This afternoon when I went for a run I took a different route than usual. This took me past what I thought was the Japanese Gardens, and eventually to the actual Japanese Gardens. This is a private space near the other parks in Palermo, and I could see that it cost $8 pesos to get in. So after finishing my run and showering, I went back out to the gardens to check them out.
Recently I've read about them from work, and I wanted to see them for myself. I got there around 5 pm and there was a long line to get in, but once inside I could see the various ponds and plants set up in a half-hazard style. In many ways, it reminded me of a mini golf course, lacking a pirate ship of course. The coy ponds were filled with colorful fish opening their mouths wide for the food that everyone was throwing down to them.
I circled around the area and sat down for a while, taking a few pictures at the same time. A sign told me that the garden was founded in 1967 when the emperor of Japan visited Argentina, and it represents the friendship between the two nations. What surprised me was the biggest rat I've ever seen. It was so big that I actually thought it was a gopher at first, but it was definitely a rat, showing no fear of humans. It had to be the same size as or bigger than New York City rats.
I stayed in the garden for about an hour and then slowly headed home through the other parks. There was a powerful sun today and it was extraordinary out, so I think my face has gone a shade of red darker. I liked the Japanese Gardens and will definitely take my next visitors there. Just as a side note though, I feel that the real allure of those kinds of places is the peaceful quiet you find with less people around. With so many tourists and locals alike there, it was a bit much. But it was a Sunday afternoon, so that will happen. If you go, try to check it out during the week if possible.
From time to time I get emails from the Hillel House in Buenos Aires about events or parties around holiday time. Hillel is an organization for Jewish youths, and in the United States serves almost like a frat on university campuses. I had nothing else going on last night and got an email that they were throwing a party at the house in Belgrano with all you can drink for $15 pesos. Though I was tired and not really feeling it, I decided it would be good to get out of the apartment and try to meet some new people.
The invitation said the party started at 11:59 pm, and like an idiot I got there at 12:03 am. For some reason I thought the presence of study abroad Americans would have the party start on time, but of course I was the first person there. By the way, never show up to a party alone and be the first person there. You will not look cool at all.
As soon as I walked in I was regretting it. I thought it would be a simple party, but instead they had turned this nice house into a night club, with unnecessarily loud music, smoke machines, and paper on the steps to avoid dirt. It was a cheap dive bar or the basement of a frat house. The guy behind the bar had no idea how to even pour a beer and I had to physically take the beer from him to make sure the foam didn't outweigh the drink.
Little by little people showed up and soon the place was actually packed. But with no friends there already, I stood in the corner drinking and trying to look like I was interested in talking to people. As the minutes passed, however, my interest waned, and suddenly I realized that I was 23 years old at a frat party in South America. The median age was probably 19, and I was the creepy guy no one knew hanging back in the corner alone. I'm a loser.
It's kind of a sad day to accept it, but I guess it has to be the truth at this point. In high school I was shy but college opened me up, and I was sociable, out going, and interested in making more friends and such and such. Sometime between now and when I left for Ecuador though, things changed, and I feel more introverted now. It could be the amount of experiences that I've had have simply jaded me or made me feel unable to relay what I've done to others. And hearing the same stories and trying to make friends continually gets really old.
On Wednesday I invited Vero over for dinner, and we had a deep conversation about changes and life. Last night I could see that I'm really different. The time alone and struggling to find friends has made it harder for me to now want to try. I think I'm destined to walk the streets alone on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, wondering where my group of friends is. But after all, the problem may just lie with me, because plenty of other foreigners make friends, if not with locals then with each other. Yet I'm still bouncing around week by week after six months.
With the bad vibes from the party I hit the bar hard, getting the most out of what I could, and because they didn't have enough change when I showed up, I never actually paid. By 4 am I was sick of it for good and took off, pretty sure that it was one of the worst nights I'd had out in Buenos Aires. There's not much that can be done about it, so I'll sit around my apartment for a while, go for a run, and try to build up. Tomorrow is a new month.
