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¡WTF, Tráfico!

June 22, 2011

Reading about Argentina as preparation before arriving, I had all but worked myself into a state of hyper-paranoia for fear of all the permutations of ways in which I could be robbed/mugged/run over by a car. Contrary to all my expectations, my luggage was not pillaged for its valuables or lost, nor was I robbed or mugged upon arrival, despite how delectably helpless and bewildered I must have been from the point of view of a thief or con artist, lugging my large suitcases over uneven pavement, scurrying for my life across the 12-lane crosswalks and staring at my map. For the thieves, I imagined it would have been something like this:

I’m the chocolate bunnies. Mmmm…chocolate.

While searching that picture, I also ran across this, which is precisely my sense of humor, but has nothing to do with Argentina:

Here are the highlights from my epic journey from Madrid to BsAs:

  • While lounging around in my gate, I watched a group of noticeably larger persons waddle by and knew immediately that they were Americans. I had forgotten how much skinnier almost every other country in the world is.
  • I connected to something called Free Public WiFi. It didn’t work. Grrr…
  • More than one older woman on the plane flipped out about my using my iPod. First the woman seated beside me irritably scolded me about how electronic devices are not allowed on the flight, and after I politely tried to inform her that it was not actually a phone, she spouted something about not wanting the plane to crash because of an “estupidez.” After that, I just hid it from her view behind my book while using it as a Spanish-English dictionary, thinking this would solve the problem. But later, a woman from across the aisle tattled on me to stewardess.
  • The passengers applauded when we landed. This was very strange. I looked around to see if anyone else shared my opinion. I don’t think they did.  Perhaps they were all really feeling that insecure about our fate…
  • I got free alcohol!
  • After the passing of an ice-age, I reached the end of the customs line and was informed to go to the “box, green.” When I asked how to get there, the helpful employee informed me (in Spanish) that I should put one foot in front of the other repeatedly. Duly noted, sir.

And then…OMG, TRAFFIC!! You will die!!! The kind reader will recall that in many places, the designated lane directions are considered one of the more important rules to follow. Buenos Aires does things differently. In general, it’s everyone for himself, doing whatever he can get away with. Enough words. More pictures!!

The government’s halfhearted attempt to implore people to not drive like such f#@!ing lunatics

I noted that a lot of places don’t have stop signs or anything at the intersections, and my boss chortled and replied that the city doesn’t bother, because it wouldn’t make a difference. Also, people drive way faster than they should, which could possibly be the reason that Argentina has the most vehicular accidents in South America.

Upon entering, shot from the bus window. An abandoned overpass project.

So…Buenos Aires has some areas that aren’t super developed, as I found out passing some slums along the waterfront during my ride from the airport to my place of residence. The overpass above seemed an abandoned project. One of the slum areas became the art project for an artist whose name I’m too lazy to look up (I guess you know that’s a recurring theme by now).

In front of a museum in La Boca

Even with all the street performers trying to get you to pose with them in a picture and then charge you money for it (mostly tango dancers, but also Maradona impersonators), the place had a laid-back, lazy Sunday feel to it.

Nada de prisa. There were lots of stray dogs napping blissfully in the streets.               
During the 5.3 hours we waited for our food, I got bored. Really bored.
Art seemed to be the subtle subtext of this most popular of BsAs tourist districts.
I had a nice conversation with the shopkeeper upstairs while my friends waited below, patiently.

One thing I learned is that vegetables don’t  exist in Argentina.

My first Porteño culinary experience. The single, gigantic slab of cow would be a sign of things to come.

Speaking of food, the following is also food:

The Alfajor. Impossible to avoid in Buenos Aires.

As far as I can tell, the Alfajor (a pastry that ensconces a core of dulce de leche between two cakes in a chocolate shell) is almost as important to Argentine culture as the Tango. And it’s almost as ubiquitous as the prostitute solicitation on little square slips of paper that litter the sidewalks (not pictured here). Here’s where I live:

Just kidding. Here’s where I actually live:

Seriously, my residence is right there
More architecture in the near vicinity. The dark building seems abandoned. It should be a haunted house if it isn’t already.

I also learned that people in Argentina used to be rainbow-colored. It was caused by a tropical virus from the same genus as malaria.

Maintaining my worldly traveler status

The inflation in Argentina is very high, on the order of 20% annually. But let’s distract ourselves from that slightly disturbing detail by looking at more pretty buildings, like this one:

A side note on protests in Buenos Aires. I had read before coming that protests were a common occurrence. However, I didn’t quite understand the concept until I arrived. Here’s a pretty standard example:

They love their drums at protests.

