Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Two Norbertos

Our trip to Argentina was suggested by our friend Norberto, who is a native of that country. He visits Argentina frequently, and was excited by the prospect of showing us around. Norberto used to be in the travel business, so he takes extreme pride in finding airline and lodging deals. We let him poke around on the Internet for a few days, and he proposed the following scenario:

He and I would drive to Miami with the kids and the luggage late on a Thursday night, arriving in the wee hours of the morning. On Friday morning we would fly from Miami to Panama, change planes, and fly from Panama to Buenos Aires, arriving in the early evening on Friday. The wives would fly down from Orlando on Saturday afternoon, arriving very early on Sunday morning.

Norberto had arranged for two furnished apartments in Buenos Aires. Because the Argentine peso is valued at 3 to 1 versus the dollar, the accommodations were incredibly cheap. A week in a furnished apartment in Buenos Aires costs about the same as a nice hotel for one night in New York.

So at 11:30 pm on Thursday, we piled into a rented van and hit the Florida Turnpike. Within half an hour I realized the flaw in the plan. We would never make it to Buenos Aires, because we would all be crushed or burned to death in a horrible traffic accident. Norberto is a judge, and like many judges, considers himself basically immune from prosecution for all but capital crimes. He drove 95 miles an hour the entire way. The 4-hour drive to Miami was over in 2 and a half hours. I left claw marks in the foam padding of the dashboard, and ground half a gram of calcium off the crowns of my teeth during the ride.

We were first in line at the airline counter when it opened for business at 4:00 am, where Norberto argued in Spanish with the desk agent for half an hour to get the seats he wanted. I must admit, it worked. I sat in an exit aisle and had plenty of leg room.

The 2 and a half hour flight to Panama was uneventful, other than the argument Norberto had in Spanish with the gate agent in Panama to ensure that we got the seats he wanted. Once again, Norberto came through, and I enjoyed the same exit aisle seat for the 7-hour flight to Buenos Aires.

When we arrived, we were met by his cousin, who is also named Norberto. Norberto number two helped us load our luggage into the car, then drove us on a picturesque route through the evening streets of Buenos Aires, at approximately 95 miles an hour.

We wove in terrifying patterns through the traffic, occasionally occupying a lane with another vehicle. We were never farther than 6 inches from another car, bus or truck. Norberto flicked his headlights and tooted his horn at random intervals, made casual conversation in broken English, careened recklessly through intersections, pointed out historic landmarks, and steered with his knees while lighting a cigarette. When we arrived at our apartment, I was a whimpering wreck. For 10 hours I had been hurtling through the atmosphere at half the speed of sound, but I was never so terrified as I was when riding in a car with either Norberto behind the wheel.


Anonymous said...

You made me laugh so much I cried.

Guess who!

Mark said...

Hey, last year I went to Argentina and had the best of times. You are right, the peso is valued at 3 to 1 and that makes everything so cheap!
I enjoyed Tango so much, that when I went back to my country, I started tango lessos. I had stayed in an apartment in buenos aires which was near the downtown and La Boca.
I want to go back...