Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Picking up a package and outsmarting pickpockets

November 3, 2011
Continuing the saga begun yesterday of our lonely package of motorcycle gear...

We've been waiting all week for the mailman to ring our doorbell with a package notice. The doorbell is a terrifyingly load buzzer - every time it goes off, I jump a little out of my chair - so this waiting was nerve-wracking on multiple levels.

Finally, around noon today, the package notice arrived! Rather than wait until tomorrow to go with our Spanish tutor (a local who could help us navigate the expectedly complicated Correo process), we decided to head straight over to the Retiro neighborhood and get it today.

We had read on another blog an account of picking up a package, so we expected it to take the entire afternoon (it did) and were not too confident we'd end up with the package (we did). After taking a bus to the general area (Google Maps was unspecific on the address), we had to find the building. A cop pointed us in the right direction, then someone else pointed us in a different direction and said it was 15 blocks away - we ignored him - then we found it, clearly marked Correo Internacional once it's within eyesight.

We took a number, E-14. Each letter cycled through 0-99. A piece of paper with the letter written on it was taped to the window at each cycle, and the three tellers each called numbers. They were at around C-60 when we arrived. The inside of the building was cooled with fans, but very cramped; outside it was hot and sunny. Sometimes it took half an hour to go through 10 numbers, other times they'd jump that in seconds, because people had left.

It quickly became apparent that no one was walking out of this room with an actual package in hand; this would be a multi-step process. After two hours, they were on the E's. We pushed to the front of the crowd and were right at the window with the number, package slip, and passport when we were called. Within a few seconds, our paper was torn in half, half sent to processing, the other half stamped and passed back.

What I imagine was going on upstairs
Now to actually get the package! That was through the next set of doors, into another waiting area - with chairs this time. Here's where the inner workings of the system became more interesting: at the first station, our paper was put in a pile and sent up on a pulley system to the floor above. Up there, from what I assume must have been utter chaos, the requested packages were found and put on a conveyor belt, back down to the package pickup area on the first floor. Once there, each package's six-digit numbers were read very quickly over the loudspeaker - testing our Spanish rapid-comprehension skills - and then the packages were strewn haphazardly around, to be again sifted and located one-by-one by customs/mail officials wearing white lab coats.

We waited another hour and a half. (I passed the time by reading a Kindle book on my phone and listening to the numbers.) At some point in the middle, we thought maybe our number had been called, and someone had suggested using "no español" as a tactic to expedite the process, so I went in - through an unmarked blue door that I only knew to go through by asking other people - and tried to get the package. It really wasn't there, though, and not being on the 1st floor, there was no way for the 1st floor crew to get it - so I went back to the waiting area. Finally our digits were actually called. The pickup area had no organized lines, just a few dozen people cramming to the front to hand in their slips. Someone tried to cut in front of me, and I made it clear with a make-way hand motion and "perdón, estoy en la fila" that it wouldn't fly. I got to the front, handed in my slip, the clerk went off for a while, and came back pointing to the other end of the pickup area, with a conveyor belt. And there it was!

Then the real fun started, taking this big package home in rush-hour traffic. The options were a taxi (slow, expensive) or the subway (cheap, faster, but packaged like a sardine can). I foolishly decided on the subway. The one smart decision I made was to give my phone to Steph, since her messenger bag (with its multiple zippers and flaps) was very hard to pickpocket.

So we got on the subway, and after two stops, the doors open, passengers exit, and my wallet suddenly gets pulled out with them. Now the reason I bought this wallet (at a camping store) was that it's attached to my belt buckle at all times via a chain. So if someone does try to pickpocket me - as happened this time, with the would-be-thief opening the button to my rear shorts pocket without my noticing, and grabbing the wallet on the way out of the train - rather than disappear, the wallet would simply yank me a little. And so it did.  The velcro and zipper on the wallet were unopened, and the thief got away with nothing. I'm quite sure, however, that if I hadn't given my phone to Steph, it would have been just as easily removed, and that would have been the end of that. So I really need to find a similar chain/zipper solution to that problem.

Finally home, all our possessions and most of our sanity intact, we opened the box (hooray!), cooked some hamburgers (we had forgotten about lunch in all the fun), and I promptly fell asleep and took a long nap.

- Ben

1 comment:

  1. Hello Ben, great reading about your ordeal with receiving a parcel in Argentina. I sent a package (returned shoes I bought) on the day you got yours (3 Nov) from Australia, and am nervous it might get "lost". Hope this is not the case...

    All the best in your trip!


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