It’s what we get for waking up in…Buenos Aires?


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San Telmo, Buenos Aires

Welcome to the city of looking up

It’s been just over a year since I bought a one-way ticket to Argentina.

I’d been dreaming about South America for years, but the action-plan was conceived and booked into reality in less than an hour. I think some people take longer to shower.

With agenda apart from a violent ambition to learn Spanish, I was vacillating somewhere between curiosity and boredom. I knew nothing about “the city of looking up”, or how duplicitous that expression can be in a city where balconies are fair game for just about anything and everything, at all any any hour of the day.

2015-10-11_1444531924Exiting the plane that first day, I was greeted by grey skies and a smattering of gusty droplets. The clouds were saturated, but they clenched their waterlogged pleats. It was as if the universe was holding its breath right along with me, waiting to see what lay in store. As is the case for most mildly successful freelancers, my future was unwritten.

The first few days

It all began on the couch of a man named Miguel. He was charming, polite and unassuming; just the way a stranger should be when you’re at the mercy of their goodwill.

It was my third time Couch Surfing, and it was a crash-course in Porteño (local) culture. Miguel and his friends serenaded me with Argentine folklórico, fed me wine and asado (traditional Argentine BBQ), and helped me learn the lay of the land. They taught me slang and shared scandalous tales of Argentine romance. What was I getting into?

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I spent my first few days getting lost and tossing around the few Spanish phrases I knew:

––“No, the duck is not yours.”

––”What’s your favorite color?

––Please forgive me, I have a mountain of shame.”

I’d wake each day with new vocabulary scrawled across my hands. Or forearms. Or face. Argentinians loved to teach me new phrases and showered me with praise when I (oh, shock!!) actually remembered one. It was a magical time, but couch life had to end. I was growing fat and lazy in proper San Isidro style.

Hostels, pickpockets, and poor decisions

The next few weeks passed in a blur of boliches and backpacker shenanigans.

I felt like I was living the real-life version of Katy Perry’s song “That’s what we get for waking up in Vegas”. Every day was do-or-die and I was shaking glitter (cookie crumbs?) out of more places than I care to remember. I learned the hard way that waving expensive electronic property around is a great way to lose them very quickly.

After parting ways with an phone, an Ipod, my wallet, and a Mac charger, it was time to change the game. I gave backpacker Jess the flush and found an apartment, enrolled in Spanish classes, and started sketching out life as a local.

image (57)The new me lived in Palermo, ate WAY too much pizza, and had a really hard time discerning her front door from the other 10 on that block.

The learning curve

As the days ticked by, I learned not to pet the street dogs and never to wear flip-flops when it rains. (It’s like the story of Noah’s Ark, only with lots of trash and dog poop instead of animals.)

 

Disgrace is life’s greatest teacher, and so here are the lessons Argentina has taught me:

1.) Argentine pizza is eaten with a knife and fork. If you try to pick it up, the toppings will slide gracefully into your lap, like tiny passengers exiting a crashed plane.

2.) Argentines will ask you the following two questions when they first meet you: #1 How long have you been here for?  #2 Oh, really? Why isn’t your Spanish better?

pigeons3.) Pigeons will live in your windows, and spiders will live in your shower. YOU WILL NAME THEM ALL.

4.) Dog poop is a fact of life. Get used to it, and don’t ever take a clean sidewalk for granted again.

5.) Argentines love Whatsapp voice notes. Even if you tell them you hate voice notes, they will continue to send you voice notes. Asking why you don’t like the voice notes.

6.) Sorry to the Argentines who will take offense, but I think Tango music could be more accurately renamed “creepy elevator music of death”.

7.) If some kind strangers let you enter the lobby of a building that you don’t have the keys to, you will be trapped for hours. (Argentines would rather trap their thieves inside so everyone can die together in a fire, rather than make keyless exits.)

8.) Argentine Subway does not take their slogan “eat fresh” very seriously.

bus9.) You need to tell bus drivers where you’re going when you get on. This means you need to know where you’re going.

