Chapter 6 - Argentina

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Dr. Bellido - La conocí bailando

21.01.15 Buenos Aires, Argentina

So that was that. A month in Denmark gone. I had so looked forward to it. I really had. And I loved every moment, even the ones where the walls fell apart. Now we’re in Buenos Aires, a giant city with too much… distance. Too many streets, too big. It's really cute here in Palermo Soho, but also really expensive. The best thing about Buenos Aires is the smell. The air is warm but fresh and clean and it smells like memories. It smells like stepping out into the sunlight from my dad’s mobile home when I was twelve, realizing that cold Denmark was long behind me and I was facing an entire 6 weeks of summer vacation. That is how the air smells here. As long as you stay out of the grocery stores that smell like feces and the streets that smell like urine. It is really beautiful; just don’t bring anything of value out of the house.

I feel like there’s always something missing about my favorite cities. Granada lacked coffee shops. Lisbon lacked good weather. Barcelona lacked grocery stores. Istanbul lacked freedom. Chiang Mai lacked parks. Bangkok lacked air. The latter is not really one of my favorites. It lacked air! Anyhow, Buenos Aires is another good example. The moment you arrive it’s a world of opportunities and you feel like it’s the perfect place. Perfect weather, nice parks an grocery stores, freedom, amazing air and cute coffee shops. And then you realize you’re missing safety for it to be a home. Safety and maybe open water, but the ocean I can live without. Also everything is crazy expensive and I am back in my I-would-rather-starve-than-spend-12USD-on-dinner-mode.

That aside I am actually beginning to make at least some money. Translating on oDesk is becoming a 4-hr-a-day job, soon-to-be full-time and I am filling the gaps writing articles for a travel website. This does mean the whole Sweet Distance thing has come to a halt, but right now I am not sure I need it. Right now it is becoming more and more evident that I want to spend my life with the guy by my side, and if I want to do that, I’ll be travelling for at least another year and a half. Better spend our time staying funded, right? So I guess putting time into work that pays off makes more sense.

01.02.15 Buenos Aires, Argentina

We stayed waaay too long in Buenos Aires. For every new place you make a certain amount of memories, and it seems the amount of memories that stuck with you determines how you rate that place in your mind. Here we saw a drumming show. We walked really far to the cemetery and saw China town and Recoleta, which was indeed colorful but also exploited tourism to a point where the authentic feeling we had hoped for was gone. We also went to iLatina, an amazing gourmet restaurant - Alex's birthday present for me. Oh, and moved houses three times, the last time to an apartment right next to a bridge under which most of the city's homeless had settled down. One of the first nights we stayed in that apartment we had had a few glasses of wine and were walking to get Alex a pizza. Passing under the bridge we weren't really scared - we never brought any valuables out with us anyway, and we looked almost as grimy as them. Our conversation came to a sudden halt as a terrifying scenario played out in front of us.

The woman looked like she was just a bit older than us and had had at least three times as manu units of alcohol as we had. In the dull yellow light from the street lights her mocking facial expression was intensified as every shadow seemed to settle deep into her skin. Yelling something in Spanish and flinging out an arm in aggravation the guy waved her off and forced her outstretched arm back down as he approached her with threatening steps. Without a warning he pushed her hard on the shoulders and she fell backwards onto a mattress on the ground. It wasn't until the guy started pulling down his pants that I realized in horror what was happening. The scenario seemed out of place. The mattress was fully exposed and more than 20 other homeless people were sitting right nearby. Considering their interaction, I assumed the woman knew the man. The woman didn't scream for help but just kept yelling at him while struggling to push him off of her. Zooming out for a second the terrifying truth hit me; the mattress was strategically placed right next to one of the pillars of the bridge, and only one side of it - the one facing the little group of kids at the far end of the pavement - was blocked off with a large piece of cardboard. None of the people sitting and talking next to the little love-corner even looked at the couple. It seemed the mattress was there with sole purpose of having sex on it. Voluntary or not. 

We kept walking. What else could we do? It was a world with different rules, rules we'd never understand. They were people living in a world where a human life was worth less than any amount of money. I felt sick to my stomach and thankful for the world I was born into as we walked through the last few sketchy streets in silence to our house. I felt thankful that I am privileged enough to be born a life that matters to someone.

