Argentina: Parrillas Para Dos

I think we’re still jet lagged (can you be jet lagged when there’s only a one hour time difference?) from our 20 something hours of travel from Canada, because waking up before 10am is unnecessarily difficult. But waking up is, in fact, necessary, because we’re getting out of this shit hostel and moving into our Air BnB!

We’ve written to HostelWorld to find out what to do, and are still waiting to hear back. We haven’t paid anything to the hostel yet, but we’ve paid the equivalent of 2 nights in advance via our deposit. The manager of the hostel suggested we should pay him for the 2 nights and request a refund from HostelWorld, which seems fair but riskier to get our money back. But as much as I think this hostel sucks… they’ve been nothing but accommodating about our early departure, so I don’t want them to get shafted on this exchange. Worst case scenario we pay for 4 nights when we only stayed 2. Obviously that would suck, but we’d rather just get outta here.

Unfortunately (and predictably) there’s a different guy at the front desk when we’re checking out than the one we spoke to last night. He doesn’t speak any English, I have not thought to recite what I want to say in my head, and it’s way too early for this. We luck out super hard though and he just asks if anyone told us how much we’re supposed to pay. We’d already done the exchange for what the cost of 2 nights is in pesos, so even though this isn’t 100% true, we just said yes and gave him that amount. He shrugs and charges it to our card. It just seemed like way too much more work for us to say no and have to get a hold of the guy I spoke to yesterday. We’ve now paid our fair share for the 2 nights we slept in this hole, and will be on our way thank you.

We order an Uber for the 20 minute ride to our new neighbourhood… it costs $2.45 USD. Uber is another controversial topic here (and around the world), so Chesney sits in the front seat to make it look like we’re getting picked up by a mate. I used to rep Uber so hard, and I still think it has a massive amount of pros, but I can also recognize the cons for the taxi industry. So I wouldn’t say I’m totally decided on my allegiance, but in this moment, I don’t want to be standing on the street looking like a tourist, and haggling a price in a foreign currency and foreign language. I want my Uber.

We meet our host at the gate and she brings us up to her charming, bright, clean apartment. How refreshing! No more mould. She says “welcome to my home. This is where I live.” and I’m immediately confused. Is this a room in a 2 bedroom apartment? Nah, we get to the whole place to ourselves, but she’s got a bag packed at the front door. Like ummmm if this is your house, where you goin’ chick? Her Dad. She’s staying with her Dad. What a wholesome and adorable way to pay your rent without living at home full time. If I were keen to live in Elora… I’d totally make this deal with my fam.

I also think this is the kind of Air BnB you can book guilt-free. Maybe I’m just trying to justify it to myself. But this isn’t someone who’s purchased 5 properties and turned them into a tourist cash cow. This isn’t a long term rental that wealthy expats are living in full time at higher rates that drive up the prices for locals. This is just a girl my age, who’s willing to give up her apartment for a week and live with her Dad in order to cover her rent. I respect the hustle. This is what I think Air BnB wanted to be.

HostelWorld gets back to us with a message saying they’ll refund our deposit. Yasssssss!

I take a nice hot shower, while Chesney watches a Youtube video and follows the instructions for how to make yerba mate at home. We kinda thought it’d be more readily available at cafes, but now it’s clear it’s more of a DIY ritual. Luckily, our host has all the necessary leaves and vessels for us to try it out! The ritual is quite particular, and involves boiling water to 80 degrees instead of a full 100, pouring room temperature water into half the cup, using a special straw to keep a dry side, and topping up bit by bit with a the hot water. Chesney does a great job but says it isn’t perfect. Pretty good for a one time Youtube video view though!

For lunch we take a walk in our new neighbourhood with the intention of finding a restaurant where we can get famous Argentinian fare: a giant plate of meat. We’ve noticed Parrillas advertised in tons of restaurants around the city so far. One of the major reasons Chesney was keen to move here, was for the meat (as well as the coffee and wine culture), so it’s time we dive in. We find a cute local spot where parrillas are written on the windows in red marker. A coal fired grill sits to the side of the main dining room, open and accessible from the bar. Our waiter leaves menus but we don’t need to read/translate anything. We just want the parrillas para 2. For 650 ARS ($11.50USD) An absolute pile of meat gets thrown on the grill for us. Chorizo, blood sausage, a strip of some kind of steak, livers and intestines, are all tossed directly from the grill onto a big plate and brought to our table. We get a 1L bottle of the local Quilmes beer for 150 ARS ($2.50).

