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Don’t wait for me Argentina! (but I’ll be back)

What I discovered about Argentina

Let’s talk about food (always!!!!!)

Kingdom of slowly, very cooked meat (asado), Argentina is not what I expected. So carnivorous that they could make a fierce Balkan man feel insecure, their appetite for meat is as enormous as their use of GMO in the vegetables they produce. Here, if hungry, people think meat before anything else (if anything else) and vegetables usually end up in your plate more as decoration than actual food to eat…

There’s a very economical reason for that too. Meat is kinda cheaper than vegetables… At least, it is much cheaper than what we would pay for it in Europe. You can therefore carelessly indulge in a full-meat diet and not have to suffer the consequences when looking at your bank statement.

It is also fairly safe to say that the slow food/organic movement, save for the more wealthy neighbourhoods, has not made its way here. What matters is that food looks good and tastes good, not whether chemicals made it so or not.

Drink-wise, well, there is mate. Argentinians are crazy about it, they drink it more than water, at all times of the day, while shopping, walking in the streets or just about any activity you can think of. Mate is a sort of tea that you drink with a metal straw in a special cup that you filled up almost all the way to the top with the tea, hot water is inserted in small quantities at a time so you´ll always see the mate drinker holding a thermos with him/her. It is highly social as you usually pass it around until the thermos is empty.

Mine is bigger than yours… or is it?

Argentina is huge, like 8th-biggest-country-in-the-world huge. You’ll easily spent 20h in a bus trying to get somewhere and after you’d make it to Moscow from London, you’d still be in the bus here trying to reach the edge of the world. Check that world map in your toilets if you don’t believe me, bathe in the reassurance that my previous statement is some ignominous fake news, then go ahead and throw that map in the toilet… Our western-centred map are just that, western-centred. They use the Mercator projection of the world (check this video and prepare to be mindblown) and it makes it look much smaller than it is (and that applies to the whole Latin American and African continents). Flying is therefore the less-budget friendly but way faster way of traveling to places, and the only viable option if you are traveling to Argentina for a couple weeks and want to see some of Patagonia (although the north is really worth it too). For example, just going to the Igazu gigantic waterfalls takes about 18 hours from Buenos Aires (but 2 hours by plane).

Let’s talk culture

However, there seems to be a rather uniform culture across the land, whether you’re in the mountains of Patagonia, on the coast around Buenos Aires or in the wine region around Mendoza. Only the north west, closer to Bolivia has a stronger identity. The reason for that is actually another unexpected thing about Argentina… It doesn’t really have any natives anymore… Think USA and you’ll get a fairly good idea of how it is here. Original Indigenous folks of various tribes make up for less than 10% of the population, plus an extra 10-15% of mixed Spanish/Indians and you get a country where most people come from Europe (Germany, Italy and Spain on top of the list). The newer waves of migrants are Asians, predominently Chinese (and Trump doesn’t like…) so you’ll find Chinese supermarkets and restaurants just like at home.

This means everything in Argentina feels very… well… familiar. Western. Spanish priests and French immigrants brought in wine-making, Germans seem to have inspired a vibrant beer culture (although nobody seems to need the Germans for that anymore, micro-brew is the new hype) and people eat at similar times than Spanish people: that is way too late… European cars are everywhere, places and streets have names of immigrants who “discovered” them or settled there and so you regularly wonder why you’re walking down the avenue “Otto Bermberg” or hiking up to “lake Schmoll” next to the “Swiss Colony”.

This of course leads to a very interesing mix of cultures, like drinking Italian Fernet Branco with American Coca Cola. It also means that you’ll find a pizza place more easily than an empanada fast food joint. Don’t expect a cultural discovery like you would get in more indigeneous Bolivia or Peru but that doesn’t mean you won’t love it!

Gimme, Gimme, Gimme the money!

