Suitcase on wheels     stuck in the snow   sniffer dog

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

39. Crime in BA (B.A, Argentina)

OK, here's a story told to me by one of my students last week, which I meant to write about in my last post but forgot to.

Around BA - 53 - Cathedral
Random pic: BA's central Cathedral

2 weekends ago my student, Diego, was going to a birthday party at a friend's house with his wife. They arrived at the address, and after parking their car in the street they got held up by a group of 3 men, wearing bullet-proof vests and carrying pistols.
- Where's your house, your house?
- Diego: I don't know, we don't live here, we're going to a party.
- Where?
- Ah, over there.
So then Diego and his wife got buzzed in to the house where the party was (nearly every house and apartment in BA has an intercom entry system), along with the gang of 3 robbers.
The robbers then herded the entire party (20 or 30 people) onto the back patio.
- OK, everyone, your cellphones.
Then went the jewellery, and the cash from everyone's wallets. From the owner of the house (who's birthday it was) they took his DVD and stereo as well. Oh, and here it's common to bring cash as a gift to a party for the birthday boy, so everyone was carrying more than usual.
- OK, everyone, what we've taken from you today isn't enough. You, your car keys. And yours. And yours. Let's go, we're going to your house.
Fortunately that was a bluff, they didn't go to anyone else's house but they did take Diego's car. His car was later found by the police in a rough villa outside of BA - surprisingly in good condition, only missing the spare wheel.

Around BA - 58 - Cloud ripple
Random pic: Cloud ripples at sunset from my balcony

The whole thing was, as they say, like a movie. But it's all too common here - so common that it wouldn't even have been reported in the press. Still, it was the first time Diego had ever been robbed, but the locals I've told the story to are never surprised that something like that happened. The robbers themselves were very cool, they were professional thieves. From his manner Diego thinks that it's possible the leader of the band was an off-duty policeman. They were well enough prepared - bullet-proof vests, pistols, and walkie-talkies, as well as 2 scouts keeping watch outside. They certainly hit the jackpot by finding a birthday party and not simply robbing a house as it seemed they had planned to.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

38. Visa run to Uruguay (Colonia, Uruguay)

Last weekend got off to a good start with a really bad fight over nothing with my girlfriend on Friday night. It was the last straw for me, I kicked her out of my room and discarded all her belongings too. Rather than come crawling back for foregiveness as I expected her too, she came back with force, telling me she wasn't going to leave until she wanted to. I was dozing off and just wanted to sleep and didn't want to fight anymore so we made up. And I'd already bought her a ticket to Uruguay for Saturday.

map of argentina
Map stolen from

So the next day we arrived at the Buenos Aires ferry terminal about ten minutes before our 9am scheduled departure time, rather than the supposed hour before. While the check-in queue was now nothing as everyone else had checked in, the queue for immigration was huge, so the ferry didn't leave until 10am, an hour late. So if you're catching the Saturday ferry to Uruguay, don't worry about being a bit late.

Colonia - 06 - Intersection Ruth pano (Large)
An intersection in Colonia

The immigration lady was rather curt as all immigration ladies are, and she saw that my visa expired that day. She asked me if I was coming back the same day, which I was, and informed me that that was an unofficial way to extend my visa and that I may be denied entry on my return. I guess it's because I was on a working holiday visa, and on my return I would be on a tourist visa. Remember my 3 options were - pay $100 pesos and wait all day at immigration for a visa extension; pay $70 pesos for a return ferry ticket; or, pay a $50 peso fine when I leave. Typical Argentine topsy-turvy bureacracy - they make the right thing to do the most difficult.

Colonia - 13 - Truck (Large)
Colonia transport

Our 3 hour voyage across the muddy, 50km wide Rio Plata was smooth sailing, and we arrived in Uruguay at 1pm. Colonia, the port town, was started by the Portuguese as a point for smuggling goods into Buenos Aires, but now it's pretty much a tourist town full of daytripping porteƱos from BA. There's not too much to do, and it's not much different from the San Telmo district of BA where I live. Except there's a lot less noise and traffic and activity. Being a tourist town the restaurants were expensive by Uruguayan standards, and a bit more expensive than BA. However, being on the river there's quite a nice beach, so after lunch we had an afternoon siesta there watching the sunset, it was very nice.

Colonia - 14 - Sunset (Large)
Sunset over the Rio Plata

By the time the sun had set we had to hurry back to the wharf in order to catch our return ferry back to BA at a quarter to seven. I only had to mention to the customs officer that I won't be working anymore so I can re-enter as a tourist, and I was back in.

The weather here in Buenos Aires seems to follow a weekly cycle. Clear skies and cool for around three days, then the humidity starts to build up and with it the temperature increases and it's warmer for a few days. The humidity continues to increase until the skies are permantently cloudy, until finally the skies open and it rains heavily for a day. The next day it's clear skies and cool again and the cycle repeats. My relationship with my girlfriend seems to follow a similar pattern. We'll be lovey-dovey for a few days, the irritation will start and it'll build up until we fight, but then the next day we'll be back to lovey-dovey. Usually we'll have a fight at the weekend, make up on Sunday and be fine for the week. This week she's been more affectionate than usual, probably because the last fight we had was our worst. But also because she knows I have plans to travel in a few weeks, and she doesn't want me to leave. From my point of view, the decision to leave was an easy one - I'm sick of BA and want to see South America - that's what I came here for. I'm gonna return to BA early next year to travel around Argentina in the summer, and we'll probably go travelling together then. But she's trying to talk me out of leaving - saying how we're good together and that we're always together and don't get sick of each other, that we have fun, and that we even enjoy fighting. All of which is pretty much true. She thinks that if I leave I'll probably meet someone else or likewise she could meet someone else, or that when I return things won't be the same. We've only been together four months but it has been quite intensive. I don't know. Vamos a ver - we'll see.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

37. Feliz CumpleaƱos a mi (B.A, Argentina)

Last week was my birthday, the big 28, hooray. The day itself was the usual birthday away from home downer, as 3 of my last 4 birthdays have been, but I did receive phone calls from family and some friends back home. My girlfriend was working so I was alone most of the day too, which sucked. So I spent the evening cheering myself up by reading birthday emails from my other friends who were too lazy to call me or send a real card.

