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Thread: Trip Report: Brian's Trip to South America (Go make a sandwich first, this is long!)


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    Super Moderator spongebue's Avatar
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    Default Trip Report: Brian's Trip to South America (Go make a sandwich first, this is long!)

    Well, after leaving United at the beginning of the month, I figured I ought to do a few trips I haven't been able to do before, despite years of dreaming about it. One of these trips was to go to a continent I hadn't been to before - South America. My Spanish is pretty decent, and I always want to practice it when I can so it doesn't get too rusty. Especially since my wife and I had taken an overnight trip to SJD, and things felt a little... not what they used to be.


    So, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I took an early-ish flight to IAH. I would have loved to go later and have a shorter layover, but the only open flights were in the morning... or so I thought. By the time I left, that flight wasn't looking so hot, either. But I had nothing to lose by trying, and ended up with a lovely middle seat towards the back. Well, it's still a seat, at least!


    So, I arrived at Houston at about 1:00PM... plenty of time before my 9:00PM-ish flight to Buenos Aires. A little too plenty, if you ask me. Thankfully, I had one of those one-time United Club passes in my wallet, which I happily exchanged for a day of having a nice desk with power outlet, some snacks, a drink or two, and best of all... a shower before I left. Seriously, a pre-flight shower is a wonderful thing. Anyway, an hour or so before the flight left, I meandered on over to the gate.


    I had been checking the upgrade list all day, and it seemed like I had a decent shot at business class. By the time I was at the gate, it was going to be close. Oh, sure, I could have easily gotten a seat in Economy, probably with an empty seat next to me, but where's the fun in that? So I waited and... barely got the last seat in business! Enjoyed my chicken with polenta and broccolini, plus the usual appetizers, salad... though I did skip the ice cream sundae. I learned already that if you overdo it too much in the meal, your stomach won't let you sleep as nicely for the rest of the flight. At least I was able to get some pretty decent sleep overall.


    Morning came along with breakfast, and before long we were on the ground. After a loooong wait to go through immigration, I was able to get to my hotel. I figured for this one time, I could splurge a little on a taxi from the airport to downtown - about $45USD. Hey, could be worse! I got to my hotel and saw quite a few people sitting in the lobby - not a good sign when you want to check in early! But they were perfectly happy to do it, and I was able to settle in and take a nap. I wasn't particularly jet lagged, but on a 10 hour flight with meal service after takeoff and before landing, you just can't quite get a full night's sleep. That's ok, though. A couple hours later, and I was good to go!


    I spent most of my time wandering the Retiro neighborhood, which is also where my hotel was. My neighbor back home had suggested I walk around Florida street, which was only a few blocks away. It really was a nice, bustling street without being too touristy, as is the rest of that neighborhood. If you're ever in Buenos Aires, I'd strongly suggest staying there. But I have to say, that Argentine accent is crazy, even for someone as proficient in Spanish as me! For some people it was worse than others, but I think the best way to describe it is that the Argentines speak Spanish like the French speak, well, French. Anyway, after a good dose of wandering, I went back to my hotel to figure out a good spot for one of my top priorities: mate.


    Mate (pronounced MAH-tay) is essentially a very strong green tea, but consumed a bit differently than tea. The cup (called a mate as well) is filled almost completely with the leaves (called yerba, note that the 'y' sound is pronounced like a 'j' in Argentina). A special straw called a bombilla (boam-BEE-jah, only because the 'y' makes a 'j' sound here) is at the bottom, which has a large bulge at the end with small holes to filter out the actual leaves. You fill it with water as you drink, and be prepared to do so often. With a mate about the size of a large coffee mug and most of the volume being taken up by leaves, you can only get a little water in at a time. There is also a whole etiquitte around drinking mate, which is very cutely summed up in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KPy9AJ8i5A


    Anyway, so I found a place called Cumaná that apparently makes a good mate. I arrived, and for a few bucks I could get a mate with bizcochos de grasa (literally, crackers from fat), bread, butter, and marmelade. Combined with a seat by the open window, and I was happy. Because I had never had mate before, my server was happy to help - mainly in how you kind of toss the yerba a little bit to remove the powder, and keep a little on top above the water level (so when it loses its taste, you have some fresh yerba to add). It tasted like green tea and grass, as expected. And you know what? That wasn't a bad thing! I really did enjoy it, and bought a kilo of yerba from the grocery store on my way home, along with a bottle of fernet*


