16 March 2014

Getting Nowhere | South America 2013

29 December 2013

We woke up at a point. I don't remember if we planned to get up early. But it's not like we had anywhere to be.

My first priority was obviously a Western Union. I'm not sure if I can describe the helpless feeling of not having access to cash. It's not that I needed money for anything. I had chicken & an omelet to eat. I could use my card to make any bookings or big purchases that we needed to make. I did not expect to find clothes or shoes that I just had to have. But I don't like having to depend on anyone for anything. I don't like messing up anyone's plans for anything. It wasn't fair to Ang that I needed to borrow money. She didn't budget for that and I could tell it was stressing her. My lack of funds that I might need hung over us on an otherwise pretty day in Buenos Aires. We had to get that sorted.

I wired myself what I imagined to be a week's worth of pesos. I got an address and found a Western Union location that was on the way somewhere we wanted to visit anyway. It was as close to a "win" as we were going to get.

We took the subway downtown. In the subway station, I started realizing Argentina is not what I thought. I don't know why, but I thought it was developed as opposed to developing. Yes, I blame my own geopolitical naïveté but this is my blog and I can not know things if I want. By the time we got to the train station, we had heard about protests over the brown out. We had also seen a lot of broken sidewalks. They looked as though they had been ripped up for construction, but never replaced. There was nothing wrong with the train station. It was perfectly functional. It just didn't have the "extras" I didn't realize I had come to expect. I would later learn Argentina is a young democracy and that there are a lot of things the government and the people are establishing in real time. That's exciting. It's just not what I was expecting.

We got off the train and walked to the address listed on the Western Union website. We found a gorgeous building. I'm not sure of its purpose, but it was not a Western Union. Part of me was glad there was something there for Angie to photograph. But most of me was still panicked, as I was still broke.

We asked people in a pizza shop (Argentines love pizza I guess) and they directed us to a corner a few blocks away. We did find an actual Western Union (hooray!) and it was closed (boo!) because it was Sunday. I imagined going back there on Monday and realized it would probably be packed. I realized the missed opportunity that was Saturday and I was bummed in Buenos Aires. But there were sites to see. So we walked.

We hit Calle Florida, where people shop and changed money. It was the only place around that was full of people. We walked down the street and got hungry right as we hit a mall, naturally.

Yes, I looked for a Western Union inside the mall. I also asked a currency exchange location if I could charge myself some money. The teller said yes... if I had a MasterCard. Of course my card was a Visa. I drowned my sorrows in french fries.

Getting Some Food | South America 2013

28 December 2013

We met Alex and his entourage at a smoothie shop / bar that was in our neighborhood. We guzzled margaritas (naturally) and went to get pizza, obviously.

I haven't seen Alex since we graduated high school. Ang has seen him more. They both lived in New York at the same time and Alex lives near Angie's brother. Still, we haven't all three been in the same location since the Clinton Administration. The fact that our first reunion was in Buenos Aires was... I don't know... extra special.

Plaza Serrano
Buenos Aires, December 2013
Alex was heading out of town after we saw him. We really only had a single moment in time to meet and I'm glad it happened. We ate and did as much catching up as was necessary.

But reality (or responsibility) could not be deterred. I asked the waiter for the nearest Western Union, but stopped listening after he said "take the bus to..." As with anyone else my age, I decided to wait until I had the Internet to guide me.

Ang & I walked the neighborhood and browsed a craft fair. We found a grocery store (closed for siesta time) and went home to get really settled. We were in Argentina!

In the neighborhood.
Palermo, Buenos Aires 
The view from our patio.
Palermo, Buenos Aires
We had dinner reservations (that Ang booked) for 8 that night. We thought that was kind of late for dinner, but it was about an hour early for the Argentines.

As the sun set on Saturday, I decided to look up the nearest Western Union. There were actually a lot of options, which was surprising. There was one just a couple of blocks away from where we were having dinner. We got ready and set out to find it. It was supposed to be open until 9, but there was no way we were going to be done with dinner by then.

We arrived and whatever had been there was there no longer. There was no sign that whatever was there had even been a Western Union. This was about the time when I started realizing the folly of my timing. If I couldn't get cash on a Saturday night, I was likely not going to get it on a Sunday morning. I was looking at two days without any real money. I was internally frantic - how was I going to buy things?! What's the point of traveling if I couldn't buy locally made trinkets?
Best Malbec I've ever had.

I digress.

