Monthly Archives: November 2010

Shot of the Week

A traffic circle in La Paz, Bolivia, by TKGO

Residents wait for public transportation in La Paz, Bolivia. Privately-operated white vans are most common, and work similarly to a public bus system.

Tara for TKGO

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Saving Money in Buenos Aires

It is easy to live big on American dollars in Buenos Aires. My first weeks in the city I got continual thrills out of evaluating the prices of things in pesos and dividing by four, which is the current approximate conversion rate. But, a traveler’s mentality toward money is different from a resident’s, and I have finally begun evaluating prices pesos against pesos, rather than pesos to dollars. Now my thrills come from saving pesos while still enjoying all Buenos Aires has to offer, rather than thinking of how comparatively cheap a steak or taxi ride is here compared to in the U.S.

For all my fellow recent college graduates, and because I’m pretty positive saving money is a universal pleasure regardless of where one is in the world or how much he or she makes, I present my personal list of money-saving tips, based on my current life and experiences in Buenos Aires.

An Argentine 100-peso bill, worth about $25 U.S.

Food

Everyday

Shop often, but only for what you need. I was used to making big weekly or bi-weekly trips to the supermarket, but I have found I save more money, waste less food and eat more of what I want and need (than what’s simply around) when I shop day-to-day. I pass a small grocery store on my way home from work, and on my walk from the office I think about what I plan to eat for dinner that night and pack for lunch the next day. Then I buy what I need, and that’s that.

Break down your food shopping, and search out the cheapest produce stands and butcher shops. The general consensus is you will pay less for the same products in the smaller, individually owned grocery stores than in the big-box grocery stores. Investigate this and see what works best for you, though, because while I swear by the small places, my roommate sticks to the large Disco on our corner and often receives 15 or 20% coupons off entire grocery orders.

In Buenos Aires, produce stores and butcher shops populate every block, whereas large grocery stores are less frequen. As a rule, produce and meat in the smaller shops are cheaper, fresher and more local than what you’ll get at the larger grocery stores. Not all stands, though, sell for the same rates. I’ve located what I think is the cheapest (and tastiest) near my block. The other day I purchased a huge head of lettuce, two tomatoes, two avocados and a bunch of asparagus (about 10 stalks) for $11.50 pesos, or less than $3 USD. Also, since you’ll be buying it all ripe, it is best to follow the above advice of buying regularly.

Dining Out

Find coupons. Coupons are everywhere! I currently subscribe to Waku, Cuponica, Groupon Buenos Aires and Living Social Buenos Aires to receive their daily deals via e-mail. Some of the offers are for Pilates classes and teeth whitening, yes, but the many of them are food-related. Also — and this is particular to Buenos Aires — Guia Oleo, which is the Buenos Aires restaurant guide bible, issues a number of free restaurant coupons. You also will find food coupons in random places, like a 20% off sushi coupon with your grocery store receipt. (Note: Some Buenos Aires coupon sites, might not accept international credit cards.)

Similarly, look into what you already have going that comes with discounts. Prime example: Ironically enough, my gym membership gets me 15% off at a nearby helado (ice cream) place.

Go for local fast food. In Buenos Aires, empanadas, pizza and choripan (chorizo sausage on bread) are beloved local foods. They also come super cheap. Less than $4 pesos can get you a warm, stuffed empanada — baked here, not fried, so don’t feel too bad about it — and a piece of pizza or choripan with some chimichurri run around that price, too. Whenever I don’t feel like cooking but still want to feel “cultural” (as in not hit up Burger King or its ilk) I search out a new local empanada, pizza or choripan place.

And if you are craving sweets, visit the factura wall at your local bakery. Facturas are pastries that cost about $1.50 pesos each. Small enough to avoid guilt, big enough to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Also, choose between wine or water when dining out. I’m half kidding, but water is not complimentary here, you know.

Nightlife

Get on a list. You can find a list for anywhere if you try is a theory developed (and proved) while studying abroad in Barcelona. The same holds for Buenos Aires, where boliche (club) culture is especially strong. Club promoters do most of their work via Facebook, so a simple search for “____ lista” or “_____ invitados” (inserting the name of the club you want to go in the blank) will turn up groups and profiles with free admittance entry. Additionally, a Google search can turn up some legitimate Web sites for list information, such as this one for Buenos AIres. It doesn’t hurt to try to meet the promoters, too, because they might start to come to you with less-publicized events, such as free dinners. (Seriously!) Most of the time, finding a list also translates to skipping any silly bouncer business and lines at the door.

Investigate deals. Find a favorite bar, or many favorite bars, and look into any specials they have, like nights when girls drink free or beers are especially cheap. At many places, “happy hour” has been known to go until 2 a.m. America might be the land of deals and buying in bulk, but Argentines can’t say no to good drink specials, either.

