Suitcase on wheels     stuck in the snow   sniffer dog

Saturday, October 06, 2007


This is a blog from my time living in Argentina from January 2005 until April 2007. I started out teaching English, travelled around most of Argentina and Bolivia (with bits of other countries), became pretty much fluent in Spanish and eventually started my own business in Bariloche, Argentina - which was a bureaucratic nightmare, and at the end of the day it wasn't worth doing.

I am now back in Auckland New Zealand, writing software which is what I did before I left. My Argentine girlfriend is here with me, and she's loving NZ.

Check out the Archives section at the right, as well as the My Greatest Hits section. The About section at the right lists when I did what, if there's something in particular you're looking for. The posts are numbered for easy navigation. There's lots of good stuff in here, so enjoy!

PS. if there's a post you like in particular, feel free to post a comment here with a link to it.

PPS. google adsense sux! Over a year signed up and only $48 earned - but they don't pay you until you reach $100 so I haven't received a cent and probably never will...

Matt Bday - 30 - Dean Ruth Matt
Partying at my 30th

Thursday, May 10, 2007

90. Adiós (Mt Maunganui, New Zealand)

For our final Saturday night in Buenos Aires my girlfriend and I arranged our despedida (farewell party).
We'd arranged to meet at 11pm in our San Telmo pension (hotel room) and to our amazement, by 11:15pm just about everyone had turned up and we were waiting for Ruth to put her makeup on! From there we headed to Gibraltar, where we met up with others for a couple of beers.

Despedida - 01 - Grupo
The start of the night in Gibraltar

From there we headed to a restaurant a friend of ours owns in San Telmo - Argentango it used to be called but he recently changed the name to Afrodita. The restaurant had already closed for the night so we had the place - and its wicked stereo system - to ourselves. Many thanks to Emir for opening the place to us. The cost price beer flowed all night, I played DJ for much of it, and the dancing didn't stop. Some of the guys got up on stage and did a Brazilian dance show, I busted in with some of my "breakdancing" including a couple of my trademark special-occasion-only backspins, and that led to all the guys being called on stage to do a stripshow for the ladies. It may not have been a pretty sight but man it was funny, in fact we didn't stop laughing the entire night, and it didn't wind up until about 6am. It was the best party I'd been to in Argentina and a fitting end to my over 2 years here.

Despedida - 04 - Marco Martin baile
The boys showing how it's done

Despedida - 12 - Marco Matt Martin
until I showed them where it's at

Despedida - 27 - Todos
Everybody square-dancing

Despedida - 33 - Ruth Matt baile
Me and Ruth

Despedida - 50 - Martin Marcos Christian boxers
Some of the guys showing a bit of skin

Despedida - 66 - Erica Ruth Vero
Las chicas weren't to be outdone

You can see all 75 photos here.

The next day we had to pack all our things to take with us for our midnight flight. As I said in another post, although I don't recommend Aerolineas Argentinas they do have the most generous baggage allowance for flying to NZ - 2 items of 32kg per passenger. Ruth and I would each take a suitcaseonwheels and a large cardboard box. So that Sunday was spent stressing out if everything would fit into the boxes, and then if said boxes would breach the 32kg limit. I guesstimated that everything would be just under, but was worried the largest of the boxes weighed over - worried, since I figured they'd easily charge US$100 per kg over and if it weighed say 40kg it would be expensive.

Sebastian and Paula offered to take me to the airport with the baggage, while Ruth rode in the 86 bus with her friends who'd come to see her off out to the airport. We had a hell of a time fitting the largest box into his car, eventually cramming it in through the front passenger door and sliding into the rear from there. One of the suitcases had to go on the roof.

At the airport, and after a teary goodbye with Seba and Paula, I braved the check-in by myself while Ruth was still on her way. The biggest box was indeed over the limit, at 35kg, but since the rest of it was under the limit at around 28kg the check-in lady let it slide. I think it helped that a couple of Kiwi boys had been chatting her up in front of me and left her in a good mood for me when I rolled on up with my two baggage trolleys.

