Money Matters: how to find the best exchange rate

More Money Transfers, on Libertad 1057

More Money Transfers, on Libertad 1057

Hello Hello!

When traveling to Argentina, there are more than a few ways to exchange money.

The Airport right when you hop off the plane

Many people opt to exchange the majority of their money in the airport the moment they get off the plane. This is not the best idea for a few reasons: they charge outrageous fees, give you a bad exchange rate, and there’s also a greater chance of robbery around the airport due to the large amount of tourists. If you arrive to Argentina without any pesos at all, perhaps exchange a small amount (enough to pay for a taxi ride to your hotel/hostel/apartment (usually around $200 ARS with a Radio Taxi, recommended)).

ATMs
There are plenty of ATMs scattered around the city and they’re a great resource if you need money fast at a random hour, like on a sunday or any day at 4am. However, ATMs charge hefty fees for withdraws and also give you a lousy exchange (generally around 4.5 ARS – 1 USD)

The Black Market
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. The most economical thing you can do when coming to BA is to withdraw all or a large amount of the money you plan to use on your trip before you come. This, of course, poses a high risk, but if you’re able to safeguard your money it also presents the most benefits. There’s not an actual place deemed the black market, but the term instead refers to small under-the-radar exchange centers around the city that take USD for a 6+ ARS – 1 USD rate (I say 6+ since it’s been known to fluctuate generally from 6.1, to 6.8, depending on the market). The one that I used was in a shopping Galería only a few blocks away from my apartment on Avenida Santa Fe. I’d walk in, go up a small flight of stairs and see a man sitting casually on a stool. He would immediately know why I was there and would walk over to the door of a store that appeared to be under construction. Using an ancient-looking key, he’d open the door and I’d always see the same adorable, rosy-cheeked man with round glasses and a thick gray mustache curled up at the sides with wax. I’d always say “Cuánto me da por dólares?” and he’d respond with the going rate for that day. Black Market exchanges can also be found on Calle Florida in el Microcentro. All you have to do is walk down the street and listen for men and woman saying “cambio, cambio” “dólores? euros? reales?” “cambio”. The best thing to do is ask your host mom or hostel if they personally know of anywhere. It’s likely that your host family might want to directly exchange with you if they’re trying to save for a trip to the US (Disneyworld and NYC are popular ones).

Federal Banks
If you run out of USD you can always go to the Federal Banks and withdraw more… but they charge hefty fees as well. Probably best to ask your family (or a friend) to bring you some if they’re coming to visit.

Xoom

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Xoom is a wonderful, simple means of exchange that I and many of my other peers have been using for the past 5 months. You can set up an account online to directly transfer money from your bank account into pesos (usually a 6+ rate). There are fees, but they’re minimal, and I heard a rumor going around recently that you can find promo codes that eliminate fees all together. There are only two downsides to xoom: the registration process, and the waiting process. Problems arise in the registration/confirmation process if you don’t “confirm” your account. Be sure to respond to all emails they ask you to, and (MOST IMPORTANTLY) if you have an argentine cell phone, you must add the country code “+54” and the regional area code “11” or “011” or “015” before your actual number. This one mistake caused me a lot of headache and stress leading up to a big trip to Mendoza that I was prepping for back in October. As for the waiting process, sometimes I’ve gone in to the transfer site and there’s been no line. Other times, I’ve been waiting for around an hour… Give yourself some time whenever you plan on making a transfer. They’re open Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm and the location that I used is on Libertad 1057, just south of Avenida Santa Fe.
*note: another cool thing about xoom is that it has locations all around the world. If you plan on going to another country for an extended period of time, it’s definitely worth looking into!

Just use your credit card?
As long as you notify your bank, your credit card will work just fine. HOWEVER, not only does it use the 4.5 exchange rate, but it also hits you with extra fees just for using your card. Possible? Yes, but not highly recommended.

Zoo Luján: No Vale la Pena

Zoo Luján, is reportedly “The World’s Most Controversial & Dangerous Zoo,” so why then does it attract several thousand (if not more) visitors each year? I first stumbled upon the establishment back in January (a time when I was slightly obsessed with researching BA) and kept it in the back of my mind as a place to check out. I mean come on, how cool would it be to come home and show friends and family pictures of you cuddling with lion cubs and perhaps even going face to face with the papa OR even a tiger?! Right before shipping off down south, Pat Conklin, a good family friend from home (and my former employer), mentioned in passing that her son, Michael, had just returned home with incredible photos of him riding a lion! Such cool bragging points – I mean, where else in the world would one ever be able to do that?!

Where else in the world would one ever be able to do that. . . . hm well, nowhere. Perhaps if you were a wild animal veterinarian who worked with wild beasts in zoos, or a lion tamer for the circus (do they even have lions in circuses anymore?) However, I could not come up with any place in the world that would permit any random citizen into the cage of a wild beast, neither to see, pet, and surely not to snuggle n’ nuzzle. With this thought, my curiosity rose. After a google search or two, I found a very opinionated post written by 5 Election: the International Coolhunting Magazine. The writers expressed a similar curiosity as I had done, and were ultimately shocked by what they came to see. Reading this account made me both disgusted and (unfortunately) even more curious to see the injustices before my own eyes and satisfy the touristy hunger within me.

