Made it to Cusco


Scott and I successfully made it to Cusco today... had to get up at 6am for our flight out of Buenos Aires and have a similar day tomorrow for the train ride into Machu Picchu, but it's all in good fun :).

Cusco is amazing so far, a really beautiful city. I've posted a few of the couple hundred I've taken.

Colonia, Uruguay

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Just after Christmas we visited Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay, which is about a 1h ferry ride from BsAs. Apparently everyone from Buenos Aires goes to Uruguay for holidays and most of the boats were long since booked up. We originally wanted to go to Montevideo (the capital) but since we couldn't really get on a boat until 2pm and were only going for the day, it wasn't really realistic.

Ironing - not for the faint of heart


A little while back smath pulled out the iron in our apartment... my immediate reaction was probably somewhat similar to what would happen if I saw a 10 year old walking around with a shotgun.

As it turned out, this iron had already fallen into the hands of someone who shouldn't have been using it.

Iguazu Falls

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A couple weeks ago I visited Iguazu Falls with Sam and my parents. Iguazu falls (aka Cataratas del Iguazu) are in the most north east corner of Argentina where the borders of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil all meet. My parents paid for the trip as a birthday present to me.

The majority of the falls are within Argentina's border, with a small part of them in Brazil. The Brazilian side supposedly has some amazing views of the falls but unfortunately due to our not acting fast enough on the Brazilian visa front we couldn't visit that side. But no matter, the Argentinian side of the falls easily filled up our two days completely.

Short Changed in Buenos Aires

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I've been in Buenos Aires for roughly one month now, and something that keeps surprising me is a lack of change all over the city. No one has enough, and everyone needs it. Imagine going to your local corner store, trying to purchase some things that cost around $4, and the clerk not being able to give you change from a $5 bill... ever.

If you are buying something at a kiosk, using a computer, making a phone call, at the subway, or buying something in a bakery, you will definitely need to use change. For example, if something costs $2.20, paying with a $5 peso bill will not likely be accepted. This becomes very difficult. Everywhere you go, people expect you to use your change; however, you need as much change as possible, because you will need to use it on the buses, and in these stores.

This happens daily here. Vendors don't have enough change to last them a day, banks are only required to change a 20 peso bill per person (roughly 6 USD), the subways often let you on for free simply because they can't even change 10c from a peso (subway rides are 90c).

Normal shopping etiquette has completely broken down in Latin America's most elegant city. Sales staff have no compunction about peering into clients' purses and demanding the exact amount. Big supermarkets regularly round off the difference in their own favor, even though there is a law against it. Small mom-and pop stores, meanwhile, routinely offer candy as change in lieu of coins. And if you refuse to add more bon-bons to the swelling collection in your purse, many store owners prefer to lose the sale than to part with their precious cents.

If you want to take the bus you need change (fortunately not exact), the bus driver isn't allowed to accept money and if you don't have enough change (even 5c short) you'll be stuck walking as they often won't let you on. Any nearby shops will laugh at you if you ask them to change a bill.

Tres guitas
(photo by: 'J')

Apparently the government has been making coins in record numbers this year, but regardless the problem has gotten worse.

"There's a black market involving the bus companies and the money transporters who collect their coin earnings each day," says Central Bank spokesman Fernando Meanos. "Instead of depositing the coins in the bank, these transporters are reselling the coins."

I've actually found the problem quite interesting since I've been here, and really can't do anything but laugh about it. It probably doesn't help that I've also started hoarding what little change I get ;-).

Shortly before I arrived in the city the entire subway system had to let people ride for free because they simply didn't have enough change and didn't want the situation to turn violent.

The only silver lining in the coin crisis for the long-suffering consumers in Buenos Aires, is that the city's perennially cheerful taxi drivers seem only too happy to round off fares in passengers' favor.

Not to mention the occasional free subway ride. About every 2nd or 3rd time I ride I get on for free since they simply have no change.

"Since I couldn't get coins at the bank I started buying them from a bus company paying a 5% commission," says taxi driver Antonio Corral. "I had a friend there who sold them to me on a side street close to the bus terminal. But now I just slice the cents off the fare instead, I lose about the same amount of money, but I don't lose as much time."

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