Saturday, October 31, 2009

Salsa? In Buenos Aires?

I made it my mission during the last two weeks or so to find a salsa club and to also find someone who would be willing to go with me. First and foremost, I still don't know a ton of people, and it's hard to organize something when you know people from different walks of live all over the city. Everyone has their own plans every weekend. Argentinians are not known for dancing salsa, and they mostly do not get it, so I put my faith in an Ecuadorian who once lived here for advice.

I was told a couple of places to check out, but ultimately went to a club called Cuba Mia in San Telmo. I met up with a friend of a friend who I had been trying to meet with since I got here, and her boyfriend came as well. It was a bit pricey to get in--$30 ARG, which included a drink, but there were few other options at that point. A live salsa band from Cuba was playing and it was pretty packed. Along the walls were Halloween decorations and the staff were handing out little costumes. Sebastian, the boyfriend, commented how odd it was that we were in a Cuban bar listening to salsa music while they were celebrating an American holiday. He had a point.

The bar got pretty packed and we all wound up dancing for a while. It turns out the bar was packed with Venezuelans, Cubans, and Colombians, so I wasn't the only one who knew how to dance. In fact, I probably looked like a shmuck compared to them, but in terms of the Argentinians, I was turning some heads. I wound up dancing with a couple of women for most of the night who guessed that I was 35 or 36, which they said was a compliment. I'm not entirely sold on that one.

It felt good to be dancing salsa again. I am not great at it, but I learned to enjoy it in Ecuador and it can really be fun if you just go with it. Sitting in the bar, listening to those familiar beats, it all made me think of Ecuador and for a moment felt like I was back there. Of course, Cuba Mia would have been one of the nicer clubs you could go to, and so expensive that only the richest people in town would go, thus changing the element a bit. I was kind of hoping for something more hole in the wally, but what can you do. There are other salsa clubs out there, and I'm starting to hear about more and more of them.

It's been raining hard all day with on and off thunderstorms, and should continue through Monday. But for now anyway, I have plans to go to another salsa club tonight. Azucar is pretty well known, though gets sort of a negative image too. I'm interested in checking it out and seeing how it ranks with the others, especially since I was told about it by an Ecuadorian. So maybe I'll find an even better club to write about soon.

Friday, October 30, 2009

How To Tackle A Phone Call In Your Second Language

Below is an article I was wrote in September and was hoping to get published, but I don't see that happening, so there's no sense in wasting something that was written. On a 14 hour night bus from Buenos Aires to Mendoza, I suddenly got the urge to write about this topic at 3 am, and I wrote it in about 20 minutes or so. This article deals with exactly what the title sounds like: How To Tackle A Phone Call In Your Second Language. Take a look through, and maybe some of this information will help you some day when learning a new language...

Anytime you are learning a language in a foreign country for an extended period of time, you’re probably going to wind up getting a temporary cell phone. And if you really dive deeply into the experience, you’ll actually get some local friends in addition to the other foreign students in your program. Of course, this means that you will have to master the art of speaking your second language in a harder medium, which isn’t easy in the beginning. There are some things you can do to help in the process and make sure you survive a phone call.

Phone call 144/365 (Year 2) by GeorgieR.If you’re like I was when I was first learning Spanish, the idea of a phone call in your second language is downright scary. It’s not so daunting trying to speak when you can actually see the person, because you have the benefit of your facial expressions to speak for you and show whether or not you get it. But when you’re on the phone the other person can’t really tell if you do, and as many people often mistakenly do, they simply say “Yes” to everything.

Seeing someone’s mouth move is a big part of conversation, and it really helps you see the word being formed. It’s something that’s missed in phone conversation, but it doesn’t end the world then and there.

First, always speak slowly. If you try to show off how skilled you are in the new language and speak quickly with pop terms you recently learned, your friend or boss or whoever will match your speed, assuming you truly understand everything, maybe even throwing in other pop phrases you don’t yet know. Speak slowly and clearly, giving them the signal that you’re trying really hard to get all of the information correctly.

Second, get to a quiet place. It’s hard enough sometimes to fully hear a phone call in your native tongue, and it’s imaginably worse in your second. If you’re on a busy street or at a bar, wherever, just get somewhere quiet enough to at the very least tell the caller that you’re unable to hear and when you can call back. Just tell them to hold on a minute until the noise dies down--they won’t hang up on you. As always, plug the other ear and strain as you must to hear. If it’s still not working, slowly tell them that you can’t hear and ask them to call back or send you a text message. In many countries, especially those who use phone cards, it’s often cheaper and easier to send texts rather than make calls.

If you’re really uncomfortable making the calls at first, work into it with text messages. It’s often better because you have time to think about what to write as well as look up the words you don’t understand, given that they are actually in the dictionary. But when you do have to make a call, always repeat the information back to the caller to make sure what you have told them is what they told you. “OK, so 7 pm, in front of the administration building, wearing a green jacket.” Just always check the facts.

Lastly, you may get very flustered and embarrassed on the phone, often trying to shy away from it. But just remember, it’s not easy to speak a second language, especially on the phone. Yet if you stick with it long enough and really make an effort, then in due time you’ll notice that you are able to have conversations, if not with ease than at least clearly enough to truly capture the call. Take a breath before hitting the numbers, think about what you want to say, and prepare for what you might hear. Have a dictionary next to you, or lacking that, your notebook from class. The more you practice the better you will become, and you’ll be well on your way to working up a huge phone bill every month.

