Category Archives: South America

Cell phone service in South American Cities

Mobile Phone Services

There are many different local cell phone services to choose from all over South America. In many countries, the most popular larger cellular companies are Claro and Movistar. Before going, I researched several services online and checked and compared their signal strengths on opensignal.com for the areas we would be travelling: Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, and Colombia.

As it turns out, Tmobile Simple Global works in over 120 countries, and most importantly it gets as good of signal as other local services, which can’t be seen on opensignal, but it’s been mostly getting signal with a few slow exceptions throughout Buenos Aires. One couchsurfing host claimed he had one precarious spot in his home he got enough signal to make a call. Our Tmobile got data signal in his home with no problem.  It’s 2G mostly, 4G LTE can be purchased for $15/day, by the week(I don’t remember how much, I think maybe $25?), or $50 for 14 days.

To get Tmobile started, Zoe used her U.S. social security number and agreed to a credit check to qualify for their postpaid program. We decided to get one SIM card with a new account and phone number. I would save the $50 for two months and use wifi. So far wifi is plentiful and has been ok. Occasionally at restaurantes I have to ask for the “wee fee” password.

With the Tmobile postpaid monthly plan, we added Simple Global for no extra charge which includes unlimited data and texts, phone calls to/from the U.S. are 20 cents a minute.

All that to have service set up before we arrived so it would work stepping off the plane. Arriving late at night after traveling since the night before, we didn’t want to have to find a SIM card to get signal to contact our host and configure directions and transportation.

Using the myverizon app, we both put our Verizon service on hold the day we got on the plane and had our number forward calls and texts to the new Tmobile number. It can be on hold for 90 days unpaid and will then automatically resume after 90 days which will extend the 2 year contract, or paid with no service but keeps the contract running. Verizon service can be resumed at any time during the 90 day suspension. 

Devices

I brought an old unlocked AT&T Galaxy Note just in case, but our Verizon phones, still in contract, work fine with the Tmobile SIM card. I have a Galaxy 6 and she has the first Moto X.

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Buses of Buenos Aires

In a city of 16.6 million, larger than any U.S. city, Buenos Aires has a robust and extensive transportation system of buses and subways. Zoe navigated us with her Google Maps expertise refined in New York City, using the app Como Llego in BA. This post is about the buses, I wrote a separate post about the subway, which was developed around the same time as New York City subways.

The routes are well developed, one could get about anywhere on the public transportation. There are also many, many yellow and black taxis, and a public bike system.

Buses Beautiful Buses

The buses vary from straight ahead standard stock models to fairly extravagant. Mostly Mercedes, which makes sense given Argentina’s European heritage.

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White wall tires and shiny chrome rims

The drivers take pride in their ride and decorate them in different ways.

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Red fur and fuzzy dice, little disco balls

The decorations make for interesting, enjoyable, and unique experience with each ride and driver.

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Fanciest steering wheel in Buenos Aires Argentina

The best is the mother-of-pearl style bowling ball resin steering wheel. Others have fringe at the top of the windows inside, and chrome over the fenders.

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This is La Favorita.

After telling the driver what stop you are going to, the machines read cards you hold over a magnetic patch. The cards work on the buses and subway.

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Back and front of Buenos Aires public transportation cards January 2016

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Trains and Subways of Buenos Aires

Our couchsurfing host said the rides are expensive and people complain about the cost of the rides, 2 pesos up to 6 pesos per ride. I calculated conversation rates and found an average 3 peso ride was 22 cents.

In Neuva York, New York City, one ride is  $2.75, which is currently roughly 38 pesos.

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Retiro transfer station

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As always, be aware of who is around you, keep your phone stashed when appropriate, wear your backpack on your front, if you put it down have a leg through a strap. With that awareness, I felt generally safe on every ride.

The cars and stations do get crowded, especially during rush hour.

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There are people selling and begging, standard fare on subways, musicians playing in some byways. There are people vending products by donation, suchas a young lady who would place hair ribbons on seated female passenger’s laps, and then return before the next stop to collect any donations. One little girl was so excited she wanted her dad to give a hundred pesos, but he gave 10, probably more than he would have. Everything from flashlights to scissors to socks and treats will be placed on your seated leg for them to return and pick up or get cash.
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Art and ads. The last one is from a brand new station that opened a few days ago. We rode on it before our host had a chance to.

There are some extensive shanty towns visible from the above ground train that travels a longer distance. This non-permitted multistory housings are made of brick and morter, some are other materials, painted or stucco. The city tolerates them, partly out of not knowing what to do about it, and that it’s been there over 10 years so it’s become a human rights issue, so now they would look like the bad guys if they did anything about it.

