Buenos Aires - Day 3
Covered a lot of ground today. After last night's over-indulgence awoke late and didn't leave the hotel until 11:30. Started by taking a taxi to San Telmo, a district near the river famed for its market. Left everything of value in the hotel safe since we had been warned of pickpockets in the crowd; hate to mention this but everyone warned us of potential problems but it's common sense to take precautions in any big city anywhere. In any event our only problem so far has been a counterfeit 50 peso note but a couple in the hotel who we talked to at breakfast had been sprayed by someone from a squeeze bottle and a couple of people who in the course of drying them off and helping them had emptied their pockets. Not fun but again not unique to BA; we had the same thing happen to us in San Francisco so common sense is the order of the day anywhere.
San Telmo was a madhouse, street market which covered block after endless block, market stalls on both sides, and half the population of BA in shoulder to shoulder throngs. Not my idea of a good time and it was difficult to photograph as it was hard to stay steady in one spot without being jostled or pushed. While most of the stalls were selling the usual street market schlock, there were occasional finds and V picked up a handmade leather belt and we both bought handwoven panama hats which I think we'll need once we start our road trip.
On to a large and elegant mall in one of the more upscale neighborhoods in BA, the Galleria Pasifica, me to try and track down a pair of sandals for our road trip and V to baseline the costs of a leather coat which is on her target list when we return to BA from our travels. Searched a number of shoe stores and found a pair of sandals that I liked in Timberland, paying for which demonstrated the way payment and currency is managed in Argentina. The country, it seems, has imposed currency control as well as business taxes whose net effect has been to have a number of international retailers close up shop and move out of the country to be replaced by local businesses who are filling the product and services gap left in the wake of the closings. The rate of exchange on US dollars, for example is officially set at a rate of 5.7 pesos per US$ and when you attempt to pay for a purchase with a credit card you are strenuously advised not use it by waiters and shopkeepers alike and encouraged to use US$ cash. Stores and restaurants will offer to take US$ at 9.5 pesos per US$ rather than the 5.7 that it would be calculated at when processed. Shopkeepers look at you with real pity as if you were idiot children when you use a credit card so it seemed natural to ask the Timberland clerk what he would give us if we paid in US$ and I was told 5.7 pesos per US$. When I tried to negotiate and explained that all the other stores we had dealt with were prepared to give us between 9.5 and 9.8 pesos per $ they stubbornly insisted on their rate. Couldn't understand why until we left the store; as a foreign company I'm guessing that they did not want to make waves and be caught in situation in which they were seen to be engaging in currency trading since currency controls are in place, with presumed consequences to them. Everyone else who had offered us rates were local Argentine businesses who were happy to get their hands on hard currency. So there is in effect a two price system in operation and if you pay with credit cards your trip is considerably more expensive than if you pay local businesses with US$ or Euros.