Readjusting to Life at Home

The grand adventure has officially come to an end. I write from the kitchen table in my parents house; outside, it’s 85 degrees and sunny, birds are chirping, and my dog is slobbering. Given that it’s summer and I have very few responsibilities, the transition has been really smooth – catching up with friends, spending time with my parents, going swimming, reading – it’s easy to just fall right back into the comforts of life at home.

With everything so very much the same as I left it, it would be easy to just let the whole experience sort of… slide away, remembered only as a distant dream. I’ve found that the only way to keep it alive is to talk about it – and it makes its way very naturally into conversations, as I find myself comparing this or that to the way things were in Argentina.

Things definitely feel a little strange. I still haven’t gotten used to the fact that everyone around me is speaking english, that when I pass people on the sidewalk I can understand their conversation whether I want to or not, that people around me can understand my conversation. It has some benefits: every transaction is a little less daunting and I can easily make small talk with anyone around me. But it also feels kind of – I don’t know – jarring. I’ve gotten used to walking around in an unintentional bubble, simply because I would have had to focus to understand the hushed conversations going on around me, and background conversations became a lovely low music carrying me along the streets rather than words bombarding my brain.

Some perfectly average experiences have felt very strange, such as my first trip to a big grocery store… I was kind of shocked by the familiarity of every single brand on the shelves, and it was weird to see certain products that are hard to find in Argentina – peanut butter, for example – stocked in great abundance.

One of my favorite experiences so far was actually a conversation I had with my housekeeper. She’s from El Salvador, and she’s been our housekeeper since I was 3 years old. She used to come every day, getting me off of the school bus at the end of the day. Now she comes just once every two weeks and I’ve seen very little of her since I’ve gone off to college, but she happened to be here working the day after I got home. We had a pretty long conversation in Spanish about Argentina, the difficulties of learning new languages, and she told me about her village in El Salvador and her difficulties getting around when she first moved to the US not knowing how to speak English. It was probably the most meaningful conversation we’ve ever had, and it made me both grateful and excited for the doors that my (near) fluency might open in the future – the conversations I’ll have and people I’ll have the opportunity to meet.

I don’t know that this experience has drastically changed who I am, but it certainly has changed the way I view the world around me. I feel like I’m much more aware of American culture, its strengths and its drawbacks, the idiosyncrasies and the complexity, and I’m also more aware of my own place within it. I think it has also increased my confidence in my own ability to work through difficult situations and my faith that things will always work out in the end, one way or another, and I’m sure that this confidence and faith will only encourage me to travel more in the future. And finally, I’ve learned that even with all the wonderful fun and excitement that goes along with a traveling adventure, I don’t want to just run from foreign country to foreign country for the rest of my life; on the contrary, this experience has made me really appreciate all of the wonderful things I have to return home to, from my friends to my family to my slobbery dog.

Starting to Reflect

Despite all the times I’ve felt like I’ve been way too busy to write a blog post this semester, and despite the fact that right now I have virtually no responsibilities, this is turning out to be the hardest blogpost to write. How can I sum up the experiences I’ve had in the past 5 months? It felt like a lifetime while it was happening, and suddenly I’m looking back on it, and it’s already shrinking into a past life event, something I did once – oh yeah, I studied abroad in Buenos Aires in college – and I’m just not ready to start thinking of it that way. I’ve known all along exactly how long I had until I left and now that it’s here, now that it’s my last full day in Buenos Aires, it feels like it’s totally blindsided me. I mean yeah, it was fun to talk about “when I came home” but it’s felt so infinitely far away for so long that I guess I subconsciously started to believe it would never really happen.

As the number of days has dwindled, a lot of people have started asking me how I feel about going home. The answer, of course, is a dimplomatic bittersweet, but it’s really true. There are a lot of things I’ve looking forward to at home – seeing my family and my dog, seeing my boyfriend and my friends, beautiful green summer in Ithaca, a weekend in the adirondacks, the sweet relief of summer without responsibilities – but I still feel so weird about leaving. Weird has been the word my friends and I keep using to describe how we feel, and it’s imprecise but it’s just the best I’ve got. I don’t feel like there are things here that I meant to do that I didn’t get to – I feel like I’ve done Buenos Aires right. I guess it’s just that without realizing that it was happening, I settled here, I found a routine, and my life here – living with my host mom, going out with my friends, taking classes in Spanish – it’s become my normal. And suddenly this new normal will be gone, gone forever, and I’ll go back to the old normal, but will it still feel normal? I had a dream last night that I was home and that my parents had bought a new dog, a huge one, bigger than our old one (which is really saying something, because Jake is a big dog) and I was confused and decided I didn’t like the new dog, that I would always be loyal to Jake. And then I went upstairs to my room and found that my sister and her fiance had moved in, so I had to go live in the attic. I guess subconsciously I’m worried that things will have changed when I get back, and that I won’t be ready to handle the changes – and of course I know that it won’t be like that, but it’s interesting to get a glimpse into the subconscious worries behind the feelings I’ve been having. By day I’m just trying to squeeze every last drop of happy funtimes with my friends here before we part ways, getting excited and ready to go home and feeling, well, just a little weird about it.


Things I’ll miss:

The satisfaction of getting a seat on a crowded colectivo

A good cut of tenderloin and a bottle of malbec

Sitting in a cafe for 5 hours, buying a single cup of coffee and not being bothered

Hanging out in parks on sunny days

Being able to explore a new restaurant/bar/club/cultural event whenever I get the urge

Kissing people on the cheek as a greeting. It’s such a warm way to greet someone, and immediately breaks the ice.

The feeling of accomplishment I get every time I complete a transaction in Spanish

Zoning out on an hour long colectivo ride, watching the city pass me by. As long as I have a seat.


Super cheap bottles of wine (cheap = US$7 in a restaurant, for really decent wine)

My host mom’s cooking (sometimes it’s weird, like salty oatmeal broth, or salad dressed with golf sauce (ketchup and mayo) but generally it’s really good)

Things I won’t miss:

The bathrooms in UBA. No toilet seats, no toilet paper, usually soap but sometimes no running water. And I don’t think they’ve been cleaned this semester.

Not getting free water in restaurants. I’ve been THIRSTY

Sweaty crowded subte rides

Hour-long colectivo rides without a seat

The frequent smell of urine and/or garbage

Dogs, dogs, everywhere, but not a single one for me to pet

Frequent feelings of confusion when I’m caught off guard by someone talking to me in Spanish

Never being totally sure about what’s going on in my classes


Well, the next post will be from upstate New York. It’s been quite a ride, Argentina.

