March, 2013: Argentina. My (ex) girlfriend and I decided to move to a foreign country for a year. Just for the heck of it. We chose Buenos Aires. We don’t speak Spanish… but we brought our two miniature Dachshunds.
I’ve grown tired of lengthy prose so I’m just doing weekly lists. Start at the bottom with the “1st Week” and work your way up to the most current week. Or don’t…
- We pursued several new tango schools, not wanting to lose additional progress while our regular school took vacation.
- Our first “new school” was a one-man operation located on the third floor of a converted house. Our instructor was quick to show us fancy new steps like the hook, the block, and the turn. He didn’t put a heavy emphasis on proper form or body position so we enjoyed the brief respite from the typical focus on stance and embrace. Everything fell apart when, while demonstrating a backward hook, he asked my girlfriend to “kick his balls”. “No… seriously, try to kick my balls, “ he said. He intended to prove that the leader’s ‘junk’ would be safe despite the follower’s many quick and threatening leg kicks. This sentiment was lost in translation. For the remainder of the week, we could be heard saying, “kick my balls” at any opportunity and laughing hysterically.
- Our second “new school” was located in the back of an art museum. It boasted large dance rooms, a wonderful view of the city and a terribly grumpy front desk clerk. No one asked us to kick them in the groin.
- Our third “new school” was held in a physical therapist’s office (I can’t make this shit up). The doctor simply pushed his equipment into a corner of the room allowing, the eight participants slightly more space than an airplane restroom to practice.
- Tango lessons and practice consumed 3+ hours a day plus another hour or two traveling around the city. This thing’s getting serious.
- I discovered the ONE restaurant that *almost* serves an American breakfast: two scrabbled eggs, toast with jam (jam is really hard to find), orange juice, coffee and sliced fruit. They do not open until 11:00am.
14th Week (Off the Road)
- We finished “Inferno” and managed the first 23 chapters of “Moby Dick”. Yeah, that’s right… The one by Herman Melville.
- After 16 days, we completed the road trip in Colonia, Uruguay and caught the ferryboat across the river and back into Buenos Aires. Total distance travelled: 7167 kilometers (4453 miles). That’s the equivalent of driving from San Francisco to Boston and then from Boston to Orlando…. Except all of Nevada, Utah and Nebraska are unpaved so you can’t drive more than 35 mph …and none of the cities along the way have street signs …and no one speaks English.
- I successfully superglued our front bumper back into place. The rental company didn’t notice that our vehicle had been used as an instrument of death. During the span of our trip, my girlfriend killed a raccoon, a frog and a bird. We’re both devastated.
- Our lovely tango school informed us they’d be taking the following week off… so we snuck in a final class. During our 16-day road trip, I have managed to forget 90% of all things tango.
- I found a new gym …not riddled with death traps. However, they require their members to provide a letter from a doctor… which means I’ll eventually need to take part in the Argentine health care system after all.
13th Week (The Great Road Trip: Part II)
- I got a freakin’ speeding ticket: 85 km/hour in a 40 km/hour zone. There will be a separate blog for this one. Grrrrr!!!
- We completed audio book #1: “A Drink Before the War,” by Dennis Lehane. Given the choice of re-listening to this or a serious bludgeoning I’d choose the latter.
- We fastidiously prepared for our crossing into Brazil: we had visas, we had certified paperwork for the dogs, we had brides for the border agents… we were ready!
- There was NO ONE at the Brazilian border! We simply drove by an unmanned guard post. It took about 10 minutes of additional driving to realize we were actually in Brazil. Three days of preparation and no one to question us. We promptly turned the wrong direction down a one-way street.
- Iguaza Falls! It was easily the most accessible of the planet’s three major waterfalls (Victoria, Niagra and Iguazu). There is a wonderful viewing point that allows you to look over one of the main drops. I highly recommend it. It might be my favorite.
- I taught my co-pilot how to cheat at Candy Crush so she can play non-stop. The looming sounds of Candy Crush occupied the vehicle for the next several days.
- 12-hour drive to Florianopolis. The roads in Brazil are actually paved and most streets are labeled. We were elated. The highway is littered with billboards featuring Sharon Stone (so that’s where she’s been).