Also, and this is probably another obvious one but I will say it anyway, cheap tickets can be found to pretty much any show or event. Just look for student deals or the cheapest day to go.

Avoid buying drinks out. This holds true whether you’re in Chicago or Buenos Aires, but drinks will always be cheaper when you make them yourself. If you plan on going to a boliche, too, you won’t be leaving until probably 1:30 a.m., so use the time beforehand to arrange a social little previa (pregame). Argentines embrace the concept of previas, so make some friends and make some plans!

Sightseeing & Events

Hold on to your student ID. That expiration date? Probably not noticeable to the woman working the ticket desk at a museum in Buenos Aires. I’ve used mine a number of times without a hitch, and it usually gets me a significant discount — often free — entry. Otherwise, look for free or discounted days.

Read local event calendars and culture sites. A good place to start would be the websites of local culture publications (the print versions work, too, but you’re more likely to find up-to-date details online), such as TimeOut. You’ll find the most interesting, in-the-know, and often free events.  Some popular ones in Buenos Aires are Vuenos Aires, the aforementioned TimeOut Buenos Aires, What’s Up Buenos Aires and (thanks to my Twitter friend @AustinWiebe), the official city agenda. In New York City I relied heavily on nymag.com for similar info. Expat forums also are especially informative in this aspect; see “ALSO:” below for my praise on that.

Talk to locals. Sure, you want to see the famous architecture and cruise through the notable museums, but when it comes down to it, sightseeing is about getting to know a place. Talk to locals to see how they spend their weekends, and that’s when you’ll do some real “sightseeing.” For example, park life is a huge part of the Buenos Aires lifestyle. People spend hours upon hours in parks on the weekends, drinking mate (read Tara’s explanation of Argentine’s mate drinking here) kicking around a ball, playing music and most importantly, just spending time with friends. And that costs nothing.

Communication

Bring a cell phone. Of all those old cell phones you have stuffed in drawers at home in the U.S., I bet at least half of them can be unblocked and used in another country. One of the biggest money wasters that comes with setting up life in a new place is buying an overpriced cell phone in the country you are in that features technology rivaling only the Nokia you used to play Worm on. Bring an unblocked cell from home and you will save money and have a nicer phone. Just make sure it operates using a SIM card, and you can buy a new card in your country for super cheap and get it going.

Get on Google Voice! And buy a Magic Jack. I do miss my family and friends in the U.S., sometimes too much. Thanks to the newly debuted Google Voice, though, I can call and text them, and anyone else in the U.S., for free (!) right from my computer. It is truly amazing. Google Voice is new, though, so it does not always work, and that is where the more reliable Magic Jack comes in. One of my friends in Buenos Aires is a flight attendant on leave; she travels often and swears by the Magic Jack. How it works is, you purchase the jack to plug into the USB port of your high speed internet-connected computer. You then plug a phone into the other end of the adaptor, and can use the phone to make or receive calls from the U.S. and Canada.

ALSO:

Use Twitter. Follow local journalists, bloggers, personalities and publications to get insight on what people are up to that sounds fun and cost-effective. People cannot help but broadcast a good deal or fun event, and I for one, do not mind! I have made a “Buenos Aires” list on my account so I can quickly check out what is going on in my current city.

Read Forums. The Buenos Aires Expat blog truly amazes me. It is a goldmine of advice, resources and tip-offs for everything related to Buenos Aires and expat life. I have posted looking for advice on buying polo tickets, best nearby beach getaways and finding Thanksgiving turkeys, and receive a slew of knowledgeable responses quickly. Additionally, because many expats are adventurous people looking to experience as much as possible, you hear about events and activities you might otherwise not have learned about. I have found CouchSurfing’s groups to be a good resource, too.

Don’t buy clothes — share. Or use cash. Living with two other girls = two additional closets, so I have not felt the need or desire to buy new clothes here, yet. If you do shop, pay in cash and ask for a discount! In many South American countries, the big secret is that the labeled price is for credit cards. Pay with cash and sales personnel will discount your purchase. Be sure to ask, though, because they will not always offer.

That’s my best advice so far, and I would love to hear any recommendations you have. Every peso saved is another peso toward travels during my time off around Christmas!

Karina for TKGO

Shot of the Week

Lisbon Roofs

Lisbon, in my opinion, is the most underrated travel destination in Europe. I spent a weekend in the city while studying abroad in Barcelona and talk about it feverishly to this day. I snapped this photo from my hostel in Barrio Alto in late afternoon after spotting the discarded guitar. When looking out over the city (which is easy to do since it is made up of a number of hills), reddish-orange roofs are visible for miles.

