Category Archives: Argentina

Mi Buenos Aires querido

Over the course of my study abroad many friends and family members have asked if I am homesick. It was difficult for me to come up with an answer to this question initially and now I think I’ve finally figured it out. As with many things in life there is no simple black and white answer. Have I been homesick? Well, what is a home anyway? Webster defines it as the place where one lives permanently. What if you’re like me? You consider yourself a nomad, or someone who is constantly moving from place to place. Well, Webster offers another option: a place where something flourishes, is most typically found, or from which it originates. Except I run into yet another dilemma: all three of those places are different. I originate from Birmingham, Alabama, for the past two years in the States the place I could most typically be found was Atlanta, Georgia, but that place is now Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the place where I flourish? I believe that I flourish in many places, if not everywhere I am. Of course I miss my family and my friends, certain routines or habits, and favorite restaurants, but do I miss the United States?

Over the many long bus rides or trips to cross borders people inevitably have their passports in hand at some time or another and it seems to be the norm that everyone wants to trade passports to see what other countries’ passports look like. After receiving mine back I spent a few moments in quiet reflection flipping through the pages and the answer finally occurred to me: I believe that I miss a United States of America that no longer exists. Or if it does exist, it exists for few and is no longer true of the entire country. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of seeing a U.S. passport, know that of all the passports I’ve flipped through, ours is the most elaborate, the most artistic, and the most inspiring. Within the pages there are background photos of the Liberty Bell, the Declaration of Independence, the Mayflower (or some other initial colonizing ship), a bald eagle, buffalo grazing on grass in front of snow-capped mountains, a steamboat cruising down a river, a farmer clad in blue jean overalls plowing the ground using a hand-held wooden plow pulled by oxen with wheat in the foreground and a homestead in the background, wild West cowboys herding cattle on horseback with mountains in the background, a coal-burning, black-iron train, a black bear with a fish dangling from its mouth, an Indian totem pole, among others.

Accompanying these various images are quotations across the top of the pages under which entry and exit visas are stamped. The quotations range from excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, to things said by various presidents like George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt and revolutionaries like Martin Luther King, Jr. My favorites are these:

“Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

“For this is what America is all about. It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge. It is the star that is not reached and the harvest sleeping in the unplowed ground. Is our world gone? We say “Farewell.” Is a new world coming? We welcome it –and we will bend it to the hopes of man.” — Lyndon B. Johnson

“We send thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are glad they are still here and we hope it will always be so.” — Excerpt from the Thanksgiving Address, Mohawk version

Despite the election of Barack Obama in November and the renewing spirit of America, I still feel like America is missing her original spark, her original charm. The good old homestead is fading into the background and I feel that I have a nostalgia for a country and a time that I never knew. Perhaps I lived a little too vicariously through Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book series Little House on the Prairie growing up.

But now, as this incredibly exciting, life-changing chapter in my life comes to an end it is, as most endings are, bittersweet. I did not, as most people do, fall in love with this city at first glance or in a matter of a few days. I was enthralled with it for the first few weeks and then after that my feelings vacillated between love and dislike. This is unusual for me because usually I fall in love with cities immediately. New York City? Check. Washington D.C.? Check. Savannah? New Orleans? Atlanta? Check. Check. Check. But Buenos Aires and I? We had to grow into our relationship and as my time narrows down to a close I realize all the things I love about this city and that I will miss dearly when I’m gone.

Maté. Parques. People playing guitars in the parks while drinking mate. San Telmo. Submarinos. Children. The inability of anyone to drive in a traffic lane. Palermo. Cuisine. Architecture. Girls playing hopskotch. Little girl outside the fruteria. Cafe culture. Mis amigos. Being surrounded by Castellano (Spanish). My host family. One word: medialunas. The kindness of people here. Public transit. Subte línea A. Colectivos (I´m joking, sort of). …This list could go on forever.

Also, as I have travelled around the country on weekends and during the last few weeks I have been able to see the larger picture of Argentine culture and life. From the pampas, to the Andes, to Tierra del Fuego, I have to admit that the rest of the country won over my heart before the city did. For me the phrase cannot simply be, ‘Mi Buenos Aires querido,’ but rather, ‘Mi Argentina querida.’ This country and its people will forever hold a very dear place in my heart, having been my home for five months. I do not know when I will be back, but I do know that it will be hard to stay away for long.

