Suitcase on wheels     stuck in the snow   sniffer dog

Monday, November 27, 2006

81. A bit of work (Bariloche, Argentina)

Things were going great last week. I worked 5 days in a row, mostly airport transfers in my van but a couple of half day trips (Circuito Chico) and a full day trip to Villa La Angostura, just across the lake from Bariloche. The weather was great, sunny and clear, and I really enjoyed it. Listening to the guide I worked with I learnt a lot about the area (and helped him with his English). It felt good to finally be doing what I'd been trying to do for so long. The customers, a nice American family, had me and the guide to themselves for their three day stay, and tipped handsomely when we dropped them off at the airport.

I found a new apartment too, well, a small one room monoambiene (studio), which is out of the centro but cheap, only $500 pesos a month with everything included.

It's taken a while to get going as I'm still the new guy in town, and only one tourism agency is actually calling me at the moment. But most of my work hasn't come from them but from another transport guy who's giving me his leftover jobs. So in the case of the American family above, they booked their trip with a travel agency in the States, who contracted an agency in Buenos Aires, who contracted an agency in Bariloche, who contracted the other transport guy, who contracted me and the guide. You can imagine everyone's taking a cut, and I don't want to know how many US dollars the Americans paid their agency compared with what the guys who did the actual work, (me and the guide) receive. But such is the travel industry.

So things were going nicely until my van broke down in the middle of an airport transfer. Another guy was driving it and apparently it just died on him. It was then out of action for 3 days while a mechanic diagnosed the problem (a loose cable on the engine shutoff valve), and convinced me to get a couple of other overdue jobs done on it - new front suspension and a CV joint, both of which I'd known about for months. That was expensive - $1300 pesos, and being out of action for 3 days has hurt, as the work has dried up since. But I can say I've made a start now, and the days I worked I really enjoyed. And, my girlfriend's coming back to Bariloche in a week!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

80. BA in spring (Bariloche, Argentina)

With my list of tariffs delivered to the agencies I spent the last few weeks waiting for the phone to ring. But October was pretty quiet here. Sure, there were tourists and many of the big agencies in town kept working. The smaller agencies struggled. Those drivers who've been here years and have established themselves kept working, even if it was 4 days a week instead of 6. But me, the new guy in town, didn't do squat. I'd get the odd phone call asking to quote a price but that was about it. So one afternoon, while I was wishing my girlfriend was here with me, it occured to me it would be easier to go visit her in BA. The next day I caught an afternoon bus for the 20 hour trip.

Boxing - 01 (Large)
Amateur fight night in Bariloche

BA's weather in October is great. Hot and sunny most days, shorts weather, but not uncomfortably hot (like December to February). Having come from jeans and jacket weather in Bariloche I really enjoyed BA's springtime climate (apart from the hayfever). As soon as I arrived I'd set dates to meet up with my few expat friends (hi Mark, Shireen and Sam) but my porteño friends were as busy/hard to get hold of as always. I finally got to catch up with Juan, Pozzy and Diego, but my text messages to Paula and Sebastian went unanswered so I didn't get to see them, which I was pissed off about. I later heard the porteño-favourite "no credit on the cellphone" excuse.

Rodeo - 03 - Setting off (Large)
Horse relay race at a gaucho rodeo

My girlfriend's doing well in BA - well enough to pay for my return bus ticket, since I couldn't afford it. She's working in San Telmo in a tango-themed restaurant she likes, with people she likes, and they pay her a fair wage. Not like the $15 pesos per day she got paid under the table by the Peruvian who owned the last San Telmo cafe she worked in. That adds up to $300 pesos per month. That's why you should tip your waitress, readers. A 10% tip is pretty standard, but even if you're eating out on a budget, you should factor on giving 50c - $1 peso to the waitress (per person). I never mind tipping the waitress (not that I've eaten out in months), but it bugs me when the bill comes and there's surprise charges like cubiertos (cutlery) or pan (bread). Bread should be included in the meal but some cheap places will charge for it.

So back in Bariloche, and I must have brought the warm BA weather down with me. Last week we had a couple of shorts and T-shirt days here, the first of the year. The sun burnt my arms here more than in BA - because of the southern ozone hole I suppose. I don't think we're at sufficient altitude for that to make a difference (750m).

Rodeo - 04 - Baton change (Large)
The always blooper-filled baton change, when you've got horses galloping towards each other

Have had a good last couple of days. I met a nice Kiwi couple, who found me through this blog, and they invited me for dinner at their house here in Bariloche. And through them I last night met another nice Kiwi couple who've been driving around Central and South America in their 70s American Winnebago for the last 13 years. They're doing it bit by bit, and have been as far down as Ushuaia, and are now working their way back up towards Buenos Aires (which they've yet to visit) before heading into Brazil. You can imagine the amount of stories they had to tell, too many to fit into one evening. Great food, great company.

My phone's finally started to ring a little bit for work, too. The day before yesterday I did 2 airport transfers and today another. Not big money, but enough buy some groceries.

The owner of my 70s decorated apartment told me she wants to rent out her apartment to tourists in December. We'd clarified it with the agent who showed us it that we wanted something that would take us through the summer because as I've said, come summer many apartments here are rented per night and not per month, and I didn't want to be stuck paying per night. I'd also clarified it with the owner when we signed. "Yeah, it's temporary and that suits us fine, so long as we can have it for summer. We can have it until March, right?" were my exact words. Now she's saying I must have misunderstood, but it's an outright lie. And a person's word doesn't mean shit here, what's written on the paper is what counts, and my rental contract says it's month by month, terminable by either party. So now I'm back to square one, looking for an apartment. We'd have been better off staying in the Bariloche Center with our cable TV for the last 2 months. So at the end of the day I'm not too upset as I don't really like the apartment and my girlfriend hated it. But it means I've had to ask my parents for a loan as I can't afford to pay out deposits and months of rent in advance again.