Sunday, August 30, 2009

Day Trip to Colonia, Uruguay and More

With my friend Kristine visiting Buenos Aires, I've been spending long days bouncing from interviews and sight seeing in the capitol. But with the weekend we have found more opportunity to simply tour without the added stress of worrying about finding a job, though that thought is always there with me. After an interview on Friday we checked out Puerto Madero, which is continuing to be built up and reminded us both of the seaport by Baltimore. We wound up doing so much walking that I was quickly exhausted, especially after a long week, so after getting Kristine settled into a hostel and getting a steak dinner with some wine, we called it a night.

Our plan for Saturday was to take a day trip to Colonia, Uruguay, a small beach town that is accessible from Buenos Aires by ferry, either taking 1 hour or 3 hours, depending on how much you pay. We elected to take 3 hours going and 1 hour back, giving us the most time there. At the hostel Kristine was sharing a room with a Spanish girl named Iris, and she decided to join us for the day. As it would later turn out, Iris was from Sevilla, where I studied abroad, went to the same university as me at the same time, and worked at the Internet cafe across from my old house that I went to all the time. I probably saw a lot of her, but never knew it. We even knew some of the same people.

I woke up at 6:15 am Saturday, and after showering and dressing headed over to the hostel to meet the girls. Getting to the bus which took us to Puerto Madero, we went with BuqueBus, a company that runs ferry service. We hadn't reserved our tickets, but in higher season it's probably smart to do so. The terminal was like an airport, and we had to go through customs and those with bags had to check them. The trip was relaxed as we laid out on the top deck, taking in all the sun in a day without clouds. It has been hot in the last week, and despite that it's still winter and rain is on the way tonight to bring back the cold, it reached over 80* a few times this week. As it would happen, I got burned yesterday, continuing my tradition of getting burned no matter where I go or when I go.

Between the napping and discussing things the time went by and we soon saw Uruguay in the distance. This was going to be my second time in the small country, but visiting a new town. After arriving in Colonia, we oriented ourselves and found it to be a very small but peaceful beach town. With sleepy streets lined with trees, you got the feel of a small town where everyone knows each other. It's listed as a suburb of Buenos Aires even though it's in the country over, split by the Rio de la Plata. It was now past noon and we were hungry, so we changed $50 Argentinian pesos to $250 Uruguayan pesos and wound up spending it all on a big lunch which we all split.

Well fed, we spent the next few hours walking around the town, taking pictures, and in my case burning. As usual, I lacked sun block and a hat. One thing we noticed were the antique cars. Colonia has (apparently) almost as many antique cars as Havana, Cuba, and many people can be driven around in them. Other tourists rented scooters or golf carts to see the town. But with such small ground to cover, it's really unnecessary unless you just don't like walking.

Later on we tried to figure out how it was possible to view the sunset on the water, obviously going directly west, when we were on the Atlantic. Arguing about it for a while, we finally found a map and saw that the Rio de la Plata is huge, and it wasn't the Atlantic after all, but rather just the river which spread all the way to the horizon and beyond. Again back on the ferry to Buenos Aires, we met back up for a very late dinner, not even getting to the restaurant until midnight, yet it was still packed. Argentinians eat late.

Every 29th of the month is a day for eating ñioci, an Italian potato dish. All restaurants and cafes will offer it for a cheaper price. The story goes that it dates back to maids and employees from the government, who wouldn't be paid until the first of the month. By the last day of the month they would have no money left and would eat the cheapest thing, that being ñioci. Now it's something you can order once a month. We went to the same restaurant as the night before and got a big dish for $10 pesos. Keep in mind that at the moment, $1 US Dollar equals about $3.85 Argentinian pesos.

Kristine and I were exhausted, but Iris insisted we go out for a drink, so we agreed and went out to a plaza in San Telmo, packed with young people and old folks alike. There we sat talking with Argentinians and French students until 4 am when we could take no more. The touring has taken a toll on me, and I need to take it easy, but there's still so much to see. So today we got a very late start, checked out the antique market in San Telmo, where everything in expensive. I was wearing a Boca Juniors soccer jersey and got a lot of attention for it. Mostly positive, but one man told me that I was white and looked rich, so I should be from Palermo (a neighborhood here) and not be a fan of Boca. Apparently Boca is the working class team and he thought I shouldn't be a fan. That was news to me, if he represents the general feeling. Anyway, I live in Boca, so my options are limited.

It was too hot and we had to change out of pants into short, taking up another hour, so we finally headed to the center to tour Recoleta, a fancy neighborhood. Exploring the cemetery with Evita Peron's grave, I was ready to collapse. Kristine and I spent some time sitting at a cafe, where she had her first taste of Mate tea. The plan tomorrow is to check out some of Boca and then Palermo before an interview in the late afternoon. On Tuesday night we are taking a long bus to Mendoza, where we'll tour wine country for a couple of days, then head to Córdoba. I'll probably head back to Buenos Aires at the end of the weekend, though Kristine might continue to tour some of the country on her own. It's a huge country with much to see.

Above: Images from Colonia, Uruguay: Antique car, Sunset on the Rio de la Plata, Downtown Colonia

Friday, August 28, 2009

Touring Buenos Aires

My friend Kristine, another volunteer from WorldTeach, arrived in Buenos Aires last night. Kristine is extending with the organization in Ecuador for one more year, and before heading back to teach she's visiting Argentina for a little over two weeks. I'd been waiting to start doing touristy stuff until she showed up, and starting today, we have begun to tackle the sights of Buenos Aires.

After she got in last night we got a late dinner, which turns out is actually right on time since many porteños (people from Buenos Aires) eat dinner around 9 or 10 pm. This morning she woke me up at 9:30 am, ready to start the day, though I wasn't quite ready yet. After procrastinating a bit and checking email, discovering that I had a couple of new interviews to tend to, we got going on the day.

But by the time we got on the bus and into the center it was already around 12:30 pm. The bus took a different route today, which I at first attributed to road work, but immediately realized was because of rallies. We got off the bus and saw a long line of medical students marching down Avenida de Mayo. We watched for a few minutes before moving on to get some coffee, where I received a phone call about another interview for tomorrow. If I had any fears about not finding job opportunities, they were put to rest.

Heading towards the Casa Rosada (the presidential palace, "The Pink House") in the Plaza de Mayo, we realized that we were smack dab in the middle of political rallies. It seemed like every political group was represented, and everyone was banging drums, marching, and singing. It was electric in the crowd, and we had no idea what we'd just happened to have walked into. With our cameras in hand, we blended in like members of the press, snapping away photos.

Back in Ecuador, we were always told to avoid political rallies, but here we went towards it, ducking in between people to get a better shot and to see what it was all about. I hadn't heard about a rally, but it looked like it was about the president and health care. Different groups were cued and ready to march in order, and we waited in the plaza until we were nearly alone, left with the trash in the streets and the few journalists left reporting on the scene.

By this point, maybe 1 pm, it was already pretty hot. And we're still in winter here. So we walked along the busier streets, taking in the sights, and snapped some more photos of the more well known spots like Avenida 9 de Julio, one of the widest streets in the world with 17 lanes of traffic in the widest spots. There's also an obelisk, similar to that of the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. We moved on to get some lunch, and I finally dug into my first Argentinian steak. I'd been saving money and eating like a broke man for a few days in preparation for Kristine's arrival, but now that she was here I decided to spoil myself.

