Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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Today I moved into my apartment in San Telmo off of Peru between Chile and Mexico.  Since I came down to Argentina early this is were I am staying until I have to move into the residencia and normal classes start.  It is beautiful.  This is one of the nicer apartments in this area, but I still found it weird how modernized a lot of the areas were.  The entire apartment was very modern, but the bathroom really struck me as odd.  It had a countertop made of 4 inch concrete with a really nice sink bowl set in with silver fixtures and fittings.  It also had a nice toilet that had a slightly different method of flushing that I was used to, and a small tub/shower combo.  Lastly, what struck me as odd was a bidet.  I was by far not expecting this, especially in someone´s private apartments that they rent out when they are not using it.  This is something I wouldn´t even expect in nice hotels in Latin America.


Today I moved into the residencia about a week after moving into the apartment.  It is okay.  It is the typical dorm style rooms, however I got lucky and got a bathroom with a shower, toilet, and sink connected to my room.  It is a really modern sink with nice fittings and fixtures, a nicer toilet, and a very small shower (just big enough to stand-up in, but no moving around).  The bathrooms outside our room are a little bit larger.  They have the same toilet and sink, but a slightly larger shower, and a bidet.  I am curious to why none of the bathrooms have a bath tub, but maybe this is because it is dorm style, and those are just more expensive and harder to clean.


Today I visited my friend Leonardo and Gisela´s apartment.  It is out in the provinces so that it can be a bit cheaper, and it was incredible.  It had all modern appliances, really nice flooring, modern furniture, large rooms, and an incredible bathroom.  It was a typical very modern bathroom like in the states but it also had a large bath tub and a bidet.


The matter of the bidet is curious to me.  This is supposed to be a third world country, but many places have bidets when I wouldn´t expect them.  I don´t even expect them in the United States, but I would expect them in many areas of Europe.  Bidet is a French word that means pony.  This is because one rides or bestrides a bidet much like one does a pony.  They are used for personal hygiene using warm (or cold if you really want it) water.  They kind of look like a mix between a sink and a toilet.

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Today I was walking around the city during the dark and I saw man people rummaging through the garbage on the side of the road.  I asked some of my friends about this and they told me they were carteneros.  They aren´t like the homeless we have in the United States that look for food or anything like that.  The carteneros work during the night and it is like a job or even a lifestyle to them.  Going through the garbage is seen as acceptable to them were it would be disgusting to most.  The entire family participates.  The children do not go to school, and their lifestyle permits them to only be able to become carteneros.  They live outside the metro area and come into the city via train, trucks, etc.  Some have carts that are pulled by horses/mules, and others have carts that they pull or push around themselves.  A large flat bed truck drops them and their cart off around the city and provinces.  Then by almost day break they are picked up to go to the center with their loads.


There is a big issue facing the carteneros currently.  They are unionized, but they still get paid very little by the state that they do such a great service to.  By going through the garbage they sort out anything that can be sold, food, and any cartons or cardboard.  This is helpful to the state because it is a form of recycling and reduces the trash placed in landfills so that Argentina´s lifestyle will be better.  The traditional garbage company (that has large trucks as we do in the states) complains about the carteneros.  This is because the garbage company gets paid based on the weight of the trash they pick up, so by the carteneros reducing the weight the traditional garbage company gets paid less.  Personally I believe the carteneros should be paid more since they are doing a great service overall to the state. 

In South America, and I am not sure what countries and if it is only South America, there is a certain percentage tip you should give.  Rarely would you exceed that percentage.  I was warned about this before I even came to Argentina.  The typical rate here is 10%, where as in the States it is usually a minimum of 15% and 20% for really good service.  At cafes and small dining places you should only really tip 10% unless you had a large group that the person was waiting on.  In that case you would still only tip barely over 10%.  In nicer restaurants for large, more expensive dinners you could tip 15% if the waitress was really helpful.  Also, it is considered faux pas to ask for a “to-go box”.  Many of times I have left much food on my plate, and wish I could have taken it with me, but didn´t want to look bizarre.


