hammock on horse ranch

Mr. HalfFull relaxing in a hammock @ Estancia Los Dos Hermanos.

Part of the fun and adventure of travel is experiencing another culture. It certainly broadens our horizons. But sometimes it makes us appreciate what we take for granted at home.

Architecture

cracking apartment wall

The wall of our first apartment in Buenos Aires.

Our South American Adventure started in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After enlisting the kindness of strangers to actually get into our apartment, I discovered the walls.

A wall in the living room was cracking and peeling. It had surely seen better days.

Casa Rosada

Ms. HalfEmpty outside the barrier protecting Casa Rosada. It’s easy to cross the barrier on foot or drive on the surrounding roads, but the barrier keeps large crowds from rushing the front door as they protest in Plaza de Mayo.

interior wall @ Casa Rosada

View of a wall inside Casa Rosada. Other tourists were bewildered watching me take this photo.

But after visiting the Casa Rosada (the home and office of Argentina’s president) about a month later, I felt better about our digs. The exterior is an ornate pink palace, but an interior wall in the foyer looked just like ours!

Our baseboard moulding may have been wood while Kirchner‘s was marble, but the state of the wall was basically the same.

Plumbing

Plumbing seals were an obstacle for us on several occasions in Argentina. A good seal is something we don’t normally question, but we discovered firsthand why it’s so important.

Washing Machine

About two weeks after our initial descent into Buenos Aires, we moved to a new apartment. We hadn’t done laundry yet, so that was at the top of our priority list. The property manager didn’t know anything about the washing machine but assured us that the owner said it was in working order.

I went online to try to find a manual to decipher the unfamiliar icons on the various dials. It seems like manufacturers have been moving away from words in favor of icons. In theory, this seems potentially useful…except when you have no idea what the picture means!!!

These were not images I had ever seen in the US — things like test tubes and feathers. I would have much preferred words that I could translate rather than having to decide if my clothes were of the two feather or one test tube variety.

Eventually, I picked a setting, hoped I put the detergent in the right compartment, and threw in a load. I pushed what I assumed to be the start button and saw a light illuminate. Things started spinning into motion, and all seemed well.

washing machine & nap

Ms. HalfEmpty naps while the washing machine in question looms behind her in the kitchen.

The washing machines we saw in apartments were always installed in the kitchen. So once it started churning away, I went back to the living room. Toward the end of the cycle, I went into the dark kitchen for a drink. On my first step into the room, I felt liquid soak my sock. Gross!

I threw on the light switch and panicked, as I saw water all over the kitchen floor. It appeared that the washing machine was not in working order as promised. I yelled to Mr. HalfFull, and the two of us tried to stop the flood.

First, we turned off the shutoff valve directly above the washing machine. But of course, that did not stop the flow of water. Eventually, we found the correct valve inside one of the kitchen cabinets, but that was after several minutes of bailing water.

We pulled the washing machine away from the wall and examined the hose. Eventually, Mr. HalfFull determined that one of the hose fittings was causing the leak. We let the property manager know but never heard back.

Being the resourceful guy that he is, Mr. HalfFull drew a diagram and labeled all the parts with the Spanish plumbing terms before heading to the hardware store to buy replacement parts the next day. He fixed the leak, billed the owner, and we were able to do laundry without soaked socks for the rest of our stay.

Shower

Our apartment shower also had issues. It was a jetted tub with a glass door along half the length of the tub. This seems reasonable until you notice that there is no seal between the bottom of the glass door and the tub!

It looked like perhaps there was rubber on the bottom of the door at one point, but it was long gone by our stay. So we had a substantial gap for water to seep through.

This was another opportunity for us to be resourceful! We searched throughout the apartment and found a ShamWow type of cloth under the kitchen sink. After a few shower trials, we found the best way to fold and place the cloth for maximum coverage and minimal water exiting the tub.

But that wasn’t the only problem with the shower. The handles didn’t actually stop the flow of water when turned off. The water would continue to flow (not a little dribble) for at least 30 seconds after turning the handle off. That was just something we came to expect. You can’t MacGyver your way out of every problem!