The steak was succulent and flavored, seemingly without effort. One of the best I've had in a long time, that's for sure. I was not disappointed, but after eating and drinking a beer, I was ready for a nap. We headed to a park I'd seen previously, and after checking out the memorial for the Falkland War casualties (Islas Malvinas) we laid out on the grass and took a little siesta. We tried to find Puerto Madero afterward as the sun was setting, but I later realized that we were too far north, so after realizing we were going the wrong way we turned around and headed to San Telmo.

San Telmo is close to where I live, but is an arty neighborhood that has nice squares with Tango dancers and antique shops. We walked around for a bit and I tried to find a shop that sold pillows to help with my hurting neck, but to no avail. We grabbed a beer at a square and mowed through some complimentary nuts before heading home to plan for tomorrow. With an interview tomorrow, Monday, and Tuesday, we'll be sticking around the city a few more days before trying to head out west to Mendoza and Cordoba for a bit. We made some pasta for dinner and relaxed watching some TV on the computer using Slingbox, a program that lets you watch cable from the United States on your computer from anywhere in the world with a signal. It's a nice addition to life abroad.

Tomorrow we'll continue exploring Buenos Aires, as well as preparing for my interview in the afternoon.

Above: Images from the political rallies this morning, La Casa Rosada

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Today I went for my first interview in Buenos Aires, taking a long trip to the neighborhood of Caballito. Caballito is a large neighborhood in the center of the city. After a combination of taking the bus, the subway, walking, and then taking a taxi, I finally got to the place of the interview. It took over an hour and I was thinking that things would have to be perfect for me to be able to make this trip 2 or 3 times a week.

The job would be part time, 12 hours a week, helping out as an administrative assistant for a marketing lecturer. Though he is currently in Australia on business, I met with two of his other assistants and had a 30 minute interview. Because the advertisement had been in English and my correspondence had been as well, I was under the impression that I was going to be speaking in my native language today, and I prepared as so. But when I got there I immediately saw that we were to be speaking in Spanish the whole time. But it wasn't a problem and I actually was asked to write a short review of a proposal in Spanish in about 10 minutes. I did the best I could until the short time frame, and I think it went okay.

There was another applicant waiting to be seen after me, so I'm definitely not the only person being considered. I think this job would be interesting, and though it's far away from where I'm living right now, the money offered was competitive and would make the trip worth it. Though I'd have to consider finding a place closer if I was offered the position, because in the end I'd spend too much on transportation.

After the interview I decided to try walking back in some way or another, so I walked a few miles, checking my little map every so often to make sure I was on the right track. This city is huge, but fortunately there are large avenues that run close to the length of the city, or intersect with other large streets at the very least, so you can use those large roads to guide you. I kept my eyes out for Avenida Corrientes, a famous street that runs almost entirely across the city, and eventually got on it. From there I took a subway farther down the street to avoid going down 20 blocks or so on foot. The subway here costs $1.10 pesos, which is very cheap. Cheaper in fact than the bus, which generally costs $1.20 pesos.

Back out on Corrientes again, I walked around the street that reminded me of 42nd Street in New York. Very built up with huge stores and expensive restaurants, it also intersects Avenida 9 de julio, one of the biggest streets in the world. On one side alone there are 10 lanes of traffic. In the center there is a large Obelisk monument, which looks like a mini-Washington Monument. By now it was getting closer to 5 pm, and I wanted to get back on the bus to get home before being stuck in rush hour traffic. I got mixed up a few times and had to backtrack several times to find the bus stop, but at the same time was able to get more familiar with the area.

When I got home I saw that I'd been emailed for an interview with an English language institute tomorrow afternoon. I was thinking of going back to the Registro de las Personas in the morning, but it turns out the interview is right down the street, so I might just stop in quickly in the afternoon before the interview to see if there was a mistake yesterday. Hopefully it was.

I'm looking forward to my friend Kristine, another volunteer from Ecuador, coming to visit tomorrow. It's a bit early for visitors, and I barely know the city, but Kristine is returning to Ecuador for another year and before she goes she is coming here for a couple of weeks. Our plan is to eat steak, drink wine, and tango on a repeat. Also, we want to try to visit Mendoza and Cordoba before we both have to get busy working again. So once she gets here I'll start really touring the city.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Two Worlds

The alarm went off at 5:15 am, and after showering and dressing, I hit the dark, cold street to catch the 24 to the Plaza de Mayo. Keeping my eyes tight on the road for landmarks, it was harder in pitch black and with fatigue always there. Off the bus and down to the Registro de las Personas at 25 de mayo 155, I thought I would be getting to the DNI registration office early. After all, it was about 6 am, and they didn't even open until 9:30. But to my dismay, the line wrapped around the block, down the street, and to the other side of the building on both sides. A random guy showed me the end of the line and then offered to let me cut him up at the front for some money. I wasn't interested.

Still pitch black, the cold of the winter was biting at me, but I stood still in line behind everyone else, and turning around I realized that maybe 100 more people were suddenly behind me. We all stood still and quiet, next to homeless people sleeping on dirty mattresses, their old blankets covering everything but their matted hair. Standing there I realized that we were all going to be like this for 3 more hours, and it seemed so futile. But I had to be there, I had to get my papers in order so I could legally live here. I had the right, after all, and I didn't want to have to jump the border to Uruguay every 3 months.

For some reason when I'm awfully tired and doing nothing but standing around, I get these deep thoughts, and of course I'm never in a position to write any of them down at the time, so I just keep thinking and thinking. Two worlds emerged before me in that line. People have always told me that Argentina, particularly Buenos Aires, is very "European." Yet I've also heard that this country is still basically considered "developing." In the center of this enormous metropolis, it was clear that there was huge influence from other cultures, yet I got the feeling that we were still very much in a developing country.

Just traveling through a place you hardly see these kinds of things, especially if you stick to the neighborhoods heavily trafficked by other tourists. But few travelers find themselves in a line waiting to get an national ID card. The process was a bit ridiculous, spliced in with what I have come to expect out of Latin America. Coming here has always been a dream of mine, and somewhere in that dream I half expected the streets to be paved in gold. The other half was simply filled with wonder and uncertainty. The truth is, these streets are not paved with gold, and the sidewalks are just as broken and filled with dog shit as the other cities I've seen.

The line jumped up rapidly and for the next 10 minutes we went from stalemate to advance, back and forth. By now I could see the sunrise down by Puerto Madero, painting an image that comes out only in winter months, and as the light hit the streets and buildings, the character of the city suddenly changed. It wasn't over the top, but the city took on a new look. Turning the corner, the buildings looked somehow taller and prouder . The skyscrapers not so much an eyesore, but an addition. This city is different than the others, I thought to myself.

In the line of people I would hear an accent and know they weren't Argentinian. Like me, they were trying to get papers to be legalized to live here. Yet would we ever fit in? The fact that my mother was from Buenos Aires would maybe help me fit in better with others. But a Peruvian's Spanish would no doubt be better than mine. Even with the citizenship, we might all be as welcomed as the people sleeping against the building. I'll never really fit in anywhere, partly as a result of my own lineage. Just 100 years ago everyone on both sides of my family was living in Europe. Eventually some went to Argentina and some went to the U.S. Before that they were Polish. But they weren't really Polish either because they were Jewish, and so they weren't considered real citizens there, just like their ancestors probably weren't considered real citizens wherever they were hundreds of years before that.

