Suitcase on wheels     stuck in the snow   sniffer dog

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

62. One year in South America! (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Today is January 9 2006 which means it was exactly one year ago I flew out of Auckland (almost missed my flight because my sister's boyfriend's car broke down on the way) and landed in Buenos Aires.
One year! Hooray!! And nearly 5000 visits to this blog. About once a week I get a random email from someone asking me something about my blog. At first the questions seemed to be along the lines of "How do I get an Argentine girlfriend?" but mostly they're questions like "How's the life of an English teacher in Buenos Aires?".

Bariloche - 24 - Cerro Campanario
Random pic: The postcard view from Cerro Campanario in Bariloche

I first had the idea to come to South America way back in early 2003, when I was sitting in a hammock in Laos during my six month trip in SE Asia, talking to another traveller, Justin, about other trips I'd like to make in the future as my funds were running out and I was shortly facing the dreaded return home. I began thinking it through, and decided I wanted to get more out of a trip than just photos and "personal development". I decided I wanted to learn another language. This would mean a trip of at least a year. But what language, then? I already spoke English and C++ so I had no need to speak any other, but one of the "romance" languages seemed like a good idea. I narrowed it down to Italian or Spanish or French. For either one of those I'd need to go to Europe, which would be expensive to live/travel in. But I could learn Spanish in South America which wouldn't be so expensive. In our group of travellers was Juan the Argentine (he of the Sunday asados), and he further sold me on the idea when he told me about Argentina's natural beauty - the glaciers in the South, the desert in the north, etc. The seed was planted.

Fattest Ass
Random pic: a really fat ass

After SE Asia 2003 I started the jobhunt with the idea of working to save money for a year, and then going travelling for a year. I ended up in Sydney, Australia, where I earned a good wage but the living expenses were high too. I ended up being there 18 months, had a great time, and saved enough money to last me a year travelling in South America. Although my strict saving budget meant I didn't have as much fun as I would have liked.
Originally I'd decided to go to Ecuador, simply because I'd seen a travel documentary on it and it seemed like an interesting place. I liked the idea that it was a small country with a lot of diverse nature - beaches, mountains, highlands, jungle, all in a small package. I researched and found a cheap Spanish school on the beach in Ecuador, and even emailed them to ask about the surf. I bought the Lonely Planet guide to Ecuador and spent at least an hour a day reading and answering questions on the Lonely Planet thorntree. I was answering questions about South America even though I'd never been there, but I already knew the answers from my own research!
I enrolled at a local Sydney University and took 3 hours of Spanish lessons a week. Hell I even did a salsa dancing course! Basically, I was doing everything I could to prepare myself for Operation Ecuador. Until I met an Ecuadorian/Australian guy (Hi Johnny V) who told me I'd have more fun in Argentina or Colombia or somewhere, as the girls in Ecuador aren't very hot, mostly short and squat and indian. Hmm. True enough, if I was gonna be living in one place learning the language for a year I didn't wanna be celebate. So back to the thorntree I went and Argentina seemed like a good choice - ten years ago it was extremely expensive, but with the economic problems of 2001 it was now as cheap as Peru or Ecuador or Brazil.
Whether I was going to work or not was another question. I'd amassed enough savings that I'd be able to live cheaply without working if I could live off US$30 a day. The only work I could hope to do is to teach English. I wasn't sure I wanted to do it or not but I figured I'd give it a go - maybe having work would help me to meet locals. And if I liked it, it could be a new profession for me. So then I decided to do a TEFL course as I figured it would be worthwhile and/or necessary. In Sydney I did a University of Cambridge CELTA course. That course was 3 months of no social life - when I wasn't at the course in evenings and Saturday mornings I was at home preparing lessons. Expensive too - nearly AU$3000, with the textbooks that I never used again. But, it was more preparation for South America so I felt like I was accomplishing something. I organised a Working Holiday visa so I could work legally.
Finally, I booked my flight - Sydney - Auckland - Buenos Aires, with a 2 week stopover in NZ for Christmas and New Year. Being high season my one-way ticket was expensive - US$1500, but it meant I would arrive in summer, could spend a month partying while I studied Spanish cheaply at the University of Buenos Aires (the course started the day after I landed), then spend a month looking for an apartment/work, and start working in March. I'd teach until August, and then travel overland to Colombia, and if I liked the teaching thing I'd work again in Bogota. If not I'd do nothing but work on my tan and dance salsa with the local girls until my savings ran out.
Long-term readers of this blog will know that my plan didn't quite work out - BA is too hot in January, for one (38° today, with humidity it feels like 43°!). The Cromañon nightclub fire on Dec 30 2004 (which killed nearly 200 partiers and shutdown the BA nightlife for 4 months afterward) was another. My closer friends will know I got a bit depressed over how difficult it was for me to get set up with an apartment / job situation - as one wrote to me, "no one said it would be easy".

