Suitcase on wheels     stuck in the snow   sniffer dog

Monday, January 24, 2005

10. Living the vampire life (B.A, Argentina)

Just had a great weekend here, but the last 3 nights have been all-nighters followed by sleeping through the day - the vampire life.
Friday night I was out with some Argentine friends until 6.30am, Saturday night was a rooftop party at Joe's apartment, a guy from my Spanish course until 5am, and then last night was another asado (BBQ) at Juan's house until about 5am.

Molly Me Shireen Joe at Joe's
The asado at Juan's house was great too, again, and it's surprising how much my Spanish comprehension has improved. I can have small one on one conversations now, and could actually sometimes follow what was being talked about in the group conversations. A week ago I couldn't even understand a single word during a group conversation! Last week I said to Juan that in 4 weeks (the duration of my Spanish course) I would understand what they were all talking about, and at the time I thought it sounded a bit optimistic, but having come along nicely by last night my prediction might actually come true.

Feliz cumpleaƱos to my Dad, it was his birthday on Sunday and I managed to call exactly 24 hours too late, as I'd forgotten about the International Date Line. Oops.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

9. Kissing (B.A, Argentina)

Kissing is big here. Men kiss other men hello and goodbye. Men kiss women hello and goodbye. I'm not sure what women do with each other. It's always a kiss on the cheek, only on one side, not like the European (and Sydney) double-cheek kiss. I don't think lips are supposed to make contact with skin, it's only a cheek to cheek thing. I've embraced the kissing culture now, at least with my friends. Us gringo guys don't mind kissing our girl friends (girl space friends not girlfriends) goodbye, and when I met up with Juan and his friends last night it was kisses (and handshakes) hello and goodbye.
As a first time visitor to a bar here you'll probably be surprised by a couple sitting at a table kissing - not just kissing though, but practically chewing each other's tongue and tonsils, really deeply porno styles, for like 5 or ten minutes straight, then they'll take a break to drink and catch their breath before getting back into it again. A French guy I met here said even if he really loved his girlfriend and he was really horny he didn't think he'd want to kiss her that much. "What if it was your first date?" I replied. OK, maybe.
And so it was that I found myself at a bar last night getting my own tongue chewed by a lovely porteƱa (Buenos Aires girl) for a few hours, before the bar closed at 6.30am and we were kicked out bleary-eyed into the morning sunshine. It involved the usual bar chat up, but with my pidgin Spanish and her slightly better English, and my incredulity that such first encounter kissing doesn't usually lead to the bedroom. I've turned into one of those bores who starts every sentence with "In my country, ...", so in Spanish it's "En mi pais,...". The conversation went along the lines of "In my country, your friend and that guy she's kissing would have left the bar an hour ago". She assured me that here, no. The couple will kiss all night and then if the girl likes the guy she'll give him her number, and they will meet up again etc. But she may decide that having gotten acquainted with the inside of his mouth she doesn't like him that much after all, so he won't get the number and that'll be it.

Random pic: The subte (subway)
The nightclubs still haven't started back up again in Buenos Aires city yet, but the two European guys staying here at Etty's House went to a club outside the city last night, and said it was awesome, 2000 or 3000 people until 9 in the morning.

Friday, January 21, 2005

8. Living with Grandma (B.A, Argentina)

Last night Juan made an unexpected but welcome visit so me and one of his friends went and played some pool and drank a few beers for a few hours.
I got back to my hostel at about 12:30am, early by the standards here, and had a smoke with the 2 European guys living here. I'm pretty sure we weren't noisy, in fact we were very quiet, but Etty soon came down in her nightgown and reminded us that it was past the 12am lights out time.
Now, Etty's a very sweet old woman, only 5 feet tall, but 12am is early here. So me and the Dutch guy went back out to a bar until 2am and talked shit. He's only 19, has been here a week and is looking to party, so I told him to get his ass to a hostel and out of Grandma's! He took my advice and is moving out tomorrow... I'm not sure what I'm going to do. It would be nice to have a week of early nights so I can catch up on some sleep and study Spanish a bit harder so I think I'll stay a little while.

Random pic: The Congress Building, 6 blocks from Etty's
I cooked my first meal in South America tonight - my famous chili con carne. I cooked enough for me and two of the guys here. Came out OK, and I fed 3 of us for $12 pesos (NZ$6).

