The benefits of walking have been covered extensively. You’ve probably already heard that it’s good for your body, your mind and your spirit. Walking lets the creative juices flow, lets you sleep better and makes you feel so much superior than lazy drivers and their fancy cars. Other than riding a bike, it’s quite possibly the best way to commute around the city (more on that pesky little two wheeled sect in a moment).
Buenos Aires in particular is a very attractive city for pedestrians. It’s practically flat all over which means no hills to climb. Its avenues have really broad sidewalks and even though summertime is quite humid and sticky, its climate is considerably friendly so walking all year round is a possibility.
But… (It was pretty obvious there was a but coming sooner or later).
All of this doesn’t mean walking in this city is hassle free. Oh not by a long shot. Life for pedestrians can be a real adventure on some days, with risks ranging from simply stepping on dog poop while wearing sandals to booking a one way ticket to the afterlife after being hit by a bus that ignored a red light. So let’s dig deep into argentine walking culture and shed some light onto the most annoying obstacles available in the streets of Buenos Aires in this day and age.
Pedestrian Obstacle #1: Dog Poop
Not many people are aware of this, but one of the most important things about having a dog, besides buying him cute sewed sweaters and instagramming their whole entire existence, is picking up their crap when you take him for a walk. Who would have thought, right? To be fair, I guess the majority of dog owners in this city probably do their daily task and pick up after their pets, otherwise Buenos Aires would be knee deep in poop. But nevertheless, the few that don’t are quite enough to ruin any nice stroll through town.
There are streets in this city that are mined with little soretes, making it quite a challenge to avoid any mishap as a pedestrian altogether (for some reason, these streets are usually the worst lit ones as well, raising the stakes even higher). There are cultures that actually believe that stepping on dog poop is a sign of good luck, but I’m pretty sure that Argentina is not one of them. So please, dog owner, if you’re reading this right now, a better world is at your fingertips. Buy the damn bags. Pick up little Luna’s crap. Thank you.
Pedestrian Obstacle #2: Loose Sidewalk Tiles
We’ve all been there. One of those enraged “this might just be the end of the world” storms that Buenos Aires has in store every so often. You find shelter inside of a Starbucks, while the streets get flooded like rivers. But then, all of a sudden, it stops, the sun comes out, you go outside again, confident that the danger has passed and you somehow managed to remain dry. You take a few steps, maybe 10 or 15, until it happens… You step in a loose sidewalk tile, one that seems to be layered with enough water on top to fill an olympic pool. Your shoes, your (probably white) pants, your shirt and maybe even your face gets wet.
Loose sidewalk tiles have ruined many a day in my Buenos Aires life. There have been seasons in which I have become quite adept at avoiding them as I walk, but I still haven’t managed to finish a year without getting splashed at least once. Winter splashes are probably worse than summer splashes because you’re usually wearing socks which get soaked and squishy for the rest of your day.
One last thought: How is it that Loose Sidewalk Tiles (or its translation “Baldosas Flojas”) not the name of a punk rock band in Buenos Aires by now? It should. It really should.
Pedestrian Obstacle #3: People Hosing Sidewalks
So I don’t know if you’ve heard but we’re kind of experiencing a global water crisis at the moment. Fresh water has become a scarce resource and cities all over the word have had to campaign for their citizens to understand its true value. For God’s sake, South Africa was days away from running out of water before its people got their act together and managed to push “zero day” back indefinitely. But you know who hasn’t gotten a hold of any of this information, apparently? Building encargados (aka superintendents) in Buenos Aires.
If you’ve ever had to walk the streets of this city very early in the morning, you’ll probably know what I’m talking about. There they stand, one by one in front of their building, hosing their part of the sidewalk with total recklessness, with enough water to wash the entire Bombonera sparkling clean. As a pedestrian you’re usually left to walk in the middle of the street, because not one of them refuses to take a part in this spectacle. NONE OF THEM. It’s like the most depressing, inappropriate Disney water works show in the damn world. And it’s now just in Buenos Aires, BTW. You know it’s a world class hassle when even Elaine Benes was talking about it back in 1995.
Pedestrian Obstacle #4: Cyclists (the angry ones)
Don’t get me wrong. Bicycles are awesome. They help reduce the use of cars which in itself helps reduce pollution, besides being an excellent source of daily exercise. It’s not only practical, but it’s good for you body, your mind, your planet. What’s not to like?
Well, unfortunately, as they say, one rotten apple spoils the barrel, and even though most cyclists I know are law abiding citizens, let’s talk about those who aren’t. Some cyclists seem to have been so scarred by their own encounters with colectivo and taxi drivers (which, in all fairness, can be real jerks) that they figure being aggressive and douchey is the only way to survive in this city, much to the dismay of the next group in the pecking order: pedestrians.
If you haven’t been close to being run over by a cyclist, then consider yourself lucky. It’s happened to me several times and although I must admit I’ve had some fault in a couple of those for not looking both ways before crossing, the majority have been caused by cyclists either ignoring red lights or not using proper cycling gear for riding at night. The funny thing is that they automatically assume it’s the walker’s fault, insulting him/her the same way, you know, a cab driver would insult them. Oh, the irony…
Quick sidenote: if you ever get into an argument with a cyclist that’s riding with a larger group, run for your life. They are a close knit group and their mentality is heavily engrained in them. They have, apparently, endured a lot of crap as a minority, and they will tear you to pieces if necessary (even if you happen to be right).
There’s probably enough annoying obstacles for pedestrians to fill out a weekly countdown. We haven’t even gotten into the problems of air pollution, badly signaled street corners and bus stops and deranged cab drivers. But let’s vent those in another occasion.
Ironically, after writing this article, I think I could go for a walk right now.