TORONTO
Feb 26 - Apartment Hunting in Buenos Aires

After finding an apartment in Hong Kong, I thought I would be a pro at this. But the system in Buenos Aires is different. Instead of having tons of serviced apartment buildings mostly advertising for themselves, Buenos Aires has mostly individual offshore investors who own single apartments. The apartments are consolidated onto a bunch of websites through third party suppliers. In other words, there's someone else in the mix who can screw you.

Another problem with this system is that it seems like it'd be difficult to actually see the apartment before deciding to rent because you really can't find them without the websites.

The websites all seem to more or less link to the same pool of apartments. So as well as finding a nice place to live, you want to find a reputable company. I don't know how to find a reputable company--but I figure if they have a decent website, they're actually trying to maintain a decent business. I ended up renting from Casa San Telmo. I'll report later how it all went.

The furnished short term apartments start from around C$600 for a small one bedroom. After shuffling through a bazillion choices, I picked for a place that looks pretty cool from the pictures, called "San Telmo 8.5" or "Ocho Punto Cinco" after the alcohol content of some local beer. Nice! It did have a heftier price tag at $1250 a month. It's filled with framed Spanish posters and has a real Argentine feel to it--or at least what I want Argentina to feel like. The apartment even has its own website and youtube video--how can I go wrong?

BUENOS AIRES
May 13 - UPDATE: Tips on Apartments

1. The websites that find the apartments for you take about 20% of the rent payment each month. And in my case, they didn't do anything more than put me in contact with the owner, so paying this extra amount every month seems a bit excessive. So I would try renting a place for a month, and if you like it, try to contact the owner directly and see if you can renew with a 20% haircut on the rent. The owner will get the same amount as if they had found someone through the website.

2. Make sure you don't live on a busy bus corridor. Wow, the buses here are unbelieveable loud. Like jet planes wooshing down the street. My private Spanish teacher had a place facing Chacabuco, and it was soooo noisy, I had troubles hearing him speak.

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10.03.23 FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Wow, I love this place! When I opened the door to the building, it's like I was given my own private street. Along the side of the street were my neighbours with their potted plants and the smell of cooking in the air. Climbing a regal set of marble steps, I made it to my new apartment.

It pretty much looks like the photos with 20' ceilings and nice wood furniture. It has a very cool feel to it. The master bedroom is the heart of the apartment, and its 3 sets of tall wood doors add flourish. One thing that surprised me was that there's a huge window in the middle of the apartment that gives tons of light. I couldn't see that in the photos. The windows lead to a courtyard in the middle of the building that you can see clearly when you look at the building on a satellite map from Google.

Everything is great--I'm looking forward to living in it and exploring the city.

MENDOZA
Mar 4 - Finally Made It!

Subway, bus, plane, bus, minibus, subte, subte, overnight bus, taxi--and 35 hours later I'm finally in Mendoza. Stinky, sweaty, and my mouth feeling like a petri dish. Oh the joys of traveling!

I had to change plans to fly to Buenos Aires instead of Santiago because of the awful earthquake that happened there on the weekend. That meant that I didn't get a ride through the Andes (boo!), but instead rode 14 hours by bus through miles and miles of boring plains (boo!).

My friend David, from SFO, who I'm traveling with for the next while also had to rejig his plans. He actually arrived in Santiago 2 hours before the earthquake hit. He told me about the stressful moments as he parked himself under a door frame as plaster fell and glass shattered. He said that when he made himself to the street, it was a strange mix of confusion, terror, and glee.

But the good news is that he's okay and I'm now in Argentina! Olé!

