Archive for the ‘Buenos Aires (`07)’ Category

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Spanish and Shoes

March 4, 2007

So a week into the program and ummm yup, I still don´t know Spanish. I know more than I did last week, I suppose that’s progress. Truthfully, I was worried about whether or not this Spanish immersion program that I found over internet even existed. I did as much research as possible over the web and saw where people had blogged about their experiences doing the program during their gap year and so forth, but at a certain point you pay your money and just set out on hope that it actually exist. I was incredibly relieved at the airport when there was actually someone to pick me up.  I am in class everyday from 2-6pm. Those four hours Monday-Friday are very humbling as I fumble and attempt to speak Spanish. “No entiendo” are my two new favorite words. I was expecting to be volunteering in hospitals for half a day each day but when I got here I was disappointed to learn that you need to be at a certain level in the school before they will let you go work in the community and I won´t be eligible for that until my 5th week. Unfortunately, at which time I will be in Santiago, Chile and they don´t have hospital volunteer opportunities at the Chile school. I was disappointed when I found that out but after hanging out in the city trying to get things done for a week, I suppose it makes sense that a person needs to be at a certain speaking level before assisting the public.

I live in an apartment with two other young men from the program. One is an 18 year old English “chap” doing a gap year and the other is a 25 year old Polish guy traveling around for 10 months. We make quite an interesting international house. The young Englishman is so proper and gentleman like, while the Polish roommate is a stereotypical huge hairy Eastern European man who walks around the house half naked all the time muttering Kuerva (which apparently means fuck in Polish). We all get along well and its kinda nice living with boys ….. though the weird smells emanating from their rooms and the fact that toilet paper is scarce and used for absolutely everything (ok, see fellas there is toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins…they all serve a separate purpose) reminds me everyday that yes I am indeed the only female around.

My only complaint is that my flat is about 3 miles away from school so it’s quite a bit of walking everyday and I left my sneakers in Trinidad because they got ruined from playing Jouvert (lots of throwing paint and mud). I knew I would need to get some new ones but I figured I could take my time. Well after my feet started bleeding from wearing sandals that weren´t properly broken in on the first day of classes I stopped at a store to buy tennis shoes and ended up buying some adiddas that were the wrong size. Yes I tried them on, but I was tired, frustrated, didn´t really understand what the saleswoman was saying and I just needed some freakin shoes. I thought they felt a little snug when I tried them on, but they were the right size(in number and in theory) so I just took them. Then I had the nerve to wear them out of the store……. so by the time I realized they were tootoo small (about 2 blocks later) they had already been walked in so I can´t return them. 300 pesos down the drain, fucking great. Completely my fault, and at the end of the day it´s just one of those things ya gotta charge it to the game of wandering around the world.

So now large hematomas have developed on the balls of both of my feet (from walking in those stiff sandals for only 2 miles) and the only shoes I have that I can stand to walk in everyday are my Nike flip flops …. but this won’t last long. The weather is changing as their winter is approaching and flip flops have proven not to bode well in rain. Always in travel, the most important part is your bags and your shoes and if it isn’t one giving you trouble its another. I´ll try again next week.

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Buenos Aires:: Love at first Sight

March 1, 2007

I knew I loved Buenos Aires at the airport. After dealing with the drama of the Caracas airport I decided that you can tell a lot about a country from how they treat you at the airport. I followed the directions that the school gave me and the car service was waiting for me just like it was supposed to and even though they didn´t speak English everyone was extremely friendly, cheery, and very polite. One of the things I´ve noticed about the people of BA is that even after it’s understood that you don´t speak Spanish, and they don’t speak English this does not deter them at all from trying to have rather in depth conversations with you. Usually in other countries if there is a language barrier then communication is kept to a minimum. Not here. The people of BA will continue to cheerily have a conversation with you even if you have no clue what the hell they are saying. I like it, its pretty funny actually and I´m sure it will help with my Spanish.

Driving into Buenos Aires from the airport it looks like any city in America. All the lush greenery reminds me of driving on the highways in the South actually. So you are driving along and everything is green, fresh, and pleasant, and then the closer into the city you get you are alarmed by what looks like skyscraper project housing tenements. My heart sank at the sight of row after row of these old decrepit looking buildings. I stopped counting somewhere around 60. Think Good Times or driving along the highways in Chicago in the 80s before they started tearing all the projects down. Where is my quaint charming South American city? Did I mess up and pick a city similar to Naples (the crapiest hellhole I ever spent good money to get to)? At this point I´m thinking Paris of South America? — what a crock! Only if you count the hood part that me and my traveling partner dubbed “Little Africa” near the Sacre Coeur Basillica because Paris seems real white until you get off at this stop and suddenly you are thrust into the midst of hair weave shops and KFC and ahoy Black folks!  All the white toursist who got off the subway with us were suddenly so confused and a bit frightened. For us it was mancha because we could restock on hair care products. Sadly it´s a situation worldwide that where Blacks are the living conditions are pretty awful. I know why the Black youth of Paris were setting the city on fire two weeks later…. where was I? Rather telling that Blacks are concentrated in ghettos all over the world…..I digress.

