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Bariloche Take Dos

I’m back in Bariloche with Caro’s family in a rented cabin all week doing out-doors-ey stuff in the cold.  I spent another 20 hours on a bus to arrive yesterday afternoon.  Today I slept late, then went with Gloria to see about riding a horse.  In review: it was an experience and I learned that I go on two legs, not four.  I was so excited to go, thinking I would love it and be a natural blah blah blah.  Well, they didn’t look quite as big as the did when I was 5 and one threw me off at the zoo (actually that was a donkey I think but anything’s big to a 5-year-old), but there are some experiences that you don’t forget quite so easily.

Anyway, after a class of approximately 10 seconds during which the guy taught us “do this to turn right, do this to turn left, pull up to stop and keep your legs straight with toes outward.”  Ok, let’s go up the mountainside.  Riiiiiiiiiight…..

My horse didn’t like me very much.  He was a stubborn little shit and it’s not as easy as “do this to turn right etc. etc.” And that little flick you do with your heels to make it go, doesn’t work for me, but then whenever it felt like it, the horse took off running.  Up the mountain, down the mountain, now he wants a drink of water, now that grass looks yummy, now he wants to run after his friend cuz his friend’s running with the Brazilian guy on him who already knows how to ride….I had hoped to up my good horse-riding experience ratio from 0 to 1, but not today.  One butt cheek is bruised rather badly, and I’m frustrated it didn’t go better, I was rather excited about being able to ride a horse.  Tomorrow we’re going on a hiking tour of various places which will be done on 2 legs.

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Home

Well, my trip home was even more wonderful than I thought it would be: hot summer sun, family, friends, and an engagement!  I arrived back into the arms of my Emme for another almost 3 weeks of vacation for me, unfortunately he couldn’t take more time off work this time, but it worked out.  We picnic-ed in the park most days, I got hooked on a new Mexican soap opera, and I have a lovely new sparkly thing on my left hand!

August 1st was the 1 year anniversary of the restaurant where Emme is head chef and they prepared a huge party reservation only to celebrate with 5 courses, magic show, door prizes, live band, and a surprise finish to our lunch.  I made a reservation for my parents, an old friend of mine, and myself to have lunch and we had a great time until the end when we had an even better time.  After everything the owner announced one more thing that was a surprise and out comes Emme from the kitchen with a dessert plate with one scoop of green tea ice cream, fried bananas around it, a diamond ring on top with a cherry and cocktail umbrella.  And then, in front of about 60 people with a microphone and everything, he asked me to marry him!  I of course said yes yes yes!  We don’t have concrete wedding plans yet because it’s hard to plan a wedding from halfway around the world, but we’d like to get married sometime next summer.  More on that as the event itself grows closer.

I had a ball cooking and organizing our room and visiting friends and family.  We had a really nice dinner with my parents for my dad’s birthday and I got to go out to Gray’s Brothers Cafeteria again with my Grandpa.  It was very strange to not have my Grandma there with us: there was nobody to get picked beets and eat the other half of the corn, coleslaw and cheesecake (I helped out with the last one).  It’s strange but the moment that hit me hardest as sinking in that she’s really not there anymore was seeing her electric armchair in the living room and knowing that she isn’t gonna sit in it anymore.

Of course I had a hard time coming back again, and it’s been ugly weather in Buenos Aires all week and it was a bit like stepping back into the twilight zone, but here I am again, trying to squeeze the last bits of travel and single experience out of the 3 1/2 months that are left here south of the border.

Woah too long between posts again.  It seems to me though that all bloggers say that whenever they write a new blog.  Life happens in between, otherwise we would have no new material.  Well, my new material mostly has to do with the World Cup, another nerve-racking final exam, another trip, this time south, and the general ebb and flow of a comfortable life here.

Sometimes I get antsy reading other people’s blogs who are traveling all around and living out of a back pack at hostels every other weekend and I think I should be doing that too while I’m here, but I’m comfortable taking advantage of this city that I’m in and really making some furnidents and, if you’ll permit me a somewhat crude metaphor, and you will because you have no control over what I write here, I’m putting down a nice comfy Homer Simpson-sized ass-groove in my Argentine couch.  I’m so happy to say that I have made honest and true friends in the short time I’ve been here, and become even more of a cultural chameleon every day.

