Much like any other large city, Buenos Aires has dozens of distinct barrios within its borders, some of the most famous being Recoleta (site of the Recoleta cemetery, which holds the gravesites of Eva Perón and Jorge Luis Borges, among many other famous Argentines), Palermo (nightlife capital of Buenos Aires), and San Telmo (a barrio that boasts the most antique stores per capita in the world). Okay so I actually might have just made that fact up about San Telmo, but suffice to say they’ve got the BA antique market cornered. All three of these neighborhoods feature prominently in tourist guidebooks of the city, which serves as a stark contrast to my neighborhood, Caballito, which most likely is featured only as an afterthought, if at all, in guidebooks. Not because it’s a bad neighborhood, but simply because it’s a normal residential area of the city with not much going on in the way of tourist attractions. Strange as it sounds, I think that’s what I love most about living here. Caballito is a part of BA that, while off the beaten path, provides an authentic picture of life as a porteño. That being said, I now present to you the most noteworthy places Caballito has to offer! You can consider this my (very) unofficial guidebook to the off-the-beaten-path sites of Caballito.
1. Sketchy “Omni-Bus” Store
This place is probably my proudest find yet in Caballito, and I don’t even know its real name. But trust me when I say that ‘sketchy omni-bus store’ sums this place up much better than whatever its real name might be. How I ended up there in the first place requires a bit of a back-story on the Argentine-US currency exchange rate (I promise I’ll try to not be too boring).
The current official exchange rate is sitting at right around 5.5 Argentine pesos for every 1 US dollar. However, the only reason the exchange rate isn’t significantly higher is because of the pressure the Argentine government is putting on the peso in order to keep it from depreciating too much. Officials are doing this in an effort to create some semblance of stability for the peso, however despite these measures Argentines’ confidence in the peso has continued to fall as inflation increases. (Argentina is currently suffering from one of the worst inflation rates in the world, although the government continues to distort these figures).
As a result, many Argentines would prefer to hold their savings in US dollars, since it’s a more stable asset. Only problem? The government has now essentially banned citizens from saving in US dollars. This has led to the creation of a black market for US dollars in Argentina, called the “blue rate,” which serves the dual purpose of offering Argentines the chance to obtain US dollars, while also providing those wanting to sell American dollars the much more attractive rate of 8-9 pesos for every US dollar.
Anxious to join this thriving black market, I set off one day in an attempt to find a “blue rate” company. However, I soon discovered that finding these currency exchanges was not easy since, surprise of all surprises, no one advertises themselves as black market money exchanges. Although slightly deterred by this revelation, I nonetheless persisted in my search.
After going into no fewer than four stores around Caballito and asking whether anyone knew of a place where I could exchange dollars, I was slowly but surely pointed in the general direction of an as-of-then unknown business. A couple dead ends later, I finally stumbled upon Sketchy Omni-Bus store, which consisted of a storefront that was completely papered over so as to conceal the Omni-bus operations inside. After tentatively walking in I was rewarded with a victorious feeling once the woman working the window confirmed that they exchanged dollars. I happily exchanged my money to the tune of 8.5 pesos per dollar while simultaneously checking “participating in black market transaction” off my bucket list. All in all, I’d say it was a rather productive day.
2. Kel Ediciones Bookstore
After realizing that I was already close to running out of books to read, I performed a quick Google search in an attempt to find a store that sold English language books in BA. To my complete surprise and utter happiness, I found that there just so happened to be a store one block from my apartment that fit these requirements! I have absolutely no idea how an all-English language bookstore is surviving in this city, but I’ve decided to not question my luck. I have also decided that I will do whatever it takes to make sure Kel Ediciones remains in business, at least for the next five months. I look forward to soon becoming their #1 customer.
3. Rio de Janeiro Subte Station
Don’t be fooled by the fact that this is merely a public transport station—the Rio de Janeiro subte stop can provide visitors with a plethora of new experiences that are a must-do if you want to live an authentic porteño life. I’ve already talked a bit about the subte in my last post, but allow me to elaborate a bit more about my experiences with this station.
First of all, as I’ve mentioned before, if you were to Google the word ‘overcrowding’ I’m almost positive that an image of a BA subte car during rush hour would pop up. Although I initially thought our program leaders were exaggerating about this phenomenon, my first Monday at the subte station quickly confirmed their accounts. I was shocked as the first subte car pulled up completely filled to the brim, and immediately assumed that no sane person would attempt to board the car. I was quickly proved wrong as I proceeded to watch people quite literally take a small running start and then shove themselves through the doors of the car into the throng of people.
These daily subte travelers do not mess around. Even when the doors begin to close on their bodies that are half in/half out of the car, they use the doors as a kind of battering ram to further propel their bodies into the car. This may take as many as four times for the doors to open/close on them before they are finally thrust into the car. You probably think I’m exaggerating at this point, and to be honest I was half convinced I was imagining the whole thing the first time I witnessed it, but I promise you that this exact scenario repeats itself every day.
I was so shocked/intimidated the first day I saw this that I missed three whole cars before finally managing to get myself onto one. Now, I am on my way to joining the ranks of the subte regulars as I unashamedly shove myself into the cars. (However, I have not yet worked myself up to allowing the doors to close on me…Maybe that will come later?) It definitely adds an interesting element to commuting, and a lot of the time, (when I’m not feeling resentful or impatient) I end up smiling to myself in the subte car about the ridiculousness of the whole thing.
4. Coliseum Gym
Coliseum gym came recommended to me by my host-mom, Silvia, who described it as the most “economic” option out there. I initially had a rough time finding the gym, since it has the strange set up of being located inside of a movie theater. At the equivalent cost of $18 American dollars per month, this may just be the best bargain I’ve found since arriving here. Because of this I’m a big fan of Coliseum. However, at the same time, the adage ‘you get what you pay for’ definitely applies here.
For example, at Coliseum I rotate between two treadmills. One gives me a little electric shock every time I touch something on the monitor, while the other requires me to use a little dial to adjust my speed. I found out the hard way that this dial is rather touchy, as it nearly sent me flying off the treadmill after I tried to turn the dial slightly to the right, and then brought me to a sudden screeching halt when I tried to go back to the left. This has made me irrationally (or maybe rationally—you can decide) scared of touching anything while I’m on the machines.
Another interesting aspect of Coliseum is the faint and yet undeniable smell of movie theater popcorn that permeates the whole place. I have decided that this is a subtle and yet impressive marketing ploy on part of the movie theater, in hopes of trying to entice Coliseum gym-goers into buying movie tickets and over-priced theater food post-workout. It remains to be seen whether said ploy is working or not. While these kinds of interesting features of the gym have given me a little pause, the encouraging posters plastered all around the facility reminding me that I am currently in the best gym, with the best instructors on the planet (yes I swear it really does say that) calmly reassure me and assuage any doubts I might previously have felt.
While there are many other great sites to see in Caballito, I’m going to have to end this overly long post here. I hope you now have a new appreciation for all the quirky and wonderful places my neighborhood has to offer. In other news, I’m planning on heading off to Mendoza next weekend (Argentina’s wine country), so stay tuned for a blog post on that!
Here are a few photos from my zoo/graffiti-filled weekend!