Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Sign Off Post for Blogger

Single tear. This will be my last blog post with Blogger. HOWEVER, this blog will continue with all of the previous posts available at WordPress. The new address is very similar, but notice the slight difference:

The reason that I have made the switch is to improve visual and functional aspects of my writing. For the next couple of weeks I'm going to be tweaking and improving the new blog, and adjusting to the new format. For this reason, it might seem like you've reached a new blog because the background, or template, has changed. But don't be alarmed, this is just me playing around with it until I find something I like.

For future reference, please follow me on the WordPress blog, as I will no longer blog with this format. The Twitter account remains the same, as well as the YouTube videos. Hope to see comments from you all soon.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Possible Changes to Travel Guy

Hey to all of my faithful readers... Anyone?... Tumbleweed? Well anyway, there might be some changes to the blog coming up soon. I'm looking to expand on the presentation and display of the blog, or in other words, make it prettier and with more buttons. Over the weekend I set up a Weebly site after seeing my friend Ricardo's great looking Web site with them. Weebly allows you to set up a free site and has many more options than Blogspot.

This "new" Web site is totally under construction and has nothing on it yet, save the title Travel Guy and a picture. I thought I would be able to transfer this blog easily to the Weebly site, but it doesn't look like I'll be able to do that. I changed my web domain to redirect from this blog to that new site, so if you type in now, you will be redirected to that page. Don't be confused--this is still the Travel Guy Web site. In the meantime, just follow this same page and avoid

I still want to improve this site and add more features to make it more enjoyable for everyone. I have a little experience with WordPress and know that it has many more options than Blogspot. I have also read that while it's pretty complicated, you can migrate all of your files from Blogger to WordPress without losing past posts. So in the next few days I'm going to be researching this more and trying to figure out if I can do it without cracking my brain. After all, I'm not a Web designer. If anyone out there has any knowledge of how to do this, I'm all ears. Til then, stay tuned for any updates.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Down to Chinatown

I got the urge to eat some Chinese food and since we got paid this week, I was actually able to splurge and spoil myself a bit. I went up with Bryan to Belgrano this afternoon and though we got kind of a late start, it was still an appropriate time to eat once we made it up there. Actually, it was kind of funny because out plan was to meet on a street corner near Chinatown, but once I stepped onto the subway I saw him. Not only on the same train, but I walked into the same car as him.

Though the Chinatown here is small, it offers a world of different choices that otherwise don't really exist in Buenos Aires. There are other Chinese restaurants in the city, but they generally tend to suck, whereas those in Belgrano are actually good, even if they cost more. It's just a couple of blocks and we walked around first and entered a supermarket. Brian spent a year teaching in Korea and speaks a little Korean, so anytime he recognized something he pointed it out.

I wasn't planning on buying anything, but with his advice I wound up getting a bottle of soy sauce and some hot sauce. Since I've begun cooking with more vegetables and rice, this might be able to make my dishes more interesting. Next, we walked around outside some more and came across the place where I bought some fried chicken on a stick back in February, the only other time I'd been there. I had to get it again, and once again it was simply delicious. A bit pricey for sure at $7 pesos, but well worth it for a change of pace.

I probably could have stopped there, but I had the idea of a whole meal in my head, so we walked to a restaurant with cheaper prices and sat down to see the Celtics/Cavaliers game from last night on TV. Brian wasn't that hungry and only got an appetizer got I got a spicy chicken with vegetables and rice dish. It was actually spicy, and though my mouth was on fire, I was in heaven. Best of all was there was plenty left to take home for dinner. The meal that keeps on giving.

We headed over to another mega supermarket and there I found something odd: peanut butter. It basically doesn't exist here, and apparently this Skippy originated in Asia, before coming to Argentina. I didn't get any, but I liked the labels and if one day I get really homesick for a PB & J, I know where I can get my fix. So at the end of a short afternoon, I'd say it was pretty successful indeed.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Drunken Brawls in the Subway During Rush Hour Are a Bad Idea

Here's a cute story: So I get on the packed rush hour C line Subte to head home with my iPod in. The train starts moving and I can see the guy right in front of me is drinking an open can of Budweiser and pushing the man next to him. Anyone who is drinking an open beer on the train in rush hour is probably just asking for trouble, especially since a cop just happened to be on this train. But he doesn't say anything, for the moment.

I can see this is not looking good, and suddenly people packed around the two men are starting to yell at them. Then the punches start flying and with as little space as there was to begin with, a circle is formed around these two knuckleheads. Everyone is yelling and I keep thinking, well the cop will be here any second. But this cop obviously had better things to do. A random person tries to get in between them as the swaying of the train knocks us all around, and finally the cop comes over and with a "that'll do, boys" pep talk, stands in between the fighters.

The one who originally had a beer is bleeding from the mouth and gives the "I'm going to kill you once you get off the train" gesture. For a moment everyone is in shock and doesn't move. The train reaches a stop, no one moves, and we go on. Then a guy next to me starts to call out the police officer, saying he's a terrible role model. A civilian had to break up the fight while he stood watching, and he should be ashamed.

The cop starts to get in his face, but not how I would expect. Well, first of all, if a fight ever broke out in front of a cop on a train in the States, both parties would be taken off immediately and arrested. Then, if someone yelled at or threatened an officer, they too would be arrested. Here, the cop got into the guys' face to quietly whisper, "What do you want me to do, arrest one and not the other?" Good law enforcement, folks. That's what keeps thugery down.

Now the whole train is against this cop, and everyone from this young idealist to elderly women are yelling at him. I can see the fear in his eyes and why he did nothing at first. He's clearly outnumbered, and without backup to help beat everyone up, this guy is toast. His best bet was to just stay out of it from the start. But now he's encircled by an angry mob that wants better policing and two guys who still want to kill each other.

But my stop comes up and there's no way I'm sticking around to see this sinking ship hit the bottom. I wonder who made it out alive from that whole debacle. I'll check the news later tonight.

Getting Out of the Office

Yesterday morning I was surprised to come in and find that I had been invited to the country for the day. Not that it was a day off by any means, but at the very least I would be getting into the field again. A large group from Canada was ending their tour and was going to spend the afternoon in the Pampas at Estancia Santa Susana. Since this was a large group and is similar to the kinds of programs that my company runs, the idea was for me to see the event firsthand and then be able to write a good review on it.

Though the morning was gray and rainy, the afternoon cleared up with bright blue skies so that by the time we left the office after 2 pm, it was turning into a perfect day. We drove about an hour and 15 minutes until reaching the estancia, where things were still being set up before the group arrived. First I walked around taking photos of the place and the decorations. Once the group arrived, my task was to stand by the door and show people to the bathrooms if they looked lost.

They were always kind of surprised at how well I speak English, and I'd have to ruin it by saying, "Well I can't take too much credit, I'm an American." One day I'd like to say, "Oh thanks, I was educated in the United States," which is not a lie. I did find, however, that it took me a minute to figure out what I had to say in English, and at some points I almost pronounced words incorrectly in the same way as Argentinians might. The truth is that I think in Spanish almost as much as I do in English now, and while that's great for the second language, it's not so great for the first.

A nice part of the day was I got to see some gaucho horse skill demonstrations, including the taming of wild horses and a game called "Carrera de Sortija," which is when three gauchos race on horseback and with just a pen try to catch a finger-sized ring. The winner gets to choose a woman from the crowd to kiss. I continued to take photos and once the sun had set we went inside for the dinner. Of course it was a feast with all kinds of meat, tango and folklore performers.

Once the dinner was over we had to take everything down, and didn't get to the office until after midnight. So by the time I got home it was 1 am, and I still had to be in the office in the morning. Today was a tiring day, as a result. But in the end, it was another great day taking advantage of working at a travel agency. I mean, how many other foreigners get to mingle with gauchos on the job?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The 10th Time is Not a Charm

Today was the 10th time I went to the Registro Civil to get my DNI citizenship card for Argentina. But you know, I like the place so much that I think I'll be going back two or three more times. This was time different in that one of my bosses came with me to help do the talking. While my Spanish is very good, I lack certain words, phrases, and general intonation to clearly get what I want sometimes. This is where knowing locals comes in handy. To try and increase my odds I wore a tie, which in retrospect was as useful as trying in the first place.

We got there right on time, 1:30 pm, and cued up with the rest of the city. After sitting there for just a half hour, Matias told me that the woman at the desk trying to get her DNI was Brazilian and the staff was making fun of her and not helping. I explained that the exact same thing happened to me the last time I was there, and that's why he was there. Just then my name was called and we went up. It should have been cut and dry, right?

