Arrive at Buenos Aires airport. Discover that Argentines are on strike due to proposed tax hikes. Join the line that extends from customs to the luggage collection. Wipe sleep from tired eyes, and try to recalibrate body clocks. Luggage is X-rayed and passes. Hola, Buenos Aires.
We are dog tired. We stand out like the dogs proverbials, tall pale Gringos. Our luggage on the trolley we try to work out the best way to get into town. Obviously if we go to the taxi rank we will pay an extortionate Gringo price, and the local bus is either not running due to strikes, or requires coins that we have not yet acquired. After some tired deliberation we head to the internal taxi stand and book a taxi. One that then speeds like a rally car down the bumpy freeway, dodging and overtaking as much as possible. I hope Argentina produces good rally drivers, this guy was definitely up there.
Eventually we arrive, and are greeted by a warm smile from one of the hostel workers. We check into a small room which will be ours for the next few days. I immediately change into shorts and a t-shirt, and walk outside to feel the heat of the sun beating down on me. Such a strong contrast with the icy-cold tail of Winter that we left behind in Germany. We spend the next few days adjusting to the jet lag, and the sunshine helps us.
The hostel is warm and inviting on the inside, painted colourfully outside. We have breakfast near the stove daily, making the most of the free coffee. We pass on the staple white bread and dulce de leche (delicious but not nutritionally satisfying), and opt for bought cereal, fruit and yoghurt.
While there we make a foray into the heart of Buenos Aires, in order to change some money on the black market. Or blue market? The Argentinian government has placed restrictions on the flow of currency into the country, which means that a thriving market for foreign currency exists. We have a bit of euro that we change over after walking up and down Florida Calle, the street for moneychangers. ‘Cambio Cambio Cambio!!!’ the crys of the vendors ring out when we walk past. We find someone who offers a price we accept, and then says ‘Come into my office’ and we follow them into a small green kiosk on the road. There is a money counting machine in the tiny space, and the transaction for pesos is quick and effortless. We then make tracks back to the hostel, not keen to be carrying substantial wads of cash.
After a few days at the hostel, where the operator smoothly makes clients pay in the Blue Dolar rate, we decide it is time for somewhere with better cooking facilities and no dodgy practices regarding payment. We try AirBnB for the first time and find an excellent apartment for the week very close to the parkland around Lagos de Regatos. We spend the next while getting back outdoors everyday, running and walking and enjoying the climate. Running through the park we come across Eucalypts, which are a reminder of home. The lake in the closest park is beautiful, especially at sunset.
Every day that we are outside we see people walking dogs, usually 15 at a time. Dogs of all shapes and sizes, snuffling and scratching and panting and wagging and be guided by their walkers through the streets and around the parks. The owners obviously don’t walk the dogs themselves, and we are glad to see the dogs getting some quality time outside. It looks like an enjoyable job, but I guess the novelty wears off. One time I try to say hello to the dogs and the walker barks at me to keep away. I guess I understand that it would be frustrating to have people pat the dogs. Once they finish walking the dogs they take them to a section of the park where they tie them up around trees for a break. There is incessant barking and yipping of a hundred dogs, with multiple walkers all seeking reprieve from the heat in the shade.
We spend Easter weekend in this part of Buenos Aires, and try as we might cannot find any chocolate eggs on sale. The local super market we head to is called Jumbo – and boy it is! We observe them cooking up a paella inside, in what would not look out of place as a spa! We find the Argentinian steak to be high quality and quite cheap compared to Australia, although the price of most everyday items is the same or dearer than back home.
We enjoy a dinner out and opt for a more Americanised meal rather than the mixed barbecued meat that Argentina is famous for. We still get the high quality steak, but skip all the various sausages that normally come with a mixed grill meal.
We catch the local metro train a few times into the city. The service is good, and it is air conditioned inside the train. It is also extremely packed every time of the day that we catch the train. So much so that when we line up to head out of town one day, we are in one of a multitude of lines back up to where the doors of the train will be when it arrive, each line growing to some 40m long over the half hour wait before the train arrives. Every waits patiently, and there is no pushing or shoving. The doors on the opposite side open and allow passengers off before we board.
Our final experience is waiting at the Bus terminal before our departure to Mendoza overnight. The bus station is a hive of activity, and the armed guards motion to us several times to keep a very close eye on our packs. Once we are on board it will be a 16 hour journey across Argentina.