As I write this I’m not quite ready for this to be over. It’s difficult knowing that the next time I’m here the experience will be something completely different. I will not be 20 years old, meeting Argentines on a college campus, and have the sole responsibility of passing my classes. Hopefully I will still live life with arms wide open and be able to make new friends as easily as I do now, but we all know that experiencing something when you’re 20 is very different from the same experience when you’re 25 or 30. And I guess, as is always the case, time moves too fast and endings never happen when you’re ready for them. But here’s to goodbyes and the next chapter of my life with the many more exciting adventures it is sure to hold!

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On Culture Shock

One of the things I think every girl dreads about traveling, going abroad, or simply moving to a new area is having to find a new hairstylist. For the first year after I moved to Atlanta I insisted of waiting until I could make a trip back to Birmingham to let anyone touch my hair. There were occasional times when I’d let my mom trim my hair on the back porch because it seemed silly to pay someone to do that. When I knew I was coming to Buenos Aires–I won’t lie–I fretted about what I was going to do. Going almost 6 months without a haircut isn’t an option for me because I have curly hair that splits easily, whether I fry it by blowing it out and straightening it or not. My mom would love to know that majority of the time that I’ve been down here I have worn my hair curly and even started to like it, but even being extra nice to my hair and making an effort not to straighten it as much couldn’t save me from the fact that I was going to have to get a haircut down here and I could either buy a pair of scissors and trust a friend to do it, or I could brave going to a salon and letting them trim it. I even went so far as to schedule my last hair appointment in the States as close to my departure date as possible to prolong the amount of time I would have to find somewhere suitable here in Buenos Aires.

I’m trying to be less high-maintenance, and I don’t even think of myself as much maintenance in the first place. I mean, I can go camping for three nights and subsequently go without a shower for that entire duration and not be bothered in the least. Sure, when all is said and done I want a shower just as much as the next person when it’s over, but I’m not one to complain about something like that. I do, however, complain about the lack of toilet paper in almost all bathrooms in South America (there is intentionally no toilet paper. It is not a matter of running out or not being able to adequately stock a bathroom, it just, plain and simple isn’t there.). But then, there are people like my sister (hi, Nettie!) who need a shower after driving from Birmingham to Atlanta before she will consider going out to eat. In fact, I distinctly remember my other sister. Sage, balking at her and telling her to take a “bird bath” if need be, but to get real.

But here’s the thing: Argentines don’t have the most “normal” hairstyles one has ever seen. In fact, you might say their entire definition fashion and sense of style has gone the way of the 80’s in North America and Europe. Picture neon skinny jeans, cut up tee-shirts with neon screen printed images, piercings, multi-colored hair, and specifically, hair that has been razored and cut from so many angles you aren’t really sure if it was intentional or just a really bad botch job. And then there’s the guys’ hairstyles which can almost always be summed up in one phrase: business in the front–party in the back. Whoever coined that phrase deserves a high-five because it’s so much fun to say. But it’s true, guys here have mohawks, they have fauxhawks, they have dreads, they have shaven heads with a pony tail of dreads coming out of the back of their head, they have rattails, they have one single dreaded rattail, they have multiple rattails starting from several different places on their head–are you getting the picture? It’s quite unsettling when you first see it. You’ll be walking down the street with your girlfriends completely checking out this gorgeous guy in a business suit and after he has passed and you turn around for one more glance and there it is: three lone dreads gathered up in a pony tail in the back despite the rest of his head being shaven or of a “traditional” style.

So you’re starting to understand my apprehension about getting my hair cut here. It was all I could do to get over the fear that I could very well walk out with a shoulder-length bob and various different lengths of hair all over my head. In fact, I think the only reason I was able to muster up the nerve is because Liz and I had been on one of our all-day lunches in Palermo and were looking for somewhere to get a pedicure. We were told about this place and as we walk in to inquire only the most beautiful of boys is standing on the other side of the door to answer our questions. No, they don’t offer pedicures, so we turn away to continue our search, but not before Liz–who had just gotten her haircut several days before–remarked, “You know, I can get my hair cut again,” and we let out little laughs as we walked away.

