The province of Salta had a lot to offer, and I fell in love with the beauty of the country and the warmth and earnestness of its inhabitants. However, the time came to venture further from Salta and head north to the province of Jujuy. Jujuy is situated in the northwesternmost corner of Argentina and borders Chile, Bolivia and a tiny bit of Peru. I struck out from my “home base” in Salta to explore this enchanting, sun-baked stretch of colored earth.
First, I set out for the Salinas Grandes, the salt flats of Jujuy. I headed north up the gently ascending mountains and descended down the other side toward an extensive plain of pure white. As I approached the salt flats, there occurred a sudden shock when the car I was riding in collided with a vicuña (a relative of the llama) that had decided that it was a good time to cross the road. Esteban (or Steve), as I named him, died quickly and without much pain by the side of that lonely stretch of road in northern Argentina, and we each mourned in our own way at his passing. The car was damaged but driveable, but when I reached the salt flats I could not open my door and had to climb across and out of the driver’s side. My brief period of mourning over, I headed out to get a look at the vast stretch of thirst inducing whiteness.
Later that day, I dined on llama for the first time. I had a moment of silence for Steve (que en paz descanse) before devouring one of his cousins.
My next journey was a long one. I traveled north from Salta into Jujuy once again. The world was transformed dramatically from the bleak, unending white of the Salinas Grandes into the lush greens and startling colors of the Quebrada de Humahuaca. My first stop was the small village of Purmamarca, situated at the foot of the “Cerro de los Siete Colores” (Hill of the Seven Colors).
At one time, Purmamarca may have been a quiet little village situated at the base of these picturesque hills, but today it has become so famous for its amazing location that it is filled to bursting with tourists and row after row of vendors, most of whom are sell the same thing as the person next to them. There are plenty of amazing, handcrafted, artisanal goods to be found across Argentina, but most of what can be found here is geared toward the tourist crowd and seems anything but genuine.
That being said, this pueblito is famous for a reason. If you can ignore the masses of tourists and find a quiet little corner of your mind to retreat into while staring, awestruck, at the amazing surroundings, it is more than worth your time.
From Purmamarca I continued north into the Quebrada, eventually ending up in the small village of Tilcara to get a look at some indigenous ruins that offered a glimpse into a time before the Spanish conquest of South America.
The Quebrada de Humahuaca stretched out farther northward still under mountains and sky, past the Tropic of Capricorn and through a hundred little moments of wonder, eventually reaching the pueblo of Humahuaca. I had a bite to eat and turned around to head back through the quebrada to the south.
On the way back to Salta, I stopped in the city of San Salvador de Jujuy, the capital of the province of Jujuy. Tired from a long trip, I only lingered long enough to have a coffee and take a few photos.
Back in Salta, I relaxed with a glass of wine and pondered the days events. I marvelled at my good fortune. Once again, I had traveled the line between dream and reality and seen things that I had never imagined possible. However, my time in the northern reaches of Argentina was drawing to a close and the moment was approaching to say goodbye to this region that I had come to adore. But I had one more adventure in front of me before boarding the bus back to the big city. What better or more poetic way to end my time in Salta than with “un salto” (A leap, saltar in spanish means to jump!) The day before my departure, I headed to the Dique Cabra Corral, a stunning body of water near the city of Salta, to finish things with a bang.
The next day, filled with satisfaction from everything that had come to pass during my time in Salta and, at the same time, filled with the pain of regret from leaving behind such an unforgettable corner of the world, I got on the bus to make the 22 hour trip back to Buenos Aires.
I ended yet another amazing journey in the best way possible: with a leap of faith. Who knows, maybe my next leap will be the leap home…
Having returned from my treks through the mountains under the brilliant sun of Salta, I set off to explore the city a bit more and to experience more of the rich local culture.
First, I traveled to an estancia, or ranch, just a bit south of the city of Salta to get a taste of the gaucho life. Gauchos, for those of you that don’t know, are a bit like the cowboys of the U.S. They are the hunters and cattle herders of the rural parts of Argentina, southern Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The Argentinian gauchos are strong symbols of the culture here and represent ideals of freedom, machismo, and a life lived free from the rules of law and order in the cities. They were, and continue to be, riders, ranchers, drinkers and fighters and some of the most iconic works of Argentinian literature are written about the gaucho and his lifestyle in the wild country.
As a yanqui, my experiences with the gauchesca lifestyle have been limited to reading works of gauchesca literature such as Martin Fierro or Fausto, and attending the Feria de Mataderos here in the city where I got to witness some folkloric dances, hear some of the traditional music, and see the modern-day gauchos ride and play some of their gaucho games. So, while I was in one of the centers of the gaucho culture, I thought I would try to get a little more insight into this way of life by experiencing a small taste of it first hand.
I headed to the ranch in the morning and, after a light breakfast, we mounted up and headed out into the surrounding countryside for a few hours of riding and conversing with “Patasrios” our gaucho guide. The weather was magnificent and we were surrounded by lush green fields, deep blue sky and the gently sloping mountainside on the horizon.
We returned to the ranch around lunchtime. Dismounting after several hours of riding, is was difficult to walk like a normal person, but I tried my best. We drank a couple of glasses of wine and sat down to the communal table to enjoy a HUGE feast. The asado (Barbecue) included what seemed to be an inexhaustible amount of steak, pork belly, ribs, and sausage as well as vegetables, salads and fresh bread and, of course, wine. The guests, the owner and all of the gauchos and workers on the ranch sat down together to eat. Enrique, the owner of the ranch practically forced us to eat until we nearly burst, knowing full well that we had to get back on the horses after lunch.
We finished the overwhelming lunch and set out to ride once again. This time, perhaps because he had just shared the immense feast with us, Patarios took it easier on us. We started out at a leisurely pace and worked our way up to a gallop towards the end. I returned to the ranch tired and a bit sore, but with the satisfaction of having been a part of yet another great experience. It was then that I earned the respect of Patasrios, our guide, by demonstrating my ability to leap onto the back of the horse without a saddle. Try as they might, none of the other members of the group could manage it, and Patasrios was quite impressed.
My time with the horses over, I relaxed for a bit in my small but comfortable room and then showered and prepared for dinner.
Only three guests stayed at the ranch for dinner that night: myself, an Englishman named Oliver, and his irish wife Deirdre. They were a great and friendly couple and I enjoyed sharing the experience with them. The owner of the ranch, Enrique, was quite a character. He always had some sly comment to make, usually sexual in nature, and he was always smiling and laughing. This might have had something to do with the never-ending supply of wine, but there is no way to be sure. He asked me what I wanted to eat that night and I requested some local traditional favorites: tamales and humitas. The tamales are similar to the ones we know and love from other latin cuisines and the humitas are very similar to tamales, but a bit sweet and made with cheese instead of meat. We all sat down to a great dinner full of laughs and fellowship and, you guessed it, wine. After the dinner was finished, Enrique brought out the big guns, a brand of whiskey which I was not familiar with, but that the Irishwoman (she should know) told me was quite an expensive bottle. We all drank and laughed into the evening until, finally, we retired to our rooms for a deep and satisfying rest.
