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article imageOp-Ed: Buenos Aires survival guide Special

By Joseph Boltrukiewicz     Apr 6, 2015 in Travel
Buenos Aires - Buenos Aires is a gem of its own that I always wanted to visit. Hailed as the cultural capital city of South America, it is like a magnet for different kinds of visitors, from business people to average tourists. Here are few tips how to survive it.
Public transportation
The airport Ezeiza in Buenos Aires is one of the most beautiful air transportation facilities I happened to see in South America. Its beauty is very noticeable and it shows upon arrival. After coming to Argentina's capital city from Chile, I had some extra cash that I decided to convert to local currency. It's never a bad situation if you can do this at the airport on Sunday when all the banks are closed and there's no U.S. cash in your pocket that may be exchanged at local street vendors. They clearly deliver repeated messages, "cambio, cambio" to let you know who they are and what they can do for you.
Now, with a very sure walk, looking like a local person, I can go to the bus stop no. 8, hardly ever to be disturbed by taxi drivers who can offer you a taxi ride to the centre for the price of 10-15 times more than you pay for the bus. On Sunday it maybe costs you more as holiday tariffs may apply..., I don't investigate more.
Mess on the sidewalks in Buenos Aires  Argentina.
Mess on the sidewalks in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
After some 10 minutes the bus no. 8 shows up at the bus stop and I am getting in. The best I can do with my Spanish, I am explaining to the bus driver where I want to leave the bus and he's nodding his head to my satisfaction. I want to pay for the ride but he refuses to take money. Maybe I will pay after my bus ride is over, like it normally happens in Brazil. It takes two hours for the bus to travel from the airport to the city centre with less traffic on the roads on Sunday. Without a clear knowledge where I am, the bus driver finally lets me get off the bus on a very side street, far from everything and in the middle of some advanced road works. While talking with someone the bus driver forgot my destination although I was traveling alone on the empty bus for last two to three bus stops. He refuses to accept any money for the ride. Personal guilt of forgetfulness?, maybe, but nobody can see it anyway so neither can I.
Everlasting and everywhere existing jobs in progress on sidewalks of Buenos Aires  Argentina. This o...
Everlasting and everywhere existing jobs in progress on sidewalks of Buenos Aires, Argentina. This one on Rua de Peru, close to Av. de Mayo.
After a while, a completely empty street on Sunday shows some signs of life and I can get next information of how to get to my final destination point.
My new bus shows up three blocks from the previous bus stop and I am getting in again. Now the bus driver wants me to pay, AP 6.50 for the ride. Not bad as the official rate of exchange is around AP 9 for 1 $Can. I am diving for change in my pocket but there's only AP 4 of small change I got at the airport money exchange office.
SUBE card  Buenos Aires  Argentina.
SUBE card, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Wikipedia
The smallest bill I have is AP 50 and there's nowhere to get the change from. Someone from the locals offers to pay the difference and I am learning the benefits of a SUBE card. It's a card that can be first bought (AP 25) and charged up with as much money as you want. It gives the benefit of travelling for AP 3.50 on all public transport within the capital city. Before boarding the bus or metro the card is swiped and automatic system either lets the driver know that you pay for the ride or the gate to the metro or train opens up right in front of you.
Entry to Retiro railway station with SUBE public transportation card  Buenos Aires  Argentina.
Entry to Retiro railway station with SUBE public transportation card, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Little things that the locals only can do (and enforce)
Now I am in my hostel in the historic district of San Telmo. Shortly after checking in I am learning from written hostel rules (to be signed and adhered to) that no alcoholic drinks can be brought to the hostel, including beer that in the middle of South American summertime can be an excellent thirst quencher. This is not about being alcohol free in this specific place as a local refrigerator is full of beer. Only this beer is fully authorised to be consumed in the hostel (it's more expensive there too) but not the one brought from outside. Must say that I can see this for the first time in my all travelling life. Yours truly never follows illogical rules and brought in Gilmes tastes even better there.
Guides and maps of the city
These are distributed for free at the city tourist information booths as Plano de Buenos Aires. They are in Spanish but English versions somehow ran out of circulation. A nice and good-looking map with a well-defined grid of streets is a real treat in a visitor's hand. There are 42 atractivos listed in blue dots and 30 museos marked with grey dots but I wish you all good luck when trying to find them on the grid of streets on the other side of the plano. They are only listed without pointing them on the map and you have to have an additional guide for the addresses of these tourist attractions. Besides, this great-looking piece of Buenos Aires in your hands has its top side oriented towards south-west and not like majority of maps in the world oriented to the north.
Tourist information booth close to Plaza San Martin  Buenos Aires  Argentina.
Tourist information booth close to Plaza San Martin, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
No big deal, you may say, but trying orienting the map according to the real directions it is very hard because the sun at this longitude is almost always in the zenith and there's no way to determine a real direction to the north. You are making lots of steps around you with this map in hands and with no real effects in working with the map when trying to find real north.
Plaza de Mayo with presidential palace Casa Rosada in background  Buenos Aires  Argentina.
Plaza de Mayo with presidential palace Casa Rosada in background, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Surviving La Boca
La Boca is for Buenos Aires what Colosseum and Forum Romanum are for Rome. Lots of tourist buses come there one after another, probably making La Boca one of the most crowded bus areas in the world. If you want to take some pictures of colourful houses, there's always a bus showing up in your camera's viewfinder. I was told not to come there after 5 p.m. but this time turned out to be the best time for photographing of La Boca. Main traffic of buses is gone by now and people normally don't flock there as local thieves and pick pockets take over the area. But heavy presence of police makes this area quite a safe place to browse through and enjoy its attractions.
