These are all our own observations and experiences this week. Use your own common sense and instincts (that’s the health warning done then).
Local currency is Pesos and is usually shown as $ (very occasionally AR$, we’ll use AR$ here for clarity). The other widely accepted currency is US$ and even Euro’s – see section marked ‘money’ if you want your money to go almost twice as far!!
Arrival: International flights land at Ezeiza Airport to the South West of the city centre. We had a hostel near(ish) the city centre (there are 25 Barrios and we were in Monserat) and we used the Tienda Leon bus service to get into BA from the airport (it’s quite a distance). If your accommodation is in the city this is a reliable cheap way to get to it. As you clear customs the desk is on your left immediately the other side of the sliding exit doors before you go through another set of doors into the busy arrivals greeting area. Prices vary slightly depending on where your hostel is but not by much. Ours was AR$165 per person and as we had no pesos we paid by debit card (they take debit, credit, peso’s, US dollars and may take Euros, check). Then you head out of arrivals straight ahead, out the doors, bear slightly left and at the end of a 100m walkway turn left (the desk will tell you) to the bus which is clearly signed. Bags aboard and away. It takes you into the city centre to a central point then you all split up into separate vehicles (mini-bus or car) which take you and a couple of other people direct to the door of your respective hostels. After buying your ticket at the airport there is no further money required, it’s all included.
Accommodation: Kilca Backpackers Hostel Mexico 1545, BA Very basic indeed (!) but friendly. Bring your own loo paper. Easy walk into the main areas or an easy bus ride to further parts. They have a room (two maybe) that is double and private and two rooms with bunk beds. Main thing is you can park your bike safely in the courtyard and the doors to the pavement are kept shut and locked at all times. Parking in BA (secure) is expensive or difficult or both) It includes breakfast but that is just a bread roll (or a croissant if you’re lucky) and a coffee. However there is a mini supermarket like a Tesco Express right opposite and a fruit shop. Cost from AR$99 a night (bit more for a weekend). For us two, $AR1,510 for 7 nights total. Don’t worry about buying stuff, there are little supermarkets, bakeries (panaderias) and all sorts of shops up and down almost every street.
Money: We couldn’t buy AR pesos in the UK so once settled into the hostel the first thing we did was go out and get some. Here the US$ is king! If you change some (Cambio) at official outlets the rate is AR$8.6 to US$1. We used money changers at the unofficial blue rate of AR$14.2 to the dollar (as at 28 Oct 14). In the week we were there it varied between 13.8 and 14.2 as the currency fluctuates. If you take money out of an ATM or change it at a bank it will only give you Pesos so bring US dollars with you (we understand that if you need US dollars you can go across to Uruguay to get them but we have not checked this yet). If you use a debit card/credit card at a hotel etc the best you’ll get is also the official rate. However, money changers are all over the place and the blue market is so well established that one major BA newspaper even publishes the rate of the day next to the official rate. The main place for ‘Cambio’ is a touristy street called Florida. We were advised to go to the 800’s (see section below about finding your way around) to get the best rates and we weren’t disappointed. Basically as you walk along you’ll have guys look at you and say ‘cambio cambio’, they almost make a song out of it. Apparently you are taking a chance because there are forged bills about. We had no such problems using a place that even has a business card! Compra-Venta, Antiguedades, Florida 860 (Pepe and Diego) tel: 4313-4326. Take your own calculator, check the amount, check the bills, all of them, and feel free to take a ‘money check’ pen which you can get in the UK (like a felt tip and marks paper with a grey line but won’t leave a mark on a genuine bill). Bin your British ‘reserve’ and check it all, they don’t mind, they expect you to. Get it right and your dollars will go almost twice as far as the official rate. Getting around the city BA is organised on a grid system and is really easy to navigate. The streets keep the same name for a very long way so very high numbers are common. Grab a tourist map, the best ones have the numbers marked on the blocks (e.g. 800-700) and you can’t go wrong. Walking is great but be aware the pavements are a huge trip hazard and if they had EU type rules BA would be a mecca for ‘Claims Lawyers’. Many pavements away from main thoroughfares also have a lot of dog poo on them. The Portenos (BA Residents) don’t give a sh*t about their dogs having a sh*t all over the pavements – you won’t see dog owners carefully scooping up the results of their dogs finest efforts here!
Public transport: you need a SUBE card (you can use coins but no one does) and these are available from shops and stores all over the place with a SUBE green sign clearly displayed. It’s AR$ 20 for the card and they load it for you. Don’t put too much on, it’s only AR$3.50 for a bus ride, however long (!) and AR$4.50 for a subway or even a train ride, again, however far you go until you change. It’s really cheap and there are loads of buses, you never wait long. It can be a little complicated working out what buses go where using a paper guide so just download the app ‘BA Como Llego’ – pop in start and end points and it gives you all the options and a map view aswell; one of the best apps we’ve ever used! The subway tends to have an east to west orientation and is not overly extensive but it is good and works well. It is easy to work out because each of the lines, A to E, is colour coded. The main trains (overground) are also colour coded and if you use them, get used to the sight of children selling stuff on them and trains setting off with the doors left open – ain’t no ‘elf and safety’ here!
