Trip Report

Old Oct 19th, 2007, 12:34 PM
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Trip Report

Just back from our 2-week trip to Argentina and want to thank the many fodorites out there who helped make this trip special.

Our nonstop United flight from DC landed in Buenos Aires on Wed., Oct 3. Here we encountered our first taxi scam attempt (as we were driving out of the airport, the radio taxi driver wanted 150 pesos to take us to town.) We said that wasn't acceptable and demanded he circle back to where the taxis were lined up and we agreed upon $60 pesos with the next radio taxi. Went straight to Home Hotel, where our room was ready. Can't say enough good things about this hotel - absolutely amazing service and genuine friendliness from everyone there. Loved their cocktails at night, delightfully creative breakfast each morning, and the little touches throughout. The owner even gave us 2 10-peso bills one day from her purse when the hotel couldn't break a 50-peso bill, telling us we could reimburse her that evening. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

Anyway, that day we taxi'd to Recoleta for lunch and then off to the cemetary, amazingly having forgotten our camera! From there we went to the Evita museum, then back to Palermo to walk around and buy some wine (Lobby wine store close to Home Hotel) and finally back to the hotel to change for drinks at the bar at Home and dinner. Walked 2 blocks to Mosoq and had a fantastic dinner and the waiter's favorite wine, Maestroni (really way off on that spelling, sorry). Great service, too, both from our waiter and the owner, who does of course remember Dr. Dawggy and his party! Dinner for the 2 of us including a good bottle of wine and split appetizer and entree was about $30 US.

Next day was our private city tour lined up through Home with an excellent guide and driver. Saw the main sights and ended up at the cemetary again, this time armed with a camera. From there we walked to lunch and then taxi'd to a store that sells stones for my jewelry biz. Then we taxi'd back to the hotel in time for our massages at the hotel we had scheduled the prior week (couldn't pass up the good rates when Home emailed us). That was our tango show night - Home recommended dinner at a French bistro (Petanque) near Michelango, the tango show in San Telmo hood they also recommended. Both were very good. But here was taxi scam number 2 - this one successful. Upon leaving the tango show, granted having enjoyed quite a bit of the local vino, we were ushered into a radio taxi to ride back to Home. When David handed the driver a 50 peso bill, the driver took it and then handed it back, showing that it was ripped on the side, and said this is no good - is torn. David then handed him another 50 peso bill which he took, and then handed back saying this is no good either - is fake. We had gotten at least one of the 2 bills from the hotel, so we said wait, let's ask inside. He agreed - yes, go in and ask them. After we got out, he drove off. We thought that was odd but it wasn't til we showed the 2 bills to Home's night guard that we all realized together we had been scammed out of 2 good 50's because the driver had switched our real bills for 2 fake bills. Oh well, we lost $30 that night - it's not the end of the world.

Next day we shopped and did museums in the pouring rain; it was so dark at one point before noon that it looked like late night! Beaux arts museum was closed for some inexplicable reason but MALBA was open and really fascinating. Dinner that night was at an outstanding parilla in Palermo Soho called Cabrera Nord. Ordered salad first and split a lomo order but didn't need the salad -- the lomo came with about 15 small side dishes - along with a good bottle of Malbec was about $30 US. Even took home one of the 4 pieces of lomo to eat for our pre-dinner snack tomorrow.

Sat we took the ferry to Colonia, having arranged that through the hotel the day before. You absolutely need reservations for this ferry at least a day in advance, at least in high season. We lucked out with a beautiful sunny day though weather report had called for rain. Consistent pattern with Argentina weather forecasters - whatever they call for, expect the opposite!
Had a nice day walking around this lovely old town, whose museums were all free because of a local holiday. Nice lunch with live music (really good acoustic guitar and low key singer - bought his CD for $5 and just love it!) at Meson de la Plaza. Back to BA and off to dinner at Grappa, Italian restaurant across from Mosoq that really packs 'em in. Good food again for about $30 US.