And now, after my family has only been in the U.S. for a generation or two, I arrived in a new land like an immigrant and tried to fit in. Tried, but maybe not quite doing it. Suddenly the line jumped and two men appeared, telling us that they were already full for the day and we had to come back on October 15th. No one really wanted to take the time to explain it slowly for me, and being totally confounded, I left for another office, getting sent back to 25 de mayo, only to be booted again. I'll need to try my luck again on October 15th.

I don't want it to sound like I'm disappointed with what I'm seeing so far. But I'm taking it all in and thinking about it deeply. This is not a city lined with gold, but it's far from the developing nations I've seen. Coming from a spending 11 months in a country that falls distinctly in the category of developing, this nation is harder to define. Maybe it's still defining itself. Yet there is no doubt in my mind that I am still in South America, and not in Europe. I have a view of some high rises from my apartment roof, looking into the distance as the city gets more expensive. It's a slightly obstructed, hazy view. I wonder how mine will change in these coming weeks and months.

Above: A different view of Buenos Aires

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Leaving Washington, On the Ground in Argentina

Once I got going on Friday afternoon things got better. I met my friend Kerry for lunch in downtown Washington, right on Capitol Hill. It was pretty cool to be around all of the famous monuments and buildings. It was my third time in the capitol, but I had only previously been when I was a child and for an afternoon a couple of years ago. I walked around from a couple of Smithsonian museums, stopping inside to ride out a thunderstorm and cool off with the air conditioning.

I suddenly decided, with only about a couple hours to spare, that I really wanted to see the World War II Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Following the Washington Monument, I walked with a purpose through the intense humidity, and by the time I was past the Reflecting Pool and at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I was drenched. I sat for a while thinking and cooling off before heading back into downtown to catch a bus to the airport, where I waited with the two other passengers from the night before.

Again our flight was delayed, this time two hours, because of thunderstorms, But the worst part was that once we were on the plane and the gate was locked, United Airlines opened up the gate again TWICE to let more people on who were making connections, holding us up even longer. We stayed on the ground another hour at least, but the night before they couldn't hold the plane for 10 minutes. It was a royal slap in the face. Despite all of the nonsense from United, we finally got airborne and for once I actually slept on a plane for a bit, aided by the fact that with so many empty seats, I was able to spread out a little bit.

And finally, after waiting for so long and dreaming about it for years, we arrived in Buenos Aires at 11:30 am local time. Right now Argentina is an hour ahead of New York. After going through customs I got a car service to take me to my apartment where I tried to get a bit settled in. On the ride through the city my first impressions weren't great. I kept in mind that most areas around an airport are pretty lousy, but to me it just seemed like any other city. It didn't help that it's winter here, and aside from being cold, all of the leaves are dead and the trees are bare. I haven't been in winter in maybe 15 months, and all through 2 summers ago, Ecuador, and recently at home, I saw lush green vegetation. It was a bit shocking to see this all again. It definitely takes away from scenery.

The neighborhood where I live is in a crossroads. The street we live on, Avenida Regimiento de Patricios, mostly known as just Patricios, is a border. On one side is Barracas, on the other La Boca. And about two blocks up the street is San Telmo. It's definitely a blue collar neighborhood with nothing glamorous, and has a reputation for being dangerous. Just a few blocks away is the stadium for the soccer club Boca Juniors. In many ways, the apartment I live in reminds me more of the place I lived in in Ecuador than what I had imagined Buenos Aires would be like, but I'm not totally disenchanted. I have some friendly and helpful roommates, and we actually had a party last night.

The woman who rents the apartment out, Kate, is from Kentucky and was celebrating her 1 year anniversary in Buenos Aires. Some of her friends came over and we ate some food, drank a little beer, and eventually passed around the Mate tea. Even though I was exhausted we hung out until 4 am. Sleeping in a bit, I went out with Kate today to try to learn some of the bus routes and see some of the city. We found the building that (I think) I have to go to tomorrow to deal with my citizenship papers.

After splitting a pizza and piece of cake we went to see a Senegalese movie, but within minutes of the movie starting I passed out and only occasionally woke up to see what was going on. We were both pretty tired and once the short movie ended we headed home as the sun was setting. I've still got a lot to see and do here, but I've got a little taste now, and I'm curious to see the rest. Tomorrow I need to get to the DNI citizenship paper office by 6 am, so hopefully things will go well for me, otherwise I will be tired and frustrated.

Above: Pictures from my day in Washington D.C. Capitol Hill, the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Alive in Buenos Aires

I'm too tired and jet lagged to write a full account just yet, though I will get to work on that tomorrow. But I just wanted to post a quick blog to let people out there know that I have finally arrived in Argentina and am now sitting in my apartment. It was a long two days of travel, and I'm so tired right now that I feel as if I was on a boat all day, the room rocking and swaying while I sit motionless in my chair. Buenos Aires is cold in this sudden shift from summer to winter, and I'm huddling by the space heater for shelter.

If you're interested, you can read this interview, conducted by John Bardos, about my teaching experiences in Ecuador. John asked me some questions about my program, as well as advice I would have for people who are considering teaching there.

Check back tomorrow for an update of my arrival to Argentina.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Stuck in D.C./Never Fly United Airlines

I should have arrived in Argentina about an hour ago, but instead I'm sitting in a friends' living room in Washington D.C. What happened is that last night couldn't have gone any worse for someone who is traveling on a tight schedule or a tight budget. Things started badly on the way to the airport in Boston, with huge traffic delays close to rush hour. But there were no accidents and the lanes suddenly opened up by the airport as if there was never traffic at all. The first close call was narrowly avoided.

Once I was checked in and at my terminal gate, things seemed to be going along, yet there was still no plane at the gate. However, the board said that we were "On Time." Eventually a flight attendant spoke softly into the microphone to say that the plane we were using had just landed and there would be a little delay. This wasn't a good thing.

For whatever reason, STA Travel had booked me on the 7:26 pm flight from Boston to Washington Dulles. From Washington Dulles, I was scheduled on the 9:52 pm to Buenos Aires. This only gave me about a 45 minute window according to their itinerary, never a good enough amount of time. But there was little I could do about it, and it was the cheapest option. I was a bit nervous, but knew in the back of my mind that even if I missed my connection, United Airlines would help out because it wasn't my fault the plane was late.

After we all boarded we sat in traffic on the runway as the sky got darker, and by the time we took off we were delayed over an hour. I was pretty sure by this point I wouldn't make my flight, but was surprised how quickly we got to Washington. In only about an hour and a half we made it, touching down at 9:30 pm. The whole flight they were announcing information about connections, asking people (who in the end didn't) to stay out of the aisles unless they were connecting. We were cutting it close, that was for sure, but we were confident that at the very least the tower would radio that a plane had just landed with many connections.

We were wrong. We rushed off of the plane as soon as we could and ran from gate C7 to C12, which weren't close to each other. But no one was at the gate anymore. We ran to the next one to ask for help, and the man there simply told us to wait at the gate. Going back, we could see out the window that the plane was still there. Two women came from behind the gate and as we frantically explained our cases, they unsympathetically stated that the gate was already closed and there was nothing they could do. There were three of us from Boston: a woman trying to make it for her daughters' graduation tomorrow, an Argentinian on his way home, and myself, tyring to make an interview that would have been today.

I could understand at the very least missing a flight because of delays. Those things happen, and you can't change the weather that delays planes across the globe. But what United Airlines did to us after this was inhumane, and I've never seen such rude behavior by customer service representatives. We were told to go speak to someone, and after waiting in line a few minutes they started reading off our names with new tickets for the same flight at the same time tomorrow (today). 24 hours later.

