After a surprisingly pleasant 14-hour flight, courtesy of British Airways’ open bar policy, I touch down in Buenos Aires the pseudo-European capital of South America
Buenos Aires the Good the Bad the Ugly
The first thing that hits you upon arriving to the Capital Federal is the exhilarating rush of energy running through this bustling metropolis, nestled on the River Plate. Stand in the monolithic open avenidas of Microcentro and find yourself overwhelmed by an infinite blue sky perforated by a motley crew of hundreds of white skyscrapers and buildings. Amongst these flows and endless procession of Porteños*; people shouting people selling, people performing- it’s an instantly enchanting place.
The Porteños seem to have picked up a bit of a bad reputation with their fellow Latin Americans as being egotistical, narcissistic and untrustworthy. In addition, when travelling abroad they have been known to engage in the kind of behaviour that would make the most unsavoury of football hooligans blush. However, in my experience I’ve found them to be some of the funniest and most charming people I have ever met that live everyday as if it were there last, putting friendship and family before all else and looking at life from the most unique of perspectives.
It would be easy to forget you were actually in South America when visiting Buenos Aires (if there weren’t so many flags EVERYWHERE, that is).
Look closer however, and one starts to notice the huge mesh of rich, poor, old and new the place has, blending together in some ways and contrasting in others. By this I mean the ubiquitous monuments, celebrating foreign heritage and Argentina’s affluent beginnings, which decorate the polished, clean and leafy boulevards of the Northern barrios such as Recoleta, Palermo and Belgrano. A short bus ride south, on the other hand will bring you to the dusty, dangerous, at times abjectly impoverished- yet beautiful- southern barrios of La Boca, San Telmo and Constitucion.
The lift in my building, for example, is a work of art. An antique hand-carved, wooden interior, glass windows and decorated mirrors. As far as lifts go, it’s a masterpiece. And yet you can tell it’s not been cleaned or renovated in the last 60 years. There just isn’t the money to maintain the luxuries of the past, or create any new ones.
The reason for this comes down to Argentina’s historically unstable economy and dicey relationship with Peronism. Years of economic hardship that tie in with the political instability of the country over the last half of the century have made for an interesting couple of years. The arrival of Mauricio Macri’s administration looks like it may have potential to bring an end to hard times but there is a long way to go. When changing money in Argentina tourists were usually better of taking their foreign currency to Calle Florida in the centre where you could get double or sometimes even triple the official exchange rate. This was by means of semi-illegal ‘exchange houses’ and I myself used to change money here many times without any problems at all. This is not to say it is safe. Now however, the new president has removed the unofficial ban on changing ARG pesos to foreign currency effectively rendering the black market (or blue dollar, as they call it) redundant. If you do plan on changing money while you’re there I would suggest keeping an eye on sites such as Currencyfair which offer rates considerably lower than the banks.
*Literally translated, ‘people of the port’ and how Argentinian’s refer to people from the city of Buenos Aires.