Next day was our flight to Salta, where we stayed at Almeria Hotel, a new hotel several blocks from the main square. Here I must put in my first plug for Doug Neatherly at Flamenco Tours, to whom I turned when I couldn't book a room in Puerto Madryn. He ended up booking our hotels in PM as well as Salta, and all internal flights and hotel/airport transfers for very reasonable fees. He suggested Almeria and we were very happy with it. English is not spoken much outside BA, we found, but this staff sure tried their hardest. I had originally booked Angie for 2 days tour here, but somehow we crossed wires and ended up with just one day with her, so we hired Doug's Salta airport-transfer guide, Raul Cedolini of Balance Travel Adventure there in Salta, for the other day. Had great dinner at El Solar Del Convento, short walk from the hotel.

Next day was a tour with Raul. He is really terrific; nice guy, very good sense of humor with excellent English skills. He took us in a lovely, new minivan, with a couple from BA, on the northern drive to Purmacarca, etc. Really spectacular scenary and Raul did a great job of switching back and forth from Spanish to English with us two couples. Dinner was in our hotel that night - very good. (This was first of 2 comped by the hotel, along with massages, because the suite we had splurged on was having plumbing problems and we were downgraded to a deluxe room, which ended up to be quite satisfactory.)

Next day was with Angie on the southern drive to Cafajate (SP?). This was even more spectacular than the northern drive. Stopped at Domingo winery for tasting and buying, and then at a stone store to buy more rhodochrosite. After lunch there (goat stew - very yummy) we headed back north early to arrive back in Salta before 6 pm. Walked towards main square and hit a unisex hair salon ($4 US each for haircut for David, shampoo blowdry for me) and on to the museum on the square to see the mummy that Raul had told us about, an Inca sacrificed adolescent girl found in the ice in northern part of Argentina. Walked around this lovely square (Salta itself isn't that great) and back to hotel for our second comp'd dinner - again very good and treated like royalty by the staff.

Must sign off now - Puerto Madryn and Iguazu to follow - Claire
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Old Oct 19th, 2007, 02:01 PM
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thanks for posting look forward to the rest we are of to argentin a12/29

cheers
a/d
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Old Oct 19th, 2007, 04:27 PM
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Thanks for the report. We loved the Home Hotel, too. Great place to stay. And of course the fabulous NW!
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Old Oct 19th, 2007, 04:37 PM
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Wonderful report, more please!
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Old Oct 20th, 2007, 05:44 PM
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Wow, how disappointing about the taxi scams -- were both "remises"?
Does any one know, are certain remise companies more reliable than others?
How common are scams with remises called by your hotel or other establishments?
Do the taxi drivers have registration numbers that you can write down in case you want to make a report, or is that just one big waste of time anyway?
Should you always write down the serial number on any big bills tendered to avoid a switcheroony?
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Old Oct 21st, 2007, 05:50 PM
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Thank you for your great report claire_david2!

You seem to have had a great time and we are anxiously waiting for your next chapters about Puerto Madryn and Iguazú.

However, I'll use this thread to repeat a few DO NOTs, some of which have been highlighted by your report:

1) When you land in our international airport, DO NOT change your money in a most conveniently located place called "Global Exchange". Do it at the "Banco de la Nación", on your right, as you exit customs.

2) To go into town, I usually suggest using http://www.tiendaleon.com.ar/home/home.asp
as you can reserve online and prepay with your credit card. There are other good (and cheaper) alternatives, but most certainly DO NOT take one of the cabs which are waiting outside. This is also valid for our local airport.

3) DO NOT assume a radio taxi is better than any ordinary cab. A radio taxi is better ONLY if you CALL for one, because that way you can trace him, if there is a problem.

4) DO NOT pay a cab with a large (50 or 100 pesos) bill. If you only have large bills (which you shouldn't), be sure to tell the cab driver that the last two larger numbers and a capital letter on the bill are, for instance: "70 B". However, you could get fake change back. So, try to pay with small bills (max 20 pesos), or, even better, pay short trips with one peso coins. One good way to get change for a 100 peso bill is to go into a supermarket and buy a tin of Coke, or any small thing you may need.

