Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The gay caballeros

After breakfast on Monday morning we took a taxi to Parque Don Tomas on the edge of Santa Rosa. It has a very large lake, picnic and barbecue spots, a children's playland with a pink castle, and surprisingly enough, real live people. It was the most daytime activity we had seen in La Pampa. We walked around the lake a while and then headed back into town, where once again the streets appeared almost empty.

The day before we had tried to arrange a visit to one of the nearby estancias (ranches) so we could go horseback riding. La Pampa is clearly off the beaten tourist track. The provincial tourist office is closed on weekends and holidays, precisely the times when tourists are most likely to visit. All of the estancias we tried to contact were either not answering the phone or said they were closed on holidays. Walt Disney would be turning over in his grave.

As we walked back toward the central plaza, we stopped in at a locutorio (shop with public phone booths) because we'd used up all of our cell phone credit calling estancias. Luciano called a couple more estancias with no luck and we asked the owner, Silvia, if she had any advice. She went into high gear, calling around town to see what she could arrange for the chicos de Buenos Aires (boys from Buenos Aires), as she referred to us during her calls. Finally she found an estancia that agreed to let us rent horses as a special favor to Silvia and perhaps because it was unusual to have visitors from as far away as the capital and California. She was certainly the most goodhearted and helpful person either of us has met in a very long time.

We had an hour and a half to kill so we got some takeout milanesa sandwiches and strolled to a nearby park bench for an al fresco lunch. Then we popped into another heladería for ice cream, albeit with the hope that we might see La Reina de la Pampa there or perhaps another member of Pampeano gay royalty. No luck but as an aside, I must say that the ice cream in Argentina is truly awesome. I guess the natural grazing for cows, which results in their world class beef, also does wonders for the quality of their milk.

We took a taxi the 10 or so miles out to Estancia La Cuesta. It's far enough from town to seem a world of its own, quiet and peaceful in the windswept plains. The owner took us to the corral to meet our mounts and saddle up. We hadn't seen a single gaucho so it looked like our only choice was to become gauchos ourselves. It had been years since I rode a horse but I quickly developed a fondness for Jotate (JT), my mount. Luciano got Gete (GT), so apparently there's a fetish for initials on the ranch.

The three of us set off for a leisurely introduction to the simple beauty of Argentina's plains, as well as an opportunity to get famililar with our horses. Luciano grew up in the countryside of Salta and it had only been a couple of years since he had ridden last, so he felt right at ease in the saddle. It took a little longer for me to feel comfortable but eventually my youthful years of riding on my grandfather's ranch came back to me. We had a lot of fun, moving the horses into a fast canter, pulling back to a walk to rest them, and then running fast again through the open spaces. Along the way, our hostess pointed out to us some of the unique flora and fauna of the pampa.

All too soon, it was time to turn back. Darkness was approaching and we would be leaving for Buenos Aires that night. The ranch owners gave us a ride back to the hotel and we showered off the dust from our afternoon on horseback. A little nap, a snack, a short time on our notebooks in the lounge, and it was then time to pack our bags and start the journey back to buenos Aires.

Buses are the most common form of long distance transportation here. They're cheap (about US $45 round-trip for 1216 km/755 miles total) with frequent departures. Many have cama (bed) seats, which fold flat so it's easy to sleep on overnight journeys. Traffic was heavy as we approached the capital on Tuesday morning so we arrived nearly two hours late. After the isolation and tranquility of La Pampa, it was almost unnerving to debark in Retiro station with thousands of people jostling, talking, and hurrying about their business. Nevertheless, we felt refreshed from our visit to the heart of Argentina, ready to re-enter the metropolitan chaos once again.

Here's a slideshow of pics from our trip. You can click in it to go to the web album in Picasa (Google's photo sharing service).

Monday, August 20, 2007

La Pampa: tranquility and royalty

Luciano and I are sitting in the sala de estar (public lounge) of Hotel Cuprum in Santa Rosa, La Pampa. We're such techno-geeks, we both brought our notebooks so he's busy with email while I update the blog.