The next day, we ate a small breakfast and departed. I said my goodbyes to Enrique, Oliver, Deirdre and everyone else, including Patasrios, who gave me a very manly gaucho hug. It was tough to leave the ranch after such a great time with such unique, friendly, and interesting people but all good things must come to an end, and I headed back to the city.
Once there, I took the rest of the day to see a bit more of the city. I took a ride in a cable car up to the top a of large hill overlooking the city, which provides a marvelous panoramic view of Salta. At the top, there are gardens, waterfalls and pathways to walk. You can even rent a bike to ride back down to the bottom if you are feeling adventurous.
So, I made it back down to the bottom alive. I spent the rest of the day relaxing and went to dinner with some of my new friends from the hostel. I spent some more time here and there in Salta, and it was my “home base” for my travels into the neighboring provinces. However, most of the time after this day was spent elsewhere, and these stories will be contained int he next installment, when I travel to the province of Jujuy and see what is has to offer. So, it is time to say chau for now, but let me leave you with a parting image from the city of Salta.
I finished up my week of midterm exams and now I am into the final month of classes at the University of Belgrano. Last week, perhaps due to the grey gloom that descended upon Buenos Aires and proceed to soak its citizens into submission, or maybe just because I had a bad case of lazy, I did not update my blog. It feels like I have been going full speed ahead since I arrived here in Buenos Aires in order to take full advantage of every opportunity that I have been afforded. I told myself that after I finished my exams I would take one day “off” to do absolutely nothing. Well, that did not happen, but I did slow it down some last week. This week, I am feeling rested up and ready to take on the world once again. Unfortunately, the weather has remained wet and cool and that has kept me inside more often than usual. Since I have been so lax and have not given you a decent post in a while, I thought I would take this time to make it happen. I have been working on the answers to some of your questions, but first I want to regale you with yet another tale of travel. The recent stint of bad weather in the city of tango has made me remember how much I miss the sun and soul of northwestern Argentina. Perhaps reliving some of the experiences I had there will be enough to warm me up, or at least entertain you a bit. Unfortunately, I did have some technical problems with my camera on this trip, so a lot of the photos didn’t turn out well. I saved what I could and hopefully they will still be somewhat enjoyable.
Up to this point, the posts on my travels have been very in-depth, detailed affairs. From now on, I am going to try to limit them somewhat. I hope to still include the feeling and descriptive prose while keeping them a bit shorter. In other words, we are going to try to skip to the important parts. That being said, let’s get right into my trip to the north-western edge of Argentina, to the city of Salta in the province of the same name.
Whereas my trip to Patagonia was all about big imposing and breathtaking sites, this trip was more about the culture, the people, the food, and the beautiful weather. The people are warm and friendly and the culture is rich and steeped in the traditions of folklore and gauchesca. That being said, there were plenty of amazing things to see and do, and I did most of them.
This trip began with a long bus ride, about 22 hours, from Buenos Aires to Salta. I started the adventure with a bus ticket and a couple of nights booked in a hostel. The bus was actually quite comfortable, a far cry from the greyhounds at home. There are several different bus companies to choose from, and most of them offer similar accommodations. The buses are large, with two levels of seating. On the bottom are the “full-cama” seats. These are the most comfortable, and most expensive. They are larger and convert in something resembling a bed (a cama). That’s about all I know about the bottom level, since I have never actually been seated there. On the top level is the “semi-cama” seating area. This is where I have spent all of my time on the buses here in Argentina. They still recline and provide support for your legs, but they are not as comfortable or roomy as the “full-cama” seats. On long trips, something resembling food is provided and there are lots of bootleg movies playing on the televisions to keep you occupied while you travel. Overnight, the televisions go off and you can try to catch some shut eye. I usually end up staring out of the large windows and marveling and the innumerable amount of stars that appear once you get outside the bright lights of the Capital Federal.
Eventually, I made it to my hostel and began planning what I would do for the next week. There is a lot to see in the province of Salta and in its neighbor to the north, Jujuy. I made some plans for the next few days and, after that, I took my first in-depth look at the city itself.
My first few outings were trips through colorful quebradas and canyons, and up through the mountains of the Andes of northern Argentina to visit small pueblos full of wine, food, and buildings that preserve the feel of the colonial villages of old.
First, I traveled through the Quebrada de las Conchas, a colorful landscape full of strange and magnificent rock formations that looked as though it belonged on an alien planet.
On the other side of the quebrada lies the pueblo of Cafayate, a small town know for its numerous bodegas that create some amazing high altitude wines. By the time I got there, the sun was beaming down upon me while I beamed back up at it, once again marvelling in my extreme good fortune.
From Cafayate, I made my way back through the martian landscape of the quebrada to the city of Salta. The next day, I took a trip through the mountains to another pueblo: Cachi. This trip was much greener at first, but it transformed into a world like nothing I have ever seen. Part desert, part mountains, all beautiful. As is the custom for the people living and working in the mountains, I chewed coca leaves to combat the effects of the altitude.
After another great adventure, I once again returned to my “home base” in the city of Salta. I found it hard to sleep during this trip. After all, why bother sleeping when your dreams have to struggle to match the amazement of what is happening in your waking life. The best part was, this was only the begging of my amazing experience in Salta.
Remember when I said I was going to skip to the important parts and try to shorten up these posts a bit? I lied. I realized as I was writing this that they are ALL important parts. So, I am going to end this post here and give you something to read while I work on the next one. There is much more to come, including the province of Jujuy to the north, so stay tuned and I will try to get the next installment up as quickly as I can. Until then, Chau!
So, I have realized yet another exciting adventure but, unfortunately, I can’t regale you with all the amazing details of that or much of anything else at the moment. I have returned to face one of the busiest weeks yet in regards to my classes at the University of Belgrano. We have reached the mid-point of the semester and, as such, it’s time for midterm exams and all the excitement that comes with them. I had my first exam today and I have one tomorrow, another on Wednesday and, to complete this fun-filled week, one on Thursday as well.
I have been, and will continue to be, busy preparing for the exams, but I thought I would take a break from studying to write a short post. Since one of the questions last week was about the University and my classes there, I thought this would be an appropriate time (while my mind is filled with positive thoughts on the subject) to provide some details.