Above: Photo by GeorgieR

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

All Study and No Play Makes Jon a Dull Boy

I am a tired man. I'm working long hours and filling in the gaps with grad school applications and studying for the GRE. It's really too much to be taking on at one time, and if I were a wiser man I would have studied for the GRE when I worked 20 hours a week in Ecuador, taken the exam when I was home in the states, and applied for grad schools before I had a job. Well, I'm an idiot. You live and you learn, but hopefully you only need to suffer through this experience once.

Filling out all of the application materials for a grad school is painful, and it's as bad as you can imagine when you are applying to eight of them. They are all online now, and some of them even use the same "standard" application system. Yet though they are online and using the same systems, you still have to plug in the same information every time, which defeats the purpose. All of these personal statements are basically the same but questioned just a little bit differently so that you have to write them all over again, and edit them all over again just the same.

Obviously this hard work should go towards something, should really show that if you're willing to fill all of this junk out and take the GRE that you are serious about studying for a Masters. But it's not enough to get you in. It's just so draining that it really gives me respect for those who work full time jobs and then study at night school. I don't know how you could find the focus to sit in a class after working all day, let alone find the time to study, eat, do laundry, figure out bills, and try to have some semblance of a normal life. The hope would be that it will all pay off in the end. If it does.

I walk out of the office now and instead of going home with a skip in my step like every day is Friday before vacation, I'm simply drudging along to get home, change, and start studying again or filling out more applications. I eat a quick and usually unimaginative dinner of pasta because it's easy and quick to cook, and then it's back to the books. I feel guilty if I quit for a half hour before bed to unwind with some TV. This won't go on forever, and once I take the GRE in Buenos Aires on December 12th I can breath. Once all of the applications have been turned in by January (one in April) I can actually rest and start enjoying myself fully (with any luck).

My time here is going by quickly so far, mainly because I am so busy. I didn't intend to come down here and throw everything on the table like I have done, but it just kind of happened. It prevents me from doing more enjoyable during the week and makes me feel guilty on the weekend if I'm not making the most of every minute, but I have to believe that it will pay off in the end. Otherwise, it's been a good waste of time.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

How I Got To See the Boca Juniors Play River Plate for Free

Another beautiful Sunday mostly wasted with fatigue and watching football. But this Sunday was sightly different because of two types of football. The Patriots were playing the Buccaneers in London, but I had to leave that game at half time to watch the Superclasico, Boca Juniors vs. River Plate, in a bar. Boca and River are historically two huge rivals in Argentinian soccer, and have always been the top of the league both in talent and passionate fans. The Superclasico happens but twice a year, and as one of the most desired games to see in the world, tickets are extremely expensive.

I thought about getting tickets, but was quoted $300 ARG, which is way out of my league, so my plan was to just go to a restaurant/bar near my house and watch alone. The two most internationally marketed teams from Argentina, Boca and River always draw a crowd, so even trying to scalp tickets would be pointless. I like Boca, if for no other reason then because my mom once bought me their jersey, and you have to like someone. However, this is tricky because they are kind of like the New York Yankees in that people across the world who know nothing of the sport will know Boca, yet they are the team of the people.

I sat down at a table in front of an elevated 13 inch TV at a pizza shop off of Avenida 9 de Julio and ordered a Coke. Behind me I heard a couple speaking English, and I thought they were American. Typically, I don't bother to speak to people when I hear English. But for one reason or another, I thought what the hell, that I'd rather make a couple friends for the game. It turns out they were from Ireland, so apparently I can't even remember the accent of my people.

After a quick introduction the man told me that they had tickets to the game, $200 pesos a pop, but the subways weren't working so they decided not to go. I quickly told him that the subways were in fact running and that they should get to the stadium as soon as possible or at least sell them in the street. I talked to the waiter to find out how they could get there quickly and explained the situation, so he confirmed that the subways were running.

Suddenly, the boyfriend whose name was Jamie, was interested again in trying. They had two options, either sit at this pizza shop and watch the full game, or get to the stadium as soon as possible and most likely miss the first half, but get to witness one of the best sporting events on earth. The girlfriend had already lost interest and asked me if I wanted to go, but I told her I couldn't afford it. But she knew her boyfriend wanted to go, and graciously gave me her ticket. I was a bit in shock, but I quickly paid the waiter for the half drunken Coke as he smiled happily for me, and Jamie and I were off.

We had to get far uptown and the game was starting as we walked to the subway, which was open. My legs were killing me from the race yesterday, and a sharp pain in my hip shot with every step, but we moved on getting to know each other. We took the D Line to the end and then walked about 15 minutes, following the sound of cheers as River Plate scored. We knew it was River who scored because it was their turf.

The size of the stadium was impressive from the outside as we approached, three times being told to go to a different gate. We had general seats, and couldn't go in wherever we wanted. Ultimately, we had to walk around half the stadium, then climb up a series of steps which for some reason reminded me of going to a game at Shea Stadium when I was 6. The Mets were playing the Pirates, and Barry Bonds hit the game winning home run in the top of the 11th inning, but I never saw it because my mom got bored and made us leave in the 10th. But I mainly remember walking down those ramps for what seemed like hours.

On cue, we arrived at halftime, watching as some fans cooled off in the gates' shade. We picked a spot out on the steps and walked into the Coliseum in Rome. A sold out event, with 3/4 of the stadium in red and white, 1/4 in blue and yellow. We were near the "fan" section, and the drums were blasting proudly, the passionate songs be yelled from every lung. All over us people were handing out newspapers and shredding them up. Jamie's theory was it had something to do with Maradona basically telling the press to go to hell. But I thought it was to create a ticket tape display. It turns out I was right.