So, looking back on 2005 and the trip so far. Well, I've learnt Spanish which was the main objective. I haven't studied much really - I did a month at UBA as an elementary when I arrived, and then a couple of hours of private lessons a week at a cheap school - Grammarama (now closed). Most of what I've learned is from talking and listening to people, mainly my girlfriend. Which means my writing in Spanish hasn't advanced much. I think I need to take another course when I get the time. I'm still at about an Intermediate level. A lot of what I learn now is from reading novels or studying song lyrics.
I've lived and worked as a Buenos Aires porteño for six months which was tough. Too tough really, I couldn't live solely off my teaching wages.
I've travelled a bit - seen all of Argentina, from La Quiaca in the North to Iguazu Falls in the East, and Ushuaia in the South. Add most of Bolivia, with tiny bits of Chile, Peru, Brazil, and Uruguay.

Casa de Libertad - 03 - Matt Bolivar
Random pic: Me with Simon Bolivar in Bolivia

So, if you'd asked me back in 2004 where would I be at the start of 2006, I would have given you this answer - either sitting on a beach in Colombia sipping coconuts, or shacked up in Buenos Aires with a local. And here I am in Buenos Aires.


  • Hey there, I just discovered your blog. I think if you ever wanted to go back to teaching English, it is much easier to do so in other cities in South America than in Buenos Aires. Where I lived in Trujillo, Peru, english teachers were payed a comfortable middle-class wage and native speakers were highly sought after. Although one of the schools (UK Britannico) did have slightly mafia-ish undertones.

    By Blogger Agent Bucky, at 2:13 PM  

  • Thanks for the comments, Bucky. I never thought of teaching in Peru. I think Santiago in Chile pays well too.

    I kind of got sold on the "Buenos Aires is the best Spanish-speaking city in South America" thing before I came here. As I've said before, it's a nice place to visit, but to live there...


    By Blogger mattyboy, at 12:11 PM  

  • Hi, Did you ever think about working as a software developer over in SA ?

    I'm a programmer by trade as well, and am thinking that a techy job might be the best bet to keep me there...

    By Blogger Raymond, at 8:57 PM  

  • Hola, Matt. Soy Mariangeles, de Grammarama. No sé si todavía lees este blog y este correo. Pero... intento contactarte por este medio. Como has estado? Yo bien.
    Te cuento que Grammarama cerró a mediados de 2007. Tal vez tú, que eres un experto en computación, puedes eliminar o editar tu amable comentario sobre Grammarama en tu blog.
    Te mando un abrazo y espero que estés bien. Mariángeles

    By Blogger escuelag, at 2:30 PM  

  • Agree with the other poster? A software job might pay more and can often be done remotely. I'm a programmer/entrepreneur living in BA right now, running a few web businesses. I hate the idea of traveling until your money runs creates a lot of anxiety. So far I've been traveling while earning via the web!

    Anyway, great post!

    By Blogger, at 8:03 AM  

  • Hola Mariangeles, como estas? Tanto tiempo!

    Intente enviarte un mail hace un rato pero no llego... la dirrecion que tengo es de gramarama.

    I hope everything's OK with you, are you still in BA? Send me an email...

    Un abrazo!


    By Blogger mattyboy, at 2:14 PM  

  • Hi Brian

    Good idea - I did meet an Argentine guy who works for Microsoft in BA early on in my stay, and to be honest I got the feeling he didn't earn a very good wage. And at the time I was sick of IT too and looking for a new "life direction".

    I also met a Swedish guy who played online poker for a living and he could do that anywhere he liked. I gave that a try after English teaching but I didn't really enjoy sitting in cramped internet cafes for 4 hours a day either, LOL!

    The sort of software work I do I don't think can be done remotely... working in small teams, I think it's easier to be face to face to explain things.

    But the way you've set yourself up as a web entrepreneur is great! Obviously you'd set yourself up before your move so you already knew that you could make enough money doing it.

    Quitting your job and starting the venture and moving to South America all at once would be a different story not for the faint hearted...

    Anyway good luck in BA, I bet things are a lot more expensive there now than when I was there. I saw your video of your apartment, looks like you've set yourself up nicely.


    By Blogger mattyboy, at 2:24 PM  

  • Hola, Matt. Soy Mariángeles, la maestra de español de Buenos Aires. Feliz año 2011! Recién acabo de ver, después de más de un año, tu mensaje en tu blog, cuando estaba haciendo una búsqueda en Google. Desde septiembre de 2009 tengo un sitio web nuevamente, ahora es más fácil ubicarme. Mi email es Si lo prefieres, puedes borrar mi email después de recibir este mensaje. Disculpame por no contestarte antes. Sigo viviendo en Bs. As., seguramente para toda la vida! Desde hace un tiempo administro dos sitios web, no sé tanto como vos! pero estoy aprendiendo. Tambien sigo con los cursos y empecé cosas nuevas como periodismo y edición de textos. Un saludo y feliz año! M.angeles

    By Blogger Mariangeles, at 6:19 AM  

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