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learning spanish

Argentina Snapshot Travel

A Snapshot of…Buenos Aires

September 15, 2015

Buenos Aires in 3 words: Colorful, diverse, gritty

Personal Highlight: Getting invited into a wine store by the store owner as I was taking pictures on the street outside his store. Flavio was his name and he was Italian. He proceeded to teach me all about the indigenous grapes of South America and 'insisted' (!) I try a few different ones. As we communicated through broken English and Spanish, I got so caught up that I missed one of my tours. But as always, these kinds of moments are the reason I travel as they give me a much more authentic and fulfilling experience.
I had received a lot of contradicting information about BA before I arrived - safe, unsafe, dirty, Euro, modern, arty, cold & welcoming. Now I understand why. All of these things exist. It's a big city, and so it has multiple personalities. I personally loved the juxtaposition of the grit and the bold colors, and I equally loved the people.

My two weeks there was definitely not enough time, as there is so much to see and I only scratched the surface. But my goals for my stay there were to study Spanish, start planning the next couple of legs of my journey and to launch this blog. At some point, I also decided I wanted to learn how to take better pictures. Given I don't have any room in my suitcase to bring any pieces from the road home, I want to have pictures that really capture what I see/feel/hear everywhere I go.  

So with that full plate, I didn't have as much time as I would've liked! However, I feel like I got to know the city fairly well - spending nights out with various classmates, wandering in different neighborhoods after class to snap some pics and trying my damnest to converse with the locals to practice my Spanish. I think that is the best way to see a city; it's much better than hanging in all of the tourist traps! 

The coffee
: Very difficult to find a good cup. But after mucho research, I found three amazing places: Cuco (Palermo), Lattente (Palermo), and Coffee Town (San Telmo). 
The food: Sooo much bread and meat. This is typical Argentinian. You have to work a bit harder to find a big, colorful salad or veggies but it's definitely doable. I loved Funk & Deli and Vive Verde for healthy bites and for a good burger - Burger Joint. Jury is still out on the quality of the meat here (with respect to grass fed v. factory farmed). The majority I've talked to believe cows are grass fed, and that's what I believed as I was tucking into that juicy burger.
And thank goodness for Pick Up The Fork, an amazing blog about finding good eats in the city. See her hilarious review of Burger Joint and pics of the funky spot here
Accommodation: I stayed at an AirBnB in San Telmo for 10 days. When I decided to extend my stay there, I had to change apartments and stayed an additional 4 days in Palermo.
Tours: Day Clicker ToursFree City Walking Tour

Side story: Changing Money in Buenos Aires

I did have one of those moments where I felt like I was in the beginning of a movie. You know, the one where the solo tourist gets lured into a back alley by some charming shopkeeper, offering them to show them something unique. 
"Don't do it, you idiot!"  

You know how the movie goes.

I had done my homework and talked to many other travelers at Spanish school, but I was still not prepared for what transpired as I went to get Argentinian pesos. Let me explain...

Basically, in May 2012 the government restricted the ability for ordinary Argentines to purchase dollars, which was a very common practice as no one wanted to save in pesos because they were losing 30% per year to inflation. Ever since that point, the black market for dollars, actually called the 'blue rate' has soared from the official government influenced rate. While trading with the blue rate is technically illegal, it is very much in the open. The difference from the blue rate to the official rate is astounding - I looked at rates at the airport, and it was 1:9. I got 1:15 with the blue rate. While the rate fluctuates daily, you could be losing as much as 60% on your money if you use an ATM or credit card versus exchanging cash on the blue rate.

So in order to get the blue rate, I was instructed to head to Florida Street and look for any of the guys that yell, "Cambio!" As I was walking down Florida, I was trying to discern who 'looked' most honest. I saw a guy who had a respectable scarf wrapped around his neck and decided he was my man.

I walked over to him and in my broken Spanish I said I'd like to exchange my USD. He said "bueno!" and asked me to follow him. We walked a half block and turned into a plaza type building, walked past all of the storefronts and into a side door. We walked past a desk where two men poked up their heads to look at the vulnerable tourist who was trying to look cool and collected but might have looked like a deer in headlights. We turned into a tiny office where a man was sitting at a desk with just a phone and a couple of papers on it. He stood up to greet my guy and they exchanged a fist bump and a bro hug.

Like he just congratulated him for a fresh catch.

My guy stayed while the whole ordeal happened. It lasted only 3 minutes, but it felt like an eternity. I wonder if I even breathed the entire time. In the end, we exchanged bills, I got an amazing rate, we shook hands and we were done. My guy walked me out, told me to be careful with my backpack, particularly on the subte (subway), gave me a kiss on the cheek, said thank you and safe journeys.


Argentina Travel

Speaking Frespanglish

September 5, 2015

I decided on Buenos Aires for my first stop in order to learn some Spanish before I traveled around South America. There are some great schools here that are highly rated and fairly inexpensive. 

So I booked a week of Spanish class at Vamos Spanish Academy thinking that, at a minimum, I'll know how to say all of the niceties to get me around. I had, after all, four years of French and a tiny bit of Italian from traveling there quite a bit, so perhaps I'll pick it up quickly.

Ha. I'm now in my second week and my brain actually hurts.