Once the players came back on the field everyone released the newspaper at once. It was storm of white shreds that lasted for 5 minutes as the wind blew southward, and everyone was covered in it. Once or twice a thick section which was never shredded would hit you in the head, but that was par for the course. As it all rained down, it reminded me of a scene from "Gladiator," with the rose petals floating down as Russell Crowe enters the arena. This was the Roman Empire, and we were watching gladiators. There is a lot of Italian influence in Argentina, after all.

I may have been impressed with the playing of the game but as soon as the half started people stood up on top of balcony in front of us with maybe a foot of room before death, blocking our view of the goal. It was 1-0 River, and the crowd was livid, wanting more. My attention spanned from glimpses of the field to just watching the crowd, which I found more interesting than the actual game. Tattoos everywhere, shirtless and toothless men screaming obscenities that not only implied the worst of things for the receiver, but also seemed to rhyme. The mostly male crowd bleated out numerous cheers that they no doubt memorized long ago without the aid of a lyric sheet, while I simply tried to blend in by waving my hands around. I'm a Boca fan, but no way would I ever show it there. Otherwise you'd be reading my obituary.

I couldn't see it, but suddenly the crowd went silent except for the Boca section, and Boca players jumped with joy. It was now 1-1, but instead of getting upset, the River fans cheered louder. The stadium shook. And eventually the game ended in a tie, with not much else interesting happening. Jamie and I went to leave but were blocked by a line of riot police. The Boca fans were being let out first, and to prevent a riot River fans had to wait. But in a display of total disrespect and guile, the Boca fans stayed in their place cheering. They knew the longer they stayed, the long we would, but they would still get out first. You had to hand it to them, it was clever.

We stood there waiting to leave for about as long as we'd actually seen the game, with more and more people shouting slurs at the Boca fans and getting less patient with the police, but they had to wait until all of the Boca fans were gone. Once the police moved away it was like a dam broke, and the flow pushed us to the stairs and into the street. Once back in the center I said a goodbye to Jamie and wished him luck. He and his girlfriend have been traveling through South America for a few months and tomorrow leave to try out a year in Sydney, Australia. I'm glad they stayed here another day, which allowed me to get to see one of the most talked about games you can see.

Above: Photos courtesy of Clarin

The Nike 10k in Buenos Aires

Courtesy of La Nacion

Yesterday was the Nike 10k race that took place in various cities throughout the world. Last year some of my friends ran it in Quito the day after we arrived in the country, braving the high altitude. I hadn't run in 2 months since getting to Buenos Aires, but I really wanted to run in this race. I tried signing up online, but the registration was already complete for 15,000 runners. So I just went to run anyway, and all I missed out on was the t-shirt (too bad) and the medal. I kept track of my time however, and finished just about in 1 hour exactly.

Not too bad considering the time off. The first 10k I ran was in Cuenca, but I had already been running before that race, and finished at about 1 hour 7 minutes. So I improved because of the altitude perhaps, though I have been out of training. The race was nice and flat, though it did get difficult at one point when I had a burst of energy and then immediately crashed after that. With no marks of the kilometers, it was hard to know when to expect the last kilometer, and I got psyched out several times. There was a lack of water for the most part, and the first time I got some I had to stop and change direction, dodging traffic, then mostly spill the warm water on myself.

The mist tunnel towards the end was a nice change of pace, but with such a beautiful day it wasn't even necessary. It was a sea of red shirts but I was in a white and black shirt, with an orange long sleeve tee wrapped around my head to prevent burning. I must have looked pretty silly, but some people chose to dress up strangely anyway.

As I neared the finish line I was about to vomit but luckily crossed and then stopped, composing myself. A concert started by the finish line and Puerto Madero was packed. My body hurts now, but it was good to get running again, even if only for an hour.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Good With My Hands

I’m thinking of the different Jobs that I’ve had over the years. Even before I was legally able to, I would mow my lawn. After an hour of pushing the mower, my hands would vibrate and be raw to the bone, red and aggravated. I’ve been working since I turned 16, and no sooner after I legally became able to do so, I had a short-term summer job at Walmart. Hey, everybody has to start somewhere. Though there have been periodic breaks in my employment because of school, I’ve pretty much always been working, or at the very least looking for work.

My hands have done some different tasks in their day. They started out managing a cash register, hitting the buttons, scanning items, and bagging whatever was purchased. It wasn’t too demanding on them. Over a period of five years I worked at Gillette Stadium as a parking flagger and then a supervisor, either for Patriots games or summer concerts, or whatever other event was going on. My hands got little use in this job, except for waving frantically as I tried to get the attention of drunk, angry drivers.

A stint or two here and there at a clothing or office supply store, my hands either folding terribly the overpriced shirts or lifting heavy printers and fax machines. Through all of this I was also lifting regularly at a gym, adding calluses to my palms. They didn’t look good but I didn’t mind too much because they made it less painful when a heavy or sharp object was in my hand.

The summer before I left for Ecuador I was working in the Reebok warehouse, making boxes and then picking boxes of shoes to send to stores. It was mindless work, but after grabbing boxes of shoes all day, your hands would start to get cut up from the cardboard and sharp things that stuck out in the shelves. And after a couple of weeks I got a terrible clicking pain in my right wrist that didn’t go away until about two months after I stopped working there.

