When I was consulting for pharma's I was requested to go to Buenos Aires to assist 5 clinical trial sites that were 'underperforming', the pharma had put this clinical trial at the front of it's plans, and it was a huge trial. Around 350 different sites in Europe, the US, Canada and South America, they had invested around 50 million to this point.
This was when pharma's were feeling flush, and this particular one had a rule that any flight lasting over 5 hours would be first class rather than steerage. Off I went on a night flight from Atlanta, landing in BA at 10am. They had a car and driver waiting for me, and I learned this driver would be available to me for my planned 5 day visit. I had planned on spending a day with each site, figuring that would be enough time.
I had arrived on a Sunday morning in August, towards the end of their winter. The weather was what one would expect of San Francisco in January, 65 or 70 during the day.
The driver took me to the hotel, on the edge of the Recoleta district, it had been chosen by the pharma's local rep, and was within walking distance of most of downtown BA. The lobby was very nice, marble floor and high ceiling.
After I checked in I asked the clerk, a young man in his 20's if the hotel could exchange some money for me. I hadn't had time before leaving. The pharma had asked me to take all the site's out to dinner, they wanted them to feel they were appreciated. I had been told that many restaurants in BA were similar to one's in Europe, and it was usual to pay in cash. I knew each site and several people working, so I had anticipated on spending well over a hundred dollars a night.
The clerk asked how much I wanted to exchange; I had brought 1,000 in cash, all in hundred dollar bills. I quoted that amount...his eyes widened and he told me I would not need that much. I didn't want to argue, so I asked if he could do 500. He hesitated, then said yes, if I would wait an hour or two.
At this time Argentina was at the end of the worst financial crisis of it's history. Prior, the exchange rate with the US had been fixed at around a 1:1 ratio, dollars to peso's. The 'official' rate was 1:4 at this time. Turns out the 'unofficial' rate was rather higher.
The clerk told me he would exchange dollars for 8 to the dollar if I would wait until he could get the cash from home. I felt a little uneasy about it, but figured that I was in a nice hotel and probably wouldn't be robbed. Other ethical considerations didn't occur to me until later.
It went smoothly, there was a safe in the room so I didn't have to carry it all around with me.
By 6pm I was tired, and wanted to eat and go to bed. I got my second surprise: no restaurants were open at that hour, and wouldn't be until at least 9pm, more likely 10pm. They eat late there.I walked around the area and found a food van selling pizza, it would do. I was asleep by 8pm.
The next morning I met the local pharma rep in the lobby, after coffee my driver took us to the first site.
I met with the site doc and staff, we sat and had coffee and chatted. By noon I was starting to get a bit nervous about the pace of things. No one seemed in a hurry to start going over the protocols and techniques. They insisted on giving me a tour of the whole place. Nice people, the doc at trained at Johns Hopkins.
When I suggested we go out to dinner they agreed. At 2 the pharma rep suggested we go to lunch, off we went to the Recoleta district. Many of the restaurants have outdoor seating.
The lunch took two hours. At 4pm I looked at my watch and suggested we go back and start in on the protocols. No, that wasn't going to happen; most of them had things to do at home or elsewhere. It was agreed we'd meet for dinner at 9:30 at my hotel and walk to a restaurant. I went back to my hotel with the rep and talked for a bit. She explained the pace was slower, their average work day was from 10am to around 2pm. The next day she assured me all would go better. After she left I called the pharma office in Connecticut. We agreed that this was going to take at least twice as long as planned.
For the next two weeks I had plenty of time and opportunity to explore BA. My driver was more than willing to take me sightseeing in the mornings and later afternoons. I also found that the first night when I took a party of 6 to a dinner that lasted two hours that my cash would stretch the stay in comfort. Inflation had not yet caught up to the 'unofficial' exchange rate. That dinner included drinks before dinner, the entree and sides, 3 bottles of excellent Mendoza wine and coffee at the end. The price worked out to around 40 bucks US.
The food there was outstanding, especially if you like beef. They do it as well as anyplace in the world.
The last photo above is the largest group, the bill came to less than 100 dollars.
The Recoleta area looked more Italian than South American, the Italian influence is everywhere. The population of Argentina is less than 10% 'Mestiso', mostly Italian and German and Spanish.
And no trip to BA would be complete without a visit to the famous Cementario, or as I saw it, The City of the Dead. And it's 'famous' cat population. A cemetery that covers two square blocks, mausoleums like tiny houses, many had open doors that one could peer inside and see caskets, and stairs leading down into the dark. I went there on a Sunday morning fairly early and walked around. Then I started noticing the cats. All over the place, hundreds of them. Apparently it's a dumping ground for cats people don't want, and a place for people to go and feed them.
Once I got used to the slower pace and having dinner late it was quite enjoyable. The traffic was horrible though, I was glad I didn't have to drive. One thing I noticed the first day we went out was a old Ford Falcon parked. Then I saw another, and another. Ford had one of the main plants back then that produced the Falcon down there, and many of them have survived.
I recommend Buenos Aires highly, as well as the area of Mendoza further north inland.