I’m excited to get back to Buenos Aires. When I first landed in BA a little more than a month prior, I only had a day to see a few quick sights and get some money changed, both of which I accomplished with the help of my friend Holly, a Chicagoan who had moved to BA with her Argentine boyfriend about six months prior. My one previous day in the city was also unusual because the city was barely functioning, due to a one-day transit strike that kept most workers at home.
Now I’m back and in the most cosmopolitan place I’ve been to since I left the states – and maybe longer. BA probably outdoes my hometown of Chicago in terms of urban energy and nightlife. The city is some mix of Madrid, New York, and London, if they were all constantly in the throes of civil unrest and on the cusp of political meltdown.
The first order of business after returning from Uruguay is converting my newly acquired Benjamins into rapidly devaluing pesos. To do this I walk down Calle Florida casually trying to figure out who <em>could</em> change money for me but didn’t seem like they were <em>trying</em> to change money for me. After a couple of passes I settle on a dude lounging near a doorway next to a shoe shop who seems to be casually asking people if they want to change money. I know what the so-called blue rate should be and ask him how much changing $300 would be. He shows me a number on his calculator that seems close enough. I nod and he motions to follow him, not into the doorway that he’s standing in front of, but a newsstand in the middle of the pedestrian street. A beefy man wearing leather gloves steps aside and I’m ushered into a small space behind the magazines and postcards, where a third dude counts my money and throws three rubber-banded wads of pesos on a counter in front of me. The counter has a light and I quickly rifle through each set checking for watermarks. If the bills are fake they are good fakes (I will not have any problem with any of the bills I got, but I heard that other people at my hostel had gotten bad bills on Calle Florida).
You would think that after all this time in Latin America, on the eve of the World Cup, I would have gotten involved in a soccer game by now – but I haven’t. I’ve played pickup basketball in Guatemala, I surfed in El Salvador, dove in Panama…but no soccer. Really I can only remember seeing one soccer game in person, on the beach in El Tunco. But here in BA the sport is popular enough, and the tourists plentiful enough, that there’s a weekly pickup soccer tournament organized through some of the hostels. I sign up with a couple guys from my hostel. We really don’t know anything about each other, and are randomly thrown together, but it turns out to be a pretty good mix of players – a speedy British forward, an effective center mid, a couple of scrappy Irish defenders, and best of all, I am happy to be keeper full time while other teams rotate valuable field players into the goal. My presence would not be missed outfield.
We storm through the tournament and emerge as champions. I wish I could say I was an integral part of it but the defense was so good it didn’t really matter what I did. I did have one solid save on a rocket shot in an early round game, and I didn’t have the benefit of gloves, but mostly my contribution was not fucking up, which, as anybody who has played soccer with me knows, is an accomplishment in and of itself.
I have one major task ahead of me, which is acquiring my visa to the World Cup, hopefully, free of charge. I’ve been told it’s possible, but I also know that the Brazilian embassy is a stickler for details. I had a chance to do it in Santiago, but I had only budgeted three days and the embassy turnaround time was reportedly seven days. The embassy in BA could allegedly do it in one. I need to assemble a ton of paperwork, like proof of tickets to games, which are all in the name, and possession of, my friend Eric, who is several thousand miles away; also I need to take passport photos to very precise specifications, which I manage to do.
One problem is finding the embassy. I have made an appointment online, which apparently may not have even been necessary, for afternoon, and I think I have a pretty good fix on where I’m heading. But when I get there, I can’t see any sign, or even a Brazilian flag, and it’s hard to tell what street number is which building. Finally after wandering around like an idiot for a while I go into the building that I think is the most likely correct one even though there’s no sign for an embassy. It’s in there, but I’ve arrived five minutes late for my appointment and it being 2 pm, they’re done for the day. Try again tomorrow.
The next day, I assemble all the papers I think I need, and head to the embassy. I speak to a lady who was the Brazilian personification of Roz from Monsters Inc.
For some reason one of the first things people like to bring up to me when I talk about traveling is how often I get sick from the food I eat, and the answer is “almost never.” And aside from my little experience with Night Train in Honduras, I’ve had no real gastrointestinal distress since I left home. That all changes on my second full day in town — but my problem isn’t the usual issue where you can’t keep anything in — my affliction means I can’t get anything out.
As far as social life in BA, the hostel I’m the second time around is pretty lively. Almost every night there’s some live music or party set up downstairs, but it’s a little limiting, and usually I go off on my own in search of other parts of town. One night I dip out to find a bar showing the Blackhawks playoff game. It’s a cheap taxi ride to get anywhere – this ride was $4 for what would probably have been a $12 ride in Chicago. Also at the bar is an American expat who splits time between Montevideo and BA. [In a strange twist, a few years later I end up dating his ex-girlfriend briefly, although I did not know this when we started dating and only figured it out later.]
Another night is spent at a Miercoles Po style gringo club party. It’s pretty unmemorable and I head home at the reasonable hour of 5 a.m. My coked-out Aussie bunkmates stay out til something like 10 a.m. Other highlights include cheap eats at Argentine steakhouses and incredibly cheap eats at a Peruvian place by me – full meal with drinks for less than $5.
I also have one of my few regrets of my trip in BA. Tickets are available for a River Plate game, the last of the season. They could clinch the league title with a win. Tickets are about $90 but I decline in light of my imminent World Cup attendance. River Plate of course wins, and the city goes mildly bonkers.
For my last night in Buenos Aires, I head to the upscale Palermo neighborhood with Holly and her boyfriend. We hit up one of the cooler bars I’ve ever been to, a speakeasy hidden behind a fridge in a flower shop, where I’m able to get my first decent old fashioned in a few months. From there we go bar-hopping. It turns into one of those nights. Shots are procured. Foreign friends are made. We stay out way later than is reasonable, and when I get back to my hostel I drop my laptop off the top bunk but am almost too hammered to notice at the time.
The next day I wake up to a cracked laptop screen and an error message when I try to start it up. Fortunately I still have my screwdrivers from Panama City and it’s a fairly simple matter to open the case, reconnect the cable that popped off the hard drive, and get myself back on the internet. First things first, of course, check Facebook. There’s a message from Holly. She and her boyfriend broke up last night.
It seems like an opportune moment to skip town. Fortunately I have a flight to Bolivia booked.