Nowadays, I work a desk job, where the biggest concern is getting a cramp in my legs from sitting for too long. But since I write most of the day, I find myself rolling my wrists a lot, trying to stretch them out and avoid inevitable carpel tunnel syndrome. I type long documents and strain my eyes looking at a screen for too long. When I do look away, it’s usually at my hands as I rub them, trying to ease the tension in the joints. Moving your fingers all day at a quick speed isn’t all that easy.

So is this the future for me? Do I gradually keep moving up the ladder with humble beginnings (albeit mostly humble until recently) until I get a desk job, and another, and another, where my hands will mostly just float above a keyboard? That’s what a writer has to do, after all. Though I will say that one of the most rewarding things I ever did was help build a house in Uruguay, really using my hands.

It’s been too long now for me to remember which history class it was, but I remember vividly the story of during one such revolution in Europe, the townspeople all over the country were rounded up and forced into the square. Those with rough, calloused and leather-like hands were left alone. Those with manicured and clean hands were killed. If you have the kind of hands that suggest that you work in the fields, it’s less likely that you’re the one taking advantage of people while grooming yourself so well. Not that I expect that to happen again any time soon. But anyway, I digress. My hands are starting to hurt.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Two Months In

Today marks two months since I arrived in Buenos Aires. When I got here it was winter, cold and gray. Coming in off the highway into La Boca, I was unimpressed and wondered what the big deal was. It reminded me of many other Latin American cities I'd seen previously. Well, a lot has happened since then. But goes without saying, so I'm not even going to bother getting into the many events.

It's spring now, and things are getting better every day. I'm better acquainted with this place and learning new things every day. Definitely busy, but trying to enjoy it at the same time. Two months seems to be a general point that people will point out along the "roller coaster of emotions" when living abroad. First you love it, then you hate it, then you love it again, etc. I've advanced beyond the stage of roller coasters or cheesy euphemisms to explain how I feel about living abroad, but I remember what it was like when studying in Spain or volunteering in Ecuador. Every experience is different.

This article appeared in the New York Times today, highlighting how Latin America is a cheaper destination to travel to these days. It's pretty much an obvious thing to state, but with the economy as it's been and Swine Flu scares, prices have dropped a lot down in these parts. Many of the places listed in this article are locations that my company deals with. Take a look on what was written.

No Complaints

Things are moving along steadily here in Buenos Aires. On Friday I went to Colonia, Uruguay for the day with my boss to make sure everything ran smoothly for a large group that was visiting. Normally that’s not something that is necessary, but with such a large group, a little extra help was a good call. This was good for me for several reasons. First, I got out of the office on a beautiful day and was able to renew my visa before it was close to expiring while on work time. Also, I didn’t pay for any of the traveling (except for a taxi to the terminal when the bus never showed up) and got a meal on the house. Second, I was able to get out and do something travel related, which is always fun. I would also go on to write up a little review of what the group did that day, putting my journalistic skills to use.

I had no real responsibility that day either, just holding my boss’ backpack and shadowing him, seeing that things were running smoothly. It was eye opening to see just how much work goes into organizing a group trip. My boss invited me to go to a polo match and barbecue Saturday, so I happily accepted, but was surprised to find that we went an hour outside of the city to a town called Pilar, at a private estancia and polo club. 

Instead of sitting and enjoying the match, I was really there to help out. So several hours before the group even arrived, we were arranging things and making sure every little detail was perfect. When the game did eventually start, I watched some, but was still acting in a role of representing the company, so I was just standing in the back mostly. Nonetheless, it was my first polo match, and it was pretty interesting to watch the men on the horses, looking like giants hitting a tiny ball across an enormous field. 

So it’s hard to complain about stuff like that, but according to my roommate, who is Argentinian, if you want anything here you have to complain about it. Anytime you want to get more money or a little help, maybe even an extra scoop of ice cream, you need to whine. I understand the art of whining from my time in Ecuador, but it’s still a hard concept to fully embrace. As an American, we taught to do your work and shut up. Don’t complain if you don’t have to, because no one wants to listen to it anyway. 

What you are supposed to do is work hard and hope that someone will notice your deeds, then reward you for it. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but it’s just not a part of our culture to expect much from crying about it. If you want something, you need to make it happen for yourself. As I continue to learn more about the culture here, I keep finding out things like these that would have been useful previously. 

I didn’t have to complain to be invited to Uruguay, but on Saturday I kept my mouth shut even though I was cold, hungry, and tired after a long day in the country at the event. Thinking like an American, I half expected someone to see my hard work and if not reward me for it, at least appreciate it. But maybe I need to complain in order to get my props. I’m not sure yet, but I’ll probably figure that out along the line. Anyway, I’ll leave you with a good quote from "The Big Lebowski" that seems pretty fitting.

"So he says 'My wife's a pain in the ass. She's always busting my friggin' agates. My daughter's married to a real loser bastard. And I got a rash so bad on my ass, I can't even sit down. But you know me. I can't complain.'"

Above: In Colonia, Uruguay

Monday, October 19, 2009

Read Your Local Blog

An interesting thing happened last week. On a Latin American-based travel blog, Travelojos, the topic of being able to speak freely as a travel writer was discussed in depth. Jens Porup, a former Lonely Planet travel writer, was giving a speech at a tourism conference in Bogota, Colombia, when he said, among other things, that Colombia is great but needs to step up its tourism, but Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela are dangerous and not worth visiting. This created a bit of a stir up in the travel writing world, and on Travelojos, which reported on it.