So I went one glumby, greasy, overcast August morning. Around 8:30 am near Plaza Italia, my friend Anna and I caught the #57 Colectivo, which was more or less a coach bus, that took us an hour out of the city towards Lújan. Side note: Luján is a wonderful little town, full of family-owned restaurants, a wonderful feria in the center of town on weekends, and the humungous, historical Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Luján. Right outside of this lovely town is the notoriously controversial Zoo. The bus dropped us off right on the highway’s off-ramp, thus we had no other choice but to follow our trust of the bus driver’s pointed finger and word that our destination was just around the corner… I’m not necessarily thankful, but our noses confirmed that fact. The smell of rot mixed with mud and manure was emanating from who knows where, but was a sure sign that we were close. Sure enough, we see a small, blue, rectangular sign reading “zoo” in bright white letters with a corresponding arrow directing us on our way. Finally we see an old, dilapidated fence, some posts tilted at angles, some fallen completely, but held together nonetheless by wooden planks and wires, some of which were barbed. Behind the fence were fields of brown, choppy, muddy mush with a variety of apathetic-looking hooved and horned animals just minding their own. If anything, this cold, damp and gray winter day did nothing but amplify the feeling of uneasiness in the depths of our stomachs.

We finally came upon the entrance to the zoo, marked by another little blue “Zoo Luján” sign, this one with a round image above of a cutesy cartoon elephant prancing around the grass and flowers. Needless to say, the zoo itself was quite the opposite of such merriment. Upon entering, we learn that the entrance fee is a whopping $130 pesos (which in reality is only equivalent to $28 USD, or $21 if you get the 6-1 exchange rate at xoom or the black market). Still, it’s a hell of a lot more than the $30 pesos we expected it to be. Apparently that special price is only for native Argentines (slash, we’re foreigners and they knew they could jip us). Anna and I exchanged a look, but nevertheless proceeded to hand over our pesos. The young man accepting our money proceeded to hit on us, asking if we had boyfriends and if they were in Argentina.. oh no? oh but you’re so beautiful, linda, let’s get a drink, etc etc, all of which is quite tame, really, and common treatment towards us U.S. women in Argentina, but tis annoying all the same.

A bit further beyond the front entrance was a small cage, roughly 3 x 5 ft, barely large enough for the beautiful young lion cub caged within. Ducks, geese, roosters, crows and wild dogs roamed freely about the grounds. The geese were probably the most violent creatures in the whole zoo. I saw one chase and almost maim a small child who was carrying “animal food” to give to one of the horses. Thankfully the mother was there to snatch the food out of the toddler’s hands, diverting the goose’s attention. The first animal we came upon was the tiger. As we waited in line, we began to exchange some conspiracy theories. The most pressing concern was the tiger pacing back and forth behind along the fence right in front of the tasty-looking humans… we figured it was looking at the dog or chicken behind us… But hey, at least that tiger had some life in him. The animal that we were able to take pictures with was a massive beast that was laying high upon a pedestal of sorts. Every so often they would feed it some kind of milk-like solution… but who’s to know if it was actually milk or if it contained some other kind of chemicals. En serio, the animal was stone-faced and barely moved the whole time that we were waiting to enter the cage. Also, I didn’t notice til leaving the cage, but there was a heap of 7 or so tigers (and oddly one lioness) ‘sleeping’ in what appeared to be a giant cuddle puddle near the front left corner.

Our suspicions grew more when we passed by the lion cubs. There were a bunch of dogs inside the cage with the cubs, apparently it’s a way to domesticate them… Nevertheless, the cub ‘on display’ was not the cutesy, cuddly, playful baby that one would expect, but was instead sprawled out lifelessly on the pedestal, apathetic and motionless while surrounded by happy-go-lucky tourists who beamed with joy. It was like they didn’t even care that the cub was nearly incapacitated… all they cared about was getting that one piece of evidence that showed them touching the wild beast.

Anna and I couldn’t even bear to enter that cage, so we made the executive decision to go to the big lion’s cage and then call it a day. We’d seen enough.

The papa lions were in a similar state as the babies. There were two of them, nearly passed out asleep. As we peered in the cage, there was one lion that was somewhat coherent and would accept the milky concoction. (Apparently the zookeepers would ensure that every visitor would get the opportunity to feed it). As we were waiting in line, we were entertained by a sassy little rooster in the tree above our heads that would crow whenever people would walk by, giving them a fun startle. About an hour later (it was a long line), Anna and I finally made it into the cage with an obnoxious group of Brazilians and their tour guide. Thankfully Anna and I were the first ones to take pictures, and 5 minutes later we were all set. All done, that’s it. We ask one of the zookeepers to get us out of there. He was hesitant: Oh? You don’t want to feed the lion? Why not? We just said it made us nervous, so his questions went no further and he let us out. Far from the beast; far from the obnoxious tour group; far from the questionable formula.

