Into the Wilds of Buenos Aires

by Keith Savage · 31 comments


The plane descended with surprising alacrity and the wheels finally touched down at Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza airport. From inside the cabin, thousands of feet above the earth, the countryside of Buenos Aires province looked a lot like my home state of Wisconsin. Farm fields quilted the land in regular and irregular shapes. As we taxied to the gate, I inhaled a deep breath. After 24 hours of travel, from Sarah driving me to the bus stop in Madison to riding to Chicago’s O’Hare airport to the flight to Houston to the long flight to Buenos Aires, a new leg of the journey was about to begin.

Marcello, of Wandering Trader, had kindly agreed to host me for the couple of days I’d be in Buenos Aires. We chatted before I left and he had arranged for a cab driver to meet me in arrivals with a sign that said “Keith Traveling Savage.” Secretly, I was really looking forward to taking a picture of that. After spending an hour in line for immigration and the $140USD reciprocity fee, I quickly managed to weave my way through baggage claim and customs.

A pair of doors retracted to reveal a chaotic arrivals foyer. Approximately 40 men and women held signs up looking for travelers. I cruised through the crowd and scanned the placards. After one pass, I hadn’t seen my name. Two, then three passes. Nothing. My mouth had gone slightly dry. Perhaps the cabbie left – I had landed over an hour ago. I waited nervously for a few minutes hoping my guide would show up. With no cell service or WiFi, I couldn’t contact Marcello.

This ride was not going to materialize, so I went to the Taxi Remis stand to book a ride down to San Telmo. By some miracle, I had remembered Marcello’s address (or at least I thought I had…). One hundred and thirty pesos lighter, I was soon in a taxi and leaving the bucolic fields surrounding Ezeiza airport.

Any tiredness from my trip evaporated in the sudden stress of ruined plans. My mind raced as we crawled through ridiculously heavy traffic and frequent tolls, which the cab driver paid in cash. Cities are rarely beautiful from major roadways, and Buenos Aires was no different. The city was vaguely European, like how your reflection in a glass bowl only kind of looks like you, the spacing, angles, and proportions a bit off. We penetrated the gridlock and entered into the heart of San Telmo. My own heart was seizing in culture shock.

The cab driver dumped me on the corner of Plaza Dorrego and zoomed off. Was this Marcello’s place? The door had buzzers for 20 different apartments. The cabbie who was supposed to pick me up was also supposed to press the right button. I laughed at the flimsiness of the plan and buzzed the doorman. We gestured back and forth like a couple of monkeys, he didn’t speak English and I, apparently, didn’t speak Spanish, but he didn’t know of Marcello. It availed me little, and at one point I heard him call me “loco.” He wasn’t about to let me in without an escort, so I fell back on finding an internet cafe where I could contact Marcello. The doorman and another random man from the street provided detailed directions to a locutorio (que es eso?) in Spanish and, bewildered, I wandered off down the cobbled street, not sure if I was even in the right neighborhood.

A block later, as I scanned shambled store fronts and loaded with my bags, someone behind me yelled “Are you looking for Marcello?” I spun around, hope leaping into my throat. A pale man with longish blond hair walked toward. His name was Jeff and he was Marcello’s uncle. And he was my savior. Moments later, we were inside Marcello’s apartment (I did have the correct address!) and the adrenaline of the journey was receding.

Travel is full of hurdles. Within moments of landing my small plans were in the scrap heap and I had to rely on my instincts and action. The key is to figure out a new way, to act, and to not freeze up. In the thick of the moment, we might be wrung out with stress, dry-mouthed, and sweating, but it is these moments that we often look back on with pride and a new sense of confidence.


ClaireNo Gravatar November 16, 2010 at 8:34 AM

Those hurdles we encounter usually make for the best stories! Thanks for sharing, I felt like I was right there with ya!

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 16, 2010 at 6:37 PM

Glad to hear it had that effect on you, Claire!

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StephanieNo Gravatar November 14, 2010 at 10:56 AM

When I went to Beijing, I planned to meet a friend in the Beijing airport. Our planes were supposed to land around the same time so no problem, right. Alas, a country that supports millions of people has to have a sufficiently large airport and, as soon as I arrived, I realized the silliness of the plan. All we had to go one was my friend was going to wear green pants. In baggage claim, like a beacon, I spotted a pair of lime green pants. Fate may favor the prepared but God takes pity on fools.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 16, 2010 at 6:39 PM

You and your lime green pants, bah! Glad it worked out for you. Regardless, these little hiccups don’t sabotage the trip. If anything, they enhance it.

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KristinNo Gravatar November 13, 2010 at 1:54 PM

This is the perfect “Just landed” story! You encountered the crazy airport welcome, the oh $hit moments, the delicate balance of trust with taxi drivers where you’re not sure they’re going to rip you off or help you, and then finally incredible catharsis and relief that everything will be OK.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 13, 2010 at 2:42 PM

It’s true, kind of an archetypal story. It just repeated itself on my trip to Salta, too.

