BA. So much to do, so much to see. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about the city before I went. Buenos Aires had never been a city super high on my list of to-visits. I was wrong, way wrong! I loved the city. I did a ton and met loads of people. When meeting people the first thing everyone asks after the standard name/where you from/how long are you traveling… is do you have American dollars? There is a legal exchange rate and ability to use you US debt card to get local currency like everywhere else but Argentina is so desperate for outside currency and especially for USD that they will pay a premium in exchange. If you exchange money at the official rate its about 8.3 Arg Pesos for 1 US dollar. If you exchange on the street you get the “blue dollar rate” which is 14-15 Arg Pesos for 1 US dollar. Meaning that Argentina is already somewhat cheap for an American but now everything is half the price. Bottle of good wine? $3-5. Delicious steak? $7- $10. The process of changing of money is a bit creepy. You walk down a main pedestrian shopping street and wait to hear “Cambio, cambio, cambioooooo!” Then you walk up to said stranger yelling cambio and you go through your good day-how are yous. With the polite conversation complete the negoitation starts. How much? I want 15. I’ll give 14.2. No, 15. What do you have? Do you have 100s? No, 20s. No 15, I give you 14.4. In the end you get to 14.6 and give up. Once the price is set you and the cambio man walk down the street a bit and to the back of a shop, the doorway of a big building, the side of a newspaper stand and start counting out the cash. We all felt a bit nervous but just went for it and in the end we were fine and flush with cash. Um, cab home? Yup, good call.
I had read in my guidebook that on Sundays you could get a free tour of the Casa Rosada, the Pink House. It is Argentina’s version of the White House. The president use to live there but does not currently but it still where the Presidential Office is. It was interesting to tour. A beautiful house but needs a little help with maintenance. The best maintained room is the Eva Peron guest waiting area. Evita was loved, then during the dictatorship her name couldn’t be mentioned but after the Dirty War she has once again become a beloved figure of the people – especially the working class. I did get to go out on the balcony that she and her husband were famous for speaking from. It was neat to see it. Also, interesting fact the Pink House was pink because the air was very moist due to its location near the river and erosion was a problem. How do you cheaply protect the building? What does Argentina have a lot of? Cows. Turns out cow’s blood (maybe all animal blood?) has a non-erosive properly. I assume that is not why it’s still pink but I’m not sure. Vegetarians, Argentina really isn’t your place.
The next day it was already time to move on. I went with two girls from the hostel to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. There is a ferry boat twice a day and it takes about an hour to get there. The main draw for most people (besides an extra stamp in your passport!) is that you can get American dollars out of the ATMs there. So people go, take out money and come back and change it into Pesos. I didn’t have much in terms of expections but I loved the city, especially the historic center. It was a beautiful day, perfect for walking around. So Colonia – super pretty, American $$ but for me the most distinguishing feature for me was the crazy ass street dogs. They were giant and healthy looking but nuts. A car would drive down the street and the dogs chased the car. But they didn’t just chase from behind, the ran in front of the cars! At that point the car would have to slow down to avoid hitting the dog in front of the car and the other dogs would start biting the car. Biting the bumpers, the door handles, the mirror.. whatever they could get a hold of. WTF? The best was later seeing people on moped type scooters. They would have to stop every 5 feet and scream at the dogs to leave them alone. It is hilarious to watch. Apparently the dogs don’t really bother people, especially people on foot they just really like to bite moving vehicles. So strange.
That night we got back just in time to head back out again. Every Monday night there is a show called La Bomba del Tiempo. An amazing percussion show in a giant open air warehouse. The band was amazing. Draft beers came in a full liter. We ended up running into more people from our hostel and we all had a blast. After the show is over different smaller bands breakaway and leader packs of people to the bars. Just walking down major streets of Buenos Aires. Not a care in the world, cars be damned – we’re walking here! It was great ambiance. The neighbors just hung out the windows, kids were dancing on the streets and everyone was 3 sheets to the wind.
All the hostels provide daily activities/suggestions. Walking tours, Spanish/Tango lessons and BBQs. Almost every night there is something going on which makes it fun and easy to meet people. On my first full day I went for a walking tour around the neighborhood I was staying in, San Telmo and after we visited La Boca. Our tour guide was fantastic. Three hours of walking flew by (far better then the tour I took in Rio.) San Telmo and the city of Buenos Aires was really built by immigrants. After Argentina had their independence they no longer wanted to look like a Spanish colonial city so they knocked everything down and started again. Crazy. There are only a handful of colonial buildings left. They wanted to model themselves after the best city at that time – Paris. So the city is often referred to as the “Paris of South America” and they really mean it. The followed the architecture, road layout – just short one Eiffel Tower.
Buenos Aires was off to a great start! More to come. :)