The flight was the usual 14 hour long Aerolineas entertainment-free affair - although they put on 2 movies twice my headphone jack didn't work. Luckily I'd chosen us the last row so we had the only empty seat on the plane next to us, which was great as we could lie flat, so we slept OK.

Airport - 05 - Ruth suitcase
Arrival in Auckland - Ruth with half our luggage

Arrival at the airport in Auckland, and no trouble with immigration. I'd already organised Ruth a Working Holiday Visa through the immigration nz website (here), and it was amazingly easy. Since I did it online I expected someone would interview us on arrival but nope, straight through, one year working permit granted for her. As far as I know NZ is the only country young Argentines can get a Working Holiday visa for. Also, since NZ has an unskilled worker shortage she could have arrived on a tourist visa and applied for a seasonal worker permit quite easily too. I've already met a lot of Brazilians over here who have done just that.

So, what am I gonna miss about Argentina? The usual, the obvious. Friends, like Juan who regularly hosted Sunday asados and inspired me to come to Argentina when we met travelling around Laos in 2003. He's now in Morocco travelling around and our paths will surely cross again. Through Juan I met Pozzy who is another great friend. Through many long conversations with him he's given me an insight into the Argentine psyche I otherwise wouldn't have gotten. He's now going out with a Kiwi girl so he might well be heading down this way. Since he met me (and her, and other foreigners through Juan) he tells me his eyes have been opened to the opportunities there are in the world, and he's now readying himself to go out and chase them.

Despedida - 29 - Pozzy
Pozzy at our farewell

Funny story - through this blog I met Hamish & Lisa, who contacted me as they were looking for other Kiwis living in Bariloche. Lisa's friends Carrie and Carla, from NZ, came to visit Lisa, and Pozzy came down from BA to visit me, and we all passed New Years together. Carrie and Pozzy hit it off and carried on seeing each other. Carla returned to her job in London. One day Carla was chatting with a co-worker about her recent holiday around South America, and she mentioned that she liked Argentina and was thinking about going back to live in Argentina for a while. Oh, says the co-worker, you should check out this blog written by a Kiwi guy who lives in Argentina, he was trying to set up a business or something. She gives Carla the address and Carla checks out the blog - hey, that author photo looks a bit like Matt she thinks. And there's a photo of Pozzy! It didn't take her long to realise she was reading my blog (Carla didn't know I had a blog), and that her friend on the other side of the world had recommended it to her!

Airport - 01 - Matt Seba
Me and Seba at the airport

Other friends I'll miss are Sebastian and Paula, they who saw me off at the airport. I met them back in March 2005 and we've always been in contact - and it was thanks to Seba I hooked up with my girlfriend Ruth. The last month in BA I'd seen a lot of them, as we were all living in the same hotel. I spent many evenings with them, playing old school MAME video games with Seba with a few bottles of Quilmes beer... or watching Seba's pirated DVDs... good times. And Paula is one of the sweetest people I know. The occasional singalongs with a guitar are fond memories... un beso grande chicos.

Airport - 02 - Paula Matt
Hasta luego, no adiós Paulita

Then there's the other obvious things I'll miss - the underpriced meat, beer, cigarettes, and petrol. The cheap and frequent colectivos (city buses). The comfy long distance buses. And la musica! As Pozzy explained to me, in most Spanish language music, even rock, the song lyrics are important - more important perhaps than the music. Which is why real fans know the words to all their favourite artists' songs, and why on just about any live CD (or at any concert) you'll hear the audience singing along to all the words - and not just to the chorus. In English language music we may know the words, but we don't necessarily actually listen to what the lyrics they mean. There may be an underlying or deeper meaning, but there just as often may not be. I'm at the stage with my Spanish now where I can usually understand the words they sing, but to follow the meaning of the song I still have to read the lyrics separately. I'm gonna miss hearing music in Spanish on the radio and on TV, including the cheesy but catchy Latin pop music that I also enjoy.

