After a few hours of sleep, we woke up about an hour from landing. Erin and I peered out the window to overcast skies above a lush green countryside. We landed, deplaned and headed to Immigration. The US has a really nice thing going with a few countries where we charge their citizens a fee to enter the US. In return, those countries do the same thing to Americans. Argentina is one of those places. We had to pay $131 per person to enter the country and, in exchange, we each got a nice sticker in our passports which permits us to re-enter the country for the next 10yrs without paying the “reciprocal entry fee” again. Such a deal. $524 lighter, we checked through immigration… learning both the Spanish word for cricket (“grillo”) and that, in the opinion of the immigration agent, Julie looks like she could be an Argentine… and claimed our bags. Proceeding through customs we entered the hysteria of an international airport’s main terminal. After looking around for a few minutes, we found the driver from the car service that our friends and hosts, the Parkers, had arranged for us.
We loaded up and headed into the city. As we drove, the skies became steadily darker. After about a 45min ride, we arrived at the Parker home in San Isidro. Finally! We were extremely relieved to be there. Grace and Erin immediately scampered off with the Parker kids, 3rd grader Lauryn (a one-time soccer teammate of Grace’s) and 6th grader Lyndsey, to explore the house. Meanwhile, Julie and I had a cup of the local coffee and chatted with Doug who gave us a quick tour of the house (we found the girls hanging out in the attic playing games), helped us lug our bags to our rooms and informed us we were having a BBQ that day with some folks from Doug’s company. We all enjoyed long showers, then back downstairs. Kelly had arrived home from some errands and we all caught up, then it was time for Doug and I to make a beer run and try to find the Europcar office where I had arranged a rental car. Renting a car in Argentina is not like renting a car in the US; more on that over on OpenKimono.
Our first stop was the Coto minimercado located near the center of San Isidro. Doug grabbed some of the local Malbec wine while I hunted down beer. I couldn’t find anything in a box or six-pack carton, so I ended up with a dozen loose bottles of Corona. It seems the most common packaging for beer in Argentina is big, 750ml bottles which are shared around like a bottle of wine. Makes sense, but different. It’s funny how mundane things can become interesting.
We then set out for the car rental place which was supposedly near Aeroparque Jorge Newbery. Like some European cities, BA has an international airport (Ezeiza) and a domestic / regional airport (Newbery). These two airports are about 40km apart. Flights from the US, Europe and so forth go to the Ezeiza; flights around Argentina and surrounding countries go to Newbery. Not sure how you’d get to someplace like Ushuaia or Mendoza from the US… possibly a long shuttle ride between the airports.
By the time we arrived at Newbery, the gray skies had turned into a full-on downpour. One of those storms where you are soaked to the skin about 15sec after stepping out of the car. I hopped out of the car and wandered the airport, not finding a kiosk for my car agency. I tried to speak to a person at one of the other rental agency counters, but it was futile as my Spanish is terrible and his English not much better. Doug and I returned to the car. I had brought TomTom with me, with a newly installed copy of the maps for Argentina and Uruguay, so we thought we’d give that a shot. I punched in the address I had written down off my rental confirmation e-mail and we set off in the direction TomTom indicated. 10min later we were in the CBD. After a little looking around, we found the Europcar office. Naturally, the lights were off and the door locked despite it being about 2:00pm in the afternoon (clearly within the office hours on my confirmation). We decided to head home so I could try to make some phone calls and figure out what the next step might be.
As we drove along Avenida del Libertador, Doug pointed out some of the sights. Liberator is the main drag running north from the CBD and stretches for about 25km north; sort of BA’s version of Wilshire Boulevard. Along the street are dozens of high rise apartment buildings where many of the more affluent Porteños reside. There are also all sorts of businesses, including high-end car dealerships, restaurants and boutique shopping.
While we were gone, Julie and Kelly took the girls to an outdoor Sunday market in the main San Isidro square near the Coto where Doug and I had stopped. Unfortunately, the rain forced the market to close early, but they still had fun walking around in the pouring rain.
After we arrived at home, I called the US number for Europcar as I knew I’d get an English speaker. Somehow, I was routed to a call center in the UK. They told me to try back in a few minutes so I could speak with someone in the US. I tried again and got the UK again. This time the person agreed to try to help. I explained the situation and she told me there weren’t any special instructions in the system for picking up a car. Now what?
Then the BBQ guests started to arrive. The first two were colleagues of Doug’s that were visiting from Denver for a work-related project. Next to arrive were Mercedes and Horacio. Our first real interaction with locals! Mercedes works with Doug and is firmly in charge of keeping him out of trouble (she is VERY, VERY good at what she does as apparently she has a lot of practice in keeping Doug out of trouble 😉 ). Her husband Horacio works for one of the airlines and is an avid support of the Lanús soccer club. Both of them spoke excellent English and Mercedes offered to make a couple calls to the Europcar office to get the scoop. I was relieved.
Meanwhile, Doug and Horacio were standing around in the downpour looking at the bar-b-que and hoping the food would eventually be cooked. We ended up enjoying a great dinner with the other visitors including the excellent Malbec we’d bought and some of Kelly’s favorite local beer from Casa Isenbeck (this brand is brewed by Warsteiner, so obviously it’s pretty good).
We eventually collapsed into bed after a fine first day. What’s next?