A Dragon In Argentina
“Don’t cry for me Argeeeeeeeeeeeeentina! The truth is I neeeever left you!”
(I’ve been singing that song while here.)
Of all the cities I’m visiting on this Latin America trip, Buenos Aires is the one I’ve wanted to visit for the longest time. While I’m pretty sure I’m resolved to spend most of my time in Australia or New Zealand (with a mix of Hong Kong in there) when I make my final exit from the USA in January 2022, at one point Buenos Aires was on my short list of possible places to make my primary residence.
The reason for this visit is to see if Buenos Aires could make a viable, possible, secondary home for me at some point in the future if my current chosen homes don’t work out. So the entire time I’ve been here (just under a week), I’ve been asking myself, “Could I live here?”
Well, could I? Let see…
Unlike Panama City and Asuncion, Buenos Aires is huge and vast metropolis. Unlike Mexico City, which seems like a mass of houses and small buildings that go on forever, Buenos Aires is much more a “real” New York-type city, skyscrapers and all.
New York isn’t actually the best comparison. Instead Buenos Aires is just like a European city. When I say “just like,” I mean just like. Walking around downtown Buenos Aires is pretty much identical to walking around downtown Rome or Paris, except that everyone speaks Spanish and the prices are much cheaper (and the women look very different, but I’ll get to that in a minute).
Good European Aspects
This duplication of Europe covers both the good things about Europe as well as the bad.
The good includes the amazingly beautiful architecture. There is endless block after block of some of the most beautifully constructed, articulate, pre 18th-centruy style buildings, perhaps even better than what you’d see in a comparable European city. In all seriousness, I could spend three or four entire days just walking around the city admiring and taking pictures of these buildings (but I’m an architecture junkie).
The food here is similar to European, specifically an Italian style, where high-carb food is everywhere. Every city block has at least one, and often two “pizza” restaurants that sell pizza, empanadas, and/or pastries. It’s an absolutely horrible place to visit for a guy on a ketogenic diet like me. It took me hours of searching to find a place that had normal salads. When I finally found one, I ordered one, started eating it, to my sadness I found that they had mixed soggy french fries into the fucking salad. I shit you not.
The next day, I ordered another salad at another restaurant (which actually had menus in English, a rare thing in Buenos Aires), carefully went over the ingredients (which looked okay even though there were some items I couldn’t identify), and ordered it. It came, and the god damn thing was full of pasta. Yeah, they had actually mixed fucking pasta into the salad with the greens and chicken.
Speaking of horribly-bad-for-you-but-awesome food, they have these really yummy things here called “alfajor” (pronounced “alpha whore”, and no, I’m not kidding).
Picture a little, circular chocolate-covered cake, about the size of a really thick Ding Dong. Inside is a very thick chocolate or white cake with one or two layers of really thick caramel that comes in different flavors. These things don’t look like much, but when you actually take a bite, holy shit. Very good. They’re everywhere here; every store sells them, most hotels have them in the wet bars, and they even give them to you on the plane. Yum. And very bad for your diet… unless you’re Argentinean, because…
The crazy thing about it is that people here aren’t fat. Argentinians are quite trim, probably the skinniest people in the entire Latin world. Just like in Hong Kong, everyone here eats high-carb, high-sugar garbage all day long, yet they stay skinny(!). How the FUCK do these countries do this??? Oh well.
Like most countries outside the US, they serve sparkling water as well as normal flat water here. Instead of most other countries calling this “sparkling” or “flat” water, in South America they call their water “con gas” (with bubbles) or “sin gas” (i.e. “no gas,” without bubbles). It’s funny to tell people that yes, I’d like my water without gas, please.
There are many places throughout the city that stink, and I mean that literally. I’ve visited many cities that have a distinct smell (Hong Kong included), but never once have I visited a part of a city, smelled it, and wanted to hold my nose. I’m not sure why parts of the city smell this badly; it must be a combination of the food, water, and/or humidity.
People in BA are, like most South Americans, very friendly (though not nearly as friendly as the Paraguayans). One taxi driver was particularly helpful to me, and when leaving his car I offered him a tip. He flatly refused it, telling me to, “Chill out, man.” I really wanted to tip the bastard because he was helpful and a great guy. He wouldn’t take my money.
I also asked the staff at my hotel where I could purchase a small fan. The hotel was very nice, but the building was old (most buildings in BA are) so the AC wasn’t very effective. The woman instead offered me her personal fan from her office. Very cool.
So BA is pretty cool in that chill, European way, but, as I said, it has adopted the bad aspects of Europe as well.
Bad European Aspects
BA is rampant with homeless people. Holy shit. BA has easily more homeless people than in any Latin other city I visited, including Mexico City, which is really saying something. The good news is that they’re very chill homeless people, and for the most part don’t accost you in the streets like they do all day long in Mexico.