Comfort Zone

It’s 12:15 on a Wednesday, and I’m sitting in my Intro to Social Communications class in la Universidad del Salvador, spending our 10 minute descanso (break) preparing my brain for the last 45 minutes of class (read: zoning out). I don’t mind this class at all; on the contrary, it’s one of my favorites. I wrote about it earlier in the semester; the professor’s a jokester, and while I still don’t understand most of his jokes, I appreciate the fact that he’s making them. It’s also nearly impossible to zone out during class, because the professor spends most of class reciting important quotes slowly (by Argentine standards, mind you, so not that slowly) and clearly, often repeating himself, so that everyone can get down every single word he’s saying. I don’t understand the concepts that he’s talking about while I’m taking notes, but it’s really great listening practice to write down the words as I hear them, and it’s very satisfying to watch the sentences turn into paragraphs turn into pages in a single class, and look at it at the end and say, hey, all that spanish there, I wrote that! I still miss words or even whole phrases from time to time (the frequency definitely depends on how well my brain is working that day) but luckily one of the girls who sits near me is kind enough to let me make photocopies of her notes every couple of weeks. So it’s not a high-pressure, if-I-don’t-get-every-word-I’m-screwed kind of situation, more like… do my best, try to get as much as I can, but if I miss a word here and there it’s not a big deal.

So anyway, it’s obviously not a very interactive class, and although the professor occasionally singles me out and makes jokes about me being American (about 50% of which I understand) I’m never really expected to speak in the class, and I like being able to just go in and absorb it all without having to stress about speaking in front of a class full of Argentines. But as the descanso comes to an end, it becomes apparent that we’re not continuing with the usual format for the rest of today, as the professor begins to sort us into small groups and a few people pull out a reading. I missed the last class, so I had no idea that we were supposed to do the reading, nor that we were supposed to bring it to class. I’m not too worried – we’ve done this sort of thing before, and I contributed a little to my group but mostly just sat and absorbed, as I’ve grown used to doing in this classroom. But as everyone’s shifting around and the teacher is shouting out instructions, something weird happens – about 75% of the class begins putting their coats on, packing up their bags, preparing to leave. Confused, I turn to the girl next to me – Por qué se van? – they didn’t bring the reading, she tells me. Oh – but – neither did I… the thought of getting out of class early and having an extra long luxurious lunch hour tempts me, not to mention the fact that there now remain only 8 of us in the classroom, which will make it much harder for me to get away without saying anything, and I haven’t done the reading, so what can I possibly say? The professor re-sorts the groups, and I’m put with one other guy on the other side of the classroom, way out of my comfort zone, away from the girls I usually sit near and am put in groups with. I try to tell him – No la leí, no la tengo – I didn’t read it, I don’t have it – but he brushes me off and sends me over to my partner. I don’t understand why all the other unprepared students were rewarded with an early exit and I’m forced to remain behind to make a fool of myself, but I can’t very well leave now so I make my way over to my partner and give him my very best I’m-a-confused-foreigner smile.

He seems convinced for the first couple of minutes that I don’t speak a lick of spanish (I guess I have a very convincing confused-foreigner smile, maybe too convincing) and frets over his meager english abilities. We have to present a section of the reading to the rest of the class, and we have 10 minutes to prepare. I eventually manage to convince him that I do indeed speak spanish and he begins to explain the part of the reading that I’m going to talk about. It’s a rather complicated theory in general, let alone in spanish, but he’s good about breaking it down for me and finding his way around words I don’t know. I jot down notes on what he’s telling me – ambiguity in communication – falta de información – the danger of not having information – la ambigüedad cronica hoy en día – our correponding dependency on mass media. I get it all down and we both have just a minute to review our portions before the presentations start. We’re second, and I kick it off, my voice only shaking a little bit as I explain the theory that was just explained to me. It’s over quickly and – not only do I not feel miserable I actually feel pretty confident, I really understand the theory now and I can explain it! In Spanish! To Argentines!

When the presentations are over, the professor tells us which of the assigned readings we must do for the exam next week (only 5 out of the 11 on the syllabus) and it suddenly makes sense why he made me stay even though I was unprepared – lord knows I’m already at enough of a disadvantage without also not knowing which readings to focus on for the exam. But I’m genuinely glad he made me stay, glad that he forced me to step up and participate, even if beforehand it seemed really daunting. I guess that’s often how I feel here – I’m already so far outside my comfort zone, I don’t want to push myself much further, but it’s never as bad as I think it will be and, cliché as it may be, I’m always glad I did it in the end.

Calm Before the Storm

With a mere 2 weeks left, my perception of time here has been warping. Sometimes it feels like I’ve got to do it all, NOW, because 2 weeks is nothing and before I know it I’m going to be leaving – like today, my last day of volunteering at the primary school, when the kids were wishing me a safe trip home and asking when I’d be back to visit. But a lot of the time, it feels like ages – when I’m sitting at my desk trying to study for an exam, or doing research for one of my various final papers and presentations, mostly. And that’s how I’ve been spending most of my time lately – I only had one class this week thanks to a feriado (Wednesday was flag day, so obviously the whole country gets the day off!) but this coming Wednesday I’ve got a final paper/presentation, final presentation and a final exam, one right after the other. So much of my time has been spent either working or doing something else but feeling like I really ought to be working. Ahh, the life of a college student. I guess this is partially an excuse for not having updated in far too long – I can’t imagine anyone really wants to hear about my piles of reading.

But I have been doing some fun things, even if I forget about them because I’ve been spending pretty much all of my time thinking about how much work I should be doing at any given moment. On Wednesday I went to La Feria de los Mataderos, a fair that takes place in the [very poor] barrio of Mataderos, and has a really great selection of creative and authentic crafts and leather goods – I ended up buying a pair of classic Argentine ankle-high brown leather boots, because, well, when in Rome. But what really makes this feria stand out, for me at least, is the food – they have an entire aisle dedicated to “artesenal” foods – bread, cheeses, olives, liquors, wine, pickled everything, dulce de leche, chocolates – as far as the eye can see. And once you’ve walked through the endless aisle of artesenal foods and your stomach is rumbling you can hit up any of the various food stands offering classic Argentine favorites – enormous grills, 20 feet long, filled with huge cuts of beef and skewers of chorizo – or empanadas, or locro, an argentine stew with corn and beans and I don’t know what but I ate it all and it was TASTY. And meanwhile, in the background there’s a stage where live musicians are playing traditional Argentine folklore music while a cleared space in front is filled with a variety of people, some in costume, dressed as gauchos or other traditional garb, some just in regular street clothes, dancing in unison in what I can only assume to be traditional folkloric dances.


Traditional folklore dances on the main stage


Dancing in the streets


More dancing – note some of the outfits, not to mention the dance moves


Locro and a vaso de vino – what more could you want?


