Friday, March 9, 2012

Arrival in Buenos Aires

The distance between Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay and Buenos Aires,  Argentina,  is not all that great.  It only took a little over an hour for the boat I was on to make the distance,  although it's not possible to see one side from the other.  Culturally though,  there is a giant gulf.  Buenos Aires (BA) is a huge city,  bustling,  filled with shops,  apartments,  and the people on the streets are businessmen,  or tourists,  or street artists trying to make a living.  Colonia was a sleepy little tourist town.  I like both of them,  but I'm happy be in Buenos Aires today. 

Much of today was a travel day.  Last night I met the new people who I shared a room with,  a guy from Ireland and a girl from Hungary who are traveling together.  We took the same boat over to BA,  and shared being lost once we got here.  Turns out we had taken a boat that was different than what the Lonely Planet guidebook had recommended,  and that boat docked further south than we expected.  We had to catch a bus north,  and none of us had Argentinian pesos in coins,  which is what the bus requires (although the guy was willing to pay for my fare,  which I deeply appreciated).  Fortunately the bus drive was cool and just let us ride with all our gear for free.  We made it safely to the "microcentro,"  the very center of the center of BA.  I found my hostel,  and we parted ways,  but not before exchanging info,  we'll hopefully grab lunch or something together in a few days.

My hostel is right on a busy street.  And let me describe what I mean by "busy."  The street consists of 3 separate streets.  The outermost two are normal streets,  two lanes of traffic going in each direction.  The center street however,  is very large,  and has 7 lanes of traffic going in each direction.  This is not,  mind you,  a freeway,  it's a city street.  This adds up to 22 lanes of traffic to cross when traversing it on foot,  which turns out to not be possible in one green light. Fortunately there are handy pedestrian islands to wait on.  Cars do not particularly bother to stop for people in this city. Apparently being on a bicycle is even worse.  Due to my hostel being on this street, it's a bit noisy,  but honestly,  I like it,  it's soothing like the traffic noise outside of my own condo in Seattle.

Over the course of the 44 days of my traveling,  there have been a few bureaucratic challenges,  probably the largest of which was the amount of effort I had to spend in order to enter Suriname.  Today's challenge was not on quite the scale,  but was impressive in its own right.  I wanted to do something I assumed would be relatively straightforward,  exchange Uruguay Pesos into Argentinian Pesos.  This required checking in at the hostel,  and getting directions to an Exchange,  or Cambio.  Turns out there's a street full of them for a block or two.  I was able to find the right streets,  but most of the Cambios there were attached to a bank which refused to exchange currency for anyone other than clients of the bank.  I finally found one,  and this is the scene I found inside:   There wasn't a line,  there was a guy asking for ID,  and everyone crowding around him.  I assumed that he was asking for cards that people had that proved they were members of that bank,  so I despaired, but decided to hand over my passport just to see what happened.  He took the passport,  handed it to another woman whose job it was simply to make copies of IDs and hand them back.  (this turned out to be a full time job for her,  as it was quite busy in there).  I got my passport back after it was pointed out to the woman that she had made a copy of my Brazil Visa,  not my actual passport information,  and she had to do it again.

After getting my passport,  my paper was handed specially to a guy who spoke English.  He was not the guy who I gave my Uruguay Pesos to,  he simply was the guy who told me where in the Cambio I needed to go next,  which was a tiny series of rooms located behind the main front counter.  It was full of people,  so I stood slightly outside the room until I was yelled at by someone at the front counter to go all the way in to the rooms.  I did,  and jostled for position.  A new guy came in,  asked me what I needed (in English),  I told him,  and he escorted me to another room,  took the photocopy of my ID (which I'd been given back when I got my passport back),  and entered the room with me.  He wrote down how many Pesos I had,  took my Pesos,  and then brought me to another,  different tiny room where he asked me to stay until he called my name.  I thought he called it midway through waiting,  but that was someone else who had a similar sounding last name to me,  at least when mangled badly with a Spanish speaking tongue.  The guy finally returned,  handed me Argentinian Pesos,  and thanked me,  and I left.  At that point,  I was so exhausted that I didn't even bother to check the math on the exchange rate.  I got a decent amount of Argentinian Pesos,  so I was ready to go.  I think I'm fine on the Peso front for a while,  and turns out there's a citibank nearby,  so I should have no problem withdrawing additional Pesos if I need to.

Ok,  photos.  Today was mostly a travel day,  I only got out to photograph late in the afternoon.  My first attempt to photograph a particular subject was not successful (yet),  so I moved on and by chance came across a footbridge that I had known I wanted to photograph.  For those of you who know me well,  you may be aware that I spent quite a bit of time photographing the Milwaukee Art Museum in Wisconsin back in 2010.  It is a creation of the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava,  and a quite beautiful building.  You can see my photos of that building here (keep clicking the "Next" button above the image to see the next 8 images or so) Calatrava is also the architect of this footbridge here in Buenos Aires.  I was fortunate to time my arrival at the bridge with the sun setting,  and came away with the following photographs.  You can see the similarity in styles between the bridge and the art museum.

With that,  a few impressions of the Calatrava Buenos Aires footbridge at Puente de la Mujer.

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