Economically and socially, Argentina is quite something, no wonder Ernesto Guevara said “Che” (“Hey” in Argentinian) so many times it became his name… In a similar fashion to most of the continent, you better be born in the right family here… Inflation is so high (about 20% per year) it is apparently useless to save money, shops rarely accept credit cards but when they do, it is usually with offers to pay in “up to 18 times without fees”. Salaries are renegociated every 6 months and so is your rent…

Probably the glue that keeps it all together, the public welfare system can be considered generous, education is free and you have a decent access to free medical care as well as state subsidies. It explains why, contrary to neighboring Chile for example, the informal economy is not overgrown, and you don’t see so many people in the streets selling everything and anything. The new government seems intended on applying the same old neoliberal policies that increase inequalities and break solidarity mechanisms everywhere though so this might change rapidly.

In that sense, a tourist only here for a couple weeks would probably miss that aspect of Argentina altogether, feeling like it is a modern, developed nation like the USA or Western Europe. Talking to young locals though, it is definitely a situation that limits their future prospects and encourages short-term decision-making and quite the complicated way to go about life.

Still trying to recover from the financial crisis of the early 2000s and the subsequent IMF-inspired sanctions on the country’s social system, currency controls are high here. Foreign money influx are highly regulated and making a bank transfer from abroad is apparently super complicated and requires quite some paperwork. ATMs also have limits on how much you can withdraw at a time and charge a hefty fee to foreign cardholders. It makes traveling slightly more complicated as walking around with hundreds of dollars or euros in cash is not super safe…

Things are expensive too, and high taxes on imports make anything foreign equal Norwegian prices (aouch indeed). This is apparently changing slowly under the new (neo)liberal government as some of the protectionnist measures of the past seem ridiculous given the lack of national industries to protect (like with computers and phones) but for now, buy your cool e-gadgets in the US or Asia instead. The average Argentinian (wealthy enough to travel ndlr) has therefore developed the habits of bringing home everything and anything they can, from clothing to computers and the likes, because it is a lot cheaper.

Pepper spray or not?

There is no major insecurity in Argentina however, especially compared to Brazil, where simply walking with a recent smartphone is apparently enough to get mugged. Here, while you need to be the proper amount of careful, you shouldn’t have to worry about taxi drivers mugging you, militias kidnapping you or any of this sort of things the continent can sometimes be famous for (do tell that to your parents, it’s a worthy argument to make!

 

So Argentina is definitely a country full of charms, Patagonia is a wonderful place to get lost in mountains, hike and camp and forget about the world. Wines here are delicious and food is tasty enough (I´m French so that´s a compliment). It´s not a budget holiday and you´ll need a sizeable transport budget to see more than one place but I have enjoyed Argentina very much and I am sure you will too.

Fighting the bank’s rip-off: traveling with limited fees

Facts

  1. Most banks charge hefty fees for using your credit card abroad, in another currency
  2. By the time you get charged by your bank, changes in values between currencies can add to the bill
  3. Withdrawing abroad usually involves an additional fee from the local bank or ATM companies
  4. In the Eurozone, none of these things happen (+1 for the EU)
  5. Walking around with a boatload of cash is never a good idea, especially abroad
  6. What I am about to share sadly is not yet available everywhere in the world…

So how to overcome this?

Fintech has the solution!

Fin… What? Nop, it is not Finnish banking, nor a company using fishes to transport your money. Fintech is how new technologies and companies operating in the world of finance and banking are categorised. A lot is happening on that field, mostly to make banks richer and leave us still pretty poor but there are a few interesting things out there, especially when it comes to international traveling and limiting the cost of banking operations, in a trip, savings matter!

New credit cards providers who don’t charge fees on international transactions

Over is the time where you could only get a credit card from your bank, after a lengthy process comparable to that of the state bureaucracy. Now, all it takes is about 10 minutes and an internet connection and you can create an account and order a Mastercard debit card for free. Sounds like even a better deal than what your bank is offering? Yes it is, and there’s more!

