Argentina-Ruining a Good Bottle of Wine

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March 15th 2010
Published: March 15th 2010
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Affordable Wine? What????Affordable Wine? What????Affordable Wine? What????

We splurge at a nice restaurant and get a $6 bottle of red, much more than we usually pay in this country.
Argentina—Ruining a Good Bottle of Wine

The only bad thing about Argentina is that you have to pay $130 to get into it. At first it seems ridiculous that anyone should have to pay so much just for the privilege of entering a country until we found out why they charge such a high fee. They call it a reciprocal fee, and charge it to Americans because we charge them even more. “But then you get to be in America,” I tried to tell them. They didn’t see my point.

Unfortunately, as I opened my wallet to get my credit card, I found it was missing. Immediately I knew what had happened. It was something I had been trying to avoid doing through our entire trip: I had left my card in the ATM machine.


Even worse, I had left it in the ATM in Lima, Peru of all places. Probably the most dangerous place we had yet been on our travels. At least I remembered to get the money, I thought to myself, trying to assume a face the airport staff would recognize as frustrated and angry. I wanted to come across as properly flabbergasted that my card was missing so they wouldn’t think I didn’t want to pay—I just couldn’t. I briefly hoped maybe they would take pity on us and let us get into the country for free, but that was short-lived. We did have enough cash to pay for me to go through. What followed was an annoying rush to get our luggage from baggage claim so I could get our back-up card from another bank, which was buried deep in Alisa’s pack. I got our bags, came back and paid for Alisa with the other card. It was an auspicious start to our three-week backpacking trip across Argentina.

We sat down at a café in the airport to freeze my Chase account, and transfer the money to the Wells Fargo card. Alisa was feeling smug because just before leaving the card in the ATM I had berated her for not properly keeping track of the cash in her purse. Many times through our trip through Central America, Alisa would reach into her purse, or the back pocket of a pair of jeans, and find a few hundred dollars she had forgotten about. I had finally had it, sternly rebuked her flighty brain, then promptly left my card in the ATM machine in one of the worst cities in the world.

And there it was. On my computer screen was proof of my withdrawal of $200, and one minute later, proof of another withdrawal for the same amount. Someone had gone up to ATM with my card still in it and decided to “make another.” This is what the ATMs in Latin America ask you after you’ve made your withdrawal. “Do you wish to make another?” Well, someone had wished to make another, and made it, and it looked like I was going to be out another couple hundred dollars—unless Alisa soon found it in a sock.

In Costa Rica, someone once told me that you don’t really need to fold up your toilet paper and put it in the wastebasket after wiping. “They just tell that to the foreigners, you know, just to fuck with them.” And I kind of hoped it was true. It would be great if there were indeed a vast national toilet-paper conspiracy where the locals all giggled knowingly every time one of us went into a stall. In the end it couldn’t be true, the Ticos just didn’t have it in ‘em.

But in Argentina you almost get the feeling it could be true. The Argentineans pride themselves on being culturally “European.” They are into handbags and scarves, and speak a brand of Spanish no one else understands. It took Alisa and I half-a-day in Buenos Aires to figure this out. I was used to getting blank stares after regurgitating what passes for Spanish out of my mouth, but even Alisa was finding the cab drivers and waiters at a loss for comprehension when she spoke.

We discovered two things.

The first is that Argentineans make a French-sounding “J” sound wherever there is a double-L. “Ella” becomes “Ejjha”, and “Calle” becomes “Cajjhe.” They pretend not to understand when you say it like the rest of the Spanish-speaking world.

The second difference is that they have a completely different vocabulary for many everyday words. A pepper is not “chile” but “morron,” a pineapple is not “Pina” but “Anana.” Eventually it begs the question, “C’mon, really? You couldn’t at least leave ‘Pina’ alone?” Of course as an American I am not interested in how languages have evolved historically, but instead am only interested in how they can make my life easier.

