Posted by: Kristen Hicks | March 5, 2010

Adventures in Buenos Aires

“A mi se hace cuento que empezo Buenos Aires: La juzgo tan eterna como el agua y el aire”
–J.L. Borges

After years of avidly reading the works of Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar and thinking that somehow, these writers from a city on just about the other side of the world had tapped into something that could deepen my mental world and open it it up to new ideas and new ways of experiencing ideas; after years of desiring and planning and waiting for circumstances to align to make it to this mystical place that seemed capable of inspiring so much greatness…I made my first visit to Buenos Aires earlier this month.

Of course, United Airlines made a great effort in keeping me from my long held dream (more on that later), but ultimately I overcame their attempts to stop me and made the vacation into what it was meant to be all along. The details, day by day, are below.

Day 1:  We get screwed by United Airlines

My boyfriend and I have mentally prepped for the hours and hours of time we expect to spend in commute before we’ll get to our destination.  This includes several hours to drive from Austin to the Houston Intercontintal Airport, some time in the airport, the flight from Houston to Washington Dulles, some time in the airport, and culminating in an overnight flight to Buenos Aires itself.  All told, we leave Austin at around 10am on Saturday morning, expecting to get to Buenos Aires at around the same time Sunday, but we’re ready.

We get to the airport in plenty of time, with some help from my kind Uncle John, and make it to the Dulles airport with about an hour delay and bolt to the gate of our connecting flight, victoriously getting to the gate about 10 minutes before it’s scheduled to leave…or so we thought.

Our victory is short lived, as a United employee rudely shuts the door to get onto the flight in our face and points us toward the customer service desk against our protestations that “We’re here..and the flight’s gonna leave if we don’t get on it right now“.

Ultimately, we realize we’re helpless to get on our scheduled flight and dejected, tired and mourning the loss of vacation time the delay will ensure, we make our way to the customer service desk.

At the customer service desk we are provided the opportunity to angrily bond with over 30 other people in essentially the same situation we’re in.  Every person we spoke to got to the gate 5-15 minutes before their flight, in some cases after a great amount of rushed effort, and every person had a door shut in their face and a rude finger pointed towards the customer service desk.   As you can imagine, the rage in the line was palpable…and this was before we were informed that it wasn’t United’s fault they gave all of our seats away, it was the weather’s, so we wouldn’t have our hotels covered and fuck you very much for flying United.  To add insult to injury, the next available flight to Buenos Aires isn’t until 2 days later, so we just lost a 5th of our vacation and get to pay extra for the privilege.

Day 2:  We get screwed some more by United Airlines

We pretty much divide our Valentine’s Day between the Dulles airport and two Marriot hotels.  As we packed to spend our trip in the summer of the southern hemisphere and were stuck in DC just days after a somewhat legendary snowstorm, our options on how to spend our time in DC were understandably limited.  It should be noted at this point that the service we received from the Marriott hotels was impeccable.  Every interaction we had with a Marriott employee stood in stark contrast to our interactions with United, reminding us what customer service was in the real world where words like “service” aren’t replaced with metaphorical punches to the face.

We returned to the Dulles airport in the hopes of getting onto an earlier flight that would connect to Buenos Aires, or getting onto that evening’s full flight via standby.  A women feigning helpfulness did some searches on a computer and informed us that everything was full.  At this point we must jump into the future to a conversation I had with a good friend who was scheduled for that night’s full flight.  She was paid $400 by United to give up her seat on this flight and was put on one of the connecting flight’s we were informed was full.  According to her account, this flight was not full.

To understand what reason this woman would possibly have to lie to us, I can only imagine that working for  a company as despicable as United makes your life a living hell and inspires you to pass some of that hell along to any and everyone you come into contact with.  I might sympathize with her, if my anger wasn’t so consuming.

Because none of this was enough to thoroughly, without any doubts, ensure us that United Airlines genuinely reviles their customers, we were then informed that while I was lucky enough to have somehow gotten a reservation on the next day’s flight, my boyfriend had the bad fortune to have only a “confirmation”, which doesn’t ensure a reservation.  You might think “What’s the difference, doesn’t the word confirmation mean he’s confirmed a seat on the flight?”, this is certainly what we thought, but in response to asking such a seemingly reasonable question this psuedo-helpful customer service representative gave me her most condescending look, accused me of not listening and gave me a patronizing lecture on the difference between the words “confirmation” and “reservation”.  Having studied the English language rather extensively, I can assure anyone willing to listen that this lecture had no actual relationship to the definition of the word “confirmation” as it is used anywhere outside of United Airlines, but clearly my not knowing that United Airlines redefines common terms at will as a new and creative way of further condescending to their customers makes me a total idiot.  Live and learn.

