Saturday, December 4, 2010

The path taken means as much as the destination...

As I type this, I am staring at a pile of my things on my bed. Two suitcases sit open and almost full on the floor. And I have friend waiting for my arrival at my favorite club - only 4 blocks from my apartment.

I don't know how to say goodbye because I don't know if I ever will come back again.

When I left my parents, it was tearful, yes, but I knew that I would be returning in 5 and a half short months. And how short those months seem now that they have all passed...
Tonight I went to La Catedral de Tango for the last time and I kissed my instructors and my friends homestay mom goodbye for the last time. I had to thank them for all they had given to me. Because when I think on Argentina, of course I think about tango and all the time that I spent at my friend's house and all the time that I spent at La Catedral. And how excited my friends and I were when we mastered a new move - maybe not complex, but it was still new.

I sit here and I look at my Spanish dictionary. It's been so long since that was a vital part of my belongings, since I had to have it with me for constant reference. I am by no means fluent, but I have found that there are ways to talk around things, to try and describe them with the vocabulary that I do have, and if not that, then my hand gestures and body motions generally can do the trick.

This place. I spent 5 and a half months sleeping in this bed. Singing in that shower over there. Eating at that kitchen table. I took that same bus every day - cold, rainy, windy, sunny - to that University. I sat in boring classes, exciting classes, classes in which I thought the substitute teacher was cute and I put in 110% effort.

How did all these things just come to an end?
When did that happen?

How is it that tomorrow I will board a plane, with people I didn't know 6 months ago, who I now call friends?
14 hours of travel. And then I will be in my father's arms. I will pet my dog. It will be cold.
This will be over.

How does that happen?
How is it that at times it felt sooo long? Like when I was sick from my malaria pills, and all I could do was lay in bed, pray it would pass, and ask for my mom. During those days, all I wanted was to be at home.
Now, I want to be home again. I miss my family - talking to them through the phone isn't the same as seeing them, as sharing events with them personally instead of just recounting the days' activities, as being able to actually hug them and kiss them and tell them I love them.
But I don't want to go away from my home. This apartment. This neighborhood. This city. This country. This feels like home to me now. I'm starting to think that being adaptable isn't always a blessing. Right now, adaptability is a curse. Because I will leave this place and soon it will be just a distant memory of something that once was. And Durham, CT will be home again. And the University of South Carolina will be home again. Walking into an apartment to my best friend, Ashley, will be home again. Pulling into my driveway and seeing my mom or dad will be home again. Home will no longer be Pipa and her family, or my two wonderful roommates.

The path taken means as much as the destination.

At first I would have said that my destination was Buenos Aires. But now I know that my destination was more a sense of awareness; I'm aware of how much my family means to me, how much I love my friends - yet how easily it is to make new ones, especially in strange situations. I arrived at the feeling of being comfortable even when I am alone, more than halfway around the world from everything I had once known.
I may have not ended up being a true porteña, as was my original goal, but there is comfort here. There is a family; there are friends; there is a home. It's just strange that I have two sets of each, and they are one different continents. In a different culture. In a different language.

There are days that I have thought, if I could choose again, I wouldn't have picked Argentina. But there are days, like today, that I walked the street, went to tango, and just sat in a park, and I realized... I wouldn't trade these experiences for the world.

Gracias, Argentina, por todos los recuerdos. Voy a extrañarte - tus calles, tus pueblos, y tu gente. Tuve el tiempo de mi vida. No puedo imaginar un otro país con personas tan lindas, con los brazos tan abiertos, con aventuras tan grandes. Hoy, soy una persona diferente que la persona de seis meses atrás. Ella era ... dependiente, y ahora, soy independiente. Ahora, tengo ojos abiertos y más amor en mi corazón que nunca pensé posible. Pero ahora, yo sé, veo, vivo.
He llegado, he triunfado.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Flying Solo to Patagonia

Just a day after my mom left, I left Buenos Aires too. But this time I was destined for Patagonia!
I planned a trip with my friends, but they ended up finding the cheapest flight prices were while my mom was in town, and I encouraged them to do what they needed to do to be able to go on their trip. So while they went to Ushuaia and then El Calafate, I started my trip in El Calafate to meet up with them.

