Saturday, November 29, 2008

I'm Not a Writer, But I Play One on Blogspot

The Expat Argentina Blog has graciously accepted my offer to contribute to their blog. They should have my first piece up shortly, in the meantime they've posted a Ten Questions Interview with me.

I'll cross-post any future publications to my personal blog.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Cursing and Loving the Internet (At The Same Time)

The perception of American culture in Argentina has always surprised me. Someone told me that they thought everyone in America drank whiskey. Someone else told me that Americans eat huge breakfasts. People want to know if cowboys walk the streets of the West or if jocks, cheerleaders, and nerds make up highly segregated high school cliques. Obviously a lot of this comes from the American movies that are shown on almost every film channel day and night.

On the other hand the perception of American politics and current affairs is almost dead on. My host dad watches the Argentine news and knows just about as much as I do about the election in the United States. Listening to Argentine reporters talk about the election also takes away a lot of the bias. All this aside I found the following incident pretty amusing...

I got up from a nap today and walked into the office where my host dad was watching a video of an American talking about the collapse of the U.S. financial system and the introduction of the Amero currency. The man went on to describe how the United States had minted the Amero (he even had gotten his hands on one of the coins) and how we would all be doomed if it were to be implimented. He urged all Americans to exchange their money to gold or silver or even French Francs (de facto as of 2002) immeadiately. My host dad was in disbelief and wanted to know what I thought of this. Of course I told him I thought it was some stupid conspiracy theory.

I decided to look up the host of the video, Hal Turner. Here's the first line from his wikipedia entry: Harold "Hal" Turner is an American white nationalist and white supremacist from North Bergen, New Jersey. We soon decided that there was probably little truth to the video.

However, I guess there is some truth to the saying "don't believe everything you see on the internet." I'm just glad that we took the time to do a little further research. And that I have an internet dictionary to translate supremacist.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Health Care in Argentina

Considering all the current election talk of health care reform in the United States I thought I would take some time to talk about health care in Argentina. Health care here is free, unless you need a highly specialized treatment or want to pay for private health care. Free health care sounds great on paper but it comes with its own costs. I started thinking about this the other day after the following incident on the trip...

Marieke and I were talking about the trip during the ride back to Rio Gallegos when I looked up and noticed that the women in the seat in-front of me had a blood pressure cuff on her arm and that one of the nurse passengers was listening to her heart beat with a stethoscope. I nudged Marieke and asked her what was going on. The next thing I noticed was that the nurse had a giant syringe in his hand. At this point the bus had pulled over and stopped on the side of the road. The nurse turned to me and asked me to wake Marta (the other nurse who I talked about in the previous post). Fearing that the lady in-front of me was very sick I tapped Marta on the shoulder to wake her. She woke up startled, looked around, and went back to sleep. The others called her name and finally she re-awoke. She then noticed what was going on, let out an annoyed sigh, rolled her eyes, cracked her knuckles, and got up. She checked the blood pressure of the women and then pulled out another syringe and gave her a shot. She returned to her seat where she covered her head with a coat and went back to sleep. The woman also went to sleep and everything went on as normal. At this point I was very curious as to what had happened. I assumed that the women was diabetic.

When we stopped to cross into Chile I asked Angel what was wrong with the women. He replied non-chalantly, "she had heart burn."

Going to the doctor here is liking going to the grocery store. My host dad has a blood pressure cuff and when we were in the north he checked the blood pressure of his entire extended family. Then, to be sure that it was correct, we all loaded into his pickup and drove to the emergency room where they took everyone's blood pressure. They couldn't figure out why I was so amused.

A couple weeks ago my host dad had a stomach ache. They called the doctor who came to the house with a nurse and gave him a shot.

The attitude towards making a trip to the doctor is so passive here that my host mom actually suggested that I take a trip to the hospital to see the renovations.

This attitude also extends to all specialties of medicine. I read in a New York Times essay that something like 1/3 of children in Buenos Aires go to see a psychologist on a regular basis, and it's not because they're crazy.

I can't say this hasn't worn off on me. I have a bad sunburn on my nose and might just make a trip to the dermatoligist after I buy a newspaper...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Trip Home

Day 5
We decided to start the day by exploring downtown Ushuaia. It was agreed upon that we would meet at 11:30 AM to start the drive back. However a number of us thought this would not leave us a enough time to cross the border before it closed at 11 PM.

We hit the road and drove for hours. We stopped in Rio Grande and made four different stops at gas stations looking for one that had enough gas to fill the tanks of the buses.