In a post about the speech on Travelojos, people started to pitch in their own thoughts about travel writers speaking their minds and replied to what seemed to be unnecessarily harsh remarks about some countries. I was involved in the discussion as well, but was surprised when I saw that Lonely Planet head digital editor Vivek Wagle pitched in. Wagle explained that Porup no longer writes for Lonely Planet, and was misleading by representing them. Wagle wrote,

"My name’s Vivek. I’m the head digital editor at Lonely Planet and a former Lonely Planet author.
I have to say that we’re all disappointed that Jens chose to address the Bogotá tourism industry recently while portraying himself as a representative of Lonely Planet. Jens stopped working with us in June 2009, and Lonely Planet does not support the views he expressed.
As for Peru and the other countries Jen stereotyped, we try our best to be objective and to help people get to the heart of a place. Peru’s main drawcard may be Machu Picchu, but it has MUCH more to offer than pollution and crime. Anyone who has spent time getting to know it would agree. We absolutely do not believe that South American countries can be portrayed in a few flippant, simplistic lines.
I did want to let you know that Jens is in no way speaking for Lonely Planet when he makes such statements."

I was pretty impressed that in seemingly no time, a large publication like Lonely Planet was on the scene to respond to this. But in just a short time later, Jens Porup himself responded on the same post. Porup wrote,

"I used to believe in Lonely Planet. That was why I applied to work for them. I believed that Lonely Planet was about “telling it straight”. That, as an author, I would be allowed, even encouraged, to tell it like it is.
Then I started working for LP, and I realized this was not the case. It may have once been true twenty years ago. Now, all Lonely Planet cares about is making money.
The problem is simple: telling the truth hurts. The BBC (LP’s new owner) is interested in one thing only: maximizing profit. The way to do this is to minimize potential offense to any group, no matter how small.
The result? Guidebooks I don’t want to write, and guidebooks I don’t want to use.
Colombia rocks. Peru sucks. People who’ve been to both places know the truth."

While I don't agree with what Porup has said, it is at least refreshing to hear a travel writer speak his mind and go against the grain. I think it should be fairly obvious that a travel guide book will be interested in selling books mainly, but it's always interesting to hear an inside source on it. Of course there are always 2 sides to a story, but this is why blogs are useful. 

Travelojos was able to bring this conversation to a forefront, and in doing so showed the power of bloggers. Instead of the conversation being blown off or ignored, by the insulter and insultee were able to reply in a timely and honorable fashion. I think this is an interesting development for blogging, and hopefully will continue to shed light on topics like travel, among other things. 

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Forget Paris

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about my place here in Argentina, and since meeting two new friends who feel similarly, I've been discussing it as well. Earlier in the week I wrote about not feeling that I perfectly fit in here, or that something is amiss, but I couldn't quite tell what it was. I might be on to it by now.

One thing I keep doing is comparing my experiences here to those I had in Ecuador or other countries in South America. It's easy to understand why--I did after all spend a year there and it was a huge part of my understanding of Latin America. Now that Argentina is the second country I've been living in on this continent, it's only natural that I compare the two. But it's hard to match them up evenly and come away feeling totally happy, especially when I tend to romanticize the past.

That's one part of it. Another part might be all of the hype that Buenos Aires gets. A popular title for this city is "The Paris of South America." From the onset, you might think of that as a complement. But after living here for 2 months now,  I think it's a title given by outsiders that's actually less of a laud for this city as it is more of an insult to the entire continent. In my opinion, saying that Buenos Aires is the Paris of South America is saying that this continent is so messed up that once you have made it through the terrors and backwards ways of the mountain and jungle countries and successfully arrived in Argentina, it will seem like heaven comparably. That doesn't make Buenos Aires a heaven, it just makes everywhere else a hell.

I've been to Paris. This is not Paris. It's not like the nickname is "Paris Jr," giving the impression that it's similar but smaller. Maybe this is Paris in disrepair, or as my friend Dan said, "Faded elegance." If Paris was badly bombed in World War II and was never properly rebuilt, maybe we have a connection. Don't get me wrong, this city is beautiful in many ways and I like being here, but while it's European, it's not Europe. And I think the difference needs to be made clear to those who assume they will find a small piece of Europe in Latin America.

The people say it all themselves. Whenever I tell them I'm American but I'm living here they ask the same thing. "Why?" Why would I want to live here when I was already squared away in the United States? For many, it's a hard concept to grasp, and while they love their country, they're the first to point out its many problems. If given the opportunity, many would leave.

Come visit Buenos Aires. Experience it and make your own decision. I don't want to give a wrong impression here. I never want to scare people away from traveling--that would be against what I'm all about. But just remember that you're still in Latin America when you're here. And if you ask me, that's a good thing.

Above: This aint Paris.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Death of a Youth

It seems like everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve always been the young guy. The last child, born in July, meaning that most of my friends celebrated birthdays throughout the course of the year while I waited patiently to turn 18 and 21. Though what month you’re born it matters less and less each year, the age still comes into play once in a while. Even among newer groups of friends, whether at school or abroad, I still always found myself to be one of the younger guys.

Not anymore though. Maybe because by now my age is finally catching up with me and I am in fact getting older. I thought I was the youngest person in the office until I found out otherwise. But regardless of the age, it also matters on how you feel and act. For years I’ve been the kind of guy who likes going out hard and doing as much as possible, but in Buenos Aires, the city that you would expect to cultivate that state of mind, I’m turning the other way.