So far, I have provided some pictures of the U and a list of my classes, but little else. Last week, before I left the city for the weekend, I wandered the main building of the University of Belgrano, where I have my classes, with camera in hand to take a few photos. This, as I now know thanks to the kind words of campus security, is not allowed. Why I am not allowed to take pictures of the University that I attend is still unknown to me. I asked the security guard, politely of course, why taking pictures was prohibited, but he was not able to provide me with an adequate response. So, what else was I to do but wait for him to leave, no doubt to rain on someone elses parade, and continue taking photos. That is what I did, and these are the results. I hope you enjoy them all the more knowing that they are the fruits of my clandestine photo shoot on campus grounds.
So, while we are on the subject of things I am NOT supposed to do at the University of Belgrano…
These comfy couches (yes I know because I tried to sit in them once) are for professors only. The only problem is that I have never once seen a professor, or anyone else for that matter, actually sit in them. What’s more, this picture doesn’t even show half of the plush seating that adorns the lobby. So, these leather beauties, and several more like them, sit empty and alone, waiting like a spider’s web to ensnare any unsuspecting students while the spider stands watch in an itchy blue sweater.
Now let’s see, where were we? Oh yes…
You guessed it: professors only. These babies stop on every floor, whereas the student elevators do not. The elevator I take from the lobby goes to 7, 12, and 17. It’s not a big deal, just interesting. My classes are on floors 9 and 10, so I usually just get off on 12 and walk down.
Anyway, enough about what I can’t do. What I am allowed, ok expected, to do is show up to classes. When I do, they take place in a classroom that looks roughly equivalent to this:
It is from these fairly comfortable seats that I listen attentively to every word the professors have to say while at the same time filling my notebooks with copious amounts of detailed notes. That, or I daydream while doodling pictures of monkeys.
Anyway, if you have been paying attention, you already know what classes I am taking, but here are some of the exciting details of each one.
In Argentinian Literature we learn about…well…the literature of Argentina. We started with some pretty early stuff that was quite difficult to read including some stories that were important to the development of the Argentinian Nation and some “Gauchesca” literature that related stories of the Gauchos of the Argentinian countryside. We have since moved on to some more modern literature like the “Vanguardista” poetry of Oliverio Girondo. Ariel, the professor, is a very interesting man with some unique insights into not only literature, but just about any other divergent topic we wander into.
Next, I have Latin American Cultural Studies, where we learn about the discipline of cultural studies in general, as well as the specifics of Latin American culture. This includes reading essays and stories, and even listening to songs, that relate to how Latin American culture has developed in the past, its current trends, and where it might be headed in the future. Lara, the professor for this class, is one of the two professors that I had for my intensive spanish class when I first arrived in Buenos Aires. I liked her so much that I actually decided to take this class based on the fact that she was teaching it.
Another class that I have, taught by the same professor as the Cultural Studies class, is Latin American Literature. The title is pretty self-explanatory. We study literature within the broader scope of all of Latin America. This class and the other literature class cross paths now and again. This is interesting because I get to experience some similar topics from two different points of view and, sometimes, it cuts down on my reading time.
Finally, my favorite class: Tango: The Expression of Buenos Aires. I have this class two times a week, just like the other classes, but one day is spent studying the history of the tango while the other is spent experiencing it first hand by learning its steps. The professor, Jose, is a very likeable guy who knows his stuff when it comes to the tango. The interesting thing about this class is that, out of 30 students, only about 8 are guys and the rest are girls. The guys have to switch partners a lot in order to make sure that all the ladies get to dance. While this may seem like the perfect set up, it means that I barely have time to get comfortable dancing with one person before I have to switch it up. Also, the little time spent dancing each week always leaves me craving more. Because of this, I have begun taking extra classes each week outside of the U in order to learn more of this amazing dance.
Alright, speaking of classes, I need to get back to preparing for them. I’m not sure how, but this short post became a lot longer than I had planned.
I know this doesn’t compare to glaciers and mountain sunrises, but it should serve to answer one of the questions I received last week and, perhaps, tide you over until I can truly attempt to satiate you with something a bit more exciting.
Ok, I continue to receive questions from everyone about the life here and I appreciate each and every one. I have answered several of the questions directly in the comments section. Those of you not following the comments should check to see if I have answered yours. Other questions that were asked repeatedly or merit an entire post will be answered shortly.
I am leaving tomorrow to head north once again. This time I am going to Puerto Iguazú in the Misiones province of Argentina near the borders of Paraguay and Brasil. Unfortunately, these countries will not let me in without paying entry fees, which I am not going to do. Fortunately, from the Argentinian side of the border you can visit the Cataratas del Iguazú which, I’m told, are waterfalls that rival those of Niagara.
Upcoming posts, upon my return, will include: my trip to Salta and Jujuy, my trip to Iguazú, food and, by request, posts on the people, the nightlife and a bit more about the University of Belgrano and my classes there. Of course, there will be much more to come over the next few months as well.
Que les vaya bien
Ok, I have finally finished the post about my trip to Patagonia, and there hasn’t been much time for anything else in between. I want to start getting up some shorter posts about Buenos Aires and Argentina on a more regular basis. I have several topics to get started on, some of which I have been planning to post about for quite some time. So, I am going to start posting them now. However, since I am such a nice fellow and since I want to please my adoring and supportive fans, I would like to know if there is anything specific I can post in order to satisfy your curiosities about me, my life here, the people, the city or anything else that might come to mind. Don’t be afraid! You can post your ideas or questions as comments to this post or you can send me an email, however you would like to do it. My email address can be found on the contact page.
So, there I was. I had seen mountains being made by Perito Moreno, and I had watched one catch fire in Torres del Paine. Now, on a dark and drizzly morning, I boarded a bus in Puerto Natales that would take me to the “end of the world”: the city of Ushuaia in the province of Tierra del Fuego (land of fire), Argentina. There is nothing about that sentence that I don’t like.
The bus was large and fairly comfortable. I sat down and started to chat with the Aussie that was seated next to me. She and her two friends were headed to a different destination than I was, and we started to question if one of us was on the wrong bus. However, an hour or so outside of town, we were told that those of us heading to Ushuaia would be changing buses. A few minutes later, in the middle of nowhere in southern Chile, the bus pulled to a stop. The Aussie (whose name shall be lost forever) joked with me that this was my stop and we shared a laugh. I stopped laughing, however, when the driver announced that this was, in fact, where I would be getting off. I said my farewell to my single serving friend and I and a few others piled off the bus stood in a stupor at the side of the road. As I watched what used to be my bus begin to pull slowly away, another arrived just in time to curb my concerns and carry me further southward.
At first, we drove through a landscape that was, shall we say, less than breathtaking. Soon, however, we were forced to stop when the road ran directly into a wide body of salty water. The sky was dull and grey as I beheld, with aroused interest, the Strait of Magellan lapping lazily at its rocky shoreline.
