It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written; I hope that last, depressing entry and the subsequent silence hasn’t led either of my two stalkers to fear for my life. Things have been pretty good, but I’ve admittedly been slacking on the photo taking and entry writing. I’m not really sure why.

Bo and Manuel

I’ve not been spending as much time with Bo as the first month, but I’ve still been seeing him a few times a week. We’ve been going out pretty often and eating out with Manuel, our new friend we met at Hybrid one night when he was out with his friend Artur. It’s an interesting situation with Manuel and I. We both like Bo, but we get along well and the three of us often hang out. Manuel and Bo hang out more, though. :-) But it’s been nice.

A new used car

I recently bought a used car to make my life more convenient. Previously I was using my mom’s van to visit friends and go out, but she needs it to get to work at 6:30 a.m. each weekday, so it’s not an ideal situation. I spent a few days of constant searching used car listings online, which got very tiring very fast. I often had dozens of tabs open in Firefox, three for each car: the listing, the corresponding EPA fuel economy rating page and the Kelley Blue Book value.

I had been searching for cars made in the last decade with less than 100,000 miles on them, hoping to not having to deal with repairs. Eventually I found a craigslist post for a 1997 Saab 900 SE Turbo 4 door hatchback with 134,000 miles at a small dealer outside Racine. Most of the cars I had been looking at were listed at several hundred dollars lower than the KBB value, but this one was about $1,500 lower. I researched the car, and started to get optimistic about it. Heated leather seats, hey! Apparently the MSRP in ’97 was around $40,000. Now it was selling for $2,500.

I decided to check out the car, and called the dealer’s number at 3 a.m., expecting to get an answering machine with the hours listed. “Hello?” “Oh, I must have the wrong number. I thought I was calling a dealership.” “That’s me.” Oh. I guess the guy is on my sleeping schedule. We talked a while, and he seemed like a really nice guy. The next day, my mom took me there after work, and we test drove the car. It had a few things wrong with it: driver side rear door won’t open, radio antenna (unnoticeably) broken halfway up and a broken fog light. Overall I liked the car, and at his accepted price of $2,200, it was better than anything else I thought I would find. So I bought the car, and now I have a car again. It’s not quite my red 2003 Mustang convertible, but it drives nicely and has a sunroof.

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Bo and Ryan at Josh's for a movie

Getting towed

So, I’ve been going to Josh’s quite often and hanging with Bo and Manuel whenever I can. The first time I stayed at Manuel’s with Bo, the car got towed after I parked in a spot that clearly wasn’t a spot. As he said he would in the event of a “ticket,” Manuel was a gentleman and paid the fees, and I was extremely grateful.

Back to Bo

Things with Bo have been pretty good, but the pressure to get my traveling “out of the way” (I say that, but I was really looking forward to it.) was mounting. I’m potentially starting a new job, but that has to wait till I’m back in the country. And secondly, I was discussing possible travel with an Internet friend Damian, and he mentioned he is to start school again at the beginning of April, so if I were to visit him, I’d have to come soon. I checked airfare and realized the prices were reasonable as soon as in a few days. So, Tuesday, March 1, I decided I would fly to Buenos Aires the following Tuesday.

Finally traveling, to Buenos Aires!

A few days later, Damian apparently had a change of heart, as he said he could no longer host me. He said his mom freaked out when he told her he was going to host a friend, and she was also planning to visit him in the coming weeks, which would cause a space conflict. Despite my best efforts to convince him my space needs were minimal and I was willing to find somewhere else to go for the period of his mother’s visit, he would not agree to host me, even at the beginning. So, I set out to find another host, with little time to spare.

Friday, I found someone named Fernando who spoke enough English to communicate with me, and who seemed very willing to show me around. I decided to take a chance and book the ticket for Tuesday, staying 30 days. Then Saturday or Sunday, Fernando told me he would not be able to move into his new apartment for at least a week, as it was undergoing repairs and he was staying with his family still. But he said I could stay there and it wouldn’t be a problem. I didn’t mind, and was glad his “bad news” wasn’t worse.

So come Monday night, Bo and I went to eat with Manuel and his friend from San Francisco, Oscar. We had a delightful meal at Trocadero, and then we went out to Fluid to meet up with Jim, Brian, Tom, Erik and some others.