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NUMBERS 10.03.04 ARGENTINA
ATM rate: C$1 = 3.55P
airport fee, Buenos Aires: 271P
Manuel Tienda bus, EZE to Retiro: 50P
- time: 40 minutes
subte ticket: 1.1P
bus, semi-cama, BsAs to Mendoza: 205P
- time: 14 hours
taxi, Mendoza stn to Oasis Hostel: 8P

MENDOZA - VENDIMIA 2010
Mar 5 - Looking for Reinas

Every year at the end of the grape harvest season, Mendoza throws a huge party called Vendimia. It revolves around a beauty pageant with chiquitas from all around the region vying for the crown of "reina" (queen). The whole city is plastered with posters for each of the contestants--like an important election or something. Are the queens actually elected? I'm not sure, but they sure do do a lot of advertising!

On Friday, the downtown area filled with what seemed to be the entire city. David and I ran through the crowd trying to catch melons and oranges being thrown from the floats. Each float had one of the contestants and her entourage waving to the crowd. David preferred the girl who looked like a porn star slut, I was a bit more conservative and cheered for the pretty girl from Malargüe. But we both agreed that the Rey of Vendimia was the guy at the back of the IAPG Petroleo y Gas float. Um...hot.

As we walked back to our hostel, there were children and their parents playing along grass lawns waiting for a bus until the early hours of the morning. The festival is definitely a fun way to see the locals doing their thing.

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NUMBERS 10.03.05 ARGENTINA
bus, seat, Buenos Aires - Córdoba: 205P
Oasis Hostel Mendoza privt: 75P / night

REVIEW: OASIS HOSTEL
I had the private room here. Cute little hostel--very homey. The owners were really friendly and helpful with getting around. They had a parilla bbq night for about 40 pesos and the food was delicious. They had free wifi and internet. The breakfast kind of sucked with basically juice, biscuits and jam. It was a bit noisy at night because of the traffic along the front street. The location is a bit out of the centre of Mendoza and we had to walk 15 minutes to get to the core and another 10 minutes to hit the Villanueva area.

MENDOZA
Mar 6 - Wine Tours and Discos

Mendoza is a pretty happening city. And I don't think it's just because of the festival. We did a tour of the Villanueva area which is chock full of bars with tons of outdoor cafe seating and it was packed to the gills after 2am. The city is very green with many streets covered by canopies of leafy branches. There's also lots of tree-lined squares and parks in the city's core. It's quite cute. Now if they could only figure a way to stop me from stumbling into those damn drainage ditches while I'm drunk, it'd be perfect!

Today we did a tour of the wine country around Mendoza. Malbec wine is grown around here where there is sunshine all year long. We took a local bus to Mr Hugo's bike emporium. After some wine (a common theme throughout our ride), we pedaled on our way. It was a fun ride. Perfect weather. Great scenery. Good company.

We stopped at a few of the bodegas (wineries) for tastings and lunch--awesome lunch at Familia di Tommaso with the vineyard backdrop. Our final stop was at a place serving absinthe--I tried a sip and felt the burn, David polished off the shot like a trooper. We wobbled our bikes back down the path to Mr Hugo and ended our tour just as we began it. With a glass of wine. Salud!

A lot of stores here shut down during their "siesta" in the middle of the day from around 2pm to 6pm. When in Rome...so we did a lot of siestas. You really need to to be able to stay awake for the nightlife. People in Argentina don't eat dinner until after 10pm. And then they will have drinks and go to the bars around 2am. We're now in our own weird time zone.

In the evening we headed down to Queen Disco. It's all about the queens here! It started getting busy around 2am and then filled up quickly--they legally can't let people in after 2:30am in Mendoza. Lots of fun. Lots of shows. Cheap vodka-redbulls. Awesome!

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NUMBERS 10.03.06 ARGENTINA
Mr Hugo's bike rental: 30P
lunch for 2, Familia di Tomasso: 130P
wine tastings: 10P - 15P
cover, Queen Disco (+1 drink): 30P
drink, 4oz + redbull: 35P (15P with cover)

MENDOZA - VENDIMIA 2010
Mar 7 - Close Encounters of the Argentinian Kind

Yesterday night they crowned the queen of Vendimia at the amphitheatre Frank Romero Day. We missed it because we had a busy day on the bike tour. But it looked like they evacuated everyone from the city. Weird because it had been so busy other days.

