Buenos Aires


For being a large airport, Buenos Aires really has terrible public transit from the terminal to downtown. After some research, I was able to figure out that there’s a bus for about $12 downtown.

On the bus ride from Valparaiso to the Santiago airport in Chile I happened to sit next to a couple of Swedish journalists who had just spent three weeks studying Spanish in Buenos Aires. One of them gave me his SUBE card, which is basically a reloadable public transit pass that can be used in many of Argentina’s large cities. Since I’ll be here until at least April, I’ll be putting it to good use.


Some guys were grilling steaks in an alley. Steak in Argentina is comparatively very cheap.

I’d heard that Buenos Aires was like a grittier version of Paris, but it reminded me more of a run down large city in a developing country than Paris. I can see the comparisons, though, with the cafe culture. Thinking the hours were going to be similar to that of Spain, I was surprised to find many of the cafes closed around 7pm. Compared to Madrid, where they rarely closed before midnight, it was a bit unexpected.


At the Falkland Islands Museum: A blown up replica of the 50 peso note along with my real one. The Falkland Islands are on the bill. Because of inflation and economic mismangement, the value of the 50 peso bill has decreased over the past 15 years from $50 to a little over $3 today.

In 1976 the military took power of Argentina, which the US knew about two months prior. After President Isabel Peron’s ineffective government was toppled, the Argentinian military aggressively quashed all dissent. Former American Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, assured the Argentinians they would face no opposition from the US, and as a result 30,000 people “disappeared.” Many of those were taken in planes and dropped in the Atlantic. Thousands of others were tortured in the northwest of Buenos Aires, which has been turned into a memorial to those persecuted under the seven years of military rule.

Compared to Santiago’s memorial, which was a very moving museum, Argentina’s memorial is a large, open area of former military buildings. It’s a little bit eerie walking around knowing what happened there, and there are many signs everywhere reminding people of those who went to the camp.

Also on the same plot of land is the Falkland Islands Museum (called the Islas Malvinas in Argentina). I can understand why the Argentinians would be upset that the UK controls a set of islands off their coast, but the propaganda in that museum bordered on the outright bizarre.

The designers seemed unable to take sides on whether the Falkland Islands War, which Argentina’s humiliating defeat toppled the junta, was to distract Argentinians from the government’s tumbling popularity or to finally liberate the poor, helpless souls in the Falklands. Instead, they adopted a weird mixture of both, at one point insinuating that Margaret Thatcher was a military dictator herself and the instigator of the conflict.

My personal favorite part was the exhibit about the oil near the Falklands, which they said was increasing carbon dioxide emissions and exacerbating climate change. Immediately after this anti-fossil fuel stance, they demanded that Argentina have access to drill for and extract the oil.


View of the river at Tigre, a day trip I did from BA.

I did the obligatory trip to Evita Peron’s tomb in the ornate Recoleta Cemetery. Hers was less ornate than I expected it to be, though it did have many plaques making sure you knew who was there. It was also the only one I saw adorned with flowers and hosting a crowd gathered around it. That made it much easier to find.


Me and my new friend at the cemetery.


Buenos Aires skyline as viewed from the Puerto Madero.

After eight nights in Buenos Aires, I was ready to get out. It was very different from the European city I’d heard it to be, but maybe that’s because I just spent 14 months in Europe. It did grow on me, though I’m glad I’m leaving before the heat and humidity of full summer arrive.

Adiós, winter

This year, in observance of Lent, I’ve opted to forgo winter. To help me realize this sacrifice, I bought a one way ticket to South America. 


Thank God I saw this on the plane before I threw 5 kg of strontium (Sr, element number 38) down the toilet.

Although I wanted to start my 4 to 6 month trip in Buenos Aires, for some unbeknownst reason it’s hundreds of dollars cheaper to fly there from the US through a series of one way tickets via Lima and Santiago. 

From scouring online travel forums, it seemed the most generally accepted amount of time necessary to truly appreciate Lima was “just buy a connecting flight to Cuzco.” The highest praise I’d heard in person from another backpacker was that “at least you probably won’t get mugged in daylight in the nice areas anymore. It’s gotten a lot better.” 


Lima, site of my 52 hour layover, on the coast of Peru.

Arriving around midnight, I paid an extra $1.50 to have somebody standing outside arrivals holding a sign with my name. The driver from the hostel tried to speak to me in English but I had no freaking idea what he was trying to say, but communication greatly improved after he finally switched to Spanish.

While in Lima, I made sure to take the bus downtown, an adventure in and of itself. I was having trouble figuring out how to load money onto my Lima metropolitano transit pass, but the man behind me in line talked me through all the steps. All the Peruvians I’ve met are so ridiculously friendly and helpful to stupid gringos.

Downtown, I visited the tomb of conquistador Pizarro (I’ve gotten the impression that he’s a lot more popular in Spain than here) and made a beeline for the catacombs at the Monasterio de San Francisco. Every 10 minutes or so they have 40 minute guided tours of the monastery and catacombs, mostly in Spanish with the occasional English guide.

Judging by the accents of the others in my group, I think I was one of the few non-Peruvians visiting on that holiday. Granted, my first four days in Latin America were holidays so that may or may not be typical.

The highlight of the tour was in all certainty the catacombs, though more because of a seven year old girl brought along by her forceful mother than anything else. The girl looked like she was caught between hyperventilating and a full scale panic attack when the guide calmly announced, “And this well is 10 meters deep with skulls! Have a look when you’re done with the wall of legs.”


Lima is built on a hill overlooking the Pacific, which you can see above, but the way more interesting part of this photo is probably some crazy lady’s stroller full of chihuahuas.

The hostel in Lima, which I chose solely because the reviews said the airport pickup was on time, seemed to draw some interesting characters. An Australian in my room was acting weirdly sociable when he excused himself to snort a line of cocaine on the dresser, after which he continued the conversation as if nothing was out of the ordinary.


Map of Chile. On the way to the Lima airport, my driver blasted the radio. Every 60 seconds they interrupted the song to yell out the time with way more enthusiasm than anyone should have at 5:30am.

A pleasant city full of cafes and spacious parks, Santiago is home to a full third of Chile’s population. The public transit is phenomenal, but with a quiet hostel in an upscale central barrio I was able to walk almost everywhere. The one place I took the metro to was the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos (Museum of Memory and Human Rights). Recently opened and with free admission, it is dedicated to the victims of the military Pinochet dictatorship from 1973 to 1990.


Campaign poster of the current President of Chile. A comparatively traditional Catholic country, Chile didn’t legalize divorce until late 2004. However, President Bachelet is an agnostic divorced single mother.

The museum was pushed for and inaugurated by President Michelle Bechelet, who as a young woman was sent to a concentration camp and tortured by the Pinochet regime for being on the political left. She was able to flee Chile and eventually became a physician before pursuing a career in politics after the return to democratic rule.

The exhibits on life under the military dictatorship were poweful, especially the memorial to the young children executed by firing squad as “enemies of the state.” My only complaint was that in the international reactions section there was no mention of US support for the overthrow of the democratically elected Allende government and installation of the Pinochet dictatorship, which likely wouldn’t have been possible without American aid.


Buying a bus ticket to Valparaíso from Tur Bus. Rather than have one centralized ticket sales office like in Europe, in South America each bus company will have its own ticket desks in one or more of numerous terminals scattered throughout the city.

Two and a half days in Santiago was plenty, and I opted to spend my last two days in the hilly Pacific coast town of Valparaíso. Just 2 hours and 2500 Chilean pesos ($3.85) away, it was a great choice.

Now off to Buenos Aires to begin my 14 week journey by bus, boat, and foot to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego!