Connect to share and comment

Searching for coins in Argentina

Reading Anil Mundra’s dispatch on the shortage of coins in Argentina, I remembered my own ordeal searching for coins in Buenos Aires when I was there on vacation this summer.

We were staying outside the capital, about 35 minutes away by car or bus, and one hour by train. Getting to the capital in the mornings for a day of typical urban tourism took time: We couldn’t take a bus there because we needed exact change for the four of us to hop on. So we took the train. Not a nice Amtrak-type train ride where you can sit down and relax and watch the scenery go by. No, these are somewhat filthy wagons where if you’re lucky you get a seat, with vendors getting on at every station trying to sell you anything from chocolate to pirated CDs, and seatless wagons in between used supposedly for people with bicycles or large equipment, but actually used by groups of passengers to smoke pot or drink collectively (beer is sold on trains by these traveling vendors). Nevertheless, train transportation is extremely cheap; a fraction of the bus fare.

But after a day of beating the pavement, what we really wanted was a nice bus to take us home fast and comfortable. It cost 6 pesos, in coins only. We had to rush to the plaza where the bus station was before the kiosks selling tickets closed so we could buy with bills and not have to go through the ordeal of getting together 24 pesos in coins (6 for each one of us).

We almost never got there on time, and we certainly never had 24 coins with us. During the day, we would try to gather the maximum number of coins and hang on to them as a dear treasure, but we never made the necessary sum of 24 coins to get home on a bus. People would rather charge you less for something than have to surrender their small change.

One particular day, we went to the tourist attraction Caminito. By then, we knew our way around enough to take buses and metro, as well as know what a reasonable fare in taxi was. And cab drivers were not reasonable in Caminito. Their fares were rather scandalous. 

 (The typical tourist attraction Caminito, in Buenos Aires)
But we discovered with glee that the bus we needed to get to the bus station where we would take the bus for home passed right in front of where we were. But we didn’t have the coins. We needed to change a bill.
We crossed the street to a restaurant. No coins. To a small store. No coins. To a souvenir shop. No coins. But they did tell us that the bus station was only a few blocks away, and there was a ticket office where we could buy tickets with bills. So off we went following the store clerk’s instructions.
It began raining. We walked blocks and blocks, and no bus station. We asked around. It was in another direction. We kept walking and it kept raining. We finally got to the station and there was our bus, with the driver already in his seat, ready to leave. We were happy. But the ticket office was closed. The bus driver shrugged his shoulders. No coins? No bus.
We rushed frantically — now under heavy rain — to all the nearby stores and restaurants we could find to change a bill before the bus driver felt like it was time to begin his route. No one had coins, or wanted to let go of any. I finally bought bottled water in the hopes of getting some change. Nope.
We kept asking around. Someone told us of another bus station nearby and there we went, under the rain. Last chance, or an unreasonable cab fare. Finally, a ticket office open! We bought our tickets with bills and got on the bus which took us to the plaza where we were supposed to take the second bus home. But the ticket stand there was also closed, its clerk nowhere to be seen. And the bus? No coins ... .
So we dragged our tired and by now wet feet to the train station in resignation. Luckily, after a few stops we all got a chance to sit down somewhere. We spent the entire hour idly watching as a big spider on the ceiling of the wagon made its way back and forth above the aisle and praying the swinging movements of the train wouldn’t make it float down on us. Out of pure exhaustion and boredom, we even named it. Its name was Doris.