Getting Around in Buenos Aires, and How to Avoid Being Killed

Karen Madej

Plus other musings on life in BA.’s Own Photo.

We were hurtling towards my next class on the number 29 bus while the driver walked me through, in Spanish with hand signals, how to use my Sube travel pass with the machine installed next to him.

I tell him where I’m going, “La Pampa, per favor.”

The price appears on the reader.

I hold my piece of plastic up to the area of the reader below the text screen. I wait for the green tick to light up on the top left of the unit. I previously got a red cross in the top right corner because I had put my card on too soon, or taken it away too quickly. Only when the screen lights up green can you move on down the aisle.

Wednesday’s trip is the same time as Monday’s, but today I can move down between the seats. On Monday pressing against fellow travellers as the driver squeezed us all in was the only option. The vehicle was moving as he checked the last one in wasn’t going to fall out the door! Today, I got a seat.

Nevertheless, I think the universe is suggesting Buenos Aires is not the best place for me. A flood of badly paid teaching assignments (the going rate is 80 pesos per sixty minutes), which includes travelling for an hour each way to reach the student’s office, and having to pay for photocopies are all getting me down. Also, electronic textbooks in PDF format that can’t be used to copy answer sheets from for photocopying are a hassle I don’t need!

Despite working full time, I couldn’t afford to stay here. I haven’t been able to find a place to live which hasn’t already been booked.

I spent all day Saturday looking at potential places to stay on Airbnb for the next two months. I found three affordable places. All of them were taken.

I realized I was homesick for my friends, for social life, and knowing where my life was going.

Perhaps the three pieces of fortune contributing to my sorry for myself state of mind were to blame. The first was the mugging, but that’s another story.

The second came in the form of both positive and negative. The live-saving luck was for the young woman in a hoodie who was about to step in front of a speeding bus until I shouted at her to stop!

After sharing exclamations and eyelids fluttering with shock and relief, she continued towards her destination. And the painful event for me? I barged into a bollard. Not once but twice. I was so relieved the woman hadn’t been splatted I developed an inability to make out anything below my mid-thigh, nor did anything register until I stepped back and bashed into the cast iron post again. Located between my knee and the area of leg visible to me, the purple and black bruise was the shape of a bar of soap, full, not hotel-size.

The third was more bad misfortune. In my first Spanish lesson of the week, Manuel took me through the expressions needed in shops, on buses, for buying phone credit and making photocopying requests. He told me the easy versions of how to pronounce words. He also gave me a phrasebook to take to the photocopier’s (I loathe going to the flipping photocopiers). At the end of the session, he offered to take me to a student-rate photocopy store. I was in two minds but told myself I should try to save some money.

We walked for twenty-five minutes in blazing sunshine, in the same parallel direction as the street my room is on but about ten blocks away.

Throughout, he was telling me stuff he had studied. Sometimes stopping walking altogether to tell me something, other times almost running. Anyway, I wasn’t looking where I was going. I fell into a hole in the pavement and went down like a popped party balloon.

I bruised and grazed my left knee, jarred my arm and wrist and got a scratched lip (my face scraped his sharp-edged folder as I went down).

A short distance later, after he had told me how bad he was feeling (and I was wishing he’d please shut the heck up and let me go home to nurse my wounds, literally), he pointed me to the copiers’ and dashed off to wherever he was going.

Armed with my pre-prepared line asking for the book pages to be magnified so I wouldn’t have to use my glasses, I queued inside until it was my turn. I said, “Necesito fotocopias ampliadas, por favor”.

“No ampliadas”, came the reply.

I walked the nine blocks down Viamonte to Parana and took my photocopying jobs into one of my many local, double the price per page and worth every freaking peso for convenience, shops. Twenty minutes later I escaped. The guy had done every single new request which arrived, in between mine.

I bought una botella de agua, fria, at the kiosk on the corner and fled to my room for a frenzied hour of digital file dragging and paper gathering.

Amazingly, I caught the number 29 bus at 5 from outside my door and got to my 6 pm class a quarter of an hour early. Pablo, who is of Italian descent, and I, had such a fab lesson, we didn’t realize 85 minutes had flown past! My friend Laura will laugh as her most recent boyfriend is named Pablo and is from Italy.

Staying in BA entails way more cons than pros.

Later, I sat in my room listening to the fridge. Such a noisy, juddering pig but it distracted me from crying.

I can only conclude I’m doing too much and I need to give up one or two activities. Suzanna, another good friend from Prague, helped me identify the first. I will finish the week for language learning and let my tutor go. Plus, I decided to talk to the school about providing photocopies or books to me.

I must secure new and cheaper accommodation, so I can spend the hours I’m wasting on room searching doing poetry assignments.

Stopping Spanish lessons will give me back the time I need for my blog. Writing this has given me a plan for the short term, at least.

Thanks for reading.

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Passionate about climate change and living a debt-free, sustainable life. Determined to learn how to and build an adobe house or Earthship. The goal is to live off-grid and off the land. Energy for heat and to power electrical devices and appliances will use solar, wind, and hydro-powered electricity. No trees will die to make my home.


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