Zoo Luján is also home to a small arena of mud-covered horses, their space, like that of the hooved animals near the front, was all dirt and mud with no grass to be seen. There are also peacocks, elephants, camels, monkeys, an impressive tractor and vintage car collection, and a bunch of other animals. Although I’m a sucker for peacocks, we couldn’t stay any longer. We met my family friend at the entrance, who took us into the center of town for some delicious lunch at one of his favorite restaurants and then Anna and I took a nice long nap on the #57 back home.

So where does this leave me… Am I glad that I went to Zoo Luján? Yeah, not really. Although I now have a stronger appreciation for animal rights, I am still sickened to think about how much we contributed to animal cruelty that day. In my opinion, animal rights groups have plenty of reason to question and investigate the happenings at this facility. Let’s just say that you would never ever see anything like this in the USA. Unfortunately, Argentina does not have the same animal rights norms that we have established up north. That being said, most of the income generated is through tourism, which leads me to question the values of those who visit the zoo (many of whom, like Anna and I, are from the US). To be perfectly honest, I think our disgust (in both the zoo and ourselves) was a unique reaction. The majority of those whom we observed in the zoo were absolutely loving it. They were beaming with excitement to be able to feed milk to a lion or be in the presence of a cub. Perhaps they were thinking.. so what if it’s passed out, maybe it was just sleepy… Ignorance is bliss. Consumption of the exotic: it draws us in and intrigues us. If you had the opportunity to pet a lion, would you do it? I did. I wouldn’t do it again, but that’s because I already did. The zoo continues to operate because they continue to generate a profit. As long as people continue to pay to get their once in a lifetime experience with the wild beasts, this zoo will remain in existence… no matter what the cost is to the health and well being of these animals. It’s truly a shame. This is why I write this post. If you ever find yourself in the province of Buenos Aires, my advice would be to save your money and your conscience and skip out on Zoo Luján.

For some animal lovin, check out Zoo Buenos Aires. It’s much more fun, cheaper, not to mention more aesthetically pleasing. You’ll also get to have some true Snow White moments with some other cool-looking animal friendz without feeling like you’re contributing to animal cruelty! Win win win.

Monthly Life Update – Bienvenidos Octubre!

Sometimes I sit in my little room and wonder if I should be doing something more productive with my life on Monday evenings than going on Facebook, watching an episode (or two) of Weeds or listening to the new Florence + the Machine album Mac sent me a few days ago… eh. For those of you who don’t know (and how should you, since I’m nearly nonexistent on this website), Monday is by far my least favorite day of the week. I like to consider it like a case of the Mondays on some hefty dopamine. En serio, my friends. #privilagedwhitegirlproblems, sure, but they’re problems nonetheless.

I’m lucky enough to have four day weekends and thus all five of my courses are squished into the first three days of the week. Therefore, dear Monday has a considerate amount of pressure resting on it’s weak, little shoulders. But alas, I lucked out again! My Monday courses do not begin til 4:30 in the afternoon, so that’s plenty of time to get some productive work done, or sleep in after working on Sunday night, right?.. oh, silly gringa, you are mistaken once more. Despite the ignorant scheduling error I made in the course-selection process back in August (resulting in an hour overlap between my two Monday classes.. oops), my back-to-back Monday courses not only span a  6-hour time period of sitting and listening, but they are also the two most challenging courses that I am taking this semester. The latter is why dear old Monday mornings have become the bane of my existence.

HOWEVER, this Monday has taken a turn for the better… is this possible? Why yes, yes indeed! In the midst of a negative, debbie downer, #privilagedwhitegirlproblems post, allow me to reveal some rays of sunshine shining through the stormclouds:

1. Firstly, I have FINALLY settled my issues with Xoom. I plan on creating a more detailed post about this sometime soon in the future (but let’s be honest, I tend to be quite ambitious with these posts). Long story short, Xoom is a money transferring system that gives you a better exchange rate than the banks. After hours, days, weeks of attempted transfers and subsequent cancellations I have finally secured a legitimate transfer! huzzah! just in time for my trip to Mendoza this weekend.

2. There are actually tress on my street? Who knew?! Spring has finally sprung around the streets of Buenos Aires, and it’s like I’m seeing the city through a new set of spectacles! However, as I find myself falling in love with this city all over again, I also find myself missing the beauty of the North American fall.

3. I still have no idea what’s going on in my UBA Sociology class (Internet, Digital Culture and New Political Practices for Social Resistance), but my group is doing really well in the class! So hey, no complaints here. I just wish I was getting more knowledge out of it rather than just getting by. Although, I am a fan of my professor’s fashion sense. Stark white button-down, patterned, belted, a-line skirt and subtle leopard print wedges – GIRL! The woman is well past fifty, but she is rockin’ it for sure.