El Calafate is well know for it's proximity to the glacier Perito Moreno. Most people go and stay in El Calafate so they can plan their excursions to the glacier. So I arrived in El Calafate at noon, and booked a mini-trekking glacier excursion for the next day. There turned out to be a bit of a hassle because I booked it for my friends (who were arriving a bit later, at like 5 pm) too so that we could definitely be in the same group. But problems turned up when they decided they didn't want to do the trek on the glacier, and we had to cancel their reservation later in the night - as companies were closing. I, however, was not going to give up the experience of slipping on some crampons and walking over one of the only "stable" glaciers left on the planet. (Stable refers to the fact that it loses ice at a rate about equal to it's growth each year - so while the vast majority of glaciers are getting smaller, Perito Moreno and about one other, I believe, in the Patagonian ice field is staying the same size.)
Perito Moreno after a giant chunk fell off. 

The day of the glacier trek ended up being really nice. I was worried because the forecast called for some rain, and the people staying the hostel the first night with me had gone on the trek that day in rain, and they were pretty miserable. But my day was gorgeous, albeit, rather cold (okay - so it wasn't horrible but honestly it was like 90 the day before in Buenos Aires, and por eso, I thought El Calafate was freezing). On the bus ride to the glacier in the morning I met a nice couple, probably late twenties or very early thirties, and they both had studied abroad. So we talked about how my experience was going and they were really supportive of the fact that I was traveling alone and had decided to to my own thing and not give up such amazing experiences because I didn't have anyone to go with. It was so great to meet people who had done it too and survived to tell the story!
I spent the day with them, ate lunch together, walked around, and we did the glacier trek together. They adopted me as their photographer and they also helped by taking some of me, or holding Cocky for his photos. It was so nice to meet them, it really made the day as awesome as it could have been. On the other hand, I was sitting on this short boat ride back to the bus, and I got separated and couldn't get a seat near my new friends. So I sat near a group of about 8 people, I'm assuming Dutch. They were speaking in English to each other and I was just trying to ignore their conversation/look like I wasn't listening in. So I heard the entire thing. And one very large piece of the conversation is about how they would never travel alone and not only is it depressing to be alone and have to travel alone, but it's just lame, or something along those lines... I prefer to agree with my NY couple instead of these Dutchmen because I had a great time even though I was on my trip alone.

So after one more night in my hostel in El Calafate with my friends, I transferred on the 8am bus to El Chaltén. El Chaltén is the "National Capital for Trekking" and is home to Mt. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. It's also really interesting because I didn't realize it beforehand, but El Chaltén is actually a town inside a national park (Parque Nacional los Glaciares), so when the bus pulls into town, it first makes a stop so that we can hear about the rules of being in the park (aka no garbage on the trails, everything comes back to the town and then goes to El Calafate later on) and the trails that we could take and their levels of difficulty. Honestly, I felt like the vast majority of the hikers were really respectful of the rules about no garbage/"leave no trace". I did find like a tissue and a cigarette butt while I was hiking, but I just put them in my garbage baggie and brought them back to town with me. Anyway, I had 3 nights (2.5 days), so the first day I did a short hike to go see Cerro Torre. Which wasn't visible. Of course. There's normally a lot of cloud cover there. On the second day, my hectic month caught up with me. I had finals, then I went to Salta, then my mom was here - my allergies exploded at that time and I was a bit sick, and then I was traveling again. So on the first full day, I laid in bed and read all day, and I went out lunch with a woman from Valencia, Spain and practiced some Spanish. I just didn't feel 100% and figured that hiking in the cold wouldn't help. Of course, that day, Mt. Fitz Roy was visible. That day also was Thanksgiving and I was feeling quite homesick after talking to my Mom, Aunt and Uncle on the phone. I ate a hot dog. Between my family, there were 3 turkeys. That's the life of study abroad. I stayed up pretty late that night talking to a nice guy that I met hiking the day before, who was from Israel. We had the same sense of humor so everything was just really funny to us.
Mt. Fitz Roy during my hike.
But, to my luck!, Mt. Fitz Roy was also visible the next day. And how spectacular it is! Seeing Mt. Fitz Roy was probably the highlight of my trip. It was so glorious and it was a great way to end 5 spectacular months in Argentina. I started the hike in the drizzle, and ended up hiking mid-day in a t-shirt because I was so hot. I also got a tad bit sunburned on my hike, and quite lost. I knew I wasn't good at reading maps, but one map said - El Chaltén two hours or four hours, so being the lazy child I am (plus I'd already been out for 4.5 hours), I chose the two hour trail. NOPE! I chose the 4 hour trail because I'm illiterate. After 8.5 hours out in the sunshine and fresh air, I was SO tired. At night in the hostel I overcooked my spaghetti because I was busy talking to a young couple from Seattle and a guy from Switzerland, the part that speaks the really strange language. We started making him say everything to us in it. It was really fun and great to sit down with some complete strangers but have traveling and hiking in common.