A couple weeks later I was in the same area, having just eaten at one of our favorite little Indian restaurants, Krishna, and decided that it was now or never because my hair was starting to look pretty shaggy. I walked back to the salon and went inside to find out how much risking the worst hair cut of my life was going to cost me. I think it was something like a very reasonable $40 Argentine pesos which is less than $15 USD. But what really sold me was the fact that possibly the most gorgeous guy in the world was going to cut my hair (and he was straight!) and his name was Juan Pablo (only the most common name here in Argentina) nonetheless. We chatted in a mix of Spanish and English and I insisted more than once that I wanted just “un poquitito” cut off and nothing crazy. Just snip, snip, and I’d be happy. After he shampooed my hair I sat in the chair with my stomach in a knot. As I watched him cut my hair he did many things differently from my stylist in Atlanta. Besides cutting my hair parted down the middle after I mentioned several times that I always wear my hair parted down the side he swore he wouldn’t make any difference, “Yeah, not the way people here wear their hair it wouldn’t!” I kept thinking. And then, and then, he took a razer to the front pieces of my hair and tapered them. I have curly hair, and word to all stylists out there: you do not let a razor come near curly hair! Period! Especially not to taper the front pieces of it! Razor = frizz. However, I let it go. Hair grows back, I reminded myself. A few minutes later the torture was over. Nothing was done how I’m used to it: I wasn’t pampered, the cut took all of 8 minutes, and I was left to walk out with a wet hair. What more did I expect for AR$40?

But I walked out of the salon happy that afternoon. My hair dried a lot curlier than normal and I have yet to straighten it since I got it cut, partially out of fear for seeing what it looks like straight and mostly out of laziness and not having the energy to fight the humidity that is Buenos Aires in the spring and summer. And now, less than a week before I have to leave this part of my life behind me, I have grown accustomed to the hairstyles here–even fond of them. Since I’m not sure I’ll ever have the nerve to dread my whole head and then shave all my hair off when I’m done with the phase, I have been toying with the idea of creating my own lone dread lock in the back on the underside of my hair as a tribute to how much this experience has changed me and cutting it off when I’m ready for the next part of my life to begin.

¡Pura vida!

I apologize for the blurriness of the video, but it was taken on a friend’s Razr phone. I was having an incredibly good night and the weather was gorgeous. I was so in love with life at that moment (and still am!) and maybe had a glass or two of wine. But definitely only high on life though you may think otherwise. 😉 It was shot in the centro of Buenos Aires near Plaza de Mayo a few weeks ago.

(Apparently with the the free, hosted WordPress it strips my site of any embedded videos. Until I can set up a domain, here is the link the video.)

Patagonian Adventure, Part I

Since my words could never do justice I’ll just show you the beauty of Hashem’s creation.

Glacier Perito Moreno en El Calafate, Argentina

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View entire set here.

Fitz Roy, El Chaltén, Argentina

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View entire set here.

A detailed recount of my camping adventure in Torres del Paine, Chile, coming soon!

San Carlos de Bariloche

I’ve been putting off writing about my trip to Bariloche for quite some time now. In fact, it has been almost a month since the trip and I have yet to sit down and collect my thoughts. Partially because even when I’m not writing posts I’m thinking about all the things I want to write about. In fact, I even have a running list of topics to write about in the future when my life isn’t so interesting. Even though I am just now sitting down to tell the tale I have to give myself props for actually getting the pictures on Flickr in a reasonable amount of time because usually that takes me even longer!

I guess we’ll start off with the ‘getting there’ bit since I have to rave about the airline that we took from Buenos Aires to Bariloche. My program arranges two trips outside of the city during the semester during which our travel and room fees are paid and thank G-d for that because a bus to Bariloche takes around 20 hours which I will be doing anyway soon enough. Our flight was roughly two hours and the airline supplied us with the most delectable snacks I have ever been provided on an airline. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of the goodies, but I’ll try to paint the picture: it was a simple box and inside was a little packet of crackers by a pretty popular brand here in Argentina (whose name is failing me now), a packet of galletitos from Havanna (these are basically little chocolate covered cookies from a chain café in Buenos Aires renowned for its alfajores or sweets), and an alfajor also from Havanna in the shape of a cone with a little cookie at the bottom, topped with dulce de leche and covered in chocolate–basically, a little piece of heaven. In addition, we were provided with the option of beer (Quilmes, no doubt, but do U.S airlines offer this to economy travelers? I wouldn’t know.), soda, coffee, agua con gas (sparkling water), and agua sin gas (“normal” water for people like myself who can’t deal with fizzy drinks). They also had this rather hilarious comedy show from either Canada or the U.K. on the televisions for us to watch. I didn’t hear anyone else on the plane laughing as hard as I was so maybe I was the only one who enjoyed it, but it was basically silly pranks pulled on unsuspecting people in public places. That right there topped the list for why everyone should take LAN when traveling around Argentina.

