Culture shock in Buenos Aires

Got up early, as normal, saw the sunrise from the hostel, gorged on breakfast to avoid needing lunch and went out to explore the city – that’s where the mayhem began. It was crazy. There were cars everywhere, people, workers, students, street vendors, peddlers, pushers, dogs, cats, everything. The roads were so busy. You could smell the exhaust fumes. One of the first times I went to cross a street I almost got ran over, this dumb gringo completely out of his regular setting and used to the heavily regulated streets of Sydney where pedestrians always have the right of way, no matter what, (yes, on the road, over cars, its stupid I now, and so am I). Freaking. It was way too active and fast paced and crazy for me, I was not ready for or used to this. Almost got ran over again, as I eeked my way towards the throbbing main artery road, 9 de Julio, the widest road in the world (no shit, check this out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/9_de_Julio_Avenue). That was it. I was stunned. This road has seven fucking lanes in each direction and its so wide you need to cross in sections. The road was littered with vehicles of all sorts, cars, buses, many motorcycles, bicyclists, trucks, everything. I’m there attempting to cross and feeling somewhat scared and yes, maybe the most intimidated I have ever felt in a city, and thinking this is crazy, and I’m going to be travelling on this continent for months, never in my life had I seen, or heard anything like this; the insane activity in this huge city, the noise, the beeping,  the fumes, the 14 lanes, feeling like a tiny microbe lost in a gigantic universe. People everywhere, going to work, standing about, selling stuff on the street, dogs running around, food vendors, it was all happening. My intent was to walk around and get used to the city, it took hours before I had adopted the pace and sense of  the locals by watching them and was able to properly walk and cross roads without any issue. The sun was out, but it was cold, mid winter, I’m in this huge foreign place and its smashed me in the face with its neurotic, fast paced and frenetic vibe on a Wednesday morning. I walked. I walked for hours, I walk a lot when I travel, I study architecture and its the best way to get to know a city and really gawk at buildings. I did this for hours. It was hours before I had settled, but still, I was not comfortable, not at all, and all I could think about was having months of this ahead of me… I had the fear.

It was so dense. Reminded me  of Europe. Some beautiful structures, some ugly, faded, cracked and degraded by decades of wear. Overall the urban fabric had a worn sort of feel to it. Aged.There were cracks on the pavement, stacks of rubbish in some areas. I quickly learnt to watch my step, and the ground, this was not pristine Australia with all its laws and pathetic humans suing each other because they are too fucking stupid not to slip on water or trip on a raised tile. This was real. Look after yourself, no bullshit, you are responsible for you. I loved this. Its part of the reason why I left the clean and comfort of home. The city was cool, but still so crazy. There were lanes blocked in areas by piles of concrete and construction-trash that had just been left in a huge mountain on the corner of a block (I have an undeveloped shot on my film camera, I was too scared and unsettled to pull out my SLR at this point). What a scene. I had completely accepted I was elsewhere but I was not used to it yet. There was lots of cool street art. I walked more, still paranoid of some of the suspect characters around and generally freaked by how this city functioned, maybe I shouldn’t have hit 9 de Julio so soon? But hey, I didn’t know shit at this point.

Ordered a greasy as hell pizza from Ugi’s which was awesome, just tomato, masses of mozzarella and herbs. Couldn’t finish it. Felt like I had eaten McDonald’s (eat a half, not a full, if you visit) so gave the rest to a homeless guy. Took a few more photos.  I had been walking around like a tourist oogling at the city, its architecture, people, crazies, the lot for hours. I was wrecked. Had seen a fair bit so went back to the hostel. There were a lot of Spanish speakers and Brasillians, I had already realised I was at a huge disadvantage not being able to speak Spanish. Two beautiful girls from Cordoba checked into the dorm, but I couldn’t really speak to them apart from name, where I was from, that my family was Italian, which is why my name is odd for an Australian (I do not look Italian at all), never the less, they were really nice. I was dead from the day outside so read for a while then fell asleep.

