dimanche 16 juin 2013

Buenos Aires – 2. Of ‘blue’ dollars, Hunger Games animals, and Guitars

Before we came to Buenos Aires, people kept advising us to bring U.S. currency to exchange ‘on the street’ for an 8:1 exchange rate (the bank rate is 5:1). This is known as the ‘blue dollar’. Argentinians are charged a 20-25% fee for exchanging pesos into USD. The national government hoped that this would still the swell of foreign currency going out of the country, devaluing the peso, but in fact, the fee has only created a street market in exchange, where locals go to exchange currency to avoid the banking fees. Even at 8:1, the rate is still better than paying the banking fee.
As we were only here for a short time, the exchange rate did not mean much to us, but people urged us to exchange our bills with them. We tried to explain to them that we weren’t American; we didn’t have USD, but alas, it was lost in translation.

Spanish, a language we never see at home with all of the Français and English on boxes and signs and television; Spanish was truly difficult for us. The Indo-European words look and sound familiar, but are not always as they seem – there’s a different meaning underneath the similar façade. It was a learning curve for us living most of the day in a stunned silence. The one saving grace was that if you added the word ‘Che’ to everything and any sentence you said, people smiled and loved you. Apparently it is the Buenos Aires’ equivalent of ‘eh?’ and being Canadian, we could certainly appreciate that! “Buenos Dias, che!” Muchos Graçias, che!”

Today was a day of rest, and we spent most of it walking restfully through the “Central Park” of Buenos Aires: ‘3 de Febrero’. This included a Japanese garden with Koi so thick you could barely see the water; a Sushi bar with seating by round windows overlooking the grounds; and a trip to an ancient zoo, complete with palatial roman-columned animal houses. I have never seen an elephant housed in a stone castle with a moat around her.


In the zoo in Buenos Aires, there was a truly alien animal. We were fascinated by this half rabbit-half deer genetic deviant we saw everywhere on the grounds. For us, it looked like something the ‘Capital’ had created for players in the Hunger Games. We took dozens of photos, and stared at them for at least an hour waiting for them to switch into some carnivorous horror-film creature. Sadly, we were disappointed. The ‘Mara’ is a herbivore, and it only walked around mowing the grass. It is native to Argentina, and monogamous. Couples declare their love for one another by urinating on each others’ legs, then mate for life. They only ever change partners after death, and unlike rabbits, only have one litter of ‘maritas’ once a year. I guess after sharing each other’s urine, what else could you possibly want in a partner, Che?

A walk up Talcahuano avenue on our way home brought us by the longest road of guitar and saxophone shops we have ever seen. Argentina, and Buenos Aires, is known for the Tango, but here there is obviously a demand for its accompanying music as well. We passed no less than 22 guitar shops, and all were very busy. In our small town, barely one musical shop makes a living. Here, it is obviously a thriving industry. Blues’ player Mark Wolfe and Jazz musician Andy Tattersall would be thrilled to visit Talcahuano – an instrumental heaven.

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