Things I’ve learned from Argentina

Hard to believe I’ve been here for over a month already. It feels as though it’s been no time and all, and before I know it I’ll be heading back to the Land of Ice and Snow. This trip was very much intended as a litmus test for my vagabond way of life—I’ve been looking for a way to combine work and travel for some time now, and I think I may have hit on a combination that works.

I’ve come to realize a few important things, though.

1. I need more time. Way more time.

This week, I am taking three hours of Spanish class a day, in what will most likely turn out to be a rather in-vain attempt to get my Castallano up to “serviceable”. However, given the fact that I tend to work roughly six hundred hours a day, it’s a bit of a challenge doing all the other stuff I need to do, like “sleeping” and “eating stuff that isn’t dulce de leche”. (Seriously, I’m not sure what sort of magic makes Argentines so skinny when their diet appears to consist primarily of ham and cheese emapanadas to start, then pasta, followed up by sixty tons of cow. Is it the mate or the fernet they’re always drinking?)

But South America is a big place, and I want to see more of it. As it is, I’ve only had time to go to Brazil thus far, and a quick weekend trip to the Tigre delta, and some exploratory jaunts here in BsAs—which admittedly is such a huge and sprawling complex city, with its own language and peculiarities, that it’d take me years to really get a feel for the place.

Last time I traveled, I went to Europe for five weeks and didn’t stay in one place longer than a week. I couldn’t work my usual sort of schedule, so it was sort of like a holiday for me. If I want my travel to be sustainable, I need to do it slowly enough that it doesn’t interfere with the day-to-day aspects of my life. That means three months isn’t nearly long enough for a place.

2. I can survive without constantly checking my email.

This is a tough one, but having my iPhone, I got quite accustomed to being constantly able to check (and send) emails. Problem was, this meant there was no off switch at all on my brain. I’ve been known to check emails in bed. It’s (still) usually the first thing I do upon waking up, and I was always sending emails and texting while out with friends, which I think is terribly rude.

Yes, sometimes it sucks not having access to my email when I’m idle at a bar. But for the most part, it means that I can go out for dinner, or go for a walk, without being perpetually distracted by work. If I leave the house, I leave work behind, and that’s a healthy habit to get into.

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Missing things and missing out

Argentina is most definitely still in holiday-mode: it’s summer vacation here, a good number of the shops still have their shutters closed, and everyone who can afford to is off on the beaches of Uruguay. I’ve been working a lot more than I’d like to admit the last two weeks. Technically I still have a suntan, but I think it’s fading.

Balancing work and life has always been troublesome for me. I tend towards workaholicism on my best days, and it’s certainly not uncommon for me to put in a sixty-hour work week. I’ve gotten better: I almost always take most of the weekend off now, and I’m trying as much as possible to go out and about at least a little bit every day. I’ve realized that I’m simply not going to see as much of this continent as I’d like to while I’m here.

Graffiti

With all the shutters closed, you really get to see the lovely graffiti that covers the buildings here.

But I’ve got new projects coming in all the time, and work is (for the most part) going well. I wish I were doing more personal projects, but that isn’t anything new. I had signed up for the Sketchbook Project some time ago, and now the deadline’s looming. I’ve given up on getting mine done, in part because I totally lack art supplies and they’re on the expensive side here, and in part because I simply lack time. I’d rather spend my free time exploring this massive city or trying to pick back up on my Spanish, which is just terrible. (Porteños speak the most insane version of Spanish I’ve ever heard, complete with its own special pronoun and verb conjugation, strange pronounciations, and some kind of crazy pig-latin. I’m totally lost.)

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In the jungles of the Amazon

In the middle of the Amazon jungle, seven hours by boat from the closest hospital, I cut off my fingertip with a machete.

This is how I spent my Christmas: I flew to Manaus, a big ugly port city on the Amazon river, where the warm, slow, black Rio Negro and the cooler, faster, sandy Rio Solimões meet up and run side-by-side for some distance, looking rather neat. Manaus was not the world’s nicest introduction to Brazil—the city echoes the surrounding jungle with its sprawling messiness. Once one of Brazil’s richest cities, it still contains the opulent (and rather tacky-looking) pastel-coloured palaces built during the rubber boom, but everything else is either a giant ugly factory or struck with urban blight.

But it’s a jumping-off point for rainforest excursions, and that’s what I was there for after all. It took two flights, one taxi ride, a speedboat, a bus through one of the most poorly-maintained roads I’ve seen yet, and another, much smaller, wooden boat to get to the jungle lodge we’d be spending a good portion of the next five days. Early Boxing Day morning, I was on my way to the jungle, excited for what lay ahead of me.

I’ll be honest: it wasn’t anything like what I expected. I was ready for a trip that would be physically and mentally taxing; I got this, but not in the way I’d expected. I’d thought I’d be tired from physical exertion, but instead I was just cold and wet. (Or, other times, hot and mosquito-bitten.) Worse yet—I was almost bored.

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