The following day (Saturday, when I had started my trip on a Monday), I took an afternoon bus to El Calafate airport and hopped on a plane to Ushuaia - the end of the world! I thought Ushuaia would be my favorite part of this trip, so I was a bit disappointed. It looked so amazingly beautiful from the plane, but landing was terrifying because the airport is essentially a little island, so you come down over the water and just land. Scary! On my first full day in Ushuaia (the Sunday), I wandered around the town trying to figure out what excursions I would do. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday, so barely anything was open, and I got nothing planned. So I returned up the giant hill to my hostel, and booked a bus to go to Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego the next day. On the bus in the morning there were a bunch of 20-somethings, and so we decided to stick together and do a nice hike with each other. There were 2 people from Canada, two from Switzerland, and one from Norway (okay, so she was older than 20-something, but really cool none-the-less). We hiked around, got a bit turned around - I didn't read the map this time, so it was not my fault! - and ended up doing a nice hike along the coastline. It was really great to hike with a group after a few days of hiking alone (although I didn't mind that either). By the end of the day, we'd gone from snowing heavily, to sunshine where I was in just a sweatshirt, back to snow/a drizzle, etc. It essentially was 4 seasons in one day. But it was the end of the world, what else could we expect?!
After getting back to town and warming up a bit after about 6 hours of hiking and a bit of lunch, the 28-year old from Switzerland, the lady from Norway, and I went out to dinner. I tried all sorts of new foods (salmon and mussels - haha, nothing exotic, but I'm such a picky eater anyway), and slept like a little baby. The next morning I woke up and went on a tour of the Beagle Chanel, which was nice, but not what I expected. We went to three islands - one with sealions, one with cormoranes, and one with the End of the World Lighthouse, and I paid extra to go to the penguin island thinking that it was like the excursion my friend did where she was allowed to walk amongst the penguins. That's why I was upset. Because we didn't. So it wasn't much different than going to a zoo, but it was still really nice.
After that I got on a plane and headed "home" to Buenos Aires.

End of the World Lighthouse with Ushuaia (and Chile, to the left) in the background.
Looking back on it, I don't think that traveling alone was scary at all. And it's so strange to hear people say that they're proud of me for being brave and going alone. Don't get me wrong, I'm so glad for all the support I've received to make this trip a reality, but it doesn't feel like I did anything scary or brave. But when I talk with my friends here, and they mention that they never would have dared to go alone, I'm shocked that more people don't.

I guess me feeling comfortable enough to go alone is just a sign that I don't need to depend on other people to figure out my entertainment, or that I'm comfortable enough in knowing that I'm mature enough to go out into this world alone, and I feel so happy that I think that's the real meaning behind all of it.
But I know that if I hadn't gone to Patagonia, if I hadn't seen Mt. Fitz Roy in person, I would look back on this entire study abroad experience and been upset that I hadn't done these things.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Week with Mom

Sorry that I'm a bit backlogged on the blogging. This last month has been quite hectic with finals, travel, visitors, and more travel. But I wouldn't trade that for anything.

My Mom came to visit me for just a little over a week, and she brought her best friend Miss Val. I was so excited to have her visit and I thought that it would be nice for someone to see what life was like for me here. I'm so glad that she didn't come earlier in my time here in Argentina, though, because saying goodbye to her again was one of the hardest things I've had to do in my time here - and I knew that I would be seeing her in only 2 more weeks, so I can't imagine what it would have been like to say goodbye and have 2 months left!

