Saturday, 30 May 2009

Day of rest and contemplation.

Today is a pyjama day! I reckon we have deserved one, because we have accomplished so much in the last few days - more than we managed to do in several months in New Zealand, in terms of immigration. I have all my papers stamped, and am just waiting on my police clearance which will be ready on Monday. With any luck no one has ever stolen my identity, travelled to Argentina and hijacked a bus or something...

The system is different, but it seems to work. Joel explained that the reason we had to do so much running, is that the system is not always accessible via Internet. There is still a large portion of the population that has no regular access to Internet, and they still need to have access to the system. Hence the queues and the dashing about town like we were part of the Scooby Doo team, gathering clues and racing off to the next location. I can see my immigration as an adventure, or the solving of a mystery and that makes it much more fun! The benefit of waiting to see a real person is that things happen on the spot, with real human contact and not as some abstract part of a big machine.

We spent our waiting time yesterday walking the length of one of the biggest shopping streets in Buenos Aires - Calle Florida. It is a pedestrian only street, with shops of all kinds, from Christian Dios to local artesans and leatherworkers. I fell in love with a leather jacket that I can't afford to buy and consoled myself with two rings from a street vendor instead. For 10 pesos each (about $4.80) I bought one silver plated and one gold plated with cubic zirconias. They look fantastic and I was very pleased with myself for being such an astute shopper.

The service in the shops here is beyond excellent. As you walk the street, people from the smaller owner/operator businesses stand outside to try to entice you in with offers and cards. Once you agree to go and take a look, they escort you to the premises - often inside a galleria or mall - and deliver you into the hands of the owners who then drop everything to assist you with whatever you desire, with no pressure to buy. They all praise my Spanish to the high heavens and offer to tailor-make anything within a matter of a few hours, should I wish to buy something they don't currently have in stock. I lingered over that jacket for at least half an hour while we chatted to the lady who owned the shop and made the garments. She was in no hurry to see us leave when it became obvious that we couldn't buy, and gave us advice and tips for settling in Argentina. In general, I have found the people to be very welcoming of foreigners, and eager to assist with whatever they can.

The not so good news is that a water pipe has broken in our building and may take all weekend to fix... on Thursday we had no water at all, and had to fill water bottles from a hose down on the street. Yesterday we only had hot water, which was fine, because it still meant we could shower and do dishes, but today we only have cold water, and only in the bathroom... another good reason to stay in my jammies all day! It's raining outside anyway, after several days of beautifully clear late autumn days - crisp in the mornings but gorgeous once the sun comes out. The temperature has dropped to a more reasonable average of about 16 degrees celsius, as opposed to the mid-twenties we had when we landed. Nice, but not when the clothes you packed for easy access are all winter ones! I should just bask in it though, because Neuquen will be cold. We will probably head inland at the end of next week.

Ok, well that about wraps it up for me today. No photos from yesterday as my camera ran out of batteries and I haven't had a chance to buy more. Just another beautiful Buenos Aires building. People live here! Can I have one?

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Never a dull moment! Or wait...

I am still completely bemused and befuddled at the day just gone. It felt very hectic, but also included long periods of waiting for - what I didn't know... I have waited in queues where my number was 590, spoken to both rude and ignorant officials and some very helpful and smiling ones, witnessed first hand the crazy Argentinean answer to immigration bureaucracy and sprinted vast distances across this sprawling megalopolis (or that's how it felt, I admit to a bit of poetic license here) to get to another queue before they stop admitting more.

We have had so much conflicting advice and information about what I need in order to complete my residency application, ranging from 'oh no, you have everything you just need a stamp on that paper from the Ministry of Internal Affairs' to 'you have to send everything back to New Zealand to get the embassy there to do this that and the other'. We stood in that queue where my number was 590 for what felt like a day but was probably only a couple of hours, in order to get an appointment for Friday - not even to see anyone who could tell me anything. The paper I need is from the Federal Police, to verify that I have no criminal record in Argentina, and should technically be the last piece of this immigration puzzle. The bank where the office is was on strike, so it was extra slow and full of impatient and angry people and arrogant security guards who wouldn't let Joel accompany me to translate.

So we waited. Went to a coffee shop next door who obviously cater to the wealthy lawyers and government officials in the are, because they charged us 16 pesos for a coffee and an orange juice. There are about 2.2 pesos to a dollar at the moment, but it feels like a spend of $16 NZ in terms of the value of money. This is an expensive city, even supermarket prices are very high in comparison to what people earn. They have the same cheese problem as New Zealand! Export prices for locals. The only cheap things are alcohol and tobacco! What does that say about the society?

But after we had got my appointment for tomorrow and returned home, we chanced a phone call to a department of the Federal Police that handles immigration enquiries and they sent us to another office on the other side of town, which is technically the department of immigration proper. When we arrived panting, after running the several blocks from the subway stop, we saw a queue of at least 200 people and just about lost heart. But never take anything at face value here, is my new motto! We weasled our way inside, interrupted a few people to ask a couple of pertinent questions, and found a wee office at the back of the building where they processed my transaction on the spot and told me to come back and pick up the paper next Wednesday. You just have to persevere! And disregard the queues, the several hundred other people waiting for god knows what, and have a local on your side. I would be so lost if not for Joel! I'll have to remember to cancel my appointment on Friday... or maybe I won't, just to be bad. Mwahahahahaaaa!

So tomorrow I get my police clearance from NZ stamped to confirm it's authenticity - this also confuses me... How do they know? But apparently because it was translated and verified by the Argentinean consul in Wellington it carries a bit of weight, and they will trust it enought to stamp it, but not enough to use it without a stamp. Hmm. Then we wait for Joel's ID which is ready on Monday and my other piece of papel de mierda (a phrase I have come to use and abuse) on Wednesday, and then we head to Neuquen to finish the process there. Less people means less queues and faster processing is the theory. Let's hope. I am starting to really feel for Joel and the boys when they were going through all this in New Zealand, it is so confusing!

Some photos of today's impressions, including the super expensive coffe shop, the train station and the mighty obelisk.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Buenos Aires on an ordinary Tuesday.

Today (Tuesday 26 May - happy birthday Mum!) was the first working day since we landed, so we set out to get Joel's ID document sorted so we can start with my immigration process. After literally walking several kilometres, being sent from one place to another by unhelpful officials, and negotiating a complex and not terribly efficient subway network we finally ended up miles from home but in the right queue. An hour later, we had completed the right forms and paid the requisite amount of money and his documentation will be ready to pick up on Monday. Whew! And now to find our way home...

Meanwhile, I lost my Visa debit card... Well not so much lost, as I was dumb and left it in an ATM... Kilometres and several subway changes away from where I discovered it was missing. So that's been cancelled and my money is still all there - what there was of it to start with - and I have learned a valuable lesson in, um... Well. I haven't actually learned anything new because I already know to check you have everything before you leave the ATM. So, not even a learning curve, although I am sure somehow it built character.

I also have a crick in my neck from looking up. I love the architecture in this city! I took a few photos with my new little point and click camera today and will try to append them to this post. Wrought iron balcomies, shuttered windows, intricate stonework... absolutely beautiful, and many are apartments. I would love to live in such an edifice! Some are completely empty and boarded up, which seems a terrible waste. They often have crazy towers, turrets and one even had a lighthouse on top! I guess up there is where you want to be, away from the bustle and grime of street level. Though as you can see, some enterprising individuals have spraypainted political graffiti on the nice marble benches, which does make street-level more interesting.

Anyways, have to go and do terribly important things now. Bye.