But aside from being a little “Frenchie” in some ways, Buenos Aires is quickly turning out to be one of our favorite cities in the world. Part of it has to do with our approach. Alisa and I have decided to “backpack” through the country. What that means in Buenos Aires is staying at different luxurious hostels each of which costs about $11 a night.

The hostels in Buenos Aires are run like lavish summer camps for party people. The staff is always comprised of young, hot Portenos looking to liquor everyone up, take them out to the bars in loud groups, and lay them the day before their flight leaves. Because Alisa and I have decided to live in this environment for the better part of a month, Argentina is turning out to be much better than that first, frustrating day in the airport.

Some highlights:

Our first night we stayed in Hostel Ossinato in San Telmo. We experienced our first steak and wine dinner, which is the staple of the Argentinean diet. We got an appetizer, I ordered a steak, Alisa ordered pasta, and we drank a bottle of their house red. Our check was $20 USD. Of course we didn’t understand. How could this be? We had ordered a bottle of wine hadn’t we? How could a steak dinner and bottle of wine be under $20? The bottle alone should be more than that.

We asked our waiter, who hated us. Evidently the restaurants in Argentina don’t mark up a bottle of wine 400% like they do back home. An $8 bottle of wine in California costs $28 in any restaurant. In Argentina, the restaurants get them for $3 and sell them for $4. Evidently they are under the impression wine should be available for people of all incomes. This must be part of what is contributing to their peso crisis—the peso buys too many things.

And the wine thing only gets worse. They serve ice with their wine—white and red alike! Again they are missing out on the elitist snobbery that makes wine consumption so enjoyable. What Alisa and I, and most Americans who can afford it, love about wine is that you are literally drinking the blood and sweat of the peasants. The label on the back of a good bottle of wine in Napa will actually go into great detail describing the salty taste of Mexican tears in their latest vintage—and recommend you pair it with chorizo. But in Argentina, with wine so affordable, and with the snobbery frozen off with ice, like a wart, it becomes so…common. How enjoyable can it be for regular people to drink their own sweat and tears? I don’t get it.

Our second hostel was the party hostel in BA. It was called Milhouse, and was like going to a worldwide STD convention where everyone was staying the night. Our roommates were six dirty Israelis traveling the world after three years of forced military service. Our bathroom had a constant mix of curly brown hair and puke—and for once it wasn’t just mine.

We then stayed three nights in a more serene place called St. Nicolas. It was next to the Congresso in a busy part of the Microcentro. Our roommates were a Russian couple who spoke neither Spanish nor English. They would scream at each other, slam doors, and disappear their separate ways during the day, only to miraculously make up every night before bed.

We would be down in the common room, asking directions to various locations in the city, when it would begin. First a scream, then a tirade in Russian, a slap, a scream of pain, a body hitting the wall, crying—sometimes blood would drip down on us below.

“I don’t think I will ever end up with a Russian.” The guy behind the front desk said.

“You don’t think so?” I asked. He didn’t pick up on my sarcasm, seeing as English was his sixth language, and sat for a moment and really thought about it.

“No, no, I really don’t see myself doing that. It’s too bad for whoever is in their room.”

“That would be us,” Alisa said.

The boyfriend then came down the stairs, said nothing, looked at no one, and stormed out the door. A half hour later the girlfriend would come down, dressed up—face covered in makeup, a day bag matching her outfit. She would smile, ask about an art gallery, laugh, and pretend like she hadn’t just screamed, cried, and fought directly in front of us, she then disappeared into the sunny day. But every night the two of them were together in bed, looking like regular sane people.

And very slowly, our schedule began to change. The bars don’t close at 2 in Argentina. Actually, the bars don’t really close. At Milhouse, they didn’t even start getting a group together to go out clubbing until 1:45am. You return from the bars at 6. For Alisa and I it couldn’t be better. We have always been night people. It was almost like we had discovered a country of degenerates just like us.

