Merienda

I learned a new word in Argentina (okay a few, but this one stood out). Merienda. It is now one of my favorite words. For a simple comparison, it is like tea time. It consists of usually sitting around, drinking Mate, snacking on facturas, and sharing with friends.

A few definitions:

Mate – A traditional drink of Argentina that consists of drinking out of a metal or wood like gourd filled with Yerba. Hot water is then poured over the leaves and drank through a  bombilla, or a special straw that filters the herbs. This is repeated until the flavor is removed from the leaves and all are thoroughly wet. Each person drinks until the water is finished.

Mate. Yum.

Mate. Yum.

Facturas– Small sweet croissants or criollias (small bread like biscuits). Sold at local bakeries for very cheap, 12 pesos (around $1 USD) for ½ dozen or 2 pesos each.

So, if you find yourself in Argentina, talk to some Argentineans. They will more likely than not invite you to share in Mate or Merienda. It is a great opportunity to just enjoy some company, take some time to relax, and of course, practice a bit of Spanish

Ego Check: The struggle of learning another language

I took a communication class in college. I needed extra credits to become a CPA so I took a class I expected to be a bit easier. It was easier, but I learned that communication is not as easy as it appears, even when you are speaking the same language.

Flashback to my first day on the job (in Cordoba) and I realized just how difficult it can be to communicate. I had not spoke Spanish in years, let alone studied. I was thrown into a situation where people just expected you to understand what they were saying. In reality, I understood about 40% and had to use context, ask for it to be repeated, or even write it at one point.

Google translate became my best friend. I wanted to cry the first day. It is very humbling to be trying your absolute hardest only to completely misinterpret what was said and have to have someone save you or respond for you. I felt like a child. I still feel a bit like a child.

But it has gotten easier, and I think a bit more of my Spanish is coming back. I am still awful at conjugating verbs and many times will just say multiple versions hoping the person will correct me. I also tend to use the masculine for feminine words or vice versa. It is hard for me to comprehend how wrong that is when there isn’t an equivalent in English.

Even though learning Spanish is one of the hardest things I’ve done (yes, for me harder than the CPA exam), there is an immense sense of satisfaction when you complete a conversation. Or when you effectively get your point across. Especially when you are sitting with a group of people, who all seem to speak more languages than you, and they switch between English and Spanish and you can follow, it is one of the most enjoyable experiences I know.

I think everyone should be required to live or work where their mother tongue is not the language. In the U.S., I have heard people become frustrated when a foreigner cannot communicate in English. I think these same people would have different opinions if they had ever been in a situation like that. The journey to becoming bilingual may not be easy or comfortable, but it is rewarding.

Cordoba, Argentina

After a ~10 hour bus ride from Buenos Aires, I arrived in Cordoba, Argentina. My home for the next few weeks. Cordoba is the second largest city in Argentina. It is in the middle of the country, surrounded by the Sierras de Cordoba. It is a city of around 1.3 million people, so a decent size.

I did not know much about Cordoba before I arrived. I actually still don’t know that much even though I’ve been here a few weeks. It has one of the oldest Universities in South America and as such, a lot of students and neat little bars and shops to explore. Did I mention that higher education is free in Argentina? Like totally free, even for foreigners (along with healthcare). To me, coming from the U.S. this is kind of crazy. It is also kind of awesome because those who really want to learn, have the opportunity. I have

Me in front one of the statues in the main squares in Cordoba.

Me in front one of the statues in the main squares in Cordoba.

noticed that a lot more people take longer to graduate here though, which I suspect is partially due to it being free.

Criss crossing the world gets expensive. So in order to reduce those expenses, I joined workaway and found a hostel in Cordoba where I could work for around 24 hours a week in exchange for free boarding. Not a bad deal, huh? Plus, since I first visited a hostel in Europe where I saw cool, hip foreigners working the desk, it had been one of those dreams that I wanted to check the box on. (Bartending is also on that list so we will see if I get to that).

It is also a great way to meet people and not feel so lonely when you are traveling by yourself. This has come in handy, especially when I want to go out. I’ve gone to the same club twice now. They do play a lot of reggaeton here, which I cannot say is my favorite.

Cordoba has quite a bit to offer and I do recommend a stop if you are traveling through Argentina. I specifically recommend you come on a Wednesday. All the museums are free on Wednesday and it is a great way to get to know a bit more about the city, Argentinean culture, and its art.

One of the hidden market ways around Las Paseo de los Artes on the weekends. You are bound to find something you will want to buy!

One of the hidden market ways around Las Paseo de los Artes on the weekends. You are bound to find something you will want to buy!

I would also recommend trying to stay until Saturday night at least as well. Not only would you get to experience the nightlife but you can also check out Paseo de los Artes. Paseo de los Artes is a little street fair that only goes on during the weekend from 6pm to 10pm. The stalls are filled with handmade goods ranging from wood to leather to jewelery. The area itself is also fun to walk around and lots of open air bars.

Cordoba is a city that grows on you the more you get to know it. There aren’t any world famous sites, but it does have a culture that is all its own. Its proximity to the Sierras de Cordoba make it a great base and its youthful atmosphere will have you missing your own school days in no time. While there are many cities in Argentina that get more attention, Cordoba is worth a visit.

In search of Blue dollars

Argentina is quite the interesting place at the moment. Inflation is rampant. Literally you can go to the grocery store one week, and the next week the price of a vegetable has increased 5-10 pesos a kilo. Even more so, there are basically two markets for currency. There is the official rate, and the black market rate. These rates make a huge difference when it comes to spending here. The official rate is 8.6 ARP to 1 USD while the black market rate (also known as blue dollar rate) is 13. That is over a 50% increase on the official rate. Argentina is massively expensive if you don’t get the blue dollar.

So, how do you find this black market? Well in Buenos Aires it is fairly easy. However, you do need to look out for fake bills. At first, I thought I’d just use the ATM. How expensive can Argentina really be?

Man was I naïve. It hurt my wallet to do anything in Argentina. So, now that I was here in Cordoba, I set out in search of Blue dollars. I spoke to a german girl staying at the same place and she told me of a guy (mafia looking guy) that would exchange at the black market rate. So I set out in search of this guy. Normally, like if you were in Buenos Aires, you wouldn’t be able to walk down one road without hearing ‘cambio, cambio’ being whispered to anyone who looked like a foreigner. Cordoba, was a different story. I was struggling. I walked around the block about 5 times. I thought I saw an exchange go on but didn’t have the courage to just go up and ask. So I gave up for the day. I went to the grocery store, bought a little, and cried while I paid the official rate. Tomorrow was a new day.

Plaza San Martin in Cordoba, Argentina. Best place in Cordoba to find the Blue dollar rate.

Plaza San Martin in Cordoba, Argentina. Best place in Cordoba to find the Blue dollar rate.

So the following day, I set out again for Blue dollars. I walked around some more, hoping to hear those words. Then, as I was getting ready to do another walk around the block, I heard a man leaning against a pole, whisper ‘cambio’. I asked cuanto and he said doce setenta (12,70). Vale. It was good enough for me. He walked me around the corner where there was actually a line. It looked like locals so that made me feel more comfortable. It was a newspaper stand. He asked how much and I said cien. He took the $100 USD and threw it in a box. He then counted out 1270 pesos. I recounted to be sure. They had watermarks so I was comfortable.

I walked away smiling. I had participated in my first black market deal. I felt triumphant. I got ice cream to celebrate. And to also ensure the $100 pesos I just received actually worked. It did.

Who ever thought I would be looking for the black market in Argentina? It is a crazy world we live in.