Last year We spent 3 months in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The experience was so rewarding we decided to try it again this year, hoping to repeat the same feelings and discoveries that we had made in the previous visit.
We arrived here in Buenos Aires on New Years day 2012, the beginning of a year that I'm sure we all hope will be better than the last. To be back in this city for a second prolonged visit seems quite amazing but I was really looking forward to it. However, the old saying that "you can never go back" seems to have taken hold here .. so I'm writing this as a means of underscoring some of the changes that have occurred since we last graced this country with our undivided touristy attentions.
To begin the comparisons, cost of living seems to be the major concern here. Last year we found that we could go places, do things and buy food for prices that were quite reasonable, well below Canadian prices. This year however it seems that everything has increased in cost measurably. In fact, it is so much so that prices are on par with or more than what you would see in Canada and imported items are vastly more expensive than last year. The increases are so pronounced that the government here has gone to great lengths to convince the public that last years inflation rate was only around 12%. Private consulting firms, the newspapers and even the more outspoken among the general public have been quite adamant in letting it be known that the real inflation rate was over 23%. I can give examples:
- the apartment we had last year cost $1600 a month. This year they are renting it for $3000 a month.
(thats in U.S. $'s, which is why we are not staying there again).
- last year a fairly good dinner at our favourite restaurant (La Cabrera) cost about $50 - $65 U.S. for two, which included a filet of beef, a salmon filet, a great bottle of Mendoza Melbec, salad and all the trimmings. This year the same was over $85.
- a very simple summer shirt (with short sleeve and collar) was around $10 - $15 last year. These same shirts seem to be generally on sale for about $27 now.
How the average Argentinian makes end meet I wouldn't know (I do know but more on this later).
Not everything here has gone nuts price-wise. Taxis have upped their prices slightly but buses (collectivos) are still extremely reasonable. You can go from one end of the city to the other for about .45 cents. That would be well over 3 zones and $5.00 in Vancouver. The routes they follow seem the wend their way through all the different barrios in the city and usually end up in the far reaches of the outskirts some where. We've started a practice of every now and then taking one of these buses to the end of the line. No idea where we'll go or how long it'll take to get there but if there is something interesting when we get there we'll stay for awhile and look around. If not, then we climb back on the bus, pay the return fare and go back to where we started. Great fun .. and interesting as well.
And of course .. there is the golf. We went back out to our old haunt (Cancha de Golf Municipal de Palermo) the second day we were here, to deliver our bags to the caddy-shack and arrange for storage etc. Also to find out how much we would have to pay ... and based on the new cost factors, we thought it would be a lot. Not so! The course is a municipal course and they charge the same prices as last year. A 9 hole game will cost $7.50. We start at 7 am and play 3 times a week (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday). It gets too crowded on the weekend and they are closed on Monday. At this time of year it is also so hot by 10:30 in the morning that playing after that hour would be prohibitive for gringos like us. For now we limit ourselves to the 9 holes, but once the weather cools down a bit (mid March and April) we'll play the full 18 and make a day of it. Eighteen holes for $15 is a heck of a deal .. and the course is in fairly good shape considering the weather.
I really don't like the traps though .. it's so hot that the sand ends up baked hard and using a sand wedge to get out of the trap is a wasted effort. Works much better if you use a 60 degree loft iron and gently pick it up from the surface like a chip shot. A nice 5 iron from a fairway bunker works well too.
Some things seem to have actually improved a lot in the intervening months. The old run down subway stop at the top of the street has been removed and replaced with another brand new one slightly further along the main drag (Av. Santa Fe). It's clean, neat and new ... a great improvement ! There have been a number of other subway stops that have been fixed up .. as well as 6 new stops added to various lines in the city.
We still have the "paseaderos de perros" (dog walkers) in the city but in our area of Palermo, it seems that there is not nearly the same amount of dog dirt on the sidewalks as there has been in the past. The sidewalks are still in terrible shape mind you, the cement blocks and tiles stick up all over the place - I swear, designed to trip you - but at least now they seem cleaner than before. In fact, just this week I saw two or three different people out walking their dogs and actually picking up after them. This is a rare enough event that it was worthy of a 10 minute discussion between the two of us.
As for the sidewalks ... in many cases the upheavals are not from lack of maintenance, more from leaving the roots of the trees that line the street sides to grow as they will. When you consider the choices .. streets that are shaded and tree lined, .. or streets that are hot, dusty, unshaded and flat, which would you choose? Me .. I like shady and cool .. even if I step on an uneven paving stone on the odd occasion.
I'll continue my dialogue in the next instalment, for now .. this is enough.