A few people from back home have sent me messages asking if I felt any of the shock waves from the 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile early this morning. The answer is no, and I had no idea it happened until I woke up and saw five emails from my mom about it. News reports said that the earthquake was felt in the north of the country by Salta and Jujuy, but unless someone is uber-sensitive, it was not felt here last night.
I'm sorry to hear about how bad the destruction in Chile is and how the tsunamis across the Pacific continue to roll on. This happened at a bad time (not that it's ever good) with so many tourists still in Chile on vacation. I wonder how this will affect clients from my company who are in Chile.
I have a Chilean friend and actually spoke to her this afternoon. She told me that her house is basically destroyed, with the roof caved in and the walls split. She is now staying at her dad's office and they'll probably have to get a new home. That's in Santiago, not even near the epicenter. Chile is considered a country that gets earthquakes from time to time, but obviously no one saw this kind of destruction coming. But anyway, long story short, nothing is out of the ordinary here in Buenos Aires.
Last night after work I went to the dentist for the first time in Latin America. You generally have to wait 6 months for an appointment in the States, so you can do the math and figure that I hadn't been to the dentist in about a year and a half. Not that I felt that my teeth were in disrepair, but I wanted to keep them clean and prevent any problems.
Luckily I know someone who is a dentist, so I took the long transit to the neighborhood of Caballito and kicked off Friday night with some tartar scraping. I have to say that it was one of the least comprehensive dental visits I've ever had, though I don't know if that speaks for all of Argentinian dentistry. The cleaning basically consisted of just scraping for tartar and then a little fluoride washing. Unfortunately, I might have a little cavity developing, so I need to brush with some special toothpaste for a month or so to try to stop it, then go back and see if it has gone away. If it doesn't go away I'll probably need to get a filling--the first one I've needed since I was a kid.
It was a painless experience, though definitely not as thorough as a trip to the dentist in the United States. And at the end of it, there was no goody-bag with a toothbrush and sample size toothpaste. I didn't leave with that really clean feeling either, an actually brushed once I got home. It's hard enough to understand what a dentist is saying back home, but trying to get the gist of it through a mix of Spanish and English was a big challenge. We quickly realized that it wasn't so much a lack of language, but a lack of dental knowledge that made it harder for me to get it.
In the end the appointment lasted about an hour and by American standards was very cheap, without any need for insurance or records or anything else. And instead of needing to plan another visit in 6 months I can always go back whenever I need to.
I have to be honest, even though I went through the agonizing process of studying for the GRE and applying to graduate schools when I first got to Argentina, the long waiting process has kind of been on the back burner in my mind. I just have too much going on here all the time to think about. So I was surprised when I came home after my run tonight to find out that I was accepted to the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy.
It just kind of slipped my mind that I had ever applied to grad school, and my first reaction was, "Oh yeah, I did that." But still, a smile crept across my face, and a weight was lifted. It's a relief to know that I've been accepted somewhere, even though I still have to wait to hear back from seven other schools. A lot has changed in the last couple of years. Before graduating from UMass I had no intentions of going to grad school, and now I will be going at some point in the future.
How I found out is pretty odd. In my Inbox the first email I saw was from Facebook telling me that my uncle had responded, "That's terrific!" to something on my wall. I had no idea what it could be about, so I followed the link and saw a message from my sister that the letter was sent home and I was accepted. A pretty non-traditional way to find out you've been accepted to graduate school, but I'll take it over a text message or the game telephone. Ironically, I was rejected from Maryland for undergraduate studies.
My first reaction is to email the people who recommended me and let them know, and then look back on what I wrote for my personal statements and see what I did to get in. I know, but I want to be sure it's not a practical joke. I celebrated quietly at home with some leftover chicken parm and spiral pasta, and then wrote this blog post. Let the good times roll!
It's a question students ask repeatedly throughout their education, and I have to admit, the majority of the things you spend years learning probably doesn't really come into play on a day to day basis. Aside from what you may specialize in, if you're like me you wonder where all those years of school went. Recently I've noticed that some of the things I spent years doing in school are actually more relevant now than before, and most of the time I don't even realize it.
