As I mentioned in the first part of my experience with Buenos Aires, I was very intimidated by my lack of language skills to get me by in this city. Also, I forgot to notify my credit union that I would be traveling, and didn’t get any money exchanged before my trip, as I prefer to just use ATMs at my location once I have arrived. This meant I was unable to retrieve any funds from an ATM in Buenos Aires as my account was declining any transactions from an international location. I did the only thing I could think to do: walk around, see all the architecture, see how people act/interact, just go wherever I feel like it, taking pictures on occasion.
The people in Buenos Aires move fast on narrow sidewalks, deftly turning shoulders to avoid colliding with anyone walking the opposite direction. It felt like New York in that regard. This is a very obvious difference from Portland, where people will mill around like they are the only ones on the sidewalk and if they are walking in the opposite direction of you, they may just run the hell into you without noticing. I have had to dodge people because they will apparently just plow right into you. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves about Portland! Needless to say, I enjoyed the faster pace and lack of shoulder checks as I walked down the streets.
The traffic did stir up my anxiety, particularly because I have a pretty big trigger regarding automobiles to begin with, due to an accident I was in five years ago. This has calmed down enough that I could finally learn to drive a couple years back, but it still makes me nervous. The cars here move within inches of each other, often without signaling what they are doing or waiting for traffic lights. You have to be incredibly familiar with the size of your vehicle to drive here. I vowed to never say negative things about Oregon drivers again after seeing this madness, however I of course didn’t keep my promise; probably after four months or so I was back to complaining. Here’s an article that highlights the issue of traffic fatalities in Buenos Aires, just to show I am not exaggerating! Sometimes I’d be walking along and a motorcyclist would just hop up on the sidewalk and ride there for awhile. Some of the sidewalks are very narrow so this was a little terrifying. I had also heard about thieves riding motorcycles or bikes and just snatching your bag or phone out of your hand as they ride by. Yeah, it’s safe to say my anxiety was pretty high.
That being said, I was enthralled by the beauty of the city. The architecture amazed me constantly. I wished to stop and take more photos, but I had a hard time wanting to stop in this huge mass of moving people just to take a photo, also I didn’t want to make myself stand out. But I did buy a smaller digital camera specifically for the trip so that I could take photos fairly quickly and move on without holding up foot traffic too long. I still did not take as many photos as I would have liked.
One place I really wanted to visit was La Recoleta Cemetery. I guess this seems like a morbid tourist attraction, but I had read about this vast necropolis and really wanted to see it. Most of my photos ended up being taken there, simply because there weren’t huge throngs of people to contend with.
The Wikipedia article on La Recoleta has some interesting information and loads of photos for anyone curious, but nothing compares to actually being there. It is amazing. I am certain I spent hours there without seeing everything. This visit gave me a little bit of insight into how death is viewed in Buenos Aires compared to the United States. Many of the tombs had coffins visible. Some of the older ones were in a state of disrepair, the coffins broken and covered in debris.
When I arrived at the gates of La Recoleta, a man approached me offering to draw a map to Eva Peron’s tomb. I wasn’t particularly interested in seeking her tomb out, but I am sure most tourists are. I had just planned to wander and see whatever I happened upon. He drew the map and asked for a donation. He said it was a donation “for the children” however the pamphlet he held in his hand was about AIDS specifically. I told him I didn’t have any money which was the truth, he showed me a wallet full of bills and claimed again he was collecting for donations. I really don’t trust random people on the street to be collecting donations, perhaps I am cynical, but I repeated again that I had no money and he randomly kissed my cheeks then tried to kiss my mouth. I know in Argentina a kiss on the cheek is not unusual as a form of greeting but I think he took it a little too far, unless that is just my American ideas of personal space kicking in!
So, after entering through this very impressive gate, I noticed a few things: everything was paved nicely, little paths winding through all these above ground tombs. It was unlike any cemetery I have ever seen, as I am used to grassy hills dotted with tombstones, maybe a few above ground tombs here and there but nothing like this. Also, there are cats. Feral cats live in this cemetery. I don’t know why I think that is so cool, but I do. You will see two of them in my photos.