I only use 2 of these providers but I have heard of others too so don’t hesitate to do a quick comparative search on your DuckDuckGo/Lilo/Ecosia browser (and do some good to your privacy, the world or the planet while you’re at it):

Both work slightly differently and I won’t go into details here but here are the main features that should make you want to go for it:

  • Free account and Mastercard debit card,
  • Zero fees on payments, irrelevant of the currency,
  • Zero or small fee on withdrawals
  • Transactions are processed instantaneously and appear on the app,
  • An app that allows you to control everything you need (block card, change pin, transfers, payments/withdrawal limits etc.).
  • They can also offer travel insurance that is usually cheaper that what you would get elsewhere and have a few other side services worth checking out.

New money transfer services with limited fees

  • Azimo: to get cash out without using an ATM

You all probably know Western Union, if only by name. Well if you ever had to use it, you know it is very, very expensive. Luckily, new companies are changing the landscape, offering much cheaper options to collect money in cash abroad. I know of only one but there must be others or there will be, times, they are a changin’! This is a great tool to circumvent the ATM machine and its (usually) higher transaction cost, plus in countries like Argentinia, where there are limits on how much you can take out of an ATM machine, it gets really useful to save some cash. Depending on what methods of payments you use and the country you are in, it can take as little as 30 minutes before you can go pick up your money.

How it works:

  1. Create an account on the app,
  2. Connect it to a credit card (or you can pay by money transfers, it is longer to process),
  3. Choose a country, look at the available options for picking up your money,
  4. Make a payment and go pick up the cash at the pre-defined location.
  5. At the time of this article, it costs 2,99euros per transaction, irrelevant of the amount sent.
  6. It is also worth noting that they do not use the most updated exchange rates so you can pay an additional, small hidden fee there.

This one does not allow to pick up cash but it is (usually) much cheaper that what your bank would charge you to make a transfer abroad. This can come in handy if you have a friend in the country that could withdraw cash for you or to pay for some services that do not offer credit card payments. They also introduced a ¨borderless account¨ that apparently permanently solves your problem with inter-currency fees but I have not tried it so I won´t comment on it.

That´s all folks!

There are probably a few more services available out there, or new ones that will be created in the near future so do spend some time researching if you are embarking on a long trip or are a frequent traveler. While this services are great, you should still always have a stash of dollars or euros somewhere for emergencies. With these options though, you will already have saved quite a bit of money, safeguarded your savings account for the next trip and made your life easier while traveling, and who doesn’t like spending more on fun than on banks?

Feel free to comment and add services and share around so we all participate in the banking revolution that destroys borders and frees the flow of people all throughout our beautiful world.

Living a zero-waste lifestyle is impossible. Here is why you should try.

¨Like whatttt? What do you mean? Ain’t most of this damn blog you are making me read about living zero-waste? What kind of Ponzi scheme are you working on, you, hoodlum!¨

Perfectly legitimate questions, but hold your horses and let me explain.

A bit of theory(-ish)

The people that coined the terminology about ¨zero-waste¨ follow the same idea as the people that talk about ¨degrowth¨: they want to be thought-provoking, they want you to rethink how you see life. Zero-waste ideology is as much as about going back to the good old days of being a happy caveman as the degrowth movement, that is not at all… And anybody that tells you differently is probably the type of person that sees the title of a Buzzfeed article and takes it at face-value: a sympathiser of fake news and half-informed rants.

Anyway, do look at degrowth, it is fabulous as an ideology! (impartial? Nop, but again who truly ever is…).

Living Zero-waste is about ¨Living-Zero-Unrecyclable/Unreusable-Waste¨

Zero non-recyclable waste

Back to the matter at hand though. Living Zero-waste is about ¨Living-Zero-Unrecyclable/Unreusable-Waste¨ and that is what the famous jars that the most prominent advocates advertise to show their exemplary behaviors. Living zero-waste has a lot to do with shifting from plastic-based containers, packaging, bags and what not and using tree-based or sand-based alternatives (yes, glass is made of sand). If you belong to least extremists of the group, it is technically acceptable to use cardboard plates and cups that you throw away after one meal, it’s still a problem but less of a problem and a step in the right direction so yay, you!

