Peso’s Unofficial Rate Makes Buenos Aires Cheap for Tourists

Peso’s Unofficial Rate Makes Buenos Aires a Cheap Travel Destination

I asked the very handsome tourist in a Uruguayan rugby shirt how many pesos he got for his dollars. We were on Florida Street. The downtown black marketeers paradise.  We were outside one of those seedy galleries that descend into the ground almost like dark eerie caves.   The black market exchange touts were a rough and tough looking bunch; could I risk sending my straight-laced British girlfriend into a bear’s cave?

Tangueros Florida Street

Tangueros Florida Street

I know Argentina very well. I am the lesbian-tango-dancing-dowager-duchess to my friends and now a guide who had been to Buenos Aires numerous times. I had lived in Buenos Aires for one year to learn tango dance for export to Oxfordshire. I was obligated. I should go down and ”purse drop” for my new bo.

Was there a risk that the Argentine tax authority would swoop-in like a swat team?  I had heard the stories.  Friends of mine who live in Buenos Aires had seen an army of police, officials from the AFIP and border guards ‘’swat’’ and close down most of a galaria (a kind of smaller and lower-class shopping centre or mall) some months before.

I wondered if availing yourself of a service offered in a local buying black market dollars or selling black market pesos that are openly touted on the street is even illegal for a tourist.  I know the ‘’black artists’’ buying and selling dollars are breaking the law, but would the same be thought of me or my girlfriend?  I had no dollars, my vacation in Buenos Aires was ‘’sponsored’’ by VISA.

His face beaming with the brightest smile and his voice hushed low, “7.7 pesos, I got 7.7 pesos for each dollar’’, the Uruguayan told me.  Is it safe I asked in poor Spanish, ‘’of course’’, he replied in perfect English. ‘’Do not be put off by how these places look, this has gone on and on for years and years, I know the guys downstairs, I will take you down.  I used this place last time’’.

Was there a last time? Maybe he meant recently. I told him about my concerns and he laughed.  ‘’Find the best value. You have to think Argentine to survive in Argentina.  That’s why we lost most of our British, they could never think Argentine.’’

Jose Maria turned out to have a big crush on the younger and thinner Felicity.  He kindly exchanged her money and invited us for coffee. Should I tell him he was barking up the wrong tree.  Should I tell my girl who might have missed his flirt – no.

Over coffee he explained to wide-eyed Flicky, ‘’our governments always use scare stories and scare tactics because they cannot control Argentines, not even with terror.  Crooks, military, crooks, murderous-criminals, an idiot, a thief and gunrunner, a fall-guy and now the whore of Babylon and her 1000 thieves. That’s been the political history of Argentina.  But none of them could or can control the markets, because the markets are Argentine.’’

I laughed, mainly because of the mixed metaphor, the whore of Babylon with the Arabian Knights and 1000 thieves?  I tried to equate his description of Argentina’s political history with Presidents names.  I got as far as the military junta as the murderous war criminals and Menem the gunrunner and gave up.

Jose Maria was a computer-something or other.  A telecommuter he proudly exclaimed who could live anywhere in the world and work from home.  His mother was old and so he had decided to base himself in Uruguay to avoid the madness and uncertainty of Argentina. He earned money in dollars and wanted to bank in dollars.  He could not do that in Argentina.  He had taken dollars out of an ATM in Montevideo and was in Argentina to buy lots of goodies on the cheap.

He asked Felicity if she wanted to have dinner with him and she finally got the message – coffee over, everyone left.

Florida was very busy.  I only heard Brazilians and Spanish that did not sound Argentine.  Last time the street seemed North American. It was fatter, pinker, and probably a little less inclined to barter the leather sellers. Now it was decidedly Latin, a lot darker and seemed so much wiser.  The shopkeepers did not look so happy bargaining with their more local visitors.

As we wandered the entirety of Florida Street to Plaza San Martin we were offered both tours and illegal dollar exchange no less than 100 times.  The black market was hardly underground.  The police and the exchange touts shared jokes and cigarettes.

Rita Lambert, long time client (5 years) of BA Stay.

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