Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me! I need a job! ...and other random thoughts

Wow! I am the worst blogger ever! Sorry, everyone. Clearly my mind has been elsewhere. And you know how when things just pile up, and the thought of having to catch up on so much makes you want to do even less, not more? Yes, I am suffering from that phenomenon. The shear amount of things that have happened over the past few weeks have made me hide from my blog. I will take this one step (ahem, blog entry) at a time.

So alas, if you want to hear about my fabulous 3 day weekend in Mendoza (yes, it was fabulous!), you will have to wait for a future post, unfortunately! (sneak peak: it involved a bicycle tour, lots of amazing views, and of course a ton of delicious Malbec!)

Anyway! Last Thursday was my 21st- ahem, 28th-- birthday! Woopie! Yay, I'm old! No really, I'm starting to worry about wrinkles, my metabolism is slowing down, more and more people are asking why I'm not married with babies, and I'm only 2 short years away from 30! I even said the word "blouse" the other day! Who says that under the age of 50?! One foot in the grave! AWESOME!

Luckily, you amazing friends and family helped me keep it together. Throughout the week (and still trickling in this week) I have been inundated with snail mail. Thank you all so much! Especially you, Mom, who managed to send me I think 5 separate letters! No really, the door man thinks I'm crazy. When I finally introduced myself to him yesterday, he said, "Oh YOU'RE the girl who gets all the mail!" Yes, I'm famous, and I appreciate it! My room is filled with cards. :-)

I admit that I did spent the first several hours of my birthday being fairly miserable. I suffered through an extreme case of the "what-am-I-doing-with-my-life" syndrome, and worried about finding a job (ugh), feeling fat (anorexia, anyone? this country is so skinny and vain it could make a pig stop eating), making friends, having enough money, being a good teacher, and just generally wondering why exactly I decided at 27 years old to uproot myself again, change careers, change COUNTRIES, cultures, habits, lifestyles, diets, and environments, and go off on such an uncertain adventure.

Don't worry-- I know what I'm doing is awesome. I mean, I'm in Argentina. It's interesting and fun here, and I'm finding that teaching is rewarding, creative, and right up my alley. BUT!

Finding a job here has been a nightmare, I'm not gonna lie. I am currently working only 6 hours a week, for $28 pesos/ hour. By my calculations (do do do do doooo) I'm making approximately... NOTHING!!! Yes, I have financial woes, and I need another job. I've been looking diligently for jobs and networking like crazy, and there are definitely some leads and possibilities out there for me, but it's been a long and frustrating process.

Ooohh but the students I DO have are some real gems. You're gonna love this. Remember your friend Erica who doesn't know anything about kids? Yeah, I'm teaching them. A 5 year old boy and his 8 year old sister and her friend, no less! Yep! And the 8 year old girls only want to learn lyrics to High School Musical songs (I can now sing several of them, but we will never speak of this again), and the 5 year old boy only wants to jump on the bed, dump his toys on the floor, and throw his trucks around. OH MAN! Did I really sign up for this? But beggers can't be choosers (they're paying me, after all), and I'm actually surprising myself to find that even though the kids can be total nightmares, I actually don't want to dropkick them. I actually kind of like them. Wow, I really am getting old.

I have some adult students too, but they don't make for such fun stories. :-)

Oh yes, so back to my birthday! I bought myself a lovely plant, a jasmine that will supposedly bloom sometime in April. The jasmine's name is Flor. I saw a great aloe at a shop down the street that I plan to buy this week, too. The aloe's name will be Máximo.

Here is Flor, hamming it up for the camera on my balcony:

Anyway, Thursday night (birthday night), 4 of my wonderful lady friends took me out to a fabulous dinner at a pricey and fancy restaurant in Belgrano (one of the most upscale neighborhoods of BA) called Sucre. Known for its wine list, we enjoyed several glasses of the finest, and I also put away a plate of white salmon with shitake mushroom sauce and cauliflower mash that was to die for!

Before (Exhibit A):

After (Exhibit B):

We also had some chocolate lava cake smothered in the best thing on earth, dulce de leche, and of course, some champagne.