- We spent three relaxing nights in a small town north of Florianopolis. It’s the off-season so our hotel puts us in a two-bedroom apartment on the beach. The dogs are reintroduced to the ocean. Cooper dug a three-foot hole in the sand in 90 seconds flat. Dachshunds are just that good.
- We quickly consume a six-hour drive to Proto Alegre. Don’t go to Porto Alegre, Brazil. Just don’t.
- Ten-hours more and we found ourselves in Punta Del Este, Uruguay. This included another quick border crossing for which we were, again, over-prepared. Punta Del Este is the simply wonderful. It’s our new favorite city in Uruguay. Great beaches, modern infrastructure, lots to do…
- We finished audio book #2: “Inferno,” by Dan Brown. Hooray for Dan Brown’s love of the Catholic Church.
12th Week (The Great Road Trip: Part I)
- We decided to explore the world outside of Buenos Aires… as well as the countries surrounding Argentina. Our ambitious itinerary included the following: Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Salta (Argentina), Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Asuncion (Paraguay), Iguazu Falls (Brazil), Florianopolis (Brazil), Rio Grande (Brazil), some place in Uruguay, and then back to Buenos Aires! Some context: 1) We don’t have GPS; 2) We don’t have cell phone service; 3) Once you leave BA there are no streets signs in Argentina; 4) We acquire a large map of Argentina and surrounding countries and believe it will suffice; 5) We rent a miserably small and uncomfortable Chevy Classic. It does not have airbags, power anything, or working windshield wipers.
- Our trip starts with a six-hour drive from Buenos Aires to the middle of nowhere Argentina, Villa Maria. At midnight, we find a roach motel for $23/night. We don’t want to ask if they accept pets in fear that our dogs won’t be allowed… so we sneak them past the receptionist and pray they don’t make any noise. They do. No one seems to notice.
- Eight-hour drive to Mendoza through wine country (in all of its wonder and glory). Harsh realization that GPS will be necessary.
- Spectacular two-hour horseback ride through the vineyards of Mendoza. I am sore for the next three days but do not require medical assistance (as with my previous horseback riding experience in South America).
- Three nights in Mendoza and a wine hangover to prove it.
- 20-hour drive to Salta (technically, a town 45 minutes north of Salta). We are both exhausted and miserable. Ex runs over a wild animal on the highway at hour 19. Ex sobs. The hotel can only be found by asking for directions from random people in the street at 2:30am. Why are so many people wondering the streets at 2:30am?
- Spent the morning on the grounds of our hotel, which turns out to be a working ranch. We met the pet boa constrictor, wild pigs and armadillo.
- Seven-hour drive to the Bolivian border. We got within 0.5 kilometers of the border and literally can’t find the entrance to the country. We began asking pedestrians, “Bolivia?” while pointing in random directions. Imagine their confusion with the fact that we can’t find an entire country. We took multiple wrong turns and got stuck in the mud… in a down pore… in a filthy Chevy Classic.
- 30-minutes later we were denied entry into Bolivia because we have a rental car. Bribes did not work. SH#T!
- We snuck the dogs into yet another hotel in a super tiny town along the highway. Ex was caught taking the dogs to the bathroom outside of our room. When later questioned about illegal pets on the premises, girlfriend somehow convinces the staff that we don’t have dogs with us.
- We make it to Paraguay after another lengthy nine-hour drive. At the border, we are asked for our visas… We don’t have visas (“‘cause the internet said we could buy them at the border, sir…”, we state to the guy who doesn’t speak any English). Several hundred dollars later, we are allowed entry into the country.
- We are graciously accepted into the amazing house of an old college friend’s Paraguayan family. They immediately treat two random American strangers (and their dogs) like family. They are so helpful and kind after several days of difficult travel that we are literally overjoyed. We spend two wonderful nights in Asuncion and hit the road again.
- My taxi driver had a mini LCD TV suction cupped to his windshield. He watched the local soccer match while driving me home. Honestly, I was more concerned about his simultaneous texting.
- Tango lessons included the “Boleo”. Again, not easy but it makes the dance more fun! My instructors continued to display tremendous patience with me.
- Preparation for a long road trip forces several visits to the Brazilian embassy, a local veterinarian, the Argentine equivalent of the FDA, and a rental car company. This might take a total of four hours in the US… It required three days here.
