The overnight Aerolineas Argentinas flight touched down just as the sun began to rise over a new day in Buenos Aires.
My knowledge of the Argentine capital could be boiled down to four things: soccer, steak, wine, and tango.
For better or worse, everything else would be a surprise.
I quickly cleared immigrations and customs, gaining a 90-day stay in the process, and booked a taxi to Michael and Stephanie's apartment outside the baggage claim area.
Along the 50-minute drive downtown, thoughts tumbled around in my mind like clothes in a dryer.
Excitement. I'd be seeing Mike and Steph for the first time in almost two years. And the following day I'd be meeting my G Adventures tour group for Patagonia.
Anxiety. Another large city, with all the potential dangers one can expect (and even worse, the ones you don't expect).
If you're visiting Buenos Aires on vacation, I'd definitely recommend single trip travel insurance to cover you in case something goes wrong. For those visiting Argentina as part of a RTW trip, go with worldwide travel insurance instead.
Upon arriving at my friend's apartment, I rang the buzzer and Mike came down to let me in.
Apparently it's the norm for the doors to apartment buildings to be locked from the inside.
Sounds like a fire hazard to me, but that's the first thing that struck me as different from the US.
Upstairs, after dropping my bags, Mike unveiled a plate full of sticky, sweet pastries.
A norm of Argentine living is to start your day with the sweetest pastries your corner bakery has to offer.
Guiltlessly eating gooey, dulce de leche-laden pastries ran counter to everything I'd learned about eating healthy.
I delved in, like a true Argentine, but couldn't help but feel guilty as I licked my fingers. As if I was indulging in the one or two freshly baked Dunkin Donuts I'll have every year.
After catching a short nap, Mike took me to one of the main Movistar offices so I could pick up a micro-SIM card for my iPhone.
The office was a big, 2-storey affair with futuristic lighting, attentive staff, and a fully automated queueing system.
It was a few years ahead of any Tigo office I'd encountered in Medellin, though Peru's Movistar offices were also well organized.
After accomplishing our mission at the Movistar office, we walked into nearby El Ateneo, an old theater converted into a bookstore. It was grandiose, and certainly unlike any bookstore I'd seen before. The cafe was situated on the old stage.
I made a mental note to return here if I was in the market for meeting smart girls.
Unfortunately, Steph mentioned that despite the bookstore's appeal, they stocked very few books in English, which is ironic considering it's now a tourist destination.
Closer to the apartment, we grabbed lunch.
I must've been hungry, because I ordered a meat, possibly pork, smothered in blue cheese, with a side of mashed potatoes.
This was my first encounter with the rather generous portion sizes in Argentina.
I purposefully left half the potatoes on the plate, and I took it as a warning sign of what I'd be facing in the meals ahead.
In the afternoon, Mike lead us through Recoleta, an upscale part of town with tree-lined streets reminiscent of New York City.
Every cafe and restaurant we passed seemed to have WiFi.
Another similarity with New York City, and a degree of connection I've yet to see in any other South American city.
We ultimately made our way to La Recoleta Cemetery, where I battled tour groups to get a clear shot of Eva Peron's mausoleum.
It was anti-climactic at best, as the rest of the cemetery is just as interesting, if not more so, but a “must do” for anyone visiting the city.
As we made our way back to the apartment, someone suggested gelato.
I'm a huge ice cream fan, and I'd heard Steph mention the ice cream here, but I wasn't prepared for how much better it was than the ice cream I'd gotten in Colombia, Ecuador, and most recently, Peru.
It was on par with gelato in a major US city, like New York, or dare I even say, Italy.
We shared a quarter kilo with three different flavors.
I'd later learn the dangerous fact that I could polish a quarter kilo off on my own.
Back at the apartment, Mike introduced me to mate, the traditional tea Argentinians love to drink.
There are lots of unwritten rules related to drinking mate, and it's not unlike sharing sheeshah in the Middle East.
One person is responsible for preparing the mate, which includes adding the tea, positiniong the metal straw, and filling it with hot water.
The cup is then handed to someone, who sips it all, and returns it to the person doing the preparation.
You should only say “thank you” if you do not want to receive a refill after everyone else has been offered a cup. Otherwise the preparer will take it as a sign that you're finished.
It's a communal experience, where the sharing of saliva with family and friends, new or old, seems irrelevant.
In the evening, we went to La Cabrera in Palermo.
Argentinians eat late at night, say 9 or 10 PM, so restaurants like La Cabrera run discounted service earlier in the evening to bring in extra business. And it works like a charm.
We arrived before the doors opened, and once they did, the restaurant filled up within minutes.
Mostly foreigners of course, but when you're getting 50% off everything on the menu, who can blame us?
Mike ordered three different kinds of steak for the table, along with a salad and bottle of red wine.
The portions are normally so big, the waiter took it upon himself to halve our order. And it was still more than we could all consume.
Perhaps the best part of the meal was the price tag. We each paid $23 (tip included) for this belly-busting meal.
We took a short walk through the upscale Palermo neighborhood where the restaurant was located, before hopping a cab back to the apartment.
Sleep came easily that night.
What You Need to Know
Eva Peron is buried at La Recoleta Cemetery (Avenida Pueyrredón in Recoleta). All taxi drivers will know it. Admission is free. Hours: Daily from 8am – 6pm. Once you arrive, take your time wandering through the maze of crypts. Look for the tour groups to find Eva Peron's.
La Cabrera is located at JA Cabrera 5099 in Palermo Viejo. Tel: (011) 4831 7002. Arrive before the doors open at 7:30 pm to take advantage of the 50% off discount (which applies to the whole menu). La Cabrera is currently ranked #25 out of over 1,100 Buenos Aires restaurants on Trip Advisor.
This post was written by me, and brought to you by Insure & Away.