April 15, 2006
Andrea Visit Day 7
Today was my final day in Buenos Aires and dedicated entirely to shopping. We were on a fixed schedule today as we had to be out of our room by 11:00 and had to wrap up our shopping by 4:00 so I could catch my flight home. This seemed like plenty of time, but in the end it came right down to the wire.
We headed back to the market, which was still open since it was Saturday. I was just as impressed with it today. We both bought some original artwork and other various items for my to take home as gifts for my loved ones at home. I pretty much ran out of money in about 2 hours. I should have exchanged everything I had left, but I didn't think I'd need it. I should have known better. Dan even loosened the purse strings for once and bought some things for himself, that I would bring back home. (Dan Says: It made it easier knowing that I wouldn't have to carry whatever I bought around for months on end.) There were so many great items at the market I wanted to buy so much more, not just for myself, but for family too. I was hesitant to make any impulse purchases, but Dan encouraged me to decide quickly. This turned out to be good because we were on a schedule. (Dan Says: When you have to catch a flight in a few hours, it's definitely not the time to dilly-dally.)
After the market we grabbed a cab to finish our shopping on Florida. I almost immediately spotted a place to buy wine as well as a place to get helado (ice cream). In true fashion, the ice cream did get better each day; today was the best. This cafe was very nice,had excellent service, and a great bathroom. As I was out of money, Dan and I worked out a plan, so I could continue to buy, buy, buy. (Dan Says: Hmmm, details are definitely needed here. She gave me US cash and I gave her pesos. I can exchange the cash later when more money exchange places are open.) There were still a few things I felt I had to get and we need to find a place that would make a CD of all the pictures I had taken. I ended up finding the perfect things in just the nick of time. We had about 45 minutes left and luckily found a place that could make a CD. While we waited we grabbed lunch and met our alcohol requirement for the day with a Quilmes Chopp. I had milensa which was a breaded and fried thin slab of beef with ham and cheese sandwich. It was supposed to have egg on it, but I opted out of that. (Dan Says: Everything has an egg on it here. It's disgusting.) While we ate we had a great conversation with some locals who happened to speak English. One man in particular was very interested in learning more about us and practicing his English. I was overall surprised by how willing people were to speak English. Although I shouldn't have been surprised by that. I really don't know any Spanish, but I was starting to learn some. (Dan Says: I can tell just by reading this entry.) I wanted to speak, although in most cases I was afraid to, because I didn't want to mess it up. (Dan Says: Once you learn a few verbs, I think you'll be ready.) I would have liked to continue the conversation, but it was time to get back to the hostel to pack up and catch the bus. We picked up the picture CD and entered the hostel, for my last time.
It took a bit of work, but I was able to repack everything I had bought, plus the things Dan wanted to send back with me. I didn't need to buy an additional bag, but my load was much heavier. We opted to take the bus to the airport as it was cheaper even though it would take two hours to get there. (Dan Says: A taxi takes 30 minutes and costs $18, the bus takes 2 hours and costs 43 cents each.) The only potential problem was there is no bus schedule, but we always could take the taxi. We hefted my stuff several blocks to the bus stop. I made my last purchase by getting some peanuts from a street vendor. We only had to wait 10 minutes. Luckily the bus wasn't very full. We settled into our seats for the 2 hour ride. I ended up nodding off a couple of times as Dan read my Oprah magazine. To be fair I read part of it too. (Dan Says: Hey, she gives great insight on such diverse issues as weight loss, clothing, and proper makeup application.) It was a long ride. The bus got very full, but then empty again as we got closer the airport.
Only international flights connected to this airport, so it was fairly easy to find where I had to go. I began to worry when I saw long lines, but it didn't take long to get my boarding pass and on my way. As I made my way to security I asked Dan about these signs I kept seeing saying airport tax. Dan had no idea so I thought nothing of it. We said our good byes and I got in line to go through security. This very official looking guy checked my passport and boarding pass and rambled something off in Spanish. Some guy behind me told be I had to pay an $18 airport tax. (Dan Says: Whoops. I made sure from lots of people that Andrea wouldn't have to pay when entering the country, but I had no idea they would make her pay to leave it. I probably should have known better though.) I began to panic. I did not have $18. I stood in line to pay, unsure of what amount I had to pay or what to do. When I got to the window I realized I most certainly did not have enough cash, even with U.S. plus pesos. I didn't have my credit card. I had left it at home because Dan told me most places wouldn't take. Lesson learned: take my credit card with me!!! (Dan Says: It's good to have in an emergency, but not very useful in everyday life here. You can't just pay for a stick of bubblegum with a credit card here like you can in the US.) I was completely panicked. I didn't have enough money to pay this stupid airport tax. How was I going to get home??? I quickly looked to see if I could find Dan to borrow some money but he was long gone. I then remembered that I did have my ATM card. I had used it twice before, once with success, once without. I hoped it would work. The first machine I tried wouldn't give me cash. I was getting pretty frantic at this point. I was starting to think I was going to have to ask someone for money. I tried the other ATM at least 10 times, with no luck. My last resort was to get cash in pesos and it finally worked. Relief. I paid the tax, got through security with no problems, had enough time to make a stop at the restroom, and calm myself before boarding the plane. Nothing like a bit of excitement to end the trip. Needless to say I was glad to be on my way home. (Dan Says: I couldn't let you get out of there without having some kind of panicky moment.)