It's quite funny because I had a plan of exactly what we would be doing every day. Since I realized my mom was coming to see me, I had put a lot of effort in thinking about what would be the best things to show her and how to make it so that she could really experience Buenos Aires like I had. I rented her an apartment for a week. I picked one that was only 5 blocks from my homestay - I know the area so well, and I know that it's safe and we would have nothing to worry about. I'm so glad that I rented an apartment too; my Mom LOVED it, and it was great because she made me dinner one night when she was here (not that I haven't been having homecooked meals the entire time, but Pipa's cooking does not at all compare to my mother's).
When my mom got here, it didn't take me long to realize that not everything was going to happen as I had planned. We had difficulties agreeing on the things I had thought out to do for both of them, and of course, it being spring/summertime, I hadn't planned on there being an influx of tourism and it being difficult to get tickets to certain things. Either way, I think my mom really enjoyed her time here. She got to relax from her stressful job, and honestly, who doesn't love seeing another part of the world?!
Mom and I "aqui" in Uruguay!
I think the best day that we had together was the day that we went to Uruguay! I hadn't gone yet, and it's seriously only a 3 hour ferry boat ride from the city, so we just went as a day trip. When I was trying to explain how simple it was to go to another country, I told my mom that it was like going to Block Island from CT. When we walked on the ferry, which was truly decked out, held a ton of people, and had chairs that even recline!, I realized that going to Uruguay was much classier than going to Block Island. It was such a fun day because we rented a little golf cart and tooled around the town (Colonia del Sacramento - a UNESCO World Heritage Site) for the entire day. We did some shopping, eating, and I climbed a lighthouse (it wasn't that tall...).

I'm a bit disappointed that my mom didn't get to see what a day was really like for me because we didn't eat at the restaurants that I typically eat at and we only took the bus and subte once during the entire week, when I take them each like once a day, but at the same time, it was nice taking a mini-vacation from my own life here in the city.
My Mom did get to meet Pipa and the family that I live with, and the family LOVED my mom; she also got along with Pipa really well. I was so happy that I could introduce them all to each other because my mom always hears about Pipa, and vice versa.

In the end, of course, it was hard to say goodbye to my mom, but I also knew that in just a day I would be traveling to Patagonia - a trip that I did mostly solo. And for that ... look for my next blog post - I'll write it later tonight after I go shopping with my roommates and do some goodbye-saying.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Estoy enamorada con Salta, la linda

Ooh, Salta. Where to begin with trying to describe the beauty I have seen...

I packed up my bags and was ready to venture out on the road alone!
It didn't last long though because as I was waiting in the bus station, I met up with a girl named Ryan who had been in 2 of my classes, and surprise, surprise! She was going to Salta alone too. So we ended up being together the entire time. She wanted to go to Salta and travel around, but instead we stayed in Salta (capital) and did 3 different day excursions.

Day 1: Jujuy - Las Salinas Grandes y Purmamarca
Jumping in the salt flats!
On the first day we started out by following the path of El Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds). We bought coca leaves to chew on to help with the altitude sickness, as we made the ascent to 4,170 meters above sea level. I wasn't much a fan of the coca, so I stuck to chewing gum and drinking a lot of water to keep the sickness away, and I really only noticed that I was slightly dizzy when I was walking around a lot (which didn't happen much because we were in the car). We stopped a few times just to take pictures and other times we stopped to visit specific towns and sights. The highlights were the Ruins in Tastil, which apparently used to house 3,000 people in 14th century AD. From there we stopped in San Antonio de los Cobres to eat lunch, and then we headed to the salt flats. The salt flats are just SO big, I can't even begin to imagine how large they actually are. We visited an area that had mounds of salt that they had dug up, and an area that they were digging the salt and reaching the water - there are rectangular pools, and the water is under the salt in all parts, but it's just so dry above that! After that, we headed to Purmamarca. I was SO excited to see the Mountain of 7 Colors, and we barely saw it! We didn't stop for pictures because it's colors are better in the morning, and then from the town, you can't really get a good view of it.
Instead I bought some gifts for my friends and family!
We got back in the car without the young Germans because they planned on staying in Purmamarca for the night before heading into Boliva the next day.

