Argentina, Again

I can't resist a bargain: Miami to Buenos Aires for $309. Plus, I need the miles to requalify for medallion status on Delta. (Two weeks later the fare from Orlando dropped to $250!)


First, gotta get to Miami. I've learned from previous experience that it is cheaper to rent a car each way than to pay for parking.


Delta doesn't actually fly South from Miami; first you go to Atlanta. The crazy world of airfare competition means that it is cheaper to fly Miami to Atlanta to South America than from Atlanta direct.


The flight is overnight, with a mid-morning arrival. The weather is a surprise. It is Spring (the equivalent of May), but it is cold, blustery and wet. Much too miserable to walk outside. So the first day, Sunday, we take a city tour. The day is pretty much a waste.

Dinner is at a parilla, a traditional restaurant serving giant hunks of meat seared over an open flame. Last February, Argentina was on sale for half price. The peso, which had been fixed at 1:1 to the dollar, is now down to 3.5:1. The result: a three star hotel with breakfast costs $20. Dinner at a nice restaurant is $5 (a bottle of wine will set you back another $1). Other prices are commensurate, e.g., internet cafe 1 peso/hr. Where else can you find a place that looks like Europe but is priced like India?

On Monday we are supposed fly to Cordoba but run into the first travel glitch. After paying for car service to the distant international airport for a 1 PM flight, we find that the airline has suspended service to Cordoba. They rebook us on a 4 PM flight on another carrier, but which leaves from the in-town airport. (At least they provide a transfer). We arrive in Cordoba in late afternoon. So much for day two.


Cordoba is about 400 miles inland. For the first 200 years of colonial rule, it was the principal city of South America after Lima. Big cathedral, university, lots of churches. After independence in 1810 it was eclipsed by Buenos Aires and its port. Now it is the Argentina's second city.


In contract to Buenos Aires, which has a dispirited air; Cordoba seems more normal. It is situated in the center of an agricultural region and is enduring the current hard times much better than the capital. The banks are not covered in graffiti and protected by riot shutters. It's still cheap, though: a three star hotel is $14. The principal sign of economic distress are the numerous storefronts exchanging the several types of scrip at varying discounts. In February cash-strapped governments began paying workers in scrip, which were widely accepted at par. Not so any more. A good idea for all governments unable to reduce their bloated workforces: pay them in monopoly money


There is lots of stuff to see, mostly of the old church variety. It's all compact and walkable. Easy to fill a day. And a day is all we have: due to the airline changes my two full days in Cordoba have been reduced to one. That is enough time to see the city, but not for any trips to the countryside. The weather cooperates: when we left BA it was in the 50s. Here in Cordoba it is 30 degrees warmer and clear, with low humidity.


Wednesday morning we fly back to BA. The weather has turned glorious! Beautiful blue skies, temperature in the 70s, low humidity. A perfect day for walking around. The streets are lined with Jacaranda trees which are finishing their bloom and carpeting the sidewalks with purple blossoms. In addition to being one of the most elegant cities in the world, it one of the most beautiful. It's easy to spend the day wandering about. I succumb to the shopping bug: two pairs of shoes, total $35.

Thursday. Time to leave the country. Buenos Aires is on the Rio Plate,which is actually a very wide estuary. Across the river is our next destination, Uruguay.


We are going to Colonia del Sacramento. There is a high speed ferry service to there and to Montevideo. The terminal has ticketing and luggage check in like an airport. You go through passport control and customs to the departure lounge. Our ferry is scheduled for 11:30 At 11:20 they announce that departure would be at 11:40. At 11:50 comes a new announcement: "cancelado." Back through immigration, where our entry and exit stamps are also canceladoed. 


The next boat is not until 2:30. Our time in Colonia has just shrunk by three hours; those who have booked a day tour are SOL. We kill the time at the adjacent Puerto Madera, the redeveloped dockside warehouse district that is now home to many upscale restaurants. We enjoy the especial exjectivo, consisting of a multicourse meal, superbly prepared, presented on fine china and linen with fawning service. 15 pesos w/tip.


Colonia is 30 miles, 35 minutes, and a world away from Buenos Aires. It was originally a Portuguese colony, but fell to the Spanish in 1777. The assault leveled the fort, but the town is pretty much intact. Since then, not much activity. Very quaint and picturesque. The barrio historico is a world heritage site. 

The guidebook warns of the town being overrun by daytrippers from Buenos Aires, but we see very few. No problem finding accommodation. Even though it's late in the day, we have a bit of a wander. Very quiet. Hardly any traffic, foot or motor. For some reason, Colonia is home to an extraordinary number of US cars from the 1950s. Sort of a southern hemisphere Havana.

Dinner is at the Colonia Social Club, founded in 1900. In addition to low prices, it offers a creative menu; I choose the pollo con chocolate. Delicioso! The only way it could have been improved would be if they served it on a bun. The guidebook warns that there is nothing to do in the evening, but that problem solves itself because it takes half the night to get our food.


Another walk around old town early in the morning finishes the place up. The morning ferry has not yet arrived, so the town is still deserted. With nothing major left to see, we hop on the bus to Montevideo, 110 miles and 3 hours away. There's not much between here and there.


Uruguay was created a a buffer state between Argentina and Brazil, both of which wanted it. For decades it was know as "the Switzerland of South America." Stabile and prosperous, it avoided the social and economic anarchy endemic to the continent.

That was then. Troubles began in the 1970s. Today, it is caught in the squeeze of the economic travails of its two gigantic neighbors. Three large banks have closed, leaving their depositors bereft.

Montevideo is best described as genteel but shabby. It has a enormous stock of elegant, decayed buildings. Reminds me of Budapest. There are no major tourist attractions. If it weren't a port of call for cruise ships and foreign naval vessels, there would almost no tourism at all. Nonetheless, it is good for one day, which is how long the cruise ships stay.

We arrive early Friday afternoon. On Saturday afternoon it is time to leave. The ferry schedule does not mesh well with our return flight, so we take a short flight from Montevideo to Buenos Aires. After another overnight flight, we are back home on Sunday.

Trip date: November 2003