    After I bought the yerba, I knew I'd need a mate (that is, the cup). I talked to someone at the hotel, and they suggested a place nearby. I think one of us misunderstood the other, because I couldn't find it for the life of me! He may have been thinking of a convenience store nearby, but they just didn't seem to have such great quality mates there, so I kept looking. Eventually, I got hungry again, and eventually it was 10:00PM, which means one thing for the Argentines: dinnertime, and the evening has just started. In Argentina, that means a parilla (grill). I saw one place that looked fantastic, and seemed to have good reviews, so I went for it. I saw one "package" that had some good looking options, but it turned out they only accepted cash for that, and I was running low considering what I had left to do before I moved on from Argentina! So I reluctantly went for a better, more expensive meal where you could use a card. This was honestly the best thing that happened to me in Argentina. The meat I got was delicious - beautifully cooked, great cuts of meat, and well worth the ~$25USD I paid. And the chorizo sausage was suburb as well. What really, really blew me away though was the "budin de pan" - bread pudding. With dulce de leche. I have absolutely no idea what they did or how they did it, but honest to god... that was one of the best things I ever ate. Somehow, they made bread pudding taste like a good cheesecake. I still don't understand it. But I better not write about it anymore, because now I miss it. But do yourself a favor, make a point of visiting La Estancia for dinner while you're out there, or at the very very least for dessert.


    After dinner, it was time for this gringo to go to bed. Along the way, I was amazed to see even kids out at 11:30PM on a school night! But that's just how it is out there.


    The next morning, I was off to my next destination: Montevideo, Uruguay. I would have flown AEP-MVD, but there were two big issues: first, I didn't know anyone to check loads with. More importantly, as a now-former UA employee, I don't get ZED fares anymore! Thankfully, there are ways to travel long distances other than flying. I ended up taking a ferry from Buenos Aires to Colonia, Uruguay, immediately followed by a bus to Montevideo. In total, I believe it was about a 3.5 hour trip. Not bad, and there's something more authentic about being able to chat with people you come across, see the countryside at ground level, etc.


    When I arrived at the bus station in the middle of town, I got some money from an ATM, went to the bank (conveniently, inside the bus station) to break that money into smaller bills, and took a taxi to my hotel in Punta Carretas. After settling in, I figured I ought to check out the old city, so I caught another cab there. Taxis are conveniently cheap out there, really! When I got there, I was in the mood for another mate. But somehow, the idea of getting a prepared mate in Montevideo is just unheard of, which is really shocking when you consider the fact that literally about 10% of the people on the street have a mate in one hand, and a thermos with hot water in another! But I digress. I figured I ought to at least find the cup and bombilla, since I wasn't able to on my own. I walked down 18 de Julio street, one of the main roads, checking different grocery stores and asking different locals. Eventually, I went to a pretty big supermarket, Supermercado Ta-Ta, and found a great variety. Being that I wasn't in a touristy area, I knew these ones were legitimate. I ended up choosing one that had a ceramic interior (leather exterior), as opposed to basically a leather one, knowing that was probably idiotproof enough for a guy like me. $20USD for the mate and bombilla combined - a little more than I would have liked, but I know it will last me a long time, so I'm happy.


    By this point, I had walked a fair amount. I kind of thought I was overdue for a good, long walk, so I figured I'd just walk back to the hotel. 4 miles away, probably a little more with the route I took. But you know what? I don't regret it at all. It was a nice walk, being able to see the residential neighborhoods where real Uruguayanos live. There may have been times where I thought that MAYBE things were getting just a little sketchy, but then I'd see a guy in a suit walk by me on his way home from work, or a young single woman walking casually by herself. The reality is, it was just a quiet neighborhood outside of the touristy areas, nothing more. I also stopped by another parilla place near my hotel, which I got what seemed to be a thick-cut shortrib from what I could tell. It was ok, some pieces a bit fatty, but the place I went to in Argentina set such a high expectation, it was pretty tough to beat!


    The next day, I slept in a little, spent a little time at the beach (playa de los pocitos) to get a tan, found a supermarket to get some more yerba (you can get it on Amazon, but at 3x the cost!) and worked my way back towards the airport. Where next, you ask? Home. Yes, already. This was meant to be a short and sweet trip, and my wife was waiting for me back in Denver. But I still got a lot squeezed in in a short amount of time, so I'm not complaining! I also had a convenient flight out of MVD I could take. UA may not fly there, but AA does, and a former coworker of mine is there now. Better yet, their flight was wide open in both cabins, and I was the only standby. By the end of the night, I was comparing business classes among different airlines. How many 28-year-olds can do that?!?


