Thursday, January 15


I finally got some pictures up, and they can be found at:

Sunday, January 4


I'll be leaving Buenos Aires in a few days. Although in some ways sad, it feels like it's time to move on.

I've had a very good time here this past year. It's been great to have such an immersion in a country, as the only other place where I've had such an opportunity is France.

My job was great, as, although the salary and hours weren't wonderful, working as an English teacher got me out in the community, and had me in constant contact with the local people. I've also been lucky in that, with very few exceptions, all of my students were friendly, interesting, and motivated. It's been a great experience.

I've also enjoyed the dance classes that I've taken, especially tango. It was a pity that I was never able to find a permanent partner, as there aren't many girls, or people in general for that matter, interested in dancing more than a few times a month.

Dancing 'rock' has also been fun. The closest comparison to this that I can think of would be that of an American high school dance from the 1950's. It's funny that it's so popular with the local twenty-somethings. In contrast, the crowds in tango classes are usually aged 40 plus. It's been a great way to meet locals my own age.

Yet despite feeling in many ways comfortable here, I have the feeling that if I were to stay next year, not much would change, and I'd be in the same situation that I am now. Even for local people, opportunities here are hard to come by. It's accepted (and expected) that you need contacts to get ahead, and I don't have any strong connections. Plus, I'd like to take advantage of the freedom that teaching English gives me, and see more of the country and continent. Also, the size of Buenos Aires is a bit much, particularly in the downtown core, which swells to more than 5 million people during the day. My girlfriend, Maria, and I having broken up means that I don't feel much tying me to the city.

At this point, my plans don't really extend past the summer. I'm going to spend the summer (January and February here in the Southern Hemisphere) exploring the south of the country, which is one of the most sparsely populated regions of the continent. Afterwards, I'll pass through the vineyards in the west. Unless I decide to stay there for the coming school year, I'll keep heading north afterwards, to Peru, Ecuador, and into central America.


Something that will come up quite often in the coming posts are hospitality networks such as Couchsurfing and Hospitality Club. For those not familiar with them, they're organisations based through the internet. The members offer to show you around the city they live in, and may even invite you to stay with them while you're in town. To many this sounds crazy, but I've found it be an invaluable tool when travelling. It's amazing how much deeper experiences can be. For instance, travelling around the Balkans in Eastern Europe was a fascinating experience, but only because I had local people to show me around, explaining the various parts of the culture and history of the area. Staying in hotels and going to the few museums of the region would have been a bit boring. Meeting and staying with families that had been on both sides of a war just a few years earlier was one of the greatest learning experiences of my life.

I used this site recently in Misiones and Paraguay, and I'll keep doing so in the coming months in the Patagonia (southern Argentina).

So for anyone wondering about what this was, this is the idea in a nutshell.


A few words about the blog in general... I'd like to keep posting regularly, but I doubt that I'll be able to. In the end, it's a bit boring to write this unless I have some interesting stories to tell, which is when I'm travelling. Otherwise, I just end up ranting about politics, either here or in Canada. Writing about daily routines is a bit tedious.

I think it would be realistic to post once or twice a month, but not necessarily at regular times. I won't always have access to the internet, as I'll be spending quite a bit of time in national parks and villages. So to follow what I'm up to, just check back every couple of weeks.

When I do update this, I'll probably announce it through my status on facebook. For anyone whom I'm not connected to via a friend link on that page, just search for Ian Barrett in the Argentina network. I'm pretty sure I'm the only one!

Also, I recently bought a digital camera, and will be posting a few pictures from my trip. I'll post a link here as soon as I get them up on the internet.


Someone anonymously posted a comment a few entries ago, telling me that I'm a bit of a snob when I write, and that I criticise Argentina too much. I hope this isn't how things have come across, as I've been quite happy here. When I first arrived, there was definitely a bit of culture shock, mostly due to the amount of poverty and the sheer size of the city. Still, I think that in general I've criticised the government of Canada more than anything else over the years, since it's frustrating to see things going so much worse than they were, or than they need to be. I could rant about Stephen Harper, the current Prime Minister, for quite some time.

Finally, I feel badly about not responding to many of the comments that were left in the last year. I do read them, and will try to be better with that in the future. If anyone does have any comments or criticisms, I'd very much appreciate hearing them, as of course I'm looking for ways to improve my writing style or in selecting what I choose to write about.

