24 Hours 24 Stories
Buenos Aires, Argentina
A collection of fragmented memories from New Year's Eve.
Sunday morning—the last day of 2006. Running off of a handful of minutes of sleep I find myself waiting for a bus on the corner of a typically bustling street, now completely empty—save for a few hung-over goth kids adjusting to the morning light. Latin America on a Sunday is typically shutdown, and adding December 31st into the mix will turn even the most populated of cities into a ghost town.
In the week leading up to the New Year the streets of the city looked the like trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Skyscraper windows open here in Buenos Aires, and office workers seemed to take every opportunity they could to hurl handful after handful of paper documents and day planner pages out of the windows. With every passing day the paper rained harder upon me—the city was ready for an event of biblical proportions.
I had to allow for at least two hours to reach the airport by public bus—Ezeiza International airport is apparently way out of the city, half way into farm country. Thanks to the morning's sporadic bus service I was late enough as it was, and didn't much care for the idea of my oldest friend, Babak, waiting curb-side at the terminal wondering if I was going to show up.
Aside from my brother's backpacking trip in Costa Rica, Babak has been the only person from the U.S. to fly out to see me in the past year (although his last visit was a bit of a disaster in Cancún, Mexico). This time around we were going to do things right—I had over a half dozen bottles of champagne and wine in wait.
The booze Babak expected, but the shaggy-haired friend standing in front of him he did not. Last time he saw me I was sporting a shaved head from the Caribbean. He says that I'm like the Old Testament fellow Samson, the source of his power his hair.
We had a bit of hotel hopping ahead of us, as Babak had taken care of a reservation for New Year's Eve at one hotel and then for several days at sister establishment. Getting out of the world of hostels and into that of clean, fluffy sheets, and the privacy of a beautiful hotel room was enthralling. Such luxury I haven't experienced since Babak's last visit in April.
I showed Babak around for a bit in the part of town we were in, and then decided to sneak into the contemporary roof-top pool lounge of the hotel that we'd be staying at the next day (as ours didn't seem to have one). Just walk in and pretend like you own the place, Babak says to me. Moments later he trips over the steps leading to the sliding glass door, and then doesn't see where they part to open, walking to the wrong spot. Yeah, I'm thinking as we laugh, not his first time here at all…
Pizza, hotdogs, pasta, empanadas, steak, milanesas, and hamburgers are served in at least 90% of the restaurants and cafés in this city. If it's not meat related, there's a good chance it's going to be pizza or pasta. I left Babak at the hotel and returned with the only food I could find being served on New Year's Eve—pizza.
As the evening got later we polished off a few slices of cheese-less pizza and a blended bottle of Malbec that I had picked up earlier. It didn't take long for the first two bottles of champagne to be opened shortly thereafter. We were well on our way…
Trying to get more ice for the champagne was a nightmare. The hotel had a staff of three that evening—technically one front desk guy, one bartender/chef/room service/lobby waiter, and a security guard. These guys were clearly not pleased to be working on the holiday, and the queue at the bar for even the simplest of requests (such as a glass of water) was met with at least a half hour of wait time. After chatting up a couple from Rome I lost my patience and walked back into the kitchen to see where the man had disappeared to for the past 10 minutes, only to find him casually chatting with some random guy.
Moments later a police offer that had been waiting in the lobby for one reason or another appeared at the door, a few meters behind me. I didn't flinch. I didn't care. The ice would be mine, and I'd leave, which is exactly what happened. I walked back past the cop without batting an eye, said goodbye to the Romans, and proceeded back as Babak appeared in the elevators to find out why the ice retrieval had taken a half an hour.
I had people that needed to be seen over at a hostel (Milhouse), and being an hour and a half before midnight we needed to boogie. I had forgotten the armband that the hostel makes their residents wear (I had obtained a few even though I never stayed at the place), and ended up having to forcefully push my way past a very unfriendly security guard that was not admitting anyone but residents. Arguing past yet another employee, and I was in the common area.
The person I needed to see was upstairs, and like everyone else in the hostel I was nice and drunk by this time of night. I stealthily snuck into an elevator for guests, but just as the door closed the arm of a pissed door guard stopped it from shutting. I was pulled out of the hostel by two guys on either side of me, as I yelled to try and get an Aussie's attention to relay a message upstairs to my friend. The Milhouse staff promptly ejected me out the front door after our little scuffle. A few shouts from the street to the second story ended up taking care of things nicely.
Babak and I jumped back to hotel and killed off another two bottles of champagne before we realized exactly how late it was—just a few minutes until midnight!