We went on a pub-crawl on one of our last nights in Buenos Aires. It was run by a company that combines people from all the hostels in the city. You get all you can drink beer and wine, and all you can eat pizza for the first hour. Then they take you to three different bars, where you are welcomed at each with a shot. After an hour at each place, around 4am, you end up at a club. The whole thing cost $15 USD.

We met a guy from San Francisco who had ridden his motorcycle all the way down to Buenos Aires. He was born in Hayward, California, the same city I was born and bred.

We met a guy from Spain who really wanted to have sex with my wife. There are a lot of those.

We met two guys from Norway. We discussed politics. One guy had interesting views on Barack Obama. He liked him. In fact, it’s been weird—every single foreigner (by foreigner of course I am referring to anyone who isn’t American) likes Obama, doesn’t understand why we don’t want Universal Healthcare, and they all believe George W. Bush and his Republicans are the worst people in the world. It was up to me to set them straight.

“But clearly you can see the benefit of not having healthcare.”

“Which is…”

“You don’t have to pay for it. That shit is expensive. We don’t think the government should spend money on things.”

“But why does it seem like the only people against Obama are the Americans? Why are you the only ones who hate your own president?” he asked.

“It has to do with tea-bagging. You wouldn’t understand.” I shake my head sadly. “Clearly government spending is out of control. It must be the fault of the President. He’s kind of like Hitler, but worse because he wants to take away our guns.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t Obama done almost nothing about your gun issue?”

“That doesn’t mean he isn’t going to, clearly we should hang him before he gets a chance,” I say, reflecting the delicious paranoia that makes up our gun-toting populance.

But most of the time it’s no use arguing with the foreigners. Between the affordable wine and rampant liberalism, it’s no wonder they look up to us—or down—sometimes I get my sense of direction mixed up here on the other side of the equator.


16th March 2010

Too bad about your debit card, but that's a common experience in South America. Some countries give you your card back before the cash, or you just do a swipe and hold on to your card. Most countries in SA do it the way you sadly discovered, and it's easy to forget your card with your cash already in hand. You could have avoided the $130 charge by taking a bus from Peru, also saved some money on the flight down and seen some incredible country along the way. A bus from Chile would not work, they also charge the $130 reciprocal fee. Enjoy Argentina!! I'd highly recommend the northwest part of the country around Salta and north as some of the most beautiful and varied, also the Mendoza/San Rafael area. BA is not truly representative of Argentina in general, and I would guess you'll enjoy the laid back interior even more than BA with its European elegance and wild night life (altho the night life won't change that much!) Enjoy! from Trujillo, Peru
16th March 2010

Entertaining piece, but I am driven to point something for the benefit of those who don't know the full story behind the reciprocal $130 entry fee. When an Argentino (and presumably people in many other countries) apply for a visa to the glorious and wonderful USA they have to pay $130 when they submit the paperwork. Maybe they get the visa, maybe not - but they don't get a refund if they are denied. And many are denied, because our government recognizes that anything south of the Rio Grande is really Mexico, and they all just want to come here and stay illegally - doesn't EVERYONE want to be an American?
16th March 2010

I forgot to mention: Bolivia, Brasil and Venezuela are among the other South American countries also charging the $130 "reciprocal" entry fee if you fly into the country. Also, the custom of putting used toilet paper in a waste basket is not a "gringo joke" as you suggest, but a fact of life throughout all of Latin America and elsewhere. This apparently is due to generally poorly designed and constructed septic systems that won't deal with the extra bulk created by the added paper. But as you may have discovered by now, that little "doggie bathtub" sitting next to the toilet throughout Argentina (also known as a bidet) solves the entire problem and eliminates the need to use paper at all -- if you're so inclined!
18th March 2010