Airport - 08 - Sheep
The green green grass of home

Airport - 06 - Dad Ruth
Dad and Ruth, just after arrival

A quick note on how we're settling in here. So far, 2 weeks later, everything's fine. Ruth says her first day she was a bit culture-shocked, especially as to the lack of apartment buildings. But now she likes NZ a lot. She's even found a factory job where her lack of English isn't a problem. She'll catch on to the language, just as I picked up Spanish - although in that respect I'm her worst enemy as she can rely on me to translate rather than figure things out for herself. And we keep speaking Spanish together.

So that's about it. Quick shout outs to other gringos I met in Argentina - Shireen & Sam & Nick, Hamish & Lisa & the boys, Carrie & Carla, Mark J, Dave van D, Paul S, Adam R, Peter B, Thad, Julien, Kalen. Thanks to the comment posters - I've read them all. And thanks to all of you who've followed my journey.

Beach - 10 - Matt Ruth
Sunset at Mt Maunganui, where we currently reside

Over and out


Thursday, April 26, 2007

89. Last days in BA (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

So my van finally sold, for less than what I was hoping, but for only $500 pesos less than what I'd bought it for a year before. As I said earlier, because of inflation it had actually increased in value! With the van sold I was able to buy our tickets to NZ.

My last month in BA has been lazy. The weather's been crazy - lots of rain and flooding, but also plenty of sunny days, yet it's been constantly humid. I've had lots to do before going to NZ but have struggled to get much of it done.

Rosedal - 16 - Vero Ruth Matt Martin bicis
Biking in Palermo

I've noticed a few changes around BA since I was last living here almost a year ago. The inflation is what's surprised me the most. I'd noticed everything seemed more expensive when I was in Bariloche, and I assumed that it was expensive Patagonian prices, but when we got back to BA things were almost as expensive. Everything - groceries, internet, rent. The only thing that's the same price as before is the colectivos (local buses), but supposedly they're also due for a price increase.

Around BA - 07 - Puerto Madero
Count 'em - five cranes in Puerto Madero

However, although everything's now more expensive (and prices are due to keep rising), it feels like people are now more prepared (or resigned) to the price increases. When I first got here, it seemed like every week people were taking to the streets to protest price increases in meat or bread or milk. Since then many have had a salary increase, albeit a token one, so perhaps they're more prepared for price increases. Or maybe they've given up. Something's changed anyway. When I arrived in 05 the country was still feeling the effects of the economic crisis, now in 2007 many people have moved on and it feels like the economy has recovered. It feels better off now. Public spending is noticeably up, with lots of old buildings being restored. Derelict buildings are being cleaned up and converted into offices or apartments. More towers are being constructed around the place, especially Puerto Madero. Speaking of Puerto Madero, even it's rusty cranes have had a paint job. So has the Casa Rosada! Proudly pink, no longer is it a faded metaphor of the Argentine economy.

Around BA - 05 - Puerto Madero Grua

Around BA - 06 - Puerto Madero Gruas
and after the paint job

88. (Cheap) housing in Argentina (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

I've stayed in a lot of places since I've been here, from pensiones to hotel rooms to apartments, but always at the low end of the market. In this post I'm going to post my observations on the accommodation I've encountered here.

In Buenos Aires, the city is mostly apartments or duplexes. Houses with lawns aren't common - but they do exist in other towns and outside the capital. Many apartments are only 1 bedroom or even no bedroom (monoambiente).

Kitchens here are always with gas stoves and ovens - never electric. Microwaves are rare. So are electric toasters and kettles - they'll use the gas stove for toasting and boiling water too. I've never seen a dishwasher here. For a country where big family cooked meals on Sundays are part of the culture, it's surprising that even in large houses the kitchens are usually small and poky.

What I call the sausage pillowcase is common on double beds here. It's a long double pillowcase in which both pillows go. Mattresses are either of the inner-sprung, old and musty type, or foam and worn out in the middle. 90% of the beds I've slept in have been sunken in the middle, so one's feet and head are higher than the hips, much like sleeping in a hammock.

I've never had the luxury of a washing machine or a dryer. Which means it's either hand washing in the kitchen sink, or sending the clothes off to the laundromat. Some nicer houses have a laundry.

