Goodbye VG, Hello BA
Buenos Aires Travel Blog› entry 48 of 71 › view all entries
When the alarm when off at 6:30am, I was glad I called it an early night last night. I should clarify, by the way, that when I say early, I mean I was in bed by 3am, maybe 4am. Late night means out til sunrise.
I packed my things, handed in my key to Hospedaje Villa Gesell, and hopped on a colectivo (local bus) to the Terminal. I got there with time to spare, so I relaxed at the terminal with a cafe con leche y dos medialunas.
Tomorrow, the solo part of my trip would come to an end. So sitting here in the bus station, I quietly reflected a bit on my trip, my experiences, my lessons learned, my thoughts about going back home, etc. I made some notes in my journal. Some or none of which will be published here on these pages. We wil see. Needless to say, it was a bittersweet feeling sitting there in the cafe...on a small scale because I was leaving comfy cozy Villa Gesell, and on a larger scale because the solo part of my trip was coming to an end. Ironically a song - which shall remain nameless - came on the radio which I not only like, but also found appropriate to the feelings at the time. Interesting. I am not a big believer in fate so I dont take much away from it, other than that I plan on downloading the song when I get home. It will at least serve as a sort of reminder of the time and place.
For the 5 hour bus ride to Buenos Aires, I again had the front row, upper level seat of the bus. Reminds me of that scene in the movie Borat when he is in the hotel room on the chair saying: King of the castle, look at me, I´m king of the castle. (I know at least ONE of you knows what I am talking about...)
I slept for most of the trip, which was a bit unfortunate because the woman next to me lived in Buenos Aires, spoke some English, and could have been a good resource for some tips about where to stay, what to do, how to get around, etc. The city is huge, and I didnt find the Lonely Planet stuff that helpful. But I just couldnt stay awake.
So when I got off the bus at the huge terminal in BA, I felt like a lost child. I didnt really have a plan. Through some emailing with other travellers on travbuddy, and from reading Lonely Planet, it sounded like Palermo district had the coolest bars and restaurants. So I decided to get on the train and head there (only like a 5 min ride for 25 cents). Easy enough, it seemed.
But getting off in Palermo and walking around for 20 minutes, I didnt really find any kind of center or main street. Granted I was fully loaded with my backpack, so didnt want to explore every street. But I had also been doing some thinking. Maybe it would be better to go back to the Center of BA for tonight, since I had an early flight to Rio tomorrow morning. If I was already in the Center, it would take one transport connection and headache out of my morning route to the airport.
So with that, I took the train back to the Center and looked for hotels there. I almost just walked into the Sheraton, thinking I would splurge for the final night. But common sense got hold of me and I settled for Hotel Tres Sargentos - still a nice place, with good single room and bathroom for 140 pesos.
I plopped my stuff down in room 105, took a shower, and hit the streets to explore a bit before dinner. I headed over to Florida Street, a pedestrian only zone loaded with shops and cafes.
It was here I got robbed. Or scammed may be a better word for it.
More on that later.
Here is how it went down. It all happened so fast, and was so slick, I never really knew what hit me. A key reminder that you ALWAYS have to have your guard up around these parts of the world. I made a mistake today, and paid the price. Fortunately for me, the "price" wasn´t too high. Could have been a lot worse.
Man: Hey, come to this bar later tonight. It´s a lot of fun. Good crowd.
Dan: Um, ok
Man: In fact, here´s a vip card to get you in for free. No charge. (Hands me card.)
Dan: Um, ok
Man: Actually we need to go now and get it stamped. Come with me. You can check out the bar, too.
Dan: (Stupidly) Um, ok. Let´s go. (We go 1/2 block to bar. Inside, up some stairs. Yes, this should have been my first clue something fishy was going on. But from the outside, it looked like a normal place.)
Man: (Once we are inside) Ok, sit down here and I will go get manager.
Dan: Um, ok. (Sits down.)
Waiter: (Walks over and brings me a beer.) Here you go.
Dan: I didn´t order this. (I stand up to leave, but just then manager comes over too.)
Dan: What´s going on? I didn´t order this. All I wanted was a stamp for later. I´m leaving. (I try to edge past the waiter and manager.)
Waiter: Hey, don´t push me. Don´t touch me.
Manager: Yes, you need to pay for your drink. It´s 20 pesos. (A little expensive, but not that bad.)
Dan: (Getting nervous.) Fine. (I look in my wallet. All I have is a 50. I give it to the manager, who simply puts it in his pocket.) Hey, what about my change?
Manager: Oh, we have a two drink minimum here.
Dan: (Not even going to bring up that 20 x 2 doesn´t equal 50). Oh. Fine. Ok, I´m leaving. (I try to edge past waiter.)
Waiter: (again) Hey, don´t push me. (At this point, a third guy comes over, who is apparently "security").
Manager: Hi, Mr. Security. No problem here. Just relax. (I think trying to scare me. Ok, it worked.) (Turns to me.) We have a cover charge, too. You need to pay it. 100 pesos.
Dan: (Opens the fake wallet again. All I have in the front compartment is 14 pesos.) Look, all I have is 14 pesos. Fine. You can have it. I´m leaving.
Manager: Hmmm, no we need 100 pesos.
Waiter: Hey, what are those bills in the back of your wallet? (I had some U.S. dollars in a second bill compartment in my wallet. They unfortunately were visible to the waiter who had been eyeing my wallet the whole time.)
Dan: Ok, yes, I have some U.S. dollars. Look, they´re all one dollar bills. Here´s about 10 of them. (Ooops, damn, there are some fives, too.)
Manager: Let me see. 100 pesos is about 35 dollars. Give it to me.
Dan: Here you go. Take this, this, this... (etc. I hand him a wad of cash, plus the 14 pesos. At this point I just want out of there.)
Manager: Ok. (And waiter, security, and manager let me pass and exit the bar.)
While I was stupid to go inside and upstairs, it DID look like a normal bar. For that brief moment, I forgot where I was. Unfortunately and as sad as it is, in this city and maybe throughout South America, I need to assume at every moment and in every transaction that someone is trying to rob, cheat, or steal from me. I let my guard down today, and I paid the price.
That said, my fake wallet worked like a charm. I had stocked it with enough money and fake credit cards to make it look like the real deal, and to satisfy the theif....but not SO much money that I would be devastated or inconvenienced at the loss. Walking away with only about a $75 loss was a relief. I wasn´t hurt. And I still had my credit cards and ID tucked away in my hidden pants pocket.
I was angry though. There were police around but I didn´t know if I should talk to the police. I knew I´d never get the money back. I could alert the police to the establishment and their coersive tactics. But then I didn´t want any of the bad guys to later recognize me on the street and do something to me. Or maybe the police were corrupt and didn´t care. Or wouldn´t believe me. Or maybe the bar would say I robbed them. Who would the police believe? All these questions ran around in my head, so I ended up just letting the whole thing go. I guess that was best, given the circumstances.
Later that day, I sort of "staked out" the corner where the man had first approached me. I waited. I watched. It looked like they had 4 people on the corner approaching passers-by trying to lure them into the bar. I saw them snag another guy. Again, I really wanted to run up and say "Wait! Don´t go in!" But I knew better... I just went on to dinner.