Bariloche, like Córdoba, is somewhere that I’m hesitant to even try to describe because words won’t do it justice. Hell, even photos won’t do Bariloche justice (or at least not the ones I took). Bariloche is the door to Patagonia for most travelers and also a pretty famous ski resort area, though, unfortunately, it was going into Spring when we went and I missed the ski season. The town is small and geared towards tourists with one main street lined with store after store of clothing, traveling gear, and artesanias. I really wasn’t impressed with the town because I’m of the belief that once you’ve seen one city in Argentina, you’ve seen them all. I’m told this is true for pretty much all of South America, but I can’t vouch for that just yet. However, it is situated on the edge of a lake that is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, and so that alone pretty much qualifies it for somewhere to visit. It is a spectacular sight and a mere glimpse of the awe-inspiring beauty contained in the rest of the region.

On our first two days nothing really incredible happened. We took several hikes through a couple of the many national parks in the area, saw a waterfall, spent many hours on the bus, and–my favorite part–took an acensor to the top of a mountain that provided views of the surrounding mountains and lakes. We probably stayed up there for an hour and it was freezing. The wind blows a lot harder and colder on the top of a mountain! Since I was in a group of about 50 or 60 other people from my study abroad program a lot of people spent the time talking and being loud and obnoxious. I kept trying to find places on the decks and look out points where no one was, but sure enough, as soon as one person found something everyone else migrated. Eventually people dispersed a little bit and I was able to block out the remainder of the chatter and hear my thoughts, or rather, the silence of not having any thoughts because there were no words that are sufficient to describe what I was seeing.

Our last day in Bariloche, I definitely woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Unlike the previous morning where I had gone to bed around 21.00 and woke up feeling refreshed–but freezing–because the room had been a sweltering sauna box the night before and Charlotte and I felt it would be a good idea to fall asleep the the window wide open. When we both woke up it was almost a game of truth or dare and lots of bribing to see who would get out from under the warm covers to close the window. I don’t remember how, but I won the game and Charlotte climbed out of bed and shut the window, but not before we actually looked out the window to see a string of mountains and a lake planted at the bottom. There was a morning mist over the tops so you could only vaguely make out their altitude, but the sight alone was enough to drag anyone out of bed and down to a free “breakfast.” I put breakfast in quotations because if there is one thing I’m doing when I get home it is going straight to the local Cracker Barrel (you think I’m kidding?) and ordering the largest helping of scrambled eggs with cheese, cheese grits, buttered biscuits, and hashbrowns with lots of ketchup. And maybe some pecan and blueberry pancakes and french toast too. Argentines don’t believe in breakfast. They believe in coffee and maybe some medialunas at around 11 in the morning. Maybe toast if you’re lucky, but even then it’s not the same. I’ve gotten used to it and just grab a banana on my way out the door because it’s not like I ate breakfast every morning back in the States–I mean, I’m in college! Late nights studying or working and 9:30 classes don’t mix well together. But the longer I’ve been here, the more I miss having the option of getting a nice stack of fluffy pancakes topped with fresh fruit. And then there’s the fresh fruit thing. It is impossible to find frambueses or raspberries here. They won’t be in season until December and since there isn’t really such thing as bags of frozen fruit in the freezer section here (come to think of it, I haven’t even seen a freezer section here!) I’ve been moaning and trying to find a substitute for them. Wow, that was quite the the tangent. So, on our last day I woke up (or more like fell out of bed after Charlotte woke me up several times) a little bit hung over and maybe still drunk from the night before, I don’t really know which. All I know is that I couldn’t do anything other than throw everything in my bag, get dressed, and run out the door for breakfast, while also forgetting my copy of Walden and a large shopping bag with a box of chocolates inside as I would come to find out several hours later.