I made the mistake once of tipping around 13% at a café/restaurant near school.  We were in a large group (of blatant Americans), and the waitress was extremely nice to make sure that we had everything we needed and were happy.  She was very nice to the people that didn´t speak or understand any English to make sure that they understood what they were ordering.  At the end when I tipped her she handed me back all of my tip and told me that she could not take that much.  I told her that it was for being so understanding and nice to us, but she would still not accept it.  The only place that I have tipped more than 10% was the very first night when I ate at a restaurant with a large group in a ritzy place in Porto Madero.  Since this was a parrilla style place and the bill was a bit more expensive than normal due to location of the restaurant, it was acceptable to tip 15%.  I feel odd not tipping people that are extremely considerate more than 10%, but I do not want offend them or show them disrespect.  Sometimes excessive tipping is not seen as just people being uneducated but being rude to the point where you are saying those people waiting on you need your money to live.  Lastly, another important thing to note is that you do not tip taxis either.  You give them their fee in as close of change as you have, and do not expect them to take any bill over 20 pesos.  The only times you would tip them (and we are just talking an extra peso or two) is if you ask them to drive really well and they do, or they are very helpful into getting you to places where you don´t know where they are, or you ask them about places of things to do around the city and they are very helpful.         

I went to the BOCA Jrs. soccer game on May 14th and man was it AWESOME!  They played a team called Club.  This experience was only increased by a video we watched during class about the history of soccer.  The players are seen as Gods in South and Central America and most of the rest of the world.  In the States they are just sports players, and soccer players are not idolized nearly as much as in other sports such as basketball, baseball, and futbol.  Soccer is not a sport created in the United States, so it is almost belittled a little.  I love soccer, and I have played since I have been about 3 years old, but it was incredible to see how intense the fans were.  Some of the people in our study abroad group that had never gone to any soccer game before I am sure were extremely overwhelmed. 


One of the most amazing things at this game, that is not even at any other games in any other country, is player number 12.  This is an entire section of the stadium that is filled with the most extreme fans.  They are seen as part of the team.  They are the ones that start all of the chants/songs that go one during the game and they are never quiet.  They also pull out big banners, almost the size of their entire stands, with different chants or protests, etc.  You will also see fireworks going off in this area or fires started.  This group is an entire other show in itself.


Another thing I found interesting was the fencing they had to put up around the field and within the stands.  This fencing is to protect people on the field by not having fans come at them or debris thrown at them.  This does not always work however, and there are other measures they try to take to keep all futbol participants as far away from fans as possible.  Besides the fencing on the field they also supply a large police force.  You would never see this in the states with the extreme fencing, but you would have police incase anyone got onto the field.  The fencing within the stands is also bizarre too.  There are police that usually line these fences to keep people even a further distance away from them.  These fences protect the people between them.  I would never want to be an opponent at a Latin American soccer game, especially a BOCA Jrs. one.  I have never had more fun at any sports game, and I hope I can see more when I come back to BsAs.  Go BOCA Jrs.; Beat River Plate!    

Path dependency theorists believe that once down a particular development path, there are considerable costs to go back and change the path, hence we can trace political dynamics in a country to events and decisions made in the past.  Evaluate the contemporary differences and similarities between the USA and Argentina based ont he different patterns of colinization.

This information was initially posted on D-Rock´s Blogs.

In a very informal "interview" Derek spoke with a fellow residencia resident Pancho (Francisco) about the differences in development between Latin America and North America.  Some of the main points of Pancho's argument include emotional opinions heavily weighted towards the positive aspects of North American development.  He says that "stupid, drunk Spaniards" colonized Latin America, and that Spain's goal was to rob resources that would be brought back to its country, not reinvested or used for local consumption - that Spain didn't need its colonies for anything other than a source of primary resources (what we touched on during lecture).  He believes that smarter people colonized North America, and that they interacted better with indigenous populations (compared with Spanish who killed almost all).

