Here in Singapore, students always talk about traveling to nearby countries such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, often plan to save up for a tour around Europe, and occasionally dream about exploring opportunities in the United States.
How many Singaporean students will think about “exotic” places in Latin America, such as Argentina and Uruguay? Do these countries even cross their minds?
I have been fortunate enough to go on a Business Study Mission to the two above mentioned countries – spending about ten days there, roughly seven in Buenos Aires (capital of Argentina) and three days in Montevideo (capital of Uruguay). Despite the trip being relatively short, it was nonetheless an extremely humbling experience. There was so much to observe, feel, understand and appreciate. It is thus my honour to share this enriching experience with Travelogue readers.
Buenos Aires (BA) is a very beautiful city. Most of buildings are in classic European style, while modern architecture is slowly making its way into the skyline. Based on my observations, the locals are surprisingly cultured, carefree, and live their everyday lives to the fullest. This is quite a stark contrast with the hectic, tense and disciplined culture here in Singapore and many other parts of Asia.
BA has its own sets of problems though, of which the two largest are with currency and crime.
Firstly, while the official currency is the Argentine Peso (ARS), many transactions are done using U.S. dollar (USD). This is due to several reasons, including high inflation (above 10% since mid 2012, as well as the country’s history of hyperinflation), the country’s dual exchange rate markets (official versus the black market), in addition to its economy and debt situation (the country recently defaulted on its debt). This actually makes life easier for travelers since there was no need to exchange for much ARS, a currency which even the locals perceive worthless outside of the country. We simply brought USD over to BA. However, do note that some small businesses still prefer to transact in Pesos.
Secondly, counterfeit currency is extremely common – I was once even handled over a piece of note which was obviously printed from a conventional printer. This phenomenon is hard to prevent given the wide circulation of counterfeit currency and poor law enforcement. Nonetheless, it is not much cause for worry as long as you remain alert and stick to using small change. Even if you find yourself in an awkward situation of accidentally paying in counterfeit currency, it is so common that shopkeepers are used to it and will not call in the police. The most they usually do is to alert you and ask you for a genuine note.
There are many similarities between BA and Montevideo (MV) in terms of culture and architectural style. In fact, both of them have Spanish as their primary language of communication. Nonetheless, BA feels more like a city and has a more exciting nightlife, with pubs and clubs coming to life when night falls. MV is duller in comparison.
However, MV has a special place in my heart.
MV is, in my opinion, one of the most ideal places for retirement. Apart from its gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, the pace of life is slow yet comfortable, and the city feels a lot more spacious. Buildings are comfortably spaced apart, and there are no crazy large crowds like what we see here in Orchard Road or on the trains. Everything there simply feels relaxed. There is even a “rich men’s area”, a neighbourhood for the rich which includes exclusive club houses and facilities right at their doorstep.
That is even before mentioning that the coastline is simply breathtaking. I spent all 3 days appreciating the scenery in MV and I still couldn’t get enough of it.
Meals in BA and MV are generally pricey, costing around USD 20 (approximately SGD 25). However, they serve some of the best steaks in the world – so succulent and tasty that they could touch you to tears.
The trip was truly a wonderful experience. As with all travels, the destination only determines 50% of your experience. The other 50% is determined by your travel buddies. In this aspect, I would definitely give a huge thumbs up to the company I had – they have varying hobbies, habits, and it was a privilege to live with them for 10 days. I made many good friends through this trip, and some are role models I can look up to in life.
So, that was a short reflection of my trip to Argentina and Uruguay. I hope I have inspired you to dream big and travel far. Obviously, there are way more things that I would love to share, but this post is already quite lengthy, so I will end it here for now. If you would like to find out more, please leave a comment below. If there is sufficient interest, I would follow up with another article 🙂