Normally when the airline is at fault for your delay (anything other than you personally causing the missed flight) they will take care of your hotel reservations, fees, transportation, and food vouchers. Just earlier this month while flying home from Quito to Miami I was bumped without my consent from my original flight. LAN put me up in a 3 Star hotel, paid for gourmet meals, and put me in business class the next day, in addition to $170 added to my credit card. United Airlines, on the other hand, only offered 50% off on a hotel, no transportation, and no meal vouchers. Even if we went to the hotel we would have to check out hours and hours before heading to the airport.

Nevermind the fact that some of us just spend $1000 on a plane ticket, but I'm broke enough as it is. It should not be my responsibility to front the cost of a hotel when their plane gets me to my destination late. I got to the airport on time, I expect the airline to do the same. This is why you bother paying so much money for a plane ticket in the first place. But the man and woman from United offered no assistance. They had 50 other people missing connections to deal with, and no one was happy because of this policy.

The woman claimed that because it was weather and not mechanical delays, United didn't have to pay for our hotel. She said no airline does that, which is a lie. Last year I was on a flight on American Airlines which was canceled because of an imminent blizzard. Say what you want about American, but at least they put me up in a hotel with meal vouchers and got me on the next flight. United, in this case, wouldn't even try to reroute us another way. There's only one flight a day to Buenos Aires, and when I told them I couldn't afford a hotel, she suggested I stay in the airport. Really? For 24 hours?

Worse still, they couldn't even give us our bags. Jokingly, the woman said if we really wanted them we could wait in line for 3-4 hours and fill out some forms. So she was basically giving us the big "FU." I guess I'll just continue to wear the same clothes for another 30 hours, no problem since it's August and my deodorant is packed away. No toothbrush either. Luckily I had my glasses on, but if my contacts were in I would be forced to wear them for 2 straight days.

I've done a lot of traveling and a lot of flying with many airlines throughout my life, and I believe this to be my first, and last experience with United Airlines. I have never been treated so unfairly, and I recommend to any travelers out there to avoid this airline, which has made it quite obvious that they are not passenger-friendly. Even through flying with cheap airlines in Europe where I sometimes questioned whether I'd make it there or not, I didn't deal with this kind of trouble. And say what you want about LAN bumping me without my consent, but at least they took care of me.

I'm missing an interview in Buenos Aires as a result of this, and the other woman from Boston is missing her daughters' graduation, as well as losing 1 of her 2 days in the city. Luckily I have friends who went to college in Maryland and still have friends in Washington, D.C. I was able to get in touch with them, and after a $35 airport shuttle, I got to my friend Kerry's apartment, where I'm spending the day until heading back to the airport.

The thing this all reminded me of was dealing with corrupt officials or backwards policies in Latin America. There, I've said it, United Airlines is as efficient as a corrupt company in a developing country. And I hope that someone from this company will read this and see that in a time of a shaky economy, where you really need to go that extra mile to win over the customers, they have failed. I heard at least 5 people say they will never fly United again. I will continue to travel and move on. If United continues these policies, I can't say the same for them.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Like a veil slowly being pulled away from my face, consciousness starts to come in as the light in the room fills the void from the chasm--on one side there is asleep, on the other awake. And before I know it, my eyelids still shut, I know that I'm awake and today is a new day. Try as I may to just remain in bed and stay in the moment, I'll eventually accept the fact that it's over, and just kicking it in bed is only detracting from the time left.

But I want to remember this moment, how I feel right now. I want that lasting image, so I stay in bed with the covers on me and the oscillating fan on the low setting, with the shades allowing only cracks of light through the two windows ahead of me and off to the right. There's perfect silence and it's gorgeous. No alarms, no babbling down the hall, no TV at all. Waking up naturally is a gift, and even though I've never been a morning person and I'm still a bit crabby after waking up on my own volition, I'm grateful for not being woken up with a jolt.

Finally, after a minute or two of floating on the bed, I vote in favor of getting up. I have to pee and there's only one thing you can do in that situation. But the bed is so firm, so comfortable, and after spending so many months on a saggy bed that creaked nearly every time I breathed deeply, I appreciate the calm of this one all the more. I don't know what my bed will be like tomorrow, but right now, in this moment, this is the best bed ever. Period.

Down the hall to the bathroom the silence continues, broken only by the sound of liquid hitting liquid, but that's alright. It's better than a honking horn. And then suddenly, like the sunrise hitting different parts of the trees and running the shadows out of town, noises start to present themselves. A voice downstairs, the distant sound of some music being played through lousy speakers, a coffee machine. These are the sounds of a home-- one which will soon be minus one person. I have all morning and afternoon to idle around before heading to the airport with my parents, so I take my time.

A small breakfast, a quick run, and a luke-warm shower. Like with the bed I want to remember this shower, and I extend it just a minute or two, because I have no idea what the next shower will be like. How much grime will be in the tub, or how bad the pressure will be. It's a random guess, but in this sweet little shower in this house I grew up in, I'm enjoying one last solid rain storm. Keeping in mind how much water would be selfishly wasted in order to reminisce, I get out and dress. A small lunch is all I need because I'm having a way too early dinner around 3 or 4 o'clock, one last time for mom's fajitas that I love so much. Then off to the airport.

Still here though, with just a couple hours left to spare. It drags, the sky gets darker, and a thunderstorm is on the horizon. I wonder if this will screw up my flights, but I've previously learned how to just take it all as it comes. If it rains it rains. And if the plane is late or doesn't arrive at all, at least I had my last comfortable sleep, decent shower, and favorite dish at home. One way or another I'll get to where I'm going, but I'm not even here anymore. So many people, myself included, have been down this road before. I'm used to this. Yet it's always something new. Something different to look for. I'm alone now. I'm on the road now.

All Set to Go, Again

Final preparations have been made, and with the exception of some last minute, day-of packing, I'm now ready to leave for Argentina tomorrow night. Last night I had a final dinner with some friends, and tonight I had dinner with my family. After the dinner I saw some of the friends one last time, and now it's just a matter of hanging out tomorrow until I leave for the airport.

My first flight from Boston to Washington, D.C. is around 7:30 pm, and once I get in there I only have a short window of time before the connection on to Buenos Aires. I'm excited and ready for it, though there is always that bit of sadness that comes with saying goodbye to a familiar place and friendly people. I just hope I can contain some of the excitement and be able to fall asleep easily tonight.

I will try to continue blogging throughout the process, but it might be difficult to do so for the next few days, what with all the moving around and all. The very day I land in Buenos Aires, Friday morning, I have an interview with a potential employer. It will undoubtedly be a bit difficult to find my way around the Metro and neighborhoods, but I've been going over the maps and trying to familiarize myself with the city before actually getting there. Hopefully the jet lag after a red eye flight won't rough up my interview too much.

From here on out it might be quiet for a few days, but don't worry. Soon enough I'll have blog posts all about the journey and how it has been getting adjusted to Argentina. And I will try to have a camera on me as I get accustomed to the new country, taking interesting photos and videos as well. Keep tuned in, as it will be a series of discoveries and adventures up ahead.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Year in the Making: Then and Now

I'm getting ready to leave again, this time for Buenos Aires, Argentina. Thursday night will be my last time in the United States for a long time, and I'm not sure when I'll be back home. I have no return flight, and if the right job comes along and things are going well, I'm not going to rush home. I've picked up most of the things I need, bought new clothes, and even have a new lap top to boot. All I have to do now is pack.

