Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Everyone is here!

Kathy and Brock arrived in BA yesterday and now we are ALL here together!

Last night we went to a dinner-tango show that was incredibly entertaining. Today we are going to eat lunch at La Cocina - which has the best empanadas in the city. Then we are going to head to the Recoleta Cemetary to explore for awhile.

Patty and Terry are leaving today, which is sad, but they are exhausted from walking around and I think they're ready for their own bed.

Afternoon mate with facturas and chipitas

In Puerto Madero before the tango show. We clean up nice!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Our Minds = Blown

Nothing I say and no pictures or videos we put up will ever do Iguazu Falls any of the justice it deserves. Firstly, the national park itself is incredibly well-maintained and easy to move throughout. The lookout points are INSANE! The walkways go right over the top of the falls so you can watch millions upon millions of gallons of water fall over the edge and crash onto the river below. The videos cannot capture the mind-boggling size of the falls. Our pictures might provide a better scale than the videos, but not by much. It takes you almost 45 minutes to walk from one side of the falls to the other side. 
This was truly an amazing trip and something we will remember for a lifetime. There are two videos below to give you a taste, but we took many more pictures and videos that we will upload to facebook at a later date.
The first video is at the top of the Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat). It's a giant horseshoe shaped waterfall that is the border between Argentina and Brazil. The sheer force and quantity of water rolling over the edge prevents you from even seeing the bottom of the waterfall because it is obscured by mist. We could see the mist rising from Garganta del Diablo from the plane.  It is definitely the most impressive waterfall. 

The second video is from a view point at the other edge which allows you to see the entirety of Iguazu Falls. As you can see, the falls are so big, you can barely see the other side. From here, you can only see the mist coming from the Garganta del Diablo. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Finally some familiar faces!

Patty and Terry arrived to Buenos Aires this afternoon, and WOW! We haven't seen friends or family from back home since April (about 8 months), and it is AWESOME!

We had a fantastic steak dinner at one of our favorite restaurants this evening. Tomorrow we head to Iguazu Falls to marvel at one of the 7 (new) Natural Wonders of the World. We will attempt to post some pictures this week, but we're not making any promises because we might be too busy having fun.

Our 2.5 month vacation has officially begun, and we plan on soaking up every single minute of it.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The True Story of Life in BA

Dear loyal readers:

We first want to say this adventure has been exactly that.  An adventure.  And as with any good adventure there are times of monumental highs, disparaging  lows, head scratching moments, times of complete awe, and lots of chances to reflect on everything from here to there.  This adventure's premise was not only to escape the U.S. for a time, but to expand our horizons, our cultural field of vision, and do something unique and special together while we have the freedom to do so.  In our estimation, now that we are coming to a close, this adventure has fulfilled, if not exceeded expectations.  BUT, we would like to take a moment to clear the air a bit.

We are under the impression that some of you back home are thinking that we have been lapping it up in a life of luxury, getting asked at times, "So how's paradise?"  I think we can both agree that living and working in this concrete jungle is far from what we consider to be paradise.  In face, life here has been one of the hardest things we've ever done.  Not only were we away from family and friends, but daily survival turned out to be, at times, our greatest challenge.  The nature of this post is to give a more realistic perspective about the challenges we've faced while living here, so you can better understand the real adventure we've had.

First things first. We haven’t been on vacation for the last 7 months. We’ve been working full time. Yes, we’re doing it in another country while simultaneously struggling to learn the language – but it’s still work. We have to wake up early, deal with bosses and office staff and people we may not like, commute, go to bed at a reasonable hour, and pay rent. It’s far from what we would consider a vacation.

Many people have commented on how thin we have become, and we joke that “it’s because we’re not eating, haha!” But the reality is, we walk 3-4 miles at least everyday for work…and we only eat one true meal a day. Not because we have a distorted body image or a crazy idea about how to lose weight, but because we have literally had no money to be able to afford to buy things for lunch. Our breakfast consists of two hard-boiled eggs and maybe a couple slices of ham. Lunch, made at home or bought on-the-go, is completely out of the budget.  Once in awhile we will have a salad or there will be leftover dinner, or I’ll buy a chipa on the street for $2.50 - and it’s amazing how full we get now! We decided that we would sacrifice lunch in order to have a big, healthy dinner. We invest more money in lots of meat and vegetables in the evening (and the occasional big bottle of wine or an alfajore). It’s somewhat of a harsh reality we faced as soon as we started working, and it’s just something we’ve adjusted to in order make ends meet.

We’re illegal immigrants. We could get deported and crossing the border always makes you a little nervous because you have to say you are just a tourist – even though your passport says you’ve only crossed the border between Argentina and Uruguay every 3 months. Yes, we have legitimate jobs with accredited language institutes. However, they pay us in cash and use some tax loopholes in order to make it “legitimate” for the institute. Because we are only on a tourist visa, many things here are inaccessible for us or more expensive. We can’t get a local price for our apartment – we’re charged a tourist/foreigner/English speaker price, which (in our opinion) is outrageously overpriced. We also can’t open a bank account, because we are “tourists” and “not working.”