Matias explained that I'm the son of an Argentine, I have all of my papers in order, and I have the right to citizenship and need my DNI. Immediately the girl behind the counter (the same from last time I think) looked at my inscriptions papers and said she had no idea. My boss then answered back explaining again when suddenly the girl raised her voice to yell. He yelled back explaining that they discriminated against the Brazilian and were doing the same to me and it was unfair. This is how having the local to help me really added an edge, because suddenly they realized that we weren't going to just walk away with our tails between our legs.

They had no interest in dealing with it so they sent us to their boss, a woman who I recognized from one of my visits in January. I remembered her being helpful and considerate, a rarity at the Registro. She listened to Matias and then went through the steps as I showed all of the necessary documents. She went behind a door, coming back to ask if I was the son of a diplomat. For a second I considered whether or not this would jump me to the front of the line, but realized there was no point. Sorry, just a regular shmo.

She came back 5 minutes later, but with bad news. Here's what I now needed. My original birth certificate with an official stamp (the copy I had was not sufficient). That birth certificate from New York state will have to be requested and mailed to me as soon as possible. I also needed the birth certificate translated into Spanish by an agency in Argentina (wouldn't matter that I'm a translator, obviously). A copy of residency, which means I'll need to take my apartment contract to the police station to get "certified." On top of that, it's recommended that I ask the Argentine Consulate in New York for a new copy of my inscription papers, as the ones that I received over a year ago are starting to fade after so much use. And hey, since I might have aged a few decades since I took those 4x4 photos in August, it might not hurt to get those updated, just to be safe.

On top of that, the copy of my mom's birth certificate that I went through such a struggle to get in January is only valid for 6 months. Why? I guess there's the possibility of being born again. Since that will be expired by the time of my next appointment in June (one week late), I need to go in 10 business days to pick up a new, exactly the same photocopy of her birth certificate. A lot changes on a birth certificate from the 1950's in 6 months, after all.

This is a headache, but at the very least I had the help of someone who can understand this system a bit better than I can. On top of that we got a no bullshit answer to exactly what I need that I no longer have. Now, if it all falls together perfectly in the next month (fingers crossed) and I don't have my DNI being processed after the 12th visit, we'll have a serious beef with the Registro that might requite local TV news.

Most importantly, what is needed above all else, is PATIENCE.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Anuva Wine Tasting Review

I'm happy to announce that my article on the Anuva Wine Tasting from a few weeks back is now live on Argentina's Travel Guide. You can find the article here. This article goes more in depth than my previous blog post on the topic. Enjoy.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ecuador in Retrospect, Again

I've been updating my companies information on the countries that we sell trips in. This project has taken me through our 6 most frequently used locations: Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, and Peru. Today I started on Ecuador. Though quite far away from Buenos Aires and really only used by us for the Galapagos Islands, I'm updating all of the technical information and weather data.

This means that I'm doing heavy research from the CIA World Factbook, one of my favorite sources for information on any country in the world. You're not getting Top Secret information, but you're just getting incredibly accurate and bi-weekly updated facts, which is really helpful when doing international research. So I've been thumbing through things like population, area, and literacy rates, among other things. But Ecuador is slightly different than the other countries in that our files on it basically didn't exist, so I'm piecing it together not only with this information, but from my own experience.

It's harder to do this because as I write I have to keep in mind who my audience is, and talking about the safety on bus trips is irrelevant because these clients will never take a nice bus from the coast. Yet I'm still adding information on Safety and Emergencies, Food and Water, and Taxis. So it only makes sense to be thorough and include what I feel and know to be true. After all, what else was the point of living there for a year if I can't even walk away and share my experience.

I spent a few solid hours on this one document, and after finishing it and looking back I noticed that it all seemed to be negative. An objective reader might think that Ecuador is in a total state of turmoil. From a macro perspective from someone without personal experience there, that might be the only way you can see it. I feel the need to include that it is a dangerous country and you need to practice caution. I list tips on how to stay safe even if that makes it seem dangerous at the same time. I talk about past, recent, and current economic and governmental issues that contribute to a lack of stability.

This isn't building up a story and it's not hiding the truth, it's merely stating the facts, which is what any journalist should do. But I get the feeling that this is bad for business, especially tourism. I don't know how I can relate in such simple words, next to warnings about crime, that it's truly an amazing country and I had an excellent experience there. How could I describe 11 months in a couple of lines? Yes, it is dangerous, and yes you need to be careful. But the juice is worth the squeeze.

In any case, those who would be traveling to Ecuador would most likely be going straight to the Galapagos from another Latin American country on a whirlwind tour, and not travel up and down the spine of the Andes as I did so often, or roast in an overcrowded bus on the coast to a beach town. I'm keeping the audience in mind, but giving them the benefit of my knowledge. Is Ecuador that dangerous? All of the information would seem to give that edge. I need to find a way, however, to fit in what an incredible country it is, and how it's worth visiting. That will be my challenge tomorrow.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fear and Loathing at the Annual Book Fair

Some things just go together naturally, for example: spaghetti and meat balls, beer and pretzels, or baseball and sunflower seeds. Let me tell you what doesn't go together well: hangovers and book fairs. They shouldn't even be in the same sentence or allowed on the same block. The idea of sluggishly moving around after killing brain cells while looking for a way to increase brain power is a contrast, which unlike positive and negative ions, does not attract.

It wasn't the idea to go to the book fair hungover, but options were limited, I suppose. I wanted to go to the fair yesterday, but wound up at a different one altogether, and last night was a friend's birthday party at a bar, from which I didn't get home until about 6 am. The morning and afternoon were so beautiful and sunny that I couldn't just stay indoors. I felt too guilty, especially knowing that these nice days are running out. So I amped up some strength after a sandwich and got in line with the thousands of other people outside my door heading to the Rural Society, just a few blocks away.

Passing by my apartment building I thought that I lived here but wasn't home right now. If I wasn't in line for a book fair I'd be home right now. Fair enough. I wanted to go with someone else but no one was around, so I quietly waited in line as families around me spoke to each other. By the time we got to the gate the father told his son it was 30 minutes from the time we got in line. Not bad, all things considered. It was $15 pesos to get in, and it was my first time going to the Rural Society, which I can see from my balcony.

The Rural Society traditionally held cattle and horse events, and while they still do, they have also branched out into other expositions. This is the 36th Annual World Book Fair, which contains books from all over the world (mostly in Spanish), as well as other products related to reading. Authors occasionally come and you can meet them, and other presentations are given. Once inside I was lost among the crowds of pushing people and stall after stall with books. I had no idea where I could find one I liked.

The idea is you pay to get in and then books inside are cheaper than in a bookstore, but a lot of the bookstores have stalls there, and it seems to me that they charge the same amount. This even, which lasts from April 22-May 10, runs most days of the week, but the larger crowds come on the weekends, for obvious reasons. First I listened about some book fair in Frankfurt this year with translated books, and then moved on to check out as many booths as possible. But I had no idea where to go, and there was so much to see.

The crowds were fairly obnoxious, vying for space to see what cheap books were available. There were standard deals of 1 book for $10, $15, or 3 for $30, etc. I was interested in getting one book in Spanish and one in English. After maybe a half hour I finally found a book in Spanish that I was interested in and was cheap. Next I walked around looking for English books, but much to my chagrin couldn't find them.

I did find the U.S. Embassy stall which just had a few books, mostly the "This is Why the United States is a Good Country" kind of books, so nothing I was looking for. I was all set to leave and finally I found a place with all English books. Just for the hell of it I opened up a grammar book and on the first random page I flipped to I found a badly translated sentence. I checked the price of a book and it was $90 pesos, and they were all about that price. No way was I walking out of there with an English book. I was hungry, thirsty, and tired. It was time to go, and by this point the beautiful sunny day had turned to overcast and chilly. Quittin' time for the book fair. Until next year, perhaps.

The Independent Book Fair

I had wanted to go to the big annual Book Fair at La Rural yesterday, so I was looking for people to go with. In the search, my friend Pablo mentioned that he was going to a different book fair by the University of Buenos Aires. This was an independent book fair with different, maybe less legitimate books. Since the other book fair is going on for a couple of weeks I went with Pablo.

The independent book fair was an interesting mix of hippie-punksters and anarchists selling everything from comics and Communist literature to vegan empanadas. It was a really eclectic group of people, and as usual it was somehow tied into politics. In the background was the annoying sound of two people performing poetry in a skit, yelling into microphones so fast that I didn't catch any of it.