I got off the bus to snap a few photos and then waited for the floating beast that would carry me to the other side. Although the day was frigid and wet, the arrival of the ferry and the subsequent trip across the strait was something that I won’t forget. The boat was massive, and it swallowed up a long line of cars before hungrily devouring our waiting bus.
After crossing the strait, much of the rest of the voyage was uneventful. Then landscape was rather flat and brown, and I spent most of the time napping, reading, or running down the precious battery of my iPod. As we drew nearer to Ushuaia, the landscape began to change, and once again mountains began to rise up around us. I passed the last hour staring, wide-eyed and grinning, out of the window.
Eventually, I reached my destination. I walked, uphill unfortunately, from the middle of town to my hostel.
My first impressions were not great. This place was obviously not going to be as good as the previous two had been, but I settled in, locked up my things, and went out to get a look at the city. The light was waning and it was still cloudy, but I saw some interesting graffiti art and got my first good look and the Beagle Channel.
I spent the night in an uncomfortable bed in a room full of Frenchmen. This is a sentence that, before I began traveling, I would not have expected to write. I got up early the next morning to take a tour, by boat, of the channel. Ines, the girl at the front desk, had told me that I needed to be at the dock at around 9:30 in order to get a spot on one of the boats, most of which departed at 10:00. I ate a bit of the meager breakfast they offered and headed out. It was still cloudy as I left the hostel and walked out into my last full day in Patagonia. I arrived at the docks early and decided to take some time to check out the area.
Along the docks there were lots of spots selling excursions through the channel. I strolled among them leisurely, wandering in and out of the small shacks and inquiring about the particulars of each tour. Some places offered rides on smaller boats, promising a more personal experience, others on the large and impressive catamarans, but not all of them went to the same places. I had some idea of what the channel had to offer, and I knew what parts of it I wanted to see the most. Finally, I found an excursion that could satiate my desires. Time until departure: two minutes. I paid for my passage and rushed down the pier where the catamaran “Ana B” was waiting for me. I climbed eagerly aboard.
Even during the summer, the weather on the channel is brisk and windy. I put on my hat and tightened my jacket around me, recalling that I was, in fact, about as close to Antarctica as I could get without leaving the continent.
The first few stops were to see some of the wildlife that is native to area. There are a few specific spots where large groups of Cormorants and Sea Lions congregate on small islands and these were our first destinations of the day.
Next, we made a pass by the Les Éclaireurs (French for “The Enlighteners”) Lighthouse, an operational but unmanned lighthouse that keeps watch over the watery gateway to Ushuaia. It is a small and simple construct, but its red and white exterior stands in stark contrast to rocks and sea that surround it.
Shortly after passing the lighthouse, we were lucky enough to come upon a group a Sei whales. This massive and endangered species, reaching up to 20 meters (66 feet in the U.S.) long and weighing up to 28 tons, is not always present in the channel. On that morning, perhaps because of the perfect way my trip had been unfolding up to that point, I was sure they had appeared there just for me. They were a bit difficult to get pictures of, though, as I was never quite sure where they would appear until the last minute, when they would send up a quick spray of water before breaching the surface with their slick black fins.
We continued on through the channel with the hills of Chile on our right hand side and the mountains of Argentina on our left. The day began to lose a bit of its dull grey hue. I sat back and enjoyed the leisurely trip to our final stop before turning around and heading back towards Ushuaia. This was another rendezvous with the local wildlife. Another species of bird, but not one you will ever find in the air. Yes, those classy creatures that had to learn to dance because they don’t know how to fly: penguins.
After watching the flightless wonders for a bit, we headed back towards civilization. By now, the weather had finally improved and the return trip was decidedly warmer and more pleasant.
After being safely back on land, I took some time to explore the town during the daylight hours. And, of course, no trip to this city would be complete without a shot of the famous sign.
After that, I made a trek to the Martial Glacier. This small glacier overlooks the town and offered a spectacular view of the channel that I had just traversed. However, since my camera decided to run low on batteries, and since someone left the spare at the hostel, that particular memory will remain uniquely mine for as long as I can carry it.
Eventually, I made it back to the hostel. There I relaxed a bit, drank some wine and made some new friends. I slept sufficiently, if not comfortably, that night and woke up early the next morning to head to the airport. I boarded the flight, weary and road-worn, bound for my “home” in Buenos Aires. During the flight, I pondered all the unbelievable things that I had done during that amazing week, and tried to let the experience sink in.
Back in the city, it was warm and muggy. It seemed strange to be back, but with time the noise, the light, the smells, and the sights all became normal again. I missed the mountains, the stars and the salty sea water but, luckily for me, I got to live the whole experience over again while sharing it with you.
“Tenés algo más chiquito?” This is a phrase that I hear daily in the grand capital of Buenos Aires. This is the question that, inevitably, cashiers in the tiny kioscos on the corner, the large supermarket chains and everywhere in between will ask you when you hand them the ubiquitous 100 peso bill. What they are asking is if you have a smaller denomination. “Do you have anything smaller?” This is a fair question to hear in the U.S. if you hand someone a one hundred-dollar bill. The thing is, a 100 peso bill is, in reality, closer in value to a 20 dollar bill (about $22.76 at the current exchange rate).
Apparently in Argentina there is a rampant lack of change. Most of the time, if you stand your ground, they will, begrudgingly, make change for you. That is, after they have held the bill up to the light to check its authenticity and given you a hard glance. The funny part, as if it were part of some large joke being played on the Argentinians by god and the banks, is that most of the atms give out nothing BUT 100 peso bills. All this fun culminates when you go out to dinner with a group of your friends, the check comes, and everyone promptly pulls out their 100 peso notes. What follows it usually at least 15 fun-filled minutes of trying to figure out who owes what and how in the hell you are going to work this mess out.
Monedas (coins) are in short supply as well. The collectivos (city buses) accept only coins, and many people hoard their monedas for this purpose. Sometimes, when a cashier at your local kiosco or supermercado owes you some small change (usually less than two pesos) and they can’t, or don’t want to, give it to you, they will try to convince you to take a piece on candy or some other small item instead. Personally, I find this little quirk to be quite charming.
Dealing in pesos is an interesting thing for someone who is used to the U.S. dollar. First of all, you are constantly making calculations in your head to try and decide how much you are really paying for something. Luckily the conversion is, for the most part, simple enough. Secondly, the money looks so completely different. It is so colorful in comparison to the U.S. Dollar that, at times, it can feel like you are playing with Monopoly money. While this sounds entertaining, it’s always important to keep in mind that this real money you are spending and to resist the urge to buy Boardwalk. Remember, in Argentina there is no community chest.
I slept comfortably the night before my expedition into the Torres del Paine national park and awoke the next morning full of excitement. Part of the fun of travelling, for me, is not always knowing what is around the next corner.
