It was a simple mission: jump on subway, travel four stops, pick up SIM card from phone shop, jump back on subway, and arrive home.
The modern workingman needs his blackberry in full working order. I get it. But as a die-hard wannabe local, after a year abroad in Argentina, I should have known better. When it rains in Buenos Aires, you stay firmly behind closed doors.
It was a mission blighted from the start. The subway or ‘subte’, as it is known, was flooded. There were no tubes running at all. We were not deterred. We should have been. Huddled together under a leaky awning, we gathered our coveted coins for the change only $1.20 (20p) bus fare – an almighty ask in a country suffering a chronic national coin shortage crisis.
As might a heroin addict 10p short of his next fix, we rifled in vain through pockets for the pesos we knew weren’t there. We made a tactical move to split up and made calculated sweet purchases in a bid for coins. We were still $0.25 short. The bus was no longer an option; it was time to seek refuge in the taximeter cabriolet.
For me, it was all a fantastic holiday adventure; for my porteña friend, it was a weekday night and a deep embarrassment that her country was unable to cope with a rainstorm. Finally, forty minutes on the pavement later and after a chase worthy of the Blue Planet, we were in a taxi and on our way.
Our chosen route was not to be. The residents of the Capital’s biggest slum, the infamous ‘Villa 31’ which occupies a prime spot in the centre of the city, were blocking the motorway in protest against the loss of electricity in the storm. We diverted and crawled straight to a standstill on Avenida Santa Fe.
Across the road, a stopped bus provided suitable distraction from the jam. The passengers had dismounted, and a dozen bodies had laid themselves down on the flooded street, blocking the pathway of the bus. The taxi driver barely batted an eyelid. I turned to my porteña friend for confirmation that this was, in fact, not normal. She shrugged her shoulders, “the ticket machine is broken, and the driver is not prepared to let anybody onto his bus, so the passengers are protesting,” she explained nonchalantly. As little as I might have understood, I nodded coolly to maintain my porteña façade.
It was heating up and I couldn’t resist winding down my window in excitement – the first tell-tale sign of my foreign origins – no local would run the risk of ruining her perfectly straight hair for something so trivial as dozens of men lying in suits on a flooded road after all.
We did eventually make it. The SIM card wasn’t ready. I wasn’t surprised; a year in Argentina had at least taught me that.