Other than the feriado/feria, however, life of late has been little more than a tour of Buenos Aires cafes – if I can’t change up the activity, at least I can change up the scene, not to mention the food. But after Wednesday I only have one 12-15 page paper left (HAH!) and I’m home-free for a glorious week and a half before it’s time to actually go home to the land of the free. I’ve got some exciting stuff planned, such as a graffiti bike tour, which will undoubtedly make for more interesting material than sitting in cafes writing papers. Not to mention the inspiration that will stem from the nostalgia and self-reflection that will surely start to set in as I gain the full realization that this adventure is coming to an end. Until then – work work work!

A Night at the Opera

I’m in my tiny room, navigating the piles of clothes on the floor as I hurry to put my dress on, put my book and the tickets in my purse, put on a little mascara, phone and keys into my purse and – oh, I don’t really need the book, I won’t read it, so I take it out and drop it on my bed, scarf around my neck, coat on and I’m out the door – but I’m forgetting something, aren’t I? I run back to my room and flip open my computer, nope, I’ve got the right address after all, and I’m off, elevator to the ground floor and out onto the street where night has just fallen. I weave my way down the block, past children clutching their parents’ hands and owners clutching the dog’s leashes, to the street corner where I hail a 152 and join the unhappy crowd, jostling back and forth with the halting starts and stops of the bus. It’s a long ride, so I lean back against the wall of the bus and look out the window, watching the store owners lowering the metal grates over their storefronts and the homeless reclining on their sidewalk mattresses. I run one more mental check of the items in my purse and – no – the tickets – they were in the book, the book that’s sitting on my bed 15 blocks away and I can’t show up at the restaurant without the tickets! I rush out of the closing door of the bus as it begins to pull away from the stop, and what luck, I’m close to a subte stop, and I rush down the stairs as the train is pulling up, it’s crowded but I’m only going one stop, thank goodness, because it’s so hot – always so hot, regardless of the chill above – and I’m sweating but soon enough I’m back up in the cold, and it’s three blocks back to my building, up to my room, grab the tickets, and now I’m running late, 25 minutes late, and Yvette always arrives early, so I take off at the fastest walk I can manage without looking like a complete fool, and even still, I get looks – no one rushes anywhere in this city, it’s just not dignified – and as I reach the end of the three block trek back to the subte there’s sweat on the back of my neck but no time to take my scarf off, I can see the woman at the bottom of the stairs running around the corner which means the train is there NOW and I take off at a sprint down the stairs and the warning bell is sounding but I’m so close and – phew! I leap through as the doors are slamming shut, and try to pretend like I’m not sweaty and panting but I can feel people staring, maybe they’re admiring my fearlessness, or maybe they just think I’m crazy, but no matter – I can finally peel off my sweaty scarf and coat and take a deep breath. Not exactly the way I envisioned my trip to the opera – I feel like it should be more like a tranquil ride in a horse-drawn carriage, but this is Buenos Aires and nothing is ever that easy.

I finally arrive at the restaurant where my cousin sits patiently waiting, a bottle of wine already on it’s way and a menu item already decided on. We have to rush a little to make it on time, but we get there at 8:30 on the dot and climb up the 5 flights of stairs to our balcony – where we quickly realize that we really should have planned to arrive early, because we have standing tickets, and all of the standing space has already been claimed and we’re left with no choice but to stand awkwardly in the space between the rows of seats, behind the stairs, but we can’t stand on the stairs or in the space below them because of fire code, so, here we stay, but oh, who cares because the immense grandness of Teatro Colón envelopes us, 6 stories of rich red fabric and intricate gold detailing, and I completely forget about the stress and the sweat as I revel in the feeling of being transported back to, I don’t know, 1800s high society, and even as one of the peons with the cheap standing seats it’s still enthralling to feel like I’m a part of it all. Moments later the lights dim, and the orchestra begins to play – and the acoustics are incredible, even from 4 stories up every sound is loud and clear (my cousin told me: “Pavorotti said of Teatro Colón that’s it’s only fault is that the acoustics are so perfect that you can hear every mistake”) and then the curtain rises, and oh – the metal framework of a house, 4 stories high, and filled with people, all perfectly still, and then they begin to sing, a huge, deep sound and when they move, the visual effect of the patterned movement over the entire four story set is breathtaking. There’s a spanish translation of the lyrics being broadcasted on a screen above the stage, so I can follow the story – it’s Oedipus, but with somewhat of a modern twist, and although it’s nice to follow the story, with all of it’s dramatic twists and turns, I’m really content to just passively absorb it all, let the music flow through me and the scenes enchant me, and my feet are beginning to ache but I sit down on the floor and no one tells me that I can’t, so there I remain, happily leaning on the railing as Oedipus tries desperately to flee his horrific destiny.

At intermission Yvette and I make our way to the edge of the balcony to take in the view of the entire theater in all of its grandeur. And it’s 10:30 now, and I have class early tomorrow, so although I’ve immensely enjoyed what I’ve seen so far, I make the responsible decision to head home – the tickets only cost US$10, so I don’t feel bad about it – but 30 minutes later, I’m home and sitting down to do some homework, but I can’t shake the experience from my head, and without realizing it I begin to look at what’s playing next week, and in within the hour I’ve recruited a friend to come with me and bought two tickets for next Tuesday, real seats this time, for the full experience. I have been to, I’m sure, well over a hundred theaters in my lifetime – but I don’t think any theater experience exists in the world like an opera at the Teatro Colón, and I can’t rationalize not absorbing as much of it as I can while I’m here.

The Winter of their Discontent

It’s started to get chilly, at long last, especially at night, so my window is just barely cracked as I lie in bed doing some reading before dinner. I hear some clanking outside my window, but nothing too unusual; probably some construction work, or some rowdy children wreaking havoc in a nearby apartment. Ten minutes pass before it strikes me that it’s not quite the normal construction sounds, nor would construction be very likely at this hour, but not until twenty minutes of metallic clanking have passed do I drag myself from my warm bed to stick my head out the window, determined to find out what all the racket it about. My window leads to the empty interior shaft of our apartment building, and all I can see is one other girl with her head out her window, looking equally confused as I. Yes.. metal clanking… like someone’s banging on pots and pans… no, no, like a lot of people are banging on pots and pans. I open my door to go and ask my host mom if she knows what’s going on, but stop short when I see that she herself is out on the balcony, pot in one hand and spoon in the other, banging forcefully. Through the window I can see other balconies filled with families, all doing the same thing.