To top off the seal troubles with the shower, we also had temperature issues. Hot water seemed to be a hot commodity in our apartment. We were there in July, which might mean summer to my Northern Hemisphere friends, but that’s winter in Argentina. Our winter in Buenos Aires was generally rather warm, but there were some nights below freezing.

The apartment did not have central heating, so the only heat was from two little gas powered wall units — one in the living room and one in the master bedroom. Those wall units can get very toasty…if you are standing right next to them!

There was no heat source in the bathroom. So taking a cold shower in a cold room in the winter was not ideal. At home, I generally wash my hair daily, but in Buenos Aires I would wait a few days before immersing my head in cold water.

We found a workaround for this issue too. Since the 2nd bedroom didn’t have a wall heater, it contained a portable, plug-in space heater. We would move that to the bathroom before a shower, turn it on high, close the door, and wait for the room to heat to sauna temperature. Cold water isn’t so bad when the room is warm!

Ubiquitous Imperfect Seal

subway in Buenos Aires

Ms. HalfEmpty awaits a Subte train in Buenos Aires.

Just like the wall in Casa Rosada, we found that our apartment wasn’t the only place with imperfect seals. As we descended through tunnels into the Buenos Aires subway, we saw cracks with steady streams of water flowing.

This didn’t make us feel particularly safe in terms of the infrastructure of the Subte, but it did make us feel better about our washing machine and shower. Perhaps seals aren’t an Argentinian forte.

Timing

dancer on Subte train

Often, there is live entertainment on the Subte train, like this man who brought his boom box to perform a pop and lock dance routine for a trapped audience.

Speaking of the subtle, it’s an interesting place. Since fares are subsidized, it’s frequented by many people at all hours of the day. All fares are the same price, regardless of the distance travelled, so we generally bought a ticket when we arrived at the station to avoid losing them or having extras.

The ticket booths are all manned rather than automated. So it requires a human to show up for work.

Most Subte stations open at 5 AM for the morning commute (except on Sundays). But we generally tried to avoid the sardine trains of rush hour by showing up later. One Saturday morning, we arrived around 10 or 11 AM and there was no one manning the ticket booth.

We didn’t have tickets and there was no other way to buy them. I asked the security guard if they were closed, and he said someone would be there any minute. I guess someone had a big Friday night!

We stood around waiting, but no one appeared. We were starting to think about other options to get to our destination when the train arrived. To our surprise, the security guard opened the emergency exit and waved us through.

This one was time that “Argentine time” worked in our favor and scored us a free Subte ride!

Taxis

We had a couple suboptimal incidents with taxis. But the worst was when we were trying to leave Buenos Aires to catch a ferry to Uruguay.

Let me start by saying that it was raining, and rain changes everything in Buenos Aires. We heard from expats that Argentines avoid the rain. They don’t go out; they cancel appointments.

ferry terminal in Puerto Madero

ferry terminal in Buenos Aires

We stood outside our apartment and tried to flag taxis down to take us to the ferry terminal, but they wouldn’t stop. If they did stop and saw our luggage, they wouldn’t take us. This happened 4 times! We had 4 different taxis refuse our fare.

Even our building manager (a native) tried to hail cabs for us without success. Another neighbor tried to call a taxi on her cell phone but got no answer.

I’m sure the rain didn’t help. But I wonder if perhaps the taxis saw our luggage and assumed we were heading to the airport, which is a long drive, rather than the ferry terminal, which is in the city itself.

It was a very frustrating experience, but we made our ferry and were even able to get our VAT refund before departing. All’s well that ends well.

Bottom Line

Our American expectations set us up for some surprises while living in Buenos Aires. But from a half full perspective, those experiences made for some good stories and opportunities to be resourceful.

Plus, now that I know that Mr. HalfFull has skills, I can ask him to fix stuff around our house! It will be so much easier without the language barrier.

  • Do you prefer icons or words on machines?
  • Have you been surprised by the condition of your accommodations?
  • What workarounds have you developed for problems around the house?
  • Have you ever had a taxi refuse your fare?

Ms. HalfEmpty

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she's trying to see the world half full on halfempty4now.com, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!

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