Friday, April 18


As my three month tourist visa in Argentina was set to expire, last weekend was a good time for a border crossing.

I'm legally allowed to work in Argentina, and to pay taxes, but not to stay in the country for more than three months. It's a bit of an odd system.

Luckily, Uruguay is only an hour's ferry ride from Buenos Aires.

Going across was a bit rough, as the waters were wild and the ship small. It wasn't possible to walk around the passenger area, and the crew had to pull themselves along by the hand grips on the seats. They spent most of their time delivering doggie bags to the passengers, as anyone without an iron stomach was feeling queasy.

After arriving, I explored the village where we docked, Colonia. It's a very pretty town, complete with an historic center and several small cobblestone streets leading to the main docking area. The high season is over, and so everything was very quiet. Many restaurants had reduced their hours to just Saturdays, and it being
Friday, finding dinner took a bit of wandering around.

While walking around the next day, I made a friend in a stray dog, who tagged along for a few hours. After about 10 blocks, one of his friends joined in, then a third, and finally a forth. It was interesting to have become the leader of a pack so quickly, but they were all friendly, and I didn't have the heart to try to ditch them. I had planned on feeding them when they were only two, but with four (very big) mouths to feed, I wasn't sure I had enough Uruguayan pesos on me to offer them much in the way of breakfast.

A few general comments about Uruguay...

The population is a bit over 3 million, and about half of the people live in the capital, Montevideo. The rest of the people are mostly huddled along the coast, meaning that there's quite a bit of open space in the north, heading towards Brazil. When I have more time, I'd be curious to have a look around.

The differences in the culture with Argentina are subtle, but definitely noticeable.
Uruguayans are still quite close to Argentines, both geographically and in terms of how they act. Still, Montevideo is much quieter, and the people are friendlier than in Buenos Aires.

Uruguayans are, like Argentines, addicted to Matte. It's a regional tea served in a
wooden cup with a metal straw. The difference is that while Argentines mostly drink it at home or at work, Uruguayans walk around with a Thermos of hot water under their arm, the wooden cup in their hand, sipping away as they wander the streets. I still haven't developed a taste for it, as without sugar it reminds me of raw tobacco on my tongue.

Montevideo is pretty much shut down on weekends, which is a welcome contrast to the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. I went there straight from Colonia, and was lucky enough to have a few connections in the city. Silvia, who I had met at a party in Buenos Aires a few months before, and Alejandra and Gonzalo, whom I contacted though Couchsurfing, a hospitality network on the internet, walked with me all over the city for the two days that I was there. I wish that I had had more time, but unfortunately I had to get back to Buenos Aires for work on Monday morning.


Argentina is burning. Or smoking, at least. Some interesting farmers had the interesting idea to set much of their land on fire, apparently to prepare it for next year's crops. Now 70000 hectors are burning. Now the smoke from said fire has been blowing down to Buenos Aires, covering the whole city in a thick cloud. Almost all flights are canceled, major highways are closed, and trains are delayed. And it's been going on for a week.

The air is orange, about 300 people have been hospitalized with respiratory problems, and 10 people have died in traffic accidents due to the lack of visibility. Yet the smoke continues. Plus now it's made it's way across the river to Uruguay, whose people now get to suffer as well from the incompetence of the Argentine authorities.

This follows a few weeks of strikes by farmers, who were angry over the raised taxes. There were major food shortages for several weeks. The situation was further exacerbated by the government's policy of calling the farmers evil, and calling in paid thugs to beat up protesters who were on the side of the farmers.

As the negotiations between the government and farmers continue, it hasn't been ruled out that the fires were set as a way to pressure the government.

The best way to sum it all up is with what my students say when this topic comes up. 'Welcome to Argentina.'

Wednesday, April 2


I haven't posted for a while. Things have been a bit hectic.

A few weeks ago, I went on a boating trip with Teresa, the lady that I live with. It was in Tigre, one of the large cities in the suburbs of Buenos Aires.

She goes there every week, usually with her friend, rowing around the canals. It's great exercise, and a great way to get fresh air.

The problem was that without training, I wasn't allowed to row. So Andrea, the daughter of her friend, offered to take me on a tour. At just 17, she's already competing in rowing tournaments, and is in excellent shape. Still, the trip lasted for about three hours, and I wasn't allowed to help her at all, just sit facing her as she paddled me all over the area. It must have looked pretty sad to anyone who saw us pass by, as she's really not very big. Still, she was happy to do it, and never stopped to take a break, only slowing down occasionally so that her mother and Teresa could catch up. She was going about twice as fast as they were, despite both of them paddling at the same time.

The canals were interesting in that there are many houses along the banks that have no connection to the outside world aside from by boat. It must be a very quiet life. Yet they have a well planned system, with a grocery boat coming by once a day, and river buses sailing the canals every couple of hours.

It was a great way to unwind, as it's about as quiet as any region of Buenos Aires gets. Again, I would have preferred to be able to help Andrea with the rowing, but in the end I probably would have just slowed her down had I been allowed to paddle.

Later, things went from quiet to hectic pretty quickly.

Laura, Teresa's daughter, had been grumpy for some time, and had decided to stop speaking to me a few weeks ago. At first, Teresa just wrote it off as a reaction to Laura's boyfriend leaving the country for a couple of weeks. Yet even after he got back, she still wouldn't speak to me.

The problem was basically one of discipline. Laura really hasn't had any rules imposed on her at all, and is used to doing whatever she wants. Apparently she became angry at me for using the computer and eating some things from the fridge, both of which I had been told to do by Teresa. I enjoyed cooking for Teresa as a way of thanking her for all of the things she did for me. For instance, she insisted on washing my clothes, despite my having told her several times that it was unnecessary. And she also came with me several times to help me deal with government bureaucracy, making things much easier for me to get settled.

Still, Teresa was becoming deeply concerned with Laura's behaviour, and didn't know how to stop her. When Laura locked me out of being able to use the computer without any warning, it became clear that things were out of control. I told Teresa that it would be best if I moved out, and took a cab to a hotel the next morning.

Looking for an apartment in Buenos Aires can be a draining experience. Almost all of the ads that you come across are from those wanting to take advantage of tourists, charging three times a reasonable price for a room, and demanding that you share it to top things off. It's not even worth reading any that contain the words student or foreigner.

I eventually came across something centrally located and at a fair price. There is no common room, just a shared kitchen and bathroom, which means it's more like a series of apartments than a boarding house. At least this way things will be quiet for a bit.

I'm also working more hours, and slowly getting settled into life in a big city. I'd like to stay optimistic, so here's hoping for a smooth couple of months...