Colourful houses in La Boca  all tourists  destination in Buenos Aires  Argentina.
Colourful houses in La Boca, all tourists' destination in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Besides, don't buy anything in La Boca's numerous markets. Concentrate on the specifics and attractions of this charming place. City postcards, Diego Maradona t-shirts and other Eva Peron trinkets can be bought somewhere else, probably for cheaper.
Buying an Argentinian poncho and other money transactions
The local shop owners in La Boca can charge you from AP 350 to AP 900 for a simply designed Argentinian poncho from one store to the same looking store next door. You can be cheated and lied to about every single item you buy just because they don't have the price tags displayed on the products. You can be cheated and lied to because you are a gringo and this is executed with no mercy of gentle and ever friendly portenos.
Plaza de Mayo surrounded with posh buildings from the beginning of 20th century  Buenos Aires  Argen...
Plaza de Mayo surrounded with posh buildings from the beginning of 20th century, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I wanted to buy a poncho but the ITM couldn't discharge the local pesos for me for two days. Without having U.S. cash in my pocket I couldn't do anything except for paying for food with my VISA at street corner utility stores and they don't have a habit of giving anybody a cash advance. Coming back to poncho..., I found one and bargained the price of AP 180 which was something around $US 16. After the French bank finally discharged some money for me, I had to come back to La Boca for the poncho. Now the poncho cost AP 450 as the previous price (AP 180) is when you pay for it with US cash only. Be careful when you do any of the cash transactions.
Beautiful buildings along Av. Roque S. Pena (between Plaza de Mayo and the monument of Obelisk)  Bue...
Beautiful buildings along Av. Roque S. Pena (between Plaza de Mayo and the monument of Obelisk), Buenos Aires, Argentina.
This city has two different (or maybe more with other currencies) exchange rates. By the way, I was advised, when using the taxi, to pay the taxi drivers with small bills (AP 10, 20, etc) and never give them large bills of AP 100. There's a lot of counterfeit large bills circulating in Buenos Aires. You can give to the driver a large bill you were just gotten from the ITM but the taxi driver will keep it for a while, and then, when you are not noticing anything, he will be looking at it again and will return to you another counterfeit one claiming that this is the one you gave him first. Be ready to pay for taxi service an exact amount of money you have discussed before with the driver.
Dangerous sidewalks to walk on. This one at the exit from car parking lot to Rua de Peru  some 300 m...
Dangerous sidewalks to walk on. This one at the exit from car parking lot to Rua de Peru, some 300 metres from central Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Surviving the ground you step on and streets you walk around
Buenos Aires has a lot of fabulous looking houses from the beginning of the 20th century. When looking high up you live with awesome impression of being in Paris, London or Vienna. When you look high up, don't forget about the ground you step on, as this part of Buenos Aires (right outside the city centre) looks like Kabul after heavy mortar attack. The sidewalks outside the perimeter of some 250-300 metres from the city centre are very dangerous areas to walk. Some constant work in progress shows signs of grass popping up in some places and you can spot dried chunks of leaves in large holes. Chunks of unprotected concrete lay helplessly right under your feet. Yellow and/or red tapes with "don't cross" warning signs are probably non-existing in this city. Actually, every sidewalk should have some sort of yellow tape warning you about walking into the realm of real danger.
Unprotected job in progress in the middle of sidewalk at Avenida de Libertador  Buenos Aires  Argent...
Unprotected job in progress in the middle of sidewalk at Avenida de Libertador, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Nobody cares for these parts of the city's urban landscape that serves to many millions of people. I am thinking if there's a good idea for the city to pass a law forcing the store, café, and car parking owners, and others who have their businesses along the damaged street to share the repair costs for the sidewalks as they look horribly and very unsafe to walk.
Fast and convenient motorbikes for their users but dangerous for pedestrians crossing the streets  B...
Fast and convenient motorbikes for their users but dangerous for pedestrians crossing the streets, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Buenos Aires has a lot of motorcycle traffic. It's sure convenient mean of transportation for many reasons. Motorbike riders ride their mobiles very aggressively. It's almost always their right of way. When crossing the street they can make a turn right in front of you even if you are crossing the street on green light. Actually the same applies to cars and buses making turns. You are never safe when crossing on green lights!
Piles of garbage and people sifting through it after the businesses closing hours in the city centre...
Piles of garbage and people sifting through it after the businesses closing hours in the city centre (Rua Peru and Av. de Mayo), Buenos Aires, Argentina
Surviving street vendors
Comparing with other South American capital cities, Buenos Aires doesn't have too many people vending on the city streets. Once in a while, when you seek a nice and quite time in the city park of Plaza San Martin under the large canopy of trees that provide a nice shade from severe sun in a hot day, you are confronted by a street vendor who sells heavy duty socks.
Nice shading spot under the trees of Plaza San Martin park  Buenos Aires  Argentina.
Nice shading spot under the trees of Plaza San Martin park, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
He wants you to buy a pair or two just because they are baratos. Who in the world could think of socks in such a weather but he insists on buying and is showing the whole range of colours and designs. No estoy de compras finally sets me free from this guy.
In the evening, people enjoy the time out in cafes and restaurants. Doesn't matter piles of stinky garbage or crappy sidewalks The tourists can see that tango, music, and time out with family and friends unite all people living in Buenos Aires. It's Viva la vida! at the end of the day anyway.
Window decorated with colourful sign at the restaurant at Avenida Roque S. Pena  Buenos Aires  Argen...
Window decorated with colourful sign at the restaurant at Avenida Roque S. Pena, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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