We speed walked to the giant obelisk in the middle of the widest avenue in the world, took in the scene, and then looked up at the clock—12:05—shit! We shrugged, laughed, and continued mingling with the folks that had congregated for the occasion.
I had bought tickets a week earlier for a nightclub in town called Crobar (there's a similarly named establishment in New York owned by Johnny Depp). The way New Year's works in Argentina is that midnight is spent with family, and then everyone jumps out to the nightclubs (advance ticket sales only) around two or three in morning (the clubs don't even open up until this hour in this country).
After a quick change of clothes at the hotel Babak and I made our way back to the big avenue to grab a taxi to take us to the nightclub—an absolutely ridiculous task given the time of morning (if we weren't so intoxicated I would have thought to have the hotel call us one). Every once and a while I'd flag down a cab that was free, but in my condition I had forgotten to get the address of the club, and only had the name. Drivers were clueless—except one.
Babak and I jumped in the car, and the driver tells me how much he wants to take us there. What should be a six or seven peso ride (US$2) was far from it—the cabbie was charging AR$30 with the meter off. I was drunk and offended and figured he was trying to rip off a couple of tourists. I protested strongly, the driver was yelling at us to get out of the car, I was telling Babak to get out, and then before I knew it the taxi driver had a Taser shoved in my face—the distinct sound of sparking electricity filling the cab, Babak oblivious to all.
We were desperate, and I was resorted to knocking on windows of stopped cars, politely asking if they knew the nightclub and/or wanted to make a quick 20 pesos for a ride there. One car full of people knew the address, and after having them write the address on an AR$2 note we found a taxi and were off!
With tickets in hand we bypassed a large line walked into Crobar—a wave of positive energy washed over us second only to the 2004 Tsunami. The music was pumping, the party was primed, and Babak and I were ready to explode onto the scene.
Babak quickly made friends with the bartenders, paying only a fraction of the cost for our drinks all night (of which our hands were never without). At one point Babak lost track of me—fearful of a repeat of Cancún—recounting later that he was frantically searching the venue by looking for a shaggy blond head (in the midst of sea of black hair).
Several hours into the moment Babak was drenched with bliss, and I was pretty sweaty myself. Babak said it looked like he walked outside during a monsoon—sexy.
There were a surprising amount of couples in the nightclub. Babak and I were having a tough time finding someone to dance with, Babak subduing possessive boyfriends by yelling out over the thumping music: "No sex, amigo, just dancing!" It seemed to put the boyfriend's mind at ease as the next target was quickly lined up and the scenario repeated, again and again.
I shielded my eyes against the mid-morning sun as we exited Crobar, smiling as Babak loved how we were leaving well after the sun had risen. People in the States are soft!, Babak exalted. When the clubs are closing in the U.S. people are just starting to go out here!
An AR$25 taxi back to the hotel found us staggering into lobby during the complimentary breakfast hours. Looking like a string of semi-trucks had taken turns running each of us over and reeking of alcohol and smoke, I tore through the buffet while Babak instructed an obviously disgusted omelet chef to toss more mushrooms into his eggs. A table or two of elderly patrons stared at us as we consumed like we'd gone without for a week.
Checkout time was at 11:00—we awoke well after 3:00 in the afternoon. I tossed a Santa hat on my head (keeping it on all day for the hell of it), the last piece of cold pizza in my mouth, put my backpack together, and watched Babak try to hastily squeeze everything back into his carry-on suitcase. Babak said he awoke never feeling so totally depleted in his life.
Toxins sweat out of every pore of our bodies as we looked for a cab in the afternoon heat. Again, we forgot (due in part to the absolute encounter inebriation the night before) that the concierge could call a taxi for us, and instead opted to hunt for a cab on the barren streets of the microcenter.
A good half hour into the ordeal—and it very much was one for us in the state we were in—and at least a dozen photos taken by sober tourists of the guy with the Santa hat and with a backpack later, we found a taxi. Exhausted I asked him to take us to the new hotel, only to receive the response that destination we sought was a mere two blocks down the street from the plaza we'd been standing at the entire time.
We checked into Hotel 725 this afternoon and were instantly pleased. This contemporary and comfortable living space is far beyond anything I've experienced during my travels, and having my friend here—that I've known for over half my life—is absolutely amazing. The combination of his company and our living environment for the duration of his stay will be a memory that I will not soon forget (permanently etched into my mind as a defining moment of time spent in Argentina).
It's strange to think that 1/4 of the time I've spent in Latin America has been in Argentina. Central America seemed to move much slower, and the induction of a new year brings with it the possibilities of so many paths.
Exciting times ahead, and unforgettable and enriching memories behind. A new year—new memories to be had.
"The past is history. The future is a mystery. This moment is a gift. That's why we call it the present."