Karina for TKGO

Buenos Aires Schedule

Along with the adjusting to new languages, foods and customs traveling often requires, it is also common to have to adopt a new day-to-day schedule. If you are American and traveling in Italy, as my family was this past summer, you might be craving heaps of pasta at 7 p.m., but the restaurants won’t be serving for at least another hour and a half. The owners and their family are eating now before opening!

The Buenos Aires schedule is in a league all its own, beating out even Barcelona for absurdity when compared with the U.S. standard. Funny thing, is I’m pretty certain I was born to live on this schedule because the change felt too natural. For a brief description of how it differs here, everything is pushed back at least a few hours, and enjoying nightlife is of high importance. For more solid evidence, I have mapped out a schedule with some important times, based on my observations, experiences and efforts to be as much like a local as possible.

Terrazas del Este, Buenos Aires

Outside Terrazas del Este boliche, and the night was still young. By Karina for TKGO.

11 a.m.: Breakfast, which must involve coffee. Medialunas, small, sweet croissants, are a favorite accompaniment.

3 p.m.: Lunch, probably something light. The steaks and pastas are generally saved for dinner.

6/7 p.m.: Time for a merienda, or snack. People often caffeinate up with a second café, though it is considered too late in the day for a café con leche. Opt for a cortado.

10 p.m.: Dinner! Restaurants begin accepting reservations around 8:30 pm, but you most likely will be dining with solely tourists until this hour.

11:30 p.m.: Preparation begins to go out, or previas commence. A previa is what Argentines call a small party at someone’s house or apartment to socialize and imbibe a little before going out. (A “pregame,” for all you American college kids.)

2 a.m.: The night is on. From this hour on is prime arrival time at boliches, or clubs, and bars. Lines start to form now, so if you are less concerned with arriving “fashionably late” than not having to deal with lines and, it is best to arrive before 2 a.m., but definitely after 1 a.m.

5-6 a.m.: As one friend said, “Here, if you make it home before 5 a.m. you feel like you cheated the night.” Sometime toward 6 a.m. on a weekend night is a more realistic estimation for when piling into cabs home begins to happen, because before then, everything is still going strong.

-Karina for TKGO

Shot of the Week

La Jolla Cove, California

If there is a such thing as reincarnation, it wouldn’t be so bad to come back as any of the marine life in La Jolla Cove near San Diego, California.

Tara for TKGO

View from Sugarloaf

As New York gets colder, I can’t help but think how Karina’s new hemisphere is heating up. And so, my mind wanders to the beach town of South America: Rio de Janeiro.

On the gondola ascending Sugarloaf in Rio de Janeiro

Sugarloaf is one of Rio’s most famous landmarks after Christ the Redeemer. Tourists can take gondolas to different tiers on the mountain for these killer views of the city. Above, one of the gondola bases is visible as we ascend to the top. Below, Christ the Redeemer shows himself on the tallest peak directly in front of me, while to my right, another arm of the city swings into the ocean, surrounded by sailboats.

The view from atop Sugarloaf in Rio de JaneiroLooking to the right: The view from atop Sugarloaf in Rio de Janeiro

I know, I was thinking the same thing: What is a sugarloaf? Through the 19th century, brown cane sugar was packaged and bought in a huge cone and broken off in pieces to melt in your coffee. While I don’t think the Brazilian mountain bares any resemblance to a British Triangular Trade product, no one who gets to the top will remain concerned about the mountain for long. The views from its summit are clearly the reason it’s famous.

Resting on a bench atop Sugarloaf in Rio de Janeiro

Lazing on one of these benches with a Matte Leão and a friend is what lucky Rio locals call heaven in stay-cation form.

Tara for TKGO

Fuerza Bruta in Buenos Aires

It took me coming to Buenos Aires to finally make it to Fuerza Bruta.

I had wanted to go in Chicago, but missed it. Then I set my sights on New York City when I was home over the summer, but it didn’t work out. It’s best it happened in Buenos Aires, though, because here is where the show originated.

The interactive, acrobatic, near-no-dialogue show has viewers standing in a high-ceilinged, enclosed room for the duration, which is about an hour. The actors move through the crowd, fly from the ceiling and slide across a wet plexiglass pool above viewers heads.

Fuerza Bruta is a show you can interpret however you like — some fairly common themes like a man running on a treadmill are pretty easy to pick up on — but I would be shocked if you didn’t have fun. It is a high-energy design and engineering marvel, and it becomes a raining dance party I wanted to go on for hours.

Below are chronological clips from the show, which while thrilling, do little to convey the energy, intimacy and engagement of the show. The show tours internationally, and is now playing in Buenos Aires and New York City, with Bogota and Puebla coming soon. If you’re in any of those places, I highly recommend purchasing tickets. My friends and I are considering going back for round two.

Karina for TKGO