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Introduction: We had been wanting to visit Argentina for many years, so this was one of the first overseas trips we started planning as soon as I retired. Our main goal was to visit Carlos and Norma Cerda', whom we had met about 30 years before. Carlos, an Argentine Army attorney, had come to the U.S. Army's Judge Advocate General's School in Charlottesville, Virginia, for a nine-month course, and I was his faculty advisor. We were both majors then. Norma had come to Charlottesville, too, and the families became fast friends. We had seen Carlos only a few times since then when he came to the U.S. on short visits. The Cerdas' kept urging us to visit them in Argentina, and now we finally were doing it.
Carlos had helped me plan the trip. In the limited time available we would visit the Cerdas' in Buenos Aires. In fact, we managed to exchange for a timeshare apartment in the city. But we also planned side trips to Iguazu (tremendous waterfalls), Salta (a taste of old colonial Argentina), and the South Atlantic coast (near Mar del Plata).
Tuesday, March 5: We left Massanutten and drove to Culpeper around 11:30. Our daughter-in-law, Julia, drove us from there to Dulles Airport. We got there at 3:30 for our 5:30 p.m. flight to Miami. We were flying to Buenos Aires on free tickets obtained through United Airlines' Mileage Plus frequent flyer program, and we'd received those tickets months before. We still had to get to the airport extra early, though, because we had to buy our special "Fly Argentina" tickets for Iguazu and Salta. We each were getting four coupons (enough for two round trip flights) for $450 plus airport taxes, about half what the flights would cost if we bought regular fare tickets.
The flight to Miami was right on time. We had a light snack on the plane and arrived in Miami at 8:20. We killed time by exploring the huge airport. It seemed to have miles of empty corridors, but there weren't many people around at that time of night. We boarded the 11:45 p.m. flight to Argentina on time, but it didn't take off until 12:15 a.m.
Wednesday, March 6: Dinner was finally served around 2:00 a.m. Then we get a couple of hours rest before a light breakfast was served. We landed in Buenos Aires at 10:00 (8:00 EST), so the flight took a little less than eight hours. We had a great view of the Rio de la Plata as we approached Buenos Aires. It was the widest river we'd ever seen, probably by a factor of ten. It also was very brown and muddy looking.
Carlos met us, accompanied by a chauffeur, a secretary, and a porter. He took us to a small lounge where we sat and talked while his people took care of the immigration and customs formalities. We changed some money at the airport, although that probably was not necessary. The Argentine peso was pegged to the dollar, and dollars were accepted just about everywhere.
It was a fairly long ride in from Ezieza Airport. As soon as we got into city traffic, it became apparent that the Argentines drove a lot like the Italians, paying no attention to the lanes painted on the road. That became really exciting when there was a monument in the center boulevard strip; the lanes curved around the obstacle, but the cars all went as straight as possible without leaving the road. As a result, as many as six lanes of traffic would crowd into the two inside lanes.
We arrived at the Circulo Militar (Officers' Club) in the heart of downtown Buenos Aires, and our escorts left us to unpack. We had a small room overlooking the Plaza San Martin. We cleaned up and then rested for a while before coming down to the informal "cafeteria" for lunch. We tried the chicken milanesa, so named for its resemblance to the Italian veal "a la milanese" dipped in light batter, then fried. The food was good, but it didn't take us long to realize that there was no such thing as a "no smoking" section in a restaurant or any other public place. After lunch we took a short stroll down Florida, the upscale pedestrian street just a block away.
By prior arrangement, we met Carlos, his friend Ruth Ruda, and Ines, a friend and travel agent. I repaid Carlos the money he had advanced for our tour package to Iguazu. Most of the optional tours there required entry into Brazil, and that required a visa for U.S. citizens. We had only learned of the need to enter Brazil a few days before our trip began, and by then it was too late to get the papers required for a visa. Carlos said that he had contacted the Brazilian Embassy about expediting a visa for us in the one day we would have in Buenos Aires before leaving for Iguazu, but he had been told it was not possible in less than two days.
We discussed the Salta trip but agreed to postpone final arrangements until early the next week when we returned to Buenos Aires. We did decide to change our flight to Salta from Tuesday night to Wednesday morning so we could stay one night in Buenos Aires after our return from Pinamar. Carlos agreed to contact Aereolineas Argentinas for us. We also gave Carlos the voucher for our timeshare unit at the COMRA condominium so he could notify them that we would be checking in on Sunday instead of Saturday.
That evening Carlos picked us up at 8:30 for dinner at a retired officers' club located in a beautiful old building that prior to 1940 had been the German Embassy. There we joined Norma Cerda' and Marta Assorati, an English-speaking friend. At a large table in the outdoor courtyard, we had a huge meal, consisting of a sampling of several entradas (hors d'oeuvres), generous servings of roast beef tenderloin (lomo), and a special Argentine chocolate dessert, all accompanied by a delicious red wine. After dinner, Carlos, Norma, and Marta walked us through the building. It was midnight by the time we got back to our room, and we were exhausted.