Today was my first day in Buenos and I was determined to make it a productive day of “life stuff.”
My clothes hadn’t had a proper washing since I left New York, so I threw on my workout shorts and a tank and dropped off most of my clothes at a nearby lavandería. Next, I headed to one of the main shopping streets nearby (Aveda. de Florida) with a short, but important list of items to buy:
- Mobile phone to replace the one that broke on the way to Antarctica
- Shoes that smell better than the pair I’d been wearing every day for 4 months
- Trimmer to help keep the messes of hair on my face and head in check
I walked down Florida getting hit up by what seemed like an endless number of people approaching me saying “Cambio. Cambio. Cambio.” I realized it was the Blue Dollar Market that Lena (the fun German girl I met in Ushuaia) had mentioned to me!
The Blue Dollar Hustle (a quick tangent)
The Blue Dollar Market is a network of people who exchange foreign currency (USD, Euro, Brazilian Real) for Argentinian Pesos at better rates than the ones offered by the banks. This black market money exchange system sprang up in May 2012 as a result of the Argentine government outlawing the purchase of dollars. Prior to this, many Argentinians exchanged the highly volatile, inflation-prone local currency for the exceedingly more stable US dollar to avoid losing upwards of 30% of the value of their savings to inflation every year. If you’re interested in learning more about the Blue Dollar Market and how it works, check out Inside Argentina’s Blue Dollar Market published by The Argentina Independent in Nov. 2014.
Death of the Blue Dollar
In mid-December 2015, the newly elected Argentine government lifted restrictions on buying and selling dollars and allowed the peso rate to float. As a result, the peso was devalued and the demand for Blue Dollar Market services decreased significantly. Tourists no longer had to avoid ATMs to ensure they weren’t getting a lower rate (and losing as much as 60% of the value of their money versus the blue rate) and bring large sums of foreign currency to trade on the blue market.
Avoid the Blue Market Blues
While an interesting system, I’d recommend avoiding the Blue Dollar Market for several reasons.
- The current 14:1 bank rate you get at ATMs is very close to the current 15:1 blue rate, which means there isn’t much upside (find up-to-date blue rates at @DolarBlue or Ambito.com)
- You risk receiving counterfeit currency from Blue Dollar Market sellers
- Haggling in another language for minimal gain wastes valuable sightseeing time and doesn’t seem like much fun
No Shoes, No Phone, No Service
Let me first say that I really dislike shopping, especially when I’m traveling. Combine that with speaking very little Spanish and having to constantly calculate the exchange rate in my head and you’ve got a less than delightful day of shopping!
Finding a reasonably-priced phone in Argentina is not easy. And forget about buying an iPhone with the 16% import duty and 21% sales tax! After stopping in to several electronics and mobile phone carrier stores, I finally found a shop selling a prior generation Samsung Galaxy for about US$200 and they were also selling an inexpensive trimmer! WOO-HOO, right? Right?! Not exactly. Turns out the phone was out of stock. Then when the guy was ringing up the alternate phone, their system went down (The terrible South American internet strikes again!) and they told me to come back later.
Ok. I wasn’t going to let that get the best of me. So I continued my search for inexpensive new shoes that fit a few important criteria.
- Good tread to equip me for future hikes (including Machu Picchu)
- Black with little color to avoid drawing attention to myself as a tourist for thieves
- Lightweight and streamline to fit my minimalist travel style
- I liked (duh!)
Several stores later, I found the Nike Dart 11 MSL, which fit these criteria and had the added bonuses of supporting a great Oregon-based company! Look at these babies!!
Perfect, right?! Hmmm…well, turns out the store didn’t have my size. Neither did any of the other stores I went to. So it was back to square one with the shoes.
The Bright and Bleak Sides
Feeling fairly unsatisfied with my progress for the day, on a whim I went into the Billabong store. There I found…wait for it…wait for it…new shorts to replace the ones stolen on the beach in Rio! (And you thought I was going to say “the perfect shoes,” didn’t you?!)
Now to head back to the electronics store for my phone and trimmer! Or so I thought. When I got there, they took so long helping other customers that I had to rush off to pick up my laundry before they closed – and without a phone! But in the grand scheme of things, not running around freeballing in my workout shorts and a tank until Monday seemed higher on the list than getting a phone.
Home Again, Home Again…Jiggity Jog!
I got back to the hostel and tried to be productive by working on the blog. I ended up creating a possible new logo, but I’m not sure I love it. Thoughts?
While I was working, I ended up overhearing a girl’s conversation about how she had quit her job 10 months ago and had been traveling for the last 6 months, but was returning home to Australia the next day (2 weeks earlier than planned).
I struck up a conversation and we quickly plunged into the deep end about:
- The significance of taking extended periods of time off
- How to ensure we learn something from the time off instead of it just being “something that happened” in our past
- Feeling like friendships formed during travel don’t have enough time to “go deep”
- How these experiences will shape our future
- How she can avoid feeling like she failed because she’s going back early
Long story short, it was a great conversation and we ended up going to dinner together where we had fantastic Argentinian steak and talked more about our travels and experiences.
For me, it was a great way to feel like I had connected with someone in a significant way and had gotten insight from someone who was “on the other side”of their travels. Based on her thank you as we went out separate ways for bed at the hostel, I feel like she was glad to have a different perspective on all the things that had been running through her head about her trip.