Pablo and I walked around for a bit perusing the various books, which for the most part were really just photocopies of books or self-published paperbacks with the authors there. I bought a $3 peso piece of pie with coconut and dulce de leche while Pablo got a beer, and we kept running into people he knew. The fair was in a parking lot, and all around the spots were stalls with vendors selling books. They were all friendly and insisted we pick up a book and check it out at our leisure.

We made our way over to an artists' stand and were really impressed by the prints we saw. Though I don't usually buy art, mainly because I have no where stable to put it nor the extra money, I saw two prints that I really enjoyed and purchased. Ideally I'll still have them in good condition when I head back to the States someday and will be able to put them on my wall. Better is the fact that it's "authentic" Argentine art, rather than some touristy picture of tango from San Telmo.

There was a concert by Plaza Italia last night and I thought I'd be able to hear it from my apartment, but I couldn't, and thus missed out on it waiting to hear the music. Though the lines are ridiculous and spreading past my building, I think I'll try to check out the fair today. I just need to get out of the house and moving.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May Day, May Day

Today is Labor Day for most of the world, and unfortunately it fell on a Saturday this year. It's beautiful outside right now, and the forecast says it's going to reach 26 degrees Celsius. That's a might fine autumn day. I'm still at home for the moment though, thinking about what to do for the day. Most of the people I know seem to be out of the city for the day. What I want to do is go to the big book fair right down the street from me at the Rural Society. Apparently you have to pay to get in but once there books are really cheap and sometimes you can meet the author.

Last night I decided to have a little dinner party, if for nothing else than because I don't get to eat dinner with people very often. A few weeks ago my friend Tom had a dinner party and I said I'd return the favor by making some meat loaf, which I just recently learned how to cook. So Tom and a couple other people came over. Before we got started though, I was pre-cooking for about an hour and a half.

It takes a lot of time and dedication to put a full-on meal together, but I feel like it's worth it in the end. It's kind of therapeutic to do serious cooking for friends. Chopping and mincing onions, peeling potatoes, and making sure you have just the right amount of spices all take time and a careful eye. So it's not something you can do easily like popping something in the microwave and forgetting about it.

Last night was the first time I attempted to make mashed potatoes, and it came out really well, though it was actually a mixture, kind of an invention of my own. I put together potatoes, pumpkin, and carrots. I'll have to think of some clever name for it. Puré a la Jon or something. I had to kind of estimate with the meat loaf because the recipe was for half of the amount and I have no measuring cups or anything like that. But it all worked out nicely and I just checked it occasionally in the oven as some cauliflower was sauteing on the stove top.

Last but not least I put some garlic bread in the oven for a few minutes until it was nice and crispy. And voila, it was all ready to serve. My guests really enjoyed the food, as did I, and it gave me a good feeling. It's nice to know that you can prepare a decent meal, especially when you mainly live off of easy things like pasta, pizza, and sandwiches. With a bit of time and some extra money, however, you can really put together a nice feast.

The only problem was that the food was too good, and there was just about nothing left at the end of it. There is a little left over mashed-whatever, but only because I made so much to begin with. I'll take that as compliments to the chef. Next time I'll have to try another dish and hopefully find similar results.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Argentine Cold Remedy

I'm sick again with another cold, this being the second cold in two weeks. So obviously I'm not too happy about it, but it's just something you have to deal with. I haven't got any real cold medicine in the house. The only pills I have are Argentine allergy pills that I mistakenly bought two weeks ago and some Advil. So at the office today the guys told me to go to the pharmacy and buy a certain type of medicine. But when they told me how much it cost I said no thanks. Even if I wanted to pay that much, I didn't have enough on me.

So I asked the pharmacist for the next best thing and she pointed to the counter, and I picked out the cheapest thing I could find. Back at the office the guys were laughing as they told me that they misunderstood what I was saying and had recommended an allergy pill, as if that was what I needed more of. Then they told me the old trustworthy remedy. Get a good steam going in the shower and drink two glasses of whiskey. That will solve everything. It's that kind of advice that takes me back to my Ecuador days, when a random cure would be recommended, and occasionally work, even if only temporarily.

Then they continued joking by saying that what I really needed was a woman to cook and clean for me. That would make it all better. I think these guys are on to something.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Victory Gloating

I'm one of the only guys in my office that likes the Boca Juniors, even though they're one of the most popular soccer teams in Argentina. But before I go any deeper into this, let me just clarify that I have to like one team, so I like the Boca Juniors because my mom got me their jersey when she was here a few years ago. I didn't even know who they were when she gave me the shirt, and it sat in my closet for a few years. So I'm not exactly a real fan.

On Sunday night a big rivalry game between Boca and San Lorenzo was played. San Lorenzo is another popular team, and this was a big game. A couple of my coworkers are San Lorenzo fans, and one of them is always talking about San Lorenzo. They never cease to bust my chops about liking Boca, but I don't mind and if anything, it makes me feel like I fit in a little better. I watched the entire game because I knew I'd have to talk about it today. Boca won 2-0, and of course when both goals were scored I was looking away from the TV.

Sure enough, first thing in the morning when my coworker comes into the office and says hello, I can see the little embarrassed-don't say anything face. A huge grin breaks across my face and he starts to laugh, saying "What are you smiling at?" "How'd the game go last night?" I ask. And for the rest of the day we bust his chops, and we're all laughing about it. I feel like one of the guys today, and it reminds me of back home with a group of buddies making fun of someone else for liking a different team or player. It reminds me of just being a normal guy instead of the foreigner.

Despite the fact that Boca is having a lousy year, San Lorenzo is probably better this season, and a Boca loss later in the week will get me just as much mocking, for today I'm able to strut around and gloat about the big win on Sunday. And I don't even know anything about this sport.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Upside-down Weather

I know I've written about the weather being different here before. First it was winter when it should have been summer, then it was spring instead of fall, then summer instead of winter. And now we're nearly full circle. It's late April and I'm cold, it's gray and ugly outside, and I keep seeing messages from friends back home about how beautiful the weather is and how they're getting ready for the good season to come. Yeah, I'm jealous.

No matter what, I'm too Northern Hemispherian to accept what my eyes are telling me. I see the calendar and I just can't accept that it's cold like this. Granted, Boston is no city to guarantee warm weather in April, but at least you keep that grain of salt in mind, knowing that it will in fact get better. But here, it's only going to get worse for the foreseeable future. The other thing that makes it so difficult for me is the school system.

While I'm no longer a student or teacher, I've always been programed to see the fall as the beginning of a school year and the spring as the end. But a cycle has just started for students here in March, and instead of ending in July or so when it's hot out, it will be the middle of winter. It just kind of confuses my body. It gets to the point where I look at the calendar and it means nothing to me. It's just another date and I'm only looking until the end of the week or the end of the month. But the general concept that June, July, and August will mean barbecues, beaches, and outdoor parties, is now totally gone. And honestly, I don't know if I can ever get that concept back because in the back of my mind I'll always keep in mind that it's cold somewhere else.

But at least today they are turning the heat on in my building, so depending on how they do things here, it might feel like summer in my apartment pretty soon anyway. Judging off of my Argentinian grandparents apartment, which has always been far too hot, I'm hoping that's a trend kept up here. A long shot, I know.

An Air of Change o Nuevos Rumbos

Maybe I'm just being overly optimistic, but even with the change of the weather and the onset of the cold, it feels like new life is being breathed into my life here in Buenos Aires. I've passed by the 8 month mark on my time in this country, and just like I knew it would be from my experience in Ecuador, those first months were very difficult. It takes time to get adjusted to a new culture, make friends, and know enough about the place that you're living in to at least try to hold a relevant conversation with a local about politics, humor, or sports.

And in the last couple of weeks I feel like a corner has really been turned. Aside from simply getting better at the language and being here long enough to understand the politics better (though it's hardly ever understood), my social and work life is improving as well. While at first it was hard to meet people and it seemed like Argentinians just downright didn't want to get to know me, that slowly, albeit very slowly, changed. And now, it seems that doors are opening, if not blowing off. There is something to be said about a person wanting to get to know someone who has been in their country for a few months as opposed to a few weeks. There's stability in that.

The high season for tourism is over, and as we enter winter, the business chaos of office life will ease up a bit, and though there will still be work to do, it will be a more relaxed environment. I think with the relaxed season it has allowed other coworkers to ease up a bit too. As a result, we're joking around more and having a more communicable relationship which we didn't have for many months. It could also be that I've finally eased up a bit too, however. I won't deny that I've been a bit timid at work, but I think that's understandable if not acceptable.

With the colder weather I find less of a desire to go out and explore the city on the weekends, pushing me into a more "local" lifestyle--that is, I'm not acting like a tourist at every available chance. Will just hanging out at home on a day off be better in the long run? Who knows? But at the very least it gives more of a natural feel to the life here. So the next little hill to get over will be the issue with my DNI, which I'm still in pursuit of, and finding a balance with my overpriced apartment and constant penny pinching. On the plus side, I just learned how to make a relatively cheap Korean dish that uses rice, cheap meat, and vegetables. So maybe rice will be entering my typical diet of pizza, pasta, and sandwiches.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Read This Before Driving Through Patagonia!

My latest article has been published on Argentina's Travel Guide. This article is an advice column on driving through Patagonia, which I did with my parents back in January, which seems like years ago by now. You can find the article here. Spread the word to anyone you know who might be driving through Patagonia soon--it just might help them out.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Wine Tasting with Anuva Wines

On Saturday night I was invited to a private wine tasting in Las Cañitas by Daniel Karlin, founder and owner of Anuva Wines. Anuva is a wine distribution company which sends high quality boutique Argentine wines to 32 states in the U.S. and also hosts small wine tastings here in Buenos Aires. My goal was to experience the wine tasting and write a review for Argentina's Travel Guide. Like I always manage to do, I showed up too early, so I took a quick stroll around the block and saw how lovely and quiet the area was. This was definitely the right atmosphere for a refined wine tasting.

We went upstairs with the couple from Dallas who was there for the wine tasting, and began with the presentation. Already on the table were the five glasses waiting to be filled and a plate delicately prepared with the pairings of food. I've been to wine tastings before in Sicily and in Mendoza, but this was different. Rather than being rushed through a distillery with a guide who doesn't fully reach fluent status, we were in Karlin's home, and we were quickly made to feel like old pals. Karlin is actually an American expat, so aside from his perfect English, he had a different perspective to give us for restaurants, politics, and culture. This isn't a lesson that should be taken for granted, and to be honest I think it's one of the best and most distinguishing qualities of this experience.

We tried our five wines and ate our five foods. My favorite was definitely the San Gimignano Malbec Roble, which to me just had this buttery taste that made me feel warm and content. I easily could have had an entire bottle of it, and with any luck one day soon I'll get a bottle for myself. Of course, the other bottles were also excellent, with two whites and two additional reds.

My only regret is that I wasn't aware of this wine tasting when I first arrived to Argentina. It really was helpful and insightful for those who aren't wine experts, let alone those who've got extensive knowledge of boutique wineries in Argentina. Even after living here eight months and learning so much about the wine here, I didn't feel like anything discussed was old news. The history of the labels, the production, and the explanation of why this country produces such excellent wine went with the tasting just as much as the delicious food did.

Now, while the tasting costs U$40, I won't say it's overpriced. Let me explain. To me, U$40 is a hefty price for most things, but that's because I live here making an Argentine salary and getting charged for things in US Dollars. I live as cheaply as possible. But if you're traveling through the country and really want to try good wine but don't know where to start, I wholeheartedly recommend this activity. Do the right thing and don't just settle on the most expensive bottle at the restaurant. For 40 bucks you get a hell of a value, not to mention personalized service and recommendations for later on as well.

Don't just take my word for it though. Anuva's reviews on TripAdvisor speak for themselves. Check out this wine tasting in Buenos Aires and let me know what your thoughts are.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Lighting Up the Night Sky

It was supposed to rain all day but instead we had a beautiful and warm autumn day. But as dusk fell the sky opened up without warning. It started slowly with an electrical burst of lightning coming in from the river. Then came the thunder and the heavy rains. Next was the hail. Here's the only good shot that came out, with the night sky lit up.

UPDATE: This picture was posted on Clarin's Web site tonight. That's hail.

You Know You've Been in BA a Long Time When...

Last night was sort of an early night, and by early night I mean we were leaving the club at 3:30 am. It's kind of a rare thing to be leaving the place just as tons of people are showing up and the line is forming. The music was good, we were talking to some girls, but me and the guys had decided that we'd seen enough. It wasn't a full night out anyway.

But thinking back on these kinds of nights always amazes me. How on earth did I get to the point where I look at the clock and think how early it is, when in fact it's very early morning? The night started with a wine tasting with Anuva Wines, which I'll write about in depth in another piece. The tasting was at 6 pm and by the time I left at 8:30 pm, five wines later and with a bit of a buzz going, I went home and what did I do? Well, if this was the United States, I could have either met up with friends right then and began the night or gone to a bar right off.

We live in Argentina, so things are a little different. I went home and took a little nap. Then I wrote a review about the wine tasting. Later, I made some mate to wake myself up and ate a few snacks. I started talking to some friends online, and by 11:30 pm I was getting ready to meet up with a couple of the guys I know here. Over time you can adjust to anything, and I've definitely reached the point at which a porteño lives by--that is to say, awake for almost the entire day. They just don't like to waste time sleeping.

On the rare occasion in college that I was awake around 3 am my body was destroyed the next day. I'd probably sleep until 1 pm and then be useless the next day. And keep in mind that hangovers get worse with age. I went to bed around 4 am last night after all was told. This morning I woke up around 10:30 am and stayed in bed until 11, but feel fine. The main difference is also in the way we drink here. Last night, apart from the wine tasting earlier on, I only had three beers. This is partly because of money, but also because in order to last the whole night you can't be wasted in one hour. On the contrary, back home the idea is to drink as much as possible, so if you reach 3 am it means you've probably had 10-12 beers by that point just to keep pace.

At least that's the way it was anyway. This kind of lifestyle can't sustain itself, obviously. If you go out like this too frequently you'll just waste your body, but doing so once in a while is normal for the youth in Buenos Aires. I stayed in Friday night taking care of the last day of a cold, and on Saturday I went out with the guys. But this is by no means a five day a week excursion for me. The main difference that I can see is that in the United States you might head out at 7 or 8 pm and be home by 1 or 2 am. Here, you follow a similar time line but later, so you leave around midnight or 1 am and get home at 5 or 6 am. The early night nap is essential, as well as a late dinner.

I fear the day when I go home to a Puritan Boston, where people are wasted by 11 pm and bars stop serving at 1 am. It's like seeing Paris and then returning home to the farm. Again, I'll eventually get used to it again, but I feel like a bitter part of me will always be complaining that just as we are getting home people are finishing dinner and heading out in Buenos Aires, and they aren't even hours behind. One day, anyway.

Friday, April 16, 2010


I found my old Ecuadorian cell phone number today, which is kind of ironic because just a couple of days ago it made me sad to realize that I could no longer remember it. The way I found it was kind of random actually, because I was at work. I had written in to the office while still living in Cuenca and there I found my information with the old address, phone number, and even the email I'd written. Now after even more immersion, I could see where I'd made mistakes with my Spanish and it made me blush to myself.

There was all of the old information, which was new information last year. I lived on Mariano Cueva y Juan Jaramillo. And the cell phone number, which survived the hijacking even though the original phone didn't, was still there. (I actually still have the second phone I bought in Ecuador and use it to this day). In my head I said the number as I said it a hundred times to friends in that country. Cero nueve cinco-cuatro ocho seis-uno uno cuatro. On the rarer occasion that I was giving it to an English speaker, it would simply be 095-486-114.

I guess what made it sadder to lose the memory of the number wasn't so much that I'd forgotten something special about that place, but it was like losing a part of myself. That number was almost like an identity--a part of the life that I had there. And though the phone itself didn't get nearly as much use as my phone back in the United States, it was a part of my way into the culture. Not just any gringo has a cell phone in Ecuador. It showed that I was there to stay for a while, and people were more open to that idea.

As the year went on and friends of mine started to leave the country, I began to take their numbers out of the phone book one by one until it was a slim list. And eventually I took them all out when I went home, and I have to imagine my number was taken out of the phones of those who stayed behind. But I wish I'd left those numbers now that I think about it. At the very least it would have been another little memory of my life there. Proof that I was able to rack up however many friends and mix into the life there. But in any case, the number is now back, and now that it's on the Internet, it will always be there for me to look back at.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Cup of Tea on a Rainy Day

Today was a rainy and cold one, with the thermometer reaching 15ºC (59ºF). It’s a raw cold and a shock to the system, with the first of its kind this season. But we’ll get used to it eventually, whether we want to or not. I was sipping some tea and the warm scent drifted up quickly into my nostrils. Holding the mug with the quick burn on the fingers and a slight adjustment so that my sweater sleeve grabbed the handle, my mind went elsewhere.

How many years ago was it now? Three or four? The year was…2007. We were in Dublin and had stopped into a café with the promise of getting out of the cold February rain. Who the hell goes to Dublin in February anyway? But we had a few extra days off from classes in Spain and took the advantage to visit another country. Back when doing that sort of thing was so easy to do and the cost of a flight for €20 looked like a bargain.

I guess it was towards the end of our stay there and we had seen most of the things we wanted to, so we were just walking around and killing time when Dorothy saw this cozy little hole with muffins in the window, comfortable-looking chairs and bright lights—a complete contrast to the gray and drab of an Irish February day. We ordered our teas and muffins and sat down. I don’t remember exactly what we talked about, though it was a slow paced and say-something-when-you-want-to kind of conversation.

Dorothy grabbed her mug by both hands and held it tightly, saying she loved to have a tea or coffee on cold days and just grab the mug. The heat from the drink instantly went into her hands and through her body, warming her up. I tried but quickly stopped as the convection hurt me too much. This method wasn’t for me, and I’d just as soon stick to warmer clothing and heating, I thought.

We sat in the café for maybe an hour and then went back out into the cold and rain to finish off our trip. I don’t know how many times, or if I’ve ever though about that moment since it happened, but today it came back to me with the whiff of camomile tea. Three years and I still can’t hold the mug tight. But for a couple of minutes I had a firm grasp on that vivid memory until like the heat from a porcelain mug, it slowly faded away.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

First Cold of the Season

Ugh, I'm sick and just want to stay in bed for days. This is the first time I've gotten sick in this upcoming cold weather season. This doesn't count my bad cold while traveling through Patagonia in January. That was the summer, after all. But this cold started out of no where on Friday night as I took it easy with a movie at home. It continued and is a sneezy, runny nose mess.

It's not even that cold yet, and though today was nasty and rainy, the weather has been pretty fair. Still, as I've written before, Buenos Aires won't be getting as cold or miserable as Boston does in the winter. So I'm hopeful that this will mean I won't get as sick as I used to get in New England. Of course, it doesn't really matter where you are in the world when a string of colds or flues go around. But anyway, for now it just means taking it easy at home and trying to get better. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Difference in Falls

It's nearly mid-April now, and we're well into the fall. It's weird for me to this of it like this, of course, because for the majority of my life this time of year was the spring. Or, being from Boston, it was later winter. I think with things being flipped, it would be something similar to mid-October back home. This means that the days are shorter, it's chillier, and the leaves have begun changing into luminous shades of red, gold, and orange.

But it's not exactly going quite like that. In other parts of Argentina you'll definitely see foliage, and I think even Mendoza gets a fair share of foliage that compares to New England. But on the other hand, I believe that Buenos Aires is about equidistant from the equator as Washington D.C. is. Thus, that dramatic change in colors and temperature is not quite as prevalent.

I miss that kind of fall. It always sets you up for football games and hot chocolate, or failing that, primes you for the Halloween and Thanksgiving holidays which breath life back in after the summer time outings have ended. This week was a bit warmer than the last, and today was another beauty. People are taking advantage of the sunshine while they can, filling up parks for one last hoorrah before it's too cold to go out. As for me, I've put the running shoes on the shelf for the time being and have accepted that I'm now going to hibernate until the spring. It's unfortunate too, as I had been getting faster and stronger recently.

With the shorter days and colder weather, things will change for sure. As with other colder climates, people tend to stay in doors and not go out much in the winter. It's just too cold or gray or rainy. This will limit the amount of things I do in the city for sure, but will also set me up to have many things to do when the spring rolls around months from now. And it's not all totally over anyway. Each season brings its own difference and distinction. I have yet to experience the majority of the Buenos Aires winter, as I arrived at the end of it in August. Who knows, maybe we'll even get a snow day, and I can show these greenhorns how we deal with it in the north.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Transportation Woes in Buenos Aires

Man on man, today was a mess for public transportation. For me anyway. I had the news on this morning like I do every day, keeping an eye out for any word about serious traffic problems. There was nothing eye grabbing, so I went down to the Subte as usual. Once there, however, I discovered that service was "interrupted." It doesn't mean that it's stopped altogether, but you'll definitely get to work late.

Subte by Armando Maynez.It's important to always have a Plan B for transportation here, but I'd already swiped my card and didn't want to waste the $1.10. The train finally moved, but at each stop spend 5 minutes idling. Four stops in at Pueyrredon, everyone got off as word got down that the subway would no longer move. I followed the mass of people slowly trudging upstairs and saw a police officer handing out pieces of paper.

I thought it would be a complimentary ride on the subway, but instead found that it was a permission slip for work. It had to be a joke. This cop, who was more of a hall monitor keeping people moving while they yelled in disgust, was giving an excuse to our bosses for our late arrivals. Were we the children or were they?

Now, I understand that buses and trains break down from time to time. It happens, and I myself have been on a handful of trains in Boston that have broken down. But when they did, the T service always had buses ready to take us to the next stop and make up for it. And that was over the course of my life in Boston. Here, they provided no alternative transportation. In the 7 months I've been living here (and really just 3 months since I frequently use the Subte) the train breaking down is more of a weekly or daily thing, and it's expected that you will generally arrive somewhere late as a result. I've written previously about how you can't help but show up somewhere late at least once a week, but you never know when it will be.

The problem here isn't that there are issues with the Subte. The problem itself is the Subte. It just doesn't function well and I have to say after traveling around the world that it's the worst subway system I've had the privilege to know. Having it there keeps you from bothering with the buses when traffic is at its peak in the morning and after work. It's deceivingly convenient. I'd be willing to pay another 10 cents or whatever it would be if they could just guarantee that you would show up on time and not be totally shocked. Isn't that normal?

So anyway, I got in line for a bus, then had to walk about 15 blocks to finally make it to work, luckily just a half hour late. As for the ride home, it turns out the D line was down all day. I had planned to go to an Anuva wine tasting to do some research for an article for Argentina's Travel Guide, but because of the mess with transportation, I wasn't able to make it. Even lining up for a bus meant getting behind about 100 other people.

So finally upon making it home, I had to pop open a bottle of red and just relax for a bit. Just another day in Latin America.

Above: Photo courtesy of Armando Maynez

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tuesday is Sweater-vest Day in Buenos Aires

Today I decided to break out a new sweater-vest that I had gotten back in January, but had never used because it was obviously too hot. It's not the first time I've worn a sweater with a collared shirt underneath, though this is a different style and the first legit sweater-vest I've ever owned. In a way, it's sort of a step up and breaking away from my college style. It's more serious dressing even as my office is laid back and I could easily go in wearing a T-shirt and jeans, which I do occasionally.

But I don't know, I just feel that I should dress well when I step into an office. Even if it's a laid back environment, I feel like I need to act professional. So I kind of stick out in a way in the office, because some of the other guys dress very casually while I look overdressed. I was afraid that would happen today, but oh well, I had the sweater and I was going to use it.

To my surprise, it seemed like just about every guy on the subway had a sweater-vest on. We all had different colors and sizes, different brands and different patterns. But everyone seemed to feel comfortable wearing the office-fashionable clothing. Of course by the time I got to the office I was the only one left in the sweater-vest. No one gave me much guff for it, though eventually I was asked if I was hot and at the end of the day someone said, "How elegant."

Elegant? Well I don't know about that, but I'll take the compliment. If only they could see me now, sitting on the couch with my white under tee and sweatpants. Oh, the humanity!

Monday, April 5, 2010

American University, Fall 2011

After waiting to hear from the rest of the schools that I applied to (with the exception of Boston University, which I have to assume somehow never received my application), I've made a decision on which graduate school I'll be attending. My final call is to defer for one academic year and then attend American University's School of International Service in the Fall of 2011. I'll be pursuing a Masters in United States Foreign Policy.

The idea to stay in Argentina for another year comes to the chagrin of most people I know, and I understand why. I've already been away from home for over a year and a half, and this solidifies that I'll be gone for about another year and a half. But I still have much to learn and I'm gaining invaluable experience every day at work and in my social interactions. I know from last year's experience that just as my time in Ecuador was ending I started to make more friends and hit a stride. I don't want that to happen again here, and I want to see it through to get the most out of the experience.

My Spanish, while already fluent and without being arrogant, is excellent, could always improve. Though the improvements now mostly focus on more obscure vocabulary, everyday is another lesson in something cultural. Everyday is another challenge that makes me a better person because of it, and I'd be cheating myself if I just picked up and left now. This isn't summer camp and I can't just go home out of the blue. I have a job and responsibility, and I'm willing to see it through.

So basically, I can now take a deep breath. Those first few months here were dominated by the GRE, applications, and waiting around for the results. Now I can rest assured that I have a secured spot for next year. For now, I'm going to sit back and enjoy the NCAA Men's Championship Game and think about how one day in the future I'll be a college student again.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Seeing Off Friends

On Friday night my friends Dan and Valerie had a going away party. They've been in Buenos Aires longer than I have and are now starting to make their way home. They're leaving this afternoon on a bus from here to Lima, Peru, which will take three days. Then they'll continue the trip home. flying to Florida and then finally back to Utah.

I met the couple like I'd met many other people here, through contacts and friends of friends. We had some good times together and it's too bad that they're now leaving. We started off the night at their apartment in the Microcentro and then went to a bar they liked in San Telmo. The bar, which I think was simply known as "The Red Door," had a small upstairs area with dark lighting and a cool vibe. Good music was playing and there was a constant steady amount of people there.

I noticed that it was probably the last time I could get away with going out in just a T-shirt, as autumn chills have now officially set in. By the time I was heading home it was straight up cold and I was shivering. At the same time of saying goodbye to Dan and Valerie, a new friend named Brian came by. Brian is a friend of my buddy Lucho in Cuenca. They're both from the same town in Maine, and Brian is going to be here for a few months teaching English before making his way up to Guayaquil.

It seems like I'm still going to be bouncing around week to week meeting people, and there's just no way around that. The rest of the weekend has gone by pretty low key. I think I got in my last runs of the season this weekend, ending on high notes. On Friday and Saturday morning I ran about 4 kilometers each time, and today when I went out it was clear that the temperatures had dropped considerably. So much so that everyone was out in winter jackets.

Today is just a lazy day, maybe meeting up with some other people for dinner, but who knows. Then back to work tomorrow.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Sunset, Good Friday

I know, it seems like I keep talking about the sunsets here, but they really are pretty great. Here are some shots from today's sunset, as seen from my balcony in my room.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Ohh, Boston You're My Home

Today’s been kind of a tough day. I made my desktop background at work a picture of the Boston skyline, and though I barely have the chance to look at it, the picture has me thinking of home. I miss Boston, and though I don’t think about it too often to ease the effect of homesickness, it’s always there in the back of my mind. Even though I grew up outside of the city and was home for 3 weeks in August, I feel like it’s been years since I was there.

I scrolled through some pictures of Boston on Flickr and that didn’t make it any better. I thought of the harbor and downtown, all business. But quickly down the streets under constant repair (have they finally been fixed by now?) and you wind up by the Fleet Center. I don’t care if it’s the TD Banknorth Garden or whatever it is now, it will always be the Fleet Center to me.

The North End is just up around the bend, with excellent Italian food and tiny cobblestone streets. Colonial architecture and Quincy Market, where dozens of bars, restaurants, and designer stores make their home. Hardly anyone knows that Quincy Market is where slaves were once sold before it was outlawed in Massachusetts. But that was a long time ago.

I think about the dishes I miss—the New England clam chowder and lobster. The restaurants I’m familiar with from back home, the dishes I could count on having regularly which now are things to be cherished, like a Caesar salad, for example. On talking to my friends and hearing what they’re up to, where they’re moving to in and around the city, it makes me regretful that I’m missing out on time with them and the experiences they’re putting together. But like I’ve told myself before, it would be no different if I had been offered a job in Los Angeles and had to move there. I’d be just as far removed.

It makes it harder also to think that when I do go back to the United States eventually, I won’t be going back to Boston permanently. At least for the time being anyway, because it looks like I’ll be doing my grad school in the Washington D.C. Metro area. I miss the fall and the changing of the leaves in New England, and football on Sundays, and sitting in basements watching movies with people who I don’t need to tell my life story to because they already know it from being there, among other things. So today is kind of a tough day.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Semana Santa

This week starts Semana Santa, or Holy Week, and most people have tomorrow and Friday off. Unfortunately I'll be working on Thursday, though we'll still get Friday off. A lot of people use this 3 or 4 day weekend as an excuse to get out of Buenos Aires and go somewhere like the coast for the last time before it gets really cold. We've had some wonderful weather lately and it's been a very pleasant early autumn.

I think back to previous years when I've had 3 or 4 day weekends and how I used the extra day advantageously and traveled somewhere. However, I can no longer just take off at will. I just don't have the funds to be able to do so. As it is this was a really thought month, and next month I have to pay 6 months advance rent, leaving me with another tough month ahead.

Even without being able to go somewhere for the weekend, I'm still going to get out of the apartment and do as much as I can in the city. After all, this is still a destination city, and there's always something going on whether you have money to spend or not. It'll be nice to get a few more runs in before the weather gets too nasty, and sleeping in a bit would be nice for a change. It sounds awfully domesticated, but I'm still all about traveling.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Afternoon

After a short nap and some lunch I headed back out today. I really wasn't that exhausted from the race and felt like walking around, so with such a beautiful day, I decided to walk to the Botanical Gardens. The last time I went it was rainy and nearly empty, but today it was the complete opposite, with many people walking around and sun breaking through the cracks in the trees.

I took a couple of pictures and sat down for a while before meeting up with Hannah down in Recoleta. I jumped on the 67 and met up with her and a conversation partner of hers by the fair. The area was packed with young people and live music was being performed by two groups side by side. The last time I was here it was a similar scene, but I thought that day must have been special. Evidently, every Sunday there is music in Plaza Francia though. Just to get your mind in the right place, that's across from the Museum of Fine Arts and Buenos Aires Design (mall).

We walked through the stalls for a few minutes and then sat on the grass listening to the music for a while. All around us groups were having picnics with mate and snacks, and the music was actually really good. I have to say, this has been a pretty tight Sunday. Now I just hope something good is on TV tonight.

And also, this is one of the bands that was playing. I'm not quite sure why, but they are wearing white dresses. Going for a ZZ Top sort of theme?

Above: Images from the Botanical Gardens and Plaza Francia

La Carrera de Miguel

This morning I woke up earlier than normal and got ready for the 10k in Palermo, La Carrera de Miguel. I ate some cereal, stretched out, and then headed in with the other runners to the park. The forecast had called for rain but I was happy to find that it was a warm sunny day without a cloud in the sky. I've been really lucky in that every race I've run in has had excellent weather.

The race has been put on in Bariloche and Buenos Aires for the last five years in memory of Miguel Sanchez, an Argentine runner who disappeared and was murdered under the last military dictatorship. So it's not much of a surprise that there's a political undertone to this race. Yet I still wasn't expecting the band of protesters by the starting line. They weren't doing anything bad, but had signs and were singing songs with their drums. I was kind of put off to it, thinking that they were using his death as an excuse to complain about the current government.

In any case, it wasn't really about the race. I picked up my free shirt, dropped off my valuables, and got ready for the race towards the front of the line. Slowly the lane packed in and the clock ticked down to zero. The route took us to parts of the city I hadn't seen yet. We started north going past the horse track and up to the Palermo Golf Club. Here in this area of the city I found more parks and ponds that I had never even seen before. The skyline of Belgrano was visible, and it seemed like a really laid back part of the city.

There was only one water station for this race at the half way mark. This was a free race put on by the city, but it's still a lack of judgment. Even if it's a free race there has to be some water available or people are going to pass out. We double around and began the second part of the race heading back to the starting line. By this point I was getting into a stride and my pace increased. My legs were a little bit tired but my lungs felt fine. Training had paid of after all.

This race lacked cheering crowds but even by the finish line people waited around anxiously. I ran hard the last kilometer or two and finally came in at a smooth 46 minutes and 22 seconds. It's the best time I've had in a race yet and blows away the 1 hour time from the Nike 10k in October. Though to be fair, I hadn't run for two months before that race.

Here another bad call occurred by the event staff. As you passed the finish line you could grab a bottle of water or Gatorade, but once you walked past a certain point you couldn't go back. I only had one bottle of Gatorade while some people had three. I quickly downed the entire thing and wanted another, but was denied anything else. Long tables were filled with hundreds of bottles but the staff refused to give the other runners nor I anything to drink.

Keep in mind we just ran a race. I think it would only be decent to give us a bottle of water so we don't pass out, but apparently they were sticklers for the rules that don't really exist. I stood around for a while hoping they would finally feel bad and just throw a bottle over, but they never did. I grabbed my things and headed home, picking up a victory beer along the way. It's more fun to run with some friends, but I had to make due here. There are more races coming up next month. Maybe I'll look into them.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Pictures From Another Traveler

It's funny to see the pictures visitors take of the place you live in. I can't claim local status, but I've been here long enough now that I don't feel the need to look every time I walk by the Obelisk, for example. I've been going through my friend Amy's photos of her trip down in Buenos Aires last week, and they're great. Really, she does some amazing things with a point and shoot, apparently just by taking the flash off.

Anyway, somehow her eye caught some things I never see, and just from the angles of the shots she has you can tell that it was taken from the perspective of someone who isn't from here. There's an excitement and novelty in the photos that maybe wouldn't be captured by someone like me who has been here for a while. Just an odd angle of a building from a passing bus looks like it was artistically prepared, but before we give Amy too much credit, it was probably snapped off quickly at a red light. I should probably take my camera out with me more often, especially as it always seems that you see the craziest thing just when you least expect it. But I hate being a tourist and walking around like one, so there are pros and cons. One day though. One day.

Preparing for the Race

It was good having a day off this week because it gave me the opportunity to get a long run in before the 10k tomorrow. Even with the extra preparation though, some partying had to take place to throw off the rhythm. On Thursday night Esquina Carlos Gardel, one of the better tango shows in the city, put together a party for some of the travel agencies and hotels in Buenos Aires. From my office only a couple of people wanted to go, but I didn't want to pass up the opportunity, so after work I headed over to the Costanera Norte with my co-worker Pablo.

The party slowly developed into a large gathering, but it was less of a rubbing elbows function and more of a night club. With an open bar and only occasional empanadas being served, any time a waiter came by people attacked the tray like wild animals. We wound up staying until 1:30 am and I didn't get in until 2. Poor Pablo then had to drive another half hour home after dropping me off. Needless to say, Friday was a tough day at the office.

Nonetheless it was a fun night out, and I'm glad to be able to take advantage of small perks like that. However, it is the end of the month and I had visitors for a week, plus my rent for 6 months is due next month, so money is a little tight right now. I'd been eating less and less as the week went on, eating pasta at least 5 different times and running down to just cheese sandwiches and a couple of cookies for lunch. To supplement the meal you can add in some mate, which fills you up slightly. It's not ideal, but when things are tough you make due.

After eating so much pasta I've started to just throw random things onto it for some variation. I like putting a few dabs of Frank's Red Hot sauce with some red pepper and oregano over the spaghetti noodles. Perhaps this isn't what you'll find at a high end restaurant, but it confuses your taste buds for long enough to convince you that you're eating something other than the same meal for the third night in a row. I remember way back before living in Spain thinking that I wanted to know what it was like to arrive to a country not speaking the language very well, sort of like an immigrant in the United States might experience. I went through the process of learning the language. I guess now I'm on the end of making due and stretching every peso.

But it's not all complaints. I finally went food shopping today and stocked up on all of the things that I've been missing out on. I even had 3 empanadas for lunch and bought orange juice. Tonight I'll make a steak with potatoes and onions. And then tomorrow I'll run in the race and hopefully celebrate with a victory beer. Of course it won't be the same without my friends Ricardo and Amy, and not being at high altitude won't make it as much of an accomplishment, but it's something to be proud of.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Day Off of Work

Today is a national holiday in Argentina in memory of the end of the military dictatorship from the 80s. People don't usually talk about it, or the Dirty War in which many people were "disappeared" and murdered. But today we get the day off of work to think about it, or to celebrate that it's over, or maybe just because there aren't many national holidays here.

It's a beautiful day, and I've taken advantage of it so far. I woke up late (after getting back in around 5:30 am), watched some TV, and then went for a run in the park. I've signed up for the 10k on Sunday in honor of an athlete who was murdered during the dictatorship, so I need to make sure my body is in good shape for the weekend. It's cooled off a lot in the last couple of weeks and running during the day is now very pleasant.

After three laps around the park I sat down in the sun for a while watching the groups of families and friends having picnics. I realized I was getting burned so I sat in the shade against a tree and watched the people running, biking, and rollerblading around the park. Everyone was enjoying the day off in their own way. It's one of those days in the fall when there's a last gasp from summer, but the chilly wind comes in to remind you that it's all over.

I'm heading up to Belgrano now. The day off continues.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Travelgrove: A New Way to Search for Deals

Recently I was asked by Travelgrove, a meta-search engine that helps users find cheap offers on airfare, hotels and car rentals, cruise deals, and vacation packages, to give a review of their Web site. The following is an unbiased, objective review of their services.

The front page of Travelgrove jumps out as slightly overwhelming, with loads of information coming at you all at once. There are deals over on the right and advice columns as you scroll down, with text all over the page. However, a quick adjustment of the eyes and you're quickly at ease with all of the information. Really, it's no more overloaded with information than a Web site like STA Travel or Kayak, though Kayak is definitely simpler.

Focus along the lead banner and you'll find your options for how this site can help you find cheap deals. Namely, Travelgrove focuses on airfare, hotels, car rental, cruises, vacation packages, deals, and also includes sections with a travel community and travel tips. While I feel that the sections with the travel community and tips aren't as comprehensive as a network like Matador, they definitely add a depth to a cheap offers Web site that helps the user look into their purchase. On the other hand, it's not too common that a shopper will go to a Web site designed to give them good deals to do their research. That step will usually be taken care of well before a plane ticket is about to be bought.

In my experience in trying to find cheap airfare, whether in the U.S., Europe, or South America, it has always been important to compare prices, timetables, and availability. Not all sites manage these three things efficiently. I feel as though Travelgrove fits in with these categories. It's not to say that it's a bad Web site, but this issue still needs to be worked out with all sites. On a random search for flights from Buenos Aires to Boston, no results were found, though the search time was fast. I tried again with New York to Boston, knowing there would be many flights for this set. Yet again, no flights were found.

Looking back through the homepage there are numerous flights available, though when trying to find the actual flight you see listed, you are redirected to another Web site which has the original offer. This isn't too uncommon, though it is a nuisance when you are trying to find a cheap flight quickly. The Web site loads well, but adds time in that you have to search through so many options. Time and again as I search for the cheapest flights, the last thing I want to do is click on multiple links and hope I'm reading correctly. What I want is to type in Departure, Arrival, and see what my options are without delay.

One section with Cheap Flights to Los Angeles, for example, will give you many options on cheap flights to Los Angeles from numerous cities in the United States and Canada. It also lists the airlines which you would be flying with, which is useful if you have a grudge against a certain airline for whatever reason. Furthermore, the side banners are complete with pictures of the location and tips or articles related to the topic. How often you'll check those is debatable, but they are there nonetheless.

Lastly, there is a section with travel guides. I have reviewed the guide on San Francisco for an example. This is a short guide that doesn't go too in depth yet gives a nice introduction to the city. Assuming you have no previous knowledge of the place, you now at least have some basic information to get you started on your trip. It's probably a good thing that it's not too long, as most people don't have a large attention span when reading something on the Internet anyway. Additionally, this travel guide will link you to many other things including history, pictures, tips, nightlife and reviews. With a connection to the travel community, you can add your own comments if you are familiar with the place as well.

After spending a lot of time on this Web site, I could conclude that it's definitely a useful tool for trying to find a deal on a trip, no matter which kind that may be. It's not quite a TripAdvisor, but it's on its way to making a name for itself nonetheless. I would feel comfortable giving the go ahead to look for offers on your next trip. Let me know how your experience with it goes.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

San Antonio de Areco

The four of us had a laid back Friday night, simply getting a late dinner at a cafe down the street, The idea was to wake up at 9 am and head to the bus terminal to catch an 11 o'clock bus to San Antonio de Areco. We made it to Retiro on time but the next bus wasn't leaving until 11:30, so we finally rolled into town at 1:30 pm. First we walked around towards the center which was only about five blocks away from the bus stop.

Along the way we asked a woman where we could get some food and she recommended a place not too far away. Though the prices weren't too bad, they were still a little high for me. My friends were happy with it though and we had a great meal, along with some cheap house wine. We really had no plan on what to do, but the idea was to get out of the city and see some of the pampas. So after lunch we walked to a park, saw the old bridge, and then found our way to a tienda.