Day 2: Salta - Cafayate
Wisdom amongst the mountains.
To go to Cafayate we were picked up bright and early. On this day we shared our car with two girls from Holland and a couple from France. This was just such a spectacular day, I can't even put it into words. We started by seeing a natural amphitheater that the Salta Orchestra actually performs in once a year. Then we headed to Cafayate with minimal stoppage and visited a winery before lunch. On the way back to Salta from lunch  we stopped to take pictures at La Garganta del Diablo, Los Castillos, Las Ventanas, and more. Apparently the lighting is better in the afternoon for these specific sights, and so it was very nice of our driver to consider that for us.
Our driver on the second day was definitely the nicest. He remembered all our names and he also spoke English, but he made sure to translate everything that he said so that everyone in the car could understand the entire conversation.
On our way back to Salta we stopped the Cabra Corral lake, which is manmade and used mainly for hydropower (got that, US?). Here I decided to be the entertainment for the afternoon and I BUNGEE JUMPED!
It was  27 meters, almost a dollar per meter, haha. Looking back, it probably wasn't the safest, but I wasn't that worried when I was doing it, and I really enjoyed it. It was probably the fastest 2 minutes of my life... I got a cute little diploma, a little bit of a rope burn on my one ankle, and some abdomen pain (I think maybe I pulled a muscle?). But it was definitely worth it. It's definitely not that big of a deal and my poor roommate, Caitlin, is still nervous for me even thought it's all over!
I got home from Cafayate, talked to my Dad for a few, and then fell asleep about 8pm and didn't wake up until my alarm went on the next morning at 6:15.

Day 3: Salta - Cachi
I thought this day was going to be so spectacular because we were going to Cachi on La Cuesta del Obispo, which you should google image, but it was cloudy! Which is apparently quite common, but that means that the drive was slow and you could barely see any of the scenery until we were at the altitude about the clouds (which is really strange to think about - we were ABOVE the clouds). On the way, we stopped at a little cafe for some tea and coffee to warm us up, and I met people from Connecticut! They are the first Nutmegers that I've met here in Argentina, and of course it happened to be at just some small roadside restaurant in the middle of Salta. That's just the way this world works. Anyway, they were really sweet, and I got to speak some English with them! Haha.
We made our way slowly up the mountain and arrived at Nacional Parque Los Cardones - aka Cactus National Park! Who ever knew there could be so many cactus in one place... I have some very fun pictures for there though.
Fun fact: Cactus flowers only bloom for a day.
We continued on our way until we made it to Cachi with occasional photo taking stops. Cachi really is not a big deal, like my friends told me, but it's just a quaint little colonial village. We ate lunch and Ryan and I laid out for a few minute and tried to enjoy the warmth before we made our decent back into the clouds and felt the temperature significantly drop. The ride back to Salta is one that I swear I will never forget because we were driving through the clouds and had seriously, seriously limited visibility. We didn't know cars were in front of us until they were right there!
When we returned to Salta, Ryan and I went out to walk around the city a little bit, and I enjoyed some night photography of Salta's gorgeous Cathedral and Church.

The next morning, I woke up, found out that my amazing friend Stephanie had registered me for my classes (thanks, Steph!), and I got on a bus to come back to Buenos Aires.

It was a long bus ride back, but I passed the time talking to a nice woman who was traveling with her young son, and a man who is full blooded Argentine-Indian. He told me that because I have the cleft in my chin, he knew that I would grow up to be una mujer fina (a 'fine' woman, or something pure, affectionate, true, or excellent, depending on the definition), and a lot of things about living life by what your heart tells you to do - for that is how he became the person that he is today with children and a wife he loves. He was a very nice older man and kept pointing things out to me from the window of the bus and explaining things.

I'm really sorry that this post is actually kind of lame to read. I'm so tired, still, after a long nap. And I know that there's no way that I can adequately describe what I saw these past very days, so I'm annoyed with myself for even trying...

But, it's only a few hours until my Mom's plane touches down! So I'll have a busy next week with her and her friend Miss Valerie!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Endings always bring beginnings...

I've officially finished my first semester of my junior year. It's scary to think that I've now finished 5 semesters and only have 3 left to do! What am I going to do with my life?!
The past week of classes was quite uneventful. I had some written exams and an oral exam in Spanish. And on Wednesday and Thursday we had to go to each of our classes and receive our grades, and then hand this formal document into the University. It's just such an antiquated system of doing things, I'm assuming it's really going to slow down the transcript exchange process. I made two 8's, two 7's, and a 6. Normally, at USC, I would panic with those kind of numbers, but they actually are equivalent to a 3.66, 3.33, and a 3.0 (although, really, at USC, I would still probably be a little upset...). Now I'm just worried that the University here reports them as 8, 7, 6, and I won't get credit for the class I got the 6 in because it appears to be a D instead of a B, and I need C's for my pass/fail credit.
I guess I'll just work it all out when I get back on campus, if I have problems.

