Our first week away from home is almost over, and what a week it has been. We left our lives in Portland on Wednesday, February 4th, visited my parents in Cannon Beach, OR and then headed up with the rest of our stuff (including our pooch, Hurley) to Jenny’s parents place in Gig Harbor, WA to finalize packing and see a few friends in the Seattle area. We then flew to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Our adventure began in Buenos Aires (BA) on Wednesday, February 11; that was after an overnight flight from SeaTac on Tuesday into Wednesday. Since we started our trip we can’t keep the days straight so have summarized our first week into the categories below. The following are not in any particular order, but will give you a good idea of our BA adventure!
We stayed in one of the artsier neighborhoods in BA: Palermo. We stayed an Air BnB studio apartment on the second floor. It had a decent bed, mediocre kitchen, a bidet (haha) and a pretty nice pool out back that we used a few times. We cabbed to the apartment and met the owner of the unit. She didn’t speak very good english, so my spanish lessons started paying off right off the bat. We got the quick details from Graciela about the apartment, where to get groceries and how to navigate the area. Then we were left to begin the adventure together.
Adventures & Highlights
Unlike most travelers our age, our goal in a big cities like BA is not to try the best bars or out to nightclubs, but rather enjoy the sites and culture in different ways. We prefer to wake up early to explore a local park instead of staying out late drinking vino. Don’t get me wrong, we love the Argentinian wine, but while traveling our priorities are different. Here are the highlights from our week in the big city of Buenos Aires…
Running Tour – No need for a bus when you have your own two legs. On our second morning we did a 10k running tour. It is a bit crazy to tour a city while running and we should have done the tour on day three due to jet lag, but we had a great time. Even other Porteños (BA citizens) and fellow tourists we told about this tour thought we were a bit crazy and couldn’t believe a running tour existed. But, alas, we did an Urban Running Tour of our neighborhood (Palermo) and saw . Our “guide” was a 4 time Ironman finisher so Jenny had no problem striking up conversation with her. She was a public accountant by day and running guide/training fanatic by night. She toured us around our neighborhood and the sites and explaining the culture throughout BA in the hot sunshine. Did you know 3 million people live in Buenos Aires and there are 12 million total in the metro area! The cities population density amazed us. Portland has nothing on this place! For more of our fitness adventures, check out the Trainer Jenny blog.
Argentine Experience (link) – Touristy: check; Fun: absolutely. Thanks to Karen Garaventa who recommended this experience to us after she visited BA. It was a place where tourists could sit and talk together (in English) and hear about their travels, their story, recommendations and it was totally needed on day three (see challenges below). But, this wasn’t just a dinner party, we took part in lots of fun activities as well which puts this under our budget categories: entertainment, food, alcohol. The first activity of the night was to learn how to make empanadas! Our hilarious host provided the instruction then passed out the dough and fillings. We then got to work filling, closing, and shaping the empanadas. Next was something very fun: a creative empanada making competition; this consisted of two pieces of dough to make whatever design you wanted. I started with an abstract one that had one area with meat, one with cheese and one with the Malbec reduced onions, it then turned into an elephant. Jenny created a dolphin. There was a prize for the best empanada, and the winner was a really cool design: an elephant! That’s right, out of 15 people, I won the contest! Look for me on their facebook page soon. I’m famous….just kidding. Next we ate our first Argentinian steak, that we ordered ‘jugoso’ which is Argentinean for ‘medium rare’ and they were both spot on and tasted amazing. We then learned how to “take” mate (Yerba Mate is a common tea beverage for all ages) and how to make traditional Argentinian cookies (galletas). Mixed in there was a flight of 3 different wines and a cocktail, too. We connected best with the gal Jenny sat next to who works as an ecologist on a cruise ship and was taking a break after being at sea for a while, and a man from Melbourne, Australia. He and I bonded over working at startups and single malt scotch. He also gave us some advice for Peru which we can’t wait for. We walked away from the night full to the brim and a bit buzzed.
Recoleta Cemetery – Words can’t describe how uniquely beautiful this cemetery is. It’s like a city of tombs where grave after grave is (or was) intricately crafted together. We wondered through the labyrinth of grave sites astounded at the amount of time it took to build and craft each one. We spent an hour wondering, taking photos and hoping to stubble upon Eva Perón (presidents of Argentina, Nobel Prize winners, the founder of the Argentine Navy and a granddaughter of Napoleon). We just happened upon Evita’s grave since she was put to rest in her family’s grave site which is under a different last name. After leaving this place it felt like we started hitting our stride as tourists.
A night out with new friends, Francisco and Carolina – One of Jenny’s best friends, Jean, connected us with the sister of one of her old coworker who was from BA: Carolina. She and her husband took us out on Sunday, February 15 (our last night in the big city) for an amazing time. We drove out along the water to a view point of the city. Then around the city of Olivos to see the official residence of the President of Argentina (the name of this compound is the Quinta Presidencial de Olivos).
