Thursday, February 19, 2009

Quirks and coins

Buenos Aires is a quirky little town (or sprawling metropolis of 40.5 million). Just getting around is an experience in itself. The traffic lights look and function just like ours, except they turn yellow even before turning green. If you feel a few drops of water drip, drip, dripping on you, or splashing off the sidewalk, is it a mid morning sun shower? Nope. It’s the air conditioners dripping water from 2, 3, 4 stories up. Beware the dog walkers, especially in Belgrano, who walk 8 to 12 dogs at a time and leave a lovely, smelly trail wherever they roam.

If you have too far to walk, you just grab el colectivo (the bus) or el subte. The subte is just like the Metro or the T. The colectivo however, comes with a whole new set of rules. First of all, to get around by colectivo, you definitely need your GUIA “T”—without it you’re absolutely doomed. This 192 page guide to the colectivos is possibly one of the most confusing map systems I’ve ever tried to navigate. We spent over an hour of our Spanish class learning how to use it. But once you figure it out, it works just fine. The only other thing you need to take the colectivo is las monedas. Coins.

And they’re absolutely impossible to get. The shortage of monedas has got to be the most annoying economic crisis in the world.

At first, I thought it was a ploy by the taxi drivers. Horde coins so that people trying to get home at night (after the subte stops running at 22:30) have to hail a cab since they can’t pay for the bus. Turns out, it’s actually the bus companies themselves hording las monedas! Companies sell monedas on the black market for more than the coin value, because you can’t use the colectivo without them. In turn, this creates a whole new set of problems. Coins become more precious than higher value paper money. Shopkeepers would rather make you pay 1 centavo less than give up their monedas! Even by day two, my friends and I have already found ourselves bragging about our new found monedas.

I think it’s kind of crazy that after 2 days I’m pretty comfortable getting around BA on my own. Me, the girl from the pueblito en el bosque. Belgrano is pretty far from el centro; it takes me about 45 minutes of walking and subte riding to get to where our orientation classes are, but I can handle it! Orientation is going well! Lots of information, and it really tires you out focusing on how to register for classes and all that, all the while translating every bit of it as you go. But my language skills have also surprised me, and I’m not scared anymore of my classes being completely in Spanish. Outside of class there’s been lots of hanging out at cafes, a tour of el barrio Retiro which is absolutely beautiful, and a few nights out.

Fine wine is cheaper than shitty beer here. Perfecto.

A lot more fun to look forward to as I’m getting closer with new friends and making plans for more areas to explore for nights out and weekend trips too. This weekend I think we’re going to check out some all you can eat asado and maybe even head to Puerto Madero for the last weekend of Carnaval. Sounds delicious!

1 comment:

  1. It must be especially difficult reading the bus guide book backwards in spanish!