Saying Chau! to Jen at the Farewell Dinner.
Last night we had our Farewell CEA dinner at this really nice restaurant called Siga La Vaca. It's in Puerto Madero, which is the newest part of the city. It was sad, and at the same time, kind of funny. About 50 of us showed up, but only 5 are leaving in the month. So when December 3rd comes and we have a SECOND farewell dinner (for the intensive Spanish and Latin American/Integrated studies [my program]), I'm sure many more tears will be shed.
It was sad because the great people who are leaving early happen to be Jen, my friend Dan, and Aeri. And I love those three.

But with so much ending in the past few days, so much is beginning too! It's the part that I've looked forward to for so long, and it starts in just a few short hours (when I get my lazy butt into the shower and then to the grocery store).
And this part is: TRAVELING & VISITORS!
I leave tonight and will be taking an overnight bus to Salta province, in northeastern Argentina. There I'll recorrer (to travel through) the Salta and Jujuy provinces. The highlights that I'm looking forward to seeing the most are: El Cerro de Siete Colores and La Garganta del Diablo (not the same as the one in Iguazú Falls, of course). The most exciting part about this trip is that I'm traveling alone! It's a bit scary at the same time, but with the way technology is, you'll probably know if something goes wrong at the same second that I do. Haha. And I'm actually betting that nothing will go wrong because it's an area that's based off of tourism, so they probably try to keep things really safe.
I'll return home on Thursday (the 11th) in the morn', and on the 12th in the morning, my mom and her best friend land! I'm so excited that they are coming to visit. Ever since they've decided to come, I've been thinking about what the greatest things to do are, and what I have to share with them. It's always great to visit someplace new, so I hope they have a great time, but I'm so excited to be able to show them all that I've learned and show them where and how I've been living for the past 4.5 months. I hope they enjoy it here as much as I have!
Then, they will leave on the 20th - the same day as Jen - and a day or two later, I will promptly leave to go to Patagonia! (I do believe I'm saving the best for last!) I plan on glacier hiking on the Perito Moreno glacier in El Calafate, then heading to the town of El Chalten to hike and see Mount Fitz Roy, and after that I will head to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego -- THE END OF THE WORLD!

It's amazing that I only have a month until I'm back home - actually, in exactly a month, I'll probably be sitting in the car on the way home from the NYC airport, or close to getting in the car. A month is such a long time, but with so much planned, it feels so short...

Anyways, I need to pack and buy some things for my viaje. I'll write when I get back, of course! :)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

How much do you understand?

Today I went to watch my homestay sister, Elina, in her tela (which literally means 'fabric') class. It's like Cirque du Soleil acrobatics on the giant pieces of suspended fabric.
Why wasn't that an option when I was growing up? or maybe it was was where I was growing up...
It doesn't really matter, I don't have the upper-body strength for it anyway.

The real point of this was, I was in the car with my homestay family and my roommate. And a DJ on the radio was talking. And I was SO impressed with myself for how much I understood. Sometimes, my Dad jokingly puts on a Spanish station when we're driving in NYC -- like when I was getting dropped off at the airport to come here! -- and asks me how much I understand, which is usually like ... a word here or there.
I can't wait for him to do it when he's picking me up for the airport so I can say, "everything."

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Welcome to Finals Week, where you will perform more work than you have in the past 15 weeks.

I'm an amazing procrastinator and wish I could major in it.
It is currently finals week. Yuck.
I've gone and entire semester without doing any work, or barely any work. And now it all comes crashing down. I guess the majority of professors are making things kind of easy and trying to get us not to stress - probably because they realize we have no work ethic. But just the idea of finals has put me into a semi-panic mode, although I haven't done anything about it yet.