6k Run at the Ecological Reserve – We have a goal of staying active and seeing how locals stay active in the places we visit. After all, Jenny might get the itch to run a race somewhere we travel. On day four we visited Puerto Madero decked out in our running gear to run in the ecological reserve. This was a place along the water for locals to run, bike, walk and get away from the city. There were a few tourists, but it seemed like a local getaway and training ground for active Porteños. Our 6k run was hot in the mid-day sun, but the breeze from the Rio De Plata and shade from the arboles was great. Post-run we shared a big bowl of salmon ravioli in pesto sauce and a big salad. Muy bueno!
Exchanging money on Florida Street – Argentina has an inflation problem and the USD and EURO are treated like gold, or at least worth 1.5 times what the government rate is at the bank. That means that if you bring USD to exchange in the “blue market” you’ll stretch your dollar. We were a little uneasy going to the streets with a ton of people coming up to us asking “cambio? cambio? change dollars? cambio?”, but sucked it up. Our first exchange was with a gal from Australia who filled us in on how it works. It’s actually an activity done by Argentinians when they get money (dollars) from overseas somewhere. But, it’s also for tourists. She makes money on commission, and we get a great rate ($12.9 pesos vs. $8.4) for our dollars. We went back a few days later and exchanged money in a magazine stand. Pretty strange, but it’s the way to go if you have dollars and need pesos.
Gym Stations & Free Gym Pass at Megatlon – It should come as no surprise that Jenny loves fitness, and staying fit on this trip is a goal of hers. So, we seeked out a gym to try out — Megatlon. I used my Spanish to get us a free pass for a day, and we worked out for an hour at this nice club. Jenny took me through a kettle bell workout and we tested out their machines. The unique thing we noticed was that the machines they used actually count the reps you do, in addition to letting you know how your range of motion is on the machine — it was a cool concept.
No matter how much you plan, you’re always going to run into snags and issues. Our first few were not easy, but we made it through and things are looking up!
Culture shock – This is the usual stuff, but it was hard – especially for Jenny. Language barrier, trying to fit existing food & diet patterns to the new place, city cleanliness (or, lack of), money conversion and budgeting all came up early in our trip. I have been studying Spanish for the past 4.5 months and listening to Spanish podcasts, so the fact that noone spoke English either to us or around us didn’t shock me as much, but for Jenny it was fairly overwhelming.
Jet lag – It wasn’t just jetlag, it was rather our unawareness of how it might affect us, or our lack of respect for it. We’re active people (see above), and sitting around and just “taking time to adjust” wasn’t really in our plans. I mean, come on, we scheduled a 10k running tour on the second day at 8am (3am PST, where we just were 2 days ago). While the run was pleasant, it probably worked against us and then we had tired bodies and minds trying to fight the culture shock, no bueno.
Misalignment between us – Compounded with jet lag and culture shock, a few misalignments came up in a few difficult moments between us. Don’t get us wrong, we’ve read and learned from others that a trip like this isn’t rainbows and roses the whole time, but to have us upset at each other and unexcited for the decision to take this trip was a slap in the face on the second and third days of our trip. Part of this comes from the fact that we were at different career points back home (Jenny getting her feet under her as a trainer; Will working in software tech for 8 years straight) which leads us to have some different outlooks and goals for the trip. These issues came to a head very early, and we had to work through them together. We’re still working on them to align ourselves, but a major storm has rolled on, just like we’ve rolled on to cleaner air and better adventures in Bariloche, AR. I think all we needed was some outdoor adventure in nature!
Takeaways/Recommendations & Noted Differences
Here’s a light list of the things we noticed, learned, and recommend for us and others that travel in the future.
- Take plenty of time pre-trip to discuss goals, expectations, fears, excitements, etc for the trip. We did this to a certain extent, but really would have benefitted from more of it.
- Sleep as much as possible on the flight so you’re well rested enough to navigate your way out of the airport to a good cab company.
- Before signing up for 5+ days in a big, new city, make sure it’s something you really want to do. I wouldn’t classify us as “city people” and 5 days was too long. We wanted more adventure, more outdoors, more fresh air, much less cigarette smoke and no dog poop in the streets.
- Jenny and I learned that we have different thresholds for uncertainty and a different outlook on planning. We’ll be compromising more in the future and I’ll work on being more structured and organized with planning, and Jenny will work on getting more comfortable with going with the flow.
- They sit down in chairs to check you out at the grocery stores and you have to always bag yourself. Bring your own bag.
- Their traffic lights change from green to yellow to red, to yellow to green. There is a little pre-start heads up that traffic is about to get started again. I guess it’s common in european countries, something that was new to me.
- No liquid rule at the airport is exempt — or at least it was when we flew from BA to Bariloche.
- People don’t respect the sidewalks with respect to their dogs poop. We saw a lot of beagles that reminded of us of Hurley, plenty of retrievers, and others in between. But with that, we also saw a lot of dog poop! All over the sidewalks there is dog poop; watch your step. This is likely another reason that first floor shop owners wash their sidewalks every morning.
- Not the healthiest food options — we should have packed almond butter and almond milk. But the small street markets with fresh fruits and veggies are everywhere and bueno!