So I'm thinking about how I felt a year ago, preparing to leave the U.S. for a year of teaching in Ecuador, compared to how I feel now, going for probably at least a year to live in Argentina. Obviously, things are much different now. I've already got a year of experience in South America under my belt, thought I know things will be so very different in this new country I'm going to. For one thing, people refer to it as "European", rather than "developing".

I've been to Chile and Uruguay, but never to Argentina, despite the fact that my mother is from Buenos Aires and I've always wanted to go. I guess I've been saving the best for last. Having traveled all throughout Ecuador and parts of Peru, I can already attest to the differences from the countries in central and northern South America as opposed to those in the south. Basically, life will be nearly totally different from what I was experiencing in Ecuador.

Before leaving for Ecuador I was nervous, unsure of what lay ahead and what would happen to me. A million different images of what Ecuador would be like ran through my head, none of which were correct. So much uncertainty hung in the air, so much depended on being able to deal with whatever happened with a smile. On the exterior, I told people I wasn't nervous and was pumped to go, but inside I knew that wasn't entirely true. Alone in a room at night before waking up early to leave, your true emotions show themselves.

A year later, almost to the exact date, I'm not feeling that way anymore. I just barely got home really, and I'm still in a state of semi-reverse culture shock. I'm still amazed by some things, and these American prices continue to perplex me. But I'm looking forward to going back to South America, especially since it's to a country that I've dreamed of going to for so long. I don't feel nervous, even with the uncertainty of going down without a job waiting for me. I've survived in a country that can make life difficult at times, and I'm confident that I can deal with almost anything now. In fact, it's a little bit strange now when things get accomplished with too much ease.

I'm also going to enter a new sort of life. I have dual citizenship in Argentina, and all I need to do (hopefully) when I get there is sign a paper and apply for my DNI citizenship card, and then wait for the passport many months later. Barring any terrible delays, I'll be just like any other Argentinian, sort of. But for all intents and purposes, I won't just be another foreigner in another country again...sort of. I'll be able to vote, get a bank account, and even pay taxes (so excited!). This will also enable me to receive free health care.

These past weeks at home have passed by quickly, as I expected, and luckily I never felt bored. But I can also see myself spending some more time at home, which wasn't something I was fully prepared for. But it's a good thing, because it means that I'll have something to come home to, whenever that may be. For now, I'm keeping my eyes to the horizon and looking at the map, wondering what will come up next.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Simmering in the City

On Friday afternoon, after receiving a clean bill of health from the doctor, I headed into Boston to meet up with some friends. I always tell people who aren't familiar with the area that I'm from Boston, but I really live about 30 minutes south of the city, so I don't spend too much time running around in my "hometown." But now more of my friends have moved into the city, so it's easier to go in for nights out.

My plan was to spend Friday and Saturday in the Boston area, and on Sunday drive to Amherst, almost 2 hours away to get some great food. One last big thrill at home. So on Friday I headed into town and, though I was lost at first because there never seem to be any street sign in Massachusetts, I eventually parked my car across from my friends house in Allston. From Allston, I took the Green Line into Boston to meet up with my friends after work. We had bought tickets to see comedian Dave Attell perform at the Wilbur Theater, and we were happy with the performance. Though dirty, he manages to somehow keep it in check and not lose the audience.

After the show we grabbed burritos, headed back to the apartment in Beacon Hill for a drink, and then went out to a bar/club called The Good Life. It could have been a cool spot, but there was only a small circle for a few break dancers, and there was no way I was going to get in the middle of that. After a while we'd had enough and flagged down a taxi. But a girl was getting out slowly and we waited politely. Once we got in the meter still said $9.40, so we told the driver to reset it. Apparently, the girl told him we would pay for her cab and he believed it.

The driver had an accent and I could tell he didn't speak English very well, and I was genuinely mad that the girl thought she could just blow off a cab like that. We were going to go back into the bar to find the girl, but the driver just decided to cut his losses and move on. After that fiasco we just got some pizza and headed home.

The next morning my friend Dan headed off to the Countryfest Music Festival in Foxboro, while my other friend Dave who lives in Allston picked me up. We grabbed breakfast, met up with some other friends, and eventually made our way to Hampton Beach in New Hampshire. By the time we got there many of the crowds had already left, and we had a good section of the beach to ourselves. We played football in the water, but eventually high tide came in and we ran out of beach, literally pinning us against the rocks at the retaining wall. It was time to go.

Back to Allston we went, cleaning up and eventually heading out to a party and then a bar until closing time. But somehow, after walking a friend back to her car and then watching some TV, we didn't get to sleep until 4 am. And by the time I woke up at 6 am the heat and humidity were already very high.

My other friend Dan was still in Sharon after the concert and he had to take the commuter rail into Boston. I picked him up at 12:30 pm and we headed off for Amherst, our old college town. We'd been talking about going back there for a day to eat at our favorite places for about 6 months, and it was something that kept me going every time I had a lousy meal in Ecuador. Now we were finally going to do it.

One of the things that always irked me about driving out to Amherst was driving on the Mass Pike. It's just so open, with nothing to look at but a million trees, and with hardly any exits, you have few chances to pull off in the event of heavy traffic, which always happens. Today was one of those days. Shortly after starting the trip traffic was bumper to bumper, and we were backed up for 14 miles with 2 separate accidents. The temperature was 96*, and the air conditioning in my car was broken. As a friend said, it was hell on wheels.

Both of us were sweating profusely, and we had to pull off at the rest area to get drinks before passing out. We were seriously considering just pulling off at the next exit and turning around. Neither of us had eaten and it was getting late, and I was wondering if it would really be worth the hassle. I was dehydrated and feeling dizzy. But we had also been thinking about the burritos from Bueno y Sano and the pizza from Antonio's for months. It's mouth watering food, I tell you.

We kept driving, each give and go on the clutch wearing on my feet. I was leaning towards going home, but Dan wanted to go on. So we did. For miles we dragged until finally it broke and we were free. A trip that normally takes between 1.5-2 hours with lighter traffic took us almos 3.5 hours. But we were back in Amherst, finally. We parked the car just as rain started to fall and went straight for Bueno y Sano, our favorite burrito joint.

One of the best aspects of the Bueno burrito is the wrap. An underrated aspect of the burrito, we believe that a truly great burrito needs to be held together, so that you can stand it up and it won't fall apart. Bueno burritos normally go above and beyond with this test, but today we were ordered the Grande's, and I guess there was too much for the wrap to handle. Both burritos started falling apart. It was disappointing, but still delicious. Nothing beats those burritos.

Once we were satiated, we walked around for a few minutes and maybe 25 minutes later headed to Antonio's Pizza for our second meal. We both got the Chicken, Bacon, Ranch pizza. It was tough to finish it after a grande burrito, but we had to. It was too good and we'd come too far. The meals were successful. We'd only been in town about an hour, but it was time to go. We quickly drove around the UMass campus to see the changes and started the trip home.

Hitting some light traffic on the way back, I finally got Dan to South Station by 7:30 and was home by 8 pm. A very long travel day, and perhaps it was too much. I'm still not sure if it was worth it, but the food definitely justifies the hassle. And maybe in another year we'll do it again. Just hopefully with less traffic and sweating.

My last weekend was fun and I was able to see some friends for the last time. I'm off to Argentina on Thursday, and a whole new set of adventures will begin. But I'll always be able to come back to Boston and have friends here. It's nice to know things like that.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Confessions of an Economic Hitman

John Perkins

Today I finished reading "Confessions of an Economic Hitman," by John Perkins. Perkins, who started out his international career as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Amazon in Ecuador, wound up becoming a large factor in U.S. foreign policy that helped shape our world today. But not for a good reason, as the title might suggest.