So today we decided to catch a cab up to the amphitheatre and check out the Night of Folklore--it´s advertised as a Broadway sort of production and it was pretty damn impressive. The amphitheatre is cradled in some hills which reminded me of the scene where they find the hidden research base on Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Tickets for the amphitheatre were sold out but many locals gathered around the edges like a curious hill tribe. We found a couple of spots on the hill and watched the show. It was pretty spectacular--I couldn´t believe how many people were performing. There were fireworks, a scintillating stage, and a Spanish storyline that we couldn´t quite catch.

Overall the Vendimia event didn´t disappoint. The locals really know how to throw a party!

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NUMBERS 10.03.07 ARGENTINA
McDonald's "McWine" meal: 28P
Watching Vendimia from hill: free!
lunch for 2, Familia di Tomasso: 130P

CÓRDOBA
Mar 11 - Buses and Hostels

I'm now sitting on an 11 hour bus ride to Buenos Aires. My last destination for a while. Bus travel in Argentina is pretty easy. Since everyone uses the bus to get around, it's evolved to something better than that Greyhound crap we have at home. Even the cheapest bus option here lets you recline to a decent sleeping angle. The full bed option let me lay back completely, although the seat was bit short, and whoever thought of putting pleather on the seats should be shot.

The hostels in Argentina have been good too. I like that hostels give you a chance to meet other people--something that's hard to do when you stay at a hotel. And I really like when they do some activity for the guests. We did one parilla / bbq night and one empanada night. Both had tasty food and let us chatter with other backpackers. They're generally a fun crew of people.

We spent the last couple of days in Córdoba. It's not that interesting of a city for tourists. There are a few churches and some street life to see. Plus we tried some of the local specialities like Fernet & Cola--a nasty little alcoholic drink that tastes like bitter root beer. And Yerba Mate, a traditional herbal tea that is shared with friends and passed around the table like a bong. It was pretty strong tea, but had a very nice taste. Later on, I found that Starbucks serves a really tasty version called the Mate Latte. Yum!

 

 

 

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NUMBERS 10.03.11 ARGENTINA
bus, seat, Buenos Aires - Córdoba: 205P
bus, bed, Mendoza - Córdoba: 185P
bus, seat, Córdoba - Buenos Aires: 130P
Oasis Hostel Mendoza privt: 75P / night
Palenque Host Córdoba privt: 65P / night
America del Sur BsAs bunk: 40P / night

REVIEW: PALENQUE HOSTEL
I had the private room here too. The room went really funky in the afternoon when the light would shine through the shades and turn the whole room orange. The hostel is in a older building with marble floors and wood framing. It really put a nice mood on the place. One problem here is that there is only 3 washrooms and 2 showers for the whole place, which meant that there was always a wait. Free wifi and internet. Again, that same crappy breakfast we had at the Mendoza hostel, of tang, biscuits and jam. Ugh. It was in a good location close to the pedestrian mall, and a grocery store right beside helped round out the breakfast. Emapanada night was delish.

BUENOS AIRES
Mar 13 - Bird Poop Scam and Counterfeit Money

So today I was moving from the hostel to the Axel Hotel. They are only about 4 blocks away from eachother, so I walked over. I had my bags with me which is just a big backpack, a small backpack, and a little tiny laundry bag of clothes. So my hands were pretty much full.

I was standing waiting for my friend in the street and a middle-age man walked by me and something splattered on my back. He looked up in the sky and snickered a bit because a bird had just pooped on me. A little older lady with a kind smile suddenly appeared beside me and offered to clean it off. Well, luckily I had already read about the Bird Poop Scam. I walked away quickly from her and made it to my hotel to clean off the mustard they had sprayed on me. Bastards.

So to everyone reading my blog. Beward of anyone who offers to help clean bird poop...or ketchup...or any gross stuff off you. It's a scam.

