Saturday, August 10, 2002

A day in the life...


Hola amigos y familia,

It is hard to believe that we are finally wrapping up our stay in Buenos Aires, because this is a very hard city to leave. I am sure that we are going to miss our swanky, non-backpacker lifestyle after a few hours on a bus. It has been a long time since I've written a 'recap' of recent events, so I thought I would tell you a little bit about our life in Argentina.... Firstly, Buenos Aires belongs to the night; these people are nocturnal through and through. Mornings as we know them, have been nonexistent. On the average, Dan and I sleep in until 11AM everyday. When we wake up in our little studio apartment, it is a struggle to get out of our extremely comfortable bed. We've gotten into the habit of tea or coffee in the house, something a little strange for people who were used to buying a cup of java 'to go' on the way to work (which is an impossibility here). There is no such thing as coffee 'to go' - Argentines laugh at the image. Drinking coffee is a time to stop, take a seat, eat a medialuna (croissant), and take a break from the hectic city rush. Initially, we went to spanish class together, 5 days a week at 1PM, and studied for 5 or 4 hours, with or without a lunch break. After about 2 weeks, Dan got the opportunity to actually make a little dough, as opposed to only spending it. His tale diverges a little from mine....

With the help of Luz, our friendly and well connected landlady, I was able to find a lot of things to do in Buenos Aires. After a few weeks, I was offered the opportunity to be a substitute teacher at a local English Institute (ECE). I convinced them that I can speak English and luckily they didn't test my spelling skills! I soon had a full week of work, visiting various companies downtown(including; Hitachi, The local branch of Earnest and Young, and a satellite telecommunications company). I was paid enough Pesos to cover the cost of my ongoing Spanish courses, which had to be reduced. My students were intermediate to advanced English speakers who all asked "What are you doing in Argentina?". I was supposed to increase their listening comprehension and vocabulary acquisition but they preferred to talk about our cultural differences and I took advantage of the opportunity.

I also found some volunteer projects. I was introduced to Luz's friend, Rosario, who had just begun a English workshop for MBAs at CEMA University and she asked me to participate. I made a short presentation on Airtreks and it's business model and worked on some comprehension skills. I, in turn, was introduced to JIT inventory control, negotiation procedures and her darling little daughter Sophia(Porquito). The connections continued with Rosario's brother, who as a priest, knew of a soup kitchen for the homeless. Obra de San Jose has been providing breakfasts for the homeless for 8 years. I woke up at 6am and helped a small volunteer group prepare and distribute the warm coffee,tea, bread and croissants. They served two groups of 80 every day of the week. This was a great experience. The men eating breakfast soon discovered I was from the USA and each table wanted to practice their English, "Thank you very much sir" "may I have some more bread please?" "where you from?" "hey man, I speak english man, nice to meet you" or make fun of my spanish, which got more laughs.

I really enjoyed my spanish classes, and didn't want to miss the opportunity to study in a country where you can actually put your new skill to good use. Therefore, attending classes became my excuse to NOT work. Both Dan and I really enjoyed going to Edena institute, and feeling part of a small family. We had great, patient teachers (Judit, Sonya, & Maria Jose), who not only taught us spanish, but imparted valuable information about the history and culture of Argentina. We also had an instant social life by meeting all of the other foreigners - John from Norway, Micah from Kansas City, Kimee from Brazil,and Yukari from Japan (as well as their numerous friends). With our new amigos, we had many a Mexican dinner, danced at Asia de Cuba and Henry J Beans(?!), saw a Tango show, and practiced brutalizing the spanish language.

Our stay in Buenos Aires has been very full. We got into the habit of eating dinner around 10 or 11PM, as the locals do, and not going to bed until past 1 (5am if it's a night out). I'm also embarrassed to say that we have watched a lot of t.v.. We got cable so that we would be able to watch news on CNN and the BBC, but got sucked into E!, Fashion Television, Latin MTV, and all those horrid 80's flicks. It will definitely be good for us to get away from the tube again.