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The tiles underfoot rattle like old bones

On a perfectly gloomy day, we decided to visit one of Buenos Aires’ big attractions, the Recoleta Cemetery.

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Surrounded on four sides by city, the most notable are the TGI Fridays and the McDonald’s facing the high wall of the cemetery one side, which are part of the outdoor food court that is the Recoleta Mall.

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View of the Recoleta Cemetery from the Recoleta Mall escalator, above. High end shops for all those things you can’t take with you, and for some reason, Timberland.

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Started in 1822 (next to the church which is even older) this Catholic Cemetery spans four acres and contains 4800 graves.

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This is no ordinary cemetery.

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This is where wealthy and influential Buenos Aires families overstay their lifespans by building tiny apartments to entomb their sarcophagi for generations.

They say it’s costs less to live a long, very extravagant lifestyle than to be buried in the Recoleta Cemetery.

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I enjoyed the perfectly placed cell phone billboard ad. ET phone great great grandmother. She misses you.

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I wondered why the external wall is so high.  It’s partly because the Recoleta Church and entrance to the Recoleta Cemetery are on a hill.  Also, there are some tomb doors with windows, sculpted iron bars, or cross-shaped openings that I could see through. Caskets were placed on shelves, sometimes many shelves high.  On the side of the inside of some of them there were two (or more) flights of stairs down. I tried to imagine the person’s job it was to unlock the metal gate/doors every 50 or 100 years and install a new preserved and blessed body in a beautiful wood box with large, ornate handles. Some were covered in embroidery-edged cloths.

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The rattling tiles could be heard immediately underfoot and afar.  I didn’t hear any chains rattle though, and the cemetery is closed at night.

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They have these monkey puzzle or bunya bunya trees in the cemetery, and there is a huge, old one in downtown Santa Rosa, CA, my home town.

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Roots do a body good.

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Being rich and influential doesn’t guarantee placement. Evita was buried in Italy for many years when she died at age 33 in 1955 (from ovarian cancer caused by the HPV her husband gave her and his previous wife who died of the same thing) before her remaining remains were installed in her husbands family tomb in 1976. It was in a side alley not easy to find other than the crowd taking pictures there.

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Help Ida get her rose, it has fallen from her graces.

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Ida know about you, but she’s in it for the long stretch.

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This family neglected to add bars and locks like the others to protect their eternal resting place from grave robbers, even though Buenos Aires has a long period of history dedicated to smuggling.

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The glass was broken, there were weeds and trash on the floor.  There were caskets inside, but the following picture reveals someone who got what they urned.

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Yes those are human bones. The skull is missing, perhaps it was disturbed in life as well.

I liked the next tomb, rough and rustic unlike any of the others.

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At first I thought it quite sweet and sentimental that someone taxidermied their cat seen just inside the gate/door, now mangy from years of weather, until it hissed at me. Apparently there are several graveyard cats living among the dead.

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Scaffolding on some (units?) and nearly 200 years of weather show families with future move-in plans who pay to upkeep, and that some don’t.  Apparently repairmen in the here and now don’t take credit or loans on equity from the beyond.

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And as in life, there are the cheap seats backing up to McDonald’s.

Moral of the story: don’t die too long ago.

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(El Damo and Zoe are travelling through South America January and February 2016)

Muchas Cosas en una Foto

This picture captures many facets of Buenos Aires (BA).

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Starting from the left, modern high rises next to centuries old buildings still occupied and flying the original flag. Graffiti is common and mostly words. BA is highly literate, there are many bookstores (and CD stores) and a QR code to an app for downloading library books advertised in the subway. Where other countries seem to devalue geeks and nerds, here there is a culture of acceptance where it is fine to be intellectual.

The small car travelling down the street. There are mostly hatchbacks from VW, FIAT, Renault and Peugeot (haven’t seen those dogs in the states since the 80s!), few Chevys and fewer fords. Almost no dodge or Chrysler.

There are buses with white wall tires. There are some classic cars. I saw a muscle car, a VW thing, some VW buses, and some old American trucks.

Breezing past the Curves gym for women (there are also places like in any city dedicated to crossfit, yoga, martial arts, there was capoera in the park, and we saw a homeopathic apothecary from 1895 still operating with modern products).

