Sabbatical 2012 [Day 12] Buenos Aires – Level Up

Thanks to Pluna – we really didn’t have many options for flying out of Montevideo to get to Rio de Janeiro. So, we had to return by boat to Buenos Aires. This was not by any means a bad thing, as Buenos Aires was an awesome city. We were also excited to stay at a different part of the city – Palermo.

The ferry ride from Montevideo is quite a bit longer than Buenos Aires to Colonia, as it is basically at the opposite end of the bay. The ferry is also a lot smaller than the Colonia ferry, but also quite fast. Rest assured, despite its smaller size, it too has a duty-free store and also smells like perfume. It also has a small cafe where I discovered that you can buy the most disgusting tortilla (as in Tortilla Española) with spinach and about 1 cup of salt, pre-packaged in a plastic container left to sit in its sulfery awfulness. Two bites of that and I threw it away.

We get back to Buenos Aires. Ah, so familiar. Cab it to Palermo… wait. What is this place? Its completely different from Recoleta, and any of the parts we had walked through. Really, it is like we just arrived at a new city.

Palermo, unlike its above-ground-cemetery and walking-zombie-lady neighboring borough, has much shorter buildings that seem to be kept in very good shape. The streets are much more quaint, and have lots of interesting little cafes and restaurants – which is of course expected at this point from Buenos Aires. But they’re just a bit more chic – a bit more quaint, and the clientel is a LOT more attractive. Money and beauty may be synonymous in some places. But, maybe Palermo just attracts a different kind of person than Recoleta – like the kind of person who… doesn’t like living by a huge creepy cemetery.

Our hotel, “Five Cool Rooms” – which sounds less like a hotel and more like a sequel to a Tarantino film – was substantially nicer than the Ayres Recoleta in every regard. It was hard to spot from the street because its only facade was a door and a small sign. Once inside, it opened up to a nice, chic glass-enclosed courtyard, with no street-facing rooms. It was quiet. It smelled amazing. The beds were the most comfortable we’ve had yet on the trip. Shame, really, that we didn’t stay there to begin with. They did outright lie to us about the hot tub working, though.

Not having good food on the boat, we were both quite hungry and grabbed some food at a cool café.

Palermo even has bars in their stores. Now that is how to shop!

We walked around Palermo, realized that we needed more money from an ATM, and thought we’d go find a bank for an ATM. Simple, right? We’re in a major, well-off part of town. No, not simple. We walk to the main drag, and there are no banks. Turn around and walk further down, no banks. It was baffling. I don’t even remember when we found a bank, but it took us nearly 30 minutes of walking to find a bank, and another 10 to find one which would accept foreign cards.

Time to spend that money on drinks. On a terrace. With a nice view of a square. Complete with obnoxiously slow service that we’d come to expect at this point.

Lesson learned. Next time, stay in Palermo. A nice way to end our 2nd visit to Argentina. But bring money.

Don’t cry for me, Argentina, we’ll be back in Iguazu in just a few days after hitting up Rio de Janeiro.

Sabbatical [Day 6] Bankrupt Airline

Go directly to Buenos Aires. Do not pass Montevideo. Lose $500

Alex and I couldn’t seem to find the check-in station for Pluna Airlines at the Santiago airport. Finally, we decided we should ask at the information booth. We were told “I’m sorry, Pluna doesn’t exist anymore”.

What? Our airline doesn’t exist? No puede ser! I asked again – she again said something to the same effect. The airline went bankrupt two weeks ago, and there are no longer flights to be taken. They were supposed to be calling passengers to arrange alternate travel arrangements, but we were certainly never given any notice. No e-mail, no phone call, nothing. So much for basic customer service.

So here we are, at the airport with a phone number of a now-defunct, employee-less airline. I bought travel insurance, but Alex didn’t. We have different credit card travel insurance coverage. So, now what? I don’t want to spend another day in Santiago trying to figure stuff out or wandering around a smoggy city. We went to a random (TAM) airline and asked how much it was to go to Montevideo or Buenos Aires. They directed us to LAN, where a very friendly lady explained the Pluna situation in a bit more detail, and offered us a round-trip flight to Buenos Aires for about $400/person. Considering the circumstances, we weren’t in a huge position to complain about that price or availability, and made the reservation which we had until 12am to decide whether or not we actually wanted to pay for.

Off to a cafe with wifi. Cortado y té caliente, por favor. What does one do without internet in a situation like this?
Alex called the Buenos Aires hotel to re-book it to today via Skype. I called the Montevideo hotel to cancel it for today via T-mobile’s wifi calling. For this change, we may still be charged a night penalty. I called the credit card company to see about cancelling the charges to Pluna airlines, which they seemed to suggest would be no problem. We’ll see whether or not my travel insurance or credit card covers the price difference for the plane, or cancelled hotel reservation costs or anything.

So, travel disaster was mostly averted. We’re out some extra cash (thanks, Argentine reciprocity fee!) Our Montevideo/Buenos Aires itinerary seems to be reversed. We don’t yet know how we’ll be getting to Rio de Janeiro since that, too, was supposed to be on Pluna airlines. Here’s hoping we find something fairly inexpensive last-minute.

This was all a very eye-opening experience. Several years ago, I was baffled when I heard that Mexicana Airlines failed, and suddenly completely stopped service. No flights were in operation, employees went jobless, and brand new airplanes sat unused, essentially seized by the government. In the US, our airlines seem to go bankrupt every 15 years or so. You could probably set your calendar year by it. However, when our airlines fail, we provide a safety net called Chapter 11 Bankruptcy which allows the company to continue to operate under a highly regulated and monitored mode. This way, people don’t lose their jobs, passengers don’t lose their transportation, and the repercussions aren’t felt throughout the hotels, airports, taxi services, and entire tourism industry.

As costly, awful, frustrating and annoying as it is when companies go bankrupt, I’m now convinced that letting large companies like that fail is absolutely the worse way to go for both the social being and economic welfare of a state. Perhaps that little piece of law is part of what makes the US such a strong nation. Way to go, lawmakers & economists!

So long, Santiago. And so long, Pluna. You inconsiderate and incompetent cabrones.