So, I didn't end up going to the Plaza de Mayo to see everyone mourning the death of President Kirchner. I did decide that it would be okay for me to do, especially because I knew I would be respectful about it, but more because I didn't have the time to go unless I went after school which would mean I would be trying to go during the rush hour, and I'm just not a fan of that commute.
However, my presentation in my culture class, on how the Kirchners are view through "modes of communication" (graffiti and newspapers) went SO well. Jen and I changed it a little bit at the end to discuss how the media had changed and was fully supporting Cristina Fernandez now that her husband had died, when originally they had been bashing her. And I mean, the fact that our presentation was well thought out went really well because I feel like the other groups that presented that day didn't put as much thought into theirs. But we had to prove to our teacher that our presentation was worth it because she originally didn't want us to do the Kirchners because she wanted the presentations to be on Argentina's "legends" and the Kirchners aren't really a legend, especially because they're still in power.
So if I have to look back and say, "yes, I did do work this semester" it will be because of this presentation.

Today I bought my bus tickets for my tip to Salta and Jujuy (northwestern provinces of Argentina). I'm so excited for this upcoming trip and month. I'm going to be on the move the entire time, and that's the way I like it! So, I'll post a finalized calendar later, after I book my flights for my second trip.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Los Kirchner

Today has been quite a strange day in the city of Buenos Aires.
First, the nation was shut down because today was the day of the Census. My roommate, Emily, and I were discussing whether or not the United States or Argentina has a more effective form of taking the Census. In the United States, you're mailed something, and you mail it back. Or they come to your house and ask you the same questions that you could have answered yourself. In Argentina, they shut down everything, all of the trains and buses run infrequently, and almost everything but hospitals and the occasional pharmacy. Someone comes to your house (between 8am-8pm) and they fill out a piece of paper. So Argentina isn't any more environmentally efficient because they still use paper forms like we do in the USA, but they get it all done in one day?
Anyway, I didn't have to wake up early and go to class, but I will have to make my classes up on Friday instead because this was an unexpected, once every ten years, type of a holiday.

Second, the ex-President and current President's husband died this morning. My homestay family, who I know does not like the current President, and many other families were deeply saddened today. The city is in a 3-day period of mourning, but I'm not sure how that will affect anything in the city other than the government. And a lot of people are planning on visiting the Plaza de Mayo and other public areas to mourn together and stand together to help strengthen the President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as she tries to handle the passing of her husband.

Nestor Kirchner's passing comes at a strange time because I am working on a presentation for my culture class about how the media portrays the Kirchners (especially Cristina), and right now all the media attention is focusing on what a good man President Kirchner was and how much he did to help the nation in a time of suffering (he served for two terms after the 2001 Financial Crisis, also know as just "the Crisis").
It's said that Cristina is just a "placeholder" for Nestor until he could run again (you can serve two consecutive terms, and then take time off, but run again later), and many, many people thought that Nestor was actually more like the real president and Cristina was just a pawn. Especially with economic issues. Now, I wonder, what will happen in the time that I am here? And the time after I leave? Will the economy go back down, perhaps not quite as low as where it had been, but will it drop without Nestor to help out?

I'm trying to decide if it would be severely inappropriate as a visitor to this country to go to the Plaza de Mayo and see the activity that is going on. I clearly have no idea how important Nestor Kirchner was to the nation because I was not here during the financial crisis and didn't have to learn what it was to live with only $1,000 a month/family, or any of the hardships that the people suffered that time. But at the same time, I'm intrigued.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mendoza la Bonita

My trip to Mendoza, the western "wine province," of Argentina was wonderful! It came at such a good time because I hadn't been out of the city in a month and a half and was starting to get stir crazy from all the concrete. At the same time, it was horrible timing because I arrived back in the city at 7am and had my first part of a final exam at 1pm. That's right, I'm officially finishing my semester (I'll be done on the 4th).

View from my cabaña
The trip to Mendoza was all paid for and organized by CEA, and they did such a spectacular jobs. We stayed outside of the city of San Rafael in the Valle Grande area of Mendoza. Our cabins were along with Río Atuel in the middle of some lovely desert mountains. We left Thursday evening from Buenos Aires and had our own private bus (another part of our group left before us and had a shared bus). It was going smoothly to begin with, but then our bus broke down. The steward kept many of the students happy though by providing all the wine the bus had to offer.