4. I have officially reached true porteña status. Today in class I was offered mate by a cool porteño classmate. Of course I do my usual polite-self kind of thing and say thank you. However, apparently, according to my new friend, “nunca dica gracias” (you never say thank you when offered mate), because it means that you don’t want any more. Noted.

5. My Historia Argentina professor, who slightly frightens and intimidates me, actually acknowledged me today in class and said that he things my final thesis is fantastic. YESS. #notgonnafail

6. I’m actually making a blog post?!

All in all, not a bad Monday, not too bad at all.

Travel Prospects

Hola a todos,

¿Cómo están?

Today I sit and reflect on the passed 8 weeks here in Buenos Aires… 8 weeks?! That’s longer than a summer at Wo! Looking back on it all, so much has happened; so much I’ve seen, done, learned, and experienced, and I still have 14 weeks left! Finally I’ve found my schedule, my groove, and my drive. I’ll be honest, it was an adjustment at first. I don’t think it was a culture shock, just more of a transition. Quite honestly, it was like I was starting freshman year of college all over again. I was in a new place, with new people, far far away from the familiar. Even two months later as I’m settling into my schedule, finding time to skype with friends and family, reevaluating those fast friends I made the first week, and exploring my surroundings, I feel as if my experience here is running on a parallel track as did freshman year. Personally, I absolutely loved freshman year, so no complaints here! One thing I regret is the lack of travel that I’ve done so far.. But hopefully I shall make up for that soon.
Trips on the horizon include:

Sept 20-23: Iguazzu, the magestic waterfalls that border Argentina and Brazil; it’s now officially one of the great Seven Wonders of the World.

Oct 03-08: Mendoza, wine country situated at the base of the Andes Mountains

Nov 02-03: Mar de Plata, “La Feliz,” a beautiful city on the coast of the province of Buenos Aires, south of C.A.B.A. (la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires). It’s where the young and beautiful escape for long weekends to hit up the popular theaters, concerts, and the beach of course!

Nov 22-2
4: Colonia, Uruguay for Thanksgiving at Mario’s house

Other possible trips in the future:
Tigre, Córdoba, Montevideo, Patagonia (Tierra del Fuego). In a perfect world, I’d also love to go to Salta, Peru, and Chile.. We shall see what the future has in store.

Oh, so you’re actually here to learn something?

Friends, family, acquaintances, internet avatars,

My apologies for the lack of activity lately. I ensure you, however, that I am not dead to the word, but have been caught up in the craziness of day-to-day life; more specifically, life as an argentine student.

The past few weeks have been some of the busiest and most stress-ridden weeks of my life. Before coming to Argentina, I tried my hardest not to form too many preconceptions, but never once did I imagine that the course-selection process would be as overwhelming, confusing, nor strict.

Way early on during the application process, I figured I’d take all my classes at the Universidad del Salvador. I didn’t want an extremely large university, nor did I want an incredibly small one, plus USAL seemed to have a bunch of interesting classes. However, Caroline Hughes, my study abroad adviser at the time, informed me that spending a lot of time on that course form is futile since it’s incredibly feasible that those courses either won’t exist anymore, wont be offered to estudiantes de intercambio (exchange students), or I’ll change my mind. Either way, I assumed that with proper advising that I would be guided in the right direction and have a happy, simple, educational semester.

One of the perks of my program, IFSA-Butler, is that they provide students with the opportunity to spread their studies among six universities: la Universidad de Buenos Aires, la University del Salvador, la Universidad de Católica, la Universidad diTella, la Fundación Universidad del Cine, and la Universidad del Congreso (through the IFSA-Butler offices). IFSA also offers the opportunity to choose a concentration (including Literature, Film, various fields of Human Rights, etc), in which students take certain classes together and take on an internship related to their concentration. During one of our first 10-hour info sessions I was convinced that I was going to do the Human Rights concentration, but then I realized one of the required courses met late on a Friday afternoon… No thanks, some of us are trying to travel! Later that day they also handed out a large, bounded book that listed all the universities their courses available for us to take this semester (with a bonus CD in the back of all the course descriptions!). All good things before me; however, this was the point in time at which the stress level began to rise.

I spent hours marking, highlighting, and researching courses that both interested me and would fulfill requirements for my majors back home (International Relations and Hispanic Studies). I was actually surprised by UBA. I had expected their courses to be extremely general, but instead their courses were the ones that intrigued me the most! I also loved how most of the UCA PEL, IFSA, and USAL intercambio courses sounded, but IFSA had clearly stated that we could only enroll in one class with intercambio students. One of the program’s central goals is for its students to become more or less immersed in the porteño culture, so I suppose it’s for the best. Nevertheless, after hours of research, I made a huge list in my little red journal and brought it with me to consult with my IFSA academic advisor. Maria del Carmen nodded her head, saying that everything looked good and sent me on my way to research schedules and narrow down my choices.