Here's the birthday girl:

We then headed back to my neighborhood of San Telmo to a fun ex-pat bar called the Red Door where a bunch of other friends met up with me for chili bombs (recommended- chili pepper vodka dropped into a Red Bull and then chugged), beers, and a few games of pool. Needless to say, I was out until about 5:00am. Oh, Argentina!

Here's me with 2 of my favorite BA boys:

And with most of my favorite BA women (with a few key omissions):

Anyway, don't ask me how, but I somehow managed to wake up the next day and plan a lesson for a new student studying for the TOEFL exam, and then execute said lesson for 2 hours in the afternoon. Go me! At which point, running on no sleep and completely dehydrated, I returned home and prepared for round 2 of the birthday festivities! A group dinner at Cheff Iusef, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Palermo, followed by general shenanigans.

Friday's dinner was superb! I had a reservation for 10, but more and more people kept showing up, and by the end of the meal I think there were 18 of us. They kept adding tables and chairs until the restaurant literally ran out! Anyway, we dined on hummus, falafel, chicken, and lamb (don't worry, Mom, I didn't eat any lamb), and plenty of Heinekens. It really was a phenomenal meal, and I'd recommend the restaurant. Here we all are (I'm way in the back of the picture!):

And here's me enjoying it all! (And no, that is not a bruise on my arm, it's a lipstick kiss from Victoria)

We then went on to drink litros of cerveza out of plastic bags in the middle of Plaza Serrano, headed out for a drink at some random overpriced bar in Palermo, and then headed to... a gay bar! It was called Sitges, and it was phenomenal. $25 pesos for all you can drink, and the company was lovely! The remaining group of us danced all night quite literally. As in, I got home after 7:30am! (There is nothing quite like passing by cafes serving coffee and medialunas to people for breakfast as you walk home from the nightclub...)

Needless to say, I was a total waste of space for the rest of the weekend, and did nothing but sleep. But it was worth it. I am now in full detox mode and have vowed not to drink for at least a week. Not a drop. My poor, elderly liver deserves it.

So that is the tale of my birthday shenanigans! It was a lot of fun, and I'm very appreciative of my friends here in Buenos Aires who helped make it special. Obviously, I missed my friends back home TREMENDOUSLY, and it would have been even better with you guys here. I got pretty homesick around my birthday, and really wanted a good old fashioned hug from my family members and my close friends. But I got through it, and I do feel lucky to have people in my life here who helped make it special.

More later. SO MUCH MORE. I have about 500 million other topics to cover, and I'm determined to get to them all eventually! But I am teaching tomorrow morning (my student and I are going to learn all about phrasal verbs!), so I need to get my beauty rest.


PS. Side note: Mullets are considered cool here in Argentina. So if you have one, you should totally come here, because then you'll be cool. You should also dread your mullet, because apparently that is cool here too. Or just shave off all your hair except for one little rat tail, and you'll STILL be cool. You can even dread THAT and be cool. Basically, any haircut you can think of is cool here. Except for like, normal ones.

The end.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The new apartment

I have "officially" been living in my new apartment in San Telmo for 4 days now, ever since I got back from the beach trip extravaganza. I really like living here so far!

Though it's a 5 bedroom house, right now there are only 3 of us living here, me, an American girl name Andrea and a French girl named Julie. I really like both of them so far, and they also seem like they'll be good roommates (ie. clean, respectful, etc.). Apparently there is an Australian guy moving in tomorrow, so hopefully he'll be cool. And the 5th room is sort of in question, as my landlord Diego (a very cool 26 year old guy who is opening up a hostel around the corner) keeps telling us people are moving in and then they never do, and also from time to time suggests that he may move in... so we'll see.

Anyway, other than the 5 bedrooms (of which mine is by FAR the smallest) there are 2 bathrooms, a nice eat-in kitchen, a kind of entryway area that doubles as a living room-esque space with a couch, and every single bedroom has its own little balcony. Super sweet! There is also a shared roofdeck, though I haven't actually been up there much, as it doesn't have any furniture, and it appears it is primarily used for hanging laundry.

Anyhoo, I'll cut to the chase and show you some pictures! I know that's what you really want.