I ate an early breakfast of porridge, eggs, homemade bread and marmalade at the Singing Lamb (hands down the best breakfast I have ever had at a hostel) and boarded the bus to the park.
It is about two and a half hours from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine, but the ride is not boring. There is plenty of breathtaking scenery to take in or you can grab a few extra hours of sleep (you lazy bum) before starting your trek. We made our way, surrounded by the snow dusted Chilean mountains closer and closer to what would be my home for the next two days. As the park came into view, appearing in the misty shroud that blanketed the peaks, a shimmering rainbow bade us enter.
I entered into the park and took another short bus ride to the trailhead. As I started along the trail, I came upon the first of several charming wooden bridges in the park.
I crossed over and into a world of wondrous sights and sounds. As I rounded the first corner, I was greeted by a looming monstrosity of rock and snow.
I continued up the path, wondering just how good of an idea it was to bring such a heavy pack. However, I knew that if I wanted to complete the goal that I had set for myself the day before that I would need everything that I carried (and hopefully not more). The path took me along the side of the mountain. Beside me, water from the glaciers further up the mountains flowed through the valley in a blue and white stream, its rushing sounds drifting up into my ears while the strong winds carried droplets of its cool water to alight upon my cheeks and lips. At times, the wind was so fierce that it threatened to knock me off the side of the mountain and I had to kneel or sit down to avoid toppling over.
As I got farther along the path, I turned around to see a never-ending landscape of trees, rolling hills, blue-green lakes and the sharp contrast of the dark and angular mountains against a clear blue sky.
After several hours of walking, I crossed over a long wooden bridge to reach my first refuge. Here I had a chance to relax for a bit, rest my back and feet, and eat lunch. It was here that I began to catch a glimpse of the torres, the “towers” of rock for which the park is named.
The meal: dried fruit, peanut butter and crackers, salami and bread, was simple but tasted like the finest cuisine after the climb up the side of the mountain. I ate, rested and donned my pack once again to make the trek to my camp.
The second half of the trail was completely different from the first. It wound its way through the trees back and forth across wooden bridges over the flowing water that had now widened out substantially. It was shady, cool, peaceful….perfect. I hardly noticed the heavy pack that contained everything I would need to survive the night.
When the trees thinned out, I could see glimpse of mountain tops, glaciers and waterfalls on all sides.
Finally, I emerged from the forest to reach my campsite. It was here that I would spend the night in my little rented tent, trying not to freeze of any of my important parts. It was an amazing spot. The camp itself, Campamento Torres, was down a small, rocky path, nestled in a grove of trees out of the wind, with a cool, clear, stream trickling through its center. I, gladly, took off my heavy pack and set up my tent.
After getting set up, I ate another simple meal, made a few friends in the camp and had enough time to explore the surrounding area and take some fun photos.
I went to sleep fairly early that night, exhausted from the physical and mental activities of the day. The night passed without rain and I managed to stay fairly warm. If I could remember my dreams from that night, they would pale in comparison to what I would see the next day.
I awoke early the next morning at around 5:00 am, dressed, and strapped on my headlamp for the 45 minute trek, in the dark, up to the torres. The sky was clear and the moon shone brightly in the crisp morning air. Looking up, I saw something that I had been missing in the bright lights and big city of Buenos Aires. innumerable stars looked down upon me, winking at me as if they knew the secret of the wonder that I was about to behold.
The path was steep and rocky, and I walked it alone. If not for the reflective markers leading me onward in the right direction, I could have easily walked off the side of the mountain. Sucking in the thin air in deep breaths, I made my way up…and up…and up. When I reached the base of the torres, the only other person there was a photographer. He was perched on a rock like a hunter, awaiting the perfect shot. I found a place among the rocks to sit and await the sunrise. The photographer sipped at his warm mate (which he didn’t offer to share) while I tried to keep warm under the ever brightening sky. Finally, the sky began to glow and the time I had been waiting for arrived. What happened next is something that I will never experience again and I found myself wondering what I had done to deserve to be there at that magical moment as the towers caught fire!
Then, as I watched in awe, the colors began to shift.
My feeble words and paltry pictures cannot capture the awe and beauty that I beheld that morning on the mountain in Chilean Patagonia. An unforgettable experience. A brush with divinity.
After yet another priceless moment in my life, I headed back down the trail, this time in the light of day. I packed up my things and bid farewell to my camp. I put on my headphones and hiked down the mountain and slowly, begrudgingly back into reality. I stopped once again at the refuge to rest and then continued down to the trailhead. There, I met up with some of the friends I had made along the way and relaxed in a shady grove of trees, pondering all that had happened and waiting for the van to take me back to the entrance of the park. At the entrance, I was offered a final view of the grandeur that I had been fortunate enough to be a part of.
I left the park and headed back to Puerto Natales. I packed up my things at the Singing Lamb and headed to Erratic Rock to have a beer with some of my new friends. I spent the last of my Chilean pesos, said my goodbyes to the people who had I spent precious little time with, and returned to the hostel to sleep away my final night in Chile.
And so, with my adventure there over with all too soon, I got on a bus early the next morning and headed for my Patagonian finale at the end of the world.
Having had my first adventure in Patagonia, I packed up my stuff and hopped on a bus. I waved goodbye (no I didn’t) to El Calafate and headed towards Puerto Natales, Chile with absolutely no idea of what to expect. The first part of the trip was great, but as we got closer to the final destination, the lakes dried up and the mountains dulled to rounded hills. Several small, poor, dirty mining towns began to dot the hillsides as well and my mind flickered back to a conversation I had the night before with the only employee of the i Kue Ken hostel that I was less than impressed with. ”Un poco feo” (a bit ugly) he had said of Puerto Natales. Riding on a credulous wave of enthusiasm from my experience the with god of ice, I had dismissed his pessimism, but now I began to wonder.
The ride lasted about five or six hours including two stops, one at either side of the border. You have to “check out” of Argentina and then go through customs on your way into Chile to make sure you don’t have any corrosive gases or milk products. The town of Puerto Natales is actually only a few minutes from the border. Under a dull and cloudy sky, we descended from border checkpoint, down the gently sloping hill and towards our final destination.
Puerto Natales is a small town, located on the Última Esperanza Sound in Chilean Patagonia. Though it isn’t as clean and quaint as El Calafate, the landscape which surrounds it is nothing short of breathtaking. As we came out of the hills and I began to get a view of the Sound and the mountains surrounding it, any doubts I had about being there vanished and Mr. Un Poco Feo was instantly forgotten (until now).
There is, apparently, no bus station in Puerto Natales, so the bus dropped us off in the center of the town and I set to work finding my hostel, The Singing Lamb. Nothing is too far from anything in Puerto Natales so I only had a few blocks to walk.