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

7. Moved hostels (B.A, Argentina)

Today I moved to a new hostel - La Casa de Etty (Etty's House). It's more of a boarding house than a hostel, she has 3 rooms with 6 beds. It's cheap, but the reason I took it is there's a few South American guys staying there (Ecuadorian, Columbian, Argentine) so hopefully I'll get to practice my Spanish more.
Well, that was the plan, but I only met everyone living there after my Spanish class this afternoon. There's also a Dutch and Swiss guy there, and whaddya know they speak good English. So hopefully I won't get sucked into speaking English but it looks like it might be happening again. Perhaps I should have taken the other apartment with the two Argentines.

On Sunday night I caught up with Juan, an Argentinian friend I first met in Laos. He lives in BA and he took me around to his house for an asado (BBQ) on his roof with some of his friends. The night was great, as was the food, but it was all a bit too much for me and I ended up coma'd in a semi-foetal position on his roof until about 6 in the morning.

Me Nicholas Nacho Yvan Juan Pablo at Juan's
Tonight I went to a Tenedor Libre (all you can eat) restaurant, for only $13 pesos (NZ$6.50). The usual buffet/smorgasboard deal which you'd get at any wedding anywhere. It was nothing special, as I wasn't too hungry so I would have been better off going to a normal restaurant.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

6. My first party (B.A, Argentina)

I went to my first BA party last night. As I said before, the club scene here has been temporarily shut down because of the December 30 nightclub fire which killed 200 people. Last night there was a free party in a park next to the planetarium in the Palermo district.
A bunch of us left our hostel at about 1 or 2am (we hadn't gotten back from dinner until midnight anyway) and caught a couple of cabs to the park.
The party wasn't very good. All I've heard about prior to this trip is about BA's amazing party scene and its amazing women. I haven't seen either yet. A couple of us returned to our hostel at about 5.30am. The others came in later at about half past seven.

Random pic: the asado at Desnivel in San Telmo

5. Flatting (B.A, Argentina)

Yesterday I started looking for a flat or a room in a flat. Although the flatting culture isn't that engrained here in South America. I think people tend to live with their parents until they get married, as in other Latin countries. But there are some flats around, as I saw a few notices on the noticeboard at my university. And not surprisingly we have to pay inflated gringo rates, but it's still cheaper than hostels. Hell, even crap hotels here are cheaper than a dorm bed. A cheap single room in Hotel Bolivar costs $15 pesos per night, whereas a dorm bed in my hostel is $20 pesos. The hostel will offer a discount for staying a month - $450 pesos. Which is the same as 30 nights in the crap hotel.
The main reason I wanna get a flat is to get away from English speakers. At the moment I do my 3 hours of Spanish lessons a day, and then get back to the hostel and I'm speaking English with all the Norwegians and Israelis and North Americans here. I want to meet some locals, as well as speak Spanish more.

Random pic: foot traffic past my restaurant during lunch on Ave. Florida
Anyway, the first place I visited was Juan Carlos' in San Telmo, which I found on the net here ages ago. The guy was nice enough and he had 3 rooms for rent but no one else in any of them so I would have had the place to myself, a bit lonely. And he usually only gets foreigners in which would mean more English speaking.
So then I called some of the numbers from the noticeboard. The first one I visited was coincidentally right next door to Juan Carlos' house in San Telmo. The 'interview' was a bit of a mission though, man my Spanish is bad. The language is so much more difficult than I expected, I can sometimes say the question I want but understanding the answer is the next challenge. As for conversations... yeah right. I lose track after half a sentence. Anyway, I think I'll take that room - it's only available for a month so that'll give me time to find something better if I need to stay longer.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

4. Around Buenos Aires (B.A, Argentina)

I finally got to have a bit of a look around BA today. Previously I've been struggling to make it out of bed before 1pm, but today I obeyed my alarm and got up at 10am so I could wander around the city a bit before my Spanish class at 3.
San Telmo's my neighbourhood for now, it's kind of a touristy artsy area, lots of restaurants and cafes, and narrow cobblestone streets. From San Telmo I walked to the city centre and found one of the main shopping drags, Florida Ave, which is a pedestrian street packed with shops and crawling with people. I had a recommendation from one of my classmates for an all you can eat restaurant (which are supposed to be everywhere, but I can't read enough Spanish to find one) but I had to abort that mission in order to get to class on time.
On the way to class I came upon a protest march, a few hundred people moping along chanting something in Spanish which I couldn't understand. I get the feeling protests are an almost daily occurance here, given the past political turmoil and the huge police presence I see every day on my way to University. My Language Faculty is only 2 blocks from La Casa Rosada (The Pink House) which is Argentina's version of the White House, so understandably most protests end up here. The cops look pretty staunch with their bulletproof vests and sidearms.