Take for example my history major. I'm not planning on becoming a history teacher or a historian anytime soon, but every day in class I was forced to take notes non stop, seeking out what was worth writing down and what wasn't. So in a business meeting (in Spanish), without even thinking about it my hand was going wild writing down anything that seemed worth noting. Years of history lectures taught me to focus on what was just said and write it down while continuing to hear the new words and write those down as well, even in short hand.
Or having a roommate in a cramped college dorm. My friend, who would be sitting a foot away from me, would be laughing hysterically while watching Family Guy and drinking a beer. Though my head might turn around once in a while, I was probably writing a paper at the same time. What did this teach me to do? Block out distractions like a zen master. My focus on what I'm doing is intense, and though noises, ringing phones, and laughter down the hall might be going on all around me, my eyes stay on the screen.
Journalism taught me to get to the facts. You can't always accept what you see, so sometimes you need to do some investigation--checking various Web sites, calling a company directly, and asking other opinions. I can't think of a situation when it would be acceptable to say, "Oh, well it didn't mention it so I just left it out." Obviously, the correct course of action would be to exhaust all resources until finding the solution. Fact check, fact check, fact check.
And of course, basic knowledge comes into play from time to time, anytime I read something with a random science fact or economic term, my liberal arts background steps up and even if it can't confirm the answer, my research begins with a head start. It's kind of cool thinking back now in all of the ways that the liberal arts education rounds the bases and gives a gentle push towards it all. Then you can take care of the rest.
My good friend Ricardo Hernandez has been volunteering in Malawi, Africa for the last month. He's been keeping a blog about his experience teaching children, many of whom have HIV. His blog is an amazing insight into a country that I've never learned much about, and it really gives me respect to see my friend back on the volunteering circuit again.
Ricardo and I met in our volunteer program in Ecuador, and the kid instantly became a great friend. I hope he continues to have success in Africa, so give him a little support by reading along with his adventure.
As of today I’ve been in Argentina for six months. I really left home on August 20th, a date which I arbitrarily picked while still in Ecuador, but because I missed my connecting flight in Washington, I didn’t arrive until two days later. Back in August it was still winter, and arriving early in the morning I saw that all of the leaves on the trees were dead and it was cold, overcast, and windy. In the taxi from the airport to my new home in La Boca, we passed drab buildings and run down streets, and I thought, “This is it? Big deal.”
It’s now summer in February, though it seems to be rounding out to the fall. Aside from minor things like the weather, I feel a world away from where I was six months ago in La Boca, and not just because I’ve moved twice and now live farther north. There was so much uncertainty when I got here, not only because I had no job and little money to waste, but because I didn’t really know how long I would spend here. I told people back home one year to ease the blow, but in my mind I was always thinking two years. Of course, it all depended on how well things went.
I thought then, and still do, that Buenos Aires is a city for the sun. When it’s shinning there is a glow around the buildings and I feel better, but when it’s drab and gray a depression seems to hang in the air. These old run down buildings don’t do well with overcast skies. So my first impression of the city wasn’t off to a good start, yet I tried and pushed onward as best I could, always with an open mind.
I’ve been really fortunate to see a large portion of this country from north to south, as well as exploring different parts of the capital city, slowly but surely. Just this weekend I found new spots to me which were quiet oases surrounded by buzzing avenues. It reinforces in my mind that there is so much to see and do here that more time is really necessary.
In comparison with last year, reaching six months in Ecuador, it doesn’t really compare. For me at that point, it was a downward slide and almost like a countdown had begun. I was in Peru at this time last year, navigating around Lake Titicaca, with a month of vacation time. But I’m continuing the uphill here, with a goal of another year and a half to continue exploring and learning about the place I live in.
Too much has happened in these six months to recount it all, but the experiences, both good and bad, have built up to where I stand now. I don’t really know what to make of it. At times it feels awesome, and other days I just want to be home with my friends doing something familiar. It just depends on what’s going on that day. So here’s to another six months in Argentina, and another meaningless anniversary.
