Friday, August 21, 2009

Phoning home while on travel through Argentina

1. A simple and cost effective way to phone home in Argentina is from a ‘locutorio’. They often have a big sign of one of the two big phone companies in the Argentina: Telefonica or Telecom. A locutorio offers various booths from where you can call. A meter indicates how much you are spending. Calling to the US costs a little less than 1 peso per minute.

2. Another method to phone home is via skype in one of the many internet cafes. I am hghly virus skeptical about internet cafes aka 'cyber'. Bring a live CD like SLAX to get around that. Many computers are equipped with webcam and microphone.

3. Some cities, like San Luis, offer city wide free WIFI (article). Were you to bring a netbook, you would be set.

4. Many people do not use a long distance plan with their home phone. Instead they purchase a LD phone card at any corner kiosk.

5. The GSM network is well established. Although I have not tried it, you could also purchase a local SIM. (note: oddly you are required to declare/register your cellphone when you enter Argentina).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Getting around Buenos Aires and beyond

So you’ve decided to marry a girl from Argentina, or just want to visit Buenos Aires and the rest of the country. How do you get around town? I thought I write down some of my experiences.

  1. To/From the international airport of Ezeiza. The internal airport of Buenos Aires is about an hour from the center of town. (Jorge Newbery airport near the center is for domestic flights only.) I recommend to pay extra and use a car from Manuel Tienda Leon to get to your hotel. It is safe and direct. No need to hop onto a shared shuttle. If you have a lot of luggage, ask for a “Peugeot Partner” small van. Or at a minimum ask for a car without natural gas (un auto sin gas). The gas container in the trunk takes away of lot of space. You don’t want to be split up in different cars.
  2. Taxi – There is a golden rule in Buenos Aires: you pick the taxi. Don’t let the taxi pick you. Often taxis will be driving slowly by the curb. Let them pass. If you found a good taxi or taxi company, ask for a card and call them from your hotel room. The front desk might have some recommended companies as well. It will not be the first time you get robbed within the taxi or you have to surrender your shopping bags or suitcases. It happens even to portenos, the people from Buenos Aires. Overall taxi drivers are courteous and friendly.
  3. Colectivo en Buenos Aires, citybus: bus drivers are notorious assholes. They’ll take of when you’re boarding, or cut of pedestrians. Be ready for a rough and tumble ride. And watch for pick-pockets. And one trick: if you have to take bus #59, note that there are several #59 with different stops and even end destinations. You would think they would label them #59, #60 and #61, but no, that would be too easy. I am sure there must be a reasonable explanation, but it’s definitely not obvious.
  4. Subte, the subway : is an easy to bypass the traffic of the city streets. $1.10
  5. Caminando, walking is my favorite way around town. Just learn a couple of big streets: Cordoba, Belgrano, Callao, Santa Fe, Corrientes, 9de Julio, Pueyrredon for easy orientation.
  6. Tren, the train is not something I recommend. Argentina stopped investing in trains many years ago. The infrastructure reflects this. Tren de la costa is a special train which will take you along the river to areas such as San Isidro, an upscale outskirt of Buenos Aires.
  7. Avion, by plane across the country is fast but can be expensive. They often have different rates for citizens than for tourists. An alternative, yet slower, are the long distance busses.
  8. Omnibus, Long distance busses from Retiro bus station. The bus and train station in Retiro can be a dangerous area: watch out not to be taken for a fool. Retiro is where the trains arrive but also where you find the bus station for the long distance busses. The busses are great. You get a big comfortable seat which recline 45 degrees (ejecutivo) or get one which converts into a bed (con cama entero). Sometimes cama entero means a different bus and a different departure time. So check the different options. Also check various companies. For any given destination there are several companies: Chevalier, Mar Del Plata, Andesmar, Autotransporte San Juan, etc. I do recommend to eat before getting on the bus, as your mileage may vary from bus to bus. I often take the Buenos Aires – San Luis bus: 11 hours drive at night. This is cheaper alternative to a plane ride (1hr + 1-2hr waiting) mid day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Types of cars in Argentina

After having battled and so far survived traffic in Argentina, time for a smuck blog post. I’ve come to conclude there are three types of cars:

[begin smuck comment]

  1. Larga distancia – new cars. Common brands are Renault, Peugeot, Fiat. Recently also VolksWagen and Toyota are popular.
  2. Corta distancia – many old clunkers are clearly for only local drives to the supermarket, or the river. The old Ford falcons are good candidates.
  3. Distancia questionable – there is an entire category of cars from which you don’t know if they will make it to the corner. And yet many make it across the country or even the Andes. But you’re really gambling and should be prepared for anything: doors falling off, no lights, engine overheating, etc.

[end smuck comment]

There is also the fantastic story of Herman and Cande Zapp who took their 75 year old 1928 Graham-Paige from Argentina to Alaska.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Casa de Cambio – bring your Albanian gorilla

In recent years, using traveler checks in Argentina wasn’t a good idea. First, it was expensive to exchange them. Secondly, they were impractical as banks close at 3:30pm.

For the first time, bringing dollars wasn’t a good idea either. On my recent trip, I visited several big banks and non let me exchange them for pesos. “Solamente si sos cliente” – only for clients of the bank.

On Santa Fe, a major shopping street in Buenos Aires, I only found a single ‘casa de cambio’. It was in the back of a small and dim-lit shopping mall. I would attempt to exchange my fistful of dollars, but did not bring my Albanian body guard gorilla to guide me back safely to the street.

Don’t exchange at the guy in the street yelling “Dolares, Euros’. This is Nuevas Reinas/ Nine Queens country after all. Watch out for fake pesos. Or single side printed pesos.

Luckily I do have another option and can ask my brother in law to exchange at his bank.

What do other tourists do? Perhaps there are more casa de cambio near La Florida, the most popular shopping area. But don’t expect great exchange rates, now that they're set by the casa de cambio monopoly.

Monday, August 03, 2009

What do they eat on Friday?

Fish is never the option at a wedding in Argentina. It is either beef, beef or pork. Or perhaps turkey. But mostly beef. This is beef country. Vegetables are definitely optional. This has to be place where Atkins came up with his protein diet.

It is odd that for a country with as much coast line there isn’t that much fishing going on. Fish is hard to come by. On a previous trip I had brought sheets of seaweed to prepare sushi. I was in the middle of the country, in San Luis, but how difficult could it be for a refrigerator truck to make the trip. I ended up making cucumber rolls and rolls with tasteless defrost shrimp bits.

Eating fish caught in the Rio de la Plata is not a healthy idea. But you would presume that the thousand miles of coastline and the Straight of Magellan would give “The deadliest Catch” a run for its money. Or what about the trout from the many lakes in Patagonia?

On my recent trip I set out to find out what do people in this Catholic country on Friday.