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AndiNo Gravatar November 13, 2010 at 12:26 PM

Oh gosh, what a start to your journey! Did you find out why the guy wasn’t at the airport with your sign??? I love that everything worked out in the end, it always does. I think BsAs is pretty from the highway though haha. Maybe I’m just too enchanted with the city though. 😉

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 13, 2010 at 1:48 PM

I should have put this at the end! The cab driver’s car broke down and he got a hold of Marcello about 15 minutes before my arrival. Marcello tried to contact me, but I didn’t have access to cell service or wifi.

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JaimeNo Gravatar November 12, 2010 at 10:58 PM

Ja great way to start a trip with some troubles. I see at as a good thing cus well now you have your troubles behind you 😉

Congrats again on making your dream 100% reality now!!! SO excited for you and can’t wait to read more.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 13, 2010 at 1:45 PM

Thanks Jaime. There’s really no avoiding setbacks on a trip like this. You just need to take them on the chin and keep going.

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KenNo Gravatar November 12, 2010 at 6:55 AM

Nothing like an adrenaline rush to start the trip. Sounds like you handled it well and had a good time with Marcello. I’m looking forward to my vicarious travels in Argentina via your blog.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 12, 2010 at 1:16 PM

I’m in the executive lounge at the Marriott Plaza Hotel in downtown Buenos Aires right now courtesy of Tim Kubichek. I leave on the bus for Salta in a couple of hours.

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Anca aNo Gravatar November 12, 2010 at 6:30 AM

What would be a trip without a little bit of suspance? Luckily, you did remember the address…. Buenos Aires is a town where one could easily get lost.
And you have to admit that after the firts moment of panic, when you succeed in finding a solution, the whole experience gives you a sense of power , confidence and pride.
San Telmo is fascinating with all its music and tango and antiquities. Hope you liked it.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 12, 2010 at 1:21 PM

I liked San Telmo. It felt very down to earth and real. Didn’t see any tango, but the bars and restaurants were good.

It’s true, a journey like this without suspense and stress would feel somehow less whole.

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Ted NelsonNo Gravatar November 12, 2010 at 1:53 AM

It is crazy how travel can throw you a curve when you think you have everything planned out. I can only imagine the relief when you finally hooked up with Marcello.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 12, 2010 at 1:23 PM

Yes, very relieving. I just needed a moment to decompress after all of the traveling.

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AnthonyNo Gravatar November 12, 2010 at 12:48 AM

Glad to see you got there in the end Keith. Looking forward to hearing your take on Argentina, enjoy yourself.

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 12, 2010 at 1:23 PM

Cool, thanks Anthony!

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Amrae7No Gravatar November 11, 2010 at 12:59 PM

Sounds like the start of an amazing adventure Keith! I will be following you the entire way via this blog! Planning my South America trip for 2011. Have fun and be free! x

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 11, 2010 at 3:59 PM

Thanks Amrae! Things are going well but I need some sleep. 🙂

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EugeniaNo Gravatar November 11, 2010 at 12:32 PM

Ohhhhhhh!!! Well… what can I say? Welcome to crazy Buenos Aires! 😀

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 11, 2010 at 3:53 PM

Thanks Eugenia. Craziness is only crazy until you understand it and acclimate to it. Getting there, though I’m off to Salta tomorrow.

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EugeniaNo Gravatar November 11, 2010 at 9:57 PM

Oh! Enjoy Salta, lovely place! Will you be back in Buenos Aires?

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 11, 2010 at 11:38 PM

I’ll be back in BA before I fly out, around December 9th.

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lara dunstonNo Gravatar November 11, 2010 at 12:17 PM

San Telmo, my favourite ‘hood! We rented an apartment there a few years ago when we wrote LP’s BA Encounter guide. So many great memories – esp of late night drinks at the local bars! Only got back there a couple of times this trip cause we were focused on Palermo mainly. You’re going to love it!

We actually got away without paying for that visa this time. Flew into Jorge Newberry airport instead as we were coming from Rio – no charge, still free! Amazing.

Make sure to check out our stories (esp our staying safe story!) if you haven’t already and let us know if you need tips. http://grantourismotravels.com/tag/buenos-aires/

Have fun!

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 11, 2010 at 3:58 PM

Lara, thanks for the comment! I’ve been reading your Buenos Aires’ posts religiously these past couple of weeks. Very helpful and informative. From what I’ve heard, Newberry is closed and a lot of flights out of Ezeiza have been canceled due to overload. Lucky you to avoid the fee, though it does last for 10 years!

Thanks for the link, I’ll check it out.

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AdamNo Gravatar November 11, 2010 at 12:15 PM

Haha, great way to start your adventures. What better way than some good old fashioned confusion. Not sure about your Spanish ability, but it’s a whole new ballgame in Argentina. We thought we had a great grasp on the language after a few months in Peru and Bolivia, but when we crossed the border into Argentina, it was like a completely different language.

Hopefully things will settle down a bit for you after your interesting start. Can’t wait to read more about your adventures. Have a great time in BsAs, it’s an awesome city. Love that you’re staying in San Telmo, too. Hit up El Desnivel for an awesome and cheap steak dinner. Have fun!

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 11, 2010 at 3:38 PM

Hey Adam, my Spanish is weak at best. I’m sure it will get better along the way here. Funny that you mention Desnivel – that’s where we ate last night. The chorizo was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. San Telmo is very cool.

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