Tag Archives: argentina

Displaced.

Well, I should have seen it coming.

Life in Luján seemed so calm and even comforting.  Returning from vacation with my parents at the beginning of April, I found myself  looking forward to returning to Lujan, as I finally had a routine of sorts and people to call on the weekends.  Although I was living in a slightly ill-equipped apartment in the back of the Habitat office, I was getting along well and even cooking meals for myself on the camp stove I bought expressly bought for this trip and intended to use for… you know, camping.

When I first returned to my room, I found that my things had been moved a little bit and the bathroom had been thoroughly cleaned.  “How nice,” I foolishly thought,” they must have a cleaning service that comes every month or so.”  At an office so cash-strapped that all of its computers are all running pirated copies of Windows, odds of this would fall somewhere between improbable and laughable.    The next day, at work, my boss broke the bad news: I had to move out within a week or the property owner would threaten legal action.

I knew along this was coming, just not so suddenly.  How did I come to be the victim of gross anti-volunteer injustices?  Enter the landlady:

\"La Dueña\"- The landlady The landlady only wants the space to be used as an office even though it’s a house.  Fair enough; it’s her property. Habitat Argentina wants to be able to provide housing for free in lieu of the stipend that most other Habitat international volunteers receive in most other countries.   Fair enough; they’re broke.  Here’s where we run into some problems.

Strike one: This was something both parties should have worked out when they signed the lease, not when the Luján office started to house volunteers there. Their employees of course can rest easy since they have no vested interest in ensuring the welfare of free labor who’s in the country on a tourist visa.

Strike two:  The landlady is completely insane.  She owns several properties on the block; the one where I lived happens to look directly across the lot, into the backyard of the one where she lives, separated by a wall.  That wall apparently isn’t high enough.  I knew in my gut that things weren’t going to turn out well when she called my boss weekly to report that she knew exactly what time I turned the lights off and went to bed every night. I have yet to see this woman in person, but I guess she’s seen me.

Strike three: I’m out.  I moved out last week, and now I’m living in Colegio Nuestra Señora de Lujan de los Hermanos Maristas (Villa Maristas for short), which is a Catholic boarding school and conference center.  In retrospect, titling one of my posts “Catholic by Osmosis?” doesn’t seem so funny anymore.  It’s not so bad though:  I have to walk thirty minutes to work and eat bad cafeteria food for breakfast and dinner, but I got a lot of exercise and don’t have to do dishes.  I’m currently in the hunt for an apartment or something of that sort. While I’ve found some appealing and dirt-cheap alternatives already, this is not Washington, DC, where you can scan the listings on Craigslist, tell lies about yourself at a few open houses, cut a check for the first and last month’s rent, and move in.  Most Argentine landlords want a 2-year lease and a garantía, where you sign over an entire other property as collateral- for an apartment lease.  For most Argies, this will consist of one’s parents’ house, but this is not an option for me While this seems absurd at first blush,  in a country where people still remember the peso devaluation of 2002 (where the government slashed the value of the peso, and thus everyone’s bank accounts, to dig out of a long recession), it sort of makes sense.

In other news: I did some traveling in March, and I should be putting up some of the pictures on Flickr tonight.

Blowing the lid off of Lonely Planet

Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?: A Swashbuckling Tale of High Adventures, Questionable Ethics, and Professional Hedonism, by Thomas Kohnstamm

This one has been coming for a while. A news blog I’ve been reading just published a summary of coverage of a former Lonely Planet writer’s tell-all book that has now spread all over the internet. After reading the Kirkus review of this book, I have no desire to read it, as it appears to consist mostly of tales of the author buying drugs and sinking to new lows to get girls to sleep with him. In one highly publicized passage, he described how a restaurant got a positive review:

“The waitress suggests that I come back after she closes down the restaurant, around midnight,” he writes. “We end up having sex in a chair and then on one of the tables in the back corner.

“That performance earned a guidebook entry describing the restaurant as “a pleasant surprise” where “the table service is friendly.

However, most of the other juicy quotes that have arisen have been far more damaging to Lonely Planet, and seem to corroborate grumbles that I’ve been having with their business for a while. Mainly the author claims that “I was not able to go to all the places I needed to go to,” and that he instead would write up a “sort of mosaic job to tie up the loose ends.” He also repeatedly asserts that the advance Lonely Planet gave him (which is supposed to cover travel costs) was far from adequate.

I’m not surprised one bit by all of this. From what I can observe, Lonely Planet has been sitting on top of the travel guide food chain for a while: in the few hostel lobbies and airports I’ve been to, just about every young traveler has had a copy of their blue Argentina guide in hand, whether in English or another language. Being this fat and happy appears has not been good for them, as it seems to inspired a glib tone and complacent editing and updating. Some of the restaurant reviews in the current edition are in a such a glowingly laudatory tone that they sound like publicity penned by the management (“It’s an institution!”); a listing for a campground where I stayed noted its choice location but failed to note that this location happened to be across the street from an open-air nightclub which had already been in operation for several years.  In some entries about Argentina’s national parks, basic information about hiking is absent, but you will find a note that says: “For more information, see Lonely Planet’s Trekking in the Patagonian Andes” ($19.99 retail). To be fair, it would be impossible to include comprehensive trail reports, but some basic information for planning purposes would be easy and appropriate as LP books are supposedly geared towards the active/backpacker set.

As a coda to this story, my parents came to visit and brought me a copy of The Rough Guide to Argentina, which I’ve been using ever since.  It’s not better, but I like it more.

Here’s a link to the NYT blog entry where I first read about this, and from which I lifted several of the links.