Buenos Aires: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Note: Reposted from RealTravel.com and branded "Editor's Pick".
Hola familia and amigos!
After a 2 hour delay and a sleep deprived 13-hour flight from Madrid, I was anxious to get to my hostel when I finally landed in Buenos Aires. I knew at some point during my 3-month journey that there would be a possibility of losing my luggage. So I wasn’t completely shocked when I didn’t see my backpack on any of the baggage turnstiles. I was the last person in baggage claim when I finished filing my missing equipaje report with Aerolinas Argentinas. By then it was 2am and I was extremely jet-lagged, which is why I managed to misplace my passport as well. Luckily I found it in the women’s bathroom shortly after I discovered it was missing. Not exactly the way I wanted to start my South American journey.
So I spent 5 days in Buenos Aires and have a hodge podge of experiences to report. As mentioned in my header, I will categorize this blog into 3 different content buckets: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let’s start with the good.
Hostel Suites Obelisco: This hostel claims to be a 5-star hostel, and I have to admit that it actually is - super chic, modern hostel with plenty of people to meet. It is also centrally located on the well-trafficked Avenida Corrientes. The staff was extremely accommodating and there were numerous things to keep me entertained such as happy hour, free internet access, satellite TV, pool table, and the occasional musical performance. One night, two guitarists played some of my favorite songs including my worldwide trip theme song: “Time of Your Life” by Green Day.
Landmarks: Lots of memorable places to see in downtown Buenos Aires. The first is Plaza de Mayo – the site of many historical events including the May 1810 revolution and other significant milestones during the Peronist era. Casa Rosada is also located within this square. This pink building is where Evita addressed large crowds from that famous balcony. Other notable tourist destinations include the Obelisco, Cathedral Metropolitana (which was sadly defaced with graffiti, but worth seeing nonetheless) and Manzana de la Luces. While visiting these sites, I finally listened to the Evita soundtrack on my ipod. This definitely put me in the mood for more Argentinean exploration.
Places to See: Plaza San Martin, Palermo (reminds me of New York’s SOHO district), and Plaza Italia where I spent several hours inside the nearby Buenos Aires Zoo. The zoo was such a fun place. Seeing the animals took me back to the Asian leg of my journey. I saw pythons (reminded me of my Philippines Buhol trip – “Pythons make for cuddly pets”) camels, flamingos, elephants, giraffes, and so many others. I also watched many visitors ignore the “please don’t feed the animals” signs. Another cool destination is San Telmo on a Sunday, where numerous people flock to the Feria de San Telmo on Humberto and Defensa Street. There are plenty of antique shops and kiosks selling everything imaginable from antique photographs to seltzer bottles. You can watch numerous street performances too – marionette shows, magic/musical acts, and individual artistic displays. One alley also showcases rows of paintings by local artists. Teatro Colon is another hotspot, where inexpensive operas are performed. Usually, there are guided tours of the facility, but there were temporarily suspended since the theater is currently under construction.
Florida and Lavalle Streets: These two streets are lined with many shops and restaurants. Florida Street stretches for several long blocks and is much more populated. The downside is that many people are crammed together since the street is not wide enough to support the traffic – difficult to walk without stepping on each other’s toes. I preferred the less trafficked Lavalle Street.
Museo de Eva Peron: Wonderful museum chronicling the humble beginnings and early demise of one of the most influential Argentineans. Only 10 pesos (roughly $3) to wander through the rooms showcasing videos, slideshows, outfits, jewelry, Evita quotes, and other mementos.
My salon experience: I stumbled upon a hairdressing escuela (school) on Florida Street where they offered numerous salon services at a discounted rate. My hair was a little unruly at this point so I decided to schedule a corte (haircut) with one of the students. Had a difficult time communicating what I wanted in Spanish to my hairdresser but found an English-speaking student to translate for me. I almost passed out when I saw clumps of hair fall to the ground, but luckily the cut turned out pretty well. For an extra 22 pesos, she also blow-dryed and flat-ironed my hair. Turned out fantastic, and it was only $16 US with tip.
Argentine Peso: Finally, a place where the US dollar carried some weight – 3 pesos for every dollar. I was able to stretch my money here. Found cheap eats around every corner and only paid $20 per night for my private hostel room.
Food: Buenos Aires definitely caters to the carnivore like me. Steak/beef is a staple. My stomach was always full and satiated. Also ate different types of empanadas: carne, picante, pollo, jamon y queso, etc. I also enjoyed a popular South American treat. Not sure what it’s called, but I can best describe it as 2 sugar cookies with dulce de leche caramel in the middle. YUMMY!
Transportation: The subtes (underground stations) are super easy to figure out! Only .70 pesos (less than 25 cents) to get to many destinations. I used this mode of transportation when I visited Palermo and Plaza Italia. The rest of the locations were within walking distance of my hostel.
Missing luggage: So I didn’t have any luggage for 4 ½ days. I was okay sleeping in jeans and sweatshirt for the first 3 days. After the 4th day, I was visibly upset. I tried numerous times to contact Aerolinas Argentinas, but nobody ever picked up. The hostel receptionists were kind enough to offer help, but they couldn’t get through either. Finally got my luggage the last day, which was a relief. I found out that my backpack was still in Madrid the entire time.
Clothing selection: Since I had nothing to change into for several days, I had to go shopping. There was a significant temperature drop from Madrid to Buenos Aires so I had to search for clothes to protect me in cold weather. Since it was still winter in South America, I thought I would easily find warm clothing. On the contrary, the majority of clothes were thin, off-season, summer/spring clothes that were full price. Surprisingly, locals were purchasing tons of this stuff wherever I went. Bizarre – IT WAS COLD!
If you visit an Internet café, be prepared for browser windows to close unexpectedly in the middle of your session. Argentina has numerous internet filters in place to prevent viewing of adult content. Unfortunately, this often included random yahoo emails and other innocuous sites (e.g. msn, realtravel.com, etc.). On most occasions, the browser would shut down in the middle of typing emails so it was quite frustrating.
ATM pin codes:
Before you visit South America, make sure that you change your pin code to 4 digits. Since I have a 5-digit pin code, I couldn’t take money out until I was able to contact Wells Fargo (2 days later) to change my pin number. Good thing I still had Euros to exchange.
So I saved the worst experience for last. On my final day in Buenos Aires, I was robbed. Luckily, I didn’t know it was happening at the time. I was having a great time at the San Telmo Fair when someone tapped my shoulder to let me know that my backpack was open. I discovered that my global phone was gone as well as my camera case. Good thing I had my camera in my hand so I didn’t lose the memory card with 2000+ photos from my trip. Whew!! The phone is replaceable. I would have been devastated if my memory card or my travel journal were stolen.
Right after the incident, I found an internet café so I could cancel the auto recharge function on my mobile SIM card. Because of the internet filters, I couldn’t send my cancellation request after an hour of trying. When I got up to pay for my usage, I saw a girl frantically searching for her backpack. Sadly it was stolen when she was using the computer. It was placed between her and her boyfriend, only a few feet away from where I sat. Man, there are some quick/savvy robbers out there. Travelers beware! Be cognizant of your surroundings at all times.
So my Buenos Aires stop was filled with a variety of experiences. Luckily, the good outweighed the bad, and I am now on my way to Santiago, Chile – the last and final stop on my trip. Can’t believe this worldwide sojourn is finally coming to an end.