Things I wish I knew before going to Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires Travel Blog

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JB Boonstra    

Things I wish I knew before going to Buenos Aires  
   Get your visa for Brazil BEFORE you come to South America if at all possible. We had an awful time at the consulate in BA trying to get our visas and when we finally did get them, they weren’t the five year visas we requested. It was an extreme headache that is made worse knowing it could have been avoided by getting my visa before I came. If you find you have to get a visa after you get to Argentina, make sure you have an itinerary proving you are leaving Brazil. Many of our people got turned down at first because they hadn’t bought their plane or bus ticket out of Brazil before they went to get their visas. There’s only a window of 3 hours to go apply for a visa on Mondays from 10am-1pm. Then you have to wait 3 business days and you can only pick your visa up from 4-5pm on Thursdays. They take your passport while they are processing your visa application, so don’t plan any major excursions at the same time you’re applying for a visa. Again, I emphasize the hassle of trying to get a Brazilian visa in Buenos Aires. Get it in the states if you can.

            Food and most everything are cheap in Argentina. The Argentine peso is worth one-third of the dollar (in Summer 2006), so a dollar goes a long way. Food money lasts a long time, but keep in mind; you eat out a good bit. The residence that you stay in cooks you three meals a day every weekday, but you’ll find you’re not there for a lot of them. If you’re a morning person, you can probably make breakfast most mornings since they stop serving at 9am. You won’t be there for lunch because class starts at noon. For dinner, if you’re really dedicated, you can make almost all of them, but many nights a big group goes out to eat. This has its advantages because you get a taste of Argentina, but it also adds to the money you spend. On the weekends you have no choice but to eat out. Sometimes you can use the kitchen on the weekends, but with so many hungry students living there, the kitchen is rarely open. It’s almost totally inaccessible during the week and only slightly easier on the weekends.

            If you have any chances to get to know the locals of Buenos Aires, do it. Argentines are some of the coolest people I’ve ever met. They are nice, fun to talk with, and very generous. You have to talk to them anyway to get info for the blog assignments you’ll be doing. Plus, they always know the coolest places to go and the best restaurants to eat at. They love to talk about politics but just about anything will do. They just enjoy getting to know you.

            Don’t always trust Dr. Bowman. He’ll tell you himself that often he is given bad information. To avoid putting yourself in bad situations, play it safe and double check everything he tells you if possible, and if it’s not possible, assume he’s wrong. He’s a great professor and has put together an excellent program that is very interesting, educational, and fun. But don’t rely on him for all the answers. He’ll help you where he can, but you’ll find you are on your own quite often.

            Class is held at the Univeridad de Salvador. It’s about an hour walk away or a 20 minute subway ride. The class schedule in Buenos Aires is fairly consistent. Class starts at 12 noon and you usually go till about 4. That’s 4 hours of class and you won’t be able to eat lunch at the residence beforehand, so to save money you might want to pack a lunch. Otherwise there’s a great little restaurant across the intersection from the university that has a great deal: 12 empanadas for 12 pesos. Split that with 1 or 2 people and that’s a lunch of champions right there.

            As far as the weather goes, Buenos Aires is very close to Houston, Texas in winter temperature-wise if you are at all familiar with Houston. If not, the temperature while we were there ranged from mid-forties on nasty days to low-sixties on the best days. 75% of the days were about 50-55 degrees. I was able to wear shorts on about 5 days. I was comfortable on most days with pants and a light, long-sleeve shirt. Bring a medium thickness coat; a really heavy coat isn’t that necessary.

            Getting around BA is pretty easy. Of course there are cabs on every single street if you have to use them, but using a cab everyday would get a little pricey. Don’t get me wrong, the cabs are very cheap, but they begin to compare with the thriftiness of the buses and the subway. The bus costs 80 centavos (30 cents) to ride. There are countless routes to take, so it can get a little confusing. There are newspaper stands on every corner that sell little booklets that list all the bus routes and their stops and destinations. My mode of transportation was the subte (aka subway). Though not as far-reaching as the bus system, the subte is extremely easy to navigate. Most maps of Buenos Aires include the subte routes, so it’s easy to figure what line to take and where to get off. Get a map: it’ll be your best friend especially if ever get lost and don’t have enough money for a cab. The subte costs 70 centavos to ride. So the verdict: use the bus or subte when you can. The bus is harder to figure out but when you do figure it out, chances are that there’s a bus line that goes almost exactly where you’re trying to go. The subte is much easier to figure out where you’re going, but you might have to do a little walking since the subte can only get you so close. (If you want to take the subte to class get on the D-line that’s a block from the residence. Take that to the end of the line and get on the A-line. Take that to Alberti station and you’re on the same block as the school. The bus can’t get you that close. Dr. Bowman will tell you to get off at a different station and walk to the university but if you’re lazy like me, this way is definitely better.)

            Laundry is very easy to get done. There are multiple places that will wash and fold your clothes within a block of the residences for about 5 pesos ($2).  It usually takes about a day.

            If you have a laptop, I would suggest bringing it. It’s by no means absolutely necessary, but it has definitely come in handy for me. There are a few cafes with Wi-Fi within walking distance of the residence. It’s possible to get wireless in the residence itself but we never got it because the people working there were jerks. Maybe you’ll have better luck. There are computers you can use at the residence but if the residence is full of students, you can guess how often there’s an available computer. A laptop and a jump-drive come in very handy when you have to write an assignment and there aren’t any open computers.

            Phone cards are 10 pesos for about 30 minutes. There’s a phone in the residence, but there’s often someone using it. There are plenty of locatorias, like internet cafes but with phones instead of (or in addition to) computers. Calling the states is pretty easy.

            Argentine food is really, really good, but it is all the same. Almost every meal consists of some kind of meat and a starch such as potatoes, bread or rice.  Vegetables are relatively rare and when they are found, they’re in the form of salads.  Salads might sound good, but keep in mind that salad dressings other than oil and vinegar are almost non-existent. If you care about a balanced diet, it takes a good effort to get your veggies in everyday.

            As far as money goes, I spent about $500. That includes the $100 Brazil visa fee and $150 in bus tickets to various locations. That leaves about $250 on gifts and food. This is pretty low comparatively I think because I am not much of a drinker. I spent very little on alcohol and clubs and I know for some people on the trip, that was a large part of their expenditures. If I had to split the $250 further into gifts and food, I would say right down the middle: $125 for gifts and $125 on food and miscellaneous expenses. Hopefully this has been helpful in relating what to expect in Buenos Aires. Trust me, if you’re going, you’ll have an amazing time! Enjoy every minute of it and take advantage of as much as you can.

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