Alas, we weren't greeted by gauchos and Pampeana virgins with flowers. Rather, we were met by some pretty damn cold weather and empty streets. It was kind of eerie, hardly a soul to be seen on the streets when we arrived early in the morning. We did see plenty of well-fed dogs roaming the streets which led us to speculate about a canine uprising and the possibility of all the Pampeanos having been devoured in their homes by man's best friend. The only other sign of life was a procession of early 20th century vintage cars, heading off to rally, as we discovered later in the local newspaper.

The town reminds me a lot of the small cities in California's San Joaquin Valley where I grew up. Very agricultural, as would be expected in this part of Patagonia, the heartland of Argentina's cattle industry.

Our hotel is quite lovely, modern and a lot of luxurious detail. Its outside is clad in copper (cuprum is Latin for copper) and the inside is filled with beautiful woodwork. We enjoyed the hotel's breakfast buffet while waiting for our room to be ready, deposited our gear in the room, then set off to explore the town on foot. We walked a mile or so into the town center, ending up at the central plaza. Surely there would lots of activity there, right? Nope, it was dead quiet. We strolled around, saw some interesting statues, buildings, and parks and finally ended up at a parilla (barbecue or open-fire grill) restaurant. Where better to eat beef than La Pampa? Parilla Don Pepe offers a 30 peso (US $9.50) parilla libre, meaning you get appetizers, main and side dishes, and dessert and you can keep ordering as much as you want of any of it. We had various forms of salchicha (sausage), fiambres (cold meats), chicken, and beef with plenty of things on the side, followed by two kinds of ice cream to top it all off. We could barely move after so much gluttony but we finally dragged ourselves back out to the empty streets.

As we resumed our walkabout, we made friends with a cute stray bitch whom we named Nuestra Amiga (Our Friend). She followed us for several miles as we roamed through Santa Rosa, the capital of the province, until we ended up at the town's biggest attraction, Casino Club. It's not on the scale of Las Vegas but it has a few hundred slot machines, several dozen roulette tables, restaurants, and shows in the evening. Neither of us is a gambler but we decided we had to try a slot machine one time (10 centavos, about 3 cents US), just so we could say we had done it. When we tried to insert my 10 centavo coin, we discovered they don't work with actual money, you have to buy a card that gets loaded with credit. As we were standing in line to buy a minimum-amount card from the cashier, we found a machine that would accept 2 peso notes so we switched tactics. Luciano put in his 2 pesos and pressed the button. Wheels spun and pictures popped up but no winning row. He pushed it again and this time it was a winner. We had more than doubled our money and retired from gambling with a huge profit of 2.40 pesos (77 cents US).

When we left the casino, Nuestra Amiga had disappeared. We were kind of relieved, we're both dog lovers and we'd begun to feel responsible for her but obviously there was no way we could adopt her and take her to our hotel (or to Buenos Aires). On our way back, we spotted her following a pair of girls and Luciano had us quickly cross the street before she could see us. We didn't want to feel guilty if she latched onto us again and we had to abandon her a second time outside the hotel door.

After a shower and a short siesta (nap), we headed back to the city center for dinner and a taste of the gay night life in La Pampa. Throughout the trip, we've kept up a playful banter about how excellent our choice was to visit Patagonia instead of Rosario. Our pizza that night was so much better than pizza in Rosario where they make it with inferior ingredients and spit in the food before tossing it at the customer with an angry snarl. The orange juice we drank was delicious and straight from the teats of vacas naranjas (orange cows), unlike the malodorous toxic liquid we would have been served in Rosario. Luciano has kept me laughing all day with his fantastic comparisons of mythic La Pampa and frightful Rosario.