I saw that they were selling alpargatas, which are traditional gaucho shoes that I've been trying to find for a while. They're actually pretty hard to come by, but they are very cheap. I got a pair for $18, which is the best deal I've seen so far, and since we were already there with nothing else to do and two hours to kill, we got some beer. For the next two hours we just sat in front of the tienda and played cards while drinking a few beers.

The sky was dark gray and had the feel of the calm before a storm, but it was pleasant and fun sitting there with my friends. Before long it was time to head back to the bus station to go back to Buenos Aires. For our last dinner we went to La Cabrera in Palermo. It was hard to get a table and by the time we sat down with some food on our plates it was already 12:45 am, but the place was still packed. The restaurant has a warning on the menu saying you should share the meals, and we saw why pretty quickly. Enormous portions came out one by one, and though they were expensive, we agreed it wouldn't be too bad if you split it evenly.

It was a good way to end the vacation, and though I was sad to see them go, they left my apartment early this morning to head back to Ecuador. Today is a rainy and cold day, but it's also the Superclasico, which is the Boca Juniors vs. River Plate. It's a big game and the whole city will be watching.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Getting in Gear for the Weekend

It was a really tiring and stressful week, even with having friends visiting. Maybe that added a bit to the stress, even though having them around has been awesome. Today I got two more decisions and neither were good. I was rejected by Tufts University and George Washington University. Those were two of the hardest schools I applied to, so I have to say that while it's disappointing, it's still a reach to try for those universities in the first place.

But finally the week is over and I can relax a bit before my friends leave on Sunday morning. They're currently coming back from Colonia, Uruguay, but won't be getting back until around 10:30 or 11 pm. Our plans, as of now, are to go to a town called San Antonio de Areco in the morning for a day trip. "Areco" for short is a typical Pampa town about two hours away from Buenos Aires by bus. Generally people will go to an estancia while they are there and do estancia things. But we don't have the kind of money to do that stuff.

I imagine that we'll get in there in the afternoon, walk around a bit and then get some beers at a cafe or bar. With not much else to do, we'll probably take a nap and then head back to the city. But that's just me guessing, based off of experience with day trips in Latin America. It will be good to get out of the city even if only for a few hours. And then on Sunday morning, far earlier than we should be awake, I'll say goodbye to my friends who will fly back to Quito to finish out their time in Ecuador.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

¡Quilombo, Digo Yo!

Last night was a fun, but late night out at a club with my friends and Vero and her friends. It was Saint Patrick's Day, so my American friends who are on vacation were all about drinking. But I had to keep in mind that I had work the next morning, so by 12:30 am or 1 am, whenever we finally made it out of there, we called it a night.

Surprisingly, the day started off alright, even though I was tired. There was a deep gray and heavy air in the city, like everyone was hungover. Checking my email I saw that I was accepted to American University for grad school. Not a bad way to start the day. My big day was planned around a visit to the old Registro Civil at 1:15 pm. For the ninth time I was going to try to get my DNI. The magistrate who has helped me in the past was supposed to meet me there, and I called her yesterday to make sure she was still on board. After all, I'd had this appointment since February 1st, when my last appointment failed miserably. Also, we were using her information to get the appointment in the first place.

I got there at 1:15 on the dot and called to see where she was. The first time I called we got disconnected (or she hung up) and the second time she said that she had to go to the bank and would be there in 20 minutes. Not too good considering on an hour lunch break it took me 15 minutes to walk there and you had to expect at least 30 minutes while inside, plus 15 back. I tried to get a place in line but since it was her information I couldn't, and they told me I only had until 2 pm to get a spot or I'd lose the turn.

So I stood outside the Registro waiting patiently, sweating in the humidity while recently married couples had rice thrown at them by their friends. Once or twice I was hit with rice as an innocent bystander. By 1:50 pm I had to accept that there was no way this could happen, so I had to return to the office with nothing in hand. I still had a giant alfajor that I bought her as a thank you for helping, which I left in the office kitchen for my coworkers.

It was pretty disheartening to have another failure at the Registro, and I felt like there's little more I can do at this point. I did eventually go back into the Web site and make up a DNI number to get another appointment, though it's not until May 5th. So I'll have to wait again and hope that the 10th time works out well.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Visitors in BA

It’s good to have some friends around this week, and even though I work throughout the day, we’ve been trying to make the most of the time together. On Sunday we did some touristy things and ended it with the excellent all-you-can-eat steak dinner. Yesterday we met up back at the apartment after I came home from work and they finished with a bus tour of the city.

We talked about what they had seen (and hadn’t seen) and then they went out to buy some things to make dinner while I prepared some mate. Once they were back and we started cooking I showed them how to drink the traditional tea. It’s kind of funny to me that I should now be the one teaching people how to drink mate, when I still feel like a completely novice sometimes. Of course, I am a novice, but with more experience than them.

The advantage for the friends that visit me is that they get to see a more authentic side of Argentina, even if I myself am a foreigner. Usually tourists will never try mate because it’s just not something you normally order in a café or bar. But it’s something almost all tourists know about and want to try, so to help my friends experience that a little bit, I feel glad to impart some knowledge on them.

Cooking dinner was a team effort, though Matt, Amy, and Carrie did most of the work while I prepared the mate. Finally around 10 pm we were ready to go with way too much pasta and meat, as well as some delicious garlic bread. It was a fun dinner in which we again over-ate, and topped it off with some dulce de leche ice cream and alfajores. I like having guests.

The guys are planning on going to more places throughout the week and visit Uruguay for a day at some point. On Saturday we are planning to spend a day in the country in San Antonio de Areco, a town I have yet to go to. It is known as a quintessential Pampas town, with estancias and museums to visit. Unless plans change (which they always good) it should be a nice day trip from the city.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Siga La Vaca!

Before I even arrived in Argentina my friend had told me about a restaurant called Siga La Vaca, an all-you-can-eat steak house in Puerto Madero. My friend Adam raved about it, and for six months I tried to get over there. Even though two different visitors have come, in addition to my parents, I still hadn’t made it, but finally last night I went with my friends to the famed restaurant.

After a late start on the day and walking around the San Telmo fair we moseyed over to Puerto Madero, where the chilly sunset blew in a stench from the river that was something awful. Even though it was way too early for dinner, I had built up Siga La Vaca so much that they were hungry for it. We walked into the restaurant 10 minutes before 7 pm, but already there were some people left over from lunch rush. The prices had risen—instead of $50 pesos that I thought I would pay, it was $72 (the price also rises on the weekends).

All you can eat comes with the salad bar with enough choices alone to make a whole meal, a liter of wine, beer, or soda (per person), and all the steak you could ever want. Oh yeah, and if you still had room, dessert. After tempting our taste buds with the salad bar options we hit the grill. A long front grill exposed a literal mountain of meat, with just about everything you could imagine. Chicken to intestines were available for the taking, and we helped ourselves well.

I stared with some bife de chorizo while the other guys got a portion of vacío. We all shared what we had, and after giving ourselves enough time to digest went up for more. This time we devised a plan to maximize what we’d try, so we all got something differet. I got chicken, Carrie got chorizo (sausage), Matt got bondiola (pork), and Amy got Patagonian lamb. It was a festival of gluttony.

With a combination of the two bottles of wine and all the meat, we started getting sluggish and hit the wall. But we had to continue, so three more plates were put down on the table filled with more bondiola and bife de chorizo. It was just too good. Finally we decided that we could take no more. We were going to explode or fall asleep at the table. The restaurant was now packed, so we didn’t feel so alone or fat by ourselves.

As Matt and Carrie stepped outside for a smoke, Amy and I ordered from the dessert menu, which surprisingly had a lot of options. For an all-you-can-eat place, it was really good. And since my friends came in from Ecuador where there aren’t too many options, they were in heave. When Matt and Carrie realized that we still had dessert to eat they let out a sigh as if saying “no more!” Even the dessert was excellent, though by that point we were all in pain. We looked at the clock and saw that we’d been eating for two hours.

Rather than deal with walking to the subway or taking a bus we just took the quick way out and got a taxi home, where we crashed on the couch to watch TV and moan from over-eating. It’s good to do that once in a while, but not too often. So finally after 6 months I discovered this restaurant. It was worth the wait.

Siga La Vaca is on Alicia Moreau de Justo 1714, Puerto Madero.