10.) Dating will confuse you. THE END.

11.) “On time” is 30 minutes late, and “late” is never. Unless it’s your day to bring facturas to the office -– then you for-damn-sure better be there first.

12.) Racism, like many concepts here, is not defined by syntax. There is a bluntness to the way people deliver information and they don’t see anything insulting or wrong about it. The American phobia of prosaic indelicacy does not exist. The good news is, if you make a tragic fashion decision or gain a little weight, you’ll know right away!

Mystery, intrigue, and a slap in the face

In the following months, I became infatuated with the paradoxical forces governing this city. Passion and apaSan Telmo, Argentinathy; glamor and decay.

One minute I’m drinking in stone porticoes and Parisian antiquity like a poet on crack – the next, I’m watching homeless children bath in a public fountain.

Everywhere you turn in this city, your faced with a new impression or feeling. It’s like living inside a kaleidoscope –– if also inside that kaleidoscope lived a tiny old lady who likes to slap you in the face every once in a while.

The way that locals treat foreigners is unlike anything I’ve encountered before. It can be great, but also horrible. Sometimes you feel like a celebrity, some rare and exotic creature that everyone wants to be close to. Other times, it’s like you’re at the zoo on the wrong side of the bars.

As I start to learn Spanish more and more, I begin to see an entirely new dimension to this culture. When it’s late at night and I’m taking the bus home after a long day, I can understand as two women discuss the color of my hair, my shoes, my height – and whether I’m pregnant or just a “gordita” (little fatty). I try to see it as flattering. In general, the way that people interact is both enchanting and exhausting, depending on the day and my mood.

Sydney VS Buenos Aires

sydneyIt’s been a weird transition after two years in Sydney, a city of my native tongue that welcomed me with open arms. Leaving that continent behind truly broke my heart.

The thing is, Sydney is the canine of cities – loyal, friendly, and consistent. I always felt like I was home. Buenos Aires on the other hand, is like a cat; duplicitous, discriminating, and unpredictable. It purrs when you pet it and nuzzles your hand, then viciously attacks you a moment later.

Like BA expats and cat lovers, we wind up completely intoxicated by the passion and excitement; whether it’s a laser beam steeplechase or a neighborhood protest. You can’t walk three blocks in this city without stumbling onto some kind of urban spectacle.

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At the end of the day, we need both the cat and the dog. Without one, you can’t fully appreciate the other.

Assimilation: What does it mean to you?

A year later, I still wake up with Spanish words written all over. I still embarrass myself most days, but I can chart my growth in confidence and conjugated verbs.

One of my fellow expats figures you’ve really made it somewhere when you can direct the taxi driver on the route you prefer to take. Since my internal compass is forever on quaaludes, I had to come up with another benchmark for my success.

The moment I knew I’d “made it” was when the kids I nanny for asked me to tell them a story in Spanish. Twenty minutes later, I had given rise to the life-long legend of the chicken-rabbits, a species of telepathic, power-hungry aliens that tirelessly roam the galaxy in search of interstellar domination.

Who’s going to explain to those kids in 10 years why they’re terrified of poultry, I do not know.

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Besides conversational Spanish and an appreciation for life without dog poop, living in Argentina has taught me an invaluable lesson: the importance of having goals.

I don’t think there’s any single idea that’s more powerful, because if you have something that you truly believe in and are working hard for, you’re never waiting for anything.

The diary of a penguin


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It was a penguin sort of day,
In that penguin sort-of-way

When the shipwreck landed here
Vagrants lost and full of fear

I watched them hug and curse and cry
And one by one they said goodbye

The earth is round and feet are cold,
The penguin truth is sharp and bold

What lies ahead we never know
Rain or fog or sleet or snow

But one thing goes without a doubt
For penguins out and on the scout

We have each other in the end
This loyalty won’t break or bend

Stand on me when you get froze
I’ll help you warm those furry toes

For when the wind blows hard and fast
It’s friends that help the living last.

Buenos Aires: The city of looking up


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What is it about the rooftops in Buenos Aires? Welcome to the city of looking up.

