Dog poop: The most obvious of the obstacles, due it its stench and general ick-factor, is the dog poop. Buenos Aires is a city of dogs. Dog walkers lead armies of 10 to 15 dogs throughout the day. Dogs sit patiently under restaurant tables waiting for dropped food or outside shops waiting for their master’s return. Owners march down the sidewalks as their pet loyally follows them sans leash. Everyone seems to seek a companion in the form of man’s best friend here; however, cleaning up after said best friend is not socially encouraged. All of the lovely, smiling, bouncing dogs in the city also leave behind smelly, steaming piles of refuse. Although most sidewalks are cleaned in the morning, by mid to late afternoon, you must tiptoe carefully through many areas of the city.
Flyer people: One of the most popular forms of advertising here is passing out flyers. Every restaurant, school, band, and questionably legal escort service promote their wares by passing out little bits of paper with sales and information. In fact, passing out flyers is its own profession. Each flyer guy has their corner or territory carved out and all have perfected the swish-flick motion that gives their flyers that snappy special something. If you simply avoid eye contact, the distributor will usually direct their attention to the next pedestrian strolling along the street; however, many are overly insistent with their product, shoving them directly in front of your nose. To avoid a pocketful of paper, you have to perfect the non-committal stare and sidestep motion.
Cat Calls: The cat-calls in Buenos Aires are infamous. When I first arrived, I found them embarrassing or slightly offensive. Now, I just take them with a grain of salt and let them boost my mood for the day. No female can walk down the street here without a chorus of “Que Linda,” “Ah, Hermosa,” “Reina!” or—in my blonde –haired, blue-eyed, and pale-skinned case—“HELLO!” “Pretty lady!” Where are you from!?” Now that I understand most of what people are saying, I have realized that they usually don’t use offensive or demeaning language and these “piropos” (or sometimes “grocerías”) have blended into white street noise. However, I still can’t help but blush or smile at times with a particularly colorful display of admiration.
People: I’ll admit it: I am a fast walker. I think I developed this habit while teaching English, as I was always late to classes and had to rush to arrive on time. Buenos Aires is a very relaxed and laid-back place, but some people follow this cultural more a little too faithfully when shuffling along the streets. Pedestrians are as slow as Christmas moving from point A to point B. Weaving through these casual strollers is, for me, a practice in patience.
Cars, Buses, and Motos: Argentina has the most traffic related deaths in any country in the world, claiming an average of 20 lives per day. Pedestrians most certainly do NOT have the right of way. Most streets do have crosswalks and lights, but those on the street must use caution when crossing from one side to the other. I have seen more dead bodies on the side of the road here in the past two years than I have in my whole life. I was never a fan of driving, but the traffic in Buenos Aires is more than a little out of control. With a little common sense and care, you will travel safely to your destination.
Landmines: By far the worst and most difficult to avoid obstacle is the hidden land mines. These are not the ‘kabooom’ kind of landmines. Rather, they are uneven tiles in the sidewalk waiting stealthily with a mucky surprise. Because the sidewalks are uneven, many have tiles that move when you step on them. At first glance, they look like unassuming, stable tiles; however, once you step on them, they will slosh water all over your foot and ankle. The worst time to step on these landmines is about 2 or 3 days AFTER the last rain meaning that the septic soup that is soaking through your sock is a stagnant concoction of debris, dog pee, and gutter runoff. Yech.
The obstacles on the sidewalk are many but—with practice and caution—you can become an expert side-walker.