The Fine Art of Diving Into Traffic

 

I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina 2 days ago and after a solid 18 hours on various flights between Miami, Mexico City and Santiago, I was ready to crash into anything soft and bed-like I could find. My wits were a bit scrambled, and though I was conscious enough to not get taken (too much) by the taxi driver who carted me from the airport to the downtown area, I still wasn’t ready for what I would see immediately upon exiting the vehicle.

I was picking up my carry-on bag from the curb, and when I looked up I saw a stampede of cars rumbling toward me, flying through the narrow ravine of road between the buildings. About 5 feet away, an old lady had stumbled into the street and was shambling her way to the opposite shore. She wasn’t going to make it in time.

Even more shocking was that as I was standing there thinking that the first thing I would see in my new home was going to be manslaughter, a half dozen other people of various ages start casually sauntering their way across the street, glancing at the cars uncaringly, almost contemptuously, as if they have nothing to fear.

And it turns out, they didn’t. The cars and people filtered past each other like water through gravel. The vehicles slowed slightly, but only just enough to dodge past a person at the last second if necessary. It was quite the spectacle. Like someone playing Frogger but using a cheat code.

It turns out that this is common practice here in BA. Traffic laws are quite lax, but there is a mutual understanding between drivers and pedestrians that allows both to continue on their way unhindered, so long as they don’t make physical contact.

Having been to New York numerous times, I know all about the power of the pedestrian mob: the walkers rule there, while the drivers just grin and bear it. As you walk around you’ll see people standing right there in the street, mere inches from the cars as they pass, waiting to be the first to the other side when the traffic has lightened up.

It’s a very similar situation in BA, except that here people dive into traffic willy-nilly, hurling themselves into the thick of things and only after having traveled a few steps do they look up to see if there’s any impending danger.

It seems like an incredibly risky way to do things, but it also seems to be incredibly efficient. I’ve made very good time walking miles across town to complete the various tasks I’ve had to get done in order to snag an apartment. It defies everything I’ve known in the past, but it does seem to be working.

But then, maybe it’s not completely unfamiliar territory. I have cast myself into the thick of things with only the modicum of acknowledgement for the risks. Any entrepreneur does this every day. It’s the risks that we take that allow us to get ahead, and though we may fail from time to time (or even more often than that), each and every effort leads to greater understanding, greater potential rewards, and, at the end of the day, a somewhat lackadaisical attitude toward risk. We’ve been through worse than this; what’s to be afraid of?

And it’s this last thought that is most important, because just as one becomes a better entrepreneur over time, through constant practice and at least as many failures as victories, one becomes a better Buenos Aires pedestrian over time, as well. The first several times I tried to keep a steady pace along the streets here, I ended up faltering, taking quick steps backward instead of following the crowd across the swarm of menacing automobiles. Now, 2 days later, I can feel the rhythm that everyone else seems to be keeping pace to, which makes crossing the mean streets of downtown BA a cakewalk.

I’m definitely not a master yet, and I keep one eye on the traffic in case an errant car falls out of step, but like with any new project or business idea I’m leaving myself time to learn the ropes while simultaneously facing the risks involved head on; thinking of the rewards, my life enriched by the journey toward them.

42 comments

  1. Very interesting read! I’m looking forward to reading more about your new location in the future.

    I really enjoyed how you connecting walking in Buenos Aires to entrepreneurship. It’s funny how easily you can used to things that were so amazingly frightening at first. I’m beginning to learn this lesson a lot in my life, so it was cool to read it here. It basically all comes down to action, that initial step. Once you’re past that nothing is as bad as it first seemed.

    Great post, hope everything is going well with the apartment search (if you haven’t found one by now).

  2. Very interesting read! I’m looking forward to reading more about your new location in the future.

    I really enjoyed how you connecting walking in Buenos Aires to entrepreneurship. It’s funny how easily you can used to things that were so amazingly frightening at first. I’m beginning to learn this lesson a lot in my life, so it was cool to read it here. It basically all comes down to action, that initial step. Once you’re past that nothing is as bad as it first seemed.

    Great post, hope everything is going well with the apartment search (if you haven’t found one by now).

  3. Very interesting read! I’m looking forward to reading more about your new location in the future.

    I really enjoyed how you connecting walking in Buenos Aires to entrepreneurship. It’s funny how easily you can used to things that were so amazingly frightening at first. I’m beginning to learn this lesson a lot in my life, so it was cool to read it here. It basically all comes down to action, that initial step. Once you’re past that nothing is as bad as it first seemed.