Here is my doorway. (I took these pictures today, which is a Sunday, so normally you'd see a little store to the right on the corner and a dry cleaner to the left, but both are closed for the day.) Of course, I couldn't resist using a photo with a bicycle in it. :-)

Here is the entryway as you walk in (luxurious, huh?):

And here is the side of the building where my room is. My balcony is on the right side of the building, 3rd floor up, the one in the middle.

Here is the view of the street from my balcony:

Alrighty, so moving into my room, here's what it looks like:

I hope you enjoyed the tour! Overall it's a very nice house in a very cool, funky little neighborhood. I've already done some exploring, and am trying to get to know the area a bit better. I love how the streets are cobblestoned in most parts of San Telmo, and the whole area has a very colonial feel to it. The architecture here is beautiful, and I'm obsessed with the fact that everyone has balconies covered in plants. I can't wait to get some plants for MY balcony!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

La Playa! (Part II)

...so when we left off, I was enjoying my last scenic moments of Necochea on Day #3...

The 5 remaining soldiers (Me, Marisa, Paul, Megan, and Kieran-- soon to be named the "Fabulous Five"-- as opposed to the "Sloppy Seven") took off for the bus station around 6:00pm armed with 7 litros of cerveza, all seven of which were consumed in full within the first hour of the two hour bus ride to Mar de Plata. You can then, of course, imagine how much the people around us liked us.

Highlights of the bus trip included 1) having to use the SAUNA-esque bathroom TWICE, where I baked and boiled as I hung on for dear life as I tried to avoid being tossed into the toilet...

(That's me expressing my disappointment in the bathroom situation.)

..and 2) meeting the Mar de Plata local seated next to Paul, Ezequiel, who took a fond liking to us crazy gringos and sent us on a mission to dine at his family's Cuban restaurant, La Boedguita, upon our arrival. He also invited us to hang out later, which I'll get to when the time comes...

Anyway, we arrived in Mar de Plata around 8:00 PM and walked just a couple short blocks to what eventually revealed itself to be a complete $#%$-hole of a hostel. I won't even bother to put it's name here, on the off chance someone should mistake it for a recommendation. Highlights of the hostel were me throwing out my back just by laying down on the "mattress" for too long, having the eery feeling that my sheets hadn't been washed in a very long time, and of course, not being able to flush any of the toilets without reaching your hand into the wall and fiddling with one of the many tubes and handles and knobs and whatnots. Yum!

ANYway, we threw down our bags, and after enjoying our showers in the bathroom where the shower had no door or curtain and poured directly onto the toilet, we made ourselves beautiful and headed out to the Cuban place for dinner. Here's the Fabulous Five being, well, fabulous:

Dinner was quite nice. Having lived in Cuba, I can say that the mojitos were positively sub-par and overly sweet, but the food was divine. I had a pork loin type thing bathed in a sweet sauce, and served with yellow rice, roasted red pepper and fried banana.

The walls were decorated with interesting pictures (I think some were originals) from the Cuban revolution, lots of odes to Che, a couple Cuban flags, and plenty of graffiti. I decided to go for it and leave my mark as well.

We finished off dinner, and when the owner of the restaurant found out we were "friends" of Ezequiel's, she called him right up! After dinner we headed to the beach to enjoy the scenery and a couple more litros, and sure enough, while we were there Ezequiel showed up! What a crazy kid he is. None of us could really figure out why he took such an interest in us, but he proceeded to pile the 5 of us into his tiny little car and drive us around town, stopping at landmarks and things, before finally we decided to head back to the hostel. He was nice but... I don't know, just a little off. But it was a fun experience, and a great little tour!

The next day we walked ALL of Mar de Plata, which as it turns out is a very cool city! There is a road that heads all along the coast, and we walked the whole thing on the way to one of the furthest beaches, Playa Grande, on the way passing some amazing scenery, and some phenomenal houses!

We finally arrived at our destination after the very long but beautiful walk, and collapsed on the beach for a few hours. However, not quite as many hours as before-- our sun burns were all starting to catch up with us, and with the exception of Paul (the perma-tanned Philipino), we were turning into some seriously hot little potatoes.