Cacerolazo is the name used to describe this protest, in which people stand out on their balconies or gather in the streets and bang on pots and pans to express their discontent. Argentinians always have quite a lot to be discontented with, and there’s a long list of reasons for the most recent cacerolazos: they’re unhappy with the government, the corruption, the crime rate. The impetus for this most recent protest, however, are the new restrictions the government has put in place that make it almost impossible for Argentines to obtain foreign currency, especially American dollars, in order to keep them from sending their money abroad. Lots of people already detest the government and especially the president, and it seems that this was la gota que rebosó el vaso (the drop that overflowed the glass) for many people.

This protest strikes me for several reasons. I’ve seen protests and demonstrations here before – on Andy’s first day here, there was a massive demonstration that tramped right up the street where our hostel was, and there were pounding drums and firecrackers that sounded like gunshots and traffic was stopped and a very central section of the city was blocked up. I actually found it very scary, and was anxious to get as far away from it as quickly as possible, terrified by the thought that through the sound of the firecrackers, you would never know if someone actually started shooting a gun. But these protests are very common, and usually (I believe) consist of generally lower class people fighting for their livelihoods, for the right to a decent quality of life.

The cacerolazos are a wildly different ordeal. To begin with, the barrios where they’re taking place are Palermo, Belgrano and Barrio Norte (Recoleta), generally well-to-do areas with people who usually don’t have much to take to the streets about – after all, if you live there, you probably live in a decent apartment, surrounded by amenities and within easy reach of reliable public transportation. There’s still a great deal of discontent, don’t get me wrong – it is strictly forbidden to mention the president’s name at my host mom’s dinner table – but it’s interesting to see what events do move them to action, and the action they move to, especially in contrast with the typical political demonstrations in this city.

The next day, around the same time in the evening, the banging started up once again. I was heading out to meet up with some friends, and was surprised to see about 10 people standing on my corner, banging away on their pots and pans – until then, I’d only seen people up in their balconies. As I stood waiting for my bus to come, I actually started to enjoy the pulsing rhythm of the banging – people naturally fall into a rhythm together, and someone had chosen an interesting beat, a sort of rat ta-tat ta-tat, tat, tat, tat, and everyone in earshot had joined in, banging along in unison. It seems strangely appropriate for the people of this city, bursting as it is with music and art and dance, to use rhythm as their form of protest. I know it’s intended to just be noise, but they can’t avoid the musicality of it. Even as I sat on the bus and the sounds from my block faded into the banging rhythms of others, a woman seated across the aisle from me continued to pat the rhythm on the side of her seat. Perhaps she just couldn’t get the rhythm out of her head, but I couldn’t fight the feeling that it was a quiet but steady protest of her own, reminding both herself and those around her that she too is part of this movement. Incredible that such an innocent and dismissible action on any other day suddenly takes on such complex significance.

I did (unintentionally) meet with my friends at what seemed to be the heart of the protest, at the intersection of Ave Coronel Diaz and Santa Fe, where upwards of 100 people had gathered to create a certifiable cacophony, often joined by the horns of passing cars. The police even shut down a short stretch of Santa Fe for a half hour or so, but in the time that we spent standing on the street corner waiting for one of our friends to come meet us, the street opened back up, the crowd began to dissipate and the traffic flow resumed its normal halting pace.

My host mom tells me that there’s another planned for this Thursday – even bigger this time. I’m interested to watch it unfold, this relatively gentle protest (after all – what does the president care if people are making noise in the streets of Palermo on a Thursday night?) that’s taking place so very close to my own home, and even inside of it. But with a projected low of 34 degrees for Thursday night, I think that I myself will stay bundled up in my room, enjoying the dampened musical clang through the glass of my firmly shut window.

Playing Tourist in Buenos Aires

The past two weeks have flown by in a whirlwind of tourist activity, thanks to a lovely 12-day visit from my boyfriend, Andy. It was a great excuse to shirk my academic responsibilities and finally do all of the “you’ve gotta see it” tourist attractions that Buenos Aires has to offer. Some met my expectations, some exceeded them, some were amazing, others thought-provoking, but everything coalesced into a much clearer picture of the larger city that I live in, beyond the borders of the barrios where I spend most of my days.

We started off with a two-day jaunt to San Antonio de Areco, a small town just a 2-hour bus ride from the city of BA (but still in the province of Buenos Aires) that is known for its preservation of typical gaucho culture. The town itself was lovely, located right on a little river, with a grassy town square and a handful of nice restaurants and quirky cafes to choose from. Some highlights include La Olla de Cobre, an adorable little chocolate shop where you can purchase various types of handmade chocolates  or sit at a table with a red checkered table cloth, in tiny little wicker chairs, sipping coffee and enjoying one of their unbelievably delicious homemade alfajores. We also went to a gaucho bar (they’re called “pulperias”) which my host mom told me we couldn’t miss – as she put it, you walk in and feel like you’ve been transported back in time, and she was absolutely right. From the crumbling stone facade to the mustached men inside, this place was oozing tradition, and not in an ostentatious way so as to interest tourists, but in a really genuine way – in fact, we were the only non-Argentines in the joint. Embracing the “when in Rome” cliche, Andy tried both his first Fernet and Coke and his first liter of Quilmes – with luck, maybe from far away, we could have been mistaken as Porteños.


Bridge over the river in Sant Antonio de Areco


Delectable alfajor at La Olla de Cobre


Outside view of the Pulperia (Gaucho Bar)


The main event of our trip to San Antonio de Areco was a visit to the estancia El Ombú, a working estancia located about 30 minutes outside of the town. The day started off a little shaky – because of the rain the night before, the taxi driver couldn’t drive us all the way to the estancia, and so we found ourselves standing, for about 25 minutes, on the side of a muddy road in the middle of the pampas unsure of where we were or how far we were from our destination. Just as we were beginning to give up hope, a car appeared on the horizon, bumping and jostling its way through the thick mud tracks to come pick us up. One exciting (read: terrifying) car ride later, we found ourselves in the quiet, peaceful embrace of the estancia, where we were greeted with fried carne empanadas and a glass of wine. After our snack we went on our first horse ride of the day, a tranquil walk through some of the fields that make up the estancia, with our guide, a wise old gaucho named Oscar. Just by looking at him, you could immediately tell that Oscar was a genuine gaucho – not just from the traditional scarf and hat, but by the knife tucked into the belt at the small of his back, and by the way that his body bent at nearly a 45degree angle when walking but looked completely natural when he sat atop a horse. He guided us through the fields of cattle and wild horses, and we chatted a bit. I did struggle to catch his murmured spanish, but I gathered that he had been born on this estancia and had lived there his whole life – a genuine gaucho, indeed.