Sated with pizza, we were off to visit Cadíz, the only gay bar we could find listed in all of La Pampa's 55,000 square miles (a little bigger than the state of Arkansas). The address is just a few blocks from the city's central plaza so it was easy to find but we discovered that it is now a clothing store. What to do? We ducked into a cybercafe and hit the Argentine chat rooms. Nobody had anything useful to offer in terms of other local gay venues but we did get an offer for a threesome. Back to the streets in hope of spotting someone obviously gay who might aid our quest. Either our gaydar wasn't functioning or we were the only homos in town. Eventually Luciano asked three young señoritas who appeared to be pretty hip. They were very friendly and cool, took us along their way, and pointed out the street we should take and told us the name of the only existing gay bar, Picaso. It was easy to find but it was clearly closed. It was only 11 PM so perhaps it opened late like some of the clubs in the capital? No, the sign on the door informed us the bar is only open on Thursday evenings.

All in all, Santa Rosa is odd. The town was mostly somnolent during the day, streets all but deserted. During the dinner hours, the restaurants were bustling, but by midnight, the inhabitants had retreated into whatever secret lairs they occupied. La Pampa, perhaps a province of vampires?

We walked up Calle San Martin, the main drag, and found a heladería (ice cream shop), which seemed as exciting as any other options. It turned out to be one of the highlights of the day.

We ordered our double cones and sat at a table next to four teenage boys. One of them was pretty obviously gay and appeared to be the dominant member of the group. Much to our surprise, the other lads, who seemed straight, doted on him. We soon named him La Reina de la Pampa (the Queen of the Pampa) because he commanded the attentions and services of his courtiers. When signaled, one of the boys held his ice cream cone so he could rummage through his knapsack. Another was quick to dab his face with a napkin when a bit of ice cream marred the royal mouth. At his summons, all three promptly arose and left with him, perhaps heading back to the royal palace. We departed soon thereafter, happy to have found a tiny slice of gay life in the heartland.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Homo home hunting

I'm hunting for a new apartment yet again. I've lived in Barrio Norte, Recoleta, and Palermo so far. They're all along the Libertador Corridor, a broad band of neighborhoods through which Avenida del Libertador passes, adjacent to the Rio de la Plata river. They're considered the most desirable areas of the city and the only one I haven't lived in yet is Belgrano. There's one other ritzy area, Puerto Madero, but it's downtown and essentially reclaimed docklands so there's not a developed infrastructure of shops, pedestrian life, and such, so it doesn't really appeal to me. My search now is for a nice place in Belgrano

So far, I must say I'm not impressed with the quality of service from the temp rental agencies. The one I'm renting from now has been great but they don't have anything suitable at the moment in Belgrano. I've been searching other temp agencies online and they're not exactly customer-oriented. One displayed prices in their ads, listed as all-inclusive, but when I phoned, the price suddenly jumped up 20% or more. When I completed an online form to inquire about another apartment, that company sent back a reply that simply said it wasn't available. You'd think they would at least suggest I look at another similar listing or two, right? Or at least say when it would be available in case I want to rent it in the future? Other companies have simply failed to respond at all to my inquiries. Argentina definitely has a lot to learn about successful business practices.

On the other hand, I needed a document translated recently and it had to be an official certified translation. On an expatriate forum, I found a referral and phoned the translator. She's pregnant and expecting any minute so she passed me on to one of her colleagues, Brenda. I met with Brenda on Sunday evening and by Tuesday she had the translation ready for me and did it at a very reasonable cost. So I know it's not a complete cultural mindset, people here can get things done, can do their best to create goodwill which will bring them more business. It's just sadly not very common.

OK, shameless plug for Luciano. He's kind of a fanatic about business, really wants to work hard to be successful and build his enterprise. I told him about my blog and that he was featured in it and the first thing he said was "Did you put a link to my store in it?" And I'd been worried he might object to even being discussed in a public forum! So here it is, if you're looking for an amiable guy who will sell you vitamins, nutritional supplements, apparel, and other sports related items, visit his website or store, Mercado Sports. Plus you get the bonus of a very cute guy assisting you with your purchases.