Particularly sad is that I get the distinct impression that homelessness in BA is an actual lifestyle instead of a bad thing that happens to you that you need to recover from. For example, you’ll see things like a homeless guy sleeping next to his decently nice motorcycle. Since abortion is illegal in Argentina (Jesus), many homeless women have babies. Yeah, babies. Some homeless woman will be sitting on her mattress on the sidewalk or in an alleyway somewhere nursing or bouncing her baby up and down. Horrible.
Then there’s the other way in which the Argentineans have copied Europe, particularly Southern Europe: shockingly intense disorganization.
I have flown to scores of cities all over the planet, and have used a massive number of airports in numerous countries. The downtown Buenos Aires airport (Aeroparque Jorge Newbery or AEP) is the single worst airport I have ever used. That’s really saying something, since most of the airports in places like Australia and the Collapsing USA really suck ass. AEP is worse than all of them. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s true.
We land at the airport, the plane taxis over to the airport, and then just sits there. The airplane staff report something in Spanish (that I don’t speak, yet) but I can pick up that it will be “a few minutes.” We sit there… for 45 fucking minutes. Then, finally the plane rolls over to another area. To my sadness, I realize that there is no jet bridge, and it’s pouring down rain. Awesome. Now I’m going to have to walk outside in the pouring rain for no reason. Great.
I shake my head as the disorganized Argentineans roll over a stupid rolling set of stairs to the plane, as if we’re in Africa or something. Passengers start to disembark. Then they stop. We’re standing there in the plane, not sure why we’re waiting. I look out the window and see why. Just like in Europe, they’ve sent over a fucking bus to pick us up, and the bus is now full. It leaves, and now we have to stand in the crowded plane waiting for another bus. (You couldn’t have a jet bridge? You couldn’t have parked closer to the receiving area? You couldn’t send two buses? Okay.)
Another 10 minutes, standing in the plane, waiting. The second bus arrives. I walk out into the pouring buckets of rain, lugging my luggage bag down the stupid stairs, and get into the bus, soaked.
The bus drives us to customs and border control. None too impressed with the Argentineans so far, I’m worried that this process might take hours. Thankfully, both border control and customs move pretty quickly. You don’t even have to fill out one of those dumb entry forms most countries make you use. Nice. At least they’ve done that right.
But oh no, it’s not over. I thought I was home free. Boy, was I wrong.
I leave customs and enter into what is probably the most over-crowded airport I’ve ever seen in my life. Massive mobs of people, mashed into each other, bumping into each other, trying to get past each other, all mashed into this much too small international airport serving a city of 13 million people. The ridiculousness of the entire thing is just staggering. Again, it’s like something you’d see in Nigeria.
I push my way through the throng, looking for the taxi section. The exits and taxi locations are clearly labeled, unlike many American airports (coughOrlandocaugh). Good.
I make it out to the taxi area and wait in line. Fortunately it’s not too long. My taxi pulls up, and I note that there’s a huge sign on the windshield that clearly displays all the credit cards the taxi driver takes, including Visa and MasterCard. Again, good. The Asuncion airport was too small to provide me with any Argentinean Pesos, so I need to use my credit card for the taxi, then I’ll get my pesos once I get settled at my hotel.
I get into the taxi. Knowing from past travel experience that many taxis actually don’t take credit cards, or take them but only with a shitload of hassle, paperwork, and complaining (coughNewYorkcough) I verbally ask the guy, “Credit card?” and point at my MasterCard debit card. He gives me a horrified look and practically screams, “No! Cash only!” I’m outcome independent, so I’m not going to take the time out of my day to point out that he has a massive sign in his windshield clearly declaring to the world he does take credit cards.
I get back out of the car, pull my bag back out, go over to the taxi captain, point at the taxi and tell him that this taxi doesn’t take credit cards. He doesn’t speak English, but as best he can, he tells me that none of the taxis do (fucking great) and that I have to go back into the airport to do… something.
Fuck it. I’ll try to use Uber. Using Uber to take you to the airport is a great idea, but using Uber to pick you up from an airport is often confusing and a pain in the ass, especially in a foreign country. But at this point, I’ll give it a shot. I’ve been at this fucking airport for well over an hour and I’m ready to get the hell out of here.
I fire up the Uber app only to be informed that Uber is “restricted” in Buenos Aires and pickups are only done at certain locations, none of which include the airport.
Now starting to get irritated, I go back into the jam-packed, way-too-crowded airport, push my way through the mass of bodies, and look for a taxi counter. In Panama, Paraguay, and Colombia, you have to use a taxi counter to purchase a taxi “ticket” for your location in advance, using a credit card or cash. I assumed this is what the guy meant.
So I push through the sea of bodies looking for a taxi counter.
There is none.