Here is where you'll see the most differences. Next to the toilet there's often a small basket for throwing used toilet paper, as in many houses the plumbing is prone to blocking if toilet paper is thrown down the toilet. Also alongside the toilet there's often a bidet, for washing one's privates. For those that don't know, the drill is you wipe with paper as usual, throw the used paper in the bin, then soap up a hand and use that to wash yourself down below, and then dry off with a towel. For this reason if you visit someone's house you wouldn't use their bidet since you wouldn't want to use their ass-towel.
I've yet to see a standalone shower in Argentina. The shower head is usually just on a wall of the (very small) bathroom, so when you shower the toilet, basin, floor, everything gets wet. So after you shower you have to mop the floor - usually with a squeegee. Some nicer houses have a bathtub with the shower head above that.
Girls here usually wash their underwear in the shower, and then leave them hanging in the bathroom to dry. They wouldn't usually send their panties off to the laundromat. Don't ask me why.

What else?
Carpet is practically non-existent, so floors are wooden floorboards or tiles. Vacuum cleaners are thus unneeded, since a broom will do. Stringy mops aren't used, instead a squeegee with a rag is used for cleaning the floor.

The good
Many houses have a parilla somewhere. This is a huge, good old traditional wood burning BBQ. They kick the ass of gas burning BBQs which now dominate the rest of the world. Unfortunately, none of the houses I lived in had a parilla...

That's about all I can think of for now. I know this post may sound negative, but it's not intended that way. I'm just trying to state the way things are here. Post a comment if you have anything to add...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

87. Back in BA (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Our last day in San Bernardo, a Sunday, was an eye opener, as it was the last day of the high season and thus the first day of the low season. Opening hours of the shops were cut back to normal, many businesses had already been moth-balled and boarded up, and almost all the apartments around town had the shutters down, deserted by their owners or tenants until next summer. It already started to feel like a ghost town.

We're now back in BA, and the van has been given to a car dealer to be sold on my behalf, for which he'll take around 4% commision. I'd wanted to sell the van in Bariloche so as to have it off my hands once and for all. But my girlfriend was reluctant to ship all her cosas (belongings) by bus, so we'd decided to drive to BA for their sake. It wasn't a bad idea, as we could sleep in the van along the way and also give rides to Hamish and family and Mark. But sure enough, the van crapped out more than once along the way - overdue repairs I'd neglected to do finally caught up with me.

BA in March is still hot and humid, but bearable - although the nights can get uncomfortably sticky. I know I'm in BA since my slight asthma, which was dormant in Bariloche, has returned.
We got a room in our same pension hotel in San Telmo for $450 pesos per month. The same room went for $300 pesos when I first arrived here 2 years ago - inflation. I've noticed a lot of things have gone up in price since I last visited BA in November - internet cafe's especially. Last year most of the places around San Telmo were $1.50 pesos an hour but now they're all around $2. However, BA has become the 2nd city in the world to have WiFi in ALL its subway stations. That's pretty cool, and something to be proud of, but there's some problems:
  1. Lack of security in the stations makes pulling out a laptop a risky proposal.
  2. It's in all the stations but on none of the trains, so you can't use it while you're commuting. And since there's a train every 5 minutes or so you never spend much time waiting in a station.
  3. There's not much seating available in the stations, and you need to sit to pull out your laptop.
Still, I gave it a go the other day and felt like a right tool (and got plenty of attention) as I sat there with my laptop on my lap as trains came and went. I lasted only long enough to connect and see if google worked before I packed up and left - it felt pretty uncomfortable.

Anyway, so now we wait. Waiting for the van to sell, and waiting for Aerolineas Argentinas' flights to NZ to drop in price, around the end of the month. I know I moaned about Aerolineas before, but their baggage allowance to NZ is 2 x 32kg whereas LAN Chile's is 2 x 23kg - and I'm gonna need that extra weight to get all my cosas home. But it's a bit disconcerting to learn that neither of Buenos Aires' airports have functioning radar at the moment! Apparently incoming and outgoing flights have to report their velocity and position by radio - "it's back to the 60s" said one pilot.