Unlike out beloved Louisville, Buenos Aires has a bus system that does not require one to wait long in the blistering heat or freezing cold. Truthfully, the city has three options for transportation – buses, train, and subway. The trains and buses bring people into the city from parts of the provencia – think, Bullit County – while the subway or subte has much more concentrated lines of transport limited to the certain parts of the city. Recently the city has created a new system of paying for the buses, so now it is easy to pass a card over the monitor to pay for the subte or bus. Before, it was necessary to have a few coins or monedas to get on the bus and aren’t always easy to find. A ticket for the bus costs between $1.10 and 1.25 argentine pesos, depending on how far you’re traveling. So, it is very cheap, but there are also no discounts for students. Nor do students ride free like we do with our UofL ID cards. Also, there are no transfer tickets, so you are required to pay again if you need to change buses. Perhaps this is why people here walk so much. In any case, the bus transport system is extremely good and much more efficient than our system. Buses can travel far into the provencia for just $1.25, they come just about every fifteen minutes or less, and there are about 50 different bus lines. But, the city here is a really big place and can be really confusing at times it’s necessary to carry around a Guía T that is a guide to all the buses, including maps of where they go. The maps are so good that I sometimes use them to just walk around the city when I’m in neighborhoods I don’t usually visit.
Meanwhile, there are still plenty of cars on the streets. Of course the buses, trains, and subtes are filled with people during rush-hour, but there are also plenty of cars on the street during this same time. My host family tells me that the streets weren’t always so filled with people like they are now, but with the economic crisis that has continued since the turn of the century and now created a crisis of inflation here, there are many more people traveling into the city for work. It is important to understand that many of these people do not travel by car, but by bus or train, and also that they sometimes travel for a couple hours to get to their jobs. Meanwhile, since the public transportation has become more crowded, it has become more common for people who live in the city to use their cars. In any case, whether car or bus, it’s really important to be careful when crossing the street here. There aren’t many traffic rules that people follow here. Really, it’s like watching some movie depicting typical Italian driving.
Even though I’m beginning this next entry with Lunch, I should mention that here in Argentina, or at least in Buenos Aires, there are really four meals in a day — breakfast, a mid-day meal, lunch in the mid-afternoon, and dinner at no earlier than 8pm. But, I don’t really participate in mid-day meal since I’m already grazing throughout the day. First, lunch in the city is rarely done at home since people are usually out all day working and running errands. For this reason, you can get something quick for lunch practically everywhere. Women sell baskets of milenesa – lettuce and tomato sandwiches with thinly-sliced breaded and fried beef – warm flat bread on grills set-up on the street, and you can get empanadas — sort of like a tiny pie/sandwich small filled with meat, cheese and/or veggies — in just about every pandería or bakery. And for dessert, they usually also sell facturas or pasteries for about 2 pesos which is about 50 cents. Unlike most of us on campus, porteños do not typically eat lunch while walking to their next destination or while sitting on a public bench. While there are of course lots of options for eating outside at restaurants, most porteños feel it is dirty to eat in the streets because there isn’t anywhere to wash your hands. And, unless their bringing something from home, most city-dwellers will go out during their hour-long lunch break to a restaurant close by. They do sell more traditionally-American frozen lunches at the supermarkets here, but they are actually much more expensive than grabbing a couple empanadas or a freshly-made sandwich from down the street.
In general, I’ve been avoiding American-style food while I have this giant opportunity to eat so many things I didn’t even know existed. But, American food is a popular specialty here. In addition to the McDonalds (here pronounced MacDonald’s’), Burger King, and Subway, they just opened up a Wendy’s about 15 blocks from where I’m staying. And, the other day we went in there to get some comfort food: French fries and a frosty to dip them in. Food like that is more expensive here than it is in the US, even with the exchange rate. A typical “meal” from McDonalds is about 2 dollars more that what you’d pay in the US. I will say that the fast food places here are more of an upper-class outing than you’d find in the US. You find them in mostly wealthier neighborhoods, they have much nicer seating areas, there are separate café and icecream kiosks inside, and one in my neighborhood even has an arcade/gym area. And, while I can’t remember the last time I bought fast food in the US, sometimes comfort food is necessary after a long day of classes in Spanish.
If ever traveling outside the US, I recommend packing a small food item that may be hard to find while traveling in other parts of the world. If you’re traveling to Argentina, fill your carry-on with peanut butter and Tobasco sauce. While peanut butter can be found in the city of Buenos Aires after a little investigation and a few visits to barrio chino (china town), it will be expensive. In addition to straining my grocery budget, peanut butter has become one of my American vices that I cannot give up. And perhaps distance truly does make the heart grow fonder because I seem to love peanut butter so much that I sometimes run out when traveling outside of the city. This is why I should’ve brought a suitcase full of it, which I could’ve filled later with premium Argentine leather.
In addition to bringing the peanut butter, which they call mani here, I recommend that you eat at fine breakfast buffet/diner establishments all day, every day, the week before you come. My first two weeks here I nearly cried every morning to discover the absolutely non-American breakfast my host family had set out for me. First, let’s take a moment to remember those breakfasts your mom used to make up for you on Saturday mornings. Remember the bacon, eggs, pancakes with syrup? Remember the blueberry muffins and biscuits with gravy? Remember toast with peanut butter and orange juice? Take a picture of that grand breakfast. No, not a mental picture. Before you leave, beg or pay your mother to make that wonderful breakfast and take a framed photo of it with you! You will never see such delicious American breakfasts here in Buenos Aires, or the rest of Argentina. Instead, you will be served a cup of instant coffee and a slice of toast. I convinced my family to buy some cereal, but in general breakfast here is very small and sometimes completely obsolete from porteño life. Porteños are the people who live in the federal capital of Buenos Aires. It’s derived from the word puerto or port, which has been the purpose of this area ever since the Spanish conquistadores arrived. But, back to breakfast, I should also tell you that even the on-the-run breakfast eater will suffer, as I have not found one bagel in this city. They do sell bagel-looking breads on the street and in some panaderías or bakeries, but they are not bagels. I’m not sure anyone here even knows what a bagel is supposed to taste like.
While you’re making a list, don’t forget to add Tobasco sauce. It took about a month for me to realize Argentines do not eat spicy food. In fact, the most-used spices here are salt and oregano. But, I didn’t even realize the absence of spicy food until one of my classmates went around asking everyone if they had smuggled some hot sauce into the country so she could have it for her homemade American breakfast. The blasphemy of hot sauce on scrambled eggs aside, I began to really miss spicy food after that and began to look for some options. I still cannot find hot sauce in the city, but did find some in a grocery store in Uruguay where they seem to have all the nice luxuries porteños dream of like spicy food, ocean, and US dollars. But, even with the exchange 20 pesos uruguayos: 1 U$D, that bottle of Tobasco cost me about six bucks and it was worth it.