Waiting for the car to pick us up in the middle of the Pampas [Photo credit: Andy]


The bumpy ride through thick mud tracks


Malbec and Beef Empanadas [Photo credit: Andy]


Oscar helping Andy onto his horse


Riding into the fields


A particularly friendly cow


Horses running free


Oscar, with his knife tucked into his belt


Oscar and I [Photo credit: Andy]


Upon returning to the main house, we were greeted by an asado – Andy’s first ever asado, a very exciting experience indeed. We were given a bottle of malbec to split, and went on to eat our fill (and then some) of chorizo, blood sausage, chicken, ribs, lomo, and other cuts of beef I didn’t catch the names of, and side dishes of fresh greens and potato salad. We finished off the meal with a ball of vanilla ice cream covered in chocolate with dulce de leche in the center and as we sank our spoons into it, Oscar sat down with a guitar and began to play, singing some traditional gaucho folk songs. Afterwards, one of the younger gauchos gave a demonstration of “Indian horse whispering,” an art perfected only through a building of trust between horse and gaucho, in which the gaucho was able to make the horse lie down, straighten out it’s legs as it lay on it’s back, and stand back up on command – it doesn’t sound that impressive, but when you have a real 1000 pound horse doing it right in front of you, it is actually pretty incredible.


Patio where we had the asado


Chorizo and Blood Sausage


Delicious dessert


Oscar playing and singing for us


Indian Horse Whispering


More Indian Horse Whispering


Posing with the horse and his whisperer


After our asado, we embarked on our second horseback ride of the day, this time as part of a much larger group of various people that had arrived later in the day. Before the ride, Andy and I walked over to the horses, and I spent quite a bit of time petting this one beautiful white-gray horse that was standing by itself a little ways a way from the rest, and we formed quite a bond, and then I ended up riding him! Between our newfound trust and my confidence after the first ride, I was definitely feeling up to a slightly faster ride, and was excited to try trotting. We began slowly, and since we were traveling as a pack, it was hard to really get up any speed. But as we reached more open spaces, some of the more adventurous riders urged their horses up to a trot, and before I knew what was happening, Silver Lightening (that’s my horses name) had gone from a bumpy trot to a smooth gallop, and I was clutching the reigns and the saddle and my heart was up in my throat and it was terrifying and exhilarating, and as soon as we stopped I couldn’t wait to get going again. We galloped several more times before we got back to the estancia, and every time I was rewarded with the same incredible adrenaline rush, the fresh air pulling at my hair and the sun sitting low in the sky, silhouetting cows grazing in the pastures as far as the eye could see.


Fields of cattle


My horse, Silver Lightening


When I finally got off of my horse, I was amazed at how exhausted I was, and grateful for the sweet snacks and tea they had waiting for us on the patio. An hour of rest, and we were in a car on the way back to the town for our last night in San Antonio before heading back to Buenos Aires.

We did an incredible amount of sightseeing in the week Andy had in the city, especially considering how much we also took advantage of the vibrant nightlife. A couple of the sights were ones I’ve seen before and already talked about here: the MALBA, the Recoleta Cemetary and the Japanese Gardens. Below are some of the things we did that were new and exciting!

La Boca

Boca is a barrio probably best known for it’s soccer team, Boca Juniors, and it’s tourist hotspot, El Caminito. El Caminito is a short stretch of street in which all of the houses are painted in wildly bright colors, an outdoor museum designed by Argentine artist Benito Quinquela Martín. The area is famed for these brightly colored buildings, and it has definitely devolved into a tourist trap, with overpriced restaurants and pushy sellers on the street. Despite this (and it probably helped that it was a gray day with few other tourists around), I enjoyed the place as a whole, especially once put into context with a visit to the Museo de Bellas Artes, a museum founded by the same artist responsible for the Caminito, Quinquela Martín. The area is right on the river Riachuelo and served as a port in its early days, and these times are recalled poignantly in the beautiful paintings of Martín and many other Argentine artists that were inspired by the little barrio of Boca – Boca, of course, meaning “mouth,” referring to the mouth of the river. The view from the top of the museum was also pretty spectacular, and presented a pretty interesting juxtaposition of the beautiful brightly painted buildings and the dirty, gritty rooftops you can’t see from the below – something like the seamy underside, but flipped upside down.


Walking through Boca [Photo credit: Andy]


View of Boca from the top [Photo credit: Andy]


One of Quinquela Martín’s renderings of La Boca


Andy in the Museo de Bellas Artes in Boca

Puerto Madero

Puerto Madero is the residence of many of the most wealthy residents in the city, and the gleaming skyscrapers constantly remind you of it. Our first stop was the Puente de las Mujeres, or Women’s Bridge, a foot bridge whose name was inspired by the great number of streets in Puerto Madero named after women – in fact, this is the only barrio which has streets named after women. There’s also the nearby Parque de las Mujeres, a rather stark but lovely park bridging the gap between Puerto Madero and the Ecological Reserve. We also took a tour of a museum ship, an old Argentine Navy vessel that has finally retired after well over a hundred years of service. Inside the boat you could see lots of old artifacts and uniforms, as well as many of the rooms, including one of the cabins, so unbearably tiny I couldn’t imagine living in one for months at a time. After the ship we went to the Fortabat Museum, a really large, beautiful museum with a wonderful collection of Argentine artists collected by Amalia Fortabat. Andy and I were the only ones in the whole museum, which gave us lots of freedom to browse as we pleased, lingering on the pieces we really liked and skipping over the ones we didn’t. It was a really wonderful, varied collection with a good mix of classic and modern pieces, and I understood why my host mom was so insistent that we go and see it, even going so far as to claim that it was the most important museum in Buenos Aires. While I lack the experience to confirm such a claim, it was definitely a museum worth going to.


Andy and I in front of the Puente de las Mujeres


Museum Ship



Falling in Love with Medialunas

I have never liked the Argentine breakfast of bread and coffee. For most of my time here I’ve sought out eggs at every opportunity, craving the protein that I’ve grown used to consuming in the morning. But several mornings Andy and I found ourselves returning to the same little cafe on Santa Fe for our 20 peso breakfast of 3 medialunas and a cafe con leche (it helped that it also came with a shot of orange juice, a tall glass of bubbly water and some other special, often chocolatey, treat) and I found myself really falling hard for medialunas. For those who may not know, medialunas are just like croissants, except a little smaller and covered in a thin glaze of sugar. I’ve never had a very big sweet tooth, but medialunas washed down with a cup of coffee has finally become a breakfast I’m willing to fully embrace.


So happy. [Photo credit: Andy]


Andy left last Monday, and the ensuing return to classes and rapid descent into a head cold have not made the transition back to reality particularly easy, especially with the realization of how much work I have to do in the next couple of weeks. But the arrival of my cousin definitely softened the blow, and with less than 6 weeks left here, I want to make sure that I aprovechar (take advantage of) every day I have left in this city.