… As we turned into the city and I was dropped off at my hostel, suddenly the view improved, and it did look Parishish I would say.

Previous to arriving here I´ve read that Buenos Aires is the kind of place that you fall in love with little by little. For me it was love at first sight despite that there are many places that look as if they are crumbling to the ground…. a lot of those same places exist in any old European city as well.   BA is not the kind of place that is beautiful from above, you have to walk the streets the appreciate the beauty.  That first night after I finally got some sleep I was walking around looking for somewhere to get something to eat and my heart skipped a beat. That’s how I knew it was love. I can´t even really explain why. This city has a European flavor, but with less of the snotty attitude and everyone is brown (kinda) which makes me feel more comfortable because I stick out just a teeny tiny bit less.  It´s a city that everyone seems to fall in love with, yet noone seems sure why. It´s a major metropolitan city with millions of people squashed ontop of one another so you have typical big city problems, trash, noisy, there are a lot of things that are old and falling apart, the constant sound of bus breaks squealing and taxis honking, yet there is a certain charm about this place that grabs ahold of your heart and holds on for dear life. They might have to kick me out of the city kicking and screaming.

I attend Spanish classes with a program called ECELA in the Recoleta district and I live in Palermo. If Buenos Aires can be compared to Paris then they must be referring to about 6 square blocks in Recoleta where the architecture reminds you of Paris. Recoleta is the she-she-fa-fa part of town with all the high end European designer stores in it. The rest of the city looks more like the different boroughs of New York. Palermo is the largest barrio (neighborhood) of BA and from what I have seen so far it seems to vary in style from old and crumbling to very modern Sohoish. Buenos Aires seems to be obsessed with contemporary/modern design. I live in what from the outside looks like a very decrepit tenement building surrounded by quaint modern townhouses and smaller apartment buildings. The outside of my building is quite deceiving seeing how the inside is pretty luxurious from a traveling student standpoint.  We have cable, broadband (yet no computer), and a washer and dryer. I was worried about my living conditions but I am more than content.

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Caracas Venezuela:: When saving $400 dollars almost gets you put in airport jail.

February 27, 2007

So on friday I set out for what I knew was going to be a sorrowful 4 flight, 4 country, 16 hour journey from Trinidad to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Let me first start off by saying that when I was buying these tickets in October I discovered an odd truth ….. it would be much easier and cheaper for me to get to BA from Kansas City, MO than from Port of Spain, Trinidad… which is located directly off the coast of Venezuela and is geographically about halfway between home and Argentina. Why do you ask? That I am still not quite certain of. Maybe there is no demand for people from Trinidad to get to South America even though they are right next to each other so airlines don´t have many routes from Trinidad to SA. Which I know can´t be entirely true because the last time I came to Carnival I came through Caracas Venezuela. At any rate, when I was buying tickets the Trinidad— BA leg was proving to be very difficult, so me and my equally creative travel agent came up with what we thought would be a trying yet workable and affordable alternative. From Trinidad I would take a 45 minute flight to Margarita Island, Venezuela where I would then take another 45 min flight to Caracas, Venezuela, where I would take a 2 hour flight to Bogota, Columbia where I would then take a 6 hour flight to BA, Argentina and voila! ……. but that would only work if everything went off without a hitch but I thought I had enough layover time in between everything in case something went wrong. Think again lady.

When I arrived in Caracas after my second flight I had 3 1/2 hours between flights. I did as my travel agent had instructed previously, collected my baggage and then looked around for the carrier of my next flight Aerolineas Argentina. Hmmmm, looking, looking…….. pacing, pacing… I saw many airlines, but no Aerolineas Argentina. So I tried asking people at various ticket counters, they all just looked at me like ¨look you non Spanish speaking freak of fucking nature there is no Aerolineas airline here and get the hell out of my country!¨, which I can´t really blame them we treat Spanish speakers no different in the US and Venezuela isn´t really our best friend right now (damn Geoge Duubuya!!) so I start to majorly sweat at this point. I have in my hand a ticket for an airline that doesn´t seem to exist. Then I saw a sign that said International somethingsomething with an arrow pointing to another building, apperantly all the international flights fly out of another building in the airport and I was in the domestic part since I flew from Margarita Island to Caracas. By now an hour has gone by……. still have plenty of time. So me and my luggage roll down the sidewalk about a half a mile to the international building. Hmmm, I see American Airlines, I see Air France, I see Continental, I see Delta Airlines…… still no Aerolineas Argentina. So I ask around and still noone seems to have a clue what the hell I´m talking about (you would think that they would speak English at Continental or American Airlines, but ummm no, not in Caracas) and it took some more hard core investigative work but I finally found the tiny tiny Aerolineas Argentina desk. Whew! With still an hour and a half to spare.

