11.11.2016 - 16.11.2016 24 °C
We arrived in Buenos Aires on 11 November 2016. Darren's Phantom 4 quadcopter made it through without raising an eyebrow. The next thing was to catch a taxi to San Telmo where we were staying. I'd read that there are official taxies and unofficial ones and that to get an official taxi one should go to the taxi kiosk at the airport, provide a destination address and pay at the counter. No money is exchanged with the driver. When we emerged through the doors after passing through immigration we were confronted with the hire car and taxi kiosks. We asked about the fare to our address and were quoted 45USD. This was about $15 more than we thought it was supposed to be but there seemed to be no other alternative.........until we paid and walked out the next set of doors. There in all its glory stood the little radio taxi kiosk. The one that would have cost us less. What we didn't realise is that there are the normal run-of-the-mio taxies and then there is a more 'exclusive' car service for which you pay a more 'exclusive' fare.
Lesson 1: If you are going to catch a cab from the airport in Buenos Aires, look for the taxi kiosk outside the terminal building.
For our accommodation we stayed in an apartment that we found through Airbnb. the main features of this for us were the security of the place, the reasonable cost, proximity to the city centre and public transport should you choose to use it, and generally feeling like we were in our own place. To get familiar with the neighbourhood we decided to make walking our transport of choice. Although we've read and been told that Buenos Aires is unsafe and the shutters on shop fronts and barbed wire on the top of balconies and walls give creedance to this, we never once fell unsafe. Nevertheless, situational awareness is a must.
The day after we arrived we made our way to the Teatro Colon to do a free walking tour of the Recoleta district. Free Walks Buenos Aires whom we did this walk with also offer a free tour of the city centre and a tour of the Recoleta Cemetery which costs 150 Argentine pesos per person (about 15 AUD). We did both free walks and saw the city through the perspective of Juan our guide who has a degree in design. As such, we saw most of the major landmarks, were given the associated history and became conscious of the idiosyncrasies of the city's planning codes over the successive regimes that have ruled the nation. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and highly recommend it. Note: Although the walks are free, the guides should be given a tip as they are not paid for this service and rely wholly on tips for their income. At least 100 pesos (10AUD) is recommended.
Entry to the Recoleta Cemetery is free if you don't want to pay for a guided tour. However it covers a large area and has many historical monuments including the mausoleum where Eva Peron is entombed (look for her maiden name Duarte on the legend at the front entrance) so a guided tour can be worthwhile. Otherwise the edifices to the dead are something to behold and are sufficiently interesting without any explanotory notes.
There were a few other things that we experienced and saw in Buenos Aires that we think are noteworthy. The first is to do with accessing money because as travellers that's always important, right? If you are wanting to access money you can either use a teller machine (cajero) or go to a money exchange (casa de cambio). Banks will only offer exchange services to bank clients.
If you choose to go the teller machine path there a couple of thing to be aware of:
They are not the hole-in-the-wall we are used to in Australia! They will usually always be behind a door and mostly found next to the bank they are associated with. Find a bank and peer through the glass! Be aware that some are actually deposit machines.
You can only ever take out a maximum of 2000 pesos at a time. Although this sounds a lot, it isn't. It is only about 200AUD and the price of everything, except maybe cabs, is similar to Australia so it doesn't go far. The sign for pesos is $ so don't let it confuse you!
As well as the international transaction fee charged by your bank, you will be charged around 94 pesos (about 10AUD) for the transaction! This is regardless of how much you withdraw so my advice is to take out the most you can!
Not all cards work in all machines so spread your money around in case one doesn't work. Our QANTAS cash card did the job here.
If you go to a money exchange they will not convert Aussie dollars so make sure you have $US or Euros. You also need to present your passport.
Although we'd been advised that you can use $UD for general transactions in shops we have mostly found that pesos are used and exchange rates for $UD will generally be a 'guesstimate'. It is also worth noting that cash is king here. Smaller bars and eateries don't accept credit cards.
When it comes to food be prepared for an overabundance of pizza and pasta, a legacy of the Italian influence. Empanadas are also the norm. These are a type of pastie (but much better) generally filled with meat (carne) but also with chicken (pollo), ham (jamon - pronounced ha-mon) and cheese (queso - pronounced ke-so). Beef is also high on the list. Asados are kind of like a mixed grill and are popular. Breakfast usually consists of croissants (medias lunas) or some other type of pastry. No bacon and eggs here! Coffee is terrible. Mate is the drink of choice. Tap water is safe to drink. Fill your water bottle directly from the tap.
The other things that impacted us was the graffiti, the rubbish, the dogs and homelessness. Dogs generally seem to be much loved here. There are countless veterinary clinics and pet shops. People are always walking their dogs and it appears dog walking is a profitable business here judging by the number of dog walkers we saw.
Graffiti is everywhere. There is a lot of talented, quirky and clever street art but there are so many more unsightly tags and slogans.
Littering seems to be a national pastime and when rubbish is actually put into the skips that line the streets, there are those who fossic through it to see what can be salvaged. While recycle, reuse, etc. is an admirable thing, it is beyond me why people just leave what they don't want strewn all over the footpath!
But it was the homelessness that saddened us the most. Here the homeless includes families with very young children and young people. Makeshift shelters are erected in the main squares and under overpasses. Despite their situation few were asking for handouts.
Like any other big city, Buenos Aires has its beautiful side and its less glamorous side. To only point out the beauty would be to gloss over the other characteristics that makes the place. We were touched by the trusting nature of Pedro at the quaint El Patio de San Telmo where we had our first breakfast, who offered for us to have breakfast and return with pesos once we had changed our $USD. We were thrilled to witness a live tango show while having lunch in San Telmo and we were heartened when we saw shop owners giving away items of clothing and food to those less fortunate.
Next stop: Iguazu