This cultural blending was put to the test with the experience of the World Cup which, while it’s not a very big deal in the States, is a national obsession here.  For some reason I always thought people were exaggerating when they said something like that about Latin-American and European countries being obsessed with futbol, but it’s really not an exaggeration.  People call off work, or everyone stops for those 2 hours to turn on the TV at work or find a close bar to watch the game.  The colors, celestial blue and while, are everywhere, and every time Argentina scored a goal the city literally exploded with cheers, yelling, and horns honking (even more than usual).  When Argentina played Germany (nightmare deja vu from 4 years ago), I was out walking to Caro’s grandmother’s apartment to watch the second half and the streets were spookily empty and everything was quiet.  Not even in summer when everyone was on vacation have I ever seen the city that dead.  Good job to Spain this time around, and in four more years the world’s eye will be on Brasil for two major world events, which is very exciting for South America.

(Side note about futbol being such an obsession: one of the doctors at the Hospital Argerich that I give English lessons to published a study proving the correlation between the annual Boca-River match in Buenos Aires and a spike in heart attacks the day of and the day after the match…this affects people’s lives!)

During the World cup, we were in the middle our second module.  It flew by, which is a shame because I really like it and think I could have done a lot more with the material.  But, I did my best with the independent research paper and final exam translation.  We divided up into groups to orally justify our translations on the last day of class.  This part was really stressful for me because I felt that even though I had done my best on the translation (to Spanish), there were still things that I had interpreted differently from the other girls and in the end I liked their observations and translations better, but it is what it is now.

After that final exam, we had a two week break before the current module began, so I decided to explore another part of Argentina.  Two weeks ago I got on a double decker bus and rode 20 hours with Caro, her friend Sabrina, and about 25 other people who signed up with her travel agency to go to San Carlos de Bariloche.  Miraculously, I slept for about 15 of those 20 hours and woke up in Patagonia.  The landscape is truly breathtaking and some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.  Bariloche is a little town on a huge lake surrounded by mountains that has really good skiing, really good salmon, and really good hot chocolate, of which I drank plenty.  As a group we went on a guided tour of the surrounding wilderness, went up in ski lifts to the top of one of the smaller mountains, el Cerro Campanario, to a lookout point that National Geographic ranked the #2 best view in the world (next to Mt. Everest).

The next day we went out to el Cerro Catedral, the main ski area with accompanying village (and more hot chocolate).  I’m returning in September with Caro and part of her family to go skiing, so this time I just found myself a cozy booth in a restaurant with a huge picture window that overlooked the beginners area of the slopes and had (oh yes) more hot chocolate. 

It was a great group to travel with and I also had plenty of time to myself to go shopping, buy chocolate as gifts, and just wander and look at the lake. 

Back home, we started translation of medical texts, I battled another bout of the flu and lost my voice this time.  I’m still giving English conversation classes, going to yoga, pilates, and seeing my therapist.  I feel like I’ve carved out a nice little niche for myself. 

And now, we’re on official winter vacation, so I made the executive vacation decision and came back to Indiana again to visit.  I am ecstatic about being in 80 degree weather with only the occasional thunderstorm.  I am also ecstatic about being back with Emme.  The first day was a little strange to not be separated by a computer screen anymore, but we got used to it pretty quickly and have been having a wonderful time together. 

It has been a bit of a reverse culture shock for me.  This has been the longest period of time I’ve been living outside the states, and a lot of things strike me as very strange now.  Hearing English is the biggest one – the only times I hear English in Argentina is when I’m watching TV.  I had my first Starbucks coffee in 4 months this morning and found that I couldn’t even finish half of a tall latte.  If I go out to eat now, I can only order appetizers. Sizes are simply too big.  I also hadn’t driven in 4 months, but I picked that up again faster than I expected.  I spend a lot of time driving around town.  So I can keep the car during the day I drop Emme off at work each morning and pick him up each night. 

In short, I am having a fantastic time and hope you are also.  Pictures from Bariloche will be coming up soon.