Oy, schedules; a wild goose hunt that kept me up until 3am one Monday evening and several more nights after that. My thoughts were all over the place, swimming in a pool of information, details and requirements. I eventually made two word documents: courses by university, and courses by day. After trying out a few classes here and there, I eventually came to believe that I had the perfect schedule. However, obstacles and problems arose, the worst of which gave way to a month-long exchange of emails and telephone calls with Jimena at USAL. Oh, there were several instances where I thought I was going to slap a b*tch (sorry, Mom). My first problem/mistake was that the USAL schedules were slightly confusing to understand and I ended up yearning to take an Argentine History class that didn’t exist on Wednesday evenings. On the bright side, I did create a lovely doodle during that Microeconomics class. My second concern was that, due to the confusing schedules, I ended up filling out my USAL course registration incorrectly. Realizing my error early on, I figured that I could easily fix it by speaking with Jimena. Unfortunately no. Perhaps it’s because she’s dealing with a lot of international students, perhaps she kept forgetting. Either way, I continued to check the USAL course registration page every few days and each time there appeared to be no change. When it came time to fill out my official “you-may-not-change-this-ever-after-you-submit-it-or-we-kill-you” course registration for IFSA, I called Jimena once more on the phone to confirm that my USAL registration was correct. With her assurance I completed the IFSA form and went on my merry way to class, during which the professor told me that I still was not marked on his list of registered students… Are you KIDDING ME?! Although IFSA stated clearly from the beginning of this process that they are not affiliated with the course selection at USAL, I determined it was time to get the big guns involved. Pulling on their strings of empathy and remorse, I sent frantic emails to both Jimena and Maria del Carmen (IFSA adviser) describing the urgency of my concerns and voila! What I had been trying to achieve for a month finally came to fruition. A-men.

Despite those hair-pulling logistical problems, my classes have been really wonderful. What stood out immediately was the academic passion of the students here, especially at la UBA. The students are so genuine about their desire to expand their knowledge and spread awareness, it’s almost intoxicating (in a good way). On my first day, the professor let other students interrupt the class about 4 times to announce a  political charla (discussion), hand out pamphlets for events, or a newspaper of sorts, all of which were student-organized. Even the walls reflect their academic fervor; there are posters, banners, and provocative, political graffiti covering the classroom walls, hallways, and stairwells making it a rainbow-infused world of thought-provoking splendor. There was a hand-painted image near the door of one room that said “en caso de incendio use la imaginación” (in case of fire, use your imagination)… HAH yeah, ok. Another interesting observation is that there are many students in class with mate and hot water thermoses, just casually sippin’ and sharin’ during discussion.

I’m taking five classes (18 credits total) at three universities:

Internet, Cultura Digital y las Nuevas Prácticas Políticas para la Resistencia Social (6 credits, Universidad de Buenos Aires – Facultad de Ciencias Sociales)
Historia Argentina (3 credits, Universidad del Salvador – Ciencias Sociales)
Literatura Iberoamericana II (3 credits, Universidad del Salvador – Filosofía y Letras)
Arte y Política en la Argentina Contemporánea (3 credits, Universidad del Congreso through IFSA-Butler)
Castellano Avanzado y Cultura Argentina: Focalizado en el Cine de Ficción Argentino (3 credits, Universidad de Buenos Aires – Filosofía y Letras through IFSA-Butler)

Lots of reading and lots of work; however, I only have class Monday-Wednesday (#win).  Also, I’m fairly positive that most of my classes will finish up by the end of November, so I shall have plenty of time to enjoy the summer down here and travel a bit before it’s time to bundle up for the US winter. Oy, but I’d rather not think about that.

In any event, now you know, dear parents and friends, why I have had to postpone skype dates and why I have been neglecting this blog. But alas, here I am back in action, so expect more frequent updates from now on! (hopefully)

All my best xx

Alfajors: A Transcendent Experience in Dulcitude

Imagine biting into a thin, soft, chocolately shell that surrounds three alternating layers of chocolate mouse and dulce de leche. That, my friends, is an alfajor. When I first heard Emily express her love for these little wonders of joy, I was intrigued, but it still took me three weeks until I finally fed my curiosity. On a cold, rainy, poosley, Thursday afternoon, I was heading home from castellano class and decided to stop into one of the 25-hour convenient stores to get some kind of chocolate. I was shopping for a small chocolate bar, maybe Milka? Dulce-de-leche-filled this time? When suddenly, a whole section of alfajors caught my eye. There were many different flavors and sizes: oreo, chocolate chip cookie, classic, dark chocolate, quadruple chocolate, dulce de leche, vanilla, and countless others. I settled for a normal-sized classic aflajor, payed my A$4, and continued on my way. Before I began to descend toward the subte, I stopped against the side of a building and opened up my alfajor. I was in heaven. That first melt-in-your-mouth savor was all I needed to forget about my worries and the poosley weather. Needless to say, I definitely found my new special-occasion comfort food.