Even with this nasty weather we've been having over the weekend, the rain hasn't managed to ruin it all. Granted, I stayed in both Friday and Saturday night and missed an opportunity to check out a flea market, but I've still gotten out. On Saturday morning I woke up fairly early--around 10 am. 10 am is now late by work week standards, yet but weekend rules it's early. And in accordance with when I used to wake up, it was way early. Either way, I watched a little TV, cleaned the apartment, and went for a long run, all before 1 pm.
I then met up with a friend to walk to the Japanese Gardens and Parque General Las Heras. I still managed to get a burn from the morning run even though it was gray and sunless, plus I had to wait on my friend for a half hour. By the time she showed up it was already raining, so we took refuge at my place for about 45 minutes until it stopped.
It was decided that the parks would be a bad idea with the rain, so we instead headed into Palermo, as I had yet to really walk around through the different sections during the day. We were also trying to find a shop that sold good shawarma. It was one of my favorite kind of days: gray and calm before the storm, with a gentle breeze, not hot but not cold, and totally peaceful, even in a large city like this. I like rain from time to time, but too much can be annoying. Yet that kind of atmosphere is always nice.
Down through the tree lined streets of Palermo Soho, Palermo Viejo, and Palermo Hollywood, we walked among tourists and locals shopping at high end retails boutiques. Who knows where the little sections of Palermo really started and ended, but we could feel a sense of change from time to time. The deeper we went the lower the houses got, the quieter the streets were, and the more it felt like a suburb. And Palermo used to be a suburb until growth in the city enveloped it as another neighborhood. Only recently, within about 10 years, has it become a hip and popular place to live, yet it still retains its working class feel in many parts. On the other hand, you can really see why locals refer to Palermo as "muy fashion."
We walked to Calle Armenia, where surprise surprise, we found the Armenian food store where the shawarma was said to be. Unfortunately, we arrived too late in the afternoon and they had none left, so we split an Armenian empanada, which was filled with spinach and cheese. The employees were rude and unhelpful, but the smells in the store were sweet, and if I had some extra money and cooking knowledge I would have picked up some of the spices.
The excitement of the day pretty much ended there as we walked back to my neighborhood. So this morning I woke up at 10 am again, went for a run and then made lunch. But the view from my balcony told me it was going to rain sooner than it did yesterday. I decided to take a stroll to Alto Palermo, a high end shopping mall about 15 blocks away. I had no interest in shopping, but I just wanted to do something to get out of the house, and I still hadn't seen it.
Along the way I stopped in the Botanical Gardens just across from Plaza Italia. It's a beautiful and quiet refuge in between the hustle and bustle of Avenida General Las Heras and Avenida Santa Fe. Rain misted and sprinkled down in waves as I walked through, with just a few other visitors along the trails. The gardens were full of cats roaming around and using their tongues as toilet paper. I would have stayed longer but was worried about a downpour, so I left the park and walked down to Parque General Las Heras, a nice and quiet place in Recoleta.
I think Las Heras is underrated, because it's not a very popular spot in comparison to the many parks in the area. Yet it was still a nice place to take a stroll and it's located in a cheery part of town. I only passed through on my way to Alto Palermo, where I spent an hour strolling from store to store, somehow setting off alarms everywhere I went. All of the stores were expensive and I would never shop there. I don't even like going to malls, but I had literally nothing better to do and wanted to get out of the house.
On the way back home I stopped in at an Havanna cafe for a cortado, and realized that I hadn't been to one since my friend Kristine was visiting in September. When she was here we went almost every day, at least once a day. But once she went back to Ecuador I didn't have the cash for it. They make the best alfajores, and from time to time I'll treat myself to one, but I haven't sat in the cafe in a while.
So after a coffee it was back here, where I'll sit around and maybe if ESPN shows it, I'll catch the U.S vs Canada hockey game in the Olympics tonight. Tomorrow it's back to work.
A new issue has been on the rise in the last couple of weeks down in Argentina. Seemingly out of no where, President Cristina Kirchner has made the Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands) a top priority of repatriation. To me, it seems like another classic diversion move to avoid attention from real issues at home, but who knows?