Bicentenario

On May 25 Argentina celebrated it’s 200th anniversary as a nation independent from European rule.  This was a big deal, planned years in advance, and the celebration lasted a whole week: concerts, dancing, parades, foods, fairs, etc. etc.  and blue and white flags everywhere!  On Tuesday evening, Caro and I went downtown to see all the people and festivities.  It was absolutely insane!  I’ve never seen that many people together in one place in my whole life.  Public transportation was free all day, so the subte and all buses were packed.  Here’s some pictures from our outing:

And more time passes.  Flies, more like it.  May is over and even though the sun is shining out my 13th story window, it is most decidedly not summer here.  We bought a space heater yesterday and I’m looking into investing in a hair dryer.  My internal system doesn’t like the fact that the seasons are flip flopped now.

Over the past few weeks I’ve partied through a giant paella, suffered through one final exam, experienced my first authentic Argentine asado, found a new English student, and have started a new class at school.  I’m having a quarter-life crisis of sorts, but am very thankful for my psychologist, pilates instructor, yoga yogi lady, and roommate for helping me feel less crazy.

The paella party was excellent.  Rotary club Villa del Parque (my host club) held it’s 2nd annual paella fundraiser for the local hospital.  There was a lot of music, flamenco dancing, traditional Gallego dancing, and a massively huge paella made by the Rotarians themselves that had to be wheeled out on a cart.  There were about 300 people at the event and I think there might have been some leftovers even after 2nd helpings!  I went with Melissa, another Rotary scholar and we had a great time.  (pictures below, I can’t seem to figure out how to insert pictures at different points in a blog, sorry).

My first class has ended!  No more beautiful gerunds or 1/2 hour tangents about comma placement.  We had our final exam last Saturday and I honestly have never felt more unsure about an exam.  I wrote for 3 hours straight, went to lunch, and then had to come back and sit through 2 more hours of “chatting” about the exam.  I was so ready to leave and got home exhausted.  Still waiting on grades not quite with bated breath.  This Saturday we started our 2nd course: Comparative analysis between Spanish and English.  We’ve combined with the master’s students in English language so our class has more than doubled in size.  The professor is super organized and conducts class in a mixture of Spanish, English, and Spanglish with a slightly strange accent.  Our homework is almost all practical, testing our hand at translating some sentences into Spanish while looking for patterns in structure.    Unfortunately, I had to leave about an hour early because I got one of the worst migraines I’ve had in a while.  My friend Christine walked me home and I crashed and napped till about 10 pm.

Last weekend I went out to Hurlingham, one of the provinces of Buenos Aires, to Caro’s parents’ place and had my first taste of an authentic, cooked at home, utterly delicious Argentine asado.  I drove out with her cousin Laura and her little dog Fogo.  La provincia is really peaceful with neighborhoods that remind me more of the suburbs in the states.  I helped open a can of peaches and set the table while Caro and her sister threw together a delicious spinach and mushroom salad, potatoes with hard-boiled egg, and diced tomatoes.  That and 4 liters of Diet Coke was all we needed to go with the three different kinds of animals that we ate.  I was stuffed silly by the end of it, but it was soooo good.  Then we drove out to a bakery and bought a ton of facturas (sweet things) to eat with cups of tea later.  It poured rain that day, so it was really cozy sitting around a family dining room sipping tea and licking the dulce de leche off my fingers.

I feel really lucky to have landed in an apartment with a native local person whose really awesome and about the same level and kind of crazy that I am.  Sometimes I feel like I’m not doing the “young person scene” of going out and partying at clubs and bars etc., but I was never that person in the states either.  I love my life here now, I have my own little routine with my friends, my homework, my English students, my yoga and pilates classes, exploring my neighborhood in detail and just generally feeling like I really live here.  I hate feeling like I’m acting like a tourist, hence the sometimes unfortunate lack of pictures, but what I really love about being in a place is when I feel like I belong here.  I went out to buy a dictionary before our final last weekend, and the guy in the bookstore thought I was Argentine until I let some little insignificant detail of my accent slip up.  That’s what makes me feel really accomplished here.  It’s always such a huge ego boost to have someone ask me if I’m from here, or look confused or astonished when I say I’m from the United States.

I think we get caught up a lot of the time with our own immigration issues (especially our relationship with our closest and dearest neighbor), that we don’t even realize that the rest of the Spanish-speaking world is totally distinct.  Each country has it’s own history, it’s own flavor, it’s own accent, vocabulary, slang, it’s own everything.  Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention in high school, but I don’t remember learning about the vast majority of other Spanish-speaking countries besides Mexico and Spain.

