Our week in Buenos Aires gave us just enough time to experience what a complex place it is.
The city was built upon the mix of incredibly wealthy oligarchs and poor immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, with the occasional dash of influence from local native tribes. In some ways, all the cultures blended to create features unique to Buenos Aires, but traditional elements of each still shine through. It's sort of a melting pot, but sort of not - a little like this gooey, cheesy provoleta.
It hasn't always been an incredibly peaceful juxtaposition of different classes and cultures, but they've all left their mark on the varied cityscape one encounters from block to block. From the countless pasta shops that dot the streets of Palermo to the lavishly impractical palaces of Recoleta, Buenos Aires is a fantastic jumble of people.
Agree to disagree
Though there are differences in opinion on practically everything, the one idea that unites locals is that their government is a mess.
During our week in the city we counted 5 different protests just in the areas we visited, 3 of which had been going on continuously for years and had semi-permanent headquarters. The people have good reason to be upset: the government has switched hands numerous times in the last 30-40 years, each ending in conflict and economic instability, and the highest ranks of the current government are famously rife with corruption and nepotism.
It's also created a situation which we'd never experienced outside of Argentina – a black market for foreign currency. We know, that sounds super shady, but let us explain.
In an environment where inflation is rampant (30-40% per year), Argentinians are eager to crystallize their savings in a less volatile currency. They will trade with you at a rate 3-4 pesos higher for dollar bills than the “official” exchange rate – one set by the same government that is denying that there is an inflation problem. While it felt great to save money everywhere we went, the good feeling was somewhat tempered in knowing the frustration Argentinians must feel in this desperate situation.
On a brighter, fluffier, cuter note
We needed a little break from all this heaviness, so after the somewhat dark mood of our tour we took a day to hang out at the zoo.
The Buenos Aires zoo has a little something that made it especially attractive to us - you can buy buckets of animal food and feed about 40% of the animal species (note: you can only pet about 20%, which is disappointing but far higher than most other legitimate zoo operations).
It also had a very open feel, with all sorts of animals such as muskrats, ducks, and mara, a type of large, doe-eyed rodent, lounging around the lawns and pathways.
Along with the usual favorites, we also saw a number of animals for the first time, which we didn't initially expect being enthusiastic nature show viewers.
Mountain man no more
By this point in the trip, Nick was getting pretty long in the whiskers, having not shaved since we left Seattle in March.
Toward the end of the week, we decided to look for an old fashioned barbershop before we headed off to smaller towns with less options and Brazil, where neither of us speaks the language. We found the perfect spot on TripAdvisor, and we quickly hopped the bus to remedy the beard in style.
The reviews promised a trip back in time, and we were not disappointed.
The barbers deftly wielded the straight razor, and Nick left feeling muy, muy suave. Plus, they even let us take a few Sweeny Todd-esque photos before the job was done.
On a final note, we did end up getting pickpocketed in Buenos Aires. We were almost too embarrassed to mention it here, because it happened through a fairly widely publicized scheme that we just hadn't read about yet. But just in case you also haven't, maybe this post will save you the annoyance and hassle in your travels, so here goes.
It's a textbook con perpetrated by people called mostazeros (a play on the word for mustard), usually in groups of 2-3 people. One person squirts you, using a water pistol or plastic bag, with some smelly substance that stains your clothes, while another person or two points out the stain to you, explaining that it's bird poop. They offer you help, with water, napkins, wet wipes, etc. and, while cleaning you, gain access to your pockets.
In our case, we were waiting for the bus, and I was squirted in my hair, as well as the back of my shirt and pants, but in a way that was pretty convincing as bird poop. Nick also got a bit on his pants. Then, a man and woman were quick to offer us napkins and water. Nick was too focused on cleaning me to realize what was happening as the man "cleaned" his pants leg, which happened to have his wallet zipped into a side pocket.
Luckily, Nick wasn't carrying much cash, and our credit card company quickly sent us a replacement, so we weren't stung too badly by the experience. We still can't quite figure out what stained us, but it made for some interesting guesses (and some even more interesting laundry) later that day. But more importantly, we were reminded to always keep our wits about us and to be wary of people trying to help a little too much.
Off to where Argentina and Brazil meet at the famously beautiful Iguazu (Iguaçu?) Falls.