June 8, Buenos Aires, Capital Federal, Argentina
I'm here in BA at "Cruzat Beer House", a great pub that I just discovered on my extra day in BA. There's a Jethro Tull documentary video playing and I'm drinking a Cardos Scottish Ale, from the local Cardos brewery. My GPS is giving me grief - it used to last 20-25 hours on a set of batteries, now it lasts less than 10 hours so I thought I'd look for a replacement. Mine was only about $150.00 in the US but the closest thing I could find today, after about 4 hours of looking, was just under $300. So the current solution to the problem is beer and the second solution is buying more batteries; I like beer better but I guess it'll be both. I'll leave for Uruguay tomorrow and I'll try to stop dropping my GPS unit.
"Cartoneros", the mystery word from my most recent page of pictures, isn't a mystery anymore thanks to my kick ass cousin Katie from Seattle providing the translation. Cartoneros are the folks that dig through the garbage and sort out anything that can be recycled so they can sell it back to the city. During this and my previous visit to BA I noticed folks going through the garbage. This group of folks is more clean and organized than the typical street bums you might expect to see digging through garbage looking for skittles and beer, and you can't visit Buenos Aires without noticing the cartoneros. They all have some type of push cart or some variation of a shopping cart and it seems that some specialize in cardboard and paper, while others specialize in plastics and glass, and whatever's left goes to others or is just left there. Then I learned that they really are organized...
After I read Katie's email I visited the South American Explorers clubhouse so I asked them what's up with the "Cartoneros" and the protest issues. The Cartoneros are actually a very large unionized group - and they vote, so that makes them a pawn in the theatre of local politics. The garbage in the city is simply left on the sidewalk in plastic bags. There are no large garbage bins in the city for people to store the garbage and none of the businesses or residents are allowed to put their garbage out on the sidewalk 'till after 8:00 pm every night. This is because the numerous carts being pushed around town by the Cartoneros would clog up traffic if the garbage were left out earlier, during the busy rush-hour; it sort of forces the Cartoneros to work from 8:00 pm and throughout the night, when traffic is lighter. Sounds sort of logical, right?
Logic is cool but politics are powerful. One of the negative aspects of the Cartoneros is that many of them rip through the garbage, pulling out the stuff that they can recycle, leaving the rest allover the sidewalk. Then the garbage truck comes by in the middle of the night to pick up the "bags" of garbage, but of course there is much left behind that the Cartoneros left laying around. So they're messy. So why doesn't BA simply initiate a cleaner, more efficient method of recycling and handling garbage? The answer to that is a long string of rumors and definite maybes that involves, above all else, the fact that the Cartoneros are unionized and they vote. After that simple fact, digging deeper into the issue only leads to stories about corrupt politicians, prostitution rings, mafia involvement and other things that I don't have the time to figure out. If I did come up with a solution I'm pretty sure they'd elect me Mayor if I didn't end up "sleeping with the fishes", which would appear to be a likely outcome of one man trying to solve the cartoneros problem.
So that's the thing I learned yesterday. Today I learned that GPS's are too expensive in BA and tomorrow I'll hopefully learn how to get to Uruguay so I can take pictures of another country. I've got some more BA photo's to catch up on as well...