Protesters hammering on the steel door of BankBoston
Meanwhile, Spanish class is going OK. I'm probably the slowest in my class in my speaking and listening, but I definitely know more grammar than some of my classmates. That's OK, I'll get up to speed - they've all been here longer than me. And by learning most of the grammar I now only have to worry about getting practice using it.
I've also started looking for an apartment or a room for rent. I'd like to find something in a house with some Spanish speakers rather than other tourists otherwise I'd get stuck speaking English, which isn't what I came here for. Last night I went out for drinks until 2am with a bunch of people from my Spanish classes, nice people but we spoke English all night which isn't what any of us would have wanted.
The hostel I'm staying at is giving me a cheap rate on my single room - 25 pesos a night (NZ$12) which is pretty reasonable so there's not too much rush for me to move on. A room to rent in an apartment or share house would be in the region of 12 - 16 pesos a night.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

3. I guess I'm jet-lagged (B.A, Argentina)

I went to bed last night at around midnight as I wanted to get up early for my 9.30 Spanish class. However I couldn't get to sleep until about 5.30am, meaning I slept until around lunchtime. Some would say those are normal times for sleeping around here anyway, and it would be if I was going out partying, but I actually had stuff to do this morning.
This afternoon was my first Spanish class at the University of Buenos Aires. The Language Faculty is only 2 blocks from Plaza de Mayo which is the centrepiece of the city. The building looks nice and colonial from the outside, but it's in need of refurbishment inside. The classes are hot, as there's no air conditioning or fans. My course is called Espanol Para Extraneros which means Spanish for Foreigners. I got put in to a Level 2 class which is still beginner level, but most of the class seems to be more fluent than me. It was great for my listening skills though, as the teacher speaks in Spanish the entire time. The school uses the communicative method, which is how I learnt to teach English on my CELTA course, and that is why I chose it - so I could see the teaching methodology I learned being used from the learner's perspective. It's also the cheapest school in town - 4 weeks of classes for $570 pesos (NZ$275). The downside is the classes are quite large, with 12 students, whereas lessons at private schools tend to limit the class size to only 5 students. Because it's so cheap I might get some private lessons on the side if I can be bothered.
I'm still adjusting to the mealtimes here and haven't been eating well at all. Or sleeping well. I'm sure I'll adjust.

Random pic: Fruit shopping

Monday, January 10, 2005

2. Bad time to be in Buenos Aires (Argentina)

Evidently now is a bad time to be in Buenos Aires. For one, it's peak summer and unlike Sydney there's no beach to escape the heat to. Most of the locals have escaped to the beaches in the South and the very rich are off to the resorts in nearby Punta del Este, Uruguay.
BA is well known as a mega party town, we're talking clubs with 3000 or 4000 people, that don't even start until 5am. However, the nightclub fire and consequent finger-pointing on New Year's Eve in which 200 people perished has meant all the clubs here have shut down for safety inspections.
I've been lucky with the weather, yesterday and today have been fine but my friends at the hostel said that it's been unbearable recently. Too hot to think, let alone move in.
So why am I here in BA? Well, the plan was to enrol at the University of BA to study Spanish, get to know the city, and then start job-hunting (English teaching) next month. So today I sat the entry test at the University to determine which level Spanish class I should be put in. The test was muy dificil (very difficult), but I got put into a Level 2 class. The class started today but I skipped the first one as having just taken the test (and missed a lot of sleep lately) I was too tired and in need of a siesta. So I'll go along tomorrow morning and see how it goes. The problem is I think I'll only be at Level 1.5. So the Level 2 class will probably be too hard but the Level 1 class too easy. If so then I might have to explore other options - either private lessons or lessons at a private institute - both options are more expensive though, twice the price of the University course. We'll see what happens.
It's nice being in a country where the local language is everywhere. In the tourist areas of other countries I've visited (SE Asia) there's been no need to learn the local language since as soon as the locals see a white face they either speak to you in English or don't speak to you at all. Here either they don't speak English or don't want to, so everything needs to be done in Spanish. The other backpackers here ALL speak a bit of Spanish, or want to, which is another difference. Try finding a backpacker on Khao Sahn Rd who can speak more than a handful of Thai - not likely.
I had lunch today in a random cafe out of the way. Lunch is the main meal of the day (edit: no it's not, dinner is), I ordered steak and mash. They like their meat here so I was given two T-bone steaks to chew through. The television in the corner was playing some Goldie Hawn & Kurt Russell movie dubbed into Spanish. A local guy came in and greeted an old guy with a kiss on the cheek. No handshake, just a kiss on the cheek. Another guy came in and did the same, greeted the same bunch of men with kisses all around. I guess that's how they do it here - no handshakes, just kisses. Interesting.