That's it for the moment. It's a three-day holiday weekend here and we're heading off to La Pampa (the part of Argentina where real gauchos are) soon. We decided to take a spur of the moment trip somewhere and originally planned to go to Rosario. Then he got inspired about the idea of visiting La Pampa and did a 180. He began extolling the virtues of La Pampa so ecstatically that I almost believe we'll be greeted by a receiving line of handsome gauchos (cowboys) on horseback and a bevy of wholesome fresh-faced maidens who will strew our path with flowers. Two hours earlier, he was just as rapturous about Rosario but after La Pampa popped into his fertile brain, Rosario became an evil corrupt city filled with liars, thieves, and cheats and only the fresh innocence and natural beauty of Argentine's plains would do! His tongue-in-cheek slandering of Rosario was truly funny and I'll remind him of what he said in the future when he suggests Rosario for another weekend outing.

I'll try to post a full accounting of our trip to the countryside on Tuesday after we return.

Woof! It's a dog's life

It's rather strange. I have nothing terribly interesting to report yet my life here in Buenos Aires has changed dramatically in the past couple of weeks. Undoubtedly you remember Luciano from my last post. Since I wrote that, he and I have virtually been living together. Every evening after he closes his store, he comes back from Belgrano to Recoleta/Barrio Norte and we cook dinner, listen to music, talk, and peruse the internet. Quite a domestic life, eh? That's not to say that it's boring. I'm always entertained when he's here and never wish that I was alone. That is saying a lot. I have friends that I dearly love but if I spent every night and weekend with them, I'd probably be climbing the walls. With Luciano, I just feel relaxed and at ease with him (even if we do sometimes have to struggle with the language gap a bit).

He almost scares me at times because he's so perceptive or intuitive. A couple of days after my latest post, we were talking about the boxes I've received from the US. You're probably familiar with my regular trips to the central postal facility in Retiro to retrieve yet another box or two of my books and personal belongings. Because I'm moving every couple of months, as I try out life in different areas of the city, Luciano asked me why I didn't store my boxes back in California and have them shipped when I was settled, so I wouldn't need to cart them around here. I said that things hadn't gone as smoothly as I'd originally thought, that I'd hoped I would have figured out where I wanted to live and possibly found a longterm apartment by this time, in which case I would want all of my stuff here.

Then I began to say something else, "En realidad (Actually)..." and he jumped in and uttered a long complicated sentence in Spanish. My jaw dropped and I sat there for a few seconds with my mouth open and a stunned looked on my face. He apparently mistook that for lack of understanding of his words but I'd pretty much gotten everything he said. He jumped up and went to the computer so he could type it into a translation program and then said "¡Mira! (Look!)." It said "Actually you were planning to leave Buenos Aires but now that you've met me, everything has changed and you're going to stay." It wasn't what I was going to say. I'd had something more innocuous in mind, about how perhaps I should have waited on the shipments until I was certain I would remain in Argentina. But, it was what I had been thinking, spot on.

You may recall my mention of a possible visit to Costa Rica later this year. What I hadn't told anyone was that I was planning to spend 6 weeks there not just for fun but to give the country a serious evaluation for my next home. I'd been rather depressed about my social experiences here and thought it might be best to return to my first love, Central America. I've always had such good times there, met really nice people, and already have friends in Panama and Costa Rica. In my mind I was already halfway living there, enjoying my fantasy tropical back yard, two dogs, and spacious home.

And Luciano changed all that, just as he'd said. How the hell did he know? The closest I'd come to discussing it was simply telling him a brief version of my camcorder thief story and a few general comments about having bad luck meeting people, that it seemed everyone I met was looking for profit rather than friendship.

OK, perhaps it was a lucky guess. But it just happens too often to be luck. Not long after the above incident, I mentioned something about my last dog (I've had dogs pretty much all of my life). He said "si, un labrador...negro (yes, a Labrador" That was the last dog I had! I have no pictures of her visible (they're sealed in my photos box, deep within one of the boxes I shipped). I've never mentioned her before. And it wasn't a guess, he stated it as a fact. I've asked him how he does that and he just says that it's a matter of observation, of studying people to understand their character, personality, and way of thinking. I think perhaps he has voodoo charms or an enslaved demon at his beck and call.

