In Buenos Aires, there are two kinds of city garbage bins: small grey bins affixed to street furniture where passersby hopefully dispose of small items, and giant black containers in most streets where residents and businesses are encouraged to drop their garbage bags “between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.” (yeah, right) say the signs.
Garbage trucks navigate the narrow streets of the Microcentro, around 10 p.m. and empty the bins. It’s a messy affair: collectors have to work fast since they are blocking the traffic and half of the waste ends up on the sidewalk. It’s also common to see people rummaging through the pile of garbage, looking for something to eat or products to salvage.
Yet, somehow, the streets don’t smell so bad and the city isn’t buried under urban waste, which is surprising considering the number of food businesses in the centre.
The first night, as I was having a smoke in front of the hotel, I noticed huge cockroaches crawling around in the street. “Yuck,” I cringed. I wasn’t surprised though, cockroaches are common around here when the weather is hot and humid.
Then I spotted a tail under a sewer grill. “A mouse. Or a rat,” I thought. I’m not scared of them although I’d rather avoid them in case they bite. I finished my smoke and went to sleep and didn’t think much of it. To me, it was like spotting a skunk in Canada. You don’t want to get too close but such critters do exist and live around.
The day after, as I was going downstairs for a smoke, Feng asked me if I could throw away a garbage bag. The food we ate was smelly and we wanted to keep the hotel room clean (and cockroach free). “Sure!”
I grabbed the bag and headed downstairs. I was going to throw it in the small grey bin but it was a bit too big, so I walked to one of the giant black containers. Hey, I’m doing my part to keep the city clean, throw the garbage where it belongs, blah blah blah.
I lifted the flap open, making a mental note to wash my hands well afterwards.
And that’s when dozens of rats came out of the bin. In one swift motion, I dropped off the bag inside the bin and jumped back onto the sidewalk. I took another careful look and saw many many rats roaming around. Oh, and cockroaches too. It was like a nightmarish battle in the streets, no human allowed.
The rats weren’t just inside this particular garbage bin, their “hotel-home” like Mark would say. I saw quite a few every night. Take note: if you don’t like rats, don’t stay in a hotel close to two subway stations. Mind you, the hotel was perfectly fine and extremely clean, it’s just a fact of life that there are rats in the streets of Buenos Aires at night.
Okay, late night in Buenos Aires isn’t just about rats. It starts with food. Argentinians eat much later then Chileans and restaurants open late at night, especially in the theater district. People grab a slice of pizza with faina, a few empanadas or have a fancier meal in one of the many restaurants serving Italian food or minutas. After the small Carrefour Express or Dia supermarkets are closed, you can still try your luck at one of the Chinese convenience stores. And if it’s really late, then you pay a premium for a drink or a yogurt from 25 Horas, the ubiquitous chain of convenience stores that opens 24/7 (but not 25/7).
Movies starts late and there is even a transnoche option on weekend. Plays at the theater also seem to be popular (more with tourists then residents, I suspect) or you can just hang out in a café with friends.
I have yet to see the city completely asleep, even on a bank holiday, even past midnight. This is something I like with Buenos Aires.
Good night, Buenos Aires. We are heading back to Brazil, where the trip started…