Perkins details in his memoir about his involvement with a now defunct company, MAIN, working out of Boston. MAIN was an engineering company that secured projects all over the world for such things as electrical plants and dams. Basically, Perkins job was to travel to developing countries and "trick" international banks with inflated profit margins. With these bogus projections, he was able to secure enormous loans, knowing that the countries would never meet those goals and never be able to repay the loans. But that was the point all along.

In essence, this was another form of slavery or feudalism, currently known as Globalism. These companies, and by association the U.S. government, wanted these countries to fall behind on their loans so that they could exploit their natural resources when needed or call in favors at the U.N. Mostly, these natural resources dealt with oil. Perkins does not try to hide his own involvement, talking about how he had to lie to representatives, pimp for Saudi princes, and mislead people with his resume and expertise. Perkins worked with MAIN in countries like Indonesia, Panama, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Colombia, as well as having knowledge of Ecuador, Venezuela, and Iraq and Afghanistan.

This book can come off pretty technical, and for someone like me who never really studied economics, it was at times a bit confusing and dry, but the author also tries to put it in a context and language that everyone can understand. It's an incredibly revealing read, and an eye opener indeed. For the last few days I've been feeling a bit down and finally realized today that it was mostly after reading in this book that I felt worse. What is revealed in the pages is a scheme that the United States has been pulling off for the last half century, forcing its hand in the politics of other sovereign nations, and removing democratically elected leaders when they refused to give in to corporate demands. It's a hard thing to learn.

However, before we go patting Perkins on the back for being such a thoughtful whistle blower, we have to remember that he was in fact an Economic Hitman who helped in furthering that system of corruption and drawing countries into tremendous debt and trouble. He should be lauded for finally quitting his job and speaking out against it, but he is also guilty of some crimes, if not legally than morally. But, there is something to be said about admitting wrongdoing and trying to make amends, which he seems to be doing with his non-profit organization, Dream Change.

Perhaps I find this so interesting because I have just spent 11 months in Ecuador myself. I have driven over the very dam he describes by Ambato and have been through the town of Shell, named after the oil company. Having lived in this country, the words take on a new meaning, just as the parts on Indonesia or Panama would mean more if I'd lived there. Perkins writes about how he started out in a volunteer organization and convinced himself that he was still doing these countries good by putting in projects in their countries. As I'm interested in a career in international relations, and having just finished a year of volunteering, I'm going to use this book as a guide and hope that I don't fall into the same trap, and to see to it that I'm actually helping a country, rather than exploiting it.

I highly recommend reading this book even if you've never heard of these places or have no concept of economics. In the 11 months in Ecuador many other volunteers had recommended it and I had to wait until I got home to get a copy, but the wait was worth it. If nothing else, it will enlighten you to some of the things that our nation does in the name of progress.

Above: Photo of John Perkins, by Daniel Miller, from Dream Change.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Boredom Sets In

Being home so far has been great. I've been able to catch up on some rest and relaxation (as if I was totally stressed out beforehand anyway) and hang out in the suburbs after living in a heavily polluted city for 11 months. I've continued running and biked a bit too, hoping not to gain back too much weight after losing so much in Ecuador, which I don't think was a totally negative thing anyway.

After buying a couple of books and a Lonely Planet guide to Argentina, I've been keeping as busy as I can be by reading for at least a little bit each day, and in the last two days have really stepped it up by trying to finish "Confessions of an Economic Hitman," by John Perkins. It's interesting to read this book because in addition to talking about other developing countries, the author writes about his own experiences in Ecuador, and it's always cool to read about a place that you know so well.

I've seen friends, and though I haven't seen them all or as much as I would like to, it's still nice to catch up with those that still want to. I've eaten better food and drunken better beers, enjoyed nicer weather and a wider array of television programs. Though I have to admit, my enthusiasm for television has severely dipped, and I can hardly sit down in front of the TV long enough to finish a 30 minute show. I don't necessarily think that is a bad thing though.

I'm now working on a new lap top, a MacBook Pro, and have been getting adjusted to it over the last week or so. Things are going well, and I've already started to forget some of the habits that using a PC tied me down to for so many years. So I've kept busy, which is always a good thing as long as you're okay with it. But today, after reading for a while and watching a movie, already having run over 4 miles and checked my email a dozen times, I realized that I was itching. I was ready for something else. I'm bored.

It's normal to have these feelings, especially after living in such an exciting environment for almost a year. The tranquility and relaxation of suburban life was a welcome relief for 10 days or so, but now I'm starting to crave the city again. Or at least to crave something to keep me going a bit longer. It's harder not having much to do and anticipating so much that lies ahead of me. Before I had to worry about heading down to Argentina with no job, but in the last couple of days I've been contacted about several interviews for the week after I arrive in Buenos Aires. So now, knowing that something is waiting, I wish I could get to it already.

Even if I am getting bored, I only have to remind myself that I have just one week left of it. If I had no return date at all, I might see this as a serious problem, but instead I'm seeing it as just the calm before the storm. Buenos Aires will be a crazy party city with plenty of opportunities to meet people, experience a new culture, and burn through cash and time. So if I need to spend a few more nights idly watching movies in the basement and reading, I think it's a fair trade.

And there's really nothing wrong with getting bored from time to time anyway. It's good to have those extremes to keep you in check and help you better appreciate the fun times. If it was a crazy party all the time, that too would eventually get old and be lame. Just like you sometimes need to embrace sadness like a warm blanket, it will allow you to feel the total opposite of true happiness at another time. And to really deserve it. No sweetness would be the same without the sour.

So for now I'll continue reading and getting by for the next week, enjoying the end of this little vacation, and hopefully keeping busy enough to ensure that I don't go totally crazy. In 7 days I have a boring 13 hour flight, after all.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Quilotoa Video Live

I had been waiting to mix together my video from Quilotoa because I wanted to use my new Mac for the project. I'm glad to say that it has come out well and was worth the wait. It's amazing how much more iMovie offers you over Windows Movie Maker. To me, it feels like I've upgraded from the Flintstone's car to a Bentley. Here you can watch my video on hiking around Quilotoa, and on YouTube you'll be able to find other videos that I have added throughout the year. Enjoy.

Keeping Thoroughly Busy At Home

Last week was a blur of mixed emotions, reunions, and adjusting to life back at home in Sharon, MA. I'm only here for a little under three weeks, and I like to think of it like a longer vacation, and soon enough I'll be heading back to South America. The only difference is that instead of returning to Cuenca, Ecuador, I'll now be starting over and moving to Buenos Aires, Argentina. This time without the support of an organization like WorldTeach behind me, and it will be up to me to secure a job and everything else that comes with that.

So my last blog post was a few days back, and it's time to catch up a little bit. On Wednesday I'd gone into Boston for a coffee with my old multimedia professor, Steve Fox. Steve was attending a journalism conference at the Sheraton in Copley Place, and he invited me to sit in on a panel discussion about internships, and pointed me out as an example of someone who has continued working in something related to my internship. I used to intern and blog for Gonomad. After that I went and bought myself a new MacBook Pro, knowing that my three year old Dell Inspiron E1505 was about to buy the farm.

For the next couple of days I had to relearn how to use a Mac and transfer all of my files from the old computer to the new one. I got really bogged down when I tried to transfer my music and accidentally transferred a whole bunch of music that I'd long ago deleted. I had to go through song by song and choose which music I actually wanted.

