New Year’s Eve
Today we decide to walk the city..a little bit of it anyway, as Bs As is a beautiful giant. But first we have to exchange our US dollars for some pesos on the blue market. (Note that I say blue, NOT black market..big difference)
Argentina’s economy is a bit shaky. The peso has had its ups and downs in recent times – more downs than ups – and now Argentinians want to get their hands on as many dollars as they can to hide under their mattresses. This has given rise to a Blue Market of exchange that can be found on Calle Florida in downtown Buenos Aires. If you google Dolar Blue dozens of websites will pop up to tell you more. Exchanging dollars on the blue market is technically illegal, yet local newspapers publish the blue market rate next to the official exchange rate every day. Today the blue market rate is 10,4:1 and the official rate is 6,4:1. We take a brisk and inconspicuous walk to Florida Rd to take our chances with the US$300 we drew in Uruguay.
It’s a game of negotiation with one of the many men and women shouting “cambio, cambio” on the street. Take a walk down the whole street to check them out first and come back up and choose one you feel most comfortable with. If you don’t speak Spanish well, pick one that speaks English or take a Spanish speaking friend with you.
They will pay a better rate for large denomination notes – like $100s – than for $20s, and they will give you a better deal if you have more money to exchange. We agreed on a rate of 9,5:1 for our three 100 dollar bills. Not too bad for an ever so slightly shady deal. (We would have been satisfied with a 9:1 rate..)
I never felt like we were in any kind of danger when Christian and his girlfriend Marina take us to their “office” in an outer stairwell of a shopping mall just off Florida Rd. We make the swift exchange while making small talk in bad Spanglish. Checking every note for authenticity is very important – you don’t want to get screwed over and be in a pickle when trying to pay for your hostel later when you learn you exchanged dollars for plain paper.
Always check for the watermark, feel the notes – they should feel soft, not like crisp printer paper, and when you look at the number in the left hand corner it should be green but when you tilt the bill and see it from an angle it should change to blue. In the end it is most important to trust your gut..
Mama Bear is going to want to slap me when she reads this (sorry ma), but we got 2850 pesos on the blue market where we would’ve gotten less that 1920 pesos if we went to an official exchange. I’m okay with our dodgy dealing, and the slap I may receive when seeing my mother again.
Now we can get on with our day and see the sights of the city.
Buenos Aires is a massive city filled with contradiction. Beautiful, majestic, historic buildings rising up into the air with gargoyles, angels and ancient soldiers looking down on city streets littered with garbage in every direction. The magnificent artwork on the streets are in stark contrast with the filth and the people just don’t give a damn. It is so easy for them to just throw their food wrappers in the streets. Fact is there aren’t adequate public waste bins around the city and the waste removal system is in dire need of a re-think. It is strange how seemingly intelligent creatures are just okay with living in their own waste like this. It’s because once they enter their apartment buildings and close the door behind them it is not a present problem anymore – classic case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
I am not okay with it – too many people create unimaginable waste! That is why small town living will be a better option for us – less people = less waste. (I know that was a bit of a rant right there, but I needed to get it out)
We walk the many blocks to San Telmo, a very old part of this city, with many musuems, café’s and artisans in the main square. Creatives selling their original creations for reasonable prices every day of the week – Everything from paintings to jewellery made out of old coins from around the world. Of course we need to stop for ice cream..it’s an addiction now – let’s rather call it a necessity. The Italian influence is even stronger in Argentina than in Uruguay and that means Heladerias EVERYWHERE!
We enjoy a scoop or two right across the road from the oldest pub in San Telmo, possibly Buenos Aires..and the building still looks the same as in all the years gone by.
We realise we have wine waiting for us at the hotel to welcome the New Year, but no wine bottle opener – they haven’t realised the benefits of screw tops yet. We buy an opener that is very cleverly made out of a fork from a Native Argentinian Indian’s stand while watching Tango dancers entertain the tourists from the various café’s around the square.
Over weekends this square is transformed into a bustling market selling anything from street food and fresh fruit. You can’t beat a good street market.
On our way back we stumble across a hidden gem in San Telmo. A massive old house has been converted into a peaceful space where traders of all kinds practice their craft. A much calmer atmosphere than the bustling square and not filled with tourists. My kind of place.
We also stop by The Pink House, or rather La Casa Rosada, the executive mansion and the office of the President of Argentina that is situated at the eastern end of Plaza de Mayo. The story goes like this..the emblematic baby pink colour of the building was achieved by mixing cow’s blood with white paint. I don’t know how true that is..
We have no grand plans for NYE. We will enjoy our 2 bottles of almost cheap Argentinian red wine from the balcony of our room, while watching the people on the streets below and the fireworks in the sky above, along with Eva Peron.
Happy New Year!