5) DO NOT board cabs which are waiting in line, late at night, outside obviously touristy places, such as: Cabaña Las Lilas or any place which features a tango show. Tell your waiter that you want him to CALL a radio taxi or "remise" for you.

This leads me to berendo's questions:

a) No, I don't think the taxis mentioned by claire_david2 were "remises". A "remise" is a car with a driver, but without a meter, that you call for. They charge by the kilometer.

b) Yes, I would say some "remise companies are more reliable than others." Ask your hotel to recommend one.

c) Should be quite uncommon, because they know you can trace them.

d) Yes, the cab driver should have his identification data hanging from the front seat. DO NOT board or get off a taxi which does not have this ID clearly visible from the back seat.

HOWEVER, I hasten to add that a huge majority of BA's cabbies are great, hard-working fellows. But, like in any large town, there are a few bad apples and most of those tend to hang around touristy places, looking for targets for their scams. All my warnings are intended to deprive them of any good targets.

Have a great time in our country.







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Old Oct 21st, 2007, 06:59 PM
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Thanks Alberto for all of the advice and guidance so generously offered to visitors of your city -- a font of public service incarnate.
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Old Oct 22nd, 2007, 02:52 AM
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After having been recently referred to in this forum as "people on these forums for whatever reason are hateful or constantly knock down good ethical companies" and "these type of people that provide very little help to these boards", Mr. berendo's "a font of public service incarnate" is certainly encouraging, but most likely too generous. LOL!!!!!
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Old Oct 22nd, 2007, 03:12 AM
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BTW, Mr. berendo, my name is avrooster!!! Most of my forum friends simply call me "AV". LOL!!!
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Old Oct 22nd, 2007, 07:27 AM
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AV - Thanks for the clarifications here. The distinction you make is really crucial - it's not enough that it's a radio taxi, it's the calling ahead for the taxi that's important. Also, there is a taxi number on the back of each taxi if you have the forethought to look at and memorize it; however, the guard at Home said even had we done so it's not likely the police would do much even though counterfeit money was involved. In any event, we didn't let it ruin our trip and we certainly agree that most of the taxi drivers we met were very kind, honest, and hard working people.

Next phase of report coming soon - Claire
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Old Oct 22nd, 2007, 07:38 AM
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Thank you, Claire.

Unfortunately, I wholly agree that it would be a complete waste of time to go to the police to complain about the scam. You have to PREVENT the scam from taking place.

I'm certainly glad you didn't let it ruin your trip and we look forward to your next chapters.

And, why not, to having you back in our country soon.

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Old Oct 22nd, 2007, 02:15 PM
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Next part of the Argentina Adventure: After 3 nights in Salta we flew in the morning to Puerto Madryn, arriving early afternoon. We were shocked at how cold and windy it was and after checking into Villa Piren (GREAT room - balcony and floor-ceiling windows overlooking the cove where whales hang out all day!!!), dumped our bags and set off to buy warmer gear and lunch. Stores were doing booming business that day selling fleece jackets, vests, etc. Had lunch (pizza) at El Classico with dark local beer - excellent. Spent the rest of the afternoon shopping for gifts for family. Finally zeroed in on one store for all of the grands and picked out fleece vests for all of the sizes only to find they didn't take credit cards. Decided to keep looking before we fork over cash.

A side note here - all through Argentina we found that our ATM cards only allowed us to extract 300 pesos/day (both bank with Suntrust) - this puts a real damper on cash spending.

For dinner that night we bundled up and walked the approx 10 blocks to a seafood restaurant Youquina, recommended by Jeff, our travel agent from Flamenco Tours located a block from Villa Piren. It's right on the water, so a breezy walk to and from. Very good seafood.

Next day was our private tour to Punta Tombo penguin rookery arranged by Jeff with Jeff as our guide. He's from the US and has lived there 2 years, so it was really interesting to hear his stories of adapting to life there, especially the trial and tribulations of buying a car and getting a driver's license in Argentina. Anyway, the penguin rookery was terrific and we spent easily 2+ hours there. This is breeding season, with the babies due to be born (hatched I guess) in December. The hundreds of thousands of penguins that come ashore there to build their nests and breed and raise their young have been doing so there for thousands of years. Weather today was somewhat warmer.

