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.


  1. If that blog post was one sentence longer, I would have quit my job and moved to wherever my finger landed on the globe. Thanks for keeping me posted on your lives. I've enjoyed every post.

  2. Thanks for bringing us pudgy lunch-munchers along for the ride. Your missives have been a highlight of our digital days. Looking forward to seeing your skinny selves soon.

    Chuck & Susan

  3. Great words! you nailed life in BA. I remember all of that, i remember eating an unhealthy amount of hotdogs becuase they were the biggest meal i could get for $2 pesos, i remember getting paid in cash and trying to figure out how to make it last the rest of the month, i remember wine from the second shelf being a treat, i remember thinging "what did i get myself into" and now to this day i love all the experiences i had in BA. I'm so glad you guys are living this adventure and thanks for taking me back with all your posts!