Returning to Buenos Aires and My First South American Soccer Match

In mid-May I returned to Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires, a city I inhabited in the summer. This time I was lucky enough to spend time with Rebecca and her enthusiastic children Kaye and Robbie in Belgrano. West of Palermo, Belgrano is one of Buenos Aires’ grandest suburbs, full of old mansions and tree-lined streets.

I was also fortunate to catch up with Australian expatriate Pat. Pat is a mad Huracan fan. Huracan is the best Buenos Aires soccer team no one has heard of. If you come to Buenos Aires, don’t ride on the Boca Juniors, Racing Club or River Plate bandwagons, join Huracan’s passionate supporters instead. Pat initiated me into Huracan at a Primera Division match against Unión de Santa Fe.

Huracan Match, Buenos Aires, Argentina

With Pat at Huracan’s Tomás Adolfo Ducó Stadium; note the empty ‘away’ end Continue reading

Buenos Aires, Argentina to Cochabamba, Bolivia: Long Bus Rides, Carnival and Amazing Andes Scenery

On the seventh of February, from Ushuaia at the very bottom of Argentina, I flew three hours north to Buenos Aires. The next day I caught a bus to La Quiaca, Jujuy Province, a town bordering Bolivia at the very top of the country. Carnival in Bolivia was calling!

The Balut bus took 31 hours to reach La Quiaca as rain, blocked roads and the Andes mountains took their toll. The Andes may have slowed the journey but they also provided stunning views.

Argentina to Boliva Andes

A diversion caused by a blocked road in northern Argentina

Argentina to Boliva Andes

A disused railway line next to a swollen river and an Andes mountain range Continue reading

The New Year in Mar del Plata, Argentina

On the 31st of December I left my Buenos Aires Spanish class early in order to catch a bus 5 or so hours from Retiro to Mar del Plata. Mar del Plata is a coastal city in Buenos Aires Province and one of the country’s main beach resorts and fishing ports. My final destination was a hostel in Playa Los Lobos, a coastal village between Mar del Plata and Miramar.

In Playa Los Lobos I met up with Brazilian friend Joana and we headed back to Mar del Plata to see what was happening there this new years eve. Our original plan was a Couchsurfing party but that was cancelled with short notice. Mar del Plata’s streets were quiet, the wind cold and restaurants either closed, full or expensive buffets. We eventually found an okay all-you-can-eat pizza place.

Mar del Plata, Argentina

Enjoying all-you-can-eat pizza in Mar del Plata

Following dinner we caught a ride back to Playa Los Lobos and joined others around a fire between the hostel and the coastal cliffs.

On new years day Thao, Sandra, Joana and I caught the bus back to Mar del Plata to explore the port area.

Mar del Plata, Argentina

Sea lions enjoying themselves in Mar del Plata port

Mar del Plata, Argentina

Sea lions and seagulls in the foreground and ships moored in the background

Mar del Plata, Argentina

Fishing boats by the dozen in Mar del Plata

Mar del Plata, Argentina

New years day night we enjoyed another night around the fire in Playa Los Lobos

Mar del Plata, Argentina

Colourful artwork covering a Playa Los Lobos bus shelter in front of our accommodation building with its orange roof

Mar del Plata, Argentina

Our 1 January fire was only metres away from these magnificent cliffs. It wasn’t until the next day that we realised high the cliffs were

Journey from Mar del Plata, to Buenos Aires

The region had received lots of rain previously as evidenced by the water lying in the paddocks on the journey back to Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires, Argentina

In mid-December I flew from Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires to take Spanish lessons and start my Argentinean adventure. Buenos Aires, shortened to Bs As by locals, is a large and grand metropolis with many different neighbourhoods. The architecture, parks  and monuments of Recoleta, where I stayed most of the time, gave the area a European feel. Below are some of my favourite photos of the city.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Floralis Generica, a large sculpture with petals that open and close

Buenos Aires, Argentina

A group of people kneeling (praying?) in front of the imposing University of Buenos Aires Law Faculty building

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Argentinean steak has a fantastic reputation, one that steaks I ate in restaurants did not meet. Pictured above is the best steak I ate – perhaps the best I have ever eaten anywhere. This tender morsel was cooked at my homestay host Pilar’s relative’s house for a pre-Christmas party

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Christmas eve late lunch with fellow Spanish students (in Argentina dinner usually doesn’t start until after 9pm)

Buenos Aires, Argentina

La Recoleta Cemetery, the home of Eva Peron’s tomb along with that of many other important Argentinians

Buenos Aires, Argentina

There are five sets of pedestrian lights to cross to get from one side of the world’s widest avenue (9 de Julio) to the other

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Another view of 9 de Julio Avenue, this one featuring an image of Eva Peron on a tall building and many traffic lights

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Argentina’s poor contemporary economic history and import restrictions mean many old cars are still on the road including this classic ute seen in Palermo

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Dining with my former boss who was visiting Buenos Aires prior to moving to the city for her next job

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Centro Cultural Recoleta statues

Buenos Aires, Argentina

A couple playing guitars next to a monument and across from statues

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Dusk lighting the redeveloped suburb of Puerto Madera

Buenos Aires, Argentina

A fashion model in need of a good feed being photographed on a Puerto Madera bridge

I look forward to reuniting with Buenos Aires in a few weeks.