    Great post, hope everything is going well with the apartment search (if you haven’t found one by now).

  4. Yikes! This sounds both terrifying and exhilarating. What a first view! FYI for your travels: being able to nimbly dodge traffic and keep your cool at the same time will also prove to be an essential skill for blending in almost anywhere in Europe. I’ve had similar experiences in both Spain and France. I think we (as Americans in general) tend to be a little more lackadaisical in our interaction with our environment, where many other cultures (particularly when walking is the main mode of transportation) are a bit more aggressive.

    Bravo to you for picking up the rhythm so quickly! That’s not easily done.

  5. Yikes! This sounds both terrifying and exhilarating. What a first view! FYI for your travels: being able to nimbly dodge traffic and keep your cool at the same time will also prove to be an essential skill for blending in almost anywhere in Europe. I’ve had similar experiences in both Spain and France. I think we (as Americans in general) tend to be a little more lackadaisical in our interaction with our environment, where many other cultures (particularly when walking is the main mode of transportation) are a bit more aggressive.

    Bravo to you for picking up the rhythm so quickly! That’s not easily done.

  6. Yikes! This sounds both terrifying and exhilarating. What a first view! FYI for your travels: being able to nimbly dodge traffic and keep your cool at the same time will also prove to be an essential skill for blending in almost anywhere in Europe. I’ve had similar experiences in both Spain and France. I think we (as Americans in general) tend to be a little more lackadaisical in our interaction with our environment, where many other cultures (particularly when walking is the main mode of transportation) are a bit more aggressive.

    Bravo to you for picking up the rhythm so quickly! That’s not easily done.

  7. Glad you made it! Maybe this traffic situation is the same throughout Latin America. I noticed this same kind of organized chaos in Mexico. Anyway, I can’t wait to hear more about your journey. I’m aiming for Brazil myself.

    Also, do you have a flickr or some place I can check out your travel photos?

  8. Glad you made it! Maybe this traffic situation is the same throughout Latin America. I noticed this same kind of organized chaos in Mexico. Anyway, I can’t wait to hear more about your journey. I’m aiming for Brazil myself.

    Also, do you have a flickr or some place I can check out your travel photos?

  9. Glad you made it! Maybe this traffic situation is the same throughout Latin America. I noticed this same kind of organized chaos in Mexico. Anyway, I can’t wait to hear more about your journey. I’m aiming for Brazil myself.

    Also, do you have a flickr or some place I can check out your travel photos?

  10. I experienced the exact same thing in my (very limited) time in Buenos Aires. It is amazing how something so universal such as traffic, can be so different from place to place (especially compared to Portland, where drivers and pedestrians alike are oddly considerate).

    For some reason I was under the impression that you already had an apartment lined up down there. The fact you don’t makes the journey that much more exciting. Keep us posted!

  11. I experienced the exact same thing in my (very limited) time in Buenos Aires. It is amazing how something so universal such as traffic, can be so different from place to place (especially compared to Portland, where drivers and pedestrians alike are oddly considerate).

    For some reason I was under the impression that you already had an apartment lined up down there. The fact you don’t makes the journey that much more exciting. Keep us posted!

  12. I experienced the exact same thing in my (very limited) time in Buenos Aires. It is amazing how something so universal such as traffic, can be so different from place to place (especially compared to Portland, where drivers and pedestrians alike are oddly considerate).

    For some reason I was under the impression that you already had an apartment lined up down there. The fact you don’t makes the journey that much more exciting. Keep us posted!

  13. It’s exactly the same here in Tianjin, China, except it’s bicycles which seem to be the worst here. They rule the roads here. They seem to never obey the road rules. Pedestrians aren’t much better.

  14. It’s exactly the same here in Tianjin, China, except it’s bicycles which seem to be the worst here. They rule the roads here. They seem to never obey the road rules. Pedestrians aren’t much better.

  15. It’s exactly the same here in Tianjin, China, except it’s bicycles which seem to be the worst here. They rule the roads here. They seem to never obey the road rules. Pedestrians aren’t much better.

  16. Colin,

    It sounds like Karachi, or any major city in India or Pakistan, for that matter, and probably most of the Asia.

    Kudos to you for adapting so soon.