For a metropolis that’s so compartmentalized, the skyline is enchantingly cohesive. Walking the streets, you never know what to expect. One moment you’re passing stone porticoes and neoclassical scrollwork, walking cobbled streets dappled by the boughs of great sycamores.

The next, it’s like you’ve stepped into the opening scene from Pretty Woman.

Dog poop, street food, spontaneous conga lines are all within the natural order of an afternoon stroll. It’s a hurricane of sensation. Who will I run into on the way to work? Emma Watson or Gorge, the homeless troubadour who haunts the subway and my dreams?

But up above the hum of city life, things make sense. The complex unpredictability is quelled just long enough for you to form an attachment to the present moment and revel in the awkward hilarity of your day.

Like a story written in watercolors, your removed from reality just enough to see things clearly.

Expatriotism: A risk lover’s dream come true


There’s no greater feeling in life than the reward of a risk taken and well achieved.

Travelers are by nature, life’s greatest gamblers. We are always searching for the next challenge, feeding off the electric pulse of constant uncertainty. Scaling mountains, trekking to the planets extremities, and leaping off just about anything they’ll let us.

With every risk rewarded, the addiction digs its talons deeper into my gut. As Truman Capote writes, you can’t give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do, the stronger they get.

A way of life

But what kind of risk are you running when instead of leaping off the cliff, you build a house at the edge of it and pull out a pair of binoculars?

Vacationing is one thing, while expatriotism is quite another. For many of us, the kinetic inconsistency of travel becomes a way of life. Once caught in the matrix of periphery encounters, poetic solitude, and adrenalin-pumping exploits, you’re lost forever in an ocean of uncharted potential.

The way you see the world shifts the tapestry of meaning formed from a new sense of experiential awareness polarizes your sense personal identity. Suddenly, home is not just the place you live. Home is the piece of your soul that finds its counterpoint in the intoxication of cultural reciprocity.

The risk of cultural investment

According to DW Dilauro’s article Using Neuroscience to Understand Risk, culture is defined as “a lens through which risks are interpreted”.

This is the idea that risk perceptions are a social construct designed to reinforce the institutional framework within a given community. The idea of acceptable behavior changes in every culture, based on how that society measures risk.

So what happens when you drop a risk-loving expat into a web of entirely new sociological characteristics? A whole lot of adventure. Without even realizing it, expats are taking risks and defying normality at every turn. Most of us don’t fit in. Many of us struggle to find a job. A few of us offend everyone we meet before even drawing a breath. These is are typical trepidations of an expatriate life.

The challenge of adapting to foreign customs and standards is personal growth at its best. The cycle continues as the more we invest and facilitate cultural exchange, the greater the risk –– and the greater the reward.

Reciprocity rewarded

If every expat in every nation around the world got together to form a new country, it would be the 5th most populous nation in the world.

As such a formidable group, we have a responsibility to establish standards of reciprocity for future, more mobile generations and inspire a climate of cultural awareness, tolerance, and global understanding. The inspiration that comes from investing in a foreign culture fills gaps in your soul that you never knew existed.

While reason is often at odds with reflexive behavior, curiosity is the spark to the flame of erudition.

Spectatorship: Seeking the sunrise beyond the sunrise


Quincy MA, at dawn

As I travel, I become more and more aware of the power of spectatorship and the impact it has on experiences.

Communing with an uncharted moment

Imagine that you are standing on the precipice of a great cliff, watching the golden fingers of morning slowly creep across an empty riverbed. The heather dances scarlet on the horizon while somewhere far off, a lonely swallow croons.

Now, imagine experiencing this exact same scene with 30 other strangers by your side. Scratching, grumbling, giggling – gobbling up the essence of the moment with their intrusive presence. Iphones and irritation ground your spirit to mundane reality and the sacred splendor is shattered.

Spectatorship in all it’s glory

Instead, imagine you are present in the final moment of the final match of the World Cup.

