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.