Traveling from Bucharest via Barcelona to Buenos Aires gives a feeling of faded Latin glory, and nowhere more so than in Argentina – swinging with the world's ten wealthiest nations a century ago before its drift into progressively crazier economic policies.1–3
The lunacy hits before you even step foot in the country. This is the only immigration form where I have to state the model of mobile phone I possess and its accessories. I faithfully declare my iPhone 5 and accompanying charger, though no one asks for the form at customs.
When it comes to buying pesos, I have a choice: swap $100 legally for 550 pesos or get a thousand on the street. It's hard to avoid falling into crime.
In Calle Florida, the main shopping street in Buenos Aires, an official currency kiosk is void of customers. Within 5 meters a woman waves a calculator, calling “cambio, cambio.” Locals nickname them arbolitos or “little trees” – they're as much a part of the city's landscape as the tangueros dancing on street corners.
A teenage arbolito spots me at one of the bright yellow tourist information booths helpfully dotted around the city. He shows me his maxi calculator and punches in 950. I shake my head, “mil.” He presses AC, keys in 980 and beckons me to a dress shop. He's the broker; the woman with the dresses is the dealer with a stash of greenbacks under the counter. ...