We ate at La Cabrera, a restaurant so famed there are three (3!) on a single block. It's in the books. It's on the Internet and it's in the whispers of locals and tourists alike. It's a grill, or what we Americans call a steakhouse. The portions were unreal. We both ordered a meat and a half order of a side. We did not know entrees also came with a choice of three tiny side dishes. We really tried, but the options were overwhelming. There was just so much food! There was also wine.

A "half order" of a Spanish omelet. 

Half order of fries with grilled onion.

I left La Cabrera with most of a Spanish omelet and a quarter chicken in my purse. It must be a common occurrence, because they wrapped it very tightly. There was nary a spill.


Ang & I dawdled and were late to meet John. Not that it mattered, he was still there. We had drinks and bonded in a way that Americans traveling abroad do. At some point we realized we were sweating - really sweating - while sitting still in a bar. The bartender explained they had turned the air conditioning off so as to not contribute to the brown outs that had been happening. I thought that was very considerate. But none of us were in the mood to keep sweating.

We ended up at another bar sitting outside with an older couple. I don't remember what we discussed, just that they were fun and somewhat indicative of what I want in my upper middle age years. Ang & I left around 2 in the morning.

Day one: complete.

15 March 2014

Getting to The "Vacation" | South America 2013

28 December 2013

I woke up really far from home, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It was warm. We got our luggage, cleared customs and went to get cash. There were maybe 5 ATMs in the terminal. Only one was working. We used our time in line to figure out how much money to withdraw. For me, it was the Argentine peso vs the USD. For Ang, it was the Argentine peso vs the NZD. We also didn't know how things were priced. Was a soda 12 pesos or 120 pesos? (Remember Italy in the days of the lire?)

We did math, took our turns at the ATM and went to a restroom to change. We took a taxi (from a place Angie had already lined up) and headed to our first residence. I guess it was a typical trip from an airport. We saw a lot of highway and hit a little bit of traffic. We saw stadiums, graffiti and other things we couldn't put into any sort of context. As we pulled up to our destination I realized my math had been all wrong, and that I would have to hit the next ATM for more cash. I began arranging my things - checking my passport, putting my cards --

"I don't think I have my debit card." - Me
"Of course you have your debit card." - Ang
"No. I don't think I do." 

I really didn't. I left my debit card in the ATM at the airport. There really is no defense. The machine sucked my card inside. It gave me a receipt and cash and between doing math and being considerate of the line that had formed behind me, I scurried away as quickly as I could. No one chased after us to say "hey you left your card in the machine," but I suppose that's not anyone's responsibility.

We still had time before we could check in, so we wandered to a cafe to get the staples: coffee and Diet Coke. There was WiFi and we used it to check in with our families and with the Internet. We overheard part of a conversation ("... el chico de Breaking Bad.") and got otherwise sorted. We got our bearings in time for check in and to face the real issue at hand.

I was in Argentina and I had no access to instant cash.

"Jesus, Danielle." - Ang


I only brought two cards with me on the trip. I planned to primarily use my credit card but I needed actual pesos. I called Bank of America and asked how I could get cash out of my credit card. No, credit card cash advances are not ideal but what choice did I have? Turns out, none.

I didn't know the PIN to my credit card. I've never taken a cash advance before - they're really not worth it. B of A issues new PINs by mail. That takes 5 - 10 business days. Fact: there was no way for me to get cash from a machine. They told me my only option was Western Union. I could wire money to myself. It sounded annoying, but at least it was an option. I had an option. I felt better and - in a colossal mistake - went back to being on vacation.

I should have wired myself money immediately. I should have immediately found the Western Union locations. I should have tested the process to know where the hiccups would be. I knew what needed to be done and I knew I could do it. I did not factor in anyone or anything else. Rookie mistake.

It was late Saturday morning. Knowing we would have to stop at a Western Union later, we went back to being relaxed. Ang documented our studio apartment, meaning I stayed out of the way with the luggage. We killed time while waiting to hear from a guy we've known through elementary / middle / high school. He was on his way to a wedding in Chile and was spending a few days in Buenos Aires. We agreed to meet for a drink and relaxed until that time came.

I also got a Facebook message from a friend in San Francisco who had a friend from D.C. who had also just landed in Buenos Aires. This is how we came to know John. John was traveling alone on a long itinerary through Argentina. He and I exchanged contact info and agreed to meet for a drink after dinner. (It was crucial to make concrete plans when both parties had WiFi at the same time.) Personally, I don't understand traveling alone. Ang does though. She says it's great but that nighttime gets difficult because (at least in her experience) she wants to talk and / or share her day.

Things were shaping up to be exciting!