Susan, a New Zealander who runs the Singing Lamb, instantly earned my affection by asking me if I was Chilean and telling me that I spoke Spanish with less accent than her even though she had been living there off and on for over 30 years. In truth, to hear her speak Spanish with her New Zealand accent always brought a smile to my lips. What’s more, she is a caring and jovial woman who welcomes everyone into the lamb as if she were welcoming family members into her own home.
I didn’t have much time to get situated at the Lamb because I had to hurry over to Erratic Rock, another hostel/pub in town that rents hiking and camping gear and gives a daily talk (for free) about Torres del Paine, the national park and main draw to Puerto Natales, that is located a few hours to the north. The guys at Erratic Rock are awesome. Not only will they tell you everything you want to know (and more) about the park with smiles on their faces, but they will help you in any way they can to ensure that you are prepared to enjoy your time there to its full potential (thanks Koen!). What’s more, you can grab a beer and something to eat while you are there.
I spent the rest of the night uneventfully. A few friends that I had met in my intensive Spanish class in Buenos Aires were due to meet me at the Lamb the next day, so I returned to the hostel and spent a few hours with some of the other guests (mostly Brits and Aussies that night) having a few beers and talking about what we planned to do once we got to the park.
I spent the next day getting ready for Torres del Paine. I had to rent a tent and a sleeping bag and buy food for the two days that I would spend there. Although I could have easily spent a week exploring all the wonders the park has to offer, unfortunately I was on a restrictive schedule. My friends had some unexpected delays, so I spent the rest of my time that day exploring the town.
My friends finally arrived at about 9:30 that night. We made a mad dash to the market to try to get the supplies they would need while they were in they park. They spent the next several hours packing their things and trying to get ready for our trip to Torres del Paine. The owner, and the guests, at the Lamb were less than thrilled about their late-night packing marathon, but they managed to get themselves in order so that we could leave for the park early the next morning. I, having had plenty of time to prepare while waiting for them that day, relaxed and had a beer.
My excitement grew as the time of departure drew closer but, in truth, I had no idea of the incredible things that were waiting for me in Torres del Paine…
I awoke early the following day and walked down to the bus station to catch a bus to Los Glaciares National Park, located less than two hours west of the town of El Calafate.
We didn’t get very far out of town before the landscape started to change. The once rolling hills were now climbing ever upwards and pointed, snow-covered peaks could be seen in the distance. As incredible as things began to seem in those early morning hours, they would only grow more amazing as I approached the first major sight along my journey.
We wound deeper into the mountains with the aqua blue of the seemingly endless Lago Argentino accompanying us. Maybe it was the vast and unbelievable landscape, but I began to grow increasingly pensive as we neared our destination. I marveled at the beauty around me and I began to ponder just what it is that makes something beautiful. To be sure, there is a certain awe that is inspired simply by the size of something as grand as a mountain, but what is intrinsic in an object, person or landscape that causes our eyes to be held captive by it? I was not sure, but I was sure that the things that I was witnessing were like nothing I had seen before or likely will ever see again…and this was only the beginning.
Eventually, we penetrated far enough into the park to get our first look at Perito Moreno Glacier. Seeing it from afar, I came to the realization that I was viewing antiquity incarnate. Moreover, I was witnessing an icy god at work, carving valleys, making mountains and shaping the very world on which I walked.
The first thing I did after disembarking in the park was take a catamaran across the still waters of Lago Argentino toward the south face of the glacier.
The modern boat traversed the waters with ease and, as we rounded a corner and drew nearer to the frozen behemoth, with mouth agape I reminded myself that this giant was living, it was moving and yes, it was growing before my eyes. Everyone should be able to glimpse something this amazing in their lives, but alas not everyone can. Although they can hardly do it justice, I hope some of these images can give you some idea of what it might be like to stand in awe before a wonder of nature such as this.
The glacier, always advancing, can grow to form a natural dam of ice that divides the lake. On one side of this dam, the pressure of the water builds slowly, eventually causing the icy dam to break and the glacier to rupture. There is no way to predict when this is going to happen and the time between rupture events can be many years. As it happens, the glacier had ruptured at around 3 or 4 a.m. that morning, about 6-7 hours before I arrived. Unfortunately, I missed the rupture, but I was able to see its aftermath, a large and jagged mass of glacial ice separated from the main body of Perito Moreno.
After returning to shore and reality, at least for a time, I took a short ride by bus to the other side of the glacier. From this side, I approached the north face of the glacier along the shores of Lago Argentino. As incredible as the glacier is, there is much more than ice to see in the park. The lake is tranquil and ringed with mountains and the sound of its frigid waters lapping lazily upon the rocks provide the perfect sonic backdrop.
Eventually, the glacier comes into view again and the disbelief begins anew. The north face of the glacier is wider and the view from this side is different, but equally as breathtaking.
You approach this face of the glacier slowly via a long set of metal stairs and platforms called the “balcony”. As you get closer, you also climb upward making the view exponentially better in a short period of time. Eventually, I was able to see the ruptured area of the glacier again, this time from the north.
Finally I reached what was more or less the top of ”the balcony”. I sat there, silently, wondering what it was I might have done in this life or any other to deserve to be there. I couldn’t think of anything. I gazed out at the massive field of ice in front of me and thanked whatever forces had brought me to this point. Emotions welled up in me that have no name. I shed a tear….maybe more than one.
After leaving the park, amazed, emotional and tired, I headed back to El Calafate. That evening, while relaxing in the hostel and reflecting on the things I had seen and done that day, I met a few fellow travellers who had, like me, worked up an appetite that day. I, with my newfound friends from France and Switzerland, headed out to enjoy a hot meal and a bottle of wine (or two) at a local spot called Pura Vida. The food was excellent, the wine was plentiful, and the company was interesting to say the least. It was a great end to what had been one of the most incredible days of my life. Little did I know, there was so much more to come.
The next morning, I left El Calafate and headed southwest into Chile and my next great adventure.
Ok, this marks the beginning of a series of posts that I am going to make to cover, briefly, my trip to Patagonia. Patagonia is a region in the southern part of Argentina. It. Is. Huge. I only had eight days to see what I could, and I left feeling as if I had only seen a tiny portion of what has to be one of the most amazing regions on the planet. However, I consider myself lucky just to have caught a glimpse into this rare and awe-inspiring piece of the globe. So, pull up google maps and follow me southward.
My intensive Spanish class in Buenos Aires ended on March 2nd, and I got on a plane the next morning headed towards my first stop, El Calafate, Argentina. I felt, all at once, freedom from anything that might have been tying me down, a great curiosity, and a stirring sense of excitement at the thoughts of what was awaiting me.
