Arrival and first impressions of Buenos Aires

Casa Rosada with Argentine flag

Casa Rosada with Argentine flag

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Arrival and first impressions of Buenos Aires

I’m going to try, on this particular trip, to post something everyday. Basically a diary. I’ve planned this before and failed – for reasons which are nothing else than down to some of my many failings. However, this time I’m starting with good intentions.

It might work out the ramblings of a misanthrope but I would like to think, amongst all the bile, there is something that someone, somewhere might find interesting and, above all, useful if they were to follow a similar adventure – because that’s what travelling alone without a fixed itinerary is to all intents and purposes. The next surprise is always around the next corner.

So, to the beginning.

Arrival and first impressions of Buenos Aires

Doing a circuit in the air of three sides of the city before landing and then getting a view of the other side on the bus from the airport to the city centre Buenos Aires might call itself ‘The Paris of Latin America’ in some of its architecture, but the majority created in the last 120 years or so doesn’t have much to write home about.

From the air it looked like some giant children had been given an unlimited collection of equally giant Lego bricks and lacking any imagination had just arranged stacks of these, to varying heights, in a grid road system.

Yes there are some impressive European, Baroque influenced buildings but they are mainly concentrated in the older part of the city centre but once away from the ‘famous’ ones, such as the Casa Rosada, they are not treated with a great deal of respect.

Just one example from the bus from the airport was of a typical BA building, with its domes, and slap bang next to it – without any space as far as I could make out – was one of the most uninspiring steel and glass buildings I have ever seen. Surely if there is supposed to be some sort of pride in the city’s architecture it should go for those buildings that might not be in the forefront of any tourist route as well. Such neglect only indicating that the pride some people might take in the city’s architectural past is somewhat shallow.

That’s just from a matter of an hour or so in the place so I can hardly call myself an expert. It will be interesting to see how, or if, that first impression changes.

But first, some possible Useful information for the first time visitor to the city (and country).

Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini de Ezeiza (EZE) – Buenos Aires International Airport

When you arrive on a transatlantic jumbo jet – with 350, more or less, passengers – you expect to be there a long time getting through Immigration, especially when there are more flights coming in at the same time. But the immigration and passport control was well staffed, to meet the high demand, both by immigration officials as well as airport staff directing arriving passengers to the different sections to even out the queues. This is the wonder of that webbing and metal stands that often get you walking for mile after needless mile yet here it was being used in the way it was designed.

What is becoming more common, wherever you travel nowadays, is the electronic logging of your data. Not only is the passport put through a reader – which is presumably attached to some data base to which the USA and GCHQ in the UK has access (as well as the other major capitalist states) – but added to that a picture is taken of your face and the print of the right thumb is also recorded. This was the first time I had encountered this level of surveillance but that might just mean haven’t been to the ‘right’ countries in the recent past.

If you want to stay off the radar then air travel is becoming impossible as every detail is being collated and some algorithm is being used to measure your threat to the future of the world, capitalist system. So far land travel has yet to reach such ‘sophistication’ but an article I read about how the ‘capitalist roader’ Chinese authorities are effectively preventing people from travelling by air or fast train (a system which is growing exponentially and will cover most of the country in the not too distant future) means that train travel is also becoming subject to the same sort of checks.

For some time now foot passengers travelling on the likes of the Channel Tunnel (between the UK and France) and the AVE in Spain is more akin to air travel than the relaxed way train travel is advertised – and that’s not taking into account the delays and cancellations that are making rail travel more of a chore than a joy in the recent past – here I’m talking about the UK

But back to the Ezeiza Airport.

Another thing that all passengers were being asked, in my hearing, was the name of the hotel they might be staying in whilst in Buenos Aires. Even if you arrive and have nothing arranged it might be useful to have a name to supply.

I was also quite impressed by the speed with which the luggage arrived on the carousels. Although the main airport of a capital city Ezeiza is nothing in comparison to the likes of Heathrow and Gatwick, even Birmingham airport, the place I started the journey, is probably bigger but getting the people’s luggage to them as quickly as possible is merely a matter of organisation and employing enough people to do the job. In place of efficiency (in the UK) we get excuses and lies but rarely any move to find a solution.

From sitting on the plane at 08.10 to leaving the customs – having gone through all the formalities – took 40 minutes. I don’t think you can fault that.