- We occasionally watched television in the United States… We never watch television in Argentina. In fact, we have absolutely no idea what’s happening in the US news… and that’s just fine. However, movies only cost $6. Even movies in 3D. Which represents my feeble justification for, ‘The Fast and the Furious 6’. Imagine my surprise as the crowd literally ERUPTED in applause when (spoiler alert) Vin Diesel emerged from the flames, untarnished, at the end of the movie. Seriously?!? This was a surprise to people? A surprise worthy of applause?
- You get a plastic bag with almost everything in Buenos Aires… stick of gum at the convenience store, have a plastic bag! Small bottle of water at the gas station, have a plastic bag! I often deny these environmental disasters only to be met with a concerning stare. Fortunately large grocery stores charge you per plastic bag (so there’s hope).
- We have ruined every septic tank in Argentina. I just can’t get used to the little trashcan next to the toilet.
- Fire code issues now grab my attention constantly… most exit doors open in (instead of out); most apartment buildings require a key to exit (including ours); smoke detectors do not exist. The primary justification: most buildings in BA are made of stone…. hmmmm.
- Ex-girlfriend accidently dropped her apartment keys down the elevator shaft… which means: 1) she couldn’t get back into our apartment; 2) she couldn’t leave the building (see above); so 3) she was stuck sitting in the building foyer for several hours… with our dogs.
- Tango lessons included the “closed embrace”. This amplified the level of difficulty three-fold.
- After two months without it, I got health insurance for the both of us at $2,100 pesos/month (around US $240). It includes everything… everything. I can have a doctor come to my house and give me fake boobs with only a $5 co-pay. I can go to the pharmacy and get just about any drug I want (without a prescription) with only a $5 co-pay. I can see a psychologist every day of the week with only a $5 co-pay (which may be necessary if one more old woman yells at me). All of this… for a measly $120 US dollars per person per month. Eat your heart out US health insurance!
- I managed Unit 1, Lesson 4 of Rosetta Stone… So I’m now fluent.
- A three-hour ferry took us to Uruguay for the Memorial Day weekend. The ride included a 12-minute safety video. 11.5 minutes of the briefing showcased a woman attempting to put on her life vest. Harsh realization sets in: If the ferry springs a leak, 100% of its passengers will drown attempting to fasten their life vests via the 58 step process described in the video. We began drinking heavily. The two lil’ Germans are nestled comfortably beneath our seats in their carry-on cases. They are excellent swimmers so life vests won’t be necessary.
- The ferry includes a giant Duty Free shop piled high with cigarettes, scotch and perfume. It is literally larger than the passenger compartment and is packed with shoppers for the duration. It is one of only two places in the world I have been able to find Grand Old Parr scotch (the other was a gas station in Costa Rica…seriously).
- Montevideo was simply lovely. We’d highly recommend a leisurely weekend there sometime (when you’re in the neighborhood). An old world city with modern infrastructure, it has wonderful people and police dogs reminiscent of the wolves from The Hunger Games.
- Once back in Buenos Aires, the gal and I made our first attempt at an authentic Argentine milonga called, “La Catedral”. The cardinal rule of milongas: Do not run into other dancers! It is really the only rule that people take seriously in this country. We ran into two sets of other dancers. There’s a strong chance we won’t be invited back… to Argentina.
- Headlines read: “All Uruguayan ferry passengers drown, two miniature Dachshunds survive… one is very cold… the other, very hungry.”
- I return home so discover our fantastic new apartment: Totally remodeled modern interior, traditional old-world European exterior, elevator large enough to fit one person carrying a banana.
- We make new American friends and have enjoy Sunday “brunch” (steak, pork and sausages with lots of wine) with them. Bad for learning Spanish… Good for the soul.
- Our new American friends are very well established in BA and invite us to the ArteBA (a local week-long art festival) opening party. We stress about what to wear… Is this the one event in BA that people get dressed up for? …It was not. Quite fun though!
- Joined a $21/month gym in our neighborhood. I’ve worked out at gyms in 15 states and 12 countries across five continents… this gym is the most hazardous, overpopulated, unsanitary facility of them all… BUT… everyone puts their weights back on the rack when they’re done (just kidding… no one puts their weights back when they’re done).
- My favorite treat in the whole wide world: Chocolate chip cookies
- Chocolate chip cookies are not made or sold in Buenos Aires… seriously… Seriously?!?