I boarded the small plane and, as it ascended into the clouds, I left behind my new home in Buenos Aires and took my first steps into the interior of this grand and magnificent country. We spent most of the time above the clouds, so I wasn’t able to see much of the landscape as it changed from city into vast pampas. However, when the plane finally began to descend towards my destination I got my first look at Patagonia. It was a vast stretch of scrubland, brown and dotted with low shrubs and patches of grass. The dull color of the land was interrupted, quite suddenly, by the bright, almost glowing, aqua hue of the lakes.
We landed and I rode, uneventfully, to the town of El Calafate. A small, touristy spot on the shores of Lago Argentino that seems to exist almost solely as a base of operations in order to strike out towards Perito Moreno to the west and El Chaltén to the north. It is a handsome town full of shops and restaurants that has, no doubt, profited from many a traveller in its time.
I went straight to my hostel to drop off my things and proceeded to explore the town.
I wandered up and down the main avenue of El Calafate and drank in the sights, sounds, and smells. That evening, I enjoyed a dinner of Patagonian lamb. Afterwards, I walked back up to my hostel, situated on a hill overlooking the town with a great view of Lago Argentino (the lake). I spent a few hours enjoying some wine and the company of some fellow travellers from Switzerland as well as Mariano, a very cool Argentino who was manning the front desk that night. Finally, I found my way into bed and tried to get some rest before the morning, when I was to set out towards Perito Moreno glacier, and more adventure…
So I have returned to Buenos Aires and I find it just exactly as I left it: grand and teeming, dirty and beautiful. I returned from my fantastic voyage on Sunday evening and began the semester on Monday. I would like to have posted sooner, but I needed a few days to get things in order at the University and to rest my weary bones. But, like that prodigal fellow from that story in some book or another…here I am.
First off, school (that’s why I’m here right?). I was able to register in all the classes I wanted. I have two literature classes, one Latin American and one Argentinian. I also have a class in Latin American Cultural Studies. Last, but most definitely not least, I have a Tango class. This should be plenty to keep me busy in between whatever adventures are awaiting me next.
Speaking of adventures, I just returned from one that will be difficult to do justice to with my simple words. Nevertheless, I am going to try. It is going to take several posts over the next few days to give you a glimpse into the wonders that I have, for some reason or another, been blessed to behold. The posts that follow will be a chronicling of some of the most incredible things I have seen and done in my life. I hope that I can express at least a fraction of the pure, childlike joy and amazement that welled up in me time and again during my voyage.
Ok everyone, I want to apologize for the lack of posts over the last week. I was sick for several days (don´t worry, I´m better now) and then I had to fnish up the last few days of class and the final exams. Everything went incredibly well.
But….I have some bad news, there will not be a lot of posts this week either. That´s because this morning I hopped a flight to El Calafate, Argentina in Patagonia!!! I am writing this post from my hostel on one of their computers. I will be here for 2 days and then I travel across the border to Puerto Natales, Chile and Torres Del Paine National Park. Then its further south to el fin del mundo, Ushuaia in Tierra Del Fuego!!! Everyone check out the map to see where my adventure is taking me.
I won´t be updating this week but, when I return, rest assured that I will have tons of pictures and amazing stories to share with you all.
Wish me luck!
Chau for now.
Argentina, like any country, has its own traditional foods and favorite treats that make it unique. I want to share with you the best, worst, and strangest of the food (and drink) that I experience here. ¡Buen provecho!
To get things started off ont he right foot, let’s talk a little bit about that golden hued crowd pleaser known to many as beer.
For the most part, the beer here is not as varied (or as good) as the beer selection I am used to at home. Most of what you find in the stores is of the pale lager variety. There are several Argentinian brands as well as some, like Stella Artois, that are common in the states.
Two of the biggest Argentinian brands are Quilmes and Isenbeck. Quilmes is the ubiquitous beer of Argentina, akin to Budweiser in the U.S.
Although most of the beer is lackluster, a lot of it is also dirt cheap. If you were to look around a bit in one of the local supermercados, you might puzzle for a bit over the realization that many of the locals brands are, in fact, cheaper than the water that is being sold a couple of aisles over.
This can cause quite a dilemma when you wander into the store to quench the incredible thirst that the heat of Buenos Aires is wont to cause in a gringo. At first you are thinking, “I could really use a cool drink of water right now”. Then, as you notice that it’s actually cheaper to buy a beer, you start thinking that’s the way to go, only to remind yourself, “I need water to live”. However, just as you reach for that cool, clear, life-giving fluid, you hear a little voice in the back of your mind that asks innocently, “There’s water in beer, right?”…
In order to reassure everyone that I am doing more here in Buenos Aires than dancing until dawn, spending all my money at the ferias and chasing after the argentinas I thought I would let you know a bit about how I spend the daytime hours during the week.
The monday after I arrived in Bs As, I began intensive Spanish class at the University of Belgrano. The school is a short walk (about 8-10 blocks) from my house. There are a few different buildings, but only one main place where I attend my class. It is an interesting spot, more akin to an office building than a school, that towers over you as you approach it from the street.
My classroom is on the 10th floor. The elevators for the students don’t stop on every floor, so I get off at the 12th and walk down. The faculty elevators make all the stops, but to be caught using one of those means being chastised in rapid porteño spanish that makes you feel as if you had committed some heinous crime against humanity.
Once I make it to the classroom, without being verbally abused if I have not strayed from the designated path. I am greeted with a view of the city that is quite distracting. It is difficult to concentrate on the intricacies of some of the most difficult concepts of the Spanish language when you are staring out into a vast urban landscape and daydreaming of the endless adventures that await you there.
On the first monday of classes, a mob of hundreds of loud and obnoxious american students descended upon the university and took placement tests to determine what level of class they would take. After that, they divided us up into classes of varying numbers (mine has about 14) and began the process of cramming our skulls with as much information as they can throw at us in what little time we have.
My professors are nice enough, but I would much rather be out amongst the natives and learning first hand than going over grammar exercises. For this reason, I have not been too worried about my class. I show up on time, do the work, and wait impatiently for the time to come when I will once again be let loose upon the city…
San Telmo is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires. It’s an amazing place full of great cafes, bars, restaurants, antique shops and some cool sights. The architecture in San Telmo, like a lot of parts of Bs As, is amazing. I hope to add more about San Telmo in the future, but for now I want to give everyone a peek at “La Feria de San Telmo”. Every sunday, Defensa street in San Telmo is jam packed with vendors, food, and street performers. Looking down the street at the throng of people, it seems like it goes on forever. There are a lot of tourists here from all corners of Argentina and the world. The people, the food, the buildings, the trinkets…the energy is amazing.
The vendors sell everything from cachivaches (trinkets, knick knacks, junk), to t-shirts, to amazing handmade works of art and leather goods. A person could spend all day (and all their money) trading with the locals.
Just when you think you have come to the end of La Feria, you come upon the semi-permanent Feria de Antigüedades where you can find a million tiny pieces of the past.