There is a certain need to change your daily habits and behaviors too

But you also need to change a bit

Simply replacing non-recyclable items by recyclable ones is not what the zero-waste lifestyle is about though. There is a certain need to change your daily habits and behaviors too, and this is where this movement joins partly the ideology of the Degrowth bunch. Because as long as you are producing a ridiculous amount of waste, recyclable or not, you are putting a strain on natural resources and requiring a lot of (often non-green) energy to recycle all your trash. In that sense, less is more, and buy adopting this lifestyle, you should realise that you don’t need to buy stuff all the time, that there is a lot of DIY you can do that is simple, fun and makes a tremendous difference both on the planet and on the lives of people living in it.

You become a more conscious consumer, a supporter of less multinational, big-profit-making companies, you stop buying your immediate, affordable satisfaction at the expense of human dignity in other countries. Also, you become necessarily more mindful of the cost (human, ecological, social) of the cheap products you buy, produced in countries far away where regulations and social structures allow for more slavery-type of labor, for more use of weird, potentially dangerous chemicals that would be ban in your country, etc. You become a more enlightened and respectful world citizen and that can only help bring the best out of globalisation, for a brighter future for all. Doesn’t it sound much better for everyone?

So what are you waiting for?

Then give it a try, use more tupperwares, keep a fork, a knife and a spoon in that cool bag of yours so you don’t use so many disposable ones everytime you go to lunch. Or how about taking 10min and making some laundry liquid with your kids? You’ll see, it’s crazy simple.

Phase 2: To live zero waste or not

Hello fellow adventurers,

We are in for quite the unknown adventure, stepping into unchartered territories as we progress through the dangerous journey of living a more eco-conscious life.

This post could be interpreted as an admission of defeat, as a dent into the shinning armour of the protector of nature. However, this would be the most negative perception of what I am about to say. I personally prefer to believe that as we set a new trend, start a movement  of people following a new alternative lifestyle, it is normal that some limitation apply but that in the future, it will become possible to achieve our goal.

What I am trying to say in a cryptic way is that, well… You can’t live a true zero-waste life now. If you are living in a city, integrated in society, you are bound to find moments when there are no alternatives to making waste. Your light bulb blew up, you are traveling in an airplane and they bring you food on a nice disposable tray, before you can say anything, the waiter in the bar brings you a cocktail with a straw and a little umbrella, etc.

You just can’t fight on all fronts. It would take too much time or mean too many sacrifices. The thing is, it’s completely ok. Hell, if everyone would lower their waste production to the minimum, it would already make such a tremendous difference. What matters is to make efforts, where possible, to act. No effort is too small because one after another, it will amount to a lot. There will be ups and downs, times where you push your limits and times where you regress to past behaviours. I’ll admit I still occasionally do my shopping in a supermarket when I am pressed by time. As often said, it is not the end goal that matters so much, it is to embark in the journey. So keep your eyes on the prize and work progressively to achieve your objectives. Know to celebrate your successful efforts and be forgiving of your failures. This transition is not something that can happen quickly so don’t expect it too, don’t lose your hope and motivation.

So long,

Marty Jeeper

Travels in the zero-waste world

Eco-friendly travels… I don’t think so…

Traveling is never good for the planet. Well except if you are hiking with a bag full of tree seeds and planting them all over the place or just happen to visit Trump with a copy of the Paris Agreements to stuff up in his mouth… Doesn’t happen a lot right?