Getting money

I’m only in the very early stages of understanding the mess of the Argentinian economy but before I had placed foot on Argentinian soil for more than three hours I was starting to learn something of the chaos into which it has fallen.

The only ATM I saw at the airport, and to which I went as soon as officially arriving in the country, was reluctant to supply more than 2000 Argentinian Pesos – that’s little more than £40. I later – in the centre of town – tried to take out larger amounts but only managed to take out 4000 Pesos (£80).

It also charged 231 Pesos (a somewhat bizarre figure) over and above any charges that the card user will have to pay their own bank. This seems to be a fixed charge and is the same irrespective of any amount drawn. So far I have been unable to find out the justification for this charge. This is a cost to Argentinians as well as foreigners.

With the collapse in the value of the Peso since the end of 2017 this seems to be an extra tax on Argentinians – and accounts for why the ATMs are never busy.

But what this has done, not by itself but in conjunction with the collapse in the currency, is the increase in on the street money-changers (cambistas) which is always a sign of an economy in crisis and also a long-term recognised and effective manner of money laundering. A pedestrianised street on which I am stating for my fist few days in the country had both men and women calling out ‘Cambio!’ to all those passing. Queues were also out the door at the ‘official’ exchange shops.

Being a Saturday it will be a couple of days before I can check up the official reason for this tax although I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that no one can give a real reason for it yet will still accept that it comes with the territory

These are the sort of surprises that so-called ‘travel writers’ should be highlighting. They will ‘promote’ the country as a good place to visit due to the fall in the value of the Peso but that’s no good if you have to make up for the lower prices by giving even more to the banks. Taxi drivers and bankers are universally allowed to get away with fleecing us all. The judicious use of the AK47 wouldn’t go amiss for either of those groups of people, worldwide.

Another sign of the crisis in the economy is the number of empty shops along this pedestrianised street, which has some remnants of having its pretensions in the past but even the high-end shops are having a bad time in ‘austerity’ Argentina.

Transport from the airport to Buenos Aires city centre

The quickest way of getting away from an airport to a place you don’t know is obviously by taxi but I’ve gotten sick over the years with having arguments with taxi drivers and the way they think they have an almost God-given right to rob people. This happens even if you ‘agree’ a price beforehand – in circumstances where your luggage is being held hostage in a locked boot. Often the actual value is little, it’s the principle. And these are the sort of parasites on the body politic that Comrade Lenin warned about the ‘petty-bourgeois’ threat to a nascent Socialist society.

However, there is a cheap and efficient way to get into the centre. A bus company called Tienda Leon runs a bus from outside the main exit of the building to their bus station not far from the ocean, just out of the city centre. If you have pesos then there’s an office immediately after clearing customs (where there are also a number of car hire places and a small Information Office) before coming out into the maelstrom which is the mass of people awaiting incoming passengers.

Nobody seemed to mind me going back into an area that should be leaving one way only. At that time I didn’t know that there was a ticket office at the bus stop itself.

The cost of a one way journey is 350 Pesos, departures are every 30 minutes (on the hour and half hour) and takes 45 minutes.

To find the bus stop and ticket office go through the main exit, turn slightly to the right, cross the first section of a zebra crossing and the office is a small white kiosk on the right.

There’s even an element of security for luggage as you are given a ticket for each piece place in the luggage compartment (in the same way you get when flying) and you have to show that before being able to claim your bags at the end of the journey.

From their bus station it’s not too arduous a walk if you have accommodation in the centre of town.

To finish this first post I was going to just mention the fact that I think I have found ‘my’ bar in Buenos Aires. I look for a place that’s not the normal place for a tourist and also has the advantage of having a view of the street – although that view will unlikely appear in tourist publicity. And also within staggering distance from where I’m staying.

To give a view of my level of entertainment this little bar (whose name I forget to memorise after leaving but which I hope to rectify soon) charges 80 pesos (about £1.70) for a litre of 4.6 lager beer – the name was Isenbeck (I assume German, Nazi influence here), an Argentinian local beer.

However, events in the local football world took over – and that will form the basis for my blog tomorrow.

I’m also less than impressed with the hostel I’m staying in (especially after the expereince at the end of last year in Moscow and Leningrad) but, that too, will have to wait till another day.

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