A Letter from Buenos Aires

Following is a slightly modified version of an email sent to my former supervisor in Perth. Her next assignment will be in Buenos Aires beginning February.

After sending the email I received news that my former supervisor is now in Buenos Aires on an advance visit and we will meet this weekend!

Greetings from Buenos Aires!

I have been here studying Spanish for almost four weeks. Learning the language is challenging but each day I am having small victories. Argentinians generally speak quickly and their dialect has some unique pronunciations and vocabulary, not that I have any previous exposure to Spanish. Not knowing the language is frustrating, but it is a frustration I am working on! Many people know some English but fluency is not common generally.

I came to Argentina at an exciting and historic time – only a few days into the new Argentine presidential term. After 12 years of rule by “Peronist” presidents, opposition candidate Macri unexpectedly won the 2015 election, much to outgoing president Kirchner’s dismay. Kirchner had already served the maximum eight years as president and was desperately hoping her party’s candidate Scioli would win.

President Macri has already made at least one significant change for foreigners (and locals): floating the Argentine peso. Previously, the peso was artificially pegged to the United States dollar. This combined with limits on how much hard currency locals could access led to a “blue rate” for the USD (and euro and Brazilian real) offered by illegal but tolerated currency exchange businesses. When I arrived here in December, the blue rate was ~15 pesos to the USD or 50% higher than the official rate of just under 10 pesos. Now the peso has been floated, the rate has stabilised between 13 and 14 pesos to the dollar. Although the rate is now similar to the official rate, as hard currency is not easy to obtain for many locals, there is still a blue market. Argentina has a history of high inflation (it is currently ~40%) and I understand major transactions such as house sales are undertaken in USD. This will ensure the blue market remains for the foreseeable future.

On a practical basis, the peso floating has made life much easier and/or cheaper for foreigners. Instead of needing to bring hard currency and changing it on the blue market for better value, we can now receive a fair rate via withdrawals from ATMs. Prior to the floatation coming into effect, I received ~7 pesos per AUD when withdrawing from an ATM. Now it is ~9.5. On the matter of ATM withdrawals, it appears the absolute withdrawal limit is 2,500 pesos in each transaction, sometimes much less. One can make multiple withdrawals although you are likely to receive a large fee (79 pesos!) for each transaction. I’m very happy my Citibank card does not incur fees for withdrawals at Citibank ATMs (Citibank have many branches banks here).

The Argentine peso also uses the “$” denotation which may be confusing at the start.

The currency and import restrictions and duties have had several effects. Many imported items like electronics are unavailable or very expensive. In supermarkets most items are made in Argentina and many of the prices are not too dissimilar to Australian prices even though salaries are far lower here. There is no hard and fast rule regarding prices. A coffee at a restaurant can cost 40 pesos (~AUD4) but to catch the bus from my place to the language school costs only 3.25 pesos (~AUD$0.35). Receiving goods ordered from foreign stores like Amazon for delivery to Argentina is almost impossible so don’t bother.

Beef, empanadas, sweet pastries and cheesy pizza feature heavily at Argentinian restaurants and bakeries. What doesn’t feature heavily is hot chilli! Some may call the cuisine bland. don’t expect to easily find restaurants serving good foreign cuisine. The garlic grown locally is to die for though, the basil is great, and, at a private home I ate the best steak in the world. Argentines, particularly in Buenos Aires, eat dinner very late. On my first night I went to a ‘Mexican’ restaurant with my host. We arrived after 8pm and the place was empty – why? Because it was too early! 9-10pm is the norm and I have finished dinner after midnight during the week. Even then there is still life on the street. The dense population sustains a busyness and convenience far removed from Perth.

I live in the inner-city suburb of Recoleta. It is a great location, equidistant between downtown and Palermo, Buenos Aires’ centre of entertainment. Recoleta is a relatively wealthy, safe and clean part of town. I am near major monuments and parks and the suburb has a European feel. Indeed, Buenos Aires has been called the Paris of the south. I mention relatively wealthy, safe and clean because they are not in the same ballpark as Perth. Years of economic turmoil have led to a visibly large homeless population (although a fellow student from the San Francisco Bay Area said there are more homeless there). When on the street, be aware of the dog droppings, air conditioner drips and uneven footpaths. Buenos Aires also has a reputation for pick pockets and other street crime so be alert and don’t show off your valuables.

The traffic is bad and safety is not the highest concern. I understand jay walking is legal here and many people don’t wait for the signal before crossing. Following health and safety best practice in Buenos Aires is extremely difficult.

The weather in summer is warm to hot and humid. Some days feel oppressive but the evenings are fantastic. January is the hottest month of the year.

To read different opinions on life in Buenos Aires as a foreigner and to understand local topics of interest, I recommend visiting the forum.

I will leave Buenos Aires later in January to travel around the country including south to Patagonia. However, in following months I will return to Bs As (as the locals abbreviate the city’s name to) so look forward to seeing you and the family then. I update my blog at regularly although I am still catching up on Brazil.

Warm regards,