Speaking of scams, a fellow backpacker also showed me a counterfeit Argentinian twenty peso note she was given. See the picture I took in the sidebar--the counterfeit was pretty real-looking complete with watermarks. To spot the counterfeit, the easiest way is to check the security stripe. The counterfeit on the bottom does not have lettering along the stripe.

UPDATE: I've always had a wariness of cab drivers. In Buenos Aires, generally they're pretty good. I was taking lots of cabs and didn't have many problems. My friend did get screwed coming from the airport, where a rogue cabbie got him to pay a lot more than normal. And another cab who picked me up at the Caminito had a meter that went twice as fast as normal...something you wouldn't know unless you already have a sense of prices. Even after I caught him, he denied his meter was fast--lesson here would be don't catch a cab that is only picking up at a touristy spot, try to find one that has just dropped someone off.

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NUMBERS 10.03.13 ARGENTINA
bus, seat, Córdoba - Buenos Aires: 130P
America del Sur BsAs bunk: 40P / night

REVIEW: AMERICA DEL SUR HOSTEL
Wow, I was pretty impressed with this hostel. It's basically a hotel that has room sharing. Super clean and nice showers. Free wifi. The drawbacks is that since it's a big place, it starts to get some of the disadvantages of the hotels--like impersonal service and difficulty in meeting other travelers. Some of the backpackers in my room complained that it was too "sterile". I was fine with the sterility! Another problem is that they have music going almost 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and it just funnels up the courtyard into the bedrooms. So it would be bad for light sleepers. My breakfast was corn flakes in pink yogurt covered wtih fruit cocktail. Mmmm, breakfast of champions! But there is an AWESOME take out counter at the NE corner of Mexico and Piedras--cheap and delicious steaks.

BUENOS AIRES
Mar 15 - Weekend at the Axel Hotel

Complementary earplugs...when a hotel offers complementary earplugs with its toiletries, you know that there is some real shit going on there.

I just spent the last few days at the Axel Hotel. It's an upscale gay hotel chain that also has locations in Berlin, Barcelona, and New York. The rooms are funky, the breakfast chorizo is delicious, and you can see guys swimming in the glass-bottomed swimming pool all the way from the lobby. Seriously cool.

But the people in Buenos Aires are like vampires--they must sleep in the day and feed at night. We wouldn't even eat dinner until around midnight. At one dinner place (Inside Resto-Bar) they were curling a lady-patron's long hair, and let's just say that it wasn't with a curler. And the word "pimienta" will never have the same meaning again.

We danced in a gigantic old building at least six stories high inside with a giant screen from top to bottom (Palacio Alsina). We danced in a place that reminded me of a high school gym untastefully decorated with crayon drawings of yoga (Flux). We danced at a club at the edge of civilization where the hotties were plentiful but the cabs were few (Human @ Mandarine). And we danced at our snazzy Axel Hotel pool party with the impossibly beautiful people (rent -a-crowd?) of BsAs. Lots of fun times and good memories.

Oh and no I didn't use the earplugs. But an eye mask would have definitely come in handy.

 

 

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REVIEW: AXEL HOTEL BUENOS AIRES
Really cool hotel. I scored a good deal on Agoda.com for about $100 a night. Maybe it's because it's the shoulder season as the rooms seem to normally go for at least twice that. The one drawback is the location in the middle of the "rough" side of San Telmo.

From the lobby you can see all the way to the glass-bottomed wading pool at the top of the hotel. The gym is also beside the pool which makes it a hot humid workout. But with the pool and rain showers nearby, it's easy enough to cool off. At the back of the hotel is a big lawn and pool. Every Sunday there's a big pool party here from about 6pm to later. Fun party with DJ, disco lights, and if anyone is a bit randy, they can do some pole dancing in one of the 5 glass cabinet showers around the pool. Hot!

