Dealing with money in Argentina is an unusual experience. Inflation is a persistent problem, so locals scramble to save money in dollars. To keep the peso from collapsing entirely, the government regulates the circulation of foreign currency and artificially fixes exchange rates. During my visit, a dollar was officially worth around 9 ARS. But a black market, to which police turn a blind eye, has run rampant. On the “Mercado Azul,” a crisp $100 bill would buy 1,250.00 ARS. In other words, Argentina is nearly 40% cheaper if you arrive with cash.
My dollars ran out as Sasha was preparing for her trip, so she brought enough cash for the both of us. Carrying that much money in a backpack is a bit unnerving, and changing the dollars to pesos is an experience that ranges from charming to frightening.
Florida Street in Buenos Aires is saturated with people muttering “cambio” to passersby. The first time I needed pesos, I was led through a dark atrium into a rickety old elevator by serious looking men with neck tattoos and menacing scars. We ended up in a small, second-story room, with a narrow hole through which currency was covertly passed back and forth. It seemed sketchy, but the money we got was real and we didn’t die.
Two weeks later, with Sasha in tow and much more cash on hand, I looked for a better option. We found a nice man who welcomed us into the back of a sidewalk magazine kiosk. His wife waited patiently while we counted a tall stack of pesos, and smiled as she bid us farewell.