My new best friend is an “aborlito”, one of these “little trees” who stands on Lavalle or Florida and whispers or calls out—it depends how far the police is and how gringo you look—”dólares, dólares, cambio, cambio!”
When I need money, I ask how much I’d get for $20 and I follow a random dude to the back of a store where Haitians or Venezuelans are expertly arranging piles of cash on a desk.
I have way too many bills in my wallet.
I’m not quite sure how much this or that is but it’s cheap.
Welcome to Argentina… and let me explain.
By the time the (mostly) Brazilian passengers had finished clapping to celebrate the amazing fact we had just landed alive in Buenos Aires, it was already 4:40 p.m. I mean, sorry, 4:33 p.m.—the pilot proudly announced we were seven minutes ahead of schedule, good job, GOL.
I went through the mandatory passport check, I had my picture and fingerprints taken but I didn’t even get a stamp. Apparently, Argentina stopped stamping passports.
I picked up my backpack and stepped out of the airport. The challenge of the day? Getting to the Airbnb and getting cash.
Most of the time, when I cross a border, I have some local currency with me. Like, we always have some US dollars at home for cross-border trips. I also try to keep some euros in cash just in case the ATM doesn’t work if I land at Charles-de-Gaulle. I have some reais as well because why not. I even had a few Peruvian soles (thank you C. for the correction, not pesos!) we spent this year between the flights.
But I don’t have Argentinian pesos because it’s worthless. I’m not insulting Argentina here, all Argentinians agree with me.
A long, long time ago, the Argentinian peso was pegged to the US dollar. Then entered a long economic crisis with the collapse of the banking system in 2001. The result is a severe ongoing devaluation of the peso. A few weeks ago, the rate was 400 pesos for $1. In January, Milei, the new controversial president, devalued it by more than 50%. The new official rate is 800 pesos for $1. By the way, the inflation is now reaching a 32-year high at 211%.
Nobody wants Argentinian pesos. Argentinians don’t have much choice, they are paid in pesos. Most don’t leave any money in their account because they don’t trust the banking system since the complete collapse of it. And most try to hold on to other stronger foreign currencies.
Getting cash in Argentina has always been challenging. ATMs are typically empty, for a start.
A quick look at the airport ATM also taught me that now, the maximum you can withdraw is 15,000 pesos, so less than $20.
No point in using ATMs.
I called an Uber. This way, I’d pay with my registered credit card. I’d figure things out after dropping off my backpack at the Airbnb.
The Uber was actually a taxi also Ubering on the side. Again, welcome to Argentina.
An hour and 5,000 pesos later (… that’s $6, phew) I was meeting my Airbnb host and discovering the place. I had booked it because it was cheap so I wasn’t expecting much. It was cuter, cozier and super clean but tiny—picture an old Parisian studio apartment with tons of quirks and workarounds, which pretty much epitomizes Argentina.
It was now 6:30 p.m. and I still had no cash, food or water. I rushed to the nearest Carrefour and queued patiently with my purchases and half of Buenos Aires. I’d pay with my prepaid VISA card, I thought.
Except Carrefour didn’t let me because I didn’t have my passport with me.
I left without my purchases.
I sighed and headed straight to Lavalle Street, the main money-changing area in Buenos Aires with the “arbolitos”—porteños call them like this because like trees, they stand on the street all day long, and they are looking for green dollars.
Remember the official going rate of 800 pesos for $1?
Now, the street rate is much better. This is the “blue rate.” For $20, I got 21,000 pesos, not 16,000 pesos.
Interestingly, my VISA card—I manage to use it in most stores, only a few ask for ID and I don’t want to carry my passport around—also uses the black market rate, which works in my favour.
I got some food and walked back to the Airbnb.
Next missions after some sleep? Getting an Argentinian SIM card and figuring out the 2024 version of Buenos Aires.
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