Traveling to Argentina? Better be sure to put alfajors on your bucket-list; I guarantee you won’t regret it!

Fun Facts:
– pronounced “alpha-whore”
– “Alfajor” is derived from an arabic word meaning “luxury,” or “exquisite”
– These lovelies came over to South America from Spain
– The original alfajors contain flour, honey, almonds, cinnamon, and other spices. Due to the lack of ingredients, South American alfajors are made totally differently, but most contain dulce de leche
– Argentina is the world’s largest consumer of alfajors in total numbers and in per capita calculations; it’s apparently the #1 snack for children and adults.

More Info

Want some to eat at home?

Huelga de Subtes

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One arm was stretched-out to the fullest, gripping the three inches of free space on the yellow bar above my head; the other hand clutched the canvas straps of my bag with a deathgrip against my chest. I tried to adjust my footing as to better anchor myself for the   tumultuous twists and turns of the colectivo. I desperately needed to blow my nose, but there was not enough room for me to move my arms to unzip my bag. It’s hard to recall who stood next to me on the bus. There must have been about fifty of us. Not even kidding. Like sardines in a can, we were packed tight into any available crevice in the bus. It was a lot closer than I would’ve ever liked to get to complete strangers. I’m pretty sure some man behind me was touching my butt on purpose. Or maybe it was a woman. Regardless who it was, he/she was behind me and something was definitely touching my butt. The faces that I could see were apathetic. Some looked out the window, others stared into space, trying not to awkwardly, indirectly stare at a stranger.. But that was hard to do. Whenever the bus stopped there’d be a chorus of “permiso” “¿bajás?” “disculpame” as people attempted to simultaneously get on and off. There were times on my journey that the bus was so crowded that it wouldn’t even bother to stop at it’s designated places. As we approached I noticed the relieved faces of the porteños standing by the stop, and then how quickly those expressions changed to faces of disillusion and frustration. There was a slightly-bald, grey-haired man of about 60 years who actually chased after our colectivo when it was stopped at a red light, desperately hoping to be granted admission. The driver refused to acknowledge him, but instead stared straight ahead and engaged the gas once the light turned green. At the end of his rope, the old man burst into a fit of expletives and kicked the bus as it continued it’s route.

Instances like this have been standard these past 8 days. Tomorrow marks the 9th day in a row that the subtes have been abandoned. This strike, or the “huelga de subtes” as it’s referred to in Buenos Aires, began at 9pm on Friday 3 August, 2012. Since then, the 1.2 million subte commuters have had no other choice but to find alternative means of transportation. The streets have been jam-packed with cars, buses and cabs advancing at a slow, bumper-to-bumper pace. According to La Nacion, a local conservative newspaper, daily bike rentals have nearly doubled their business over the past few days. Most citizens, however, fled toward the hundreds of colectivos that circulate the city. These buses go hand-in-hand with the subte as the porteños’ main sources of daily transportation. Now that the colectivos are catering to the transportation needs of the majority of the city, their reputation of being timely and reliable is beginning to fall through the cracks. Everyday, there are crowds of people on the sidewalks, waiting for the bus to come. Often, there’s not enough room for everyone to make it on that bus, and they’re forced to wait until the next one comes around. The atmosphere within the colectivo is hot and stuffy – a claustrophobe’s worst nightmare. Because there are so many more commuters, the frequency of the buses has also been dramatically sower. The other day, I was waiting for the 111 to show up to take me to my castellano class. 30 minutes passed without any sightings. With only an hour left to get to class, I decided to throw down A$45 on a radio taxi. What normally would have taken me 15 minutes on the subte took the whole hour; I got to class 5 minutes late. The rest of the week, I decided to walk to class. It’s about an hour’s walk, just about the same time it would take on a colectivo or cab for that matter, plus it’s a hell of a lot cheaper. It’s also been a nice excuse to get exercise and see more of the city (maybe it’s a blessing in disguise after all?)

So how long will this strike be? Roberto Pianelli, the secretary general of the Association of Subte Workers originally said it would only last the weekend. But here we are, still in a standstill one whole week later… What’s the deal?

Main actors:
La Asociación Gremial de Trabajadores de Subterráneos y Premetro (AGTSyP) (The Association of Subte and Premetro Workers)
Roberto Pianelli, Secretary General of the Association of Subte Workers
Mauricio Macri, the Head of Government of la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires
Cristina Kirchner, La Presidenta de Argentina

Main problems:
Subte workers demand a 20% increase in wages
Subte workers demand better working conditions and subte upkeep

On paper, these two problems seem like they could logically be discussed and worked out. However, the over-arching problem, and ultimate reason for this record-breaking strike, is more political than administrative.

Historically there has always been a political divide in Argentina. Today, the main adversing parties are The PROs vs. The Judicialists. PROs stands for “Propuesta Republicana,” or the Republican Proposal, and is the political-right-wing party of Mauricio Macri. The Judicialist party is a Peronist political party led by la presidenta Cristina Kirchner. It sits more in the center of the political spectrum, but Kirchner leans a tad bit to the left.