Our group does not entirely agree with Pancho, though his opinions provide valuable insight about how Argentine citizens view their history.  As far as the smart/stupid argument, we can’t agree.  It’s true that the Spanish came to collect resources and return home, but this only means that their mindset, not their intelligence was any different than the settlers of the U.S.  The North American settlers were fleeing their (mainly English) homes in order to find a new one.  They were interested in development.  The majority intended to live in North America permanently and wanted to better their lives; thus, they had a vested interest in the land, its development, and its success.  This vested interest in the territory was not true for the Spanish until after independence, which was already much later than the American Revolution.

This vested interest spurred development and industry, while the Spanish colonies stagnated, stuck in an exploitive situation that hindered development.  As a result, North America, a half-century ahead of its Southern neighbors, was able to create more industry, manufactured goods and advanced products, while Latin American countries were (and in many cases, are still) stuck with raw, primary materials as their principal source of income.  By the time Latin America realized independence, and more importantly stability, the United States and the other “center” countries had far surpassed them in advanced production of non-primary goods.  The liberal free-market policies only helped to keep LA in its place, or at least only develop at a much slower rate while the center nations prospered more.  Other policy prescriptions, such as ones similar to the current leftist sweep through LA, are unable to overcome the gap between the center and developed nations. 

The cattle ranching industry and resulting gaucho culture contributed to the economic realities that currently separate the United States and Argentina.  Cattle ranching and export of beef became so lucrative (especially once refrigerated container ships were developed) that other investment and industry (that developed in the US, Great Britain, and other “center” countries) were discouraged in Argentina.  In the present day, manufactured goods, technology, service, and other advanced products are worth much more in the international market.  Thus, the nations that were forced to develop high-tech industries and encourage entrepreneurialism now fare much better than nations (like Argentina) who did not start developing new industries as early, and instead relied longer (and in many cases still rely) on primary goods.

That the North American colonies treated its native populations better, encouraging trade and enlightening their own development (Pancho’s argument), is hard to believe.  Both situations are equally horrifying.  Both were extremely cruel with intentions of annihilation.  To compare them and believe one was better than the other is more than a stretch.  We treated our native populations just as badly without trying to incorporate them into society, and pushed them out of areas we wanted to be in.   

Pancho also commented that early development in North America included an ability to form intelligent, smart society in North America.  We have already dismissed the “intelligent, smart” aspects, but it is true that society developed very differently in the two continents, which is closely related to the divergent paths of political structures on the two continents.  The division of South America into countries was partially based on regional power-holding caudillos • what kind of political culture does this create?  One set up perfectly for dictatorships.  As discussed in class, Latin America could have been unified as one nation like the United States, but instead broke up into quarrelling polities.  In North America, a society very concerned with the rights of man political participation, DEcentralized power was always very important to the colonists, based on their hatred of the English king.  This led to an early development of democracy in the United States.  In the Latin American case, the sum of the parts is less than the whole, and the divided states were much weaker actors than the conglomerated United States.

Then we spoke with David about corruption in Latin America and its prevalence here in comparison to the U.S.  He feels that this is what continues to hinder development in this part of the world and that it is extremely difficult to break this cycle.  It is so ingrained into society and the way government functions, that it is impossible to fix.  He said that the dictatorships created this culture of corruption leaving a legacy for the ‘democratic’ governments that follow.  This idea goes hand in hand with path dependency.  It is costly to change such a structure, not only monetarily.  What political figure would want to take a chance to make such a leap for their country?  The cost of one’s political career can be devastating as well as a leap in lifestyle change.

So now the U.S. isn’t so dependent on manufacturing, but our technology, engineering (go GT), and service industry.

During the BOCA Jr. game there was a huge flag that said "NO A LAS PAPELERAS, SI A LA VIDA".  This represents one of the most serious regional political battles in a long time, the battle over the pulp mills.  Why is the pulp mill battle so dangerous?  Which side is right? and who is right, Uruguay or Argentina?  Blog group represents Hague Court, and must decide whether the pulp mills continue or are stopped.

