Argentina through a foreign lenze
Traveling around Argentina for the past couple weeks, there are a couple of unescapable truths . Here are some nuggets of knowledge I have picked up along the way. Some will be useful and others might make you laugh, luckily none of them will make you cry.
First of all: It’s all about meat. Milanesa, steak, empanadas, most “typical” dishes will contain some form of meat. There are some viable veggie alternatives, though they usually contain a high amount of cheese. While I love cheese, I do not need it in every single meal. If you have the budget, there are some good veggie restaurants in the bigger cities.
In the smaller cities, be prepared to make do with lots of bread and cheese, pizza and pasta with you guessed it: Cheese. If there is one thing I do not like to do, it is cooking, but even I brushed up on my cooking skills in the end. There is only that much cheese a girl can eat.
Secondly, the distances in this widespread country are enormous. Argentina is 2.8 million square kilometres with a population of nearly 44 million, making it the second largest country in Latin America and the eighth largest in the world. Getting anywhere is going to take a considerable amount of time.
There are a couple of options for getting around the country:
- Bus. The country is well connected through a network of busses waiting to take you to where ever you desire. Be prepared for long hours on a bus, anywhere between 10h and 25hours is not uncommon. Some busses offer you a warm meal others will not, it is best to always inform yourself up front. Also for the veggies, you can order a veggie meal but it has to be done at the bus station and in advance. Watch out: If you buy tickets online (www.budbud.com or www.plataforma10.com.ar ), often you cannot adapt the date after purchase. Buying tickets at the bus terminal itself offers more flexibility and means you avoid service charge (anywhere between (50 and 120 Argentinian pesos)
- Airplane. Northern Argentina is now being serviced by a low cost airline: www.Flybondi.com . Tickets are often cheaper than if you take the bus and you save considerably on time.
- Hitchhiking. This option is cheap and perfectly safe in Patagonia.
Thirdly, taking money out of the ATM is expensive. The maximum amount you can take out vary between 2000 and 3000 Argentinian Pesos. The ATM charges around 200 Argentinian pesos irrespective of the amount you take out. The cheapest bank to take out money is Banco de la nacion, who charges around 120 Argentian Pesos. Most places allow you to pay with (credit) card without additional charges.
Fourth, hablas Español? Even in big cities like Buenos Aires and Cordoba, it is hard to get around with only English. In addition, you will miss out on the wonderful opportunity to talk to your uber driver about politics, make new friends over an artisanal beer on a terrasse in Buenos Aires or be seduced by one of the local boys sending you sweet nonsense over whatsapp voicechat.
Five, talking about being seduced by locals. Argentinians come in all shapes and sizes. Get the preconception of dark hair, dark skin and dark eyes out of your mind and think more global citizens. There are tall blond and blue eyed Argentinians as well as short, dark and mysterious. Argentina has had many waves of immigration from Europe, which resulted in the melting pot that is Argentina now. What they do have in common is a love for talking elaborately (don’t expect them to get to the point any time soon) and a charming though sometimes hard to understand accent.
Six, get familiar with the taste of Mate. Besides the cocktail of choice in the local boliche (Fernet Coke), the taste of Argentina is unequivocally intertwined with Mate. Mate is a tea like herb, which has an almost ritualistic preparation and as far as I can tell can be drunk at pretty much any occasion but very rarely alone.
The taste is slightly bitter, but the bitterness is more than tolerable when drinking in the company of new friends.
Seven, respect the queue. Getting on the bus, in front of the bank or getting into a boliche you better make sure you are either in the queue or have no intention of going in. Cutting a queue will earn you a lot of angry looks, and you will surely be told off and promptly be pointed to the end of the queue. In Buenos Aires the queue at the bus stop can get very long during rush hour, even snaking around buildings.
Eight, Dulce de leche is what it’s all about. Condensed milk and suger is somewhat of a national pride. Breakfast here will often consist of a medialuna (croissant) or alfajores with Dulce de Leche. The joy of this sweet spread is not restricted to breakfast . Any excuse to eat Dulce de Leche is a good one: Ice cream, cake, pancakes, I have even seen pizza with Dulce de Leche. It is cringeworthy in its level of sweetness and you will be bouncing of the walls after eating some, but it’s well worth trying.
Nine, many Argentinians are very well travelled or at least well informed about the world. I have never met so many people who have asked me which part of Belgium I come from and if it is the Flemish or French part of the country. This comes as a surprise, as the country of Belgium is tiny and many fellow Europeans are not even aware of the different language spoken in Belgium.
Ten, time and schedules are relative. Forget scheduling in a drink with friends weeks in advance. Why plan so far in advance? Plans for weekend activities are made the day itself. The hour will be picked depending on how the day progresses, it could be 2pm but could also very well be 5pm or 6pm. They say patience is a virtue, try and pack some in your luggage when coming over here.
Eleven, don’t forget to tip. In restaurants and bars, expect to tip between 5 and 10%. When you get off the bus, tip the person taking out your bags 5 to 10 pesos. When going into restrooms, often a tip of 5 pesos is asked for by the cleaning staff.
Twelve, skip hotels go for couchsurfing. Argentinians are such warm and welcoming people it is a real pleasure to couchsurf in this country. It is a great way to get to know about the local culture, the country and to drink a lot of Mate. As a girl alone it is perfectly safe, but perhaps stick to hosts that have some recommendations to be sure. I have met so many beautiful people and made some good local friends. Watch out though, there is a strong possibility you will not want to leave.
Goofing around with new friends in Buenos Aires
Lastly, tapwater here is drinkable. Save the planet and stop buying plastic bottles but rather refillable water bottles.