HotelOur hotel.

At breakfast that morning I could barely eat anything other than a bowl of fruit and just insisted on drinking all the water I could find and nursing my throbbing headache. We left the hotel shortly after to spend the morning hiking, except they really should’ve warned us that this hiking? It was more like dragging your poor, clearly out of shape, hungover body straight up the second tallest mountain in Bariloche. In short, it was very unpleasant. I ended up hanging out at the back of the group as we trekked, and trekked, and then trekked some more. Every now and then we would stop so everyone could drink some water, but I would purposefully stop to put more distance between them and myself so I could enjoy the peacefulness of where I was and listen to the birds talk to each other and take in the vistas whenever there was a clearing so that I could see whether or not all this trekking was worth it. And it was.

We finally reached the “halfway” point and were asked if anyone wanted to turn back. Olivia and I considered it, but when Liz pointed out to me this little house with a big red flag that was surrounded and covered in snow far off in the distance on what seemed like another mountain and told me that that was what we were hiking to, I decided to push forward. The hiking went on for at least another hour and a half (but time sure does seem longer when your legs just want to fall off your body) and I was joined at the back of the group by one of our guides. When we finally reached the top of the uphill climb we walked alone many paces behind everyone else and talked. Towards the top of the uphill trek we started seeing snow and piles of ice here and there, and the ground was getting soggier and more slick. We finally started encountering snow on the ground and it got progressively deeper and more difficult to walk through. I, however, was paying no mind to the fact that every other step I was losing ground and sinking at least a foot into the snow if not falling over outright. No, I was scooping up handfuls of this pristine powder and admiring it and occasionally eating it since I had long run out of water to drink. The guide kept laughing at me and asking me if I had ever seen snow in my life. I tried to explain that I’m from Alabama–the number of times I have seen snow can ben counted on one hand, and even that snow doesn’t really qualify because it was never anything like what I was witnessing right then.

When we finally reached our destination–which turned out to not be that little house that we had seen far off in the distance due to the fact that the snow had just fallen the night before and it was becoming far too difficult to hike in, in addition to the fact that the guides were worried we would cause on avalanche trying to pursue the basically straight up climb it would require to get there–everyone else was shivering and freezing, red faces, and lots of complaining about how cold it was. I, on the other hand, couldn’t be bothered with the temperature, and didn’t even notice it until we were hiking back down the mountain and my hands felt like they were going to fall off since I had insisted on taking a gazillion pictures. 

The view from the top was incredible. I’d like to say that was inspired to climb more mountains like that one, and I was, but I think being a little bit more acclimated to climbing and higher altitudes would make the experience more enjoyable than it was prior to reaching the top. Maybe also not being hung over next time. However, the entire time I was climbing up the mountain, and for a little while back down I kept recalling lyrics from a song by Rachael Lampa called “Blessed.”

“I may never climb a mountain
So I can see the world from there
I may never ride the waves
And taste the salty ocean air
Or build a bridge
That will last a hundred years
But no matter where the road leads
One thing is always clear…”

Proof that I made it to the top!

The walk back down the mountain consisted more of slidding and trying not to fall down. My knees and thighs were not appreciating the beating they were getting and by the time we reached the bottom the muscles in my thighs were quivering. We ate lunch, went back to town for a bit, and shortly after boarded a plane back home to Buenos Aires. Oh, and after much panicking and calling the hotel, one of our program advisors had picked up my book and bag of chocolates before we even left the hotel that morning and I–hopefully–learned my lesson about being careless.

Esperanzas Verdaderas

When I went to the U.S. Embassy to turn in my absentee ballot a few weeks ago I ended up striking up a conversation with the guy in line behind me. As we waited we exchanged stories about what had brought us both to Buenos Aires, how long we had been here, where we were from in the States, and so on. After we submitted our ballots we were both going in the same direction and continued talking. Having a little free time we did the only proper thing to do when you’re in Buenos Aires and want to socialize: we went to a cafe. Him for coffee and me for lunch.

