In a country that has siestas, you would think the banking hours would be longer. Most banks close for good at 3pm. Considering that Portenos eat dinner at 10pm and go to bed past midnight, they probably wake later as well. Our biggest goal on Tuesday was to change over some traveler’s checks at the American Express building in Retiro.
The first sight off the subway was a large colonial style building with a beautiful gold and iron gate. It was apparently the museum of armaments of Argentina. Turning around, we noticed the plaza of San Martin, the liberator of Argentina. The plaza features a massive statue of San Martin ahorse and charging and 2 inch square tiles covering all of it’s walkways and open areas. There were English speaking “guides” asking for donations to fight diseases who were at least helpful enough to point us toward the American Express building.
After briefly looking over the park and spying an old bell tower from a vista looking toward the ocean, we headed inside. It was a clean modern building with very heavy security and lines everywhere for everything. Lorna was directed downstairs for traveler’s checks and I was instantly worried this would become an all day affair. A long, slow moving line zigged back and forth between barriers along the width of the room, 4 or 5 layers deep. Everyone looked like they had been there a while. Luckily, there was a separate line for traveler’s checks with much fewer people but moving just as little.
I set off to find the bathroom and was directed to the front reception desk. I asked for the bathroom in my horrible Spanish and was asked for my passport. The woman checked it over and looked at me, before instructing me to take off my sunglasses so that I could be documented with a photograph. Then I was directed through a security gate and was finally let into the bathroom. This occurred simply because the bathroom had been placed behind the security gate which I believe was intended to keep people from reaching the rest of the offices in the building. The security was far over the top and reminded me of the day during the Occupy Wall Street protests when police simply blocked off the blocks of the banking offices and demanded proof that you worked there to enter. In this scenario, the part of the subway station within those blocks was played by the bathroom, which was no special lavatory.
Lorna had moved up a few feet when I returned. There were still 3 people ahead of us and the line was stopped at a corner. Customers were called behind a tinted glass wall, presumably for the privacy of their transactions, but it gave the line an ominous feel. A slow and unmoving ominous feel. Looking over at the longer line for regular banking, I thought back to Carrefour and all the other customer service lines we’d encountered so far. I decided that Argentina either did not view the people in line as having their time wasted or simply had no culture of respect for such. If you have banking to do, it must be important, right?
When we reached the counter, Lorna filled out her forms and handed over her checks. We found out part of the reason that the line took so long was that the forms needed to be cross checked by someone in another room, leaving us to wait by ourselves for several minutes. There was also a lengthy period where the man at the desk looked irritated at his screen for about 10 minutes and eventually said: “okay” and handed us our stack of bills. I don’t know if it was a computer delay, but if everything checks out so slow, my previous theories on wait times is probably that processes here are simply inefficient.
Free of the bank, we set out for lunch. My first attempt at navigation took us to a shopping area that was more like a street turned into a mall. It reminded me a bit of 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, but with taller buildings and less open air. We picked up a map from the tourist information booth and set ourselves on the right path to a pizza place mentioned in the guide book.
On our way there, we crossed the busiest intersection in the country, possibly in the world. There are 18 lanes of traffic in one street and another 6 or 8 in the cross street. To get across, you have to wait for 3 walk signals. We arrived at our lunch destination and had a very tasty Italian style pizza (thin crust, less focused on the sauce and toppings cover the entire top) of arugula and Parmesan cheese.
Having taken our passports and a sizable sum of cash with us, I had not wanted to walk around the rest of the afternoon. We took the subway home for a relatively quiet evening of leftovers and rest. It is nice to have a comfortable home base on a long trip like this.