Speaking of dogs, last night I told him he's like a big Labrador-type dog. He loves physical attention, the way a dog loves to be petted. Massaged, stroked, and pampered, and I'm not talking in a sexual way. You know how you can pet a dog for 20 minutes and the moment you stop, he either nudges you with his nose or grunts a "woof" to let you know he expects you to resume where you left off? Luciano is just like that, he never tires of it and when I stop rubbing his back or neck he looks at me and says "¡mas! (more!)" It's a good thing I love large cuddly dogs.

Monday, August 6, 2007

A blowjob just when I needed it most

I met Luciano a few weeks ago on He messaged me and opened our chat with "give me money, i'm homeless and live on the street so don't throw away your food, I'll reheat it, and I need money to buy medicine for my poor sick aunt" (in Spanish, of course). I literally laughed out loud. I had updated my profile a couple of days before and added stuff about how I was looking for genuine friends, not losers who give me sob stories and are looking for handouts. Obviously he had read that and was tomando el pelo (pulling my hair which is how you say pulling someone's leg in castellano). I gave him instant bonus points for showing wit and humor.

Early Friday evening he and I met up at Alto Palermo Shopping, a large mall about 8 blocks from my apartment. Luciano has a small shop in a mall in Belgrano and asked me to accompany him to an exposition/trade show related to his business. He loves to walk, and he walks as though the demons of hell are chasing him, so we semi-sprinted about two miles from the mall to Centro Costa Salguero, a convention center next to the Rio de la Plata. We only stayed there about an hour, enough time for him to survey the available products and meet some new contacts. Then we headed back out into the rain for a dash to Paseo Alcorta, a shopping mall in Palermo Chico, so he could show me the fast food place he worked at in the food court a few years ago when he moved to the capital. It was time for dinner but, needless to say, Luciano wasn't eager to eat in the mall amidst memories of lousy wages and even worse managers.

So, we headed back uptown to Belgrano and ate in a cafeteria-style restaurant, Fame, near his store. It's not fancy but the food is decent and inexpensive and I remembered it from the first time we met when we went there for a coffee. At that time I was pretty nervous, as I often am when meeting new people here. Not only do I worry whether I'm meeting a new con artist or a potential good friend, I'm also anxious about the language gap. In English I think I'm a relatively bright and interesting person but I fear that my Spanish isn't good enough to keep a new acquaintance amused or involved. Of course, that just starts a cycle: I worry about my Spanish so I'm tense which makes it harder to speak and listen which makes me worry more.

Luciano is a pretty high-energy guy but he also has been very good about putting me at ease. We communicate very well most of the time, except when it's way late and my brain is too tired to process castellano any longer. As you'll see in the rest of this post, I more or less spent several days with him using castellano continuously day and night (he speaks little English) and my communication level increases dramatically as I become accustomed to someone's voice, intonation, and vocabulary.

After dinner, we walked around Belgrano a while and he gave me a crash course on public sex cruising in Buenos Aires. I got the lowdown on which subway station restrooms are cruisy and he even demonstrated how it all works at one of them. Then we went to visit his friend Javier at his apartment. They have been friends since they were young in Salta (northwest Argentina) and are close enough that Luciano has a key to his apartment (which is indeed a high level of trust here). During our conversation, among other things, they decided I haven't yet seen enough of the racier parts of BA night life, which set the stage for Saturday's activities. Eventually I left for home and a good night's rest since we were planning a late outing on Saturday night.