Thursday, January 1


I've been teaching English in Buenos Aires all year. It's been a great way to get to know the local people, and hence the culture. My days, although long (most days I worked 14 to 16 hours including transit), are basically spent socializing, as Argentine English teachers are perfectly capable of teaching grammar. Those students lucky enough to have a native speaker as a teacher usually just want to converse as much as possible.

It's given me a fantastic window into how people here view their country, and the world. Although proud of many aspects of their culture, Argentines also tend to ignore very large parts of it. Very few dance, either tango, folklore, rock, or otherwise, despite having one of the most vibrant dance scenes in the world. Also, relatively few drink wine, yet their country produces some of the finest in the world, and at a very affordable price. And as with most countries, very few local people have properly explored regions outside of where they live.

Yet there is also a sense of relativism that the rest of the world could learn from. Due mostly to the number of financial crises the country has endured over the last 50 years, people don't put nearly as high of a concern on financial issues as in other parts of the developed world. Although obviously concerned about their economic well being, they have learned to concentrate more heavily on other aspects of their lives, such as family, sports, or cuisine. After all, so many people lost everything (for many, a lifetime's savings) in period of a few days in 2001, that if they hadn't looked elsewhere, they might well have gone insane. This view has been especially welcome given the current world economic situation. Despite my savings having slimmed considerably, due both to falling stocks and the falling Canadian dollar, and a very uncertain 2009 already underway, I really don't feel stressed. I have no idea how long I'll be able to travel, but people here have taught me to make the most of what we have, and handle whatever the future brings in the best way possible. Argentines have learned to be very resourceful.

An example is my landlord, who, although at an age where he should be thinking of retiring, realizes that isn't likely. Pensions here are virtually non-existent for many people. A combination of financial instability and poor governmental and/or personal management has put many in a very difficult situation. Many pensioners get less than $200 a month. To put this into perspective, my rent, for a very small room in Buenos Aires, is $290.

So, as a way to compensate, he uses what he has: A condominium with 3 spare rooms, left over from when his children were younger, which he rents out to foreigners living in the city. In this way, he makes enough to get by, but not more. Still, he has a very positive attitude towards life, always looking on the bright side. He, and many others.

The attitudes of the middle class are in stark contrast to the government. The endemic corruption and short-sightedness of several generations of politicians have brought the country from one political problem to another, of varying degrees. In the year that I've been here, the biggest was a farming strike which brought the country to a standstill. There was also an abrupt nationalization of a private pension scheme, which wrecked havoc on a banking industry already reeling from the international crisis. The private scheme was in many ways poorly planned, but it would have been hard to pick a worse time to nationalize it. Many Argentines felt it was a money-grab by the government in a time of falling commodity prices, which had severely reduced government revenue. Politicians are often accused of spending pension money whenever they please. Thus the low payments to people who are collecting pensions after they retire.

On a brighter note, something fantastic is the cuisine. Even though the most well-known parts of it involve meat, I've been able to enjoy things like fresh raviolis, which I'd never even thought of before. It's hard to describe fresh pasta until you've tried it. But it will definitely be hard going back to eating the boxed variety when I leave Buenos Aires.

Perhaps even better than the pasta is the ice cream. Argentines have really mastered it. In my neighborhood, there are about 12 gelato cafes, each with between 20 and 40 different flavours, and all reasonably priced. The extremely strong Italian influence on Buenos Aires is the source (almost everyone here has some Italian heritage), but the people here have managed to surpass the teachers, and by quite a bit!

Despite having delicious food, people manage to stay in good shape in general. This does have it's darker side, as eating disorders are extremely common, but at the same time, people appreciate the need to exercise and not over-eat. It's not to say that everyone should have the same body type, but in Canada and particularly the U.S., it's sad when someone can't walk up a flight or two of stairs without feeling like they're going to fall over.

Something else that I find interesting is that there isn't much individuality in terms of fashion here. Everyone could be more or less categorized in a similar way, in sharp contrast to North America or Europe, where people often define themselves by what they wear, especially teenagers. There really aren't many punks, hippies, goths, etc. Whether this is a good or bad thing would depend on who you ask, but people definitely take care in their appearances!