One could argue that global warming and pollution would be a lot less of a problem if we simply didn’t travel, living the happy life of back when, when one’s whole world revolved around a few square kilometres. Technology, worldwide media and entertainment and so much more other influences have made us travel-addicts. We ignore the beauty of nature a few kilometres away from our homes and embark in a never-ending chase for all the other wonders our planet has to offer. We forget to see the beauties of the sunrises in the morning, the jaw-dropping landscapes our immediate surroundings have to offer and only take the time to enjoy what is around us when we go on our much awaited holidays. Why is it that only in a foreign setting do we take the time to finally appreciate what is around us?

Better past

#1 Whenever you can, travel close

Now there is no denying that you won’t find a centuries-old buddhist monastery in the middle of the French countryside and that through travels, there is much to discover that would be out of reach in our home countries. However, in many instances, when traveling is about laying on a beach in the sun, partying all night long or seeking a relaxed resort to do nothing but being taken care of by other people, being thousands of miles away can matter very little.

giphy (1)

Think about offsetting but don’t let it fool you

What I am getting at, as you have probably figured out by now, is that traveling is, by nature, eco-unfriendly. Planes are the worst but even car travel or trains have an impact that can not truly be mitigated. Carbon credit systems, tree-planting and other schemes put in place to offer the more eco-mindful a way out of a truly awful environmental track record are not satisfactory enough solutions to offset your pollution. This is why, to a large extent, one must always weigh the added-value of far-away travels before making a decision for a holiday. Indeed, the only true way to be waste-free and carbon neutral is just not to travel.

That being said, I am the first one to hop on a plane and go on the other side of the world to discover the wonders of nature, of human civilisations or for work…  I am therefore not trying to write an article to shame and blame all world travellers. Far from it. It needed to be said before I can suggest ways to mitigate the amount of waste one produces and share with you insights I have gained on the little things that can be done here and there to ensure that while you still live your life in the 21st century, you ensure you respect nature and our planet  as much as possible, wherever you are.

#2 Travel kit

This one is a must have… and not just traveling. So many places, and interestingly enough, a large number of the “do-gooder organic” food places that pop up everywhere nowadays don’t want to deal with cutlery anymore and give you disposable ones. Not being prepared will make you use them, and you might feel shitty about it. Well don’t, just take it as a reminder and a lesson. When you are planning to go out, pack your “going away” kit. Mine is very simple, I have a fork, a knife (well until airport security took it away… Rookie mistake), 2 spoons and 2 table clothes. If I know I will be eating with someone, I even pack extras so the others don’t have to use the reusable wannabe garbage. I get a little educational and moralising vibe as a bonus and who doesn’t like to feel superior, right?

As I said, I travel a lot and I used to pick up the toiletry kits some airlines would give you for long-haul flights. This means that I have a huge pile of those pencil-case type of little baggies and I was wondering what to do with them. Well one of them is now the proud holder of my previously mentioned kit, upcycling like a boss, me likey!

#3 Food and drinks

Cook and pack what you will need, don’t plan on buying on the go. You will save money, like a lot (airports, train stations and gas stations are expensive places…), you will probably eat better and of course, you will be able to limit the amount of waste you produce.

Now I know what might come up in a discussion about this, especially when flying. How can you bring liquids to an airport? How to overcome security checks? Well first of all, security doesn’t care about food, especially if it is a sandwich and a pack of crisps. When it comes to drinks, water bottles are your friends, as always. Tap water has never killed anybody so bring in an empty water bottle through security and fill it up in the toilet sink afterwards. It will also be handy anytime after that during your trip and will save you from buying quite a few plastics bottles.

#4 No more reusables. No excuses…

Napkins

One of the first habit to change when trying to live a more waste-free life is to switch to reusable napkins. Bring several, as they can get dirty pretty quickly. Get pretty ones and you will look super, super cool on top of it.

Bags

Always, and I mean ALWAYS, have a bag (or better, a set of bags) with you when traveling. There are the easiest thing you can do to limit your consumption of disposable items. Space is limited in luggages, for sure, but the now hyper fashionable tote bag is great for that. It has a lot of space but can be folded and fit in the palm of your hand.