On the way back we stopped in Gaiman, the 17th (18th?) century Welsh town for lunch (late) and to drive around. It made for a nice side trip but isn't high on my list of great sights.

That night was dinner at another restaurant Jeff recommended for its grilled lamb - cordero - La Vieja Esquina. We did our usual split and once again it was more than enough food! Outstanding meal - as usual about $33 US.

Following day was our group whale watching/Valdes Peninsula tour. This was a minivan of 18 people with the guide alternating between Spanish and English very well. First major sight was the elephant seals laid out on the beach. Groups can quietly watch from a ledge about 30 feet from them, elevated about 10 feet, a short walk down from the restaurant/gift shop above. Had quite a good lunch there of various unnamed veggie dishes.

Then on to the whale watching boat. Quite amazing operation - a tractor pushes the boat trailer, to which is attached a staircase similar to small airplane boarding stairs. The tractor actually enters the water and pushes the boat contraption way out into the water, releasing the boat from the trailer/staircase once its wheels are nearly submerged. Spotted whales almost right away and for the next hour 2 whales hung around the boat, with one coming right up beside the boat at least twice. Truly an amazing experience. Long drive back to town, passing some gray foxes, guanacas, goats, sheep, horses, and a morro?

Dinner that night was at Club Nautico, for more fish, but it was our least favorite restaurant of the trip. Here we found the only person in the country with a bad attitude - our waitress! Fortunately other wait staff there tried to compensate by their friendliness and helpfulness.

Next installation will be the flight(s) from hell to Iguazu! Claire

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Old Oct 23rd, 2007, 09:32 AM
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This is a wonderful report. Very helpful as I want to return to Argentina and you've given me many ideas of things to do.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2007, 09:53 AM
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And when should we expect you here, SharonG?
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Old Oct 23rd, 2007, 10:06 AM
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We knew our luck with internal flights was due to run out and sure enough, when we checked into the airport at Trelew to fly back to BA and from there to Iguazu we were informed the domestic airport in BA (Newberry) was to close at noon that day. So Aerolineas Argentina was putting us on a flight leaving EZE at 4:30 that afternoon and that AA would be responsible for getting us from Newberry to EZE. When we landed at Newberry we went to the AA info kiosk and a very efficient worker there told us we could still make it on the next flight out from Newberry, due to leave at noon, which was in about 15 minutes. She even arranged for our luggage to be placed on that plane. After great confusion for about 30 minutes over which gate to wait at (gate 5 said to go to gate 9, who said to go to gate 5, and the TV screen said to ask the gate agent), which might have been humerous were it not for the fact that we were supposed to be boarding then, we actually did board through gate 6! After sitting on the plane a good hour, we were told to get off due to mechanical problems and that we'd be getting on busses to go to EZE for a flight there at 6:30. This meant claiming our luggage (all of ours had actually made it on this flight) at Newberry, putting it on the bus, and rechecking it at EZE. Upon our eventual arrival at EZE we were given dinner at a cafe there. When we landed at Iguazu finally it was dark and the airport was closed down except for us. Our prearranged airport transfer wasn't there to meet us, so we took a taxi to be reimbursed the following day.

We stayed at the Sheraton, using points for a falls view room on the SPG floor, which has the best views of the falls of anywhere in the hotel. When we awoke the next morning, we could finally see the glorious falls we had been able to at least hear the night before. Fantastic view - worth the trip! We shot many pix and then the little bit of sun disappeared behind clouds and it began to rain, which continued heavily all day. So after breakfast (by far the most elaborate and the first eggs we had encountered on the trip), we put on our tevas and rain gear and walked out from the hotel to the upper and lower circuit trails.

