After an exhausting 11-hour flight from Auckland to Santiago de Chile, wandering around the Aeropuerto Internacional, I quickly realised my 8-week spanish course hadn’t prepared me for being in a place where no-one speaks english. The airport wasn’t the most straightforward of places, but I eventually found my way to my connecting flight, not before walking up and down the airport at least a dozen times. Luckily I had plenty of layover time.
As I flew out of the pencil thin country the sight of the many layers of the Andes blew my mind. Alas, my phone battery had died on the long flight so was unable to take photos.
Unlike the rather mountainous and brown Chile, Argentina is flat and plentifully green. Two hours after leaving Santiago de Chile I landed in Buenos Aires, a sprawling city of 13 million people. I booked my bus to the hostel and 90 minutes later I arrived. Being driven around Buenos Aires is an experience. There are lines on the road to help make things orderly but few drivers use them, they jam themselves in willy nilly. On several occasions we nearly clipped another vehicle, a regular occurrence based on the amount of dents many cars have.
I stayed in the America del Sur Hostel in the inner city suburb of San Telmo and found it an excellent hostel. The english speaking staff were always helpful, the beer fridge well stocked, and the wi-fi was good.
It was hot and muggy in Buenos Aires, but since I’d been living in Brisbane I was used to it. I took my opportunity to wander the streets and see what was around. I’d originally planned a bicycle tour so didn’t take many photos, but due to flight changes didn’t end up taking the tour.
While touring Australia a couple of months earlier I’d been notified that my flights to Ushuaia had changed. Two days before the flight I was notified that it’d been changed again, a day earlier. This cost me money to try to contact them, prepaid nights at the hostel and caused me to miss my bicycle tour. This wasn’t the first trouble I’ve had with Orbitz – a US travel company – and do not intend to use them again.
The streets of Buenos Aires are narrow and many are paved. They must hold regular elephant races through the streets as many footpaths are smashed and have jagged concrete sticking up in many places. After a bit of a walk I found a statue, parliament house and the main central city open-air shopping mall.
While there were plentiful police around, I stayed aware of the people around me and a kept my hands near my valuables. Buenos Aires has a dangerous reputation for petty crime with street thugs, pickpockets and muggings. For my first Latin American experience I erred on the side of caution.
The open-air mall was very large, continuing for many blocks and crossing roads – mostly one way streets, where cars race by almost unannounced. There was also the ever-present call of ‘cambio, cambio’ – change, change – from black market foreign money exchangers. I was warned not to use their services even though they can offer some excellent rates, but since they only accept US dollars and the Euro, I had nothing to change anyway.
They have everything you could need in the central city, although the streets are dirty, with rubbish, dog faeces, people sitting around at random spots, old buildings, broken foot paths, broken buildings and the smokers – EVERYONE smokes. But this doesn’t make Buenos Aires a bad place, just mysterious, quaint and smoky.
Then, just as I started to get used to it, it was time to leave. My stay in Buenos was about settling into a foreign speaking country, dealing with the culture shock and getting a few things sorted for my ongoing trip.
Next, I headed to Ushuaia, in the province of Tierra del Fuego – Land of the Fire – the southernmost region of Patagonia.
The Lone Trail Wanderer