A bus (but unfortunately not ARBus) on a crammed side street

Impresiones de Buenos Aires — día 1

This first one gets long and probably boring. Overload of first impressions.

We landed in the outskirts of the city of the good airs after having slept through 68% of a 13 hour flight, at about 9 in the morning. Soon after, we’d bought a bus ticket each for ARS200 (~10 in royal queen money) and were in the queue for the lazily named ARBus. ARBus — Argentina bus, the only bus in the whole country maybe? Argentina bus.

Various bits of countryside and outlying cityscape flew past the bus windows, until it met the oozing traffic on Au 25 de Mayo highway as the city started to get properly chaotic. We could have crawled quicker than the bus as it pulled up to the last stop — Obelisco on Au 9 Julio — just past a massive, probably unintentionally-creepy Eva Perón face on the side of a building. The windows looked like angry eyebrows. Or maybe the anger was real because she was stuck there sucking in the insane amount of pollution instead of, as we’d soon learn was the preferred Argentinian diet, a 5-inch thick round bread thing suffocated with an extra 2 inches of cheese. They called it ‘pizza’ I think.

We walked a bit across some big 6-lane roads and came to our street which gladly smelt of piss. Just like Bristol! The door to the hotel was one of those ring-to-get-in dealies, presumably cos if you just let anyone in, they’ll piss in there rather than outside.

The hotel was pretty nice. Standard Fernando Alonso accents on the front desk, Scando-grey paint on the room walls, Victorian-y adornments in the bathroom and an American number of pillows on the bed. A real big cultural mash up. We dropped our burdens off and went back out into Avenue Piss.

Next up was SIM card acquisition. We shakily negotiated our way to buying some Personál ones, which came with unlimited WhatsApp(!!) We could finally act like locals, drifting through the city holding their phones to their faces, thumb on the audio recording button, presumably casually chatting about Lionel Messi’s face, or how last night Alfonso poured the wine with his left hand (biiiig cultural taboo).

Anyway, SIM cards in hand it was time to try some Kentucky’s pizza and sort out our totally vital free WhatsApp usage. A couple of empanadas (no pizza in the end) came and went, but still no SIM goodness. The activation process was oddly impossible. The instructions just didn’t work and we seemed to lack some kind of Argentine ID number. We weren’t gonna taste those sweet sweet ‘gigas’ today.

So instead, we wandered around the immediately surrounding narrow yet insanely busy streets, where everyone religiously walks on the right, finding our way into some kinda weird set of streets that were devoted to pawning, selling and valuing jewellery… I wasn’t aware that anyone other than the bad guys from Columbo films did any of those things anymore, but business looked good so I guess it’s me that’s wrong. The only other thing this area seemed to have to offer was an obscene amount of anonymous municipal buildings and ‘kioskos’ (or ‘kioskones’ if they really thought they were the shit), selling their 343ml cans of popular soft drinks at subtly different prices from one another. WHY the extra 13ml though? Maybe Argentinians are precisely 3.79% more thirsty than the rest of us.

Quick coffee and crepe at Alma (on Au 9 Julio), back to the hotel, shower, brief Argentine-dubbed Simpsons episode on Fox (watching the Simpsons in foreign countries is one of my favourite things) and then out for evening food. We tiredly sloped around, adhering to the British tradition of awkwardly standing outside restaurants looking at the menu in an attempt to conjure up an excuse not to go in and figure out how it works.

After a while of really perfecting procrastination we came across and wobbled into Saint Burger. It looked like a real place! Actual Argentinians were there. We were pleased. The pleasure lasted but momentarily since it had the one thing we were expressly trying to avoid: a complicated post-office-style ordering system with numbers and tills and self-collection and things. I yawned out some Spanish and ordered a couple of beers as a test. It seemed like it went OK, so I did the same for burgers. That also seemed to go OK (except I screwed up Maggie’s order) and some 30 mins later, burger, beer and apprehension alike had been digested. It was time for home.

At a monster 22:30 we got back to the hotel and fell asleep to some Misión Imposible, with the first thing on our agenda tomorrow: talking to a real human being about, of all things, SIM card activation. Our own mission impossible.