Woke at about 1AM and the common room was mayhem. A cyclone of Spanish and Portuguese and I’m there doing my own thing kicking myself for not learning anything yet, reading and writing in my journal about the shock that was Buenos Aires. I could still smell the mozzarella from that pizza on my fingers. I finished writing and went back to sleep. I’d beaten any jet lag and after tonight would be okay with the change of time zones.

It was a crazy day. Those cars burning past me in small streets when I totally thought it was okay to cross. The noise. The fumes. The horns going crazy. No Spanish. So much activity. Never seen anything like it. I felt so small. So far from home, but that was the point. This was wanted I needed and deep inside wanted. Though I was intimated, I was hugely fascinated too. It wasn’t so bad, and I actually had plans to go to specific places the following days rather than just wandering around as Argentina slapped me back into a reality I had not expected. At all. An intense first day, in this overwhelming, pulsating, crazy city.

384646_10152019749190495_288379838_nView from the hostel dormitory balcony.

Arriving in Buenos Aires, Argentina

I got off the plane and set into the airport, my feet, now on solid ground again. Had to pay a $100 (was it $100 for Aussies, or 100 pesos?) entry fee upon legally entering the country, probably because Australia does so to Argentinians at our airports (it applied to Canadians, British and Australians, I think?). There were a few other Aussies there destined for Peru, who had a connecting flight the following morning, and, sadly, had to pay the $100 to exit in order only to collect their bags and then wait for their next flight – there was a six hour period where one could avoid the fee, but they weren’t flying for around 8, so they really got dicked, as we sometimes say in Australia.

I went to collect my backpack and bumped into Adriana again at the conveyor. The airport was bustling. I helped her out with her bags, she offered assistance in arranging a Tienda Leon bus to my hostel but I thanked her and said it would be fine. She split and met with her family, I was pondering if the attendant for the bus company was going to speak English or not. He didn’t, and it was a slight task among all the people who could speak Spanish and also wanted a bus and to get out of the airport at that hour, ASAP, though I had the hostel details ready and sorted it out. After some confusion as to where my bus was and a little help from locals, I was heading into the city, this giant, sprawling metropolis. The bus had wifi and was super comfortable. Once I got to the terminal I realised Buenos Aires was far bigger than I had anticipated and it was actually impossible and quite stupid to try walking to the hostel, though I had a connecting colectivo taxi to get me to the hostel. I was waiting around the terminal for a while before I connected the dots left out due to the language barrier.

The driver spoke no English nor did any of the other passengers. They knew where my hostel was though, and I could manage to speak that much, so all was cool. I went to get into the front of the car and didn’t realise where I was, going to the drivers side to get in (we drive on the other side of the road, and from the other/right/derecho side in Australia). Fuck. Corrected myself and got in the back. I had nothing to say to anyone as I could not speak any meaningful Spanish. We set off deeper into this gargantuan city that had already blown my mind, I’m staring out the window like a child, again, the streets crazy, a lot of bums, junkers, masses of trash lining some areas, I’m thinking is it garbage collection?, seedy characters and regulars about, alike. My gut felt weird. All while the driver is at it like a fucking maniac but I quickly learnt that was how you drive in Argentina, at least in Buenos Aires, cutting right across lanes, beeping at other drivers, being highly animated behind the wheel – it was manic and it shocked the hell out of me, really, I’d never seen anything like it, and to date, its the craziest driving I’ve seen, more than Colombia and Ecuador, but, it works, and if it works in South America, then its fine (Adriana had mentioned on the plane that BA was too crazy, too huge and busy for her and she never even drives there cause the roads are nuts). Finally we got to the hotel and I get out of the cab and its cold, but I’ve arrived. The guy at the desk starts talking to me in Portuguese, and I must have had the most confused look on my face ever, I told him I didn’t speak Spanish, then he laughed and told me he thought I was Brasillian, eventually, checking me into my dorm. He was super friendly. I was at Che Legarto. They upgraded me to a smaller dorm (six beds not eight) with an ensuite at no extra cost. Nice. I took a shower and went to bed, I succeeded in getting from Australia to Argentina without sleeping and could probably balance the flight and change of time zones in one night. There were a few others sleeping already, but no one active in the dorm.

Hours later, I would rise to what has been the biggest culture shock of my life…

Diego Maradona stencil