  17. Colin,

    It sounds like Karachi, or any major city in India or Pakistan, for that matter, and probably most of the Asia.

    Kudos to you for adapting so soon.

  18. Colin,

    It sounds like Karachi, or any major city in India or Pakistan, for that matter, and probably most of the Asia.

    Kudos to you for adapting so soon.

  19. That’s an awesome story Colin. It is funny how some of the smallest things in one place end up being major lifestyle changes in another. Sometimes for the betterment of one’s life and sometimes to take one’s life.

    Can’t wait to hear more about the beginning of your journey down in BA.

    Dave
    LifeExcursion

  20. That’s an awesome story Colin. It is funny how some of the smallest things in one place end up being major lifestyle changes in another. Sometimes for the betterment of one’s life and sometimes to take one’s life.

    Can’t wait to hear more about the beginning of your journey down in BA.

    Dave
    LifeExcursion

  21. That’s an awesome story Colin. It is funny how some of the smallest things in one place end up being major lifestyle changes in another. Sometimes for the betterment of one’s life and sometimes to take one’s life.

    Can’t wait to hear more about the beginning of your journey down in BA.

    Dave
    LifeExcursion

  22. That’s exactly how it was in China, too. Interesting to hear it’s like that in other places as well. You’ve given a good and articulate description of it.

  23. That’s exactly how it was in China, too. Interesting to hear it’s like that in other places as well. You’ve given a good and articulate description of it.

  24. That’s exactly how it was in China, too. Interesting to hear it’s like that in other places as well. You’ve given a good and articulate description of it.

  25. It doesn’t sound like you actually spent time in Santiago (yet), but it’s even worse there, I guarantee it. I lived there for a year–if you need any tips about BA or Santiago (or even Chile in general), I’m here. Enjoy your adventures. BA is a great city.

  26. It doesn’t sound like you actually spent time in Santiago (yet), but it’s even worse there, I guarantee it. I lived there for a year–if you need any tips about BA or Santiago (or even Chile in general), I’m here. Enjoy your adventures. BA is a great city.

  27. @Nate: Thanks! Yeah, I find that, cliche as it sounds, the first step is the hardest to take, and if you get used to just throwing yourself out there, it gets easier and easier (and you get better and better at compensating for any mistakes you made during your leap!).

    @Kristin: Totally, and I’m all about blending in when I travel (not a big fan of the tourist-style of travel, though I know many prefer the opposite and really seem to enjoy themselves), so it’s extra important to me to get into that rhythm!

    @J.D.: Ah, I intend to make it to Brazil, as well! Hopefully on this trip, in fact. Got a city in mind? Timeframe? Maybe we’ll be there around the same time? As for Flickr, you can see my page here (it’s erratically updated at the moment, but that will change very soon!).

    @Sean: The no apartment thing definitely made my first few days in BA exciting, frustrating and a little scary. That being said, I did manage to get something lined up and I moved in without having to take more than the two nights in the hotel I allotted myself (and the first day was all travel!), so I feel pretty good about my prospects of being able to get a place to stay quick in other places as a travel. Then again, BA is a big city, and a lot of the work I did was online (which won’t be the case in a lot of the other places I go).

    @Mr. Arvizu: Glad to have you aboard! I’m in Argentina because I’m traveling from country to country, a new one every 4 months, to experience living and working in different cities, different cultures, etc. Argentina in particular was chosen by my amazing readership (which reminds me: I’ll be posting a new blog on Monday that will ask where I should go next…the first 8 countries will go on the list and a poll will go up shortly thereafter so you can vote where I go in January when I leave Argentina!)

    @Gordie: I imagine that’s especially terrifying because you can’t hear them coming!

    @Rasheed: Thanks Rasheed! Hopefully I’ll be able to make a direct comparison sometime in the future!

    @Dave: Thanks for reading, Dave, and for the insight. It does seem to be the little things that catch my attention when I go to a new place. The devil’s in the details!

    @Jane: Thanks Jane :)

    @Thrice: I’m hoping to see some of the rest of Argentina while I’m here, perhaps spending a month in Patagonia or Mendoza. Any suggestions?

    @Jennifer: Thanks for the kind words, Jennifer!

    @Tristan: Nope, my experience with Santiago was limited to looking out the airport window into the fog at the Holiday Inn (a very cultural experience, you’ll note). I’ll definitely have to tap into your Chilean knowledge…I’m hoping to visit there for a few days while I’m down south.

