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