On Saturday, Luciano and I once again made Alto Palermo Shopping our rendezvous point. It's conveniently located a few blocks from Parque Las Heras, a public park enjoyed by families during the day but dedicated to cruising at night, as he eventually showed me. We walked down Avenida Santa Fe and Luciano pointed out which restaurants, cafés, and bars are mostly gay at night and the corners where the taxiboys (male prostitutes) ply their trade. Conveniently enough, many of them coincide so a would-be patron can enjoy a meal or drink in a restaurant while watching the taxiboys through the window, a kind of reverse window shopping.

Ultimately we arrived at our primary target about 1:00 AM, Zoom, a gay sex club. It has a small bar area as well as a lounge to relax or watch TV. Most of the space is given over to the driving purpose of the venue: cruising and semi-public sex. It's not like a bathhouse where people strip and walk around with towels. You can check coats, daypacks, and such, but you keep your clothes on as you troll around for prey.

There are lots of dimly lit passageways throughout the club, many lined with private booths. The booths are big enough for two people, have a video monitor with porn playing, mirrors, and strategically placed holes so one can observe or interact with whomever is in adjacent booths. There's also a pitch-black maze where one is forced to grope one's way, obviously with the intention of feeling much more than the walls. Luciano clearly found that arousing, as he proved by grabbing my hand to put in his pants so I could feel just how much he was enjoying it in there. The maze itself didn't do much for me but I certainly had no objection whatsoever to groping and grinding with Luciano for a while.

Our outing was more of a sightseeing tour rather than a night of debauchery. We stuck together, popping into empty cabins to see what was going on next door, meandered the maze a number of times, checked out the swelling (in more ways than one) crowd, and even chatted with a few people he knew. Eventually we got tired and walked back to my apartment which is only about a dozen blocks away and finally got to sleep around 5 AM.

Prices for Zoom: admission 12 pesos (US $3.87), soft drinks 4 pesos (US $1.29), beer 7 pesos (US $2.25)

The next morning, Sunday, we slept in and then got a kick start with cappucinos and a shower, then headed to the supermarket because my cupboards were truly bare. Luciano loves to cook so we got what we needed and he whipped up a delicious chicken cacciatore. After lunch, we talked and napped and then wanted coffee but discovered that my espresso machine was not putting out. I assumed the dispersion screen was blocked but I didn't have a screwdriver to remove it for cleaning. We headed for Easy, a superstore similar to Home Depot in the US, to find a screwdriver. As I said before, he loves to walk, so walk we did, a good 3 miles but it was a brisk evening, not overly cold, so it was fine. Along the way, Luciano continued my cruising education by showing me where the hot spot is in the Bosque de Palermo (Forest of Palermo), a woodsy park along Avenida de Libertador. We took the subway home and once again he demonstrated his culinary skills by making us a couple of savory pizzas.

It turned out the dispersion screen wasn't the problem with my Ariete. It was the outlet hole of the portafilter basket, a very tiny hole indeed. A paper clip was too big, a straw from the broom was too flimsy, and I didn't have any wooden toothpicks. Luciano is a clever boy. He took the filter basket, put his mouth around the hole, and blew. Nothing happened. He blew some more. He turned red in the face. Finally, he felt the blockage give way. We put it all back together, crossed our fingers, and happily watched frothy brown crema flowing into the cups. Luciano's expert blowjob had done the trick.

Later that night I rewarded him for his excellent cooking and hole-clearing success with an hour long massage. OK, who am I kidding? He seemed to love it but I bet enjoyed it even more. He's the typical Argentino beauty so who wouldn't enjoy rubbing a hot naked guy?

When he left this morning to go open his shop, I felt better than I had in weeks. I'd had such a fun few days and felt so comfortable and relaxed with him. I know what some of you readers are thinking. Why would I trust a relative stranger again, letting him not only visit my home but stay overnight for two nights? Part of it is I don't want to become a total victim, incapable of trusting anyone, living a sequestered life. Also, the situation is different with him. Unlike the problematic guys in my recent past, I actually know a lot about him. I have been in his store, in his office, in his home, in the home of his friend. He's not someone with a tabula rasa life, where false facts are painted to give me the illusion of knowing the person. So perhaps it's still a risk but at least it's grounded in some verified experiences. I'll just keep my fingers crossed and hope that it turns out as well as Luciano's blowjob did.