A Weekend in Wine Country

After two straight weeks of school that included both my first exam and my first paper, I was more than ready to jump back on the vacation train. Mendoza lies at the Western edge of Argentina, nestled at the base of the Andes mountains, whose clear mountain streams run down into the valley and irrigate the hundreds of miles of vineyards that make up Mendoza’s famous wine production industry. From wine tours to mountain views, Mendoza was the perfect getaway from the stresses of life in Buenos Aires.

And a getaway was precisely what I needed, despite all the traveling I’ve done in the recent past. Iguazu was fun, of course, but it was also a challenge, and I definitely wouldn’t classify it as a relaxing trip for me. And after the stress of cramming for my first partial exam for my Intro to Social Communication class and writing my first essay in over 5 months, I was forced to confront the worst obstacle of all: the labyrinthine Argentine bureaucracy.  I had an appointment to complete the process of applying for my residency (a necessary step in order for my grades to transfer) the morning before I left for Mendoza. After wandering around in a strange, car-heavy, sidewalk-less section of the city, I finally found my way to the migrations building, where I received some unfortunate news. When I flew back to Argentina from Chile, they stamped my passport but never put it into the computer system, and so there is no official record of me re-entering Argentina. So I have to call each week to find out if they have located my “traveling card,” which they are supposedly looking for, and until they find it I cannot complete my residency process. It’s things like this that make me miss the efficiency and consistency of similar processes in the US. You never appreciate a solid infrastructure until it’s gone.

So when it came time to finally leave it all behind on my West-bound bus, I was more than ready. Many people have asked me about the bus experiences here, and although I took a bus to Iguazu, it was chartered by the travel company and wasn’t the true cross-country bus experience. I traveled in a “cama” (as opposed to semi-cama, which is narrower and doesn’t recline as far) and never regretted paying the extra 40 pesos. After a game of bingo (the prize was a bottle of wine!), dinner (subpar, but included in the price), a few complementary glasses of wine and a movie, I slept like a baby in my super comfortable seat, and the 16 hours flew by in no time. Upon arrival, I sought out a map and walked the 12 blocks from the bus terminal to our hostel, where I was greeted by happy friends and a delicious breakfast.


It looked like this, except there were also eggs with mushrooms, onions and tomatoes and fresh bread.


After breakfast and a much needed shower and change of clothes, my friends and I embarked on a wine tour that was organized by our hostel. We started out at an olive oil factory, where I learned a lot about not only how olive oil is made but also about the variety of products that can be made with olive oil, what happens to the unused parts of the olives, and the health benefits of consuming olive oil or using olive-based products. Olive oil is not made with the olives that you purchase in a grocery store to eat right out of the can or jar, but rather with a much smaller variety of olive, which is ground up into a paste and then placed between sheets of metal to squeeze out the oil – this is extra virgin olive oil. The remains of the paste are then sent to other factories which extract oil using chemical and heating processes, which is not extra virgin olive oil, and thus cheaper but also much lower quality. They also produce olive paste, which I got to taste during the tasting portion of the tour, and ended up buying because it was so tasty.


Crushing the olives into a paste


Squeezing the oil out of the olive paste


Olive oil tasting. Included: classic olive oil, basil olive oil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, green olive paste, sun dried tomato paste, whole sundried tomatoes, and chocolate covered raisins.


 Out next stop was the Cavas de Don Arturo, a small family vineyard. We got a tour of the winery followed by a tasting. The one constant in all wine tastings in Mendoza is at least one Malbec. Malbec is the classic grape grown in this region, and produces the variety of wine for which this region is famous. One particularly interesting part of the tour was the room with the large old barrels (pictured below) which they stopped using because they were incredibly difficult to clean (someone had to climb inside of them, and usually emerged either drunk or hungover) and inefficient in the aging process because not all of the wine could be in contact with the inside of the barrel.


The large old barrels, no longer in use


Wine tasting at Cavas de Don Arturo


 Our last stop of the day was the Vistandes winery, a very large, modern winery. The view from the deck was absolutely spectacular, with the bright reds of fall and the Andes mountains looming in the distance.


Looking into the Vistandes vineyard


View of the Andes overlooking the vineyard


Me and my friend Pauline on the patio overlooking the vineyard


 The next day we ventured to Parque San Martín, an enormous park on the West side of Mendoza, nearly as big as the city itself. After picking up some necessities (cheese, cherry tomatoes, fresh bread, salami, avocado, and a couple of bottles of good beer) we headed over to the park, where we wandered through the various sections that ranged from lush green woods and open meadows to sparse desert landscapes, complete with cacti. We stopped in a particularly lush spot to enjoy our picnic, and then made our way up to the top of Cerro de la Gloria, a small mountain with a statue at the top and excellent views of both the city of Mendoza and the Andes mountains.


Parque San Martín


A glorious picnic


Taking a steep shortcut up Cerro de la Gloria


Statue at the top of Cerro de la Gloria


View from the top


After making our way down the mountain and back into town, it was time for Melissa and Kristi to head back to BA, so we said our goodbyes and then Pauline and I headed back out into the city. We discovered a really great artisans market in the main plaza, called Plaza Independencia, where we indulged ourselves, buying such trinkets as earring and hairclips and a caricature of us. (Yeah, that happened.) We finally made our way to a late dinner at an excellent Italian restaurant, complete with a bottle of Mendozan Malbec.


What more could you want?


The next day we woke up and figured out how to get ourselves to Maipú, a town 15km outside of Mendoza, where we could outfit ourselves for a bike wine tour. One hour-long bus ride later, we found ourselves standing on the edge of a dusty road in the middle  of nowhere. We made our way to a bike rental place called Mr. Hugo’s and rented two bicycles, which for $35 pesos came with a map of the wineries in the area, an explanation of the costs of each winery, mechanical insurance (if the bike broke, they would come and replace it for us) and a bottle of water. With our purses in our bike baskets and our bottled water in hand, we set out in search of beautiful vistas and good wine, and oh how we were rewarded.


Off we go!


 Our first stop was as Historias and Sabores, a chocolate factory of sorts. We were the only people there, and we were treated to an incredible tasting with two different kinds of marmelade, a green olive paste, a black olive paste with anchovies, a variety of different chocolates and two different homemade liquors (we chose Café Chocolate and Dulce de Leche with Banana). At 20 pesos per person, this was well worth it, and every item was an incredible flavor experience.


