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São Paulo, Brazil, to Buenos Aires, Argentina—Where the Flight Itself is a Culture Shock

“Passport. Buenos Aires, right? Do you have a return ticket?”

“Well, I have a return ticket to Canada, but not from Buenos Aires…”

“If you don’t have a return ticket, you have a problem. Show it to me.”

“Sure, if you give me two minutes, I have a PDF copy of it on my laptop.”

I took my laptop out of my bag and turned it on. I could see Feng, a few metres away, making a “WTF is going on?” face.

“So many of these… backpackers don’t have a return ticket,” the check-in counter agent mumbled.

“I do!” I stated cheerfully in my best totally-not-an-irresponsible-backpacker voice. “Here. AC 093.”


“Boarding is at 6:30 p.m.”

Right, thank you and have a great day, eh.

“The fuck?” Feng asked.

“They wanted to see my return ticket. Also, Qatar Airways doesn’t seem to be a super flexible, mas o menos kind of airline.”

Don’t ask why I’m flying Qatar Airways from São Paulo to Buenos Aires—it doesn’t make much sense to me either. But when I looked for the cheapest tickets available, my options were Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways and Ethiopian Airlines. Qatar has the best schedule and safety record, so they got me as a passenger.

“Okay, let’s find Air Canada, now.”

There was a long queue but passengers were being processed North American-style, i.e. swiftly and efficiently, with the usual please-don’t-reply-I’m-just-being-polite “how are you today?” greeting.

“I have to hurry up a bit, apparently boarding is 6:30 p.m.,” I told Feng. “And I want to exchange dollars for Argentinian pesos if I can find a casa de câmbio.”

“You have time, there’s no way boarding will actually start at 6:30 p.m.!”

“Trust me, based on my short interaction with the agent, it will. Doesn’t look like it’s going to be one of these GOL flights where you walk to the aircraft five minutes before takeoff.”

I was at Gate 331, almost the last one. We walked by a casa de câmbio but the employee has just left on a break. By the time we found my gate, boarding was starting.

“Can you two not cry?” Feng joked.

Mark didn’t seem like he was about to. He was excited to go back to Canada. Also, in-flight entertainment!

I would definitely cry later, but in private.

Not a single tear was shed.

We waved to each other until I stepped into the skybridge to the aircraft.

I was sitting next to a Brazilian couple who was coming to Buenos Aires for the weekend, and who documented the three-hour flight taking pictures of absolutely everything but mostly themselves.

The in-flight entertainment system was set to Mandarin, so switching it to English kept me busy and focused for a few minutes. Really, when you leave a place, when you leave people, the key is just to keep your mind busy.

Ah, right there, 英语 (English).

I had the choice between many Hollywood movies, even more Bollywood movies, a couple of “world movies” and “The Daily Quran.”

I opted out of the Quran (didn’t seem to be the right moment to find God) and found a French movie full of sex jokes instead. I briefly wondered how and why it was selected by Qatar Airways—had they even watched it?

The couple next to me was kissing in Brazilian while the flight attendants were doing the safety briefing in Arabic, then in English. Qatar Airways was reminding female passengers to take their high heels off in case of an emergency evacuation. There was an oddly specific five-minute video on what to do if you drop your phone between two seats (do NOT recline your seat, ask a flight attendant for help). Then the video showed a blue-eyed, blond hair actor who looked like perfect material for the Hitlerjugend politely requesting passengers to stay seated while praying on board.

I didn’t have the chance to cry. I was having a mini culture shock, thanks to Qatar Airways.

I declined the usual airline dinner—chicken and rice—and I watched the French movie, where bad words or expressions were edited (so they did watch it!)

We landed and I sprung into action. The Brazilian couple presumably had Argentinean pesos, they were full because they had enjoyed an early Brazilian dinner and they were probably going to spend the night having sex in exotic Buenos Aires—they had it all figured out, the lucky bastards.

I, on the other hand, had several missions to accomplish—getting Argentinean pesos, taking a taxi to the hotel and finding food—and it was already 10 p.m.

There was a long queue to go through immigration because each foreign-passport holder had to give biometric data (fingerprints and picture). Some were also questioned for quite a while, luckily, I was pretty much waved through.

Money. I needed some. I didn’t even try to withdraw cash from the airport ATM because like many ATMs in Argentina, they are always empty. Instead, I queued with other expert travellers for cambio at the Banco de la Nación Argentina hidden in a corner of the arrival hall. I exchanged 204 reais and $80 and ended up with almost 6,000 pesos.

The taxi driver was the chatty kind but he didn’t try to overcharge me or insisted I pay in US$. So far, so good.

The apartment I had booked looked absolutely awesome, clean and exactly as shown on pictures.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

Then my stomach started gurgling. Time to go out.

At 11:30 p.m. on a Friday night, Buenos Aires was alive. I know the city well, it was just a matter of finding Avenida 9 de Julio. Honestly, every city should have a super-wide avenue with a giant obelisk right in the middle—it makes finding your way around much easier.

I picked up a couple of empanadas at the usual pizza places, then I discovered the Carrefour supermarket on Avenida Corrientes is now open 24/7, so I bought bananas, yogurt, ham, water, Coke, etc. Apparently, half of Buenos Aires had also decided 1 a.m. was the perfect time to go grocery shopping.

I walked back to the hotel with my Carrefour reusable bag and organized everything.

Then I thought of Feng and Mark, up in the air somewhere.

That’s when I decided to sleep before a belated crying session.

São Paulo/Guarulhos–Governador André Franco Montoro International Airport (GRU)
São Paulo/Guarulhos–Governador André Franco Montoro International Airport (GRU)
Boarding the Qatar Airways aircraft in São Paulo/Guarulhos–Governador André Franco Montoro International Airport (GRU)
Qatar Airways on-board entertainment includes “The Holy Quran”
Unpacking and untagging my backpack at the hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina
2 a.m.in Buenos Aires, Argentina

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