Blame it on working a full time job, but I just can’t party the way I used to. I don’t have the time, energy, or money. I’m balancing many things, while trying to study for the GRE and apply to grad schools at the same time, and a responsible and sensible side of me is kicking in. Take for instance last night. After watching the Argentina/Uruguay game at a bar after work I went with some other people I know to a club called ‘Museum.’ Museum is an ‘after-hours’ club that people actually dress up in suits and dresses to appear like they’ve just come from work if they haven’t actually done so, and every Wednesday you can get in for free before 10 pm. It usually ends around 3 am, which is an early night. People have to work in the morning, after all.

It’s a really nice place, with 4 floors and a stage in the back for performers. I went there with a group of interns at a local expat-focused newspaper. These interns go out nearly every night, and as they always ask me if I’ve been to some club or another, I dumbly say no, I don’t know it. I’ve only been to 3 clubs maybe in 2 months. They know every spot in town and get in for free.

The club had a nice atmosphere and the music was good, but by 10:30 I knew it was time for me to leave. I had to wake up early after all. I was wishing I could stay, but a part of me felt like leaving anyway. I said goodbye and started to leave. Back when I studied in Spain we would go out 5 days a week or so, and it was great. But I remember reading some quote on the wall at STA Travel once. It said something like, ‘Those who have lived their youth don’t feel the need to do it again.’ It makes sense.

I had a good run while it lasted, but I think my crazy party days are behind me. As much fun as it is go to out until all hours of the night, I don’t like feeling hungover for 3 days, especially when I work most of the time and need to study as well. I still like going out for sure, but maybe once a week is all I need. I’d love to have the kind of situation where I was free to stay out late and wake up whenever, but for now that’s just not the case. I might not see as much of the city this way, but it’s being more responsible and actually participating in a work atmosphere like other Argentinians, rather than being on an extended vacation with a hint of work.

And just hearing these words coming out of my mouth kind of makes me weep a tear for the death of my youth. I hope I don’t start drinking a glass of milk with a cookie, a cap on my head, as I watch Murder She Wrote before bed. Once that happens, it’s game over for Jon...Hey, it's not all bad. I get to go to Uruguay tomorrow for the day with work. I'll take that over a hangover.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I'm a bit in shock now. Argentina beat Uruguay tonight 1-0 and will advance to the World Cup. Great. But that's not the big deal. I was preparing to leave work early today to meet up with a couple of people to watch the game in a bar. I spent the first part of the day debating whether or not I should even go out for it, as it was kind of a hassle to get down to San Telmo to watch it. Knowing it was farther away and I only had a half hour or so before the game started, I was heading to the subway stop a couple of blocks from my office. I left ten minutes earlier than usual.

I went right on to Calle Florida and quickly realized it would have been quicker on Calle Maipú, but oh well, too late, I thought. As I was rounding the corner to head to the steps of the subway, I thought I saw Chelsea, another volunteer from WorldTeach in Ecuador. But that couldn't be right, because why would she be in Argentina?

Yet I got closer and saw her boyfriend Ryan, another WorldTeach volunteer, and immediately knew my eyes weren't deceiving me, though my contacts went dry suddenly as if they were doing rapid adjusting. I yelled out her name and my heart raced, and I felt nervous. She seemed a bit shocked, but not nearly as much as I was. The only sentence I could muster for the first minute was, "What the fuck are you doing here?" I would have expected an email if a friend was coming my way.

But the mere fact that I should be walking a different way home, going the wrong way, at an earlier time than usual, all made it too weird. Just last night I wrote about missing Ecuador and thinking about it all more than usual. Earlier in the afternoon I caught up for a bit with my good friend Jamie, who is still in Cuenca. And now I accidentally ran into two volunteers in Buenos Aires, an enormous city with over 13 million people.

They were only in town for the day, just coming back from Iguazú Falls and taking off in 45 minutes for Mendoza. Apparently it was a spur of the moment thing to come to Argentina. But they'll be back on Sunday before leaving for Ecuador again. And still, there is the shock that I just ran into two people I didn't think I'd ever see again, but in Argentina, and so soon. It's hard to explain what my thoughts were because it was too much of a blur to have any.

Recently I was contacted by another girl, Valerie, who is a friend of a friend, Jake, who was just living in Colombia for a while. How I met Jake was also by coincidence, because he met my friend Jamie in Cuzco when they both taught there. I met Jamie through coincidence at Thanksgiving dinner last year in Cuenca and found out she studied in Spain with one of my close friends from back home who lives down the street from me. Jake visited Jamie, I met him, and became friendly with him. Valerie now lives in Buenos Aires with her boyfriend, and we agreed to meet up on Saturday, but couldn't pull it together. On Sunday afternoon, I bumped into them in the street at the crowded San Telmo Fair and recognized her from her Facebook picture.

These coincidences continue to pour on, and it's creepy at some level. I'm wondering, will this continue?

Above: Chelsea, the other volunteer who randomly popped in to Buenos Aires today

Can't Sleep, Might As Well Write

Tonight I can't sleep, but I'm so tired. My mind is riddled with thoughts about where I've been, where I am, and where I'll be. On the edge of sleep still, but my brain just won't let it go, so I've given up trying for now. Coffee will have to fix the problem in the morning.

Though I have missed certain things about Ecuador for the last couple of months, it's starting to really hit now--tonight especially--seemingly out of no where. It could be something simple, like the fact that I miss going to a salsateca and dancing salsa once or twice a week. I'm not even good at it, but it's fun, and as long as you give it a shot, it doesn't matter how bad you are if you're a gringo. Once you get the hang of it, it's a really fun dance.