We arrived in Mendoza in the morning and got to the cabañas in time to eat some breakfast. We had a few short hours before we had to regather to go on a group hike. The hike was pretty easy, yet I still managed to hurt my thigh a little bit (probably from goofing off). I loved the views from the hike though. It's so interesting to look around and see only desert and then a patch of super-green trees along the edge of the river. Also during the hike, the guides pointed upward to white sediment resting on the mountain and asked us what it was. Turns out that it's volcanic ash from a volcano that erupted forever again, and over 200km away!
That afternoon I went around taking some photos and playing with my camera, and along the way I met some new Argentine friends! I'm not quite sure how these things happen to me, but I was called over by a group of 20-somethings who were on a bonding trip before they all finish their University program this year. They were on their last day in Mendoza and having a party that night, which they invited me and my friends to go to. After dinner, I stopped there for a little bit but didn't stay long as I was tired from a night of barely sleeping on our bus ride.

Just some of my goofy roommates...
I woke up the next day bright and early! (haha 8:30) to eat breakfast and get ready to go zip-lining and rappelling! This activity was optional, and of course I was going to opt in! It turns out "zip-lining" really isn't anything special in Mendoza, or at least the place we went, because it was seriously one-30-yard-long cable. However, rappelling was interesting! When I've "rappelled" before, it's always been down rock climbing walls, and the rappelling part is just you letting go and bouncing down the wall. Here, it was you stepping your way down 75 ft. of rocks while feeding a rope through a carabiner at your waist. It was difficult to relax enough (and to take short steps), and at one point I lost my control and swung around the side of a rock. Thankfully there was a trusty guide waiting at the bottom of the cliff to pull my rope tight and keep my from plummeting to an untimely death...

That afternoon we had our wine tours! They... were... not very interesting? We went to one bodega (winery) that is large and international and one that is only a family business. I'm not very into wine, so for me the most exciting part was the room in the internationally winery that had some interesting acoustics. If you stood in the center of the room and spoke, it sounded like you were talking into a microphone. But if you stood to the side of the room and talked to the walls, the sound would end up on the other side of the room. People loooved calling my name and seeing my gullible reaction. The family-farm winery also produces organic dried fruit and raises some of the largest pigs (probably) known to man.
That night, I called it quits early and tried to go to bed, but I had a hard time falling asleep, so instead I laid outside on our balcony and took in some fresh mountain air...

The next morning we woke up again, "early," to eat breakfast and get ready for our rafting adventure! The rafting was exciting, but the trip wasn't as long as the two others I have done.  The rapids we did were only level 2, so they were pretty relaxing, and it was just fun to be in the boat. The water on Río Atuel was SO cold, but I jumped in anyway. They actually gave us boots, like those for scuba diving, and jackets that kept our body heat in.
After rafting we had some time to lay out in the sunshine and tan before we needed to pack up all our things and head back to Buenos Aires on the buses. I actually got a little tan! After going a year without summer, having some color seems like the best thing in the world!

However, now I'm back in the great city of Buenos Aires. My exam schedule is in full swing and I'm SO ready to be done with my semester and just have free time every day for a month.
I had the written part of my culture exam on Monday and handed in my Tango paper on Tuesday.
We had today (Wednesday) off for the National Census.
I still have my Gender studies, Political and Social Change, and Spanish written exams. And I have a dance practical for Tango, a presentation for Culture, and an oral exam for Spanish. Then I will be completely done with the Universidad de Belgrano and officially *gasp* a second semester junior...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Mother's Love = 3 Hours in Correo Argentino

I received a package from my mom! It's so exciting, and yet, is such a pain to try to get a package here in Argentina. They aren't allowed to deliver international packages to residences or other buildings, so you just get a slip and have to go in between 10-5 (but before 2 or else they won't give you a number...) and wait, and wait, and wait. They call your first number to find out which package you're there to pick up, and then you wait and they call your package number for you to get your actual package. Unfortunately, the package numbers are 6 digits long, and they call about 20 at a time. So with my Spanish level, and they way they didn't consistently call the numbers in the same manner, I missed my package being called! I arrived at Correo Argentino at 10:45 and left at 2. It was an experience to say the least. I know now that I will never dismiss the slowness of mail in Durham anymore. It took 17 days for me to get my package here in Argentina. Nothing takes that long in the United States. Yet, it's all part of the experience. And I would have waited longer if I had to because I love Reese's!