Now that my trip is over here are a few random thoughts I have about my trip. I was glad that I was able to meet up with Dan. He was a great tour guide and help to me as I experienced Argentina. I could have managed on my own, without speaking Spanish, but it was really nice to be able to rely on Dan to translate and explain things.
Dan has mentioned the need to have money in perfect condition before in his blog, but I had the joy of experiencing it first hand. It wasn't the worst thing in the world, but it was an inconvenience. One time I got change back that included a ten that had tore in half and been taped back together. I tried using it, but was denied. I can't even remember how I was able to get rid of it. (Dan Says: Probably the same way it was delivered to you: Mix it in with a bunch of good bills when you pay for something and hope the vendor doesn't notice. I've done it several times myself.) Another time I got the edge of a bill caught in the inside zipper of my purse and tore a tiny piece off. I thought it was the end of the world. Dan's like save that little piece so we can tape it, then you can still use it. It ended up being fine, but who wants to worry about that? Every time I used more than a 10 the salesperson would hold the bill up to the light and totally check it over before taking it. (Dan Says: There's lots of counterfeit money here.) That was if they would even take a big bill. Nobody ever has any change, so you have to pay with the smallest possible amount. I knew this ahead of time, so every time I paid and they said something to me, I knew they were asking for a smaller amount, even though I couldn't understand Spanish. Too funny. (Dan Says: Funny for you, but they were usually because they had to give away all of their smaller bills as change to a stupid tourist who didn't know any better. It's still very much a cash-based society here. Most people never use big bills, but tourists don't have much of a choice. ATM's only dispense big bills if you take out a lot of money, and taking out smaller amounts would mean visiting the ATM every day and getting charged huge fees by banks back home. So, you just have to try and break those big bills whenever possible. My record so far is paying for 3 pesos worth of food with a 100 peso bill at a fruit stand.)
Overall it didn't feel like I was in a different country. I'm not sure why. Buenos Aires is a major city and very modern, so that may have been part of it. One major difference is the whole concept of time. There basically is none. You rarely get your bill or pay for a drink unless you ask for the bill. That drove me nuts. I prefer to pay then relax. (Dan Says: But how can you relax when you're parting with your money?) In Argentina it's relax and relax some more. No worries about paying for the bill. Lunch takes way over an hour and dinner can last two or three. (Dan Says: You can never be in a hurry here. If you are, you'll just get way too frustrated.) As may have been mentioned before people do things much later than in the U.S. Lunch is around 2pm, Supper doesn't start before 10pm, and people don't go out to party until 3am. Dan sent me an article that said people usually have drinks after dinner before they go out to a club. One morning at the hostel a guy sat down next to me, who had just gotten in. It was 10am and I could tell he by his odor and appearance he had just got back from the bar. It was fun talking with him. (Dan Says: I love Argentina for its late culture. It fits perfectly with my desired lifestyle.)
Okay last random observations about moms in Argentina. One they don't seem to go out of their way to hide their pregnancies. I thought I had seen a store that sold maternity clothes, but I'm not sure. (Dan Says: They exist in Buenos Aires, but not in smaller cities.) I noticed many very pregnant women though wearing regular clothes. Women also openly nursed their babies in public. This one women was just walking down the street, baby at her breast. I thought it was cool. (Dan Says: Me too, but for different reasons.)
Overall, Buenos Aires was awesome. I hate to be such a, but I think the highlight may have been the market. I've just never seen anything quite like it. (Dan Says: My next book should be "Shopping experiences around the world.") Several people have asked me since I got back if I felt safe. I felt completely safe. You have to be smart and take precautions, but you would have to do that in any big city I would think. Although the plane ticket was pricey, it was relatively inexpensive once I got there. I would love to go back. I would highly recommend that people travel to South America!! (Dan Says: How's that for a generalization?) People were friendly, there was lots to do, and it was a unique experience.
In case you haven't figured it out yet, the photos from Andrea's trip (from both our cameras) can be found here.