So at this point, Marisa and Kieran announced that they NEEDed to watch some futbol game (champions league something something blah blah blah) so we all taxied back to the hostel, showered up, and they headed to a bar for the game while Megan and I did some exploring. It was a blast! We found several cool little plazas, and a couple ferias selling local artisan stuff. Unfortunately, a lot of it was hippies selling lame things like hair wraps and hemp necklaces, but amidst that garbage were some real winners. I left with an awesome pair of wire and jade earrings for only $10 pesos! Score!

We also ran into a strange little flea market, selling mostly sunglasses and flip flops and not-stolen-at-all watches and cheap jewelry. And I would be remiss not to mention that they also had entire tables selling pocket knives, and get this-- NUM CHUCKS!!! AND THROWING KNIVES!!! Dad, are you hearing this?? It was shocking.

Anyway, we kept the night pretty mellow and low key, because we needed to get up early the next day to catch the bus to our next (and my last) stop in Villa Gesel.

My lasting impression of Mar de Plata was grand-- I loved that it was very urban, yet much friendlier than Buenos Aires. It had a lively scene and seemed like it would probably be a very hopping place in peak season. Luckily, we arrived just a couple weeks late and didn't have to fight too many crowds. It was a great contrast to Necochea which had much more of a small town feel. And Villa Gesel ended up being yet another very different place, with woods and trees and more of a small, bohemian feel, with unpaved roads and sandy walkways.

My last day was spent in the lovely Villa Gesel, about an hour and half north of Mar de Plata, a trip which involved plenty of unpaved roads (so my fellow travelers tell me-- I was asleep!). The taxi ride from the bus station to the hostel (where the 4 others were staying, but I was just leaving my bags, as I was leaving that night) was amazing. Just a look at the map of the town reveals an eccentric layout of winding, almost zig-zagged streets that somehow still manage to follow a numbered street system. The taxi wound us through tiny streets covered in sand, passed funky little beach houses all along the way, and we enjoyed the tree lined streets and laid back atmosphere.

Unfortunately, within the first hour we were there it started to rain! :-( But we trekked to the beach anyway, to take a few pictures and just catch a glimpse.

Luckily it eventually cleared up and turned out to be a pretty nice, sunny day once again! The rest of the day was spent wandering the town, enjoying some casual lunch and yummy coffee, doing some shopping (I got some new Havaiana flip flops-- all the rage here in Argentina), walking through the bosque and seeing some gorgeous forested areas, and walking all the way to the other end of town to the pier, where we watched the locals fish using these bizarre fishing baskets tied to the end of huge wooden poles. Our legs were sore from all the walking, but it was worth it!

After some relaxation time with a couple beers and some salads and french fries, it was time for me to be on my way back to Buenos Aires on a midnight bus.... and here I am, back in the big city, living in my new apartment, and facing the reality of unemployment, or worse, A JOB. (ha) More on that later.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Por fin, LA PLAYA! (Part I)

Finally, after 4 long weeks of studying, teaching, and wondering what it's like to actually relax in Argentina, last Friday I graduated from my TEFL Certification course (w00t!) and made my way to the beach. Immediately. As in, I finished class at 8:00pm, and was on a bus to Necochea at 11:00pm with 6 other classmates, and several bottles of wine.

Our mission: To hang at our friend Emilia's beach house in Necochea for the weekend, and then explore a few other beach towns as we work our way back up the coast. More specifically, to get a tan, drink like fish, eat too much, and totally veg out.

The cast: Yours Truly (a raging, flame-headed gringo from Philadelphia and most recently, Boston), Paul (guy from San Fran and our trip's eventual appointed tour guide), Megan (rock solid tomboy and futbol superstar, also from San Fran), Marisa (London hottie and the woman who taught me to say "minger"), Emilia (1/2 gingo and 1/2 Argentine, she was Colorado born, but is Argentine in her soul), Matt (quiet New Yorker with a thing for pterodactyls) and Kieran (totally nuts and utterly quotable guy from Cork, Ireland).