I have many, many more photos from La Recoleta but I don’t want to fill this post with too many.
I also managed to walk to Casa Rosada and sit in the Plaza de Mayo reading for awhile. I saw a protest happening in the area one day. I read there are many protests in Buenos Aires, and I did see a lot of political graffiti in the neighborhood. Also, on the way to Casa Rosada, I saw a row of cardboard boxes. These boxes had pillows and clothing in them, people lived there. It was a sobering scene, especially when I noticed a mother with a small baby sitting in one of these boxes she called home.
I also took a few photos of a church near Casa Rosada, I’m not sure exactly where I was because I was just walking until I didn’t want to walk anymore. I believe I was in the barrio known as Monserrat. Does anyone know the name of the church below?
Unfortunately, Dan was working so much while we were there that we didn’t get to do anything together. He was pulling long hours and didn’t get to see much of anything besides the inside of an office and the hotel. We did get to go out to dinner with his coworkers one night, which was helpful as we had someone in our party who spoke Spanish and was originally from Argentina, though this did not keep him from getting ripped off in the taxi ride to the restaurant. Even with three of us in the cab, the driver argued with him over what size bill he gave him, prompting him to give him more money, though we saw what bill he gave him and if we had known what the argument was about, we could have stood up to the driver. This was a common scheme from what I had read, and the other group of people meeting us there had the same experience in their cab, even though they were hailed by the person at the cab stand in the hotel. It was hard for me to trust anyone, but I have had bad experiences in cabs all over.
My exploration was also cut short when we had dinner in one of the hotel’s restaurants on another evening close to the end of our time in Argentina. I must have eaten tainted fish; while it tasted fine, I ended up with salmonella and it was very severe. I was incredibly sick for three days, stuck in the hotel room by myself while Dan was at work, unable to help me. I did inform the hotel front desk that it was their restaurant that made me ill, but all they could do for me was bring me water. I was disoriented and dangerously dehydrated, I could hardly stand, and vomited many times. I was in a lot of pain and all I could do was lay there and think about how bad I felt. This was one of the worst experiences of my life. I wanted to go to the hospital, but I read that they ask for payment up front from visitors and of course, I could not access my funds. In my searching to find how to get help, I stumbled upon a website listing fatalities while airborne, and knowing my flight was the next day I became fairly frightened when I read that one person had died of complications from food poisoning while on a flight from Buenos Aires to Los Angeles. After this experience, I try to remember to carry activated charcoal capsules with me just in case. It is an experience I never want to have again.
The ride to the airport was even a scary one for me, the traffic was no less terrifying from inside a vehicle and I was still feeling sick. Then we had to stop at a gas station, where I noticed they apparently use natural gas for their vehicles. We had to exit the car for them to fill the tank which was under the hood. I assume exiting the vehicle is just for safety reasons in case any fumes enter the car, but I really have no idea.
We got to the airport a little late and the lines were huge, so I was afraid we’d miss our flight and after being so sick I did not want to be stuck there. I was still feeling ill but nowhere near as terrible as the day prior. Security was a breeze and there is an additional bag search before boarding. There was a terrifying moment when the woman asked for a piece of paper that Dan had already given her from when we first checked in, they mark down how many bags we checked or something like that, I can’t remember exactly. They put both of us on one paper, and he gave it to her and took off without me, and I tried to explain that our bags were both on the paper he already gave her but she didn’t see us together so it was a tense moment, but she just asked me the same questions they asked when we checked our bags and she let me go.
I’ve never been so happy to eat bland airline food in my life, having had nothing remaining in my stomach for more than a day, it was a treat. It was still a difficult flight: 11.5 hours to Houston and a layover there, of course we had to go through security there as well, and I nearly got sick in the line waiting but managed to handle it well. I was happy to return home after that long trip.
I developed a sort of love/hate relationship with Buenos Aires. I’d love to go back, but only if I learn to speak fluent Spanish or go with someone who does speak the language. It would change my experience a lot, I think.
I’ll leave you with a photo taken from our room at the Sheraton in Retiro.
I’d love to hear your experiences with Buenos Aires as well, or see photos, so let me know if you have been there and are willing to share photos or stories.
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