An open kitchen if I’ve ever seen one
Giant beer and “parrillas” written on the windows
Intestines are hidden by the steak but like… trust me

It’s delicious but I’ll be honest… the intestines are not for me. they’re chewy and the inside texture is weird and it just takes my mind to a weird place of… what is this? and I realize I really really don’t want to think about it. Everything else is totally edible, and we walk away stuffed after spending a total of 900 ARS ($16) between us (including tip) for a gigantic meal.

Our next stop is MoviStar, for mobile SIM cards. I just want data. Just a decent amount of data for a decently low price. No calls or texts, data. The lady at the MoviStar store can’t actually give us any credit – just SIM cards. Weird, but okay, so we have to go to a kisok or pharmacy after we’ve swapped SIMs. We’re also not allowed to have any of the nice monthly packages that include 2 – 18GB because we’re not Argentinian. We are only allowed to top up credit at weekly rates. It’s still super cheap, but we can only get 2GB of data at a time. I was using well over 5GB in Auckland so this is going to be an adjustment. We go next door to the pharmacy where I’m only allowed to top up enough for 1.5GB. I Should be allowed to top up enough for 2GB, but for whatever reason, and even the cashier doesn’t know, I’m limited to 1.5GB. At least I have a working phone!

We only have enough cash for one of us to top up our phones – no one takes card. We take a walk and visit about 6 banks before finding one that’s open. They’re all out of cash, or closed in order to top up their cash. It also costs a whopping FIFTEEN dollars to pull cash here. 575 ARS ($10 USD) is the machine fee, and your bank will charge you another $5 or so in your home currency. We’re currently spending this every time we pull cash from our Kiwi accounts. It makes me physically ill. (Not actually, I’m just being dramatic. But it sucks.)

We finally get cash and pull the maximum amount of 4,000 ARS ($70). Only being able to pull $70 and being charged $10 each time… is actual robbery. I can’t compute.

We decide not to go back to the pharmacy with a credit limit, and hit a kiosk within a convenience store hoping to top up the full amount of 2GB on Chesney’s phone. It’s a whole gahhhdamn process just getting the cash and figuring out how to use the machine, but we get there. Among this hecticness and frustration, the shop owner asks me if Chesney is my boyfriend and invites me for a drink, even after I confirm that he is. I’m keen to practice my Spanish but mayyyybe not like this. So we have to awkwardly walk outta there with a weird laugh and a nod like ‘maybe next time’. At least we have our phone credit. The stress of that seemingly simple task, is over.

We go home and start some intense research into how we can avoid these absurd fees, but it doesn’t seem like a real option. Azimo is a service for Brits and Europeans (that’s not a Brexit dig, I just mean currency-wise) that will send money online to a physical location in Argentina where the receiver can go to pick it up. No ridiculous limits and extortionate fees. It doesn’t work for Canadian or Kiwi dollars… but we’re so desperate that we try and set up a WeTransfer account, as well as an Azimo account, and use the WeTransfer to exchange our NZD into GBP, and then send the GBP to Azimo… fooling them all and skipping the crazy charge to have our money sent to Argentina! But it doesn’t work that way. They see right through us. We are defeated.

Okay, what about a bank card? We can get an account and use xe currency to send ourselves pesos, or at least avoid withdrawal fees! All the research we do comes up basically saying it won’t happen. Chesney puts a message in the Buenos Aires Expat Facebook group, and people either respond saying we’re out of luck, or correcting his grammar. God, I hate the internet. It seems like we pretty much have to become full on residents before we can get a bank account. But interestingly, we also read that an estimated 50% of Argentinians don’t even have bank accounts themselves. No one trusts the banks or the economy. This is all chill, I don’t care about having a bank card… I just care about the damn fees.

It’s still way too early for me to be actually complaining… but I usually roll up to a new country and can grab a SIM and a bank card within days, and then use those things to sort out whatever necessary documents I need for work and life. So far, Buenos Aires doesn’t seem extremely expat friendly in this regard. Or not at least friendly to the kinda half-expat half-backpackers like us.

I don’t think we can afford to stay if we continue losing so much per withdrawal. I can’t and won’t in good conscience, waste that kinda hard earned travel money on nothing!

Edit: Earlier I had written here in support of a company called Remitly. They claim to send funds from Canada/USA/Europe to South America… but it’s a total scam. Please please please don’t try to use this company. I hope no one clicked on my previous link!
Some reputable sites on the internet seem to be in support of it but if you look at reviews from real people, there’s nothing but nightmares and lost money. Definitely not worth the risk.

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