The tasting at Historias y Sabores


Grapes hanging over our heads as we indulged


 Our second stop was at a decent size, very classy winery called Tempus Alba. After a self guided tour, we tasted 6 of their wines sitting on the rooftop patio overlooking the vineyards. We were on a pretty tight schedule, so we made our way across the street to Viña El Cerno, a much smaller winery where we each got one full glass to taste – Pauline had the malbec, and I had the syrah. We were both very pleased, and once again were the only visitors at the vineyard, allowing for a very personalized experience.


Tasting at Tempus Alba


 Our last stop of the day was at Trapiche, an old winery and the biggest wine producer in Mendoza. We got a personal tour with a wonderful friendly, bubbly tour guide who treated us to 4 wines (instead of the standard 3) at the tasting so that we could try the unusual red dessert wine, which we naturally ended up buying. It was the ideal end to a easy, relaxing, wonderful trip.


Some of the original machinery, from before the winery was restored


A remake of the original wood flooring, ideal for rolling the wine barrels out to the train platform to ship them off. This was also the only winery with a private railway line!


 My time in Mendoza definitely made me question why I didn’t choose to study there instead of Buenos Aires – a beautiful city with thousands of vineyards and easy access to the Andes mountains – what was I thinking? But after discussing it with my friends, I realized that I would never have encountered the same challenges there that I have here – the frustrations and the fears that make up life in Buenos Aires are all an important part of the process, and I wouldn’t have learned nearly as much, about myself and about the world I live in, without the negative elements. Not to mention – there’s so much to do! Tomorrow my boyfriend Andy arrives, and I plan on ticking many, many items off my tourist list in the next 12 days that he’ll be here exploring the city with me. More updates to come!

Solo Trip to Iguazu Falls

This past weekend (yet another feriado, with Monday and Tuesday off) I traveled to Iguazu Falls with a travel agency called Buenas Vibras, which is specifically designed for young Argentines. When I signed up for it, I was under the impression that it would be a mix of foreigners and Argentines, but upon arriving to the pick up point I quickly realized that I was, in fact, the only foreigner (which the exception of a French guy everyone just called “El Frances,” but he had been living in BA for 6 months and grew up on the border of France and Spain so it didn’t really count). It was an incredible experience that came with a wide range of emotions, from happy confidence to frustrated loneliness. Being only able to talk in Spanish the whole time definitely helped me with my listening and speaking skills, but it also meant I spent a lot of time on my own and in my own head, doing a  lot of thinking about the things around me and how they were affecting me. Of course, the falls themselves were spectacular, so before I get into all of my feelings, observations and analyses I’ll give you some pictures of those.


Walkway out to the Garganta del Diablo, a narrow section of the Párana River where the falls begin


Garganta del Diablo (translation: Devil’s Throat)


View from Garganta del Diablo


Posing with the waterfalls after a boat ride that went right up to the falls


Un Arcoiris y las Cataratas (Rainbow and Waterfalls)


Another view of the falls, taken on my solo day in the park.


Trip Logistics

For some context: The group was made up of about 40 people, all Argentine, all about 25-35 years old. We chartered a bus (which broke down for 7 hours, making it a 30 hour bus ride there) and rented out a restaurant where the same chef made dinner for us the three nights we were there, and every night there was ample opportunity for dancing in a boliche into the early hours of the morning, as long as you still woke up at 8am every day.

Iguazu is in the province of Misiones, which is surrounded by Paraguay and Brazil, and the falls are the meeting point of the three countries. The first day we spent on the Argentine side, which is where all of the falls are actually located. The second day the rest of the group went over to the Brazilian side, which gives you a panoramic view of the Argentine side, but as an American I had to get a U$S150 visa, which didn’t seem worth it for a half-day trip. So day 2 I spent on my own on the Argentine side again, doing some hiking around, absorbing the flora and fauna of the jungle (sightings include: toucans, capybaras, cuatis, tiger ants, and a tree-dwelling monkey of some sort).

We did two additional excursions. The first was to a gem mine called the Minas de Wanda, where we got to learn about the process of extracting semi-precious stones and got to see the half open geodes still lodged in the walls and in the ground. The second was to the San Ignacio (mini) Ruins, one of the many Jesuit Guaraní Missions located in the North of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. The town was inhabited in the 1600s and abandoned in the 1700s and was a completely self-sufficient utopia of sorts. Their was a huge emphasis on artwork, and the connection between artwork and religion, and the ruins themselves were pretty well preserved. It was really interesting to read about the mixing of the Jesuit and Guaraní cultures and see the artifacts and hear about how they lived, but I really just wished that I could see the town as it was, go and live there for a week and find out all the things about the people there that you just can’t learn through historical museum blurbs and tour guide talks. Just imagine the drama and intrigue that must have occurred in that isolated little town, with the cultural mixture and the strict daily regimens. I’d like to pitch a Downton Abbey-style masterpiece series on the San Ignacio Mission: Jesuit/Guaraní Indian drama set in the heart of the jungle. It could be the next big thing. But I digress.

The excursions, overall, were really interesting, though of course everything was incredibly touristy. Which leads me into my next section…

Tourist Blues

“As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it’s only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let’s-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. My personal experience has not been that traveling around the country is broadening or relaxing, or that radical changes in place and context have a salutary effect, but rather that intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way—hostile to my fantasy of being a real individual, of living somehow outside and above it all. To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.” – David Foster Wallace

My boyfriend Andy sent me this quote shortly after I arrived in Argentina, and I couldn’t get it out of my head when I was wandering around in Iguazu national park. It pretty perfectly captures the heavy feeling weighing on me for much of the trip. It was a holiday weekend, so the park was thick – like, really, really thick – with tourists. The metal footbridges that took you to the viewpoints were a slow but steady flow of people and the viewpoints were full of anxious, excitable tourists trying to push their way to the fence for a view, so they could snap a few pictures before reentering the flow of people moving to the next viewpoint, and I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being pushed through this horrible giant tourist machine, replete with overpriced sandwiches and 20-minute bathroom lines. It really diminished the experience for me, as I struggled with the complacency of the rest of the tourists with this lucrative but destructive industry. It’s one thing to pay for entrance to an amusement park, to wait in lines for the rides and to buy overpriced amenities. But there’s something so wrong about putting a price on this natural wonder. I feel like natural wonders ought to be earned, through physical exertion and mental perseverance, like an epic mountain view. And of course it’s wonderful that it’s made accessible for people of all ages, sizes and physical abilities, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I would almost rather that I had not had the opportunity to see the falls at all than to have seen them in this way.