I can't talk about our experience in Buenos Aires, without mentioning our two newest and dearest friends, Lola and Gato. I wrote before about how we all met when we were leaving El Bolson, and that we shared a tea together in Trevelin, and had a night out the first time we rolled through B.A.. Well, this couple soon became our number one weekend pals, indoctrinating us into the Argentine way of life. They took us on tours of some of the provinces - we visited Lujan, a town famous for it's massive cathedral, and we drank Mate and ate facturas (tea and pastries) on the banks of the Lujan river. We had coffee and submarinos (hot milk with a whole bar of chocolate melting in it) in San Isidro. They were our first dinner guests, and we're treated to some spicy Texan chili. They soon reciprocated, and invited us to Lola's family's house for a weekend Asado. For those of you who don't know - this is an argentine BBQ, and is a way of life for a country who's beef intake surpasses the world. An asado consists of a variety of grilled meats, including riñones (kidneys), chinchulins (tripe-intestine), Mollejas (sweetbreads- glands), chorizo (spicy sausage), morcilla (blood sausages), cerdo (pork), asado (ribs), and pollo (chicken!). The asador (Lola's father) was the master of the grill - perfectly timing and cooking the meat to perfection. We slapped on some chimichurri (a sauce of olive oil, garlic, parsley, peppers, etc.) and braved our new culinary experience. Some of the flavors would take some getting used to, but a big gulp of red wine helps to wash it all down! We realized how lucky we were to share in the asado tradition and felt like honored guests. Dan and Gato quickly became fútbol (soccer) buddies, and have played 4 matches with Gato's gang at an indoor soccer court. Lola and I have taken this time to shop and stroll in the local malls. Last week, we were invited to a costume-surprise-graduation party for their friend, Pablo. We pulled together some cheesy costumes in less than an hour (I was a Spanish Señorita and Dan was...super feo! If you have seen the Red Hot Chili Peppers video with the crazy taxi driver, you'll have no problem recognizing Dan in his costume photos). Typical of Argentina, the party didn't start until midnight, and we danced a solid 5 hours.

Most of our time in the ci-tay, has been spent trying to soak up the culture, and visit various barrios, including La Boca, the supposed origin of the tango. We've gone to the Sunday Mataderos fair, with our American friend, Patricia, where we ate choripans (chorizo and chimichurri sandwiches), shopped the artesan stalls for keepsakes, and watched the gaucho life in full swing, with folklorico dancing, and horseman tournaments. We took a scenic coastal train to Tigre, a charming river town, where a car gets you nowhere. You have to take boats through the river delta to navigate the intricate waterways of this neighborhood. We even saw a Puccini opera at the world famous Teatro Colón! Our seats were in the high balconies, to the side of the horseshoe, and required us to strain our heads to the left, and sit on the edge of our seats, peering at the distant stage below. The opera was set in San Francisco during the gold rush, sung in italian (of course!), and the subtitles were in spanish. Needless to say, we left the theater a little confused and had to make up our own version of the story. The only thing we have left to do is to see a soccer game, which is on our agenda for our last day in Buenos Aires.

To sum it up, Dan didn't learn how to play the accordion, and I didn't take tango lessons (although we did have a lesson in Salsa and Merengue!), but I don't think our understanding of the Buenos Aires culture is any less for it. We have truly fallen in love with this city, it's people, and it's style! Monday will find us on a boat to Colonia, Uruguay, where the backpacking saga continues.

We miss you all and send our love,
and until the next Sarah and Dan Spam,
we remain soaking up South America...

- Sarah and Dan

PS. Special thanks to all of you who sent us a little something special from the good ole' USA. David D., Tom, and Britt - we cannot thank you enough for saving us from our tedious CD collection by sending us all the new music. Sheri, your goodies and photos we're happy reminders of all things familiar, and Mom and Dad Gamber, the guidebook will be our bible for the next month or so. Thank you! Thank you! Check out our photos at


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