    The next morning, I arrived in Miami. I had about 5 hours between flights, and realized that the TSA precheck enrollment center would be open soon. Since I had nothing better to do, and will be doing more than my share of passing through security when I start my next job as a consultant, I showed up when they opened at 8:00, and was their first customer of the day. I was out not even 15 minutes later. Went to the gate, and things were looking a little full. But I got a seat! If I remember right, it was the last seat for that flight, too! But only to EWR. The DEN nonstop is only seasonal, and 'tisn't the season. Thankfully, I was able to squeeze on to that flight as well, and got home that afternoon and greeted by a wife who was VERY happy to see me back again.


    What's that? You want some pictures? Oh, ok, I guess I can do that! Brian's South America Trip 2016 - Album on Imgur


    * fernet is a liquor that the Argentines swear by. I don't understand why - when I brought it home, it was awful! Imagine your first time drinking black coffee as a kid, and your first time drinking a short of hard liquor. Now imagine them both together. Not even a coke mixer could save it!
    Spongebue - NonRev Correspondent - U.S./Midwest Region



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    isppilot (24-Dec-2016), Migflanker (16-Dec-2016), MRSDS1DONNA (19-Dec-2016)

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    Super Moderator spongebue's Avatar
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    Stay tuned for my next adventure that I've already gone on, but have not yet written about. Without going into too many details just yet, it was probably one of my most memorable trips I made, as I went through kind of a "rite of passage" bucket list item, where the main attraction was a very unique flight United has. Some of you may be able to guess
    Spongebue - NonRev Correspondent - U.S./Midwest Region


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    Administrator Migflanker's Avatar
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    OK, this is looking like a two donut report, so I'm off on a Krispy Kreme run - back soon

    Keep'em Flying

    Migflanker - Senior NonRev Correspondent - Los Angeles

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    Super Moderator spongebue's Avatar
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    Sorry 'bout that
    Spongebue - NonRev Correspondent - U.S./Midwest Region


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    NonRev Correspondent zedman's Avatar
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    Thanks, interesting..

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    Administrator Migflanker's Avatar
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    Sounds like a great trip. Brian you’re becoming quite the foodie, dried plum powder on pineapple in Hawaii and now mate in Brazil *wink* - question is anything ever added to the mate… like sugar; I have a sweet tooth.

    Keep'em Flying

    Migflanker - Senior NonRev Correspondent - Los Angeles

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    Super Moderator spongebue's Avatar
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    *sigh*

    If you must, yes, some people do put sugar in it. But you will have plenty of Argentines (this was in Argentina, not Brazil!) turning up your nose at you for doing it.

    Oh, and to update that Hawaiian trip report you're talking about, my liquor collection now consists of okolehao from Hawaii, shochu from Japan, fernet from Argentina, akvavit from Norway, raki from Turkey, a plum brandy-like drink and an herbal liquor called Becherovka from Czech Republic, grappa con miel from Uruguay (yummy!), and the Cuban rum. I don't even drink all that much, but it's fun to have this collection! Since my mom's side of the family is very Czech, I may bring some stuff with for sampling.
    Spongebue - NonRev Correspondent - U.S./Midwest Region


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    Winner! mrs767er's Avatar
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    Becherovka!! Make a shot w/Goldschlager and it becomes a Czech Collaborator--YUMMY, too
    mrs767er - NonRev Correspondent - Specialty Travel

    Wherever you go, there you are

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    Great report. Yours and Mrs767 really make me want to go back. Have been to Argentina 4 times (once in Y, the rest in F) and I always learn something new.

    I will have to try the budin de pan with dulce de leche the next time I'm in BA. For dessert, I usually get the panqueques de dulce de leche (pancakes but really, more like crepes) or an ice cream sundae topped with hot fudge and dulce de leche. Although I'm all about late dinners, 10 is a bit late for me so to avoid the crowds, I would usually go around 9. I remember the first time I went, the two of us ordered 2 steaks, not knowing in Argentina that one steak is enough to feed 3-4 people. The waiter, who had a scowl on his face, quickly had a big smile when I ordered a lomo and bife de chorizo. He even gave us a free glass of champagne (more likely Mendoza sparkling wine). Been meaning to go to MVD as well. Did the ferry over to Colonia for a day but didn't have enough time to make it all the way to the capital. If you ever go back, I would highly recommend visiting Mendoza. Lots of great places to eat in addition to trying some great wines and enjoying breathtaking views of the Andes. To fly back, we took a bus across the Andes to Santiago and flew back from there. Over half the cabin up front were nonrevs.

    Even though I've been to Prague, I never did try Becherovka. I took a mini bottle from the lounge at the Intercontinental hoping to try it out but one day when I opened my cupboard, it fell on the floor and broke. Never tried fernet. My go to alcohol was mostly Malbec and sometimes Quilmes, the local beer.
    Last edited by isppilot; 24-Dec-2016 at 01:31 AM.
    isppilot - NonRev Correspondent - New York City

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