The bus ride was 8 hours long, and I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of pounding rain and thunder. yup! A torrential downpour, complete with thunder, lightning, and the bus rocking side to side! I was too out of it (thanks to my good friend Dramamine) to react much, but I do recall waking up long enough to exclaim "On no it's raining!" eat a kind of stale pastry the bus driver had given me, and go back to sleep.

Saturday, Day 1:
We arrived in Necochea in early morning just as the rain was clearing. Though it started off a little grey, by noon there was not a cloud in the sky. We threw down our bags in Emilia's AMAZING beachfront apartment, and went off for the first of many consecutive gluttonous breakfasts of coffee, fresh squeezed orange juice, medialunas (mini croissants delivered directly from heaven!!), and ham and cheese tostadas.

Then to the beach! Oh man, the seven of us had thought of almost nothing else for weeks. Every time we had to do an assignment, stay up late studying, whatever, we always remembered that soon, we'd be lounging on the beach uselessly, drinking cervezas and wasting our lives away to the beat of the crashing ocean waves. Por fin, mission complete! As we walked onto the beach, the clouds seemed to melt away just for us, and we found what felt like the perfect spot on the perfect beach. We flounced, we flopped, we swam, we played paddle ball... Megan, Paul, Kieran, and Matt even played a full game of futbol with some locals while Marisa, Emilia and I worked on our tans. Like I said, the perfect day. I left feeling like I'd been injected with positive energy and a heavy dose of Vitamin D. I also had the beginnings of a [reddish] tan.

And that was just the first half of day 1! I was gone for 5 days, peeps! This blog is going to take me forever to write!

Next order of business-- a feast! An asado! It was Megan's birthday (and damn her, I felt ancient as she announced she was turning only 23-- I mean, literally, it's like I have one foot in the grave), and so we went all out, picking up about 25 litros of Quilmes beers, bags of green and red peppers, onions, tomatoes, eggplant, and squash, and such a huge pile of assorted meats, I thought my arm was going to break off carrying the thing on the way home.

That night was quite the fiesta. A few of Emilia's friends came over, so at the peak of the evening there must have been about 12-14 of us packed into her covered porch thingy (I don't know what it's called), grubbing down on piles of meat and veggies, and putting back more cerveza than I should admit here. Needless to say, we were all pretty smashed, and some of the highlights of the subsequent events include Kieran becoming the DJ and stressing out over his music choices, Paul and Kieran gyrating and rapping along to all of Oakland's finest thug hits, having to go on TWO more beer runs (even though we had TWENTY FIVE LITERS), and the whole group suddenly pushing the tables out of the way and starting a dance party. We even made it to a dance club at some point in the middle of the night, and I recall riding there in the back of a pickup truck.

Megan, the birthday girl, had a blast, and we all really bonded that night. It was exactly what everyone needed after a long, hard month, and a sunny day at the beach.

Sunday, Day 2:
Hangover breakfast at a sweet little sidewalk cafe in the early afternoon. Coffee, juice, lots and lots of water, and medialunas. AND pizza, ham sandwiches, salads, and I think some people even ordered hamburgers...

...plenty more beach time...

...a walk in the woods, and a stop at El Lago de los Cisnes (Swan Lake), which lacked any swans, but had plenty of geese...

...a pile of churros stuffed with dulce de leche and pastry cream....

...and a huge seafood dinner! My first seafood in months! (Necochea appears to specialize in squid, because not only did we get this gorgeous pile of the world's largest calamari, but I also ordered a mixed seafood pasta dish, which prominently featured about 75% squid-- yum.)

Monday, Day 3:
Emilia was leaving that evening for Bariloche to visit a friend, and Matt decided to head back to Buenos Aires the night before to start working on *cough* getting a job. At this point we were all totally sunburned, and did spend some time at the beach, but also decided to do some wandering/ exploring.

Our desire to wander and explore led us to possibly the most exciting part of all, which was the pier (more of a causeway) and the sea lions! SEA LIONS! Really big ones. They looked like bears flopped on the sand in piles, falling over each other, waving to each other, and occasionally diving into the water for a dip. The call them lobos marineros in Spanish, which literally means "sea wolf," which I find interesting.