Besides dealing with computers, I continued with running. The first couple of run attempts were not very rewarding, and sharp cramps stopped me from running further. But I persisted, and have been able to run about 4 and a half miles each attempt for the last few days. My lungs feel great now that there's actually air to breath, and if it weren't for my legs getting tired, I'd be able to continue running. Unfortunately, high altitude training will only last for a couple of weeks upon returning to sea level. So in just a few days I'll be back to normal again. But it was good while it lasted, and I'm going to continue running.

I'd only seen a couple of friends throughout the week, and very sporadically. Most people I grew up with have moved away, either into or just outside Boston, or to other cities. And everyone has jobs, so it's hard to do anything during the week, especially during the day. But on Saturday I had a coming home/going away party, and some of my closest friends from back home and college came for the day. It was great to see everyone again, and things felt like they always had. We cooked food all day and drank into the night. One of the highlights of the day was seeing my grandma, who made the trip from Brooklyn, New York, which isn't an easy thing to do at her age. I've always wanted to be able to speak in Spanish with her, and we did just that. She laughed and marveled at how well I spoke, and since this was the first time we'd spoken in Spanish it was all new to her. I'm just glad I was finally able to do that.

I've been working on an article about coming home from Ecuador that I hope will be published soon, and will also be working to finish a video on my trip to Quilotoa, Ecuador. And just like that, there are only 10 days until I leave for Argentina. Soon I'll be on the road again, hopefully successful in finding employment in Buenos Aires. Keep checking in for more updates both from home and from the road.

Now Featured on Travel Blogs!

I'm happy to announce that this blog, Travel Guy, is now featured on the Web site Travel Blogs, which features some of the best travel blogs on the Internet. You can find the link for my blog here, though it will take you back to this blog in the end anyway. This will mean, hopefully, some more exposure for this blog and more work ahead. In addition to being featured on Travel Blogs, I'm going to be taking part in some panel discussions on various topics related to travel from time to time. So besides checking up Travel Guy and La Vida Idealist, where I also blog, you can also check in on Travel Blogs and see what some other unique travelers are up to these days. I've been busy the last few days but today will be publishing a blog about what I've been up to while at home, as well as a video I'm working on with footage from the last trip I took in Ecuador, to Quilotoa crater lake. So check back in soon!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I've Jumped On the Mac Train

I've written in previous posts that my 3 year old Dell Inspiron E1505 has been on the outs for the better part of the last year. I've run out of memory and there are constant problems that force the lap top to shut down. I knew that I needed to get myself a new machine before leaving for Argentina because to go down without a reliable lap top would leave me unable to complete my work and, obviously, leave me very bored if I had no way to play movies or listen to music. But the biggest question was what to get?

For as long as I can remember I was against Macs, mainly because I was raised with PCs in the house and that's what I knew. I'd used Macs in school but they had never charmed me very much, until this past December/January break when I stayed with my friends in Santiago, Chile. Both of them had Macs and so for almost two weeks I was using their lap tops to check emails, listen to music, and watch shows from time to time. I slowly realized that I liked using a Macbook.

But the next decision came about the cost. It's hard to switch over to a Mac and not incur a large expense, and coming off of a year of volunteering, heading into a new country without a job, I don't have much to work with. But my dad said he would help me out because it was something I needed, not only for entertainment but also for work. It's all but a fact that Macs have better programs for video/audio/and photography editing. Since I'm working with multimedia more and more, especially for this blog, I want to have the best technology that I can afford. So I took the leap this morning and went ahead with what I sort of knew all along I'd wind up doing. I bought a Macbook Pro.

I knew I wanted a lap top with at least 250 gigabytes, because my last one had only 50 and I've been deleted things like a madman just to keep afloat. But I don't want to have to delete anything anymore. It's all important at some level. I was able to get a student discount even though I'm no longer a student, and as a result got an 8 gigabyte iPod touch that will be free once I get a rebate. This will help to replace the last iPod I had that was stolen the first week I was in Ecuador. I'm still fumbling with the fact that everyone seems to have Blackberries or iPhones, and now I'm joining the ranks myself.

For the next couple of days I'm going to have to transfer my old files, articles, photos, and music to my new lap top. But soon enough I will be back to the grind, working away and hopefully finding success as a new user of a Mac. I have some video from my hike around Quilotoa crater lake that I am looking forward to editing with iMovie and will post to the blog. And I still have some good stories to share. So check back in and hopefully you'll be able to see a bit of a difference in the multimedia section of the blog.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

La Vida Idealist!

I'm happy to now finally announce that my first blog post has been posted to La Vida Idealist, a new blog about volunteering opportunities in Latin America. This blog is part of a larger network for, a Web site that helps people from across the globe find volunteering opportunities, jobs, and other organizations around the world. I'm excited to be working with this team of bloggers on this new project. So far, the site is in a soft launch, meaning that it's just being started up and hasn't been fully promoted yet.

But keep checking in because in the next few weeks the site will be officially launched and content will be added daily. I will be blogging at least every Tuesday, but have the opportunity to blog more if I choose to. You should definitely check up that blog, in addition to Travel Guy, because I'll be writing different content on La Vida Idealist. Every blogger has a different angle, and my theme will be life after you've finished long term volunteering. I'm currently in the United States, but in few weeks will be moving again, this time to Buenos Aires, Argentina. My main goal will be to find a job opportunity, either with a non-profit organization or any job that will allow me to sustain myself and be able to write as well. So the experiences that I share will be of interest to a wide range of groups and demographics. So keep reading!

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Welcome Home

From Yesterday, at Miami International Airport.

We were somewhere over Georgetown, getting closer to Cuba when I started to feel nauseated. I was hot and sweating, especially from the armpits, which had gone through months of draught while living in the mountains. My stomach betrayed me—aches and pains and the feeling that I could puke at a moments notice. All I needed to do was give the go ahead. I opened up the window shade and looked out at the light blue/green water as we got closer to the Florida Keys. I was coming home.

This was my second attempt now to fly from Quito to Miami, since I was bumped from an overbooked flight yesterday morning. I had to spend the rest of the day hanging around a 3 star hotel, way too nice for what I needed, courtesy of LAN Airlines. But I’d finally made it on the plane after 11 months of living in the South American country, and we were about to start the descent into my home country.

For the most part, I’d already taken care of the thoughts that most long-term expats experience while coming home the day or two before I was originally supposed to leave. And since I was now placed in Business Class, I was pampered and watching, “School of Rock” with Jack Black, taking my mind away. Yet once the movie ended, it was back to the impending descent. Anything but that.

Stretched out on the comfy seat, I was already in a bit of culture shock. This was all too nice, and I wasn’t ready for it. I had expected my reverse culture shock to start at home, but in the morning I was already invited to the VIP room, and there I sat like a pauper, stuffing food and drinks into my bag as other passengers left half eaten sandwiches on their plate, all from the complimentary buffet.

We descended and my heart rate jumped. My palms, sweaty and clammy, would not stay dry as I rubbed them on my jeans. My head ablaze with thoughts, one moment happy to be coming home, another moment silently freaking out. I knew it would not be easy. Simultaneously hot and cold, my body was just a mess. I expected mixed feelings, but not like this. 11 months is a long time to be away from home, after all, but I was not expecting this.