As the time passed people started to get more and more anxious about making to the border before it closed. It finally turned dark outside as we pulled in to wait for the ferry. One of the other cyclists (who I happen to share a class with) asked me if Marieke had a migraine (she is prone to very painful migraines on a regular basis). I thought she was just sleeping but to make sure I asked her if she was okay. She was barely able to talk but she nodded her head when I asked if she was having a migraine. Since we were stopped I got off the bus and went to the other bus to find the migraine medication. When I got back on the bus I had the driver shut off the music and the lights. I also had to tell everyone to stop talking which proved to be a challenge. A lady from the other bus finally came over with the medication and started massaging Marieke's forehead. Unfortunately she didn't have the strength to take the medicine yet.

In the mean time one of the passengers, a nurse named Marta, gets back on the bus and starts complaining about something. I "shushed" her a number of times because she wouldn't stop talking. Then another passenger, Juan Carlos (also a nurse), got back on the bus. Juan Carlos is very loud and had been drinking all night the night before, woke up and started drinking, had some wine drink at noon, and then was drinking beer in the afternoon. I should note that he was the only one that was intoxicated. When he entered the bus he was hooting and hollering and everyone "shushed" him (mainly me). Then he shouted jokingly, "what are you, my father?"

I continuously "shushed" the two nurses and finally Marieke took her medication. We got on the ferry, crossed the Straight, and started heading towards the border. It was already past 11 and we knew we might not make it into Argentina before the next day.

The pain didn't subside and a lot of the people on the bus were really worried but we tried to keep everyone quiet in order to reduce the pain.

Finally we arrived at the Chilean exit. Of course, considering the time, it was closed. Marta started talking about how she wanted to get home tonight and how this was a huge inconvenience for her. Then she says out loud "we have a sick person on board, they have to let us through." Having come to the realization that Marieke's migraine could be her ticket home she starts talking about how this is a violation of Human Rights that they won't let us cross.

Soon after the Chilean immigration officer came on the bus and the driver turned on the lights. I was the only one standing and told him that I speak English and Spanish and that I could translate. He asked questions like "can I see your passport" and "I need to see your face" (her face was covered with her hair). Juan Carlos tried to help translate but as soon as he did the officer turned to him and told him that only him and I were talking, I can't say I didn't have a slight smirk on my face after the officer shut him up. He also asked me if I was her boyfriend, which I'll come back to later. He left the bus with her passport and Marieke sat back down. In the meantime one of the passengers stands up from the back of the bus with is passport, walks over to his son, grabs his backpack and gets off the bus. I went over to the son and asked him where his dad was going to which he replied that his dad was a doctor and that he was going to go with Marieke. I didn't know he was a doctor because he never tried to do anything to help until the opportunity to cross the border arose.

The immigration officer came back on board the bus and told Marieke that she was going to cross the border with a driver and the doctor in a pick up truck that was part of our caravan. I helped Marieke gather her belongings and we got off the bus. She then started to throw up outside of the pick up. At last the pick up passed through the border and I got back on the bus. Angel, one of the passengers, then told me that I should have lied and said that Marieke was my girlfriend so that I could pass through the border too. I told him that I didn't really care that much. Then Juan Carlos, who is at least 50, made an inappropriate joke (in its nature and its timing) about this at which point I just about lost it.

We turned the buses around and headed into the middle of Chilean nowhere. The rest of the ride I kept thinking how I just want to fine a telecabina to call home to the United States. Marta kept complaining about how she wanted a hotel room.

Finally we arrived at what was literally a village. There was a tiny place with 5 beds for about $14 USD/night. Of course the place didn't take visa and I had no cash because I had spent it on lunch in Rio Grande. Anyways, 5 people slept there and the rest of us either slept on the bus or in tents that we pitched next to a gymnasium. When we were taking our stuff off the bus the lady that had brought Marieke's medicine started talking to me and asking how it turned out in the end (she had been on the other bus and didn't ever see the immigration officer). I explained to her my frustration with the people on my bus and she was very understanding.

The next morning we all got on the buses and went back to Gallegos. My adviser's wife came with Marieke to pick us up. I asked her if the doctor talked to her at all. She told me that the only thing she remembers is looking at the clock in Gallegos and realizing that it was 1:30 AM.

Keep in mind that this entire time I was trying to hide my frustration from everyone. People are very observant of some of our cultural differences and I didn't want to seem like the pushy American. Things like customer service don't exist here and people usually just let stuff go so I didn't want to make a big deal out of, what I thought, was a big deal.

So that is my story of how a bus with 3 nurses (one that just didn't say anything) and one doctor stood by and did nothing, or made things more difficult, until the situation personally affected them.

Cycling Tierra del Fuego

[Click on the pictures to make them bigger/better quality]
I just had the most bizarre travel experience of my life and I can't even begin to do the story justice without writing two blog posts. First, in this post, I will write about the trip, the cycling, the scenery, the people, etc. In the second post I will write about the trip home, this is where it gets weird.