Well, as Willie said in his speech at the end of the paella festival when he introduced Melissa and me, we can now come back to the states and let people know that “la Argentina tambien existe” – Argentina exists too!

Now, to my quarter-life crisis:  I’ve started teaching, and I love it.  I’m studying translation, and I love that too.  But I get really excited about teaching.  Not the kind of classroom teaching where you have to have rules and follow up consequences for the kids who act out cuz they don’t really wanna be there, but with individual students who want to learn and enjoy asking questions.  I started a couple of weeks ago teaching Gaby, a girl my age who has to take a test in English for her work in another couple of weeks.  I’m also going once a week over to a hospital in La Boca (one of the barrios in Bs. As.) to have conversation class with 2 (maybe 3) doctors that take grammar classes from another girl in my master’s class.  So, to teach?  To translate?  Making a living freelance-ing is a lot easier here than it is in the states and I don’t like feeling like I have to choose between two things I love doing just so I can have health insurance.  But that’s a topic for next year…

Anyway, to sum up, I’m having a fantabulous time, still waiting on our beloved FBI to get my student visa, so I’m planning a trip to Colonia, Uruguay next weekend, and I PROMISE I will take pictures there.

Also, I seem to have developed a hobby of taking pictures of pretty sunsets.  You’ll notice the buildings are all the same in these because they’re all taken out my bedroom window.

City Sweet City

If I’m being completely honest, I didn’t want to come back from Iguazu.  It was so peaceful there in the rain forest, away from all the noises, grayness, and smells of the city.  I love some aspects of being in a city this big because it has so much to offer in the way of culture, art, good food, and social opportunities, but all the same, I was raised in the suburbs of Indiana: no car alarms that sound like the Buzz Lightyear toy I had as a kid that makes a different intergalactic space noise every time you push a button; no dogs fighting in the street at all hours of the night; no trash truck that comes down our street at midnight, 1:00, and 2:00 a.m.; no holding my breath every time I cross the street so as not to inhale the fumes from the bus that just passed; and most of all, no crying baby with a freelance carpenter for a father living upstairs.

In spite of all that, I do enjoy my regular cafes, yoga class and the people I’ve met there, Pilates, having my laundry done by the sweetest lady on the corner, having a bakery 1/2 a block away, my roommate and having her cousin as my psychoanalyst, and my weekly ritual of dinner and ice cream with a good friend.  I was really excited about coming to a big city, thinking it would be just what I always wanted: having everything at my fingertips, 24 hours, endless opportunity to do stuff and see new things; but now I’m not so sure if I am the city girl I thought I was.  I enjoy the city, but at the end of the day, I often feel like there’s no escape from it: like I’m trapped in a huge, loud box and my silicone earplugs don’t quite do the trick on that screaming baby upstairs at 3:00 am.

But I did come back, and have worked hard to make my room as much of a sanctuary as I can to feel cozy and comfortable when I do get back from whatever it is I do during the day.  Recently I arranged with a fellow student from the university to meet a couple of her students at a hospital who are looking for a native English speaker to help them out with conversation practice.  Also I started a Pilates class just a block and a half away.  I’ve done pilates workout videos with friends and roommates in the past, but nothing like this: they have the beds on wheels machines that look like they came out of the Inquisition all lined up in a row with large paper flowers to try to distract you from that cramp in your hip.  It’s a good workout and I really like the instructor, who makes sure my lumbar doesn’t come up off the mat.

I’m rather ashamed to admit that I broke my vow a couple weeks ago and went to McDonald’s.  I’m strictly anti-McDonald’s in the states, but I caught a whiff of the fries on my way home from yoga one night and was already starving.  Our refrigerator had been empty for a while due to alternating travel schedules between me and my roommate, so I talked myself into it, just that once.  And I gotta say, the chicken McNuggets here are more delicious than they are back home.  They look and taste like real chicken instead of spongy blended up chicken parts.  They probably still are, but I don’t want to think about that, thank you.  That, combined with the precious (and expensive) bottle of BBQ sauce I found at the grocery, made for a very satisfying meal.  Surprisingly, I didn’t feel bloated and like a huge fat kid who wants to roll onto her side and sleep for the next 14 hours like I do every time I eat McDonald’s in the states.