These two opposing parties contrast very similarly to the Republicans and Democrats back in the states. Needless to say, it’s created many feuds between City and Nation, this strike being a very obvious example.

Although Macri is responsible for meeting the demands for wage-increase, it’s Kirchner who would be technically be responsible for the conditions and upkeep of the subtes (it was the Nation that had given the subtes to Buenos Aires years ago, but they were of mal repair to begin with). Even though the Nation should be responsible, Kirchner has been refusing to claim responsibility for this problem.

So basically, this clusterfuck is all due to a long-running hissyfit between these two political powers. No progress can be made until Kirchner and Macri come to a compromise, and the longer their stubbornness remains, the longer the citizens of Buenos Aires will reap the consequences.

That being said, I think it’s amazing to note some of the cultural differences we have here. Never in the United States would there ever be a strike such as this. I’m almost positive that it’s illegal in New York City to stop public transportation. It’s something about the legal rights that the transportation unions have beneath national law.. But that’s just a guess. In Buenos Aires, there are many associations like AGTSyP that do not have laws to secure their rights. For this reason there are countless demonstrations in public spaces each day, and often strikes. It’s been fascinating to live in the midst of such passion and political fervor, but it’s also saddening to understand why it exists. The people of Argentina are so politically active because they have to be.

Who’s to say how long this strike will continue? The subte workers are fighting for their rights to better pay and working conditions, and will continue to do so until their needs are met. How long will Macri and Kirchner let their people suffer the consequences of their petty differences? Only time will tell.

Here’s to making history.

El Comienzo

Chau Baltimore! At last, the time has come to leave the mid-atlantic heat for the frosty streets of the BA winter.

July 22, 2012. Looking back on this experience as a whole, I won’t be surprised if the most stressful part of the trip remains the hours leading up to departure. What should I pack? How should I pack it? Is it worth paying the extra $70 for another suitcase? How small does my carry-on have to be? Do I really need written and signed prescriptions for my medicine? The exchange rate is what? Why do I need multiple front-and-back photocopies of every single item in my wallet? More and more questions, one after the other, continued to race through my mind as the 10pm JFK departure grew closer. It’s amazing how trivial matters can create such stress and concern. All these little details aside, I came to realize: Huh.. This time tomorrow, I’ll be in Buenos Aires. Although I had been saying it all year, the thought of me living in the large, cosmopolitan “Paris of the Southern Hemisphere” for five months finally began to dawn on me as a figment of reality. To my [pleasant] surprise, I felt neither fearful nor nervous. Instead from the pit of my stomach grew a feeling that was more comforting than anything else; it was the same feeling I had the night before Freshman Orientation. An anxious feeling, yes, but of more excitement than anything else. Both experiences mark the beginning of a new chapter in my life. This trip is bound to bring about new experiences that will surely shape me in a number of small, indescribable ways. So hasta luego, Baltimore, y buen día Buenos Aires!

Packing for Buenos Aires

You get one suitcase, one carry on, and one personal item. Obviously that’s all you need for five months and three seasons, right? WRONG. As a 20-year-old woman who has taken on the challenge of blending in as a porteña, let me just say that it is well worth the extra $70 to pack another suitcase. TRUST ME. Just make sure you leave some extra room for the trip back. The airlines now have size and weight restrictions for luggage, and anything that surpasses said restrictions will cost you some extra Benjamins.

Since I’ve been in Buenos Aires for a couple weeks now, I’ve began reflecting on my packing choices. As a clueless gringa who had never been to Argentina, let alone South America, I really didn’t know what I should bring. I knew it was technically winter here, but weather.com said that it’s in the high 50’s – low 60’s during the day! That’s not so bad at all! It’s basically fall weather where I come from.

Silly, gringa…

Here in Buenos Aires it is so humid, that the outside air feels several degrees colder than it actually is. That chill, damp air can seep through thin layers of clothing and send chills through your entire body – even if it’s only 50 degrees! My 70-year-old host mom, Magda, and I actually got into a few sassy arguments in my first few days here. Her face was full of bewilderment when she saw what I was wearing that first day, and insisted that I go change into my warmest clothes. After learning that I was indeed wearing my warmest clothes, she attempted to get me into her sherpa-lined, leather jacket that was about three sizes too big. After (what I had hoped to be) my polite decline of her generous offer, she began incessantly demanding that I go out and purchase a winter coat, or at least a sweater. She would say over and over again how all of the girls who had come through her house would always get sick because they would never wear warm enough clothing. I nodded my head.. “si.. dale.. claro, Magda,”… But then I learned.

Oh. Silly, gringa…

After six days of sitting and listening, exploring, playing, raging, and not very much sleep: I got sick. What I had hoped to be only a chest cold evolved into the most disgusting sinus infection one could imagine. Even after one week, it’s still hanging around, minding it’s own business in my sinuses.