Argentina has a long tradition of protesting any- and everything you can think to protest.
“Enough to persecute Quebracho.” It’s on almost every block, but I can’t figure out what Quebracho is.

Someone explained to me that this tradition is a sort of reaction to the recent dictatorship, an exercise of freedoms they now have. Also, Argentinians are just like that. But there are so many protests all the time that they mostly are ignored.

And now, for a new segment called Things Other People Wouldn’t Have Taken Pictures of, because They Aren’t Quite so Strange as Me. Actually this could probably include most of my photos.

Look closely under his nose:

The graffiti affords evidence of lingering anti-neonazi sentiment.

Trash day:

My Mexican friends Chris and Ulises discussing the societal implications of the trash Pyrenees
I’ve been seeing a lot of this stencil graffiti around the city
The elevator in another residence, which sported manual doors. It was probably at least 90 years old.
The more Kitsch side of La Boca.
Balls. [Suppresses immature snickering]
Menu fail. Maybe I really should upload this to Fail Blog.

I noticed the following when I first arrived.

“Not an ashtray.” Then what is it?

In BsAs, for some reason they took the franchise name “Burger King” quite literally. Seriously, we saw this one that was like a warehouse:

The Burger King’s Palace of BsAs sports 1.5 million square feet.

That café in La Boca where we waited forever had an interesting interior.

On a hop-on, hop-off bus tour where we learned that 95% of the city was built for the centennial of the May revolutions, we stopped at China Town.

At the entrance to China Town. I just thought it was really funny.

My bus stop marker to go to work. But wait, it gets better.
For the return trip. Argentina marches to the beat of a different drummer. Well, it’s actually more like they pay attention to him, since they assume it’s another protest.

The bus system in Buenos Aires is something special. I try to ride the bus as little as possible, because every ride takes about 6 months off my life. This is because the suspension system in the buses is lacking something, in addition to their excessive velocities and the roughness of the pavement. Sometimes I notice locals fast asleep during these theme park rides that are the colectivos. But, hey, at least my abs get in a good workout.

I was also informed by a British woman who had lived in Spain 28 years and now Argentina that different bus lines are run by different companies. This is why some buses are in better shape and run on time as compared to others. There is a constant stream of buses everywhere I go. It blows my mind. This leads me to my next point. I’ll tell you a story to make it more interesting.

The Search for the Magic Bus Fare

Once upon a time, there was a city called Buenos Aires (Spanish for “Good, umm…Aires“) that had thousands of magical transport creatures called buses that drove all day and all night long. One day four young travelers who were visiting the city decided to use one of these magic creatures to go see a zoological. At a tavern the night before, the locals had told them that the creatures only liked coins, not paper, and would devour you whole if you paid otherwise. So before embarking, they went to change bills for coins, which they believed to surely be an easy task. But at the first store, the shopkeeper, wild-eyed and crazed, refused maniacally, and all they could get out of him was the phrase es muy difícil, es muy difícil muttered over and over. The next place was cold and hostile, and refused, as well, as if these coins, which carried next to nothing in monetary value, were in fact dearly precious commodities. After extensive journeying, the travelers encountered a wise wizard who told them that the thousands of commuters trying to obtain coins for the bus fare was causing a shortage that had reached epidemic levels, and people were hoarding and turning on each other, and the magical creatures everyone had thought could only bring good were in fact tearing apart the fabric of society. He suggested that they go to the old witch’s hut at the northern outskirts of the city where they would be given a set of special herbs to bring to the shrine of…

Okay, I’m bored now. But true story, basically. I find the shortage of coins farcical. It gave me a few good chortles inside my cynical head. Eventually we made it to the zoo, which looked like this:

And then I had gastronomic success with a really easy Spanish tapa called Pan Tomaca. Basically blended tomatoes with spices on bread. I threw in a fried egg for good measure. It was a proud moment for me.

¡Viva España!

And then, of course, there’s tango. Some friends and I went to a Milonga in the famous Café Tortoni. It looked like this:

Café Tortoni. The finest in Argentine snooting!
Es todo, mis amigos. Hasta próxima vez. In the next installment, you can look forward to Uruguayan adventures, giant mechanical flowers, and much, much more!
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5 Comments
  1. This was very fun to read! Can’t wait until the next installment in the adventures of Porteño Guy.

  2. Kelly permalink

    This made me laugh as I was reading. I can just imagine you in Bs.As. experiencing everything you so eloquently described. I hope you have the chance to bond with Argentines while you are there, and I don’t mean just the Porteños. 🙂 Suerte, que te vaya super bien!

  3. Greg permalink

    Hi Chris, I greatly enjoyed your Madrid blog and love this one, too. Hope you’ll post on FB when you have an update. Greg

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