Buenos Aires – Just received copies of the new issue of Passport magazine, in which an article I wrote a couple of months ago on some Buenos Aires dining recommendations appears. I’m always happy when things I write come out well! As always, the folks at Passport did a great job illustrating, even using one of my own pictures as the principal photo in the article!
Spent the morning at the Centro Postal Internacional retrieving the copies. Receiving international packages here is always a fun experience. While services like Fedex and DHL deliver direct, the post office does not. Oh yes, letters, even larger envelopes with a single magazine, will eventually arrive (I tend to get my magazines 8-10 weeks after they get sent, if at all). But, anything which is in a box, or of any larger size, gets held at the customs division in the CPI. And it gets held for bizarre amounts of time before they even tell you about it. It’s almost as if they’re waiting to see if the package does something on its own. I’ve learned that folks who send me something that is promised to be delivered in a week by the U.S. postal system will generally take somewhere between three and eight weeks to actually clear customs here. The whole process is a fascinating exercise in time wasting…
The postman first shows up at your door with a notice saying that you have a package held at the CPI. If, however, you are not personally there to sign for it, as the notice is delivered as a certified letter, and you must have your national identification card or passport to prove who you are, the postman doesn’t leave the letter. Instead, he leaves a delivery slip telling you to go to your local post office for a certified letter. There, depending on your branch, you will most likely stand in line, or take a number and wait, until your turn at the window, at which point you go through the standard sorts of things of identifying yourself, waiting for someone to find your notice, and then signing for it. The notice will inform you that you have a package waiting at the CPI, which is located on the far side of the Retiro train station, a sort of mixed industrial area on the border of the Retiro slum. It’s also only open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., very handy for folks who work fulltime.
At that point, the real fun begins. It’s totally dependent on the number of people retrieving packages, of course, but the first thing you do is take a number and wait in the outer waiting room. Eventually your number will be called by one of the two people processing pickup notices. This could take anywhere from just a few minutes to an hour (today was about half an hour for me). You hand them the pickup slip, identify yourself, and if there’s any customs duty on the package, pay it. You are then given back a stub torn off from the original notice, stamped to show that you’ve paid for any duty, and then you have to sign for the processing. The rest of your notice is tossed in a small box on a pulley system. The box will occasionally be hauled up to somewhere above in the building, seemingly at random times, for someone to either get your package or file away – I’m not sure; after all, there is a computerized system that the data is in as well.
At this point you head for the main waiting room. This is a lovely affair with peeling paint, broken windows, and a few desultory ceiling fans – resulting in temperatures basically equivalent to whatever is going on outside – receiving packages in the dead of summer or winter is, of course, the worst. Take a seat, your choice of the smoking or non-smoking side (4 feet of separation across an aisle), and wait. It’s easy to remember to wait, there are signs overhead stating Espera (Wait) in large letters.
Eventually, the stub number, a six digit sequence, will be called over a loudspeaker system reminescent of the New York subway announcements. Listen intently for your number to be called, and just hope you catch it. It’s not a bad idea to sort of note the few people who were processed before you, when you see them get up and go, figure your turn is probably coming up. If you don’t hear your number called and don’t go back into the customs division, they will, sooner or later, call it again, often with your name announced too. Eventually, by the way, can be anywhere from half an hour to two hours – I got lucky today and only waited about 50 minutes. At this point, you go back through a turnstile, then through two doors at right angles, making it hard to open both at once, and then proceed to a desk and hand them your stub.
The agent on duty will copy your information down, check your identification, and direct you to one of a the 8-10 desks off to the left. You go to that desk, show your stub again, show your identification again, and receive your package, which has a very good chance of having been opened and rummaged through by customs agents (strangely, today, mine hadn’t been). You then proceed around the corner to the checkout guard, who peels a barcode tag off your box, puts it on a form, checks your identification again, has you sign for it, gives you back your package, and sends you on your merry way.