I have had some small wins. Like when I asked someone on the street how to get someplace and not only did they understand me, but I understood their answer (though their charades helped tremendously). Or the time a wine store owner invited me into his shop when I was outside taking a picture of it. He talked about the indigenous grapes of Argentina as he poured a few different varietals for me to taste. OK, so there was a lot of nodding and maybe I only caught one word out of 50, but I got to taste some amazing wine and learned that there is actually a white wine dry enough for me to enjoy (Torrontes).

There have also been some fails. Like the time I walked into the men's bathroom because I saw the "M" on one door and thought I should go in the other. Thankfully, there was nobody in there and I quickly remembered that I was not in 'Merica anymore. (FYI: M=mujer=women / H=hombre=man.) Or the many times I slipped into French and said "merci" or "pour moi".

But that's okay - I've had worse slip-ups in England, where supposedly we speak the same language.

Like the time I commented to a friend holding two beers - "ah, double fisting, eh?" She quickly coached me on the local meaning of that term and let's just say that I never used it again. I'd fill you in, but this isn't THAT kind of blog. If you need to google it, please be sure there are no children around. 

So while I've traveled to plenty of places where I didn't know the local language, I was typically only there for only 1-2 weeks at a time. So I would just learn the niceties and get on with it. But knowing I'll be in South America for an extended amount of time, I really want to learn the language with a more extensive vocabulary. However, I could honestly stay here another two months and still not feel 'ready'.  

So I've just got to take the leap, knowing I'll make plenty of mistakes along the way. You can't succeed if you never try, right? And I'll likely give the locals some good stories about my faux pas along the way. So really, everybody wins.

Musings Travel

Words to Live By

September 1, 2015

Resfeber (res-fe-ber) noun 1. The restless race of the traveller’s heart before the journey begins, when anxiety and anticipation are tangled together. Origin: Swedish

I'm not sure when or where I saw this word for the first time; though it was most likely from one of the travel blogs that I follow. I remember thinking, 'who the hell has anxiety before going on holiday?!' All I ever felt was the anticipation side of that equation. And it was usually tangled with excitement, and perhaps relief if I had been particularly busy. But anxiety? 

Who are those people?

And then the day came when I was staring at the departure gate at Logan Airport to start a six month journey around the world.

As an avid and frequent traveler, it kills me to admit it. But yes - the anxiety started to creep in. I was starting in a big city and spending three months in a part of the world where I didn't speak the language. I only had confirmed plans for the first 10 days and while I had a general route, I didn't have any other flights or hotels booked so as to remain completely flexible. I left a steady paycheck and a job where I was well respected and on a continued upward path.

So as I walked through the security gates, the other side of the resfeber equation was speaking to me with words of fear. Did I do the right thing? Am I going to want to turn around in 6 weeks? Will I miss my bed, my kitchen, my morning coffee? Will I crave my routine that I so badly wanted to escape?

I've always been a travel bug, but this was another level.

Holy shit, I'm really doing this.

I remember the day I decided on the idea. It was last September and I was having brunch with two friends. Theresa had recently divorced and Chris was fighting cancer for the third time. Both were clearly dealing with a rollercoaster of emotions, but both were incredibly positive and full of life. (The type of people I love surrounding myself with.) Personally, I was really enjoying my work but I was burning out. I often thought about what was next for me, with dreams of leaving the corporate world and pursuing my passions. But I just didn't have the time to actually figure out exactly how or what. I loved being home near friends and family, but I didn't exactly have much love for Boston. Since I returned from living in London years ago, I felt unsettled there. 

So as we typically do when the three of us get together - we talked about some deep shit. We talked about life and really living it authentically - being honest with yourself and everyone around you about who you are and what you want. To stop living inside the lines of others' expectations and going for what you really want. Chris called it "living life on purpose". I loved that. 

Theresa and I spoke about leaving the rat race of our jobs to travel and get some headspace to figure out what was next. When Chris heard that, she simply said "why not?" She reminded us that life is meant to be lived, not to be dreamed about and put on the shelf for later.

We talked about how travel expands your mind and the world you operate in; how experiences are so much more interesting than material things; how meeting people from other walks of life teaches you not only about how others live but about your self. It shatters your assumptions and biases. It births new perceptions.

That was the day I decided I was going to leave my job and travel.

I decided to live my life on purpose, to just go for it. To live authentically. Not worry that others may think I'm crazy for leaving a stable, lucrative job where I was good at what I did and got amazing opportunities like living in London and traveling to places like Milan, Paris, San Fran, Hong Kong and Tokyo; wondering why I wasn't searching for a partner, establishing roots and getting the white picket fence; concerned that I was pausing my retirement contributions;  concerned that I was traveling alone; concerned about what I would do when I got back.

It's amazing how much the things above (note: others' concerns) weighed on me. It was harder to tell my family, friends, my boss and my colleagues knowing that they would share all of these fears. But I realized at some point that these were their fears - not mine.   

Now here I am, boarding a plane to Buenos Aires with a one way ticket and nothing but time. The anxiety creeping up is a projection of other's fears and it was nudged out by my excitement and inner knowing that this is exactly what I should be doing.

Chris passed away about 3 months before I left. Her words still sit with me: "Live life on purpose." Now those are words to live by.