Today was a big day for me. I bought my first cell phone in over 5 years. My pink, dumb Nokia slide phone era is over – at least temporarily. Instead I welcome my brand new Nokia C2-01! And no, I did not take the step into the smart phone era just yet, although I have to admit I was considering it for some time, since WhatsApp seems very widely used down here. But eventually I decided to stay with my principles.
This brings me to a related topic. During the past four years I have lived in a handful of different countries: Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, Portugal, and Argentina. None of these can be considered developing countries, but I would still like to claim that they span a pretty wide range on the wealth scale – especially with Portugal being right in the middle of a crisis, and Argentina just having gone through one.
Still, in all these countries smart phones seem almost equally popular and common. And as I was looking for dumb phones today, I noticed how incredibly expensive the common smart phones are! I felt cheap not wanting to pay 70 EUR for a phone. Couldn’t even imagine what I would feel like paying 700 EUR for one…
I would also like to take this opportunity to kill a myth. Too many times have I heard that the people in the Stockholm subway are quiet, don’t talk, are reserved, are completely devoted to their smart phones, etc. But I have to challenge this: this is not a feature unique to Stockholm, Sweden, Finland, the Nordic, or even northern Europe. This is a worldwide big city phenomenon! I traveled by subway almost every day in Lisbon, and not even once was I approached or addressed by anyone; they were too busy using their phones. And after less than two weeks here, I can conclude that BsAs is no different – people are quiet and focused on their clever devices.
It’s a smart world we’re living in.
I would like to begin this post by apologizing, twice.
My first apology goes to the city of Buenos Aires, for my claim yesterday that the city lacks beaches. Turns out that the city does in fact have two beaches. They are nothing spectacular, but that has a very simple explanation: the water outside Buenos Aires is not the Atlantic ocean. Instead it is muddy water released by the Paraná river, separating Argentina and Uruguay. Indeed, to find salty ocean water one has to travel quite far south along the coast from BsAs.
Secondly, I would like to apologize to CouchSurfing for giving up on this community for so long.
Now, why suddenly so humble? Because today, Paraná and CouchSurfing together offered me one of the best days I’ve had in the past six months – kayaking in the Paraná delta. I cannot think of any community so open to anyone and everyone, just genuinely wanting to share their time and fun with people whom they’ve never even met before.
The day turned out to be perfect. Twelve people in six kayaks paddling out for two hours from the small town Tigre (30 mins north of BsAs) into the beautiful Paraná delta, aiming for a small beach to have our lunch break in the sun. After some chilling, chatting, and ping pong, we then paddled back, and, after returning the kayaks, rounded off the day with some mate together in a nearby park.
Good people, perfect weather, and a great relief for my nature craving heart and soul. Thank you Gustavo for organizing the trip today!
One of the most surprising things about Buenos Aires is that life here, despite the city’s location on the Atlantic coast, does not include beach, whatsoever. There simply are no beaches in Buenos Aires, and to enjoy swimming in the ocean one has to travel south at least a couple of hours. For an ignorant Swede like myself, that is incredibly odd, especially since beaches would be an easy way of getting away from the city noise.
The reason for this is so far a bit unclear to me, but I suppose pollution is surely one. A second, more amusing explanation was that there have been some piranha attack(s) recently, with people losing fingers and toes. Rather unbelievable, but surely a good story!
Nevertheless, when my inner needs for a swim get too strong (which they never do), I can always enjoy our swimming pool… at least for a couple weeks more.
Having spent my first week in the city, it’s time for some first impressions. And although I haven’t really done all that much, my impressions are many and varied.
The city is indeed gigantic. Walking around it in one day is unthinkable. It is therefore not surprising that they have a very decent public transportation system, with both buses (driving with open doors in genuine Latin American style) and a subway network. But what surprised me more is the city’s attempts to make it a greener and less polluted city by promoting biking. For example through a free bicycle service with around 20 pick-up stations around the city, called ecobici. This has also led to a collaboration project called I bike ABC (Amsterdam, Buenos Aires, Copenhagen).
On the negative side comes the safety. I generally try to take horror stories with a big grain of salt, but I have so far been told too many stories of break-ins and robberies with gun threats to not be affected by them. Some parts of the city just seem very dangerous, especially by night, and it’s the first time since I was in the US where I’m genuinely worried about which neighborhood I’m in. It seems like getting robbed is not a question of if, but rather when.
But with that said, my initial impressions are still definitely on the plus side. And my flatmates and Franzi have all been so nice and helpful, that I feel like my “traveler’s kharma” savings account is slowly turning into a credit bill.
More impressions will follow, but now I’m off to explore the city by bicycle.
After a thirty hour transit from Stockholm including three takeoffs (and landings), sleep, reading, a 5 h layover in Istanbul without free airport internet, lots of (pretty decent) airplane food, more sleeping and reading, an in-air roundabout, a thunderstorm, and lying to the immigration officer, I finally arrived at my new home for the next six months – Buenos Aires! And my first 24h have been pretty eventful:
Made my first friend already at the airport (a German girl Franzi who has been studying here for five months), lost my sleeping bag, got a warm welcome at my apartment overlooking the city from the 16th floor, been shown around my neighborhood (Palermo Soho), been introduced to the chaotic money situation*, have met a lot of people through both my flatmate and Franzi, and have of course tried the Argentinian drinking habits – which includes a horrible drink with Fernet and Coke (!). Eventually my lack of sleep and small jet lag caught up with me, so my Saturday night party ended prematurely.
Anyway a great start in this fascinating city!
* Due to government limitations on the exchange to foreign currencies, a huge black market for money exchange has developed. However, due to the extremely high inflation, and the economic instability, the black market closed down on weekends, making it very difficult to exchange money. Luckily, my flatmates came to the rescue!