It doesn't look like there will be another war like in 1986, but the government is looking to get territorial rights back. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, is most likely not going to back down so easily. I think the issue now is less of a territorial and pride matter, but more to deal with oil accessibility.
Higher ups in the government here have said there is a way for a diplomatic resolution to this, which is a good sign rather than a total ultimatum. In any case, this will be something interesting to keep an eye on for the coming weeks and months.
It was a mess today, as another powerful thunderstorm rolled through Buenos Aires, dumping over 3 inches in 2 hours, with the majority coming in 45 minutes. I had no idea, as I was in the office working, away from a window. But I had been out at lunch and felt the intense humidity, as well as seen the dark clouds looming. You could tell it was going to be big.
I finally checked the window around 5 pm and it was dark as night out, with the streets filled with people running for cover. The subways were all suspended, and as usual Palermo was the first to flood. Just down the street from my apartment was the epicenter, where the Civil Guard had to be deployed to assist. The same thing happened on Monday, but at least it happened after I was already home by that point. Adding salt to the wound, it's a Friday and the weekend looks like it will be filled with rain as well. It always rains on the weekend.
With the subway out of the equation, I waited in the rain on the street with no umbrella for the bus to come, and when one finally stopped it wasn't too bad of a ride home. All told, I only got home about 20 minutes later than usual, though it could have been much worse. Fortunately for me I got off the bus at Plaza Italia, just as intense traffic was bulging up. All of the news channels are going a bit crazy over the flooding, and once again cars are floating in the streets and people are stranded. This could be a wet, boring weekend.
Lunfardo is the slang used in Buenos Aires, which on occasion takes over more of the conversation than actual Spanish. Some say this slang was created as a mixing of the different cultures that settled here, or as a way to speak in code so police wouldn't understand. Either way, it still has me scratching my head sometimes, even though I've gotten down some of the basics.
Some of the most common words that many foreigners will either know already or learn right away are, "che," "boludo," or "che boludo." These words can mean a number of things, but depending on the situation, che is more like "dude", or "hey." Boludo can be something you call a friend or something you call an enemy, and as I've already made the mistake several times, you need to be comfortable with someone before you drop the boludo. I even have a little book on lunfardo-English called, "Che Boludo!"
It's something of a joke, but you really do need to learn a bit. A bad word in another language will never mean the same thing to you as one in your own language, and that's why I say boludo too much. I just don't feel it. To me, I hear people saying the word and think, "Okay, I get it. I want to say it too and look like a local." But I don't hear it in the same way, and I don't hear the undertones. I had just met a kid on my floor and said boludo. He wasn't happy, and I was the boludo.
Think of some of the worst words in the English language, and how you would instinctively know when it is socially acceptable to say them. Now, imagine that you have a foreign friend who hears you say one of these words. The next day they drop the word in randomly at a totally inappropriate time. Under normal circumstances you might be offended, but knowing that they don't fully grasp the word, you have to just smile and explain that they shouldn't say that. This scene is basically my life down here.
I'm learning on a moment by moment basis, and even then it takes time to get the meaning of the word behind the word. It's not just Americans or Britons that make these mistakes though. People from Buenos Aires talk differently, and even Spaniards or people from the south of Argentina are known to mock the way porteños speak. Like seeing an actor butcher a Boston accent, it makes you cringe.
Wherever I've gone I've tried to learn the local lingo. In Spain that meant saying, "Tío, joé que caló!" In Ecuador I adopted, "A cha chay," and "chévere." Even after just ten days or so in Chile I started using, "po" and "huevón." So no surprise that down in Argentina, trying to get to know this culture as best as I can, I'm going to mimic and do as the locals do. I just need to make sure I'm not saying the wrong thing.
I want so badly to be perfectly fluent in Spanish, and it's obvious to me that this is a goal that will never be accomplished. But there has to be a balance between sounding like an idiot and getting away with mistakes to sounding too good to make blatant mistakes like calling someone you just met an asshole, all with a smile on your face. Oddly enough, it's kind of a challenge.
