Buenos Aires, Saturday 9-23-95 2300 local (Z-3)
Spring time in Buenos Aires. When we began Fall yesterday, they began Spring here. It even looks like Spring: trees leafing out, people in short sleeves during the day, light jackets at night.
We took off from Miami, finally, early yesterday morning and flew 5 hours to Manaus, arriving there about noon. Manaus in the last real city up the Amazon. The stop there was just for fuel, and, unexpectedly, the temperature was a mere 31 degrees C (that's about 88 F) so we were able to take off again without waiting until nightfall for it to cool down. The runway there is only about 8500 feet long, too short for a loaded 747 when the temperature climbs above 31. As it was we were just barely legal, and we used every inch of runway getting off. Usually, the crews go to a hotel there to wait for the temperature to drop. I was kind of looking forward to that since the hotel is right on the Amazon, and I planned to go down and take a quick swim in it just to say I had done it.
Manaus is roughly a thousand miles up the Amazon, but the airport elevation is only 278 feet, and it's sitting on a small rise. So, obviously the river moves very slowly to the sea with only a couple of hundred feet to drop in that distance. Even that far from it's mouth, it is already a very big river, well over a mile across (probably more like 2 or 3), although the map shows it narrowing and widening alternately along it's course.
One encouraging note is that on this route we flew from southern Venezuela to Manaus over lots of uncut country. Every time I looked down for at least an hour, all I saw was rain forest - no roads, no clear cuts, no landing strips. In short, no sign of man. However, there could have been small settlements in the trees along the rivers (of which there are many), and I wouldn't have been able to see them. So, while the lower Amazon has been badly cut over, there is at least one upper portion that still looks untrammeled from the air. There was one escarpment that ran for miles that I could see, and if you can see it from 35,000, it has to be fairly high.
Manaus may be remote, but apparently the crime prevalent throughout Brazil is also there. The captain I am with said some of our flight attendants were mugged in broad daylight on the beach just down from the hotel.
I went for a long run this morning and an equally long walk this afternoon and evening. Both took me much farther out of the vicinity of the hotel than I had been on my one previous trip here. It appears the hotel area is the best of Buenos Aires. It gets pretty seedy after you've gone a ways; reminds me of Madrid a little. That would be logical. The first wave of Europeans to come here were the Spaniards. Next, as I understand it, the Italians came, and those two ethic groups defined the culture (which is perhaps why I really wouldn't enjoy living here). Later French, Poles, Germans and others joined them. There's also apparently a large Jewish population and, of course, remnants of the indigenous peoples. I see almost no Asians, although there are a few Chinese restaurants. There appear to be almost no blacks (African origin), but there is a small Muslim population, Arabs I'm told.
The major religion here is Roman Catholicism and they still dictate matters of morals, or at least what they believe to be morals. There are no nude beaches, but the girls can dress very provocatively and do.
I keep talking to people, picking up a little bit here and a little bit there. The ones I've talked to seem anxious to practice their English. I get the impression that Argentines are really not very happy. A stable, effective, honest government continues to elude them. Corruption, serious corruption, is endemic. According to the newspapers, some respected artistic type has labeled 1990 to 2000 as the decade of corruption here. The appellation has stuck, apparently deservedly so.
I found out that one is foolish to change your money into their dollars. The exchange rate is a government dictated rate. You get 97 centavos (100 centavos is their dollar) for your American dollar. However, the black market rate is one for one, and every merchant will take your U.S. dollars. It's still expensive, $5 for a coke and quarter pounder at McDonalds this afternoon, but that three cents on the dollar helps a little.
The plan is that we'll leave tomorrow evening, refuel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and then go on to Miami. The only sure part of that (or at least I hope it's sure) is that we will leave - time and destination are always variable.
Backing up a little bit, on the last trip's two flight into and out of Edward's Air Force Base, I was treated to a few interesting sights. My previous trip there was an night arrival and a night departure. These two times we were able to see the runways marked on the the dry lake bed. They use something black to produce the markings. These are the runways they use for the space shuttle when it has to land there.
I also saw the F-117, that's the stealth fighter, in the air. Watched the stealth bomber, the B-2, take off, and, most impressive of all, watched an F-15 take off and go into a vertical climb. It's thrust exceeds it's weight at low altitudes and when it isn't loaded down with armament, so it can accelerate vertically until the thrust drops off in the higher air.
This won't get transmitted until my return to the U.S. or some other place that doesn't make you join (at a high cost of course) a "local compuserve" to emable you to establish contact. Also, the hotel here has a $3.50 surcharge to picking up the phone to call an 800 number.
Oh, yes, speaking of the hotel, the following quote is from a note placed prominently in each room.
"Dear Guest, lately the local press has brought to the public attention a series of problems concerning services provided by local taxis, some of which are stationed in the outside perimeters of the Hotel, in airports or at the entrances to other hotels. These problems include robberies, overcharging and bad treatment of passengers ... It is our concern for the well-being of our guests that prompts this note. We do not wish to alarm you, simply to alert you to the current situation."
I've also been told that if you eat in a good restaurant, you are much less likely to be over charged by the waiter if you use a credit card. Personally, I've been sticking to McDonalds, Burger King, and Pizza Hut, so I don't have that problem. I can't seem to find any Kentucky Fried Chickens here.
I had hoped to stay up later than this, but I'm seriously fading. Besides, I'm going to have to get up early - the hotel's free breakfast buffet quits at eleven a.m. Actually, my plan is to have breakfast around 9, take a short walk, then go back to bed for the all nighter to Miami. It'll be 10 hours in the air plus a 2 hour fuel stop at San Juan.