Buenos Aires…how to look like a gringo and get yourself into trouble
Whew! What a week! After a tranquil weekend in Tigre, Buenos Aires was a whirwind! Actually it was completely ca-ray-zee! Sometimes in a good way but other times it was just too much.
We took the train from Tigre to Beunos Aires (BA) on Saturday (sigh..almost 2 weeks ago….I am really behind on blog writing-hoping to catch up while I am here relaxing in Uruguay). We had made arrangements for the entire week at various couchsurfer’s homes. Except the first night, we decided to just stay in a hostel. We also signed up for Spanish classes (4 hours a day) at a school in downtown BA, Expanish. And if that wasn’t enough, we arranged to meet with a tutor for 2 hours every day as well. All of this in a brand new city where we didn’t know where anything was and had to learn our way around. I get tired just typing it!
The train ride from Tigre was pretty uneventful but our arrival to BA was not without incident. Before coming to the city, I had read about lots of petty theft and opportunistic pickpockets waiting to prey upon unsuspecting tourists. This happens in every big city. But it’s especially on the rise in BA because the economy is doing so poorly. All the advice tells you to not walk around with your big backpack because obviously you will stick out like a major gringo. So I thought it was safest to take a taxi to the hostel. And what do you think Laurent suggested we do? Yes, the crazy boyfriend strikes again. He thought we should take our big backpacks through the metro and then walk the streets to the hostel. This sounded like trouble to me.
But to be fair, it really was the only way we could have done things. It is also not advised to just flag down a taxi (you should always call one, if using the taxis). And we had no way to call one. We were kind of forced to take the metro, which is called the Subte in BA. Bringing your big bags into a crowded metro in a strange city is probably not the best thing to do and we learned the hard way. I could feel the eyes burning holes into us as we stood there, stupidly standing with our packs faced to the wall. When we got out to transfer to another line, I could see hands all over Laurent’s legs, as they tried to search his pockets. Then they came to me. I was afraid but just kept walking.
Then came the shaving cream. I had read a lot about various ruses, where someone would spray something all over you (like mustard or even paint) then offers to help clean you up, while another comes to rob you. I could smell the nauseating scent of the cream sprayed all over my bag and pants but I just kept walking. I would lie if I told you my legs didn’t tremble just a bit. An uneasy feeling settled into the pit of my stomach but I just kept going.
We finally exited the Subte and I breathed some relief. We emerged in the Palermo Soho neighborhood of BA, a hip, trendy neighborhood jammed packed with amazing restaurants and cafes. Once on the streets, I felt a bit safer but still couldn’t wait to get to our hostel. We got a bit lost and a complete stranger came up to us and in perfect english, asked us if we needed help. He even tried to call the hostel we were looking for with his own cell phone. In the end, we couldn’t find the place where we wanted to go, so we went to another place. You can read the review for it here. I was just so happy to get that big backpack off my back.
The rest of our stay in Buenos Aires was without incident. We met such friendly, warm people. In any big city you have to be careful not to look too much like a tourist as there are always opportunistic thieves waiting for you. And we really did ask for trouble, taking our big bags in the Subte. That being said, I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling I had throughout my stay BA. It seemed as if every place you went, you had to be ultra aware and always watch your back. I lived in NYC for eight years and I never felt so uneasy as I did in my one week in BA. It could be because of our first bad experience but it seems that many other travelers I met felt the same way. I would certainly return to BA and never advise anyone against visiting. The city has too much to offer and too many good people to outweigh a bad experience. But if you do travel there, please be extra aware of yourself and your surroundings.