But no body dances salsa here. That's more of a northern South America thing. You've got to search out the few places that will play salsa for a couple hours a week, and then you need to find someone who will actually go. But salsa is just the tip of the iceberg. I miss other things about Ecuador, things that are harder for me to explain because I can't really put my finger on what they are. I know for sure, and I have my blogs as historical evidence to prove, that romanticizing my time there would only be inaccurate. Times weren't easy for most of the year, and more often than not I questioned why I was there.

Yet there's a feeling you get while being there, a feeling that you're doing something awesome and wholly different that you can be proud of for the rest of your life. I like living in Buenos Aires, but I don't get that same feeling so far. It's probably a combination of a lot of things, but one difference that is always brought up are the people. Locals in other countries are so welcoming and friendly, but many find the Argentinians to be rather cold. Obviously, that's a generalization, but it holds some truth.

My room is dark with the lights off, but the orange street lamps in place of the moon cast a glow through the alley into the curtain-less window. The streets are relatively quiet, and I'm thinking of my bus hijacking. It's been over a year now, but I still see the guy next to me do a 180* and close the curtain, then put his head in his lap. I still hear the gunmen scream, and I feel the same fear as I accepted that I was going to be killed, or kidnapped, or whatever. Then the ease of accepting it for what it is, and later having to accept that it never went through.

I don't miss all of it.

But something has been irking and digging at me for the last few weeks--maybe since I got here--and I'm still not quite sure if I know what it is. Though I'm getting a better idea every day. There might be something inherently wrong about leaving Ecuador for the U.S., and then arriving three weeks later in Argentina and trying to start all over again. How can I long for a place that I spent so long struggling with? Was it a dream or was it actually 11 months that passed by?

Obviously a full day of work didn't wear my mind out enough, and this isn't doing the trick, but the words have been written so they may as well be published. I get the feeling that sooner or later I'll figure out why I'm bothered by this, and when I do understand it, I will have a lot more questions than answers. For now though, it's back to the bed to toss and turn some more.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Luxury, With a Background in Frugality

Small Luxury Hotel by mag3737.
I've been traveling since I was a child. From family vacations with everyone screaming at each other, long car rides to New York at 6 am on Thanksgiving, backpacking Europe with friends, to winging it alone in South America, I've gotten around. Since I have been traveling on my own money, that is to say, once I was in college, my experiences have been altogether different, taking me to 5 continents and numerous countries. But one thing that was almost always common about my travels was how they were done. Cheap, frugal, and more or less by winging it.

There are many advantages to this style, and all you have to do is read over my past blog entries to see all that I have been able to accomplish. There are also drawbacks, though, like getting stuck in sketchy hostels in the middle of no where, or 6 am flights. Now as an employee for a travel agency, I'm looking at traveling through a slightly different perspective. The company I work for is a very luxurious and upper class company, offering tours and hotels that are extremely expensive. They provide you with the best hotels and packages you can find in the country (and surrounding countries), but at a hefty price no doubt.

So where do I fit in with all of this? My background, if you want to say my major in traveling, is Frugality. With few dollars to spare, I stretch them as far as I can, dealing with things most people would never dare of, just so I can go one day further, see one extra town, etc. I have done all of the backpacker things--slept in bus terminals, hitchhiked, met up with rando's for 2 day frienships, and "stolen"* bread from restaurants. I don't need to go on about what I've done, but you get the point. My job now, however, is to write about the luxurious travels people can take, yet at the same time I'm thinking of how unnecessary so much of it is.

Knowing how to travel cheaply, I almost want to write in these reviews that they could save so much money by doing this, or with just a slightly lower expectation they could see this. Sometimes you have to make the choice between seeing and doing more or paying more for less options. What I mean is, many people love to go to the Caribbean and sit on the beach at a resort for a week. I've done that, and it's nice, but a beach is a beach, and a resort is pampering. I would get much more out of the vacation if I took the money going towards a week at an all-inclusive resort and used it to travel around India for a month or two. To me, that is much more worthwhile.

Hostel Room by Ashlee House Hostel.

I've been able to travel well before, both with my parents and on my own. I have written about a press trip I took to Grenada, where I was pampered and put up in a 5 star resort. It was amazing, especially since the last trip I'd take before that was backpacking in Paris, staying at a crappy hostel and surviving on sandwiches. But those experiences never really let you see the country you're in. You're just in a protective bubble, while the people who work in those places go home at night to the real towns.

Anyway, I might be better suited writing for a company geared towards cheap college-age travelers, or people looking to stretch the buck. I can definitely do both writing, but living these two lives, I long for the thrill of arriving to a new destination and figuring it out as you go, rather than having an itinerary all planned out down to the minute. Some day when I'm older, I'm sure I'd like to have the security of an itinerary and the money to afford a comfortable trip. At some point I'm going to be really sick of this bohemian-backpacker lifestyle. But for now it's going alright.

Yet every time I hear a tourist say something like they paid over $150 to see a Tango show, I want to say, "Dude, you can see it for free in the street." Or that a hotel costs over $300 a night, "A hostel costs $10, and a bed is a bed." In the end, there are different styles for different people, and mind isn't always over matter. To each is own, and a happy trails to all who at least want to get out there. But spend your money wisely, or however you see fit.

*After paying for a meal that came with bread, which we didn't finish, I took the bread with me. We paid for it, I needed breakfast in the morning.