I had an upgraded room with a view of the pool. The room had a glass shower as the centrepiece--you could have your own shower scene with your partner every morning! Fun! There was free wifi in the room. The breakfast was really delicious had a bit of variety and was complete with hot staff serving the coffee. The guests at the hotel seemed to mostly be white Americans and Germans in their 30s and 40s. Good looking crowd. I would definitely recommend staying!

BUENOS AIRES
Mar 16 - Gym Hunting in Buenos Aires

Before I came to Buenos Aires, I was a bit bored and I spent an afternoon plotting all the gyms on a google map. You can take a look at Gyms in Buenos Aires in a larger map.



I visited a few of these gyms over the last few days and got some quotes. It was kind of difficult because I had to speak Spanish and I couldn't understand a lot of the stuff they were saying. And I had to keep asking them to repeat themselves. It helps to keep smiling even when they're not.

One interesting thing here is that some gyms require that you get a medical certificate from a doctor before you can start using the gym.

I settled with a deal given to me by a really patient lady at SportClub Diagonal Norte. I've never considered it before, but she suggested that I get a 1 year membership at the lower rate, and then cancel and eat the 2 month penalty. It actually ended up cheaper than the regular rates and gives me a bit of flexibility. Plus paying the annual rate also gives me access to the rest of the SportClubs. I also visited SportClub Ceccina and they had the same prices, except they required the medical for an extra $40.

City Gym had really good rates. But I wanted something a bit more glamorous. Megatlon's Center location was also cheaper, but it only gave access to one gym and the gym wasn't laid out very well.

GYMNASIO SIGNUP FEE 1 MONTH

SportClub monthly rates

$30
$290
SportClub annual rate (+ cancel $290)
$30
$145
City Gym
$0
$100
Megatlon Center
$0
$220

Apr 14 - UPDATE: Getting an ECG at the Gym

So I ended up needing to get a medical exam before I continued at the gym. I guess my Spanish was a bit off. I was sent to the Ceccina location where I went deep into the bowels to the medical office to see the doctor. Poor guy--he's stuck in a tiny windowless room all day.

So he just quickly asked a few questions about my health and medical history (he really just skimmed the questions because he didn't seem to want to bother explaining it all to me slowly in Spanish). He then took my blood pressure. Normal--I was a bit surprised considering that I've been gorging on the generally over-salted Argentinian food. Then he listened to me breathe through his stethescope. Then he made me lie down and attached about 10 electrode things to my body--WTF?! He said he was doing an ECG--wasn't expecting that. Anyways, it was all pretty quick and easy. And cost 30 pesos.

And another thing to note is that all the gyms are closed on Sundays. And none of them have a water fountain...grrrr...

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NUMBERS 10.03.16 BUENOS AIRES
SIM card from Claro store: 9.90P

BUENOS AIRES
Mar 20 - Foam Party. Amerika. Crazy.

Ho...ly......shat! I have never been to a foam party before. We had just arrived at Amerika and at about 4am, a flashfood of foam started falling 30 feet from the ceiling. Like 8 feet of foam at the middle of the dance floor. I thought I was going to die when I was caught in there and couldn't breathe. It was fucking awesome!

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NUMBERS 10.03.19 BUENOS AIRES
all you can drink, Sitges: 30P
cover, Amerika: 50P
cover + 1 drnk, Human @ Mandarine: 40P
cab, San Telmo to Mandarine: 42P

LEARNING SPANISH - PART 1 ==> SEE PART 2
Mar 23 - Finding a Spanish School in Buenos Aires

The Spanish in Buenos Aires is pretty difficult to understand. They drop the "s" in the middle of words if it comes before another consonant. And they pronounce the "ll" as "sh". When they get going quickly, I have no clue what they're saying. It was a reason why I was originally intended to stay in Buenos Aires only a month. But once I got here, I remembered how fantastic the city is. So I'm going to try to work through this crazy accent and stay around here for a few months.