The moral of the story is this: pack warm clothes when traveling in the midst of argentine winter, and remember that host [grand]mothers always knows best.

Helpful Tips for Packing:

Porteños wear a lot of black and neutrals. I’ve noticed that some statement colors are popular in the spring/summer, but for winter, stock up on dark-tone layers that go hand-in-hand with black.

For women, jeans are an everyday go-to. Skirts/Shorts and tights are also popular and a fun way to express your style. Casual, body-hugging dresses that can be layered are also popular here in a variety of colors and prints.

BOOTS. Bring them. Tall, small, brown, black, leather, suede. Bring them and you will wear them everyday. Don’t have any cute boots? Don’t stress it; it’s so much better to buy them here! (same thing with peacoats and small purses!)

Heels? Tall girls, beware. If you don’t mind stares and cat-calls from strange men on the street when you’re walking to a restaurant/bar/boliche, be my guest and wear them. Most porteña’s are on the shorter side, so they don’t stick out as much when wearing heels.

Designer Items. It’s not wise to wear clothes that scream high class. Why? You will get robbed. There’s a girl in my program who got robbed five times in one week. She’s blonde, beautiful, dresses incredibly well, wears nice jewelry, and carries a longchamp bag. As soon as this girl opens her mouth to speak english on the subte, she becomes a target. She might not even have to speak english for the expert thieves to pick her out of a crowd as the perfect economical target. Just at first glance, one can tell she carries herself at a higher standard. I’m not suggesting one should completely morph one’s style in order to live safely in Buenos Aires. The truth of the matter is that there is a significant amount of discrimination against foreigners in Buenos Aires, and we are the easiest targets for common theft. In order to lessen the chances, simply try not to stick out as the archetypal American. Ie) wear a peacoat or (p)leather jacket instead of a ski coat or a north face.

Here’s one of my favorite blogs on porteño street style:
OCT – BUENOS AIRES STREET STYLE

Don’t worry about laundry – it’s super cheap and the people who work in the lavanderías do it all for you! No detergent or dryer sheets necessary!

Exercise clothes? Do it! There are plenty of gyms that offer monthly memberships and the parks are perfect for running outdoors. I’ve definitely seen a number of people running on the city streets too, just be sure to only venture out during the day.

Accessories. Scarves are immensely popular. If you have them, bring them. If not, buy them here; they’re everywhere! Funky jewelry is also popular, but take caution about bringing expensive items.

Sweatpants aren’t really a thing here. Living in Buenos Aires requires you to get dressed everyday like a real person… sorry I’m not sorry. At least you can wear jeans!

Toiletries. Bring carry-on toiletries, but nothing more. They take up valuable space and weight in your suitcase and you can find most of the same products here. Leave hairdryers, straighteners, and curling irons at home too; they’re too powerful to work with the adaptors, so you’re better off just buying them once you’re all moved in.

Medicine. Make sure you bring your prescription notes in case you get any trouble with customs. It’s not common, but it could happen. Call your insurance before hand to make sure you have a long-enough-lasting supply to bring with you (it’s a bit trickier to fill prescriptions here). Sudafed, tums, ibuprofen – all handy to bring with you, but there are also equivalents sold in the 24-hr pharmacies here.

REMEMBER a gift for your host family! It doesn’t need to be anything too special. It should be something useful that reflects where you’re from. Maybe a certain non-perishable food item from a local company, a postcard from your state, a mug, etc.

Photocopies. Probably the most important things you could bring. Photocopy casi todo! It’s very possible that your wallet will get stolen, so you’ll need a photocopy of all your credit and identification cards, as well as the bank phone numbers (remember to call them before you leave so they don’t put a hold on your account!). You’ll also need several copies of the front page of your passport. Trust me, you’ll need it. Whether it’s to carry in your wallet or purse during the day, or to give to your program to have on file, it’s nice to have some extra copies kept safe in your suitcase. For residencia purposes, they’ll also ask that you give them a front-to-back copy of your passport, blank pages included… But you can always do that at one of the many librerías scattered around the city. It seems like there are at least two on every block!

No need to bring your starbucks card… It doesn’t work here.

Money
DO. NOT. EXCHANGE. AT. THE. AIRPORT. Entiendes? The exchange rate right now is somewhere around USD $1 for A $4.5. If you exchange at the airport, you will get your money; however, they will charge you a significant fee. The ATMs in Buenos Aires are the same way. Not only will the Argentine ATMs charge a fee, but your bank at home will charge you too. Some helpful tips to get the most bang for your buck: try to find Argentine Pesos at home. I think my mom ordered USD $500 worth of pesos before I left. I also brought a significant amount of USD with me to Argentina, which I have been exchanging for pesos in the Black Market at about USD $1 for A $6.15. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.

Other than that, there’s nothing too terribly important to note.
Huzzah, my first post! ‘twas a hefty one, but long overdue.