And then it was touch down. A smile would come and go quickly, then return and leave again as I walked through the terminal, through customs, and to pick up my bags. I anxiously snapped my fingers and moved around like a kid with ADD, a cross between excitement and fear. I’m back in the United States, and I’m already seeing things differently. First, as a general impression, we are a bigger people. We are fatter and taller. There are so many fat people here, and I don’t mean to say that as an insult, but when you see a fat person outside the U.S. they are just fat. But here they seem obese or on the way. It’s just something you really notice after being outside of the country for a while. And we are taller. I was used to being average height in Ecuador, but now I’m just a short guy again, and I feel almost like a kid having to look up to talk to people.

After picking up my luggage I went across the airport to check in with American Airlines for my connection to Boston. But at the counter the woman told me there was no record of a reservation for me. LAN told me they had taken care of my connection for me because they bumped me from the flight, and now they were saying that LAN had done nothing. I guess they just plum forgot about it. I had to walk back across the other side of the airport, where I was told to go downstairs. Downstairs, I was told to go upstairs, where again I was told to go downstairs. Getting the run around, someone finally went to figure out how I could get proof of blame from LAN. I waited over 30 minutes, but with the patience learned from life in South America, I kept it calm even though inside I was getting pissed off. We were still on Ecuadorian time. I was in Miami, of that I was sure, but for all intents and purposes we were still in Latin America. Everyone was speaking Spanish, and those who were speaking English had an accent suggesting that it was a second language. I didn’t mind it as much though, as it still feels natural to speak in Spanish. So basically, it’s like being in South America, but with more, fatter gringos.

After running around the airport a few more times I finally had my boarding pass and was able to pass through security, though each minute here so far has just made me feel worse. I went to the Au Bon Pain to ask how much an apple was and the woman told me $1.18. I laughed and walked away. I’d rather go hungry. I hear conversations and feel almost sick. “So I was like, what the hell, and he’s all, whatever, and then they’re like…” Do we all sound this shallow?

Maybe it’s too soon, and I just need some more time to adjust. I have this layover in Miami before heading home to Boston, but I get a feeling that the layover will last much longer than that. Eventually I’ll feel right at home again, but I’ll never forget how I feel right now. I do not fit in here. And that means I don’t fit in anywhere. Luckily in three weeks I’m going back to South America, where I can at least be assured that I shouldn’t fit in there.

Yesterday, sitting at the pool in the hotel, I was watching the clouds moving back and forth like a school of fish floating with the current. It was beautiful. It was the same sky in Cuenca, and Miami, and Boston. And looking up at the sky right now, I know that some of my friends in Cuenca are walking down the street looking up at the same thing. It’s a big world, but it’s all connected some how. Yet it comforts me not at all to know that they are there looking at the same thing I am. Because they are there and I am here, and nothing will change that, not even the popcorn clouds in the sky. So the chapter of Ecuador has now been closed in my life, but like any good book, you can always go back and read it again. And like all good books, you never forget what you’ve read and learned. And the next step forward is a new chapter. The hardest part could still be ahead.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Just Let Me Go Home!

It was a night of sleeping on and off between a combination of being very tired and the excitement of traveling home. But I finally got off my friends couch at 5:30 am to quickly shower, brush, and put in my contacts. We ate breakfast and then played the waiting game. My friend Amy, who was kind enough to let me stay with her for three nights while I was in Quito, just happened to be going to the beach early in the morning as well, and her boyfriend offered to drive me to the airport. This would be more convenient and save me a couple of bucks along the way too. The only catch is that he’s Ecuadorian, and so sometimes you have to adjust to their schedules.

Last night he said he would pick us up at 6 am, and my flight was at 8:20. This should have been more than enough time, but 6 am came and he called to say he would be 10 minutes late, which really meant around 20 minutes late. So we sat around still, and he finally came to the apartment around 6: 45 am. I was a bit nervous, but Amy had reassured me that she got there an hour and a half before her flight once and was fine. Driving early on a Saturday morning, there was no traffic, and we cruised along to the airport. It was mostly quiet in the car, and I was thinking about a lot of things.

At the airport Amy helped me take my luggage out of the car, we hugged goodbye, and then they drove off as I tried to figure out where to go. I got in the LAN line and twice was asked if I was going to Miami, as the departure time was nearing. Finally they allowed me to cut everyone else and I checked in. Or so I thought. My luggage was taken away but the clerk sat there at the desk with a phone in his hand for a few minutes until I asked if there was a problem. “The flight’s full,” he told me. Well that can’t matter much to me, because I bought this ticket over three months ago, so I’m definitely going on it.

Time was slipping away and I was wondering how this would be resolved. Next to me a girls from Raleigh, North Carolina was having the same problem, but without 11 months of experience in Ecuador. She was getting impatient and seemed on the verge of tears, and another clerk soon took her away to another window. Mine and another clerk tried to convince me to give up my seat, saying tomorrow I could have Business class, I’d stay in a hotel today with all of my food and transportation paid for, and I’d get $170. It was a nice deal, but I told them I didn’t care if it was Business or Economy, I just wanted to get home. I’d been here for 11 months and just wanted to see my family that was waiting for me.

Being here has taught me new levels of patience, and that you can’t just get upset because it’s not what you had planned for. I talked kindly with the clerk and he asked me questions about what I’d been doing. I told him, and where else I’d traveled, and we joked around for a couple of minutes. No sense in getting angry, but if you can get them on your side, you might just stand a chance. And he really did try. We took me to another LAN window and tried to get me onto a flight to Guayaquil, then to New York, then to Boston. But that was also full. Then he tried to get me to Lima to New York to Boston. The problem with that flight was that I’d leave Quito very quickly but have to stay in the airport in Lima until 11:30 pm, then get into New York around 4 am. Not a good choice. The next option, Quito to Bogota to New York, also wasn’t working out. So nothing was looking good.

As frustrating as it was, I wasn’t incredibly surprised, nervous, or down. But in my mindset, I was already out of Ecuador, and I’d already said my goodbyes and made peace in a sort of way. And now I was going to have to stay another day, and I just wasn’t ready for that. I told the clerk that, and he assured me that I could relax in the hotel all day. So with no other options, I had to agree to take their package deal. He helped me carry my luggage to the curb, waited until the hotel bus showed up, and shaking hands as I got in, he told the driver to take care of me. A real trooper, that guy was. Meanwhile, the girl from Raleigh was still at a counter stressing and trying to figure out what to do while behind a line of several other people who’d also been bumped. It was clear they were not from these parts and had no idea how to deal with the people. Outside I could see my flight taking off while I stood on the ground.

So off to the Swissotel, one of the nicest hotels in Quito, we went. Along the way I chatted it up with the driver in my own personal transport. As we checked in I was taken aback by the class and price of this place. I felt like they could tell I didn’t belong here as I insisted on carrying my own luggage, yet they would hear nothing of it. Someone handed me a hot towel and a glass of watermelon juice. I was informed that LAN would pay for my breakfast today and tomorrow, lunch, and dinner tonight. And they would also take me to the airport in the morning, making sure I was there with more than enough time.

Once in the room I could see that I had a regular room, but to me it’s a suite. A king size bed with 6 pillows, satellite TV, a huge bathroom, and a comfy chair. All I wanted today was a crowded airplane and a layover in Miami to get me home to my house just south of Boston. But now I need to kick around town today. But it could be worse I suppose. LAN even took care of my connecting flight for tomorrow in Miami. All I have to do is make use of the hotel pool and gym and maybe take a walk outside for a bit. And I was so close to home! Ecuador just doesn’t want to let me go. Tomorrow I will have to go through the same process again, but hopefully with better results this time through.