- I breached Unit 1, Lesson 2 of Rosetta Stone (Latin American Spanish edition). I’ll probably be fluent next week.
- Work beckoned me (yes, I still work) so I hopped a plane to San Francisco… Translation: this week’s blog will be short.
- It is revealed that several mall employees have dubbed me the “five fingers guy”
- Blue dollar hits yet another new record high of $10.5 peso/dollar while I’m away and cannot take advantage (sad face).
- Apparently, I am the only human being to boast Five Fingers shoes while strolling through the ultra chic Patio Bullrich mall…
- After hearing us gripe about the “old women in this town” for several weeks, our 9lbs dog lunges at the only old woman who is actually nice to us… removing flesh from her neck. Ask me how he got to her neck… I dare ya.
- Ex-girlfriend is tasked with moving apartments while I’m gone.
- We will now try to offend everyone in our new neighborhood… Stay tuned.
- While using the urinal at the public restroom in the mall, a woman runs in, clearly sees that she’s in the wrong place (because there’s ummmm… a guy at the freakin urinal!!!), runs into the nearest stall, closes the door and does her business (I confirmed that the women’s restroom next door was in perfect working order and without a line).
- Blue dollar hits new record high, $10.00 pesos/dollar. Now wishing I hadn’t bought them at $8.80.
- The old lady from the floor below yells at us because our “dogs bark all the time… all the time” (Seriously… I can’t make this shit up). Scheming begins: Duct tape her door shut from the outside?
- Tango lessons include “the ocho”. This may be my favorite move because I don’t have to do anything while my partner makes us look good.
- Purchased mate calabash gourds (I can actually feel you going to wikipedia right now to look that up).
- Watched a two minute Youtube video on “how to make mate”. Followed the instructions poorly and, essentially, drank a bunch of ground up hay in boiling water.
- Superclasico (River Plate vs. Boco Juniors) results in a tie. This is considered one of the top 25 sports rivalries on the planet… Which is a big deal when you factor Cal/Stanford, Oxford/Cambridge, Yankees/Red Sox, Navratilova/Evert, Anthony/Roth (ya, that’s bowling), Frazier/Ali, Australia/New Zealand, Michigan/Ohio St., and US/Canada (just kidding, Canada… The US will never beat you at being cold and barren).
- Improved confidence in using the “other” toilet in the bathroom (bidet)
- There are 40,000 taxi drives in BsAs (literally). We end up with the same driver… on the same day… in very different parts of town… several hours apart. We grab his card, just in case.
- Random internet outrage results in mad dash to local coffee shop in time to conduct US client meeting via Skype
- Dinner with our new found friends, Lisa and Nicco, an American/Argentine couple. We learn the entire history of Argentina from Lisa, who happens to have a PhD on the topic.
- First lesson with our new Spanish private tutor (Rosetta Stone ain’t cutting it…yet)
- Painful discovery: Reaching over and flushing the toilet whilst using the bidet will, effectively, kill the cold water source to the bidet… leaving only hot water to nearly burn your gear
- Blue dollar hits a record high, $9.20 pesos/dollar
- Multiple random building power outages occur. No one gets stuck in the elevator (this time)
- Tango lessons include a tango turn… this will take decades to master
- Search for “perfect brown shoes” abandoned. 2nd best pair of brown shoes in Argentina are acquired.
- Restaurant directly beneath our apartment begins making large capital investments with the money received from the “tourists who live upstairs”. Citywide expansion expected shortly.
- Ex is yelled at by old woman in the park for taking the dogs into a dog-free zone
- Continued attempts to find store with “perfect brown shoes” fail despite broadening searches
- First official private tango lesson at DNI tango. The teacher is quietly amazed at how little we know about “all things dance”. The other students in the room are also American, as Argentinian’s are (apparently) born dancing tango and don’t require lessons
- Multiple attempts to unlock iPhones fail. Shitty local phone still works though I doubt we will be able to top up again without assistance from the entire Starbucks staff.
- Attended our first Frinking party (Friday Drinking) with a bunch of other Ex Pats. Got solid advice on Spanish lessons and tango lessons
- Took a field trip to the largest store in BsAs. It is 25% the size of a typical WalMart and boasts no customers wearing pajamas or parents beating their children with wiffle ball bats
- No cooking occurs. Better tea is made. Large quantities of cereal are consumed.