    Thanks for the great comments guys!

  28. @Nate: Thanks! Yeah, I find that, cliche as it sounds, the first step is the hardest to take, and if you get used to just throwing yourself out there, it gets easier and easier (and you get better and better at compensating for any mistakes you made during your leap!).

    @Kristin: Totally, and I’m all about blending in when I travel (not a big fan of the tourist-style of travel, though I know many prefer the opposite and really seem to enjoy themselves), so it’s extra important to me to get into that rhythm!

    @J.D.: Ah, I intend to make it to Brazil, as well! Hopefully on this trip, in fact. Got a city in mind? Timeframe? Maybe we’ll be there around the same time? As for Flickr, you can see my page here (it’s erratically updated at the moment, but that will change very soon!).

    @Sean: The no apartment thing definitely made my first few days in BA exciting, frustrating and a little scary. That being said, I did manage to get something lined up and I moved in without having to take more than the two nights in the hotel I allotted myself (and the first day was all travel!), so I feel pretty good about my prospects of being able to get a place to stay quick in other places as a travel. Then again, BA is a big city, and a lot of the work I did was online (which won’t be the case in a lot of the other places I go).

    @Mr. Arvizu: Glad to have you aboard! I’m in Argentina because I’m traveling from country to country, a new one every 4 months, to experience living and working in different cities, different cultures, etc. Argentina in particular was chosen by my amazing readership (which reminds me: I’ll be posting a new blog on Monday that will ask where I should go next…the first 8 countries will go on the list and a poll will go up shortly thereafter so you can vote where I go in January when I leave Argentina!)

    @Gordie: I imagine that’s especially terrifying because you can’t hear them coming!

    @Rasheed: Thanks Rasheed! Hopefully I’ll be able to make a direct comparison sometime in the future!

    @Dave: Thanks for reading, Dave, and for the insight. It does seem to be the little things that catch my attention when I go to a new place. The devil’s in the details!

    @Jane: Thanks Jane :)

    @Thrice: I’m hoping to see some of the rest of Argentina while I’m here, perhaps spending a month in Patagonia or Mendoza. Any suggestions?

    @Jennifer: Thanks for the kind words, Jennifer!

    @Tristan: Nope, my experience with Santiago was limited to looking out the airport window into the fog at the Holiday Inn (a very cultural experience, you’ll note). I’ll definitely have to tap into your Chilean knowledge…I’m hoping to visit there for a few days while I’m down south.

    Thanks for the great comments guys!

  29. The greatest part of life abroad is that all our assumptions of what is normal and expected are questioned. Traffic is a perfect example.

    Canada and the US are quite orderly countries. There are many rules and regulations for everything and they are enforced. The rest of the world is not so strict.

    It still drives me nuts in Japan that after a traffic light turns red, several more cars will keep going. However, going to a city like Bangkok where dozens of cars, bikes and tuk-tuks will keep squeezing through red lights makes me realize that Japan is tame in comparison.

    Those standards are perfectly normal and accepted for the respective countries. Everything we take for granted as “normal” is just a cultural artifact that the rest of the world would likely deride as excessive.

  30. The greatest part of life abroad is that all our assumptions of what is normal and expected are questioned. Traffic is a perfect example.

    Canada and the US are quite orderly countries. There are many rules and regulations for everything and they are enforced. The rest of the world is not so strict.

    It still drives me nuts in Japan that after a traffic light turns red, several more cars will keep going. However, going to a city like Bangkok where dozens of cars, bikes and tuk-tuks will keep squeezing through red lights makes me realize that Japan is tame in comparison.

    Those standards are perfectly normal and accepted for the respective countries. Everything we take for granted as “normal” is just a cultural artifact that the rest of the world would likely deride as excessive.

  31. Oddly it’s often things like this you miss when you get back home. The weird and wonderful things you see on a daily basis in a new culture makes for great entertainment, I guess it eventually wears off, but even then I think I would rather be in familiar chaos than in Australia.

  32. Oddly it’s often things like this you miss when you get back home. The weird and wonderful things you see on a daily basis in a new culture makes for great entertainment, I guess it eventually wears off, but even then I think I would rather be in familiar chaos than in Australia.

  33. You are now primed to go to Vietnam too! Good for you for diving in…do you have plans to graduate beyond pedestrian to driver?!

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