Day 1
Marieke (friend from the Netherlands) and I arrived at the gym bright and early (7:15) to get on the two buses going to Tierra del Fuego. We were scheduled to depart at 8:00 AM but left early at 8:50 AM (I'm sure I have already talked about the sense of time in Argentina). The bus ride was interesting. We had to enter Chile to get there which is a four step process. 1) Exit Argentina (2) Enter Chile (3) Exit Chile (4) Enter Argentina (5) repeat steps 1-4 on the way back. I have 8 new passport stamps. We also crossed the Magellan Straight in a ferry, very tipsy.

After many hours of drinking mate we arrived in Rio Grande, which is actually a pretty nice little city (think Rio Gallegos minus the littering/plus hills). We had dinner at the rowing club building where I met some of the other cyclists from Gallegos. The bus ride back was hilarious. Have I mentioned how loud Argentines are? The driver put on techno music and the 50+ men started dancing in the bus.

We stayed at some overnight camp and I was put in a room with a father and son from Ushuaia. The father runs a fly fishing tour company and started english classes last week so that he could speak with his American clients. He wanted to practice his--and this is what I have dubbed it because some people just say this in one sentence to me--"hellohowareyouIamgoodhowareyoufinethankyou." TIP: Don't pick a dorm next to the bathroom, you won't be able to sleep.

Day 2
We went to where we were supposed to start the bike ride from in downtown Rio Grande but the bikes hadn't arrived so we just watched everyone else start. Things like this are BIG news in the various provinces of Argentina. There were a number of cameramen there as well as journalists.

We then got on the bus to drive the route that we were supposed to be riding. It was actually this really cool dirt road that runs through the countryside. Besides the two buses, the support vehicles, and the bikers we were the only people for many kilometers. It was really nice to just watch the scenery from the bus while conversing with the other people from Gallegos while sipping mate and eating pastries.

About 4 kilometers to the end we all got of the bus and walked. We arrived at a hostel/motel (the only thing out there) at Lake Yehuen which was beautiful. The only thing was the hostel/motel had been completely destroyed. All the windows were smashed in, graffiti on the walls. Some people slept inside what remained of the hostel while others (including me) slept in tents.

I met two really cool exchange students from Belgium (Kevin) and Denmark (Mathias) who are living in Rio Grande.

Day 3
When I woke up it was freezing cold. We ate food that was cooked by the Argentine Army in this thing.

I actually developed a new slogan for the Argentine Armed Forces considering the amount of hot water they give out: "Protecting Our Borders, Filling Our Thermos"

We finally all got on our bikes and headed for Tulhuin. We crossed 3 rivers on our bikes which was a little exhilarating but very fun. The last 4 Km or so were on pavement. As we were finishing up it started pouring down rain. Sometimes little things remind me of Oregon. This was definitely one of them.

In Tulhuin we went to this famous bakery and had really good pastries with dulce de leche. That night we ate paella and went to bed early. We slept in the community center. 75 people in the same room sharing 2 bathrooms. There was a lot of snoring.

Day 4
What's the difference between 75 Americans waking up in one room versus 75 Argentines in the same situation? A whole lot of noise. I was talking to Kevin about how so typical it is of Argentines to wake up and start shouting and how in America we would just be talking in hushed voices and asking "did you sleep well?" He also added that there would be someone walking around with a pot of coffee. How very true.

We hit the [paved] road for the ride to Ushuaia. I rode at 5-6 Km/hour in really strong winds. I was so discouraged by the time I arrived at the lunch spot. The views were amazing though and the route followed Lake Fagnano which is a beautiful blue/green color.

I finally arrived at the lunch spot, exhausted and frustrated. We ate sausage and drank soda. One big difference between supported cycling in the United States and in Argentina; the food. In the U.S. we would have all kinds of high carb snacks and water to rehydrate. In Argentina there is soda, wine, bananas, and sausage. I few of the riders strapped bottles of whiskey on their bike racks.

After lunch we put our bikes in a truck and rode on the bus through Garibaldi pass (also amazing views). We rode the rest of the way to Ushuaia by bike, arriving in the late afternoon. We were then shuttled to a overnight camp. We ate a delicious dinner that was kind of like a clam bake. Apparently it is a traditional indigenous meal of Chile: muscles, cabbage, sausage all baked underground). At 1 AM we decided to catch a ride with the Argentines to the Irish Pub in downtown Ushuaia. You have to be really careful here because drunk driving is highly prevalent (automobile accidents are the number one cause of death in Argentina) and no one thinks anything of it. Luckily we found a car with a completely sober driver. We hung out in the bar for a couple hours and finally took the taxi back to the camp at 3:30 AM.