We’ve learned a little bit about how the economy and the government works here as well. Argentina had the equivalent of the Great Depression in 2001 – everything crashed and there was no money. The country has recovered beautifully, but inflation is starting to get out of control. On top of that, the government constantly lies about how much inflation there really is, even though people notice when milk costs $5 on day and the next day it costs $6. This would be ok BUT – teacher wages have not increased with inflation in the last couple years, so we’re actually hit a lot harder by inflation than other people whose wages or salaries rise with it. Since we’re not documented workers, there is nothing forcing the hand of the institutes to keep wages on par with inflation and average living costs.

When you’re a true tourist to Argentina, everything is dirt cheap. Currently, the exchange rate is about $1US/$4AR (Argentine peso). Well, we don’t function in US dollars anymore, and haven’t since we got jobs. We live on the peso, which makes us look at the city and the costs of everything in a different way. Just like any big, popular city – shit here is expensive. We’re participating members in the Argentine economy.

This also is one of the things, however that has served as one of the most poignant learning opportunities we've been afforded.  We are officially a part of the economy here and because of this fact, we are truly able to get a feel for the beat and culture of the city of Buenos Aires.  We are dependent on their economy and have learned to bob and weave throughout it, learning as we go.  A friend of ours said he doesn't think you can truly know a place until you have to rely on the economy.  As written earlier, a tourist will thrive here, but being placed on the economy, you get a much more intimate look into the culture and for that, we feel we really know this city, the ebbs and flows, making the experience of travelling here so much richer.

All that money stuff aside, we’re still alive and healthy and we still love each other. And I’m sure many of you now are going, “Hey, wait! But you’ve done some cool shit and traveled to a few places! That can’t be cheap!” And you’re right. The key to our ability to be able to grab some dinner every once in awhile, or afford our anniversary trip to Tandil, or the beach in Uruguay, or go to Gaucho Day – is budgeting and saving – and being frugal while on those getaways. We saved an assload (I think that’s an official measurement term) of money before we came down here and have somehow (mostly thanks to Jesse) managed to create a savings/trip/rainy day stash during our time here. Obviously we have made some pretty strategic decisions in how we have chosen to spend our money, i.e., taking lunch out of our diet or not buying clothes even though everything is too big on us now (not all bad), or living with 3 other people to save $$ on rent. This has allowed us to put some money away and also spend some money on a couple occasions without breaking the bank to do so.  

So, has it been a struggle?  Yes.  Have we had to be creative with budget and our what we do for leisure?  Yes.  But...have we had fun and made memories that will last a lifetime?  You bet your ass. We’ve ended up with amazing roommates are going to be life-long friends of ours. We’ve had some incredible experiences. The difficulty of this adventure has made coming to the end even sweeter. We took a HUGE risk coming here. We left everything and everyone we know and love, moved to another country (another hemisphere!) without pre-arranged jobs, without contacts, and without knowing the language. And we made it. The end is here and it’s been hard to wrap our head around it – but we’re REALLY proud of each other. For us, this validates our belief that if you want to do something – you can – and there are really no good excuses not to pursue adventures in life.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Food of the Week: Choripan and Bondiola

Our food of the week (or more realistically – food whenever the hell we decide to post it) is choripan and bondiola sandwiches!

These sammies are quite possibly some of the most delicious street food you can buy here. There isn’t very much street food available here anyways, so it’s an easy win. They can cure the worst hangover, are delicious in any weather, are good any time of day, and I *think* they may have magical healing powers. You can generally find these wonderful sandwich grills anywhere where there are large groups of people taking a stroll. Our favorite spot to go is Costanera Sur, basically a boardwalk in Puerto Madero that stretches along the outside of the Ecological Reserve. Parrilla stand after parrilla stand line the boardwalk, and your nose is filled with the enchanting smell of grilling meat. 
This one is our favorite, El Torito, on Costanera Sur.
What is a choripan or a bondiola? Well, they are two similar, yet different grilled sandwiches. Both use semi-stale, crusty French bread and are filled with smoky, fatty, delectable, grilled meat. Generally, the good stands have a variety of toppings you can put on your sandwich including, but not limited to chimichurri, marinated onions, marinated tomatoes, hot sauce, lettuce, etc.

Choripan is a fusion of two words: chorizo and pan (bread). Yes, choripan is a grilled sausage sandwich. I know, your mouth is watering. They split the chorizo in half lengthwise, and slap it on the grill. It gets hot and crispy on the outside. Then, they put it between two slices of French bread, and you get to top it with whatever goodies you want.
You know you want it.
Bondiola refers to the cut of pork used in this sandwich. They take a big pork shoulder (bondiola) and cook it slowly on the grill. When you order, they slice some meat off of the big chunk and crisp it up on the grill some more. From then on, it’s the same method as the choripan.
I'm in love.
Jesse has been on a choripan kick recently while I have been partial to the bondiola. And…if your mouth is not watering at this point, there is something wrong with you.