Fine. I start looking for a currency exchange kiosk.
There is none.
I look for an airport map.
There is none.
Oh, fuck me. Are you kidding?
Okay, fine, I start looking for an ATM. I can just use my debit card to pull out Argentinean pesos, no problem.
Except, no, there are no ATMs. None.
Yes, you heard me. There are no ATMs in this international airport terminal.
I keep walking, keep looking, slowly pushing through the mob as fast as I can. I ask for help from some of the airport staff. They don’t speak English. At an international airport. Ooooookaaaayyyy.
Finally, thank goodness, I see a bank up ahead. Cool. They’ll have an ATM!
My heart sinks as I approach. It’s closed down, its doors locked, some kind of legal notice in Spanish plastered on all the glass walls.
I keep looking, keep pushing through bodies.
Finally, I find an information desk. I ask the lady where the fuck I can get Argentinean pesos so I can pay your fucking taxi drivers in fucking cash who advertise they can take credit cards but don’t. Any bank, ATM, or currency exchange service will do. Thank god she actually speaks English. Un-thank god, she tells me the only way to do this is at a bank way on the other side of the terminal.
Fuck me in the ear.
So, great. I start my long journey, once again, through the mass of bodies. Finally I find Banco de la Nación, a teeny tiny bank with just two people behind a counter… and a huge long line of people.
Great. I stand in line, pull out my headphones, Bluetooth them to my phone, and watch some business videos while waiting.
15 minutes later… the line hasn’t even moved.
40 fucking minutes later… I finally get up to one of the bank tellers.
I expect the worst, like they’ll be “out of pesos,” or won’t take US dollars, or some other insanity. I don’t even try to give them my Paraguayan guaraní; that will probably just confuse them. (I want to save those for my next visit to Paraguay in a few months anyway). Amazingly, they’re able to exchange my US dollars for Argentinean pesos without a problem. I’m shocked.
I finally trudge back out to the taxi line, which is now four times longer than when I originally stood in it.
Finally, after an eternity, I get into a taxi, show the guy the address to my hotel, and we’re off. He speaks very broken English, but enough to understand me. I ask him why the airport is so crowded. He shrugs and says, “Maybe the rain?”
I spent almost three fucking hours trying to get out of that airport from the moment the plane’s wheels hit the tarmac. This is the record for the worst, longest, most disorganized airport I’ve ever had the displeasure of using.
In the modern era, there is no excuse for this. There just isn’t. Absolutely unacceptable. Fucking Mexico was better than this. Poverty-stricken Paraguay was far more efficient than this. If you’re Argentinean, you should be embarrassed.
This rampant disorganization extends to other areas in Buenos Aires. It was pouring down rain the first two days I was here, and none of the infrastructure is prepared for it. Cars were regularly driving through foot-and-a-half deep “lakes” in the middle of primary, downtown roads. It’s even worse than Washington DC.
At grocery stores, check-out lines are so long that people are actually standing in the store’s isles. Let me explain that so you get the visual. Imagine you’re in a big grocery store like Target or Safeway and are in the dental isle looking for some toothpaste. Now imagine that entire isle is full of people who are in line for the checkout stand which is all the way at the front of the store. Now imagine that all the check-out lines in the entire store are like this. Yes, that’s how it is in Buenos Aires.
Sadly, the women here are… just average. Like in Mexico, while they’re not ugly by any means, they’re just average.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying Argentinean women look like Mexican women. They absolutely don’t. Argentinean women are mostly white and with sharper features, and there’s a great degree of different kinds of looks, types, and body styles (whereas Mexican women all sport the same overall look). There are Hispanic types, European types, even some Asian-looking types. As I mentioned above, Argentinean women are not fat, and range from sexy-curvy to skinny; fat women are present but unusual, and usually limited to much older ladies. One of the women here informed me that Argentina is number two in the world for the number of women who have anorexia (Japan being number one).
It’s also true that Argentinean women have much bigger boobs and butts than white Western women; that’s without question. The problem is that Buenos Aires pales in comparison to the bootylicious majesty you’ll experience in countries like Colombia or Paraguay. Argentina doesn’t even come close to these places in terms of female hotness. More importantly, in Buenos Aires these big butt / big boobed bodies are with women who have average faces instead of cute or hot faces.
So even if you tell me that body is more important than face (which I sometimes don’t disagree with), while Argentina is certainly better in the boob/butt department than the West, it’s still inferior to several other South American countries, including little Paraguay who is right next door and who has nicer and more pleasant women. Argentinean women aren’t unkind, but, at least as far as I can tell, they aren’t the happy, kind, eager sweethearts you’ll find in most other Latin countries. The women in BA are just a little too urbanized and Westernized.
