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.

3. I am never going to feel “in control” of my life the way that I’d like to.

Something’s always falling by the wayside. I try so hard to eat healthily, to live well, to exercise, to have a social life, to travel, to read, to garden, to learn new skills, to make art, all while running a business. Something’s always falling to the wayside—admittedly it’s quite often healthy eating—and I’m constantly feeling that there aren’t enough hours in the day. I doubt I’m alone in this respect, and I doubt it will ever change. Time to suck it up, accept that I’ll always feel like a bit of a failure in one respect or another, and focus on enjoying what I can do.

4. Backups are vital. Also, make sure to always travel with a technologically well-equipped friend.

For some reason, electronics and I have really had a rough time of it of late. I forgot my camera at home. My phone was stolen the first day I was here. My laptop got drunk on Scotch and stopped working for a few days—though it’s mostly serviceable now, in spite of the people at the local Mac store who charged me $45 (in real money!) to tell me that it was totally busted and I might as well buy a new one.

Of course, while wine and avocados are dirt-cheap here, electronics are typically severely outdated and impressively taxed, probably due to the fact that the Argentine customs officers would much rather everyone still use telegrams. (Accordingly, online bill payments are basically unheard of here, and picking up a parcel from the correo requires some sort of six-step maneuver best attempted only by seasoned queuers.) So for the few days I was computerless, I was desperately trying to find a new machine that wouldn’t cost double the prices I’m used to. It was a momunmental headache. Thank goodness my machine survived, and that during the interim I had a friend’s computer to use, and all my fonts and files available on an external disc (and an FTP site, to boot. Go redundancy!)

5. Wedges are not necessarily the devil. (But flats are still far from my consideration.)

I live in the oldest section of Buenos Aires—it originally housed the rich and well-to-do before an outbreak of yellow fever made everyone ship across town to Recoleta. The streets are all cobblestones and there are no stop signs. Cars at the smaller intersections simply yield, although it can sometimes be nerve-wracking crossing, given that sometimes a giant technicolour colectivo (the independently-operated buses that run at all hours, making wheezing noises through the streets) will actively attempt to run you over.

This is the Recoleta cemetary, where the insanely rich of Buenos Aires were buried (including Eva Péron, after they rescued her body from its exile in Europe). It's basically a city of the dead, with giant ornate tombs housing entire families. Some of them are big enough for me to live in. Some of them have coffins stacked haphazardly on one another like dirty dishes.

I have switched to wearing wedges sometimes. And I never go outside barefoot anymore. (Between the dog shit and the broken sidewalks, I just can’t stomach it.) Clearly, South America has changed me in significant ways.

6. I can do it!

This is, by and far, the greatest realization I’ve come to: it’s working! My business is doing just fine, I’m still getting new contracts, and my clients all seem happy. There’s nothing quite so gratifying as the knowledge that, with a little ingenuity and a lot of hard work, you can make your own rules to play by.