Tonight I came home to an empty apartment, and for a second I was still expecting to hear the TV on in the background or see the girls searching through their backpacks for something else to wear. Amanda left on Wednesday night and Lauren left this afternoon. It was fun having them around, especially because Lauren is a close friend from back in the Ecuador days.
So with a quiet apartment I went food shopping and made my dinner--homemade pizza, as usual. There's a welcome relief in having nothing to do and having the apartment to myself again, but I did like the company. This week's been tough for several reasons, and the upcoming weekend is supposed to have rain.
I've been falling behind on writing, what with the hosting and all, and I want to get caught up. I want to check out a flea market. I want to do a lot of things, but I also need to take some time and get back into the routine I was just barely getting into before the girls showed up. By now I pretty much have it down pat, but there are always kinks to work out. Mainly, I should just man up, stop complaining about it, and get out there.
So more writing will be coming along shortly, just wait.
The other night it rained so hard that the streets flooded. I mean seriously flooded. Cars were floating down the street and parts of the city lost electricity until the next morning. From my 10th story apartment I watched a little bit of the storm, but really didn’t grasp the magnitude of it until later on.
Every time it rains hard in Buenos Aires, Palermo floods. It’s a combination of low streets and not very good drainage, plus all of the garbage that collects by the gutters. This means that once a rain storm comes through, the streets instantly become ponds, which turn into lakes, which flow into rivers. But again, up on the 10th floor I was lucky and dry, having gotten home before the storm, even getting a short run in first.
There are a lot of people that sleep out on the street in this city though. I wonder what they did during that storm. If they live in Palermo they probably had no where to go that night. As it was, subway service was disrupted on several of the lines up through last night, much to my surprise when I got out of work and had to struggle to first find a kiosk to give me change, then find a bus and get home.
Ever since the weekend Buenos Aires has cooled down a lot, almost so that it feels like autumn, but it’s too early for that yet. This is just a cold front, and I’m sure that in the next few days it will heat up again. In the meantime, it’s a nice change of pace to not sweat on the walk to work, and last night it was even chilly. My two visitors will be leaving shortly—one leaves tonight and the other tomorrow. But I won’t be alone for long, because in mid-March I have more guests coming from Ecuador for a week.
Having the guests come is nice and fun, though it does get tiring going to the same spots. Yet at the end of their stay, you realize that you enjoy the company and will have a void without them there. Even if it means going to the same tourist spots over and over again.
My friends came back to Buenos Aires on Saturday morning, and since they had taken a night bus from Mendoza, they took a nap once they were settled back in the apartment. This meant that we really didn’t get a start on the day until 2 or 3 o’clock. There wasn’t much of a need to rush because they had already seen a good amount of touristic sites, and we all agreed that after going food shopping we would sit in the park and drink some mate.
It wasn’t a very hot day and the park was pretty empty, but we sat by the pond and passed around the tea a few rounds. I’m happy to say that they’re big fans of the drink and might take it back with them. Just lazing around, we finally decided to head up to Belgrano and check out the small Chinatown. I’d never been there but kept hearing it was interesting, and that street food was good there.
Though it’s not a big deal for tourists, we had the time to kill and made the trip up to Belgrano. I’d never really been around the neighborhood, but once we got there I could tell it felt nice. To me, it had a Brookline or Brighton, Massachusetts feel to it. Still in the city, but with a different character and more residential. We moseyed over to the gate and joined the crowd of people walking into cheap thrift stores and Chinese restaurants.
“Chinos,” or supermarkets run by Chinese families, lined the block, packed with young people doing their shopping. I wanted some street food and though I couldn’t find the dumplings, got some fried chicken on a stick. It was a bit pricey at $7 pesos, but it was delicious. The chicken had some brown sauce on it that gave it a sort of kick, and after I finished it I couldn’t stop talking about how good it was.