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The taxi. This is a radio taxi. When in BA  try to get the radio taxis. They use a meter.  Other taxis have the exact same colors but are free to charge whatever they want. You can ask them to use the meter (it will possibly be “broken” or no funciona). Because a cab was over 500 pesos for a 50 minute ride from the airport to where we were staying, we took a bus for 340 pesos from the main airport to another airport which got us very close to our destination. We thought we could maybe walk but then realized it was far, 4 miles. There were bunches of gringos at the airport also waiting for cabs. We waited for over half an hour to get one. After travelling on planes and the bus for 24 hours, we took the first taxi we could. Too tired to check if it was a radio cab, negotiate or ask for the meter to start, he asked where we were going and after we told him he said 300 and we agreed, just so we could get to where we were staying because we had to meet our couchsurfing host and didn’t want to get in any later. 

Huevos de Codorniz

We got to bed last night after taking a bus and a cab to get to our couchsurfing hosts home around midnight after 24 hours of airplanes. We are staying for a few days in a well kept efficiency downtown Palermo and sleeping on a full size futon.

I felt very tired but my mind was still going from the day (I had gotten two long naps on the plane) and I found going to sleep difficult.

Early to rise, we got out on Saturday January 2 to find out nothing was going on until later, so we went to an organic vegetarian restaurant, Esquina de las Flores. The things we wanted to order were not prepared yet, so we got a chance to fumble through the Pimsleur Spanish we’ve been practicing for the last two months to figure out what was available. The high ceiling/balcony facade ambiance was nice, including the Austrians lifting their legs for the water bug and the cat walking around. The food was not bad.

After learning in NYC, Zoe is a whiz with transportation and figured out the subte subway and bus system fairly quickly with Google maps and the city’s app. We walked many miles, only it seemed longer because it is kilometers 😉

We walked through a botanical garden with mostly plants seen in California and a few I hadn’t encountered before. The sections were by continent but when it said America we weren’t sure if that meant north and south. There were two greenhouses that had pretty much house plants like what you see at home depot.

The matte or mate garden was my favorite. I enjoy matte and look forward to having the gourd experience here.  The matte variety in this garden was some of the first to be cultivated.

We saw the Evita museum, the Cinderella woman whom the all powerful dictator found and married to sway the people to his side.  They transformed Argentina into a modern country acting on the world stage. She died at 33 from cervical cancer just like the dictator’s first wife (most likely caused by his giving them HPV).

We walked and saw some more parks, each with a statue of a man on a horse, and the Gallileo planetarium, closed for annual maintenance.

The museum of world religions was also closed, so we went across the street, where hundreds of people were fishing off the cement sidewalk/pier, to the memorial of lost citizens, a waterfront exhibit spanning many acres with several sculptures. In the 1970s the government had killed off upwards of 30,000 people to keep them quiet.

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I thought if you’ve seen one Chinatown you’ve seen them all, but this pedestrian mall of Chinese stores seemed a bit different. Lots of usual schwag and that fish/rice starch smell, but also a refreshingly health focused, organicy store with some pricey quality items. It was bustling.

For dinner went to the grocery store nearer where we are staying and got some veggies and a dozen quail eggs for 20,90 pesos ($1.60, Zoe says they’re  $35 at whole foods).

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We had to look up how to open them because the shell is thinner so it kept breaking into the cup I was cracking them into, and because the membrane is thick so it took some pressure to open but would often squirt out instead of pour. Scissors did the trick, tap near the pointy end and clip it off like a cap.  Quail eggs have twice the nutrition per egg compared to a single chicken egg. With onion, heirloom tomato, and a side of oiled and salted green beans, delicious.

Rolling our sore feet on lacrosse balls to massage them and showering off the suncream, it’s time to see some tango.

Lima, Peru (airport layover)

I’ve wanted to see Peru since becoming enchanted with its botanical riches through the Amazon Herb Company many years ago, the early 2000s.

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We are on a quick layover from LAX to Buenos Aires, so the previous picture is as much as I could see this trip from the ground. We flew over some buildings, some were colorful, none looked like they would hold up in a serious earthquake. Good thing the big ones are reserved for Chile.

The engines on the 767 are large and the wingtips curved to fly faster and quiter.

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Inside the terminal are duty free shops, a ninos en la calle store selling local artifacts made by kids in the street.

Britt Peru was my favorite shop, with camisetas and sombreros, and an area in the back with gourmet foods, herbs, and spices.

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Maca for Men, separately packaged and labeled Maca for Women, and a few other kinds of maca. Chia drinks in clear-sided cans with metal soda can tops. A few other whole dried herbs in very presentable packaging like horsetail (equisetum boliviana), valerian, and special powdered tea.

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