Having already established that Ethan was working down here as a writer and moved here for the sole reason that he wanted to experience something different, I had to ask why he chose Argentina. Ethan has picked up Spanish in the two years that he has spent living here, but did not speak a word of it when he first arrived. He shared humorous stories about things being lost in translation, we talked about the frustrations we have both experienced in everyday communications, and I poked fun at him for his rather large map which he pulled out to show me where a really cool bookstore was located in San Telmo. I, for one, refuse to be seen holding a guide book in my hands these days and try to be inconspicuous about whipping out my Guía T when taking unfamiliar bus routes, but Ethan announced that he has no problem whatsoever standing in the middle of the sidewalk, map noticeably held up in front of his face shaking it for exaggeration, and exclaiming, “Estoy perdido! Muy perdido! Ayudame, por favor!” He acted out this scene for my amusement as we’re sitting at the table and I laughed loud enough that I’m sure people on the sidewalk outside turned to see what was so amusing to the Americans. After numerous tangents we finally got back to the question at hand: “Why did you choose Argentina?” And so the story began.

Ethan provided me with a brief overview of the situation in Argentina after the 2001 collapse of the economy and what life was like at the time and is still like for many here in the city. Relating it to the current crisis that the United States is experiencing he raised the question to me of what the reaction is for Americans right now, most of who have never lived through any economic crisis and many who can’t comprehend what life was like during the Great Depression. I responded that majority of Americans were in a panic. I can’t open a news website now without finding at least one headline or article about how Americans are relearning the meaning of frugality, panicking about paying their mortgages, losing their homes, and so forth. The attitude of many has become solemn and fear-stricken. He then calls over our waiter and asks if he would mind answering a question for us. The waiter obliges. After an explaining what he were talking about Ethan proposes the question (in Spanish, so all translations or mis-translations are mine alone): “Do you think another financial crisis is likely to happen in the future?” The waiter nodded his head in response to Ethan continued, “Since you acknowledge that another financial crisis is imminent for Argentina, how do you live?”

The waiter doesn’t understand the question. Not because we didn’t ask it correctly, but because it doesn’t make sense to Argentineans. What do you mean how do we live? We live. Our waiter continued to explain that his son doesn’t currently have a job and he isn’t sure how he can afford to support him, only that he can’t afford it. Times are tough, the economy still hasn’t gotten back to where it was pre-2001 collapse and now it’s starting to get worse again. After the waiter tells us a little bit more about his life he walks off to help someone else. Ethan turns to me and says, “Did you understand that?” and I tell him I did but I’m confused about where he’s going with this. He looks me straight in the eye and says, “I went back to the States for a few weeks about a month ago and I swear my blood pressure is still up from that short time. People are always in despair, in a panic about something and the government doesn’t help. Here, times are tougher and people work longer hours for less pay but you know what? At the end of the day, as long as they have their family and can afford to have a beer, life is good. They have hope.”

And it struck me how true this was. Argentines, and porteños in general, are a pretty laid back bunch. If nothing else, their cafe culture shows this. They have a tea time of sorts here called ‘merienda’ and it’s not at all unusual for every table in rather large cafes to be pull of friends and families drinking coffee, sharing medialunas or other alfajores, and simply enjoying each others company. On the weekends many are sitting outside of parillas with a 770ml of beer sitting in the middle of the table laughing and talking. And on any given weekday at any hour you will always find a fairly large number of people sitting in the parks and plazas with friends sharing maté, enjoying live music on the weekends, playing a guitar and singing, or taking a nap while soaking up the sun, and on the weekends this is even more so. You are pressed to find a spot to sit down on beautiful days because it seems the entire city is outside. I now realize that this probably has to do with a more socialist culture where its all for one and one for all and I think Americans would be the better of for it if they learned to lean on each other a little more and realize that life isn’t about working your life away to buy things you don’t need. It’s about realizing the blessing of having friends and family around you, taking care of each other, and letting everything else fall where it may.

Which is worth more: 1 peso or 2?

