After spending 20 hours in airports and on airplanes, I finally arrived at a cool, soggy Buenos Aires Monday evening. It was mostly uneventful – even given that I traveled with a badly bruised and swollen leg from a freak injury, I slept well on my LAN flight from Los Angeles via Lima. LAN’s coach seats still offer enough room to recline and stretch unless you’re an NBA frontliner (who wouldn’t be traveling this far south at this time of the year because the professional basketball season is starting).
That said, I was a bit disappointed in the food this time (though I never expect much from airplane food nor eat much on-board, LAN’s selection is usually better than most airlines). I was pleasantly surprised, though, with their in-flight entertainment selection, which included unconventional independent films like the Paraguayan Siete Cajas (Seven Boxes, see trailer above), set in Asunción’s Mercado Cuatro (also featured in a recent episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown series, to which I made a small contribution).
Siete Cajas is not for the squeamish, and that’s not because of sanitation problems at the market – rather, it’s social realism bordering on naturalism, though not without some dark humor (none of the protagonists really seems to know what’s going on). Suffice it to say that it’s also a thriller and, at times, it feels like one long (if highly inventive) chase scene.
SOME PRACTICAL REFLECTIONS
Barely two decades ago, Lima’s Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chávez was a dingy affair that resembled nothing so much as a grimy Greyhound station. Changing planes there, which I sometimes had to do en route to Buenos Aires or Santiago, was something to avoid if at all possible.
Over the last decade, though, it’s been utterly transformed into an efficient award-winning facility where I look forward to having enough layover time for a Peruvian pisco sour. It’s comfortable, with lounges and shops (including one specializing in pisco), and plenty of seating room. My flights from there have always been on time.
That said, it does have some shortcomings. It’s the only airport I know where, while changing planes, you have to pass through security again even though you never leave the international departure terminal. Since my last visit, they’ve also started requiring passengers to removes belts, shoes and jackets, which they were never fussy about before. Also, for those on a layover, the WiFi is almost non-existent – in my part of the busy terminal, I could not even detect a signal, let alone log in.
On the plane south to Buenos Aires, I sat next to a young Peruvian woman making her first visit to the Argentine capital, and she seemed a bit bewildered by the Argentine customs form that ask you specifically what cell phone(s) you are carrying (see image above). This has always struck me as bizarre although, in a country that does not permit commercial importation of iPhones because Apple declined to assemble them in Tierra del Fuego, it’s also unsurprising. That’s silly, of course, but plenty of things in Argentina are silly (many top government officials do carry iPhones purchased abroad).
For my part, I listed my iPhone 5 and not my other three phones (an older iPhone, an Argentine Samsung, and a Chilean Samsung, all of which I may have occasional to use). Still, I told her not to be concerned and, as it happened, Argentine customs didn’t even bother to collect my form, let alone inspect my belongings (including a MacBook and an iPad) except for cursory x-rays. I can’t say they will never do so, but on my many trips through Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini (colloquially known as “Ezeiza,” they’ve never bothered to challenge me.