Getting Out of The Country | South America 2013

26 December 2013 

I woke up pretty far from home, in Atherton, California. I had spent Christmas Day with my friend Lisa and her family. We drank wine and played Trivial Pursuit. 'Twas nothing short of grand. That morning, I slept in way later than intended and took a late morning train back to San Francisco.

I got back to the city and sprinted home to pack had a nice leisurely lunch with Jenn & Allen. With fewer than 12 hours before my shuttle to the airport, I finally got down to loading my suitcase started taking down my hair. At nine hours before shuttle, I picked up a prescription. I talked to my parents and yes, stuffed a lot of things into a suitcase. I emptied my DVR and cleaned my apartment. The shuttle arrived as I set the last dish out to dry. I prayed (for safety and against gas leaks) and set out to make memories on my on terms.

27 December 2013

I left San Francisco on a 6AM flight to Atlanta. I had a five hour layover. I had three hours before Angie even arrived. I used the time to get myself used to the loaner phone I had for the trip. I downloaded the apps I needed (Viber, Facebook), tested WiFi based communication with my mom and made sure I was saving the pictures properly (on an SD card).

That all took about a half hour. I ate for another 15 minutes and asked a friend of mine who lives in Atlanta if she ever kills by just sitting at the airport. I was only half joking. She was all business. By the time I finished eating and washed my hands, Jennifer was looking for parking.

Coit Tower, San Francisco
August 2010
Jenn & I worked together in Las Vegas. I hadn't seen her since August 2010, when we were young, adorable and taking selfies before they were cool.

A lot of things have changed since then. We live in different places and have different jobs. But we still laugh at goofy things and are generally adorable. We also still take selfies.

ATL, December 2013
I took seeing Jenn as a great sign for the trip. A random idea that turned into an actual meeting. I thought it would portend more of the same... only with new friends. Excitement accrued.

Angie arrived and joined us for a drink. We then went back through security. Ang had dinner. We bought our in-flight snacks. We charged our devices and before I knew it, we were boarding.

Last photo in the USA
ATL, December 2013
Not much happened on the flight. We watched (different) movies. I ate bland, low sodium airplane food. I also ate enough (salted) peanuts to make my gallbladder burn as well as enough Twizzlers to satisfy my craving. We flew and we flew and we flew until we landed.

Getting To The End | South America 2013

"Let's dance the last dance."
I want to start here, at the end. I want to get to the part of the story that lands us on a beach with new friends and perfect memories. But if I start there, you won't get it. The significance will be lost on you. As it is, you won't feel what I felt. I mean if you've also sang Donna Summer on a beach in Rio with Argentinians you might get it. Then again, you might not.

I want you to get a sense of what I was feeling at this moment. And for that, I have to take you to the beginning.

Angie & I decided to take a trip. I'm pretty sure it stemmed from talks we had in New Zealand. We decided to take trips together every two years. At the time it was a great idea. Two years later, I realize friend travel was nothing short of brilliant. I don't know if you guys have friends, but I do. And they are (in the best way possible) a huge time suck. Friends get married. Girlfriends have babies. Families have holidays. I love people. I like to be a part of their happiest times. I like accumulating airline miles. I travel. I always have a great time and create fabulous memories. But their not mine.

"I met Lauren at Joel & Michelle's wedding." 
"I discovered my hatred of cake pops at Abby's baby shower." 
"I haven't been to In N Out since after Jenn & Allen's wedding." 

I have a good time everywhere I go. Just on someone else's terms. Taking a trip with Angie was to be on our terms. It was for us - for no other reason than because we could. The idea was very liberating.

When it was time for 2013 travel, Angie pitched Central America followed by a few days at an all inclusive resort in Mexico. By the time we booked, we were going to South America and there was a hostel involved. Life is funny that way.

Ang booked everything. She picked the itinerary and arranged the travel. She coordinated with all the hotels & hostels. This was strategic laziness of my part. Neither Argentina nor Brazil were on my bucket list. I didn't have a burning desire to see or do anything. If left up to me, we would have had a couple of days of guided tours followed by spa time. That's not how Angie operates.

First of all, she's wanted to go to Brazil for a really long time. It was on her bucket list. She had read and researched and interviewed her friends that had been and read reviews and absorbed as much as she could. She knew where she wanted to be and what she wanted to see. I wanted to have my passport stamped and I wanted to dance. It made sense to me that the person with the passion do the planning. So. Angie booked everything. I used my super power of organization to create an itinerary for our parents. Shortly after Christmas 2013, we were on our way.