The steak at Desnivel in San Telmo. The best in Argentina so far

1. Arrived in Buenos Aires (Argentina)

Arrived in Buenos Aires yesterday. My flight wasn't too notable, apart from I nearly missed it. I got a ride from Mount Maunganui to Auckland (2.5 hours) with my sister's boyfriend Mark, but his car broke down an hour into the journey. So Dad had to come pick me up from the side of the road. I was the very last passenger to check in.
I had trouble sleeping on the plane so I snuck in to business class once it was dark for 3 hours, I slept for one hour until the hostess woke me up and kicked me back down to economy class. The flight was 12 hours.

The edge of the Pampas
Once I arrived I caught a bus to the city centre. The bus ride in was a bit of an eye-opener, past all the barrios (slums) and ugly old apartment buildings, which looked like giant dominos standing on their ends. From there I caught a minibus to my booked hostel and got settled in. I'd booked a private room rather than a dorm as I thought I'd be needing a lot of sleep a lot being jet-lagged, but I felt OK. I quickly met a bunch of guys who were organising an asado (BBQ) that night, so I chipped in my ten pesos (NZ$5) and went shopping with them. 10kg of meat and a shopping cart full of beers later and we were sorted. I'm still adjusting to the prices here, everything seems mega-cheap as usual, especially all the vice goods - cigarettes - 3 pesos a pack (NZ$1.50), and beer and wine - 6 pesos for a reasonable bottle. Less vice-tax here than in Western countries.
I'm staying in the San Telmo district which was having it's weekly Sunday market that day. Lots of people and tourists wandering the streets checking out the buskers, antique sellers, ice-cream carts, tango dancers, etc.
We wandered around for a couple of hours and once back at the hostel I grabbed a quick siesta - 2 hours - before helping with the fire.
The BBQ turned out great, the meat was amazing, my steak was about 2 inches thick and still tender on the inside. Once the beer and wine started flowing so did the Spanish language. It's funny, when we went shopping it was the usual backpacker melting pot - Norwegian, German, Greek, Israeli, Argentine and me the Kiwi. I was the only one for whom English was my first language, yet everyone was speaking that. We all know a little Spanish, some more than others, yet everyone was more comfortable speaking their strongest common language - English. It makes sense but I thought it was strange anyway. We're in South America so let's speak Spanish...
At the BBQ I sat next to a local couple who spoke no English, yet I managed to speak to them for half an hour. We enjoyed it but it was hard work for both sides with my poor Spanish.
I finally got to bed at 2am which is early in this country. Everyone was amazed I was still going - I worked out that in the last 60 hours I had had only 3 hours sleep. That's thanks to the party pills in NZ. For those that aren't in NZ or don't know what I'm talking about, you can buy these "party pills" legally over the counter at most liquor stores - 10 pills for $40. They contain a variety of herbal ingredients - guarana, white pepper, ginseng, etc, and because they don't contain any illegal substances they are legal - for now. I'd tried 3 of the ESP pills on New Year's Eve (hey, they're legal) and had an enjoyable night. Because they're legal lots of different companies make them, with different ingredients and different effects.
Anyway, I popped two of a different brand (name:"The Good Stuff") at 5pm on my final night in NZ, and spent the next few hours bouncing off the walls. Went to bed at 1am that night and spent the entire night staring at the ceiling. My brother was the same. That day I caught my flight, managed only one hour sleep on the plane, crossed the international date line and went back in time 16 hours, had my 2 hour siesta and finally got some sleep at 2am that night. So I think that's 60 hours with only 3 hours sleep.