteños are.  Never in my 14 years of living in Manhattan have I had as many smiles and greetings from passersby as I did today.  More than once I had a stranger wishing me a happy new year and I lost count of how many times someone bade me a good day.  Buenos Aires definitely not the cleanest city but so far I’ve seen a great number of beautiful buildings and the natives are proving to be quite charming.  I came down here without a return ticket and I think there is a good chance I’ll end up living here for a few months after all.

I had a fun day of exploring the city on my own today and in the afternoon I met my tour group for the Patagonia trip.  I’m going to be rooming with the only other American, who happens to be also from New York.  I can tell that we’ll get along great and I’m thankful that we hit it off right away.  We have a very early flight tomorrow morning (6:50AM, pick up from hotel at 4:30AM).  A 4 hour flight down to Calafate and a 3 hour drive to El Chalten will get us onto the real start of my “End of the World” hiking trip.  Am I ready to trek 20km a day?  I’m going to find out soon…

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