Google Maps is really useful when you're settling down in a new area and figuring out where everything is. You've already seen the map of the gyms above--here's the map of the Spanish schools. Now overlay these two maps with the map of the subte system, and it's a cinch to figure out where to live!



I was leaning a bit towards Enforex because they have a sister school in Spain where I can continue studying later this year. Plus the building they are in is gorgeous (it's actually strange how you can see places like Burger King in really beautiful buildings here). But my friend David was pushing for the cheaper option at Ibero--20 hours for US$100 a week, good deal!

So we started our class at Ibero on Monday, with a 20 minute placement test. Knowing my past tense pretty well, and being shaky with my subjuntivo tense put me in Intermediate 2 where they begin with the subjuntivo tense. The class was quite small, only 6 people, and the teacher was good. It's a full 4 hours of class a day, but it went by quickly.

To keep me a bit more focussed, I'm planning to take the DELE spanish proficiency test in May. More on that later.

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USEFUL SPANISH PHRASES:

El lugar estaba en la concha de la lora:
This is Argentinian slang that means some place you went to was way the hell far away. If you translate literally, it means that you were in the shell of the (female) parrot--I'll let you translate that one. Haha!

El lugar estaba en la loma del orto / el culo del mundo:
As an alternative to mentioning any parts of a parrot, you can say that the place was at the peak of the ass, or possibly even in the ass of the entire world!

Cojí el colectivo: This means "I took the bus". Hmm...I wonder why people laugh at me when I say this?

LEARNING GUITAR - PART 1 ==> SEE PART 2
Mar 24 - Stomach Problems and Guitar Lessons

Today is a national holiday in Argentina. It's Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice...definitely makes our Family Day sound dull. This day marks the day of the coup d'état that put a brutal military dictatorship into power in 1976. There's a sad story of tens of thousands of Argentinians gone missing during this time, still without explanation. Mothers of the victims still gather at the Plaza de Mayo every week to call out the names of their kids.

For me a bit less serious. I spent the day recovering from stomach problems. I'm pretty sure it was from dinner last night. I went for "chifa"--it's a combination between Chinese and Peruvian food. So there was "chau fa" stir-fried rice with red and green peppers in it, and a grilled chicken breast with salad. It was a tasty fusion, but I guess there was something "extra" in there for me.

I also started my guitar lessons tonight. I found my guitar teacher, Raul, through Craigslist--he even has his own set of videos.

I've always wanted to play the guitar since the night I was with a bunch of backpackers sitting in the middle of the central square in Prague. They were passing the guitar around and each person would start to play their own song, their own style. The music in the square really created a fantastic night.

Anyways, the guitar session went well. I started with some strumming exercises, then learned a couple of chords, A and D. I'm probably going to be taking lessons a couple of times a week while I'm here. Tomorrow I'm going to try shopping for a guitar at the shops around Sarmiento and Uruguay--with my broken Spanish it should be interesting...

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NUMBERS 10.03.24 BUENOS AIRES
chifa dinner for 2: 60P
10 hours private guitar lessons: 450P
cheap acoustic guitar, Gracia M2: 390P
cheap guitar tuner, Joyo JT20: 50P
cheap guitar case: 30P
capo: 45P
foot stand: 50P

BUENOS AIRES
Mar 29 - Dog Poop

One good thing about Buenos Aires is there aren't the stray dogs that you normally see around South America. I remember when I was in Peru, Bolivia and Chile, there were packs of dogs wandering around, even growling if you got close. In Santiago, they even surround and threaten cars!

But in Buenos Aires, although there are a few strays here and there, most dogs seem to have owners. Porteños really love their dogs! But I must say that the owners really need to start picking up their dog's poop! Or maybe there's a dog poop fairy I don't know about.

I love the dog on the motorcycle. I couldn't believe it was sitting there so nicely waiting for its owner. I tried a Photoshop effect to make it look like a Lomo photograph. Kinda neat look--the metal and leather almost look obscene!

lomo photo dog on motorcycle

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