Home free? Nope not hardly. So I am checking in with the ticket guy and he gives me my boarding pass, and then writes ¨$61 USD¨ on a scrap piece of paper, rattles off something in spanish and nods me toward some man in the corner. Umm ok? So through another ticket counter person who spoke a tiny bit of English the man in the corner told me that I had to pay a departure tax of $61 US dollars. Ummm departure tax? But I am in transit…….. how could I owe a departure tax? So as I am trying to discuss this in a ass backwards psuedo Spanish way with the people atthe airline and then they write down on a piece of paper $61 USD $132 USD. Ummm did the departure tax just double in the past 20 seconds? So at this point I am trying to figure out if this is a real fee or if this is some airport bribery/take advantage of the foreigner who can´t speak the language Nigerian style type stuff. I only had an hour before my flight left and only $40 US in cash and about $10 US worth of TT (Trinidad currency) and so I decided to just go to the ATM and get out the Venezualan equivalent of $61 dollars and chalk it up as a lost so that I can make the flight. …………. Long story short, I go to 10 different ATMs in the airport, all with different banks and none of them are recognizing my debit card. O and did I mention that they couldn´t take credit cards at the airline counter? O yea thats a wonderfully fun fact. So after 30 minutes of pure frustration at the ATM I go back to the desk not sure what my next course of action will be. The best plan I could come up with would be to go to the internet cafe in the airport, look up the nearest Citibank ATM and hop in a cab and pray that it would work. But there was no time for that. ……and if at this point you are wondering why I don´t use travellers cheques… they wouldn´t have helped in this situation either because there was no where to cash them. The Friday´s in the Caracas airport wouldn´t even accept them, (nor would they swipe my credit or debit card and give me cash for it but that was a long shot anyway). So walking back to the counter the only plan I could come up with was to offer them the $40 USD that I did have and just beg, plead, and cry if necessary. My worst fear of missing this flight and then having to come out of my pocket $700 bucks was just not an option.

Well when I arrived back at the desk there were two Chliean men having the exact same problem and one of them spoke English very well. He sympathized with my stressed out face and told me to just pretend that we were all traveling together and to just stay quiet and let me do the talking. So I did. Through translation of the arguements the Chilean man (Robert) said something to me about airport jail, and then he turned to me and asked me “do you pray?” and I said yes and he replied “well I think its about time we start doing so because we are running out of options”. So I did. At a point I even tried to cry because the men seemed to get more helpful the more distressed I looked……. but I was so dehydrated that my tear ducts would not cooperate. Finally, about an hour later, after several heated discussions with the airport authority, the venezuelan tax authority and customs …… they just let us go. I think they just got tired. We only made the flight because it was delayed for an hour and half …….. good ole Caracas.

What I figured later is this, while technically I was still in transit (so in my mind I wouldn´t have had to pay a departure tax)…… since the second leg of the trip was a domestic flight (from Porlamalar Venezuela to Caracas Venezuela) they considered that ¨leaving the airport¨because I had to collect my baggage and walk over to the international side in order to check in with Aerolineas. Even though I was still technically in transit when I went through customs on Margarita Island (which is absolutely gorgeous by the way) and then checked in for my flight to Caracas it was considered ¨leaving the airport” because I went through customs….. but its not like I had a choice. Damn me and my funky flight plan.

Lesson Learned:: Dont spend a Quarter trying to save a dime. Though I didn´t end up paying, the emotional stress during those 3 hours was enough to make me look for another alternative. Other lesson? Carry more US dollars on me when travelling through SA….. people love it here.

Let me say it one more time…….. I HATE Caracas Venezuela. I knew that before, but my hate for the city, or more aptly that airport is on a whole new level now.

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Fuck the world I got here!

February 24, 2007

I am in fucking Buenos Aires Argentina……. I damn near walked on fire to get my black ass here but I am here.  Recovering from some sort of bronchial sickness I developed during Carnival (such a sad sad story), tired as hell, with stunted access to my cash, almost got put in Venezuelan airport jail……………… but fuck the world and all the reasons why I shouldn´t have made it because my sunburnt/samoan lookalike self is here and in effect.

Carnival summary and SA updates to come after I catch some ZZ´s. 

::Note to the people::  Nobody speaks English in South America….. I mean nobody. 

I mean damn, the whole point of me being here is to learn….. can a girl just get through the airport? …… I swear every time I do some nonsense like this it just lets me know that I can do anything.  …… Or that there is no expiration to my utter and total foolishness.  You pick