The girls bought some beers and we sat in a park talking for a while as the sun set. To our left, a gazebo was filling up with elderly tango dancers. We went over and saw that it was just a local get together, which apparently happens frequently. Anyone can just go up and ask someone to dance, and the traditional music from the 40s blasted into the early night. We stood watching for 15 minutes and then headed home, glad that we’d come to a bit of a random spot.
Yesterday was a cool and sunny day, so again taking out time, we went down to Puerto Madero and the Ecological Reserve. I insisted that we get choripan, a sausage sandwich, at one of the many grilling stations by the swamp. The girls got one too, and we sat on the shaky white tables while cumbia music blasted from the stand. It was crowded but peaceful, with most of the people drinking mate with family or friends. Once the choripan was gone, we walked around the reserve; sitting by the edge of the river and watching the waves roll in, we sat in silence for a while.
To have the luxury of traveling in a place long enough gives you the ability to take it easy and really get a feel for where you are, and I’m glad the girls have been here long enough to see it like this. It was a lazy, but worthwhile weekend in Buenos Aires.
At last I have finished the final video from the trip to Patagonia. This chapter focuses on our stay in Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego. In the video you'll see the Tierra del Fuego National Park and the Beagle Channel.
As usual I was at my desk yesterday working, minding my own business and plugging away. But a mix of caffeine from the Green Hills tea and fatigue caused me to be momentarily light headed. Suddenly it hit me like a ton of bricks, sitting at my desk, slightly dizzy.
I thought of Quito first. I miss the smell of the polluted air, the simultaneous hot and cold feeling, wearing layers and burning at the same time. The intoxication that high altitude unintentionally causes. With a slight pant and trickle of sweat from brow, you were light headed and briefly high as your blood rushed to your brain. Running across the highway, black clouds of exhaust smoke in your face, and the fear that someone was out there plotting to rob you right then and there, but you would be prepared. It kept you on your toes. God, I miss that.
I’ll admit that over time I’ve thought less about Ecuador, mainly because you have to move on with your life or get lost in the past. And now I’ve almost been down in Argentina for 6 months, so some of the memories are starting to fade and the details are blurring together. What exactly did that village smell like at lunch time? Was it boiling chicken and rice or manure? Maybe both.
Whereas when I first arrived here I continued to think about Ecuador consistently throughout every day, I now need to find the time to acknowledge it and give myself 5 minutes here or there to think it through. After all, I want to be here and now making the most of my experience in Argentina. But when those strong memories do come back it’s hard to tell if I’m dizzy from the caffeine or from the shock it brings to my system. A rare find of hot sauce brings me back to the Colombian restaurant Moliendo Café, with the tight tables with yellow paper underneath glass tops, photos and maps of Colombia adorning the walls, and the friendly old married couple who ran the place, though their true home was Medellín. I order an arepa and with the tiny wooden spoon in the brown jar, sprinkle a healthy dose of the ground up ají peppers, and my mouth is on fire.
My friend Lauren is in this country for another week or so before returning to Cuenca, but she too will be going home next month. Yet I’m still jealous that she gets to fly into Guayaquil and take the 4 hour bus up to Cuenca, going from coast and banana plantations to jungle to high altitude mountains in step. Some people will jump on the bus and sell fried banana chips for a quarter, or homemade ice cream already melting off the stick. And there’s ceviche, encebollado, and all kinds of almuerzos (about 2 kinds) for $1.50-$2.
What makes it hardest is that I don’t know when I’ll be back. And if I do make it back one day, how much will it have changed? Back in Quito in September, 2008, a few of the volunteers and host families got together on Sundays to play basketball. The Quito Baller’s Club. It made sense, doing something that brought our cultures together. Then on the last Sunday after the game and lunch, some of us went to the top of a lookout point at the TelefériQo, at almost 13,500 feet up. It made sense, doing something as enriching as that. I’m so far away from that point in Quito now, but not just in distance or elevation.
Even with guests here (though they left today for Mendoza) I'm starting to get used to my new routine. My new home is farther north, which makes the commute to work a bit farther, and instead of walking I now take the subway. This alone is another headache from time to time for obvious reasons. It seems as though half of the city tries to jam onto the D line in the morning, and at least once a week it breaks down with people elbow to elbow and sweating. You don't know what day it's going to be, but you know it will happen.
