Hosting people in my apartment for the last 7.5 years and living in Argentina has made me a better tourist. I know that sounds funny, but it's true. I know what I go through to get the best information to give to my guests. I also know what it is like to be in a foreign country you know nothing about. Having so many different type of people stay with me has made me very respectful of other people's limits.
In the old days when I first began to travel there was no Internet. You had to rely either on friends who had been to where you wanted to go, travel books, or a good travel agent. Today people have Google and Lonely Planet. The unfortunate thing is they forget sometimes about the human element.
When I travel I like to stay in hostels. (No not the party type where there are 10 people in a room..forget that!) Or I use Airbnb. Sometimes I am really daring and I just go to the tourist desk in the bus station and ask. You would be surprised at the great accomodations you can get staying with a family.
I like to travel this way not just because it is less expensive, but because it allows me to mix with the local culture. After all, who knows better about their city, than someone who actually lives there? Especially people who have guests all the time.
I have had wonderful surprises and opportunities. In Valparaiso the owners of my hostel brought me to their home after an incredible tour of the city. In Santiago the kids in the hostel gave me lots of great information for restaurants in barrios that were not ever mentioned in tour books. When I was in Colombia I stayed in a house that was like living in paradise in Armenia. I met and saw so much of the local life there because of the woman I stayed with. I had dinner with my taxi driver and his family. The woman I am going to be staying with in Sydney sent me incredible information to help me plan the rest of my trip to Australia.
I ask and depend alot on the places I stay at. I have yet to be dissapointed. I find most places go out of their way. Most people who have you in their home do it not just because they want the extra income, but because they like meeting people. I have met some amazing people from all over the world. For me this is the best part.
I find that not all of my guests think the same. A few months ago I had a young woman stay with me. She was only going to be in Buenos Aires a short time. Her parents were paying for her to tour the world before she started college for her master's degree.
I recommended that she take the Buenos Aires bus. This is an open air bus tour highly recommended by the city. You can stay on the bus and do the whole tour in about 2 hours or get on and off with a pass good for 48 hours. She looked at me like I was an escapee from a mental institution and announced "I am not a tourist. I don't do those things."
Now I have learned after all these years, that there are some times where I must keep my mouth shut. This girl has no idea but everything about her screams T O U R I S T. You don't have to wear white shoes and black socks with shorts to look like a tourist. I smile at her. "OK."
She then informs me she is a world traveler. I nod my head. She thinks I don't understand. "A world traveler is someone who travels the world. Who sees the world for what it is." "Great," I say to her. "What is it you would like to see, how can I help you?"
"Well, I want to go to Boca Stadium." she tells me. I say to her "I have a friend who can take you to a game. You would have to pay for his ticket and his time, but it would be a safe way to go. Or you could go with a group of tourists. There are tours to Boca games. I can get the information for you."
I get the disgusted look again. "I don't want to go to a game, I just want to go to the stadium. What bus would I take?" I have to stop myself from say "Are you out of your mind?" Instead I say to her "It isn't safe for you to go to Boca stadium alone. It is a dangerous part of town. Besides there is not much there to see. You can see the stadium on the bus tour." I notice she has a copy of Lonely Planet under her arm. I cannot imagine Lonely Planet is recommending tourists go walking around La Boca to the Cancha de Boca.
She shakes her hair and looks at me. "You are old. That is why you are scared. I am not scared. I have been traveling all over the world." I know, she is a world traveler. I look at this 5'2, maybe 102 lb Dolce Gabbana clad girl. "You are right, I tell her. I am old. I grew up in Detroit, I lived in Oakland. You just go right ahead and go to La Boca and the stadium. Take the #64 or 152. If you are lucky you might just get robbed and beaten up." "I'm going to check online. I want to see what other people say." she tells me.
I found out later that she ended up taking the bus tour. I guess "other people" didn't think it was such a hot idea for her to go walking around La Boca either. The week that she stayed in my apartment was interesting. She would ask for advice and then tell me that Lonely Planet said something different. Or she read in a forum that it was something else. I have learned to smile and just say OK. My friend Rose in Oakland would be so proud of me.
I wish I could tell you that this world traveler was one of the only ones like this, but she isn't. People spend so much time on the Internet doing their research. Most of the people who write in forums are tourists. There is nothing wrong with that. They are giving their experiences. However, local people always have a different perspective. They live in a place.
I found that lots of people who read the forum inputs don't look at the dates. They read posts from 2006 or 2007. Then they come and get sticker shock. Argentina has major inflation and it is no longer cheap here. When I moved to my apartment in this barrio in 2005 a small pizza down the block was 5 pesos. It is now 30 pesos. You used to be able to have a parrilla for two for maybe 20 pesos. Now it is 125 pesos. Last week I went with a guest to a Peruvian restaurant. I freaked out when I saw the prices. I hadn't been in 6 months and the prices were crazy. This place used to be packed, it was half empty. I know I won't be going back.
It isn't only the prices, somehow the idea that Buenos Aires is the Paris of South America still sticks in the minds of people. Maybe in 1940. No way now. Especially after the garbage strike. There is an unrealistic idea of what Buenos Aires should be and unfortuanately it is not what many people expect. And of course this is my fault.
There is a fine line to walk. Some people are bound and determined to do it their way and have a miserable time. It's too bad that people forget that the experience of traveling is not only the places you go, it is the people you meet. The real people, not the ones online.