Above: Photo (Luxury) by mag3737
             Photo (Frugality) by Ashlee House Hostel

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Trash of Buenos Aires

Spend a night out in Buenos Aires, and soon enough you notice that the streets are filled with trash. It's as if there are no garbage cans here and people simply throw the refuse out of their windows. Or perhaps raccoons are lurking in the shadows, popping up when your head is turned to rip through the garbage. The truth is that people called cartoneros are going through the garbage, looking for cardboard and anything else that they can reuse or sell.

Though garbage collection comes almost daily here, it never seems to be enough. Before the sun even goes down, on my way home from work at 6:30 pm, you can already see people going through them. I even see their children playing in the garbage. Tough times hit hard, and many people who are underemployed or unemployed use this as a means of survival. I've even heard that people will wait outside of fast food restaurants for the unsold bread and hamburger patties, and then sell those in the poorest neighborhoods.

URI Dumpster Diving 2007-05-12 by brandonedens.
The problem is that the cartoneros will rip open the garbage bags before the collection trucks come, throwing everything aside in the street with no regard for sanitary conditions. And once they finish, the sidewalks are totally littered and disgusting. This creates a serious problem for health in the city, as well as for the people who are doing it. And I can't even imagine what it will do for the children who grow up in this way.

Dumpster diving is something of a fad in the United States, whereby people who can afford to buy food choose to collect food in dumpsters, either to save money or to use food that would otherwise go to waste. But there's a big difference between purposely putting yourself in that situation and being forced to do it because you have no money. In many cultures it is customary to reuse everything until the object is literally disintegrated, yet in many western nations we throw things away the second we don't want them anymore, regardless of their quality.

Argentina finds itself in an interesting crossroads, as a country that is very advanced and enjoys modernity. However, there is still that link to a culture that will use as much as it can while it can. Nonetheless, it truly destroys the allure of a city when you walk by and it looks like a hurricane went through Staples. But keep your eyes open and you might just find some lucky treasure in there for yourself.

Above: Photo by brandoneden

Argentina Wins, Diego Belly Flops

Last night was the big game: Argentina vs. Peru. This was a qualifying match to see if Argentina would continue on to the World Cup. The first half went by mostly uneventfully and with no scoring. But quickly after the 2nd half started Argentina scored the first goal of the game. Cars were honking in the streets and a few shouts could be heard. Then the rain started to come in.

From where I was watching at a friends apartment, we had a view of the skyline towards the port. The horizon was ablaze in purple and yellow from the thunderstorm, and we marveled in the waves of rain that pounded down on the streets, flooding everything. The game almost became difficult to watch, as it rained so heavily that the screen looked white-washed.

And then the game was in stoppage time, with 2 minutes until it was over. It was still 1-0, and Argentina just had to hang on. But suddenly, with maybe a minute and a half left, Peru scored. It was madness, and you could literally feel the air coming out of the country. It seemed like people might explode with the lightning.

They wouldn't give in, however, and Argentina charged down the field. There had to be only 30 seconds left in the game, and suddenly in the right place at the right time, Martín Palermo stuck out his leg and the ball zoomed into the back of the net. In the insanity of the storm it was so hard to see, and anything could have happened. As the ball went into the next lightning went off on cue, the crowd and announcers went nuts, and Palermo ripped off his shirt and ran around wild. Then they cut to coach Diego Maradona, and he quickly did two belly flops into the wet field, dancing around like a child. It was impressive.

Though Peru threatened down the field again with just seconds left, the game clock finally ended, and the stadium was crazy. So Argentina held on and somehow, as these things often happen, two goals were scored consecutively, making the final score 2-1. Argentina isn't out of the woods yet, though. On Wednesday they'll travel to Montevideo to play Uruguay. Both teams are playing for the final spot, so it will definitely be a good match to watch.

Above: Diego Maradona dives in the rain. Photo courtesy of Clarín.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A New Look for Travel Guy

I've just spent some time changing the format and updating some of the graphics for Travel Guy. Though I did like the old look, I felt that it was time for a change. This new update will also allow me to do some more interesting things with links and photos. I hope that you can all enjoy the new look, but keep in mind I might continue to tinker with it over the next few days as I get adjusted to it. Send me some comments on your thoughts on the new look.

Another thing that I've recently done is to purchase the domain, This is really just a linking Web domain, and when you go there you are redirected to this blog, but my hope is that it will make it easier for people to find this blog. So now if you want to read up on what I've been doing but can't quite remember the link, just type in and you'll be taken here. Another way this blog is making your life easier.


                                                                                 Caution: Under Construction

The Best Photo of the Day

Argentina coach Diego Maradona with Lionel Messi

Today is a big day for fans of Argentinian soccer. At 7 pm tonight in Buenos Aires, the national team will play against Peru in a qualifying match for the World Cup next year. Because of so many bad games and losses, Argentina could potentially not make the World Cup, which would be a huge shock to the soccer world. This is probably one of their last chances to turn things around and make a "Wild Card" slot, so basically tonight is do or die.

This photo, which was posted on the Clarín Web site, is of legendary player turned fallen star turned national team coach Diego Maradona and rising star Lionel Messi at practice. As you can see, Maradona is pointing for something, though it does look like he's picking his nose. A great photo, really.

Depending on how things go tonight, there could either be a soccer riot or...maybe a soccer riot. Who knows. It's been a pretty volatile week with rumors that Maradona would quit because of disagreements with other managers, and other demonstrations about the government moving to break up monopolies within the media. So we'll see what happens tonight. I'll keep you posted if anything crazy should happen.

Below is a video of Maradona's goal against England in the 1986 World Cup semi-finals, which was voted by FIFA as the "Goal of the Century."