Observing Argentines in their Natural Habitat

On this trip I was thrown not only fully into the language but also the culture, and it was fun observing some of the quirks and curiousities of young Argentine’s behavior and contrasting it with my own very American tendencies. Some things I noted:

Sharing: I had kind of gotten a feel for this with the whole passing-around-the-mate tradition, but I never realized how far it extends. This basic human skill that we all learned in kindergarten is alive and well in a very real way here in Argentina. Everything you buy is meant to be shared, and it is not considered at all rude to ask for a bite/sip/piece of something someone else has. On the bus, giant mugs and plastic cups of fernet and coke were passed around freely, along with crackers, cookies, ham chunks, anything anyone had to offer. I always felt overly polite, thanking people profusely for sharing with me, because in the US it would have been very generous, but here it’s really just the status quo.

Chanting: This group really. loved. chanting. And somehow everyone seems to know all of the same chants. I don’t know if this is a thing everywhere but these people were not all friends from before so I can only imagine that there is some book of standard Argentine chants that everyone is required to memorize at a very young age. Chanting happened at least once every hour for the entire trip.

Physical Distance: I’ve heard Argentine’s mention several times how “frio” (cold) Americans are, and I was very much aware of it during this trip. There was one young man on the trip that everyone just called “el profe” (the professor) that liked to push me, asking me for hugs because he knew that I was an awkward American that wasn’t used to physical contact with strangers. I gradually got used to people I barely knew putting their arms around me or sitting really close to me, but the fact that it made me uncomfortable made me much more conscious of what a stiff, awkward American I can be.

The Halfway Hump

Lately my friends and I have been experiencing what my friend Pauline coined “The Halfway Hump.” We passed our halfway point a week or two ago, and it’s made me think a lot about how far I’ve come, and how far I haven’t come. Buenos Aires has definitely finally become a comfort zone for me, and I was actually really glad to be returning to it for the first time after this trip. But there are also a lot of things I’m not psyched about: classes are becoming pretty frustrating, and my Spanish has definitely not improved as much as I’d hoped it would have by this point. Both of these things have been getting me down somewhat, and I miss the days when everything was still shiny and exotic and new and I had a good excuse to not be very good at Spanish because I hadn’t been here very long. The best antidotes for the gloomy thunderclouds of the halfway hump are a good mix of work, exercise, and fun with friends – all in moderation, but all equally important.

I have a lot of great things to look forward to in the next couple of weekends, including a trip to Mendoza, a visit from my boyfriend and a visit from my cousin. Before any of the fun, though, I have my first exam and my first paper due, both next Wednesday. So without further ado, time to get to work. More updates await!

A Day on the Farm

It’s 8:10 in the morning, and the air lands crisp and fresh on my face as I step off of the bus at the corner of De Los Indios and Avenida de los Constituyentes. The street is heavy with early morning traffic, and on the far side of the road stands a huge graffiti-covered cement wall that stretches as far as the eye can see. Fifty feet away I spot an entrance, a tuft of lush greenery peeking around the corner, urging me to step through the wall, away from the cars and the buses, the sprawling garbage and the broken sidewalks. A narrow road wends it’s way through thick green lawns dotted with patches of trees, a few buildings, and students stretched out or sitting, reading or playing guitar or talking and drinking mate. The sun dappled road draws me along, past the railroad tracks and down a small path to the right. In the hush of the tall grass and towering trees, the sounds of chirping crickets and birds fill my ears, and the smells that I left behind on the street, of garbage and urine, are replaced with freshly mowed grass and green leaves baking in the early morning sun. On my left I can see my destination, across long rows of hay and plants, a couple of green houses set well back from the path and the train tracks. After some mild confusion, I locate the rusty fence entryway, and pick my way along the edge of the farm toward the group of people gathered in front of a particularly worn-looking greenhouse.

I approach hesitantly and smile as I make sure I’m in the right place: “Esta es la huerta Pecohue?” “Sí, sí, bienvenidos!” A tiny woman with thick, dark curly hair steps forward to kiss my cheek and tell me her name. This is of course followed by the customary process of kissing every cheek and introducing myself to every person in the proximity, none of whose names I remember a moment after hearing them. An older woman with gray hair and a big toothy grin shoves a mate gourd in my hands before I even have a chance to put my backpack down, and I gulp down the sweetened mate, toasting my tongue in the process. Once I’ve had my mate and put my backpack down, I’m presented with two options – “pesado” (harder work) or not. Invigorated by the morning air, I choose the trabajo más pesado and am quickly rewarded with a small but heavy shovel and a thick pair of gloves. A small blonde woman who is also carrying a shovel and work gloves beckons me to follow her out into the field. There’s a small rectangle of broken ground, and she explains that we’re going to continue down the row, tearing up the grass, turning over the earth, breaking apart the clumps of dirt and extracting any roots that surface.

Work starts slowly here – a few digs of the shovel, and then a pause for more kisses and introductions as more people arrive, shovels in tow. A few more digs, and another pause to take some more sweet mate that the smiling older woman has come over to offer to us before she leaves. A couple more digs, and a pause to kiss her goodbye, hasta luego! And eventually, slowly, we get into a rhythm, using our feet to push the shovels deep into the earth, turning it over, stabbing at the clumps with the tip of the shovel, and we begin to talk. We’ve been joined by a couple of boys in their late teens, and they’re anxious to talk to the gringo. They take turns asking me questions about myself, trying to practice their English while I insist on responding in Spanish. One of them is studying literature at la UBA next year, and we talk about our favorite authors and genres. We’re all quickly bantering away, making jokes and helping each other with our respective second languages. They teach me some new phrases, “lunfardos” (Argentine slang) that I won’t learn from a class or a dictionary – toda piola (everything’s good), manzana (it’s obvious) and copado (cool). We’re chatting and digging through the earth together and two hours fly by before I even realize that the sun is beating down on the back of my neck and my arms are aching, beginning to strain under the weight of the shovel. Luckily these realizations hit just in time for our mate break. We gather together with the other group and everyone talks, laughs, drinks mate, eats snacks, and passes around whatever food or drink they have to offer. Another hour of watering and potting plants and my first day at the farm draws to close – I have class, and I can’t hide away in this secret garden any longer.

The ease of sliding into the routine at the farm and the comfort of being in the outdoors almost made me forget that there was another purpose besides helping out with the farm tasks. There are a few volunteers, but most of the others working at the farm are youths in vulnerable situations. The purpose of the work at the farm is largely socialization and integration for these 18 to 21-year-olds that struggle with labor and social integration. I come from a vastly different world from them, but hacking away at the same land under the heat of the midday sun seemed to make these differences interesting but trivial, fostering conversation rather than creating walls between us. The greatest thing is that these are people I would never have had the occasion to interact with outside of this organization, yet there we were, digging and cracking jokes side-by-side like old friends.

For more information on la Huerta Pecohue, click here.