Monday, June 16, 2008

Living and Getting Around in Buenos Aires

The view out my window With five subway lines snaking out from el centro in every direction, over 150 bus lines, and 40,000 taxis, there is no excuse for not being able to get around Buenos Aires. The city is gigantic—if you take the biggest, widest street in Seattle for comparison, there are probably dozens of streets in Buenos Aires that are way bigger—but there is no reason you can't move around very easily.

For 30¢, you can take the subway from any station on a line to any station on any other line. You can do this all day long, if you want—all for only 30¢. Of course, you're probably going to want to go above ground eventually, so it'll cost you another 30¢ to get home. To make this easier, you just buy a 10-trip pass when you enter any subway station. You feed this into the turnstile, the reader scans the magnetic strip, subtracts one of the trips off the ticket, and then you walk through the turnstile to the platform. All the lines (with the exception of one) intersect in the downtown area, so if you need to take multiple lines to get from one point to another, you'll typically just take your line to a "combination" station, walk through a passage-way to the other line, wait for the subway, and get on it, taking it to your final stop.

Subte Line A Line A, the oldest in the city, open since 1913, has neat old cars made of wood. The doors don't even open automatically. When the subway stops, make sure to grab hold of a door and pull hard. If you just stand there waiting for the doors to open—as happens on all the other lines—within a few seconds, the train will pull away, leaving you standing there asking yourself what in freaking heck just happened. Don't ask me how I know this.

On almost any main street, you can flag a taxi driver down pretty quickly. Just look for the illuminated "Libre" sign in the front passenger window. This means the taxi is free, or available. I have had nothing but good experiences with taxis in Buenos Aires. From admonishment to be careful with my things in certain neighborhoods to history lessons and sightseeing tours en route to Spanish practice, I've always had pleasant rides and been charged very reasonable rates in my voyages via taxi in Buenos Aires.

The apartment across from mine—notice the lady cleaning her windowsNow, I'm living in an apartment in Palermo and to get where I go nowadays—mostly Salsa classes and dancing—I have to take the bus, or colectivo. Of course I could take taxis, but I would end up paying much, much more than necessary. A necessity, when being a bus traveler is a bus schedule, and one of the places you can obtain a bus schedule is on the subway. Besides comedy duos, singers and musicians, beggars, people selling stickers, cards, pens, clothing, and other random items, you can spend 5 pesos while riding the subway—if your timing is lucky—to purchase a bus schedule. The Buenos Aires bus schedule is a booklet of almost 200 pages!

To take the appropriate bus, study the bus schedule, figure out what bus you need to take to get where you need to go, show up at the stop, flag the bus down when you see it coming—if you or someone else doesn't wave, he'll go right on by—hop on and drop one peso in the gizmo. It will spit out a ticket. For shorter routes, you can tell the driver "noventa" and he'll punch a button specifying to the machine to spit out a ticket for only 90¢ (centavos). I'm not sure how to determine whether your route costs 90¢ or one peso other than to ask the driver. Once you're familiar with your route, it's easy. I think one peso is the default amount, so if you just get on the bus and drop a peso in the machine, you should be good to go.

My little kingdom It's tough to keep track of where you are, but you can tell the bus driver where you need to go and ask him to tell you when to get off.

If you need help on the fly, when any bus stops, you can ask the driver what bus you need to take to get somewhere. I've also asked people on the street the same question. Everyone is quite helpful.

Last night when I was coming home from Salsa class, a bus pulled up to our right-hand side at a stoplight. Our driver opened the door, the other driver opened his window, and the two had a little conversation. At the next light, our driver opened his window and another bus pulled up to our left and opened his door. They talked until the light turned green (which is always preceded by a yellow). At the next light, they continued the conversation. At the third light, they wrapped up their chat. The bus to our left had driven three blocks with his door open.

Yours truly, earning money As far as my apartment, it's nothing special. It's in a nine-story-tall apartment building. There are approximately 17,000 such buildings in BA (not actually sure how many, but lots—there may actually be 17,000!). Apartments in BA are a bit different than in the States. You use a key to get in the front door and another key to your own apartment, as opposed to apartments back home where each apartment unit is exposed to the outside. This style is a bit more secure. To get in the elevator, you pull open the outer door, pull open the inner door (a telescoping sort of gizmo), get in, close the outer door, close the inner door, then press your button. Definitely not a modern elevator design, but it seems to work okay. Most buildings have this old design. I'm in a nice neighborhood and am paying $550 per month—a bit more than I wanted to, but not bad. You'd pay way more in Seattle for the same thing. The money I earn will way more than make up for the extra cost of the apartment compared with a hostel—speaking of which, I was paying an extraordinarily low rate of 35 pesos per night for a private room, with breakfast included in Hostel Estoril, before moving here. That's about $12 per night. So, you can live in Buenos Aires for less than $20 a day, if you work at it. Pretty amazing. Being so cheap, I thought I was in Israel. I was surrounded by Israelis for a couple weeks, but that's a subject for another post.

That's all for now, good folks.


Anonymous said...

Finally some pictures, thought maybe your camera was broken. The cars on line A look pretty cool. Nice apartment too.

Take care,


Jay said...

Since my stuff got stolen, it's been more difficult to keep up with the photography, since I have no hard drive to back up photos to.

So, I have to copy them onto my laptop (which has a small 48GB solid state drive) and keep backing them up to DVD and deleting them from the laptop to make room for more. It makes it difficult to do editing since I'm having to keep putting them onto DVD. Before, when I had an external hard drive—3.5" USB—I always had access to all my photos. It's been a royal pain.

Luci got my stuff shipped today. I should have it in a week or so. I can't tell you how excited I am. I'll get pocket knives, 2 external hard drives, my D3+lens, the quick release plate for my Arca Swiss B3 head, my debit card so I can get cash from ATMs, and loads of other good stuff. It'll be like a super-duper-Christmas for me.

I actually have a lot of photos on DVD that I still want to post to my photo site—shots from Ushuaia, El Calafate, El Chalten, and now from Buenos Aires. And along with the D3, you can expect the photo publishing pace to pick up significantly. :)

Hopefully, I'll be able to make an anouncement in a week, or so.

Michael said...

The city is full of small Storys like the one about the Busdrivers. When i was the first time in BA i took the wrong bus and finish somewhere at the end of the line. So i ask the busdriver in (this time) realy bad spanish how i come to my home. I understand that it was a bit difficult in the middle of the night but i should be pacient until he finish his chat with a colleague. Then he drived me directly to my home without a stop becasue his tour was finish. I rent a apartment here: Stay in Buenos Aires Apartments

Saludos, Michael

Jay said...

That's a great story, Michael!

Anonymous said...

I - If you look real close at the "Subte Line A" picture, you can see Eva Duarte on her way to an assignation. Clap your hands three times, and BELIEVE. She's chronometrically out of phase (because she was sitting there in 1937), but the camera doesn't lye (hey, if the subway has been there for almost one hundred years, anything is possible).

II - I hope that BA apartments have better sound insulation than your typical NW pad-for-lease.

III - Is that a seventies-era Sansui receiver I see on the shelf? If apartments down there come with amenities like that (along with parquet floors), I can see where the lack of a view isn't that bad in that unit. I just hope that the kids down the hall don't have an over-abiding passion for some form of "music" that you regard as punishable by something out of a Wes Craven movie.

Me, I'm listening to "The Minstrel Boy", as sung by The Choir of New College, Oxford. Peter Jackson should have used it as the theme song for "LOTR".

Buena Suerte,