The pier itself was amazing, with stunning views of the ocean, the beach, and the city of Necochea off in the distance. There was also a very cool mural painted along the end. We had a blast wandering along the pier for hours, checking out the scenery, enjoying the sea lions, and doing a little rock hopping.

We also payed a visit to Necochea's landmark Quilmes and Speed cans (formerly bathrooms, now just tourist attractions for loons like us).

And wandered through a very, very cool outdoor nightclub that was unfortunately closed for the season. Man, it seemed like a fun place to party!

We had plenty more adventures on days #4 and 5, but unfortunately your beloved blogger is tired and needs to take a blogging break....

To be continued! xoxo

Thursday, March 5, 2009


I'm so happy right now that I need to gush!

So I just finished my second-to-last teaching class of the TEFL certification course. It was an advanced class, and my topic today was Obama. I brought in an abridged version of his inaugural address and we got into a big discussion about everything-- education, healthcare, immigration... you name it, we covered it. It was a lot of fun.

Anyway, as the class came to a close, one of the students, Edit, said, "Erica, you are our favorite teacher. You are so helpful, we always learn so much, and you are so much fun!" Then another student, Stephanie, chimed in, "Yes, you are the best! We love your class the most of all."

As if that wasn't enough-- because I was SO flattered of course, and was smiling ear to ear-- Stephanie and Edit both came to me after class and requested that I teach them privately! Which means... drum roll please.. I have my first 2 students!!! And 2 students that I adore, no less. (I know you're not supposed to have favorites, but I secretly do.)

Anyway, I'm happy and thought you might want to go!


Rainy day women #12 and 35

Man, it rains hard in Argentina! I have never seen raindrops so huge or a downpour so torrential. This is the kind of rain that soaks you to the bone within seconds.

Last Saturday night, I went to a party in Adrogue with Ali and Bata to one of Bata's friends' birthday parties... and it started to POUR. We just needed to run from the car into the house and were in the rain for maybe 5-10 seconds, and this is what happened:


It has been rainy that way off an on for about a week. We needed it, as Argentina suffered a petty bad drought this summer, but it was pretty unpleasant. Luckily, I bought myself a fuchsia umbrella to put a smile on my face. :-) It rained so hard a few nights ago that a tree outside my house got ripped down and blocked off the whole street. The street was closed for the entire day (not to efficient, I might add) while they "dealt" with it. And by that I mean, after 10 hours of scratching their heads about it, they finally moved the tree onto the sidewalk, where it remains today.

Anyway, enough about rain! Today is relatively clear and mild, so hopefully the worst has passed. Which is great because TOMORROW IS MY LAST DAY OF CLASS! AND THEN I'M GOING TO THE BEACH! I am so excited! I teach tonight for an hour, then I have a couple hours of class tomorrow and then teach again tomorrow night, and then I hop on a bus with 7 of my classmates and head to Necochea. I cannot wait to get out of town, get onto the beach, and spend some time relaxing, without having to worry about homework or lesson plans or anything else. It sounds utterly luxurious!

I also bought bus tickets to Mendoza for a visit from March 20-24th with my roommate Victoria, and 2 other girls from my program. Can't wait for some serious wine tasting! Apparently the big thing is to do a big wine tour on bicycles, so obviously I am ridiculously excited about that. It's supposed to be fabulous in Mendoza, so I'll be sure to take lots of pictures.

...then when I get back, the real world will sink in, and I will have to begin the process of finding a job. Anything! Because unfortunately, around here, English teachers are a dime a dozen, so there's a lot of competition and the wages are pretty bad. I think I can expect to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $25-30 pesos/ hour to start off, which is about $7-8 USD. Eeeeek.

I did go to a party a couple weeks ago where I met an American guy who was returning to the States, and so he passed me along the contact information of his employer. I called her up yesterday, and she was very excited to hear from me, and said she probably has work for me! So let's all keep our fingers crossed that that is the case. We were supposed to meet today to finalize details, and she had something come up and had to cancel, so let's hope we can find a time to reschedule ASAP before "my" job goes to someone else. Like I said-- stiff competition.

But anyway, I'm just generally thrilled to be finishing the TEFL certification program, excited to take a little vacation, and then feeling ready to take on the new challenge of teaching FOR REAL!