argentina misunderstood
With this blog I understand why americans shouldn't be allowed to travel. I respect your opinions but completely disagree with you. Americans think that their "America" is better than any other country, let me give you a newsflash, you are so WRONG. Also, I noticed one thing that really bothered me, you said that you didn't like the fact that you had to pay $130 to enter the country, well let me tell you something, I'm sure that Argentinians and people from a lot of other countries don't like to pay a lot more to enter the U.S. Argentina started requiring Americans to pay that fee in December and they should've started way before. About the comment that you made about paying to enter the U.S saying: “But then you get to be in America,” all I have to say is that you should learn about geography before saying such a comment, I don't know if you realized but Argentina IS in AMERICA... so they already are in America. The U.S is just NORTH america, not the whole continent. Another thing that you need to learn is that in every country people have different names for the same thing, that also happens in the U.S and England. The so called "French" accent is just their way of talking, their accent. It's the same as going to the southern states and trying to talk to someone there with their accent that they only understand. The so called European lifestyle is a cultural thing and in case you didn't know Argentina and specifically Buenos Aires was founded by europeans that immigrated specially germans that went into exile after WWII and the holocaust.. Also about the language, if you are traveling to a country that their native language is not english try to learn the language because most of the people for example in Argentina do not speak english and you shouldn't criticize them in any way for that because YOU can't speak spanish. They are not the ones visiting, you are, so either respect their culture or leave. I find it very disturbing, degrading and shameful how you talk about why you enjoy drinking wine : "What Alisa and I, and most Americans who can afford it, love about wine is that you are literally drinking the blood and sweat of the peasants. The label on the back of a good bottle of wine in Napa will actually go into great detail describing the salty taste of Mexican tears in their latest vintage". You should be ashamed of writing that in a blog even if it's just joking. Wine is part of the Argentinian culture and yes, everyone drinks it and is able to afford it, why not!? and they even mix the wine with coke sometimes, people do it in spain also. About their peso, learn about their recent history and you'll understand why it is devaluated, don't talk without knowing the facts. I also think that you should know that what happened in Argentina is very similar to what is happening in the U.S now, because in case you haven't noticed, the dollar is also loosing value. The last thing that I'm gonna tell you is that the Universal Healthcare is what the U.S should've implemented a long time ago, it's a shame how a lot of people in the U.S do not have healthcare and how our health is just another thing the big companies like to play with. I hope that you stop being so close minded and so ignorant and start reading and being aware of the world more. The sad part is that there are more americans like you. P.S: Lima is not one of the most dangerous cities in South America and what ATMs ask you when you finish doing your transaction is the same as ATMs in the U.S , they tell you if you want to do another transaction.
20th March 2010

Wow-talk about missing my whole point
With this response, I understand why some people shouldn't be allowed to read. I've approved this comment because I think it is almost as humorous as my blog itself. Do yourself a favor and look up the word SATIRE, then try to grow a sense of humor. For those of you still confused, read this person's response, because she pretty much validates the exact points I am making in my article about Americans and society. The difference is she just says it. It's kind of cool actually, it's like she's written out all my points for me, without the literary devices I use as a writer. It's almost like a literary analysis paper written in the second person with emotion. (I mean Jesus Christ, do you really think I don't know everyone in Central and South America also consider themselves Americans?? Do you really think I like drinking the blood and sweat of peasants? My wife is Mexican! I'm pro Universal Healthcare! I can just imagine how mad you were writing your little post, but c'mon, lighten up, it's satire and sarcasm).
26th March 2010

Good Story
To challenge Obama and universal health care makes some people see red - life goes on. Having been to Argentina a few times I've had the great privilege to dine like a king for under 15 bucks - it's beautiful. But about the peronist/obamaist government of Arg., they do offer free health care and free college education; however, if one has the wallet they seek private of either. Private is far better and quicker. Nothing is free, simple economics...the government redistributes they don't give. Perhaps it was just my experience but I found lots of people in Argentina that were suspicious of governments that claim they're driven by compassion. Lastly, to call America, America is accurate - this is just a shortened version of the phrase United States of America....

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