Cups

That one can be tricky, it does take quite a bit of room. What I am experimenting with at the moment is collapsible/foldable cups. Yes, you heard me. There are metal foldable cups and there are ones made of silicons or such. They are great to save spaces and can be pretty handy.

Use your imagination

We all have different habits, only you can design what contingencies would work best to limit your usual production of waste. Take a minute to think about the most common situations where you use disposable items and see what you can bring along in your travels to change that.

 

Never forget, every little thing counts. Just buying a couple reusable napkins is not meaningless and for every paper napkin you won’t use because of that, our planet and our society is forever better for it. Don’t sell yourself short, give yourself a break and just do your best!

So long,

Marty Jeeper

 

 

One step at a time: tips and tricks towards a zero waste lifestyle

The rambling part

I’m what you’d call a concerned citizen. I volunteer a lot and I try to impact the world as positively as I can. That being said, there is room for improvement, like… A lot! So for the new year, I thought I’d give myself a real challenge in my personal life. I decided to try to live a zero waste lifestyle.

I’m not gonna lie, it’s trending. Videos like this one are popping up on social media and it is becoming a new popular concept for the eco-sensitive bunch. I was inspired by that and belonging to the previously mentioned group of hippies, I decided to make the jump.

Opening a small parenthese, I would just like to say how great it is that our societies evolve so quickly in accepting increasingly more extremist practices of eco-friendliness. Shops are popping up everywhere with organic, local products or with no packaging and their growth is exponential. A growing economy is bursting with activity to offer ever more alternatives to be eco-mindful for the average person and this gives me reasons to hope for a better future.

But enough of that, back to the main topic here. I can’t really say honestly that this is a jump, it’s more like a free fall into a black hole. First realisation on the road to zero waste is that you better think this through. It’s not as easy as switching shops. You will soon realise that a lot of your habits need to change, that your mindset needs to evolve. You will have to reeducate yourself, take up a challenge. Exciting, right? The first step towards enlightenment is to become aware of the waste you produce so you can develop a plan to change that. Study first, son, then act!

The first step towards enlightenment is to become aware of the waste you produce so you can develop a plan to change that.

giphy (3)

The challenge yourself part

I have been paying attention to what I consume for a while and I have been recycling for longer, all that to say that I was already somehow careful about the amount of waste I produced. Believe me though when I say that the moment you start focusing on producing zero waste, you start realising there are so much situations where you act in an eco-genocidal way. I swear, I blushed, but luckily nobody was watching, when I started to see all the moments I used disposable items and the easy steps I could do to change that.

I mean, take a minute now and try to think about the things you buy on a regular basis that DO NOT have packaging. If you are the efficient type and do most of your shopping in a supermarket, the answer will be: barely anything… Nowadays, even fruits and vegetables are packaged in cardboard and plastic films or boxes. Don’t even get me started on the plastic bags… I mean, dude, we’re in 2017, bring your own bags to do shopping!

Producing waste has become such an integral part of our lives that we don’t realise it anymore.

Producing waste has become such an integral part of our lives that we don’t realise it anymore. Bringing back that consciousness, being aware of where your waste comes from, what your trash is made of, is the first step in order to change your habits and find waste-free alternatives to your every day consumerist needs. So grab a pen and paper and start making a list of where you systematically produce waste. Take a moment to think what an alternative could be and choose one. Just like that, you would have also made a first step into the zero waste adventure.

Feel proud, feel joyful, if everyone started implementing just one step towards that goal, we would already be reducing waste production by several thousand tons a year. Companies might even get the memo and start reducing the overpackaging of their products and in no time, a shift in behaviours and attitudes will have possibly saved our grandchildren from never seeing a real fish, a proper forest… Tempting, right? All it takes is one first step.

We’ll be back for more insights into this journey soon,

Thanks for your attention,
Marty Jeeper

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