12 years ago when I was 15 years old I was lucky enough to be a part of what is still one of the best trips of my life. My school organised a football tour of Uruguay and Argentina which was full of amazing experiences. Not only did we do amazing things like visit Iguazu falls and get to test our football skills against the kids of strong footballing nations, (if my memory serves me correct we went 4 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss) but we also got to stay with the families of the kids we played against. At 15 years of age it was an awesome experience to hang out with kids from completely different societies. It was different but awesome at the same time.
With such fond memories of these two beautiful countries I was understandably excited about heading back. The problem with having fond memories means that the expectations are high, and unfortunately, the second time around wasn’t as amazing as the first. However, I put this down to one main factor which is actually a positive. Work. It may not seem like it at times but our priority at Working As We Go is in fact work. So when an influx of work came through during our time in Argentina, we had to make some sacrifices. Instead of travelling all around Argentina and down to Patagonia we extended our stay in Buenos Aires from 5 days to 2 weeks, and a lot of that time was spent inside working. It might sound like I’m complaining, I’m not, we were super happy to be so busy, but I would have loved to visit Patagonia, but there is always next time…we may even pop in for a visit when we eventually head back to Australia.
Having said all this we did enjoy our time in these two neighbours of Brazil. We stayed in Montevideo and Buenos Aires, both really nice cities with a lot of greenery and nice architecture. I actually see these two cities are more European than South American, so great is the influence of the Spanish, Italians and French (I think). One thing that was super European that we enjoyed in both cities were walking tours. The last walking tour we had done before Uruguay was in Dublin back in October so it was good to get back out there and learn a thing or two.
I could sum up both cities in one word…nice. They are not absolutely amazing cities like Rome, Paris or Sydney but they are nice, and my first impression without knowing too much about life in the cities was that as far as big cities go, I could live there. Actually the Congress area of Buenos Aires I thought was pretty special.
Our favourite place in the 3 weeks in Uruguay and Argentina was a little historical town called Colonia del Sacramento. We only spent one night here exploring the historical centre and relaxing on the river beaches before catching the ferry to Buenos Aires.
After 6 weeks in Brasilia we were ready for some tourism and we lapped it up when we had the chance visiting the nice parks on offer and the famous district of La Boca, which was way more touristy than we both remembered it, but still kind of cool.
A highlight was when we did the standard tourist thing and went to a Tango show. Apparently Tango is just for gringoes but we didn’t care, in fact we enjoyed it so much that we feel sorry for the locals that aren’t into it.
Another, I don’t know if you’d call it a highlight, let’ say, one memorable event was checking out the Recoleta Cemetery. It’s a very popular tourist destination as it’s like a little city of elaborate tombs. I enjoyed the stroll but Karen, oh boy, she did not like it. One thing I know about Karen is that cemeteries make her uneasy. And the large groups of tourists didn’t lessen her uneasiness. After half an hour, enough was enough as Karen seemed like she was channelling some bad spirits, or maybe she was just hungry, either way, she couldn’t handle being in there any longer.
Both Uruguay and Argentina are well known for their meat, and Argentina is famous for its wine. This was a danger to both our diets (we are trying to ‘shred’ for our big wedding day in June) and our wallets but as usual our minds played us for fools and before we knew it we were coming up with all sorts of reasons to justify breaking our originally firm set of dietary rules. Essentially, no matter how hard we try there is always something typical of the city we are in and more often than not, it’s not steamed vegetables! But hey, what’s the point of travelling the world if you can’t eat all that’s on offer, eating is like %50 of travelling anyway!
With all the good, fun and delicious things we experienced in Buenos Aires, there was an issue that really bothered us. In fact, I would say it has had a very negative effect on our overall enjoyment of such an international and big city. Like a lot of negative things in the world, it all boils down to money. (The following is also a tip for anyone thinking of visiting Buenos Aires).
The banks / ATMS rip you off. It cost us 94 pesos to take out 700 pesos which was the maximum amount per day. That is $9 to take out a maximum of $70. Having being to 20 odd countries beforehand and never seeing anything so expensive and so limited really, well, pissed us off. It got a little bit better when we found Citibank let us take out around $250 with the same fee. Together with the fees on our card we spent other $40 in the first 3 days just on transaction fees. This is too much, and for two weeks, at that rate we would spend around 200 bucks just on transaction fees (that’s around 550 Reals in Brazil on nothing). So, the logical thing to do would be to use our travel debit cards as much as possible, right? Wrong! NO ONE ACCEPTED CARDS!!! Okay, not no-one, but we found more restaurants and bars didn’t accept card than ones that did, and a lot of the ones that did only accepted Visa (we have a Mastercard).
Maybe the impact was felt more because we had just come from Brazil, where used my card to buy a can of beer from a guy with a cooler, but in the most touristy area of Buenos Aires everything was cash only. This may sound petty, but this became so infuriating over the two weeks we were there, there were times we itching for places to take our money, but it was cash or nothing.
It all came to a boiling point on the last night and the day we were leaving. We had a bite to eat in the town of Tigre in Buenos Aires (really nice but busy) and for the first time we forgot to ask if they accepted card, which they didn’t, but we had already eaten (the foot was terrible by the way) and we only had about half the amount of the bill. We asked if there was anyway to use card, the girl asked the manager who said no, and I was directed to the nearest ATM which was a 10minute jog away. 30 mins later I returned with no money as the ATMS in the town were all out of cash. Guess what happened? The manager comes out with a card machine. I was filthy (and sweaty)!
The following day we were at the main bus station (with the main train station just next door) and we didn’t want to pay the fee of an ATM as we were leaving the country. I ran around like a headless chicken for 45 mins trying to find a place, any place, to buy anything to eat. I found my shining light a couple blocks away, Subway. Oh no, it was a mirage, Visa only! The frustration was building and building and the good memories we had enjoyed were slowly being replaced by frustration and bewilderment of how such a big city could be so far behind. Even Guatemala was way ahead of Buenos Aires on this front.
We got on the 18 hour bus back to Brazil and our time in Buenos Aires filled with mixed emotions had come to an end. We stopped for dinner after we crossed the border into Brazil where (we used card to pay) the guy explained to us why…Tax evasion. Haha. He explained how no one wants to use their card machines because if they do all their business in cash, there is no way for the Government to see how much money they are actually turning over. We laughed and then moved on with our lives. On an ordinary holiday or if we had brought dollars to exchange, it would not have been such a problem, but on our smaller budget, we couldn’t afford to throw money down the toilet in ridiculous transaction fees.
What do you think? Are we being dramatic or do you think that would infuriate you as well?