I walk down the corridor leading away from my room. The receptionist, Natasha is scurrying toward me in a distraught state.
“Gun, gun” is all she can verbally muster.
She pushes me back from where I’ve come. “Go back to your room” she continues.
I hastily unlock the door and head inside. Natasha follows me inside, shutting the door behind her. I’m in a state of alarmed awkwardness. On one hand concerned as to the current situation playing out in the hotel and the other that I am now alone with Natasha the receptionist in my room.
“Call the police?” I suggest, picking up the phone.
She dials what looks to be random numbers and drops the phone, running out of the room and once again shutting the door behind her.
I was in Buenos Aires at the end of a South American adventure. After the Amazon jungle, Inca trail and Iguazu Falls we left a few days for rest and relaxation in Buenos Aires. We planned to cleave off as much steak and imbibe as much of the local Malbec as the city would allow.
I was travelling with Allison and friends Dave and Lesley who had flown in from the UK. Our prior research had led us to stay in the pleasant city suburb of Palermo. Palermo had a mix of trendy bars, cobbled streets and small city parks which gave it a liveable feel. The modern Duque Hotel was chosen as a boutique guest house in keeping with the Palermo vibe. It also had a plunge pool and in the afternoon pastries were served on the rear terrace.
We had spent the morning in the city taking in a few sights. The Eva Peron museum was the first stop. Eva Peron was a powerful political figure who shaped modern Argentina. Peron was the subject of the 1996 movie Evita, starring Madonna. It was interesting to get the background and full influence of Eva Peron’s life and legacy at this tastefully done museum. Later, we navigated the maze within the La Recoleta cemetery. We followed the worn path to her final resting place where fresh flowers are still laid daily.
A lunch stop in San Telmo revealed a cafe which could have passed as Parisian. Buenos Aires often gets labelled as European which is hard to argue against. The architecture would not be out of place in a suburb of Madrid. The decor in the cafe we found ourselves presently had nearly an intentional French feel. Dog walkers are seemingly everywhere, often expertly walking up to 12 dogs at a time. We often had to stop and think that we were towards the bottom of South America and not in a Paris arrondissement.
Argentina is notably a ‘futbol’ mad country. So a visit to the Boca Juniors ground in aptly named La Boca was the next stop. The legendary rivalry between Boca Juniors and the similarly Buenos Airies based River Plate makes worldwide headlines, often for the wrong reasons. Continuing down through La Boca to the Caminito, a pedestrian only street. We enjoyed a drink in one of the street side bars where Tango dancers were nearly outnumbering the tourists. Dave and I ensuring no eye contact was made with the dancers when calls for some crowd participation were made.
Mindful of the time, we were keen not to miss the afternoon pastries back at the Duque Hotel. We had begun the day using the subway. Since then we had switched to cabs which we discovered that for 4 people was a quick, efficient and the most cost effective way to move around the city. Our intentions for afternoon pastry degustation was part gluttony, part strategic. You will struggle to find a restaurant in Buenos Aires open for dinner service before 9:30pm. And, if you do, you will most certainly be the only people in the restaurant. Buenos Aires residents eat late! So we were planning a long civilised early evening, reading books, sipping cups of tea and savouring a pastry to tide us over to our later dinner plans.
So I’d left Allison, Dave and Lesley lounging on the rear terrace. I ventured upstairs to retrieve my half-finished book from our room. The Duque hotel is quite compact and has a second level which is accessible by a grand spiral staircase and also a generously sized elevator. The entrance to both are situated alongside each other just after the reception area. The staircase begins to the right of the elevator door on the ground level and curls left, with views over reception. The staircase snakes its way around the elevator shaft eventually arriving on the second floor but now on the left of the elevator door.
This detail, while architecturally interesting, is what may have well been a pivotal moment. As I arrived at the elevator door I pressed the button to call the elevator. My gamble being if the elevator was ready to go I would take it. Call it laziness, but since the completion of the Inca trail any excuse to avoid stairs has been a general rule! As luck, and fate, would have it the elevator opened and I stepped in. At the same time I heard a hysterical laughter coming from reception which echoed through the hotel.
Out of the elevator I was tempted to pop my head back down the staircase to see what was happening in reception. However, I decided against it and headed down the hallway to my room to retrieve my book. As I was returning to the hallway from the room I encountered the receptionist Natasha, out of breath and slightly hysterical commanding I get back in my room. After she promptly left I was left to my own devices to know what to do next. Knowing I had my wife and friends in the back garden potentially at the mercy of a gunman. Pathetically, I picked up my pocket knife, yet still kept the book in my other hand. I sheepishly peered out the door looking to either attack a gunman with a pen knife or presumably, read him to sleep with a bedtime story!
Edging down the corridor and to the stairs it was all quiet. Then I saw a small cupboard on the stairwell was open which revealed an emptied safe. More confident now that the gunman had got what he’s come for I put away the knife and returned to the rear courtyard. Allison, Dave and Lesley were none the wiser to the dramatic events still sitting back with their noses in their books. Only commenting that they had heard some laughing.
Natasha eventually returned to check how we were and confirm the threat was over. She was naturally shaken having just had a gun pointed at her. We subsequently switched our drinks from tea to beer to calm the nerves a little. Palermo and the entire city of Buenos Aires seemed quite safe. Even the La Boca region which has a reputation for robberies was pretty tame. It is a fact of any city that these type of incidents can occur and we were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or the right place at the right time as I like to think. Had I continued up the stairs I would have witnessed the gunman as he entered the reception area and added complexity to a tense situation.
The whole stay in the Duque Hotel prior to that incident had been an amazing experience. I have only made one review on TripAdvisor to date and I reserved this for the Duque Hotel, cryptically acknowledging their efforts in keeping us from an armed gunman. You can see the TripAdvisor review here and Natasha’s response! And, I have returned to Buenos Aires since and chose to stay at the Duque Hotel. It is interesting that the most dramatic and sometimes horrible experiences had while travelling also become the most memorable. The things you most wish don’t happen are the things you most vividly recall.