One aspect of Buenos Aires that I most definitely will not miss is seeing signs everywhere that read: ¡No guardá las monedas! Or: ¡Colaboré con las monedas! And lastly: “No hay monedas!” These signs are everywhere. You go to the panadería across the street from your house and you will be asked for exact change. If you do not have exact change you more times than not will not be allowed to leave with food. But isn’t it better for the business to make the transaction and have a little bit of money in their pocket as opposed to turning you away, you ask? Apparently not in Argentina. Or when that is the case, for example, when you attempt to purchase a liter bottle of water and an boxed apple juice before class and your total comes to six pesos and fifty centavos you will, of course, be asked to supply the fifty centavos. Assuming that you dont understand him, the attendent will commence to hold up monedas even after insisting that he has none to give you. And apparently if you still don’t have monedas to supply, well, lucky you, you just don’t get any change. So if you really want your purchase? You better cough up those monedas or forfeit fifty centavos, that is actually rightfully yours. When the aforementioned situation happens to you, you will be amazed at your ability to immediately commence arguing–pretty well, I might add–with the attendant in a language you’re still learning to grasp. When this yields no results and you’re more frustrated than one probably should be over less than twenty American cents you settle for a good curse in English since you know nothing insulting enough in Spanish and walk out the door with your overpaid-for purchase.


Photograph taken by Mateo.photo.

(I also remember reading somewhere once–I think it was in Eat, Pray, Love–that Americans are very reserved and cautious when it comes to anger and other emotions, because if you were really mad, you wouldn’t curse someone out in a language that isn’t your native one because it requires you to think about it. I never thought about this too much, but I think it means that I’m either reserved with my anger–or my Spanish is significantly improving. I think I’ll go with the former.)

Back to the topic at hand, Argentines like their monedas (coins) more than anything, and the only way you will ever be lucky enough to get monedas is the off-chance that you go to a restaurant where the menu isn’t priced in whole dollar amounts (good luck), you manage to scrounge up enough after purchasing subte rides (which, if not purchased in increments of 10 must also be paid with monedas), or you ride the bus 9 times in one day and happen to save all 9 of the ten cent centavos you receive in exchange for the one peso moneda you put in the machine. Or you’re lucky enough to get to the bank at some point during their five hours of daily operation between 10 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon, as if you don’t have classes or a job or an internship to be at during the aforementioned hours. Technically they don’t close until 3:30 but, because they can, and because the building is usually packed full at this time, they will often lock their doors beforehand. Oh, and you’re only allowed five peso monedas per day.

Of course you can go to different banks and get five monedas from each, but unless you’re there as soon as the doors open, you’ll have to wait in line for a guaranteed at least 30 minutes. In fact, the other afternoon I was so desperate that I spent a good 45 minutes in line just to receive five monedas. The exchange would be roughly $1.67 USD. Let me repeat that: 45 minutes in line to receive $1.67 USD. That is what my time has become worth in Argentina, apparently. Except, wait, I didn’t actually even make any money! I only exchanged what I already had!

Since having monedas is the only way you are able to get on the bus, and given that I take the bus at least twice a day, but usually four to six times a day, you may be starting to understand my frustration. Coins aren’t prevalent like they are in the States, where if you drop a penny on the ground and don’t feel like picking it up–well, hey, it’s just a penny, right? No, here, you better bet that if you drop a moneda on the ground some grubby little hands will snatch it up before you’ve even noticed it fell out of your hand!

Then there will be times when you’re supposed to be meeting your friends at a bar for some celebration or another and it’s easily one o’clock in the morning. Realizing that you only have fifty centavos in your coin purse begins to put a serious damper on your plans. Feeling hopeless, but not willing to spend $15-20 pesos on a cab, you go into the maxikiosco next to your apartment and beg for monedas. You plead to no avail, until finally the woman behind the counter tells you that she’ll give you a moneda in exchange for that two peso bill. Wait, “¿Cómo?” Yes, the woman did indeed just tell you that in order to receive a one peso moneda you will have to pay her twice what it is worth.

I’ve since decided, that simply having “study abroad” on my resume will no longer suffice. No, I think I will be well justified in writing, underneath the ‘skills’ section, “Extremely proficient in negotiating near-impossible business exchanges in Spanish,” even though negotiating doesn’t necessarily mean you get the best deal. Hey, at least you got that moneda!

Side note: Argentines also like small bills (ie: $5 versus $50) and you can read a comical discussion of this finicky monetary observation between me and my best friend, Carleson, here. If you are interested in learning more about the shortage of monedas in Argentina a quick Google search turns up numberous amusing (albeit, I´m sure, true) theories including but not limited to: the mafia hoards them and then sells them on the blackmarket, the bus system takes them and sells them on the black market, and lastly, that the Chinese immigrants send them to China where they are broken down into scrap metal and sold at a higher cost.