This information was initially posted on D-Rock´s Blogs. 

We asked Adel for her opinions about the current spat between Uruguay and Argentina over the construction of papeleras on the river that separates the two countries.  Adel believes that Uruguay is in the right.  She said that the government, students, Gualeguaychu, and greenpeace would not care if it was being built on the Argentine side.  She (more or less) explained that it boils down to pride (and if you wanted to give them more credit - a question of violation of state’s sovereign boundaries, if the damage spills over to the Argentine side).  She also said that Argentine’s simply really like to protest - which we can attest to after studying Argentine history and following Argentine current events.  For example, the Buenos Aires Herald (frequently) casually mentions strikes that close down buildings, etc.  I remember talking with another woman as well about the transportation strikes and how people deal with those frequent occurrences.  She said that la gente are used to it - used to waking up some mornings not being able to make it to work.

We asked Derek’s roommate Mauricio (Ecuador, 30) his thoughts about the Uruguay-Argentina Papeleras conflict:  he more or less said that he couldn’t decide black or white which country was “in the right.”  For ecological reasons, he believed Argentina is correct, but as far as having the “right” to create the Papeleras on the river, he felt that it was definitely within Uruguay’s national sovereignty to build them. 

It is possible to disagree with Mauricio’s diagnosis.  For Uruguay to have the “right,” it would need to take extra precautions to ensure that pollution would not affect Argnetina’s side of the river; and then also have a back-up plan of what to do if (more likely, when) the pollution managed to affect the other side - not only clean-up measures, but also possibly monetary compensation; or maybe Argentina should opt for a share of the profits from the start and allow a specific, quantifiable amount of pollution on its side of the river.

Both presidents are under tremendous public pressure.  Vasquez has been portrayed by the media as backing down and giving in to Argentina, while Kirchner is forced to support public opinion and gain support due to his apparent bid for reelection next year.  Argentine public opinion on this issue has been determined by riding on a wave of nationalism (as Adel noted), not necessarily by closely evaluating all the close facts.  In actuality, Argentina (Gualeguaychu not included) is not seriously concerned with the potential damage caused by the papeleras (in fact they would have been built in Argentina except the governor required a bribe).  Argentina has several very destructive papeleras of its own that cause much more pollution than would these more modern, more environmental-friendly plants.  It is very possible for these pulp mills to be very environmental friendly; it is also the most likely result if one looks at the sustainability indices of Uruguay and Finland, four and one respectively.  Argentina should be more worried about the rest of the paper manufacture process (and all the offshoots), which causes much more pollution than the pulp mills. 

One view of the current issue-hype is that Kirchner, in order to gain momentum and support in his bid for reelection next year, intentionally turned this issue from a local one that concerned only Gualeguaychu into a national one with strong public opinion and nationalist sentiment.  

The Argentine-government is seriously at fault in not removing its citizens from the bridge blockade that is delaying the transport of construction materials for the mills.  Argentina’s neglect has violated a treaty to not impede the transportation of materials between nations.  The two countries are moving in the right direction though, as long as Argentina holds to its promise of removing the blockade (with police-force if necessary) while Uruguay halts construction for ninety days. 

Our opinion of what the International Court of Justice should decide:  Uruguay has to halt construction of the papeleras and Argentina needs to keep the bridge clear of protesters until a Hague Court-assigned 3rd-party organization completes a review of the destructive effects of all three papeleras.  The 3rd-party organization will report back to the court, which will then make a final decision about whether the papeleras infringe on Argentine sovereignty.  If they do not significantly infringe (based on their subjective opinion, traded with how beneficial the investment would be for Uruguay), the papeleras can continue to be built.

Our plan was approved by a local Argentine - Leo from last week’s asado.  He gave us his own version that essentially agreed with our decision to halt construction until a third-party evaluation is completed.