- Ate at least 10 meals at the restaurant directly beneath our apartment
- Yelled at by 5th floor neighbor lady for not properly shutting the elevator door, forcing her to take the dreaded “Service Elevator”. We were not guilty of this, of course, because we almost always take the damn Service Elevator (see 2nd Week)
- Attempts to find store with the “perfect brown shoes” fail
- Attended our first Polo match (South Africa vs. England). Read the rules of Polo on wikipedia 7 minutes prior to the match. Purchased three beers for $5. Cheered for the wrong reasons. Ex-girlfriend asked if we could “stomp the grounds” (per Pretty Woman) during half time but was informed that stomping the grounds was not allowed in Argentina
- Took the yellow topless tour bus for a ride around the city and discover countless cool things to see and do (no toplessness occurred).
- Lovely fall weather prevails (75 degrees or better every day)
- Third attempt to get cell phone service: Long line… long process… no one speaks English. Buy a local phone for $25. Acquire new SIM card (as first one has been cut… See 2nd Week). Insert new SIM into shitty local phone. Voila!! *not sure of the Spanish equivalent to “Voila” (yet).
- SIM Card top up credit acquired from local convenience store. Could not figure out how to top up phone with card as voice instructions are in Spanish. Starbucks cashier, who speaks some English, also cannot figure out how to top up phone. Starbucks barista successfully tops up phone by mashing the keypad with the palm of his hand.
- First club experience (“Boutique”). Bouncers ask if we are “on the list”. We respond with, “sorry, we don’t speak Spanish”. It becomes obvious to the bounces that letting us into the club will be easier than dealing with us
- Stove is fixed. Tea is made (no other cooking occurs)
- Ate at least 12 meals at the restaurant directly beneath our apartment
- Yelled at by 5th floor neighbor lady for leaving a piece of Tupperware filled with water outside of our front door
- Discovered a Starbucks within a block of our apartment (Next to the McDonald’s, of course)
- Second attempt to get cell phone service: Long line… long process… no one speaks English. Acquire a SIM card for our iPhones. Instructed to taxi across town to a different store to have SIM cards “cut” to fit iPhone 5. Return home to discover iPhones must be “unlocked” to work in Argentina
- Attend an English speaking Meet.Up. All other participants speak English as a second language (fluently), making us the only people who do not speak at least two languages
- Discovered the perfect pair of brown leather shoes while window shopping late at night. Committed the store location to drunken memory and swore to return when it reopened
- Heavy rain results in severe flooding in several Buenos Aires neighborhoods
- Discovered that each neighborhood hardware store is equivalent to one aisle of a typical US Home Depot. Light bulbs are in store X, two blocks north of apartment. Screw Drivers are in store Y, two blocks west of apartment. Cleaning products are in store Z, two blocks south of apartment.
- Met Eddie Vedder (and the rest of Pearl Jam) twice in as many days.
- First trip to the grocery store, fruits and vegetables market, liquor store, toilet paper store, and hand soap store
- Yelled at by ground floor neighbor for taking the dogs on the “Regular elevator” instead of the damn “Service elevator”
- Stove in apartment remains broken (no cooking occurs)
- Ate at least 15 meals at the restaurant directly beneath our apartment
- Successful entry into Argentina with 5 large bags, 2 roll-aboards, and 2 stressed miniature Dachshunds
- Dinner and drinks with Ramzi and Lorin who happened to be on their honeymoon (Honeymoon crashers!!)
- All Argentine services (excluding some restaurants) close for a six day Easter weekend
- Cancelled US health insurance
- Bit by a dog on a leash in the park
- Violently ill… fever of 102… in bed for 3 days with another 2 days of mild activity
- Wondering if I got rabies from the dog in the park
- Intestinal issues from a disagreement with the tap water
- Wondering if I should get international medical insurance
- Neighbors complained that our dogs barked for over an hour while we were out
- Initial attempt to get cell phone service with the-only-iPhone-compatible-cell-provider-in-Argentina. Customer line extends out the door and around the block as the company has been closed for six days
- Stove in apartment is broken (no cooking occurs)
- Ate at least 12 meals at the restaurant directly beneath our apartment