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Day 16 - International Finance & City in Chaos - March 14, 2013

Today we decided to combine some sightseeing with running errands and taking care of logistics.  Sebastián tells me "There is no such thing as logistics in South America."  Perhaps when compared to the very-efficient USA this could be correct.  But there are exceptions.  In Argentina we have the very inefficient, state-run airline Aerolinas Argentinas.  There also used to be another one called TAM, but TAM was recently required by the Chilean airline and has become LAN.  This airline is something different altogether.  Almost every front line employee is bi-lingual, and many are tri-lingual.  Their offices and operations run with efficiency, and customer service is Job #1.  The whole experience reminds me of air flight in the USA in the 1970s, except with very modern Boeing, Airbus, and Embraer equipment.  Flights are clean, comfortable, and run on time with good service, nice snacks, and pleasant employees.  If you are a US citizen under the age of 30 you have never experienced anything like this.

One drawback to flying around South America is that US citizens are routinely charged a higher fare than other countries. For locals the fares are even less.  I believe there may be some regulation causing this factor, but it may also be a business decision.  Maybe even an inflation hedge.  Even so, there is a saying we can follow, "In Argentina there is always another way."   We learned at the airport that the airline would accept payment "con effectivo" (in cash) and in ARS pesos.  Because we are US citizens, the website and phone support could only provide pricing in US dollars.  But the LAN offices could quote in ARS and some would accept cash payments.  We had learned on Day 14 that the US$273 fare for each (US$546) translated to ARS$2746.38 at the official rate of 5.03:1.  We also knew on Calle Florida that we could buy pesos at 7.6:1 or better.  And today the reported a rate of 7.9. So here was the plan.   We would go to Calle Florida and find the same place, which had proved honest and efficient, and exchange enough US$ for ARS to both pay for the airfare and support a nearly-absurd level of consumption for our remaining time in Argentina.  Then we would tour Puerto Madero and get tickets on the tourist bus, which would drop us at a scenic place right by a LAN office that takes cash.  Then we would enjoy the rest of the day on the tourist bus and have some semi-conspicuous consumption for dinner.  

Side note - unlike Brazil, a lot of Argentines have dogs.  In the city they are everywhere.  They require walking, where they do their business right on the sidewalk.  This makes walking quite challenging, especially at night.  But once a week the sanitation department cleans it all away (depending on the neighborhood different nights for this service).  Then things are good for a day or three, until one must become careful again until the cycle repeats.  With so many dogs, veterinarians, pet stores, and dog grooming places are prevalent, as are professional dog walkers.  Check it out:

This is a normal guy, with 4-6 dogs depending on size.  The blue and white "E" on the left is for Parking (Estacionmento), also easy to find with the bright LED lights.

This guy, however, is an overachiever.  Walking no less than SIXTEEN dogs at once.  Amazing!

Even the locals were surprised.  This lady asked how he could walk so many.  He smiled and said, "I just walk!"  And so he did, with the dogs coming along without drama.

The flowers help offset the smell of the dog shit, somewhat

Yesterday the Roman Catholic church selected a new pope from Argentina.  Many of you have asked if it's a big deal around here.  I should say so!

We strolled the now familiar route to the Subte and made our way quickly and efficiently to Calle Florida.  I resolved to make sure we got 7.7:1 at least.   We found the place, where there was a different guy, but he took care of us the same way.  He quoted 7.7:1 off the bat, and I decided not to waste energy for a few extra pesos in negotiation.  At the window I counted out five hundreds and two fifties, US$600 in total, and received 5 piles of ARS, four of ARS$1000 in hundreds, and one in fifties and smaller bills for the balance.  I somewhat quickly checked each for watermark and mylar strip - all good.  ARS $4620 in all.  I made it secure in a zip pocket where it made a semi-noticeable lump, but not clear that it was currency.  My untucked shirt covered the outside of the pocket also.  The barker watched with interest, but did not give off any vibe that concerned me.  He made sure the door to come inside was locked until I was ready, then 30 seconds later we shook hands and parted ways on the busy street.  We walked a bit toward the Puerto Madero, crossing streets and going down blocks randomly (as was our custom).  We found a cafe for some water, coffee, and a medialuna for K.  After about 20 minutes we were sure that nobody in the restaurant was there because of us.  While I am not paranoid, it has been reported that networks of people can follow tourists, switching between followers and communicating on mobiles.  Everyone else in the cafe was clearly there for a purpose, and not for us.  So I felt better for checking, but was not too concerned in the first place.  I went to the men's room, inside a stall, and moved the money around.  Distributed amongst 4 pockets between shirt and pants, nothing showed at all when I emerged.  Refreshed both physically and mentally by the cafe, we went outside and toured Puerto Madero in the perfect weather - sunny and 70F.

Every block or two had an old ship on display

You can see the ancient sailors did not suffer too much.  They had satellite TV!

Puerto Madero used to be the docks and cargo district.  All the old cargo cranes are preserved and on display.  The tourist info center is locate inside one, and you can walk up to the operator's station.

The famous pedestrian bridge of Puerto Madero
At the tourist info center inside one of the old cranes, we learned that there were two tourist bus routes, interconnected, and that you could purchase tickets for 24 or 48 hours, coming and going freely between routes and buses and stops.  But the ticket office for the tourist bus was on the other side of Plaza de Mayo, about a mile walk.  So off we went.  Plaza de Mayo is ground zero for anything that happens in Argentina.  So the Catedral was preparing for a special mass celebration of the new pope, and TV cameras and crews were everywhere.  Many major streets were closed off, and people were everywhere.  Lots and lots of people, and many of them were organized in groups with matching shirts, most with several drums and banners.  These groups seemed to be about 90% or more protesting something or other - generally demanding that something in the government be overthrown and that they should receive more free services of some type.  Because of the celebration of the pope, every splinter group in the country was there to try and grab camera time.  It was total chaos, and in the perfect weather, quite exciting.

Most bikes in Brazil and Argentina are tiny versions of US and European models.  But the Buenos Aires cops have some pretty nice Yamaha FJRs.

The police had kept the Plaza mostly clear, fencing off the Pink House, and the big groups we saw before must be elsewhere.  Just off the Plaza is the Buenos Aires Catedral, where all inside was quiet and beautiful.  Cameras were everywhere to record the upcoming mass for the new pope.

A few blocks down the street, at Avenida 9 de Julio, we found more masses of people.  One of these groups had a small cannon that they would fire every 20 minutes or so in different directions, rattling windows and the fillings in my teeth.

The famous Obelisk of Buenos Aires

A place of calm in the middle of chaos!


After the long walk we were tired, so we had our usual liter of beer and some empanadas while we rested. 

 We found the tourist bus office and learned that the bus was hopeless today because of the celebrations/protests and traffic, and that we could purchase tickets tomorrow near the apartment when the city would hopefully be back to normal.  After our light lunch we walked another mile to the LAN office, since our plan to take the tourist bus was shot.  There we were quickly and efficiently reserved, booked, paid (in large piles of cash) and ticketed.  After a couple more blocks walking, I declared it was enough, and we hopped a cab for the mile-plus walk back to the apartment where we collapsed in exhaustion.  Total time to do our errands?  6.5 hours, but more than half of that was wandering as tourists and lingering over empanadas.   And I was able to get over US$900 in purchasing power for $600 with the two airline tickets obtained for US$356.67 instead of US$546 we would have paid with a credit card.  I looked forward to burning some ARS pesos for an excellent dinner.

1 comment:

  1. Very cool that you were IN Argentina when Pope Francis was selected!