I’ve been here almost a week, spending literally hours a day walking around the city, and using my hot, cute, average, ugly scale, I’ve seen a grand total of one woman who I thought was full-on hot, and only a handful of cuties. All the rest of the women are just average (not ugly; Argentinean women are not ugly, just average).
Humidity, once again, is a problem. It’s not dreadful, but it’s bad. I suppose that, for some odd reason, once you cross over the southern United States, literally everything to the south of that, all the way to fucking Antarctica, is humid. This makes no sense to me at all, since I have no idea why Australia and New Zealand don’t have a humidity problem. Very weird.
So pretty much for this entire Latin American trip I have been forced to take two showers most days because of the disgusting stickiness that occurs in humid climates. The only time I don’t have to do this is when I’m indoors for the entire day. Such a shame.
The rain. Oh fucking god, the rain here. Look, I was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest of the USA, Seattle / Portland area, so I know all about rain, believe me. Rain has been a near-eternal part of my entire life. (This is one of the many reasons I’m leaving this region.) I’ve also spent plenty of time in places were you get sudden, torrential downpours like Chicago or Washington DC.
Regardless, the rain here is something else. Where I live, it rains most of the year, but it’s weak, pussy rain. It’s no big deal and there is never any flooding or anything close to that. It’s just wet. In Buenos Aries, it rains like it rains in Chicago/DC, where it feels like you’re being sprayed by a fire hose. But unlike Chicago/DC, the rain keeps going, and going, and going. It doesn’t stop after 10-15 minutes. Oh no. The shit just keeps going and going, sometimes all day.
The first full day I spent here, this bucket-rain persisted all day long with no break. I normally carry a small, portable umbrella when I travel, but this BA rain made short work of that, so I was forced to buy a “real” umbrella of normal size. Even with that umbrella I was pretty much drenched within two hours of walking around.
Wow. I thought I knew rain. Apparently I didn’t.
Lastly, the ocean here is brown. I don’t mean brown-like, I mean brown. All the water is brown. Not sure if that’s a seasonal thing or if it’s like that year-round, but it’s kind of depressing.
Is It Cheap?
The big plus for Westerners moving to or spending time in Buenos Aires is that it’s so cheap. But is it?
Well, sort of. It is certainly cheaper than any other Western city of its size, that’s for damn sure. But is it really cheap? Not really. Taxis, food, hotels are all cheaper than you’d expect, but they’re not cheap, especially when you consider truly cheap regions like SE Asia or places like Paraguay. So if one was going to move here just because it’s cheap, I think you might be disappointed. I was expecting things to be cheaper. And they were, but not as much as I was expecting.
So, Could I Live Here?
No. I don’t think I could ever live in a city that is this disorganized and with this many people plus the humidity. These things would drive me insane within the first month. I would far rather live in cute, backward little Asuncion which is just as disorganized but with so much fewer people that it doesn’t matter. And it’s cheaper and the women are hotter.
I suppose a possible counter-argument is that I could live in one of the smaller Argentinean towns far outside of BA. (Doug Casey does this.) But one of my requirements is that I need to live within easy driving distance to a major airport, so that kills that.
Buenos Aires is, for me, in the same category as cities like New York or Los Angeles, in that they are really fun places to visit and spend time in, but I would never live there, even under a five flags scenario.
And that’s okay. One of the reasons for these visits is to see how much I like a place. If I don’t like it enough to live there, that’s good info for me.
I find it very interesting that I wouldn’t live in BA but that I would live in Asuncion. Before this trip, I expected the exact opposite.
Montevideo and Uruguay
After my stay in BA I spent a quick day and a half in Montevideo, Uruguay so here’s a quickie on that. I wanted to take the time to visit Montevideo since it always ranks at the top of all the charts in terms of livable cities in the Latin world.
After taking a three-hour ferry ride from BA (a very nice ferry ride; the “ferry” is more like a very fancy cruise ship), across the depressing brown ocean, seeing Montevideo is a nice experience; it’s a little white city on the water.
Montevideo is essentially a much smaller, quieter, cleaner, and cuter version of Buenos Aries. The city is much cleaner and the people are more quiet and chill than in BA, but other than that, it’s pretty much the same culture other than very minor differences.
The women are one notch lower than in Buenos Aries because the prevalence of chubby/overweight women is a little higher in Montevideo (but they are still nowhere near as fat as places like Mexico).
A nice, quiet, chill place, I can see why it ranks so highly on the livability charts. I really enjoyed it after the hustle-bustle of Buenos Aries.
One really bad thing: internet is fucking terrible in Montevideo, and that includes on my phone and wifi, even in fancy hotels. Jesus, I had a lot of trouble with that here.
By the way, the internet (both phone and wifi) as well as voice calls were somewhat problematic in Buenos Aires too. I had no other internet or phone trouble in any other Latin country, even in Paraguay.
Coming up next, my final Latin country on this trip before I head back home: Colombia!