Fifty thousand people are hanging on the edges of their chairs. The vivacious energy of the day is glowing pink in the faces of everyone around you, bouncing off the walls like daybreak through a prism.

The cheerful comradery inspires a unique kind of intoxicated bliss. For this single moment in time, you and everyone in the stadium are linked by the felicitation of the moment. Strangers are your best friends as you coalesce to make ONE GIANT FAN.

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But what if the stadium was empty and the only person there to see that final play was…just you?

Spectatorship is entirely conditional and too many times in the sweep of the tourist trajectory, the distinction between solitude and conviviality is sorely disrespected.

My manufactured moment 

On my recent adventure to Tikal, I was profoundly disenchanted by the way this line was crossed over and over. On the second day of my trip, I booked the sunrise tour, a 4am trek to the top of the highest temple.

Unfortunately, I was not the only one with this idea. By 5:05, the temple steps were staggered with 45 other tourists, cackling and canoodling in the early morning fog. As the girl in front of me cracked open her pack fiesta Doritos, my sense of glory evaporated entirely.

Cause, effect, and traveling true

The cause of this betrayal is largely monetary. Tour groups will market anything as a ‘unique experience’ and then turn around and sell the same manufactured moment to 20 thousand other tourists.

For travelers, this abuse of spectatorship means that we have a responsibility to engineer these moments ourselves, and think outside the box of ‘conventional tourism’. I urge my travel hungry amigos to seek the sunrise beyond the sunrise, a commitment to chase the genuine experience whenever possible.

International Homeless Animals Day: Facts that will shock you


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Those eyes. Black pools of liquid emotion, somehow devoid of hope and full of it in the same moment. Will you be my human?

As travelers, we experience the reality of homeless animals more than most – and there’s nothing quite so soul shattering as gazing into the eyes of a stray. The raw, undiluted compassion that claws at your gut and haunts you for days.

Exploring cobbled alleyways and narrow dusty streets, your eyes meet and part from hundreds of mangy, desperate faces. For a split second you consider sweeping them up in your arms – but something keeps you walking. 

It’s a form of existential reality, like the difference between Skyping your family and actually being with them. You limit your awareness to two senses, hearing and seeing. You connect to their struggle but are not engaged fully or participating in the scene.

Overpopulation rates are rising

According to Dosomething.org, homeless animals outnumber people 5 to 1; a fact that leaves us living side-by-side with our ill-fated friends. The streets of Guatemala and other third world nations are home to thousands of heartbreaking strays that wander aimlessly, spreading disease and piercing your heart with their stoic dejection.

Unfortunately, with so many animals wandering around un-spayed or neutered, the problem is only getting worse. In six years, one female and male dog and their offspring can produce up to 67,000 puppies.

Seasoned travelers know these scenes all too well. We have trained ourselves to tear our gazes away, a defense mechanism to keep our feeble psyches from overloading on the brutal and capacious truth:

Facts & Statistics

  • Only one out of every 10 dogs born worldwide will find a permanent home. 
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are more than 200 million stray dogs suffering across the globe. 
  • According to the Humane Society, 2.7 million animals are euthanized each year because they do not get adopted.
  • 6 million dogs and countless cats are murdered for meat in South Korea every year.
  • In Bali alone, the number of stray dogs is estimated at 500,000 and a rabies epidemic underway since 2008 has already killed 78 people. 
  • 5 attacks by strays in Baghdad have led to the reinstitution of an aggressing eradication program. It’s goal: Killing over one million stray dogs.

 
International Homeless Animals Day

In light of International Homeless Animals day this August 16th, the International Society for Animal Rights (ISAR) and Mayan Families urges you to take action. We will be holding a spay and neuter clinic in recognition of the day and we hope to spay or neuter 10 stray animals.

Together, organizations, friends, and travelers around the world can lift this wretched veil of unaccountability and make a difference, one liquid gaze at a time. 

In honor of our furry friends, wear orange this Saturday and share your greatest, quirkiest pet stories with everyone you know. Orange is the color of animal protection awareness and awareness is the key to making a change.