Getting around Buenos Aires is not an easy task. As I wrote in an earlier post, taking the subway can take an hour or longer, depending on where you are going. There are basically 5 types of transportation here. The subte (short for subterraneo), the bus, a taxi, a car or the train.
Well I still haven’t gotten over my fear of the bus lines here. There is a website in which you can put your starting and ending addresses and it will show you what bus to take and where to catch it; however, for me there’s still the problem of which side of the street to stand on, where exactly the bus stop is because they are not always marked, where to get off, and which direction to go once you get off. Also, some buses with the same number don’t stop at certain stops, so you have to ask when you get on if they stop there. And here you have to flag the bus down or it won’t stop for you. Yeah, that took some getting used to for me. You don’t want to jump up and down and flag like a crazy person either (that was embarrassing).
You might be waiting 20 minutes for your bus, as several different bus numbers will stop at each bus stop. The people line up because the buses fill up fast and those remaining will need to wait for the next one. So you might see a line almost a block long for certain buses during a busy time of the day. If it’s a really busy stop, you might have people selling things to those waiting in line – nuts, candy, soda, empanadas, etc. Another weird thing is that when you get on, you tell the bus driver how much your fare is… (?) And he just takes your word for it! Okay, it only varies between $1.20 and $2.00 pesos, but still l found this kind of strange…
Taxis are everywhere, and would be great, except they are relatively expensive. They start out at about 10 pesos, and continue by the minute, whether the traffic is moving or not. It can take 20-25 minutes just to go a few miles. Also, since most of the streets are one-way, they may have to pass the location and circle around, costing a few more pesos. Compared to dollars, it’s not much, but if you live here and earn a humble wage, you can’t afford taxis. For example, if I were to take a taxi to work, I would spend more on the taxi (one way) than I would earn in the hour and a half class. Then I’d have to pay my way home again. The taxis are generally yellow and black, and the taxi drivers gather at the larger gas stations. These are like truck stops for taxis.
Sometimes late at night, it’s necessary to take one because the subway stops running at about 10:30, and if you are out and don’t know which bus to take (or have heels on and don’t want to walk 7 blocks to the nearest stop), you might flag one down. Since there isn’t much traffic at night, you will arrive more quickly and it won’t cost as much. But if they ask you to sit in the front seat – don’t do it! 😮
My preferred mode of transport is the subte, or subway. There are 6 lines: A, B, C, D, E and H. They can take you pretty much anywhere in the business district of Buenos Aires you want to go. They extend like fingers into the city, but they do not take you to the outskirts of town.
Each line is marked with a different color, and the stops are also marked with that color. Each line also carries a different theme. For example, Line A (light blue)uses tile on the walls and the trains are modern, with newer cars and it’s air-conditioned (yes, it’s the only one that is). You will also find an image of the Virgin Mary in each station, which will be surrounded daily with fresh flowers. Various people will pause in front of it and bless themselves or just touch the icon as they pass. Line E (purple) is really old and you can always hear metal grinding against metal. It’s a horrible sound for me, like fingernails on the chalkboard. The cars have metal benches for seats, usually blue. Line B (red) has fabric seats that are reminiscent of church pews. Line D has a wood theme.
In the subway, you will have all kinds of entertainment, like jugglers, actors doing skits, guitar players, singers, etc. My favorite are the salsa bands. They get everyone hopping and smiling, especially in the afternoon when we’re all tired. But the most interesting was “Actores en el subte.” They even have their own Facebook page. These are a couple of young people that begin a loud conversation on the subway, and draw you in with their animated, hilarious antics. They speak a lot of slang, or lunfardo (I’ll do a whole post on that!), so I don’t understand much, but they are great actors – very entertaining. Here is an example…
Then you have the people selling a variety of items: pens, highlighters, notebooks, pastries, flashlights, maps, you name it. They even sell bootleg movies on DVD for just a few pesos. Don’t buy one – the sound quality sucks! Then there are the beggars. Some of these are particularly sad. They may have an arm missing or a leg, be disfigured, blind, etc. I am told that some feign blindness and other ailments, so it’s difficult to know who to believe, but still they are difficult to watch… The saddest are the children begging for money. They start as young as four or five years old, passing out tattered valentines with a little note attached saying “please help me feed my sisters and brothers..” Unfortunately, this sight is way too common.
The trouble with the subway is that it tends to get v-e-r-y crowded during rush hour, and not only do you not get a seat, but you are smashed together with not much breathing room (which is particularly annoying on a summer afternoon). Just when you think no one else can fit in, the car stops at another station. One person gets off and seven more push their way in! It’s unbelievable how many people can fit into a subway car! Most annoyingly, the car will sit there for a few minutes after it’s super-packed, so you’re squashed in the heat with no air circulating as even more people try to get in. Yikes! Go already!!
Unlike in the United States, nursing mothers are not bothered by crowds when it’s time to feed the baby. They just flip it out, and the kid latches on. 🙂 Ah the freedom! I remember struggling to keep my blanket around me while nearly smothering my children, or running to the restroom to nurse. You remember that, kids? LOL. I love to embarrass my children…
Moving on, TRAINS
Trains are pretty safe, right? I took a train ride not too long ago to a nearby town, Tigre, and it was pleasant. This was before the recent train crash. It just so happens that in Buenos Aires there have been three train crashes just in the past couple of years. From what I understand, the conductors aren’t a vigilant as they should be and have been caught doing other things, such as texting, reading magazines and sleeping instead of driving the trains. Fortunately, no one was killed in the most recent crash, but many were injured.
Hm, maybe I’ll stick to walking…