Is that a burrito in your pocket or are you glad to see me?

Today I'm sitting at home in my apartment, sniffling and sneezing. It looks like I caught a slight cold. I don't feel too bad though, I'll probably be out and about again tomorrow. Even with a cold, I'm in a great mood because the past several days have been so enjoyable.

Thursday evening I met up with Ulises in Calle Florida, the extensive pedestrian shopping street in Microcentro. I was on a quest for elusive game, seldom seen in Buenos Aires, a Mexican burrito. I'd heard of this place that was supposed to be good and cheap so Ulises joined me in the hunt. We found it at Lavalle 441, the California Burrito Company. It's not flashy or stylish but it has first class food at bargain prices. The burritos are made as you watch, so you can select whichever ingredients you want to include, and they are muy grande (very big)! We both ordered the promoción (special) which includes a burrito, basket of tortilla chips with choice of dip, and a soft drink, and I was so stuffed I could hardly move afterward. I met the owner briefly, a nice guy from San Francisco who has been here for a couple of years. I guarantee I will be going back there regularly to get my fix of salsa, tortillas, guacamole, and all those other things I miss from back home.

Price for 2 specials (burrito, chips with guacamole, and soft drink): 34 pesos (US $10.93).

After dinner, we strolled around Florida and Lavalle a bit, window shopping, and then decided to go for a coffee at the famous Café Tortoni. They were having a tango show that evening and we weren't really up for that, more interested in finding a quiet spot to talk. So we kept going up Avenida de Mayo and went to Goya, a lovely restaurant with a large balcony where you can sit and look down at the main floor. Later we walked up to Avenida 9 de Julio where I could catch my bus (colectívo) home to Barrio Norte. The bus system here is great, it goes just about everwhere in the city with frequent buses, it runs all night (the subway closes around 11 PM), and the fare is only 80 centavos (US $0.26). I've been getting more adventurous recently, trying to learn and use some of the 100+ bus routes in the city. It was a pleasant evening.

I went to the central post office for international mail in Retiro again on Friday. It's turning into my home away from home. Before I left California, I shipped all of my boxes during two days, a Thursday and Friday. One would assume that they would arrive more or less together. Instead, about every week to ten days, I get a notice of a shipment, go down to Retiro, go through the lengthy waits in both the postal and customs sections, and come back with only one or two boxes.

This time it was not only the fastest ever but I had a pleasant diversion. It was raining on Friday and I think that kept people away so there were only 15 people ahead of me in line. While I was waiting, a young man struck up a conversation with me and we spent the next hour-and-a-half together until I cleared customs and departed for home. His name is Patricio and he lives in my former neighborhood of Palermo. He buys things from eBay fairly often and he entertained me with stories about his postal and customs misadventures. That day he told me he was really hoping not to see anyone he recognized in customs because on his previous trip he'd gotten into a vociferous shouting match with one of the customs officers who had tried to jack up the customs duty sky high so he could pocket the difference.

Patricio helped me with the part of the process I absolutely hate, listening for my ticket number. When you enter the post office section, you take a ticket number for your turn and that's no problem, it's a short number between 1 and 100. After the postal clerk does his/her stuff, you receive a customs ticket and the numbers there are very long. Then you sit in the customs area and wait to hear your number called over a bad loudspeaker. They do it in batches so you're listening to rapid fire calls in Spanish such as "715384, 714568, 715446, 715695, 714622." Even the native Spanish speakers have a hard time distinguishing their respective numbers so you can imagine how I grip my ticket stub and desperately try to keep up with the flow. Patricio listened for my number, escorted me into the receiving area, talked to the customs officer for me, and even phoned for a radio taxi to pick up me and my two boxes. What a thoughtful and considerate lad! He wants to practice his English so we'll stay in touch and get together for coffee and conversation in the future.