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Manuel and I at Fluid

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Bo stayed over Monday night, and then Tuesday morning, I showered and made sure I had everything I needed for a month abroad. Then my mom took Bo home and me to Manuel’s to get my camera I forgot the night before, and then she dropped me at the bus stop downtown and went to work. I took the Coach USA bus to O’Hare, boarded a flight to Atlanta, and then I was off to Buenos Aires! I sat between two girls on the long flight, one of whom I didn’t talk to and the other, Tina, I did. She was going to teach English on some internship. I gave her my e-mail before parting ways after customs, so we’ll see if I hear from her.

Finding Fernando: Getting pesos, making calls, taking taxis and mysterious mobile phone service

After customs, I changed $150 to about 600 pesos, and then went to the McDonald’s for a small bit of food and to get some change so I could use the phone to call Fernando. I had a bit of trouble ordering at McDonald’s, as the menu was different, and everything seemed to be called the same thing. And then of course I was asked some questions at 1000 words per second in Spanish, so I had to look stupid for a bit. But I got the food and the change, so it worked out.

Then I looked around for a public phone, and could not find one in the airport. I exited, and a taxi driver asked me if I needed a ride… I told him I was looking for a phone, and he went looking for one with me and bore with me while I tried to make the call. We tried several number patterns and several phones to no avail. Then he tried to tell me the phones will work better downtown, and we should just go. I eventually consented to a ride, hoping I could figure it out later… I had sort of arranged to meet Fernando at a specific McDonald’s downtown, but I was supposed to call first.

Once we were on the road, I realized a few things. The driver never turned on the meter to determine the cost of the drive. My BlackBerry I bought on EBay for the trip worked even without first purchasing a SIM card.

The first observation resulted in the driver telling me the drive to downtown cost 380 pesos, or a bit less than 100 U.S. dollars (which I did NOT calculate in my head at the time, unfortunately). I had a pretty strong feeling this was outrageous, but didn’t research ahead of time the cost, and also considered the driver spent 20 minutes helping me with the phone first and the traffic made a 40 minute trip take an hour and a half. So I paid most of that balance, the driver telling me that’s enough after I fumbled looking for the correct notes. Oh well.

Also, while enjoying the traffic, I was messing around with my BlackBerry and discovered I could still make calls, like in the U.S., even though I didn’t buy a contract or purchase a local SIM card. It seems the previous owner was a company or government agency, as the phone had an “IT Policy” enabled and was part of a BlackBerry Enterprise Server. I used CrackUtil to clear the IT Policy to enable me to download apps and undo any other restrictions the phone had. End result: I have phone and data service in Buenos Aires, for free! I researched Verizon’s rates for this… apparently this would cost (or is costing someone) $4.99 per minute for calls and $20.48 per megabyte for data. I’ve probably used $300 worth of services in my first few days. I feel better about the taxi now.

So anyway, the taxi dropped me at el Obelisco de Buenos Aires, a recognizable place in the city with a huge McDonald’s on one of the corners. This was the place I arranged to meet Fernando, though I arrived about an hour before him. Eventually we found each other, talked a while and then sought an outlet converter power strip (50 pesos, 12.5 USD) and some sodas, and then took a bus to his family’s home.

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A ridiculous number of lanes near el Obelisco de Buenos Aires

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Lituania street

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The school and church where Fer went as a kid

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Stop!

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A lovely brick wall

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Reserved for school buses

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Gas and electric meters

One of the first things I tried was a sweet tea, yerba mate. The Argentines pronounce it like “sherva mottey,” as they, like Cubans, prounce the Y as “sh,” except when it ends a word. So the month mayo is “masho,” and yo is “sho.” I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to this. But anyway, as I typically never drink coffee or tea, I was skeptical but determined to try everything. And it wasn’t bad. In fact, I think I could start drinking the stuff. Especially since it’s prepared in such an interesting container, shown below.

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Yerba mate, a kind of tea drink in a metal lined wooden container

I’m very thankful Fernando’s mother always leaves food for us to eat. The first (or second?) night, I had some breaded chicken breasts. Apparently this is served with mayonnaise and mustard, but not from the containers I’m used to. A lot of things come in bags here when in the U.S. they would come in bottles. When I posted the below photo on Facebook, one of Fer’s friend’s commented something along the lines of, “Doesn’t he understand we are poor?” I guess she was joking, but that wasn’t my intention posting the photo! I just found the difference interesting. Perhaps the bags are cheaper than bottles, though, who knows.

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Mayo and mustard come in bags instead of bottles.

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Fernando, my gracious host, playing Lord of the Rings

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Torta de ricota from Gianella Panadería y Confitería