Getting your phone up and running: We took an unlocked Samsung Trend Plus with us (there’s plenty of places on the UK high st to unlock a phone before you depart). We went into a shop 3 doors up from the Kilca Hostel and purchased a SIM card. It was a few pesos for the card and they just loaded it with credit. You get an Argentinean mobile number and the dialling code for people to get you is 0054 9 (the 9 is country wide for mobiles). There are two networks and we chose Movistar as it was recommended as the best coverage. No idea how much data costs as we use wi-fi not mobile data – wifi is absolutely everywhere, much better in BA than in the UK, just ask for the password in whatever café etc you are in. By the way, our phone takes a micro SD on which we’ve put all our music; combined with a small Bluetooth speaker we’re grooving.
Getting your bike released by customs at Ezeiza Airport: First off, how do you get back out to the airport, it’s quite a way. Use the mini bus that takes employees and some ‘in the know’ backpackers out. www.minibusezeiza.com It goes from Defensa 417 which is outside the convent entrance at the junction with Belgrano. It runs every half hour and we took the 8 am bus which got us to the airport in 35 mins; at AR$33 per person it’s a snip. (you want to start the getting the bike out process as early as poss) To actually navigate the process we used Sandra at Dakar Motos as our fixer www.dakarmotos.com to help us get the bike out of customs (Aduana). Her current fee is US$250 and she earns every penny of it! For our fee we got her exclusive help all day aswell as several emails and assistance in the run up to our arrival plus she arranged our bike insurance for 6 months. Stuff sent by air freight has an Airway Bill (AWB) and you get this once your freighting company has got your bike crated and ready to go. We used James Cargo, ask to speak to Giles (you’ll find them at their stand at most bike shows in the UK). They were fantastic throughout and although more expensive than sending it by sea, we knew to the day when it would arrive – cargo sent by sea may get delayed causing you to change plans and incur accommodation costs you hadn’t planned for; could these costs could quickly add up to more than if you air freighted it in the first place? Once the AWB existed Sandra was able to track our bike online and it went with Air Canada via Toronto & Vancouver then Santiago. She was able to confirm its arrival in BA and that we could go get it. Jenny stayed in the café at the Petrobas petrol station at the airport whilst Sandra and I started the rigmarole of getting the bike released. It took us 7.5 hours but is usually faster. We were unlucky in that they have just started a new ‘system’ and we were the first. Aduana then cocked it all up, had to ‘unimport’ the bike and ‘reimport’ it – a right palaver. Be prepared for a pile of bureaucracy and just smile and be patient (oh, and take a bottle of water and something to eat with you because there’s nothing available to you in the controlled area!) When you get the crate delivered in front of the warehouse by a forklift truck a warehouse chap will come and break the crate off. It is usual to tip them AR$50 or 100 and helps keep them sweet for the next biker who comes along; they work hard! Be prepared for lots of curious people outside the warehouse all having a look at ‘what’s in the crate’. They’re harmless and you’re in a controlled area so your kit and bike should be pretty safe even, as we did, when you have to go off to an office some way off for 2 hours leaving your bike with your riding clobber and helmets on it! These were our costs: £1850.00 James Cargo shipping and transit insurance (opt.) US$250.00 Dakar Motos fee US$165.00 AWB charge paid to Air Canada (can pay in US$, card or AR$ calculated at the official rate so if you can change US$ on the blue market before going to get your bike you save a packet, especially on Airport Customs Charge which is even more). AR$3063.00 Airport customs import charge (at blue rate US$215.70) AR$85.00 1 months obligatory motor insurance covers Mercator Countries (we purchased 6 months worth) Note 1: After 1 day your bike will incur extra ‘storage and handling’ fees if you don’t collect it so try to get it timed to arrive in BA when you know you’ll be there to get it. The airport customs charge is based on weight and how long it sits in their warehouse. Be aware of this as James Cargo charge by volume and NOT weight. The cut off at BA is 350Kg after which charges rise more steeply. A BMW GSA with crate is typically 365kg, ours was 385kg!) Note 2: it is of course possible to go through the whole import process at Ezeiza without a ‘fixer’ however we would guess you would need to speak good Spanish and as you won’t know the key people you could have a tough time. We chose to go the easy/certain route. It’s worth noting that even Sandra didn’t know they had just changed the system (because the head honcho has changed) and she had to do some sweet talking to get what we wanted. To get back into BA from Ezeiza you just follow the slip road out of the car park after you’ve cleared customs and you’re straight onto the toll road. There are two toll booths on this route, one is AR$2 and the second one is AR$6. There is a fuel station about 11km after you leave the airport on your side of the toll. It can be a very busy road so watch yourself.
Any motoqueros out there with questions just ask we’ll try to answer.