Leaving a bit earlier, standing around for the train, and then cramming in with everyone else is slowing becoming the norm. Coming home to this new apartment is now starting to feel normal rather than out of place. That's a good thing, as I'd rather not feel uncomfortable for too long. Now when time is permitting, I come home and go for a run, shower, make dinner and before long there's time enough to relax for a bit before bed.
It feels much better to have something else to do when I come home from work besides go straight to the computer after being in front of one all day. I don't watch much TV, but it's nice to have one in the apartment, so during those times that I do get bored and want to watch it's easy and accessible. And furthermore, it's my own space and I don't have to feel badly about doing anything.
So you have to get used to a rougher commuter and some other minor changes, but I think in the end it's worth it to feel comfortable at home and to be able to do what I like after work. And in a city of this size, there will always be something else going on if I get sick of running.
My friend Lauren and her friend Amanda arrived in Buenos Aires on Thursday morning, and since then I've been busy playing tour guide. Even though I myself am new here and learn about new places all the time, I'm now giving the explanations and showing my friends around the block. I never really had guests before when living in Spain or Ecuador (aside from other volunteers), and when my friend Kristine came here we both discovered the city together.
It's a different experience altogether to be the expert on the place you live in, and it's tiring. We've been going around town visiting some spots whenever the rain hasn't been pouring down on us, and when it has. We've gone out to restaurants and bars and stayed out late two nights in a row. I'm pooped, and have to work tomorrow. I'm noticing that it's not as exciting seeing the same touristic paces like San Telmo, and it's something that you have to deal with if you want to have friends visit.
Tomorrow they'll be leaving Buenos Aires to travel to Mendoza and Cordoba, so I'll have a few days in between when they come back to the city. Next month I have some more friends visiting, and I'm guessing we'll be going to the same kinds of places again. Eventually I might just have to make a treasure map and let people find stuff on their own, because I don't know how many more times I can handle going to the San Telmo fair. Now it's time for the Superbowl as the girls go out to a tango bar.
In the first week back to Buenos Aires after the two week trip south, I've been keeping busy and getting back into a sort of routine. I say sort of because now that I live in a different area, on my own for the first time, it's a whole new process that I need to get used to. I'm still figuring out what time I need to leave in the morning for work, and I keep getting in way too early. However, if I leave even just a few minutes later, I risk getting stuck in the subway with a million other people.
This week saw intense heat in Buenos Aires, but it finally started to rain yesterday, and is continuing today and maybe for the rest of the week, so the discomfort of that heat wave is shortly over. I have air conditioning in my apartment now, but try not to use it unless it's totally necessary. On Monday I went for my first run in the parks here, and it was good but also showed me that I need to get back in shape. I just did one lap around the lake after a long day of work and in extreme heat and humidity, but I feel like I should be able to do at least two laps with ease.
Getting back to work has been good. I've been swamped every day and had barely any time to breath, but it's also been good to help get back in the swing of things. And after all, I enjoy what I do, so I can't complain. The job is my main source of consistency here and it's helpful to have that schedule in mind.
Tomorrow my friend Lauren will be arriving from Ecuador. Her friend is joining her and they'll be staying with me for a few days as they tour the city, and then traveling around Argentina for a bit. I'm really excited to see her, as the last time we hung out was back in Cuenca in July. We were both volunteers with WorldTeach in Cuenca last year, but Lauren stayed on working independently in Cuenca. If you'd followed along last year, I traveled over much of Ecuador with her, as well as Peru, and she's a really fun person to be around.
So back to the grind, but with a twist. I'll be looking for the time to continue writing throughout the next few days.
Jon Brandt has traveled throughout the world and documented a large part of his travels. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and History, he spent 11 months as a volunteer English teacher in Cuenca, Ecuador. He now resides in Buenos Aires, Argentina, working as a writer, editor, and translator for a travel agency.