Around BA - 54 - Meat wagon
"Good choice son, that should last us a week"

On Friday we celebrated my birthday properly, I organised a dinner at a local bar/restaurant, which turned out to be average as the menu was only all you could eat pizza. For those of you unfamiliar with Argentine pizza the varieties here are very uncreative. The three types on offer were cheese with salami, cheese with sliced tomatoes, or cheese with onion. Nothing like the concoctions you could get in Australia or NZ and which my Italian friends thought were crazy. I guess they're more "traditional" here. The meal finished at about 12am and it was pretty boring until about 2, until finally everyone started dancing. We stayed until 5 and it was a pretty fun night. Of course, I didn't get out of bed until about 5pm the next day.

Matt Bday - 02 - Posse Matt
Posse and the Birthday boy

An Argentine friend of mine, Paula, turned up at the party and I was surprised to see her as she'd had a wee accident the day before. She'd borrowed a UV lamp from someone intending to give herself a mid-winter glow. I saw the lamp in question, and laughed at it's worn instruction manual from the 70s, it made me think that you probably can't buy such a lamp these days as they'd be classified a health hazard. Anyway, Paula sat in front of it for 20 mins or so and then had to go to a hospital for burns treatment - severe sunburn! She came to my party the next night looking very pink... (see 25. Settling In for her normal complexion)

Matt Bday - 08 - Sandra Thad Paula dancing
Dance floor action with Pink Paula, bless her

So, this weekend I'm off to Uruguay for a day-trip, it's visa renewal time which means I've been in South America for 6 months. I went to immigration to enquire about getting an extension to my visa and was told I'd have to pay either $100 or $200 pesos, and no doubt go through the usual Argentine bureaucratic process. It'll be much easier to pay $71 pesos for a round trip ticket on the ferry to Uruguay and spend a day visiting a new place than to have to get to the immigration office to take a number at 6.30am (by which time a queue would have already formed), as they only process 100 clients a day. I don't think I've whinged about the Argentine bureaucratic process here yet, but it is one of the main reasons why I don't think I could live here permanently. It takes ages to get anything done, much longer than I'm used to, and those who know me know I don't have much patience. Whenever I have to cash my paychecks the queue in the bank is always half an hour long. There'll be 7 teller windows but only 2 tellers working.

Matt Bday - 13 - Thad Ruth dancing
More birthday dancefloor action

A while ago my mother sent over a package, and it took so long to get here that we assumed it had been lost or stolen. So NZPost sent over a follow-up letter for an insurance claim. Guess what? The letter arrived a day before the parcel. The parcel didn't arrive at my address as specified, instead I received a card saying to pick it up from the post office. So I went to the post office, only to receive another card saying I had to go to the main international post office downtown. The rest of the story I can't be bothered typing, so I'm going to quote Mike from, which I stole from

Funny you mentioned how frustrating picking up a package is. I experienced the same thing after moving here. When I moved here my Spanish wasn't so good. The first time I went, I didn't have my passport so I waited in line for 30 minutes only to have them tell me I needed to come back with my passport. I came back the next day and encountered a huge line. They gave me this ticket with a long number on it. There was a loud speaker that kept crackling and it cut in and out so the man calling out the numbers could barely be heard sometimes. There were at least 100 people waiting in chairs in the big room. As I mentioned, the numbers were long. Something like 6 digits. If it was 598398 they wouldn't call out cinco, nueve, ocho, tres, nueve, ocho. He would blurt out very quickly cincuenta-nueve, ocho cientos treinta nueve ocho. There was no real pattern. Just would blurt out numbers however he felt like doing it.It was a chaotic situation that I swore I would never repeat. After that I just told my friends to use Fed-Ex or never send me a package again.

Another quote from Mike:

A phenomenom very strange here in Argentina is that many utility bills [phone, electricity, gas etc -mattyboy] come in the name of the previous owner maybe 5, 10, 15 or 20 years ago. Since there is no credit system in Argentina, people aren't worried about leaving their name on their utility bills. If you don't pay for a utility bill, they simply shut it off. That simple. I have changed many utility bills in my name once I buy an apartment but several still don't have my name. Why? Because these utility companies make changing them a nightmare. You have to wait in line personally for hours. I can't send an employee to change some of them. I have to do it myself. I don't have time to wait in line hours. The system has been like this forever so people never bother to change their name on their utilitity bills. These companies make it impossible sometimes. Case in point, dealing with the phone company is a frustrating process. When I first moved here, even though I had met some local friends that could do things for me, I purposely did everything myself so that I could learn how the system works here in Argentina. Simply put... it doesn't work. The system is broken. Just to make a simple change like getting a controlled line you would think you could request that over the phone. That would be logical. Right? Very few things are logical in Argentina. You must go to the Telecom office where you don't even talk to a representative. You go to their office and guess what? They send you to stand in line so you can use their phone to call in to their office and request the change. YES, you heard that right. You can't call to request the change from your home/office but you must go to Telecom's office to get on a phone. Ridiculous but this is how many things are done here in Argentina.