Buenos Aires: We’re Home!

Well, the digital nomads were right. Buenos Aires is amazing and we LOVE it. I’d been a little nervous before we left based on the political and economic news coming out of Buenos Aires, but in our first two weeks here we’ve found it to be beautiful, friendly, efficient, and extremely livable. Here are some of our highlights from our first two weeks.

Arrival and Money Stuff

Had the airline not sent one of our bags to the wrong place, our arrival in Buenos Aires would have been our smoothest ever. The line for border control was pretty long but moved well and was made more tolerable by the small handcart that Chad had received for Christmas to be able to wheel his heavy backpack rather than haul it on his back. I’d meant to get a photo to send my parents (the gifters) but forgot. The one downside of Buenos Aires I see is that it’s a LONG flight from the U.S. – over 10 hours from Dallas. We got some sleep on the plane but were still pretty tired.

After filing a claim for our missing bag (which they delivered to us the next day, so easily resolved), we easily got an Uber from the airport (pickup by Terminal C parking) and our host’s mother was waiting for us as promised with our Airbnb keys. Our apartment is very cute and clean, though a little small. It’s the right number and layout of rooms, but 20% smaller than ideal (especially the kitchen).

Fat stacks of 100 1000-peso notes, each stack worth about $100 in early Jan.

The next day, we made our first visit to a cambio or currency exchange. Our host was kind enough to recommend a couple that aren’t precisely in our neighborhood but much closer than the ones I’d read about in the more touristy area. One of the interesting things about being in Argentina is they are experiencing a dramatic devaluation of their currency and rampant inflation. This has resulted in a semi-black market for US dollars and other currencies, so the recommendation was to bring crisp $100 bills to exchange for cash. They call this unofficial exchange rate the blue dollar rate and when we arrived it was at about 1000 to 1. At the cambio we actually received a rate of 950 to 1 but that was close enough for me. 

Interestingly, ATMs and credit cards are currently giving an even better rate than the blue dollar, so I would have been better off leaving the cash at home. But since I brought all the cash along and don’t want to carry it the whole trip, we used another cambio to exchange yesterday. After just two weeks, the blue dollar rate had increased to 1200 to 1 and this cambio gave us 232,000 pesos for our $200 USD, a 22% increase. It’s a bit surreal to see firsthand. 

Oh, and the other interesting piece of this is that the largest note we’ve seen is 1000 pesos. This is essentially $1 so imagine paying for dinner out or a large purchase in one-dollar bills. Most restaurants give a 10% discount for paying cash so we’re having lots of experiences counting out 20 to 40 bills to pay the check. At the grocery store I just use my credit card.

This economic situation is very hard for the local people. They currently have a 40% poverty rate and the annual inflation rate for 2023 was 211%. We’re doing our best to be generous and local in our spending and we see plenty of middle class Argentines out enjoying life, but we’re mindful not to be too flashy or insensitive. 

Parks and Pretty Neighborhoods

Our Airbnb is in the large neighborhood of Palermo, right next to the polo grounds. This part of Palermo is called Las Cañitas for one of the large farms it was built on. It’s one of the nicest neighborhoods in the city, with tree-lined streets and a good mix of residential buildings, shops, and restaurants. We’re a 7 minute walk to a series of large parks, which we love. We also have great transit access via bus. There’s also a subway that goes through our neighborhood but unfortunately it is closed for renovation until March.

In addition to our own neighborhood, we’ve enjoyed checking out the nearby, equally nice neighborhoods of Belgrano, Palermo Hollywood, and Palermo So-Ho. They all have plenty of mature trees along the streets and Belgrano has my favorite park, Barrancas de Belgrano. It’s been a true pleasure to walk everywhere we’ve been so far in the city.

Museums and Landmarks

One of our favorite aspects of city life is access to culture and we’ve been doing our best to get out and take advantage of Buenos Aires’ many landmarks and museums.

Our first day out was to the main square, Plaza de Mayo, which includes the Presidential Palace. We also visited the national cathedral and then walked down Avenida de Mayo to congress. We took the metro back to Plaza de Mayo and walked over to check out the port area, including the famed Puente de la Mujer (Woman’s Bridge). We’d thought we’d eat near there while we were out, but the restaurants seemed too touristy so we took the bus straight back to our own neighborhood (more on meals below).

Our visit to Belgrano included two museums, Museo Histórico Sarmiento about the life and work of Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (a celebrated early president of Argentina) and Museo Larreta displaying the former home and art collection of writer Enrique Larreta (his best known work is called La Gloria de Don Ramiro. Both were interesting but not spectacular. We capped the afternoon with a craft beer in a trendy part of Belgrano by the park and dinner in Chinatown. The highlight was trying mapo tofu for the first time, a not-vegetarian but very delicious Szechuan dish.

Last week we went to an installation at the nearby convention center La Rural called the Blow Up Experience. It turned out to be much more geared to kids, but was ideal for capturing cool photographs so I’m including a lot of them below. And it was fun seeing all the Argentine families enjoying themselves. The highlight, I think, was a performer with little balls that created the illusion of her having more than five fingers on each hand. But that was impossible to capture in photo or even video. We also really enjoyed the virtual reality hot air balloon ride over famous cities and natural wonders.

Our most recent day out included a visit to Recoleta Cemetery, where Eva Peron and many other notable Argentines are buried (including Sarmiento and a boxer we discovered there named Firpo who had an unbelievable heavyweight bout against Jack Dempsey in the 1923; worth looking up if you have an even mild interest in sport). After the cemetery we enjoyed a delightful cafe breakfast. Then we checked out the Museo Bellas Artes (fine art museum), which was excellent.  

Oh, and the Food

I often tell people that we travel to eat and the food in Buenos Aires has been better than we expected. All we’d really known about Argentine food is that they’re known for steak and have a strong Italian influence (fun fact: Argentina was second only to the U.S. in number of Italian immigrants who came in the late 19th century and about half the population of Buenos Aires is at least in part of Italian descent). But we’ve had great meal after great meal here. And great cocktail as well.

With the emphasis on steak, we were a little concerned about finding good vegetarian options (even though we’re not vegetarian, we choose to eat that way a lot of the time). However, on our first night out in our neighborhood, we lucked into ordering one of our most impressive vegetarian meals ever, a table of vegetables (that serves 4, but we made a good dent in it). Our next night out was in Chinatown, which is in Belgrano. Closer to home, we’ve enjoyed an excellent pizza and salad at Romerio’s on our corner. And in Palermo SoHo we went out for a mostly meatless Armenian meal.

And of course, we had to try the steak. We made a reservation at a highly reviewed parrilla (grill) in Palermo Hollywood called Duque. It was a fabulous meal, starting with the free empanadas they served us as we were seated. We got a chorizo starter and split a ribeye, smoked eggplant salad, and mushrooms with pureed cauliflower. It was all delicious and even with a nice bottle of malbec and a good tip, came to under $40. I’m pretty sure that this is the main reason the digital nomads love Buenos Aires.

We’ve capped off a couple of meals with gelato, which Chad says is the best he’s had outside of Italy. We haven’t been able to find his favorite pistachio flavor yet, but we’ll keep trying. 

Summary

Our first two weeks in Buenos Aires have been outstanding. We’ve also accomplished an immense amount of work, including the start of my current class I’m teaching and this year’s Fundraising Leaders Roundtable. Chad is making progress on his current project and we’re just enjoying a really great quality of life, especially on the days when back home the temperature is below 0 and we’re enjoying highs in the mid-80s (Fahrenheit). We feel very lucky to get to be in Buenos Aires.

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