Another interesting dynamic in Buenos Aires was the cash system. Because the country is in big trouble and the government decided to screw everyone over, the Argentinean peso had completely lost its value. As a result, the exchange rates were ridiculously high, and an underground movement called the "blue dollar" had been established. Basically, some Argentineans believe (most likely rightfully) that at some point a balance will be regained and the peso will once again be worth more. Therefore, they established the blue dollar movement, exchanging American dollars for Argentinean pesos at a way higher rate than tourists can get in banks. Exchanging in banks, each of our American dollars could buy us 9 pesos. On the blue marked, each could buy us 13. When/if the Argentinean peso becomes valuable again, the locals that bought our dollars for 13 pesos will be able to exchange their american dollars for maybe up to 20 pesos. In this way locals invest in dollars through tourists and it is a win/win for all. That doesn't make the process of exchanging less illegal though...
          On the street "Florida" in inner city, old and young, men and women were whispering "cambio, cambio" (change) from every doorway, corner and shadow. With our 100$ in our pockets we scouted for someone who seemed likely to speak English. The guy we ended up talking to didn't, but that really didn't matter much. He just showed us a phone with a cracked display showing a calculator displaying "100x12,5=1250". We nodded and he waved his hand for us to follow him. Looking around nervously, we were lead into something that looked like a shit down indoor mall where all the storefronts were covered up with paper or plastic. Muffled voices reached us from behind the glass, and the man pushed a door aside to lead us into one of the stores. Inside a family of a local man and a woman with a kid were sitting, looking just as nervous as us. An awkward curtain had been made out of a faded piece of plastic and functioned as a wall, splitting the room in half. The guy who'd lead us there gestured for us to wait and left. Looking around the empty room with paper on all walls, I tried to understand what was being said on the other side of the curtain, but failed. Eventually someone drew the curtain aside and a man came out, sticking a thick pile of notes into his back pocket before leaving the place in silence. Behind the curtain was a single desk with several calculators and a metal box on it, and a suspicious looking older Argentinean man with faded sunglasses behind it. He waved for us to enter and greeted us with a business voice and broken English. Communicating in Spanglish the man showed us the number 1250 on a calculator and reached our 100$ over his shoulder when we nodded. A young guy grabbed the notes and clumsily counted them and the new amount in Argentinean pesos. The old man, who looked like he's jumped straight out of a gangster movie, didn't look back at the young guy, and simply held his hand up until the Argentinean notes were placed in it by the young guy. Without ever looking away from our faces he handed us the money and waved for us to get lost.
          Emerging out into the sunlight we felt both uncomfortable, paranoid and happy. We were half expecting to be greeted by a cop ready to cuff us and half expecting to be ambushed and robbed by a bunch of locals who'd seen us coming out of the money exchange center. Luckily nothing happened and we were an interesting experience richer. 

So I guess we're leaving this place with a lot less memories than what you'd expect from an entire month in one place and with a remarkably high ratio of sketchy experienced to non-sketchy ones. I really don't understand why so many people love Buenos Aires. Did we miss something? Or is it that we're not really party people? I don't know. But I'm definitely happy to move on.

03.02.15 Mendoza, Argentina

We only really went to Mendoza because there's no bus that goes all the way from Buenos Aires to Santiago, the capital of Chile. But we never regretted stopping for a few days in Mendoza at all! Situated in the center of the Argentinean wine country, you have access to endless amounts of vineyards from this cozy little city. We had fun taking a wine tour, eating lots and lots of fresh grapes straight from the vines. Also it was a nice change, after BA, to stay in a tiny little city that was easily walkable. However, even though the main square was right next to our hostel and the whole city could be reached on foot, it was extremely difficult to find food. Everything was either the local Argentinean food we'd gotten really tired of after our stay in Buenos Aires or it was very expensive food catered towards rich tourists. And that is how it happened that we ended up eating sandwiches from a Scandinavian bakery three times in three days. Hold up for a moment - Scandinavian?? Yes, in this tiny little city where we could barely find wifi, someone had opened a stylish, clean and authentic Swedish bakery. My second best memory from Mendoza was eating amazing rye-bread sandwiches from "Bröd" in the park as a local approached us and placed a lit inscent stick in the grass in front of us for good luck, only to smile and leave. The best memory was a grill out in the hostel with a bunch of awesome British people.

The hostel offered free wine every night. Yes, you heard me. Free. Wine. Every. Night. It wont come as a surprise that we spent all of our three nights in Mendoza floating around in a happy haze. The grill-out night was no exception and we had so much fun talking to the two British guys and one girl, completely unable to understand a word of what one of the guys said due to his heavy Northern English accent. A kitten had snuck into the hostel on the day we arrived and I had named her "Mille" and fed her milk every day while working on my computer in the hostel common room. Now Mille had joined the grill party and enjoyed all the small pieces of Argentinean steak we fed her off of our plates. As the night came to an end I brought the little skinny creature with me to bed. Waking up the next morning I regretted that decision. She'd puked all over Alex's tank top on the floor. Lesson learned: Never feed steak to a kitten. Or maybe the lesson was more like "never bring a stray cat to bed"...