Even if you are not interested in buying anything, there are still many reasons to visit San Telmo. One of these reasons is the people. As if the variety of different races, cultures and languages you can find there weren’t enough, there is also a host of street performers. From the intriguing to the talented to the strange and unusual, San Telmo has more than it’s share of interesting characters that will have you stopping to stare, take pictures and, if you are gracious, to drop a coin in their hat or guitar case.
As a general rule, the architecture in Buenos Aires is amazing. The eclectic mix of European, Latin, old and new will have you wide eyed and light headed as your neck swivels back and forth trying to take it all in. San Telmo is no exception.
If the noise of the crowd were to quiet down for a moment, I’m sure you could hear whispers from the past tempting you with the secrets that lie around each corner. San Telmo is an amazing place, and there is so much more to see than what I have shown you. I will add more photos to the photo gallery when I have more time.
Until the next installment…..Chau!!
So there I am, waiting for the taxi in front of the Aeropuerto Internacional de Ezeiza and trying to come to grips with how far I am from anything that is familiar to me. From Kansas City, it’s over 5500 miles to Buenos Aires. However, the anticipation of meeting my new family and the euphoria that stemmed from being in such a strange and exciting new place easily quashed any of the other thoughts competing for space in my head. The cab pulled up to the curb. The driver helped me stow my luggage (Only two bags for five months?) and I hopped into the front seat to improve what would be my first look at Bs As. Inside the cab, the air was cool and the familiar sounds of American pop music were emanating softly from the radio. Unfortunately, 5500 miles is not far enough away to avoid the top 40. I buckled my seat belt and we sped away from the airport and into a new life.
The airport is located about 30 minutes to the southwest of the city. Along the way, my thoughts bounced back and forth from wonder at my new surroundings to fear for my life due the wild ride I was receiving at the hands of my only friend in Bs As, the taxi driver. In between white knuckled moments, I watched the graffiti covered buildings zoom by. The parts of the city that we passed through to reach Belgrano, the neighborhood that I now reside in were, to put it nicely, well used. Every time the taxi driver slowed down, I secretly hoped that it was not to drop me off. However, the surroundings slowly improved as we neared our final destination and, at last, we slowed to a stop in front of 747 Moldes in Belgrano.
The driver helped me get my bags out of the cab and I tipped him generously for sparing my life and he gave me change in pesos. This was both the last time I touched U.S. dollars and the first time I laid my hands upon the currency of Argentina. He waited as I pushed the buzzer and, after a long moment, a smiling face appeared on the balcony above. Maria, my house mother, asked me gently to wait and, another moment later, I heard the metallic click-clacking sound of the lock. The door to my new home swung open.
Maria’s smiling face welcomed me inside and I dragged my suitcases into my room. She showed me around the amazing, Spanish style house (more details about this later), giving details and instructions as we went. After the tour, we returned to my room and she left with simple goodbye consisting of but a word. “Suerte”, she said, and disappeared up the staircase.
Well, here we go. This is officially my first post from Buenos Aires. I apologize for not getting some stuff up here sooner but, as I’m sure you can imagine, things have been crazy. I have been here for one week and my brain and body are still trying to catch up. I will be adding some more pages to this site with specific topics like food, the city, the people, and more. You can subscribe to receive emails when I update the site.
First thing first, let’s catch up on some of the stuff that has happened during the first part of my journey and the weeks leading up to it.
I would like to thank everyone that came to my going away party. It was amazing to see so many people I care about, and that care about me, in the same place at the same time. I hope everyone had as much fun as I did. It was great to have all of you there to see me off in style. The food was great, the drinks were plentiful, and the night was unforgettable (Except for the last few hours. How did I get home again?). This is one of the only decent pictures I have from the party and it doesn’t include very many of the people that were there. Send me more!!
The week after the party was a crazy one full of last-minute preparations and excitement. Almost everything I own other than the things that I brought with me are now packed into a 5′x15′ storage space. As the time to leave grew closer, the anticipation mounted. In the few days leading up to the trip, it was hard to contain the plethora of feelings that were welling up inside of me. I could hardly sleep, but that helped me to have the time to get everything done that I needed to do, and I feel like I left well prepared for my journey into the unknown.
On the day of my departure, I was lucky enough to spend some time with a couple of my favorite women: my mother and my “Auntie” Laura. We talked and laughed over a nice american cheeseburger. Good food and great company for my last meal in the states for some time to come.
After lunch, it was off to the airport. Mom, Dad and Beverly were there to see me off. I had a bit of a scare when I went to check my bags. There was some confusion as to whether or not I was supposed to already have my visa. The women at the check-in counter were nice enough, just not too bright. After half an hour, a gallon of sweat, and calls to two different coordinators of my program, they let me through to board the flight to Atlanta. The flight was full and I was forced to check my carry-on and submit to a search of my backpack, which was so tightly packed that they took one look inside and decided it wasn’t worth the trouble. Ah the intrinsic pleasures of air travel.
The flight to Atlanta was uneventful. The airport is enormous. I made the trek of what seemed like miles to the other side of the airport. I found a seat at my gate near an outlet to plug in and charge my laptop and the flight began boarding almost immediately. This time I boarded the plane with no problems. As I headed down the long white hallway toward the giant bird that would carry me into my future, it hit me that this was it – I was really doing it. I entered the belly of the beast and it was like I had already stepped into a new world. Most of the passengers were Argentinians that were headed home, and all I could hear was their Castellano being spoken in a host of voices all around me. I settled into my seat near a window of the largest plane I have been aboard and prepared myself for the flight.
The ten-hour flight was actually rather painless. They had screens throughout the cabin that tracked our flight path that immediately made me think of Indiana Jones. When I looked up to see our path taking us over Florida it was cool, but when I looked up to see that we were flying over Cuba it was almost unbelievable. I fell asleep over the Caribbean Sea and when I woke up we were well into South America and hurtling at over 500 miles an hour into Argentina and towards our final destination of Buenos Aires (Bs As from now on).
The sun was coming up over the clouds as we descended into the Aeropuerto Internacional de Ezeiza. It was unreal. We landed smoothly and I disembarked as a stranger in a strange land. Customs was much easier to go through than I expected. I had to pay a reciprocity fee (thus named because it mirrors the fee that the U.S. charges Argentinians to enter the country) of 140 dollars which allows me entry into the Argentina for the next ten years (seems like a good excuse to take another trip in the future). They put the first (of many) stamps into the pages of my passport and I proceeded through customs where everyone is subjected to a simple scan of their bags and allowed to leave the airport. I walked out of the doors of the airport and into a grand adventure. Arranging for a cab to take me to what would be my new home for the next several months, my mind raced with thoughts of the wonders that were awaiting me in this strange new land…