We were most impressed by the design of these trails - very easy to walk on with metal grating similar to what you find in ski resorts in the western US, with well designed stairs, railings, etc. Both circuits are well worth doing and give amazing views of the falls. After a surprisingly good lunch at the Sheraton, we shopped in the arcade and began to repack our bags for our return home the next day to the US. In the late afternoon, we had arranged a remise through the Sheraton for $30 US that would give us a minivan and driver for 4 hours. We headed to the town of Puerto Iguazu and stopped at the huge bead and stone store just outside town. Bought more rhodochrosite - prices here again were high, as most of their strands are finished necklaces. I looked at other stones and was surprised at how high the prices were for such poor quality stones, though their rhodochrosite was nicer quality than what I had bought in Buenos Aires. Spent quite a long time selecting stones and negotiating prices. They don't negotiate much in Argentina!

Then it was off to dinner at a restaurant recommended by our driver, Juan, which turned out to be probably the best lomo we've ever had in our lives, including Ruth's Chris and Morton's. It's called Parilla el Quincho and is extremely popular. When we arrived at about 7:30 it was already almost full and all of the tables turned at least once while we were there, from the tourist early crowd to the local later crowd. It was packed when we left. Again, another terrific meal including a great wine for $33 US! What a great way to end the trip!

Next day it was off to the airport (Newberry was reopened by now), where we picked up the Manuel Tienda Leon bus to the San Martin station, locked up all of our luggage, hung out on Calle Florida for a few hours, then bussed on to EZE for our return flight home.

Which reminds me - there is a departure tax of $18 US per person from EZE back to the US. We wasted a good hour trying to find an ATM that would dispense US cash at EZE so we could pay it, finally getting out pesos from an ATM instead, only to find that, contrary to the United ticket agent's instructions, we could pay for the tax using credit cards.

Don't wait to buy good local wines at duty free - prices there are outrageously high compared to the cost in the stores.

What a wonderful country, with the nicest people we have ever encountered, great wines, even better prices!!, great beef and lamb, in a country that has incredible landscapes, natural phenoms like penguins and whales, and a wonderful capitol city like BA.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2007, 10:19 AM
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Thank you, claire_david2 and be sure to send us all your friends!

When do we expect you back?
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Old Oct 23rd, 2007, 10:39 AM
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Avrooster, I'm waiting till Scarlett gets her home in order so I can stay for free
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Old Oct 23rd, 2007, 10:48 AM
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I wonder if you went to the same stone store in Iguazu the taxi driver took me, it was on the main road on the way to the Iguazu Grand Hotel. I remember one of the women who worked there was really tall, they sold figurines, necklaces etc. made out of various stones along with the loose ones. I thought the quality was good and very reasonable, but then again, we were there three years ago. I bought my Mom a lot of stones for about $50.00

Anyway, enjoyed your report, glad to hear you had a great time in AR.

One more piece of advice for people travelling, I bring along about $300 of small American $ ($1s and $5s) to avoid the difficulty of finding places to break the $100 and $50 AR bills you get from the ATMS. We never had any difficulty with paying with dollars.
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Old Oct 23rd, 2007, 11:38 AM
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Owlwoman - Yes, it was your stone store that I was looking for, and they did sell figurines, so I imagine it was the same store. It would seem that prices have really jumped since you were there. I believe that jewelry design as a craft has really taken off in recent years, which has resulted in fairly hefty increases in stone prices everywhere. Plus we must realize that while the stones might be indigenous to a country like Peru or Argentina, from what I understand they are usually sent off to China for polishing, drilling, etc., where the cost of labor is so low. So the stones I buy at large shows in the US are mostly from China -- fairly low cost and high quality. I'm sure labor costs in Argentina are much higher if that is indeed where the stones are finished.

Yes, I agree that we were surprised that everyone seemed to accept payment in small U.S. bills, which we brought a good supply of (and in good condition, as torn or badly wrinkled US bills aren't generally accepted anywhere outside the US).
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Old Oct 23rd, 2007, 01:28 PM
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Sorry to hear about the plane mess, but I have to laugh about the lack of gate information, because even though our flights on AA were all on time last November, we had a real scare waiting in the airport to go to Salta when there was no gate information for our flight and no attendant to help us for quite a while.

Iguazu sounds so amazing. next trip to Argentina, that's first on my list.
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