The kicker to all this is that months after purchasing tickets for over $1100 apiece to (we thought) secure seats on a flight two days earlier, we learn that in order to secure a seat on the flight 2 days late, my boyfriend must spend another $160 on an upgrade or he’ll get to spend god knows how much longer in DC; a nice metaphorical kick to the balls to accompany the many punches in the face we’d grown accustomed to receiving.  While losing 2 days of our vacation was the worst part of our experienced, I think the $160 we were required to pay for John to get a seat on this flight was likely the most offensive part of the experience.


This is not Argentina.

Day 3:  United Airlines finally deigns to do their job

We spend our second day divided between a Marriot and Dulles airport.  We get to the airport several hours before the flight was scheduled, out of a general fear that if we’re not staking out a spot at a gate for most of the day, United will find some reason to take our seats away again and charge us even more extraneous fees for the privilege.

Finally, United deigns to let us on the flight to Buenos Aires and miraculously (or so it felt at this point) gets us there without further incident.

Day 4:  We finally get to Buenos Aires!

We finally get to Buenos Aires! Of course, we’re immediately overwhelmed by the language barrier (I have studied Spanish, but was woefully out of practice) and the first Argentine we meet welcomes us by taking advantage of this weakness to scam us out of 100 pesos.  Ah well.

We get to the first hostel we’ll be staying at, Kilca.  Kilca is a really pleasant little hostel with an artsy, laid back feel and a really friendly international staff. There we meet a very helpful employee  named Will (one of several very helpful employees) who recommends a pizza place about a half hour walk away as a good spot to grab lunch.

The walk takes us down a street full of guitar and music shops and book shops, somehow managing to plunge us both into reminders of our various passions in our earliest hours of the trip.

Still feeling overwhelmed by the language barrier we spend lunch generally confused about how to order and pay, but receive very fast and thus difficult to understand verbal aid from multiple friendly Argentines recognizing our confusion.  By the end of our very tasty lunch, we feel like we’ve accomplished something and are beginning to feel a little more comfortable communicating.

Upon returning to the hostel, we pretty quickly fall into a nap and wake up several hours later ready for dinner and our first night in Argentina.

The same helpful hostel employee from before points us towards a nearby El Salvadorian restaurant which was one of our better meals of the trip.  I had something very akin to fried rice.  It would have been made better by hot sauce, but it was very quickly clear that Argentines are not fans of spice (they don’t even put pepper on the table).

After dinner we attempted to make our way to a recommended bar called the La Puerta Roja, only to be almost robbed on the way.  A man came up from behind me and tried to take my purse.  Obviously, I wasn’t gonna let some asshole make off with my purse, so his attempt was unsuccessful, but during the struggle the guy’s dog bit John in the foot meaning we spent most of the rest of the night trying to get John a rabies shot.  Two hospitals and way too much cab fare later we give up and decide the likelihood of the dog being rabid is pretty damn close to zero, so we head back to the hostel where we bond with some hostelmates over the experience and a free beer.

Day 5: Recoleta

We make our way by foot to the Recoleta Cemetery, underestimating the walk.  We’re pretty worn out by the time we get there, but stunned by how gorgeous it is.  It’s nothing like what we expect and the time it takes us to get there ends up meaning we only have 45 minutes or so to wander before guards start pointing us towards the exit, but we could have easily devoted half a day or more to wandering the Cemetery.  Sadly, we didn’t have the foresight to bring John’s iPhone (our camera for the trip), so we’ll just have to hang onto those images in our memory (or just use Google Image Search).

From there, we continued the rather scenic walk to MALBA museum and saw the art there, including an Andy Warhol exhibit that featured all of his most iconic works.  Predictably, my favorite pieces I saw were those by Xul Solaar, one of my favorite artists and a local to Buenos Aires.

From the MALBA, we took a cab back to the hostel and let a bottle of wine  and conversation with our hostelmates define the rest of the evening.

To be continued…


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