Ok I will tell you about days 5 and 6 in the next post...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Talk to Me

Below is my contact information if you want to get in touch with me or send me snail mail:

Juan B. Justo 737
(9400) Rio Gallegos

Skype: geoffreyr.wood

If you want to call/text me via Skype or otherwise:

Home: (0054)-2966-42587 (Just say "puedo hablar con Geoff?")
Cell: (0054)-1540-4310

School (or the lack thereof)

We're in the middle of "Paro" right now, meaning that certain professors have chosen to strike and not show up in hopes of higher pay. They must not be getting it because I've been averaging 1 class a week for the past 4 weeks. My host sister and I think it's funny that the social science teachers all strike while the life science teachers don't. Of course my three classes (Problematics in Human Rights, Introduction to Philosophy, and Political Theory) all fall in the first category of classes while all her classes don't.

So what's that one class a week like? If it's my Human Rights class than it is pretty interesting. So far (in two classes) we've discussed "Women's Rights as Human Rights" and "The Revolution of Human Rights". I've also read articles and am getting ready to write an essay about methodolgy in studying human rights. All very interesting.

If it's my Political Theory class than it probably isn't happening at all. The first class the professor showed up, talked for 40 minutes, told us what to read for the next class and left. The second class she didn't show up at all. All the students signed a sheet of notebook paper saying they had come and then we all left. The third class she chose to come, but twenty minutes late.

And if it's philosophy I'm just plain confused. The good news here is that my professor got her masters degree in New Jersey so she speaks fluent english. She has been willing to meet with me one on one to discuss the material in english which has been really helpful. I also should note that she's high up in the trade union. She even has a special cell phone so that she can communicate with the other picketers.

“It is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know.”

-Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Road Trip Through Argentina

So I've finally been able to upload some photos of my trip. Just a little background information: we drove from Rio Gallegos to the province of Catamarca which took three days. We spent 3 days in the Pueblo of Fiambala and stayed at the vineyard of family friend were we went horseback riding, ate fresh goat, and bathed in hots prings. From there we drove to Tinogasta for two days. We stayed with my host dad's relatives. We added an extra stop (and an extra day of driving) to the trip, making the city of Salta our last, and best stop. We arrived at around 6:00 PM for a surprise birthday party of a family friend. Everyone danced until around 4 in the morning (a typical Argentine Saturday).

Check out my photos here:

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Buenos Aires to Rio Gallegos Via Ushuaia

Pictures Thus Far

Changes in Lattitudes, Changes in Attitudes

I’m on the plane now from Buenos Aires to Rio Gallegos. I just spent the last three days in an old nunnery with about 100 other exchange students from around the world learning about Argentine culture and customs. It was a little strange being closed off from Argentina with people speaking a dozen different languages yet knowing that just outside the gates of the nunnery was a foreign country.
Luciano, the AFS volunteer for Rio Gallegos, met with us in Buenos Aires to discuss life in Rio. It turns out he knows my host family pretty well and told me today that the family called his cell phone to say hi to me and that they were excited to meet me. How’s that for hospitality? Luciano has arranged for me to take special Spanish classes in the morning and go to “La Universidad Nacional de Patagonia Austral” in the evenings. He also told me he would talk to his friends that cycle in Rio and see if they can include me in some of their rides.
There are four other exchange students (all from Europe) that are going to Rio. But more about that later, we are getting ready to make a stop in the Southern most city in the world.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

What I'll Miss/ What I Won't Miss

What I'll Miss
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Portland
  • My bike
  • My work discount
  • The most exciting election in my lifetime (so far)
  • Living where I can speak/write/read the language fluently
  • The Sunday New York Times
What I Won't Miss
  • Working
  • Paying for gas
  • Rain, it got to be a bit much this year
  • Paying for things in USD at a one to one conversion rate

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Counting Down the Days

I've avoided looking at the calendar up until today. I knew that when I started to count down the days everything else would go out the window. After spending a few hours mindlessly scouring the internet for information on Argentina I pulled out the calendar and counted, one by one, the days before I leave: 39.

Meanwhile my type A personality has kicked in full force. I have begun work constructing a detailed packing list. I've created at lengthy to-do list with items such as "Cancel Cell-Phone Plan", "Write Letter of Resignation", "Get Ambien Prescription".

I can remember when I was little, waiting for a big trip to come. I couldn't possibly imagine how I would wait out a whole two weeks. I remember when I was in second grade and my dad had already moved out to Oregon while we waited behind in Virginia to sell the house. I so vividly remember the night before my mom, brother, and I left to visit him during Spring Break. I was up all night. This pre-departure anxiousness has wained over the years, but not to what one would expect from an 18 year old. How do I keep my mind off of counting down the days? I distract myself. And when all else fails, and I'm laying in bed late at night, I imagine myself saying goodbye to my friends, to my family and getting on that plane.