School is still going well.  It seems that this first course has taken forever to finish: I feel like I’ve been pouring over nit-picky grammar for my whole life.  And I guess it has been a while – 8 weeks of class with 2 weeks of break makes for 2 whole months of gerunds, subordinating conjunctions, passive voice, and analysis of the narrator’s voice vs. the author’s.  Our final exam is finally this weekend and I think I’m gonna be ready for it.  Actually, it doesn’t matter if I am or not, the grade I get can’t actually be entered into the system until I get my student visa and my apostilled diploma (that is a day-long rant for another time when I don’t want to scream and pull other people’s hair out).  But my professor has been really nice and is doing everything she can so I don’t have to take it twice.  There’s a recuperative exam in November, but I’d rather just get it done now.

It’s getting really cold here.  My internal system is very confused and not at all happy with the change in temperature in increase in wind speeds.  I bought a granny robe today because I need something to wrap up in at home and a space heater is on next week’s purchase agenda.

Iguazu

Over the weekend of May 1st, when we had a break from classes for Argentinian Labor Day, I planned a trip to Iguazu Falls, on the northern border where Argentina meets Brazil.  I’d been chatting with a friend of mine from Ball State who’s studying in Brazil and we decided to meet up at a hostel and stay a few days to see the falls and catch up on life.  We both arrived Friday morning and started our adventure in the best way possible: pizza, beer, and a nap.  The hostel was cute – we had our own room with plastic cat and bird stencils on the walls and a door that didn’t quite shut tight; a pool area with beach chairs and a stray cat; and nice staff that cooked breakfast for us every morning.  The town of Puerto Iguazu itself is a small, sleepy town that shuts down around 11:00 pm.  Jessi and I closed down the restaurants we ate dinner at and had to continue our philosophical discussions poolside with our friend the stray cat.

On Saturday we caught the bus out to the falls and spent the day hiking through the rain forest, marveling at the big bugs and beautiful flowers and trees. There were butterflies everywhere and some big spiders I wasn’t so thrilled to see.  After buying a silly-looking hat at the gift shop, we set off on the lower trail, which led us through the forest, past some of the smaller falls to the harbor where we boarded the scariest boat ride of my life.  I’m not sure why I always put myself in these situations: I know I don’t like boats, but the Nautical Adventure just sounded too cool and once-in-a-lifetime to pass up.  We paid our money and trekked down slippery stone steps without a guard rail in sight to the river’s edge.  We were passed a life jacket and told to wait in line.  Once on the boat, I grabbed Jessi’s hand and held on for dear life – the boat took us literally INTO the falls, as close as we could get without getting pounded into oblivion.  It was incredible though, so much better than Niagra Falls and the Maid of the Mist with her enclosed part and guard rails…we all got soaked through and I can say that I’ve actually been INSIDE THERE –> when I show people pictures of the falls.  In Jessi’s words, “Hey, it’s a national landmark and one of the natural wonders of the world…let’s go touch it!”

Sunday was Jessi and Thiana’s most unplanned and excellent adventure.  We got up late after having split a bottle of wine and solved all the world’s problems the night before, and decided to go see some Jesuit ruins that my taxi driver from the airport had told me about.  Well, turns out the bus depot lady heard me wrong when I said we wanted to go see “las ruinas.”  She sold us tickets to “las minas.”  We asked the bus driver to let us know where to get off, and when he said this was our stop, Jessi and I got off in The Middle of Nowhere, Argentina, bought tickets for a tour of “las minas” and set off down a rust-red dirt road with no idea where we were going.  Along the way were were chased after by children trying to sell us rocks until we got to the entrance to “las minas.”  According to our guide, it’s the largest amethyst mine in Argentina.  We got a private tour of the landscape, the mines themselves, and even got to make a wish on one of the amethyst geodes that had been half uncovered in the tunnel wall.

Monday morning we decided to visit a bird house.  Only 10 minutes outside the city there is an animal rehabilitation center where animals are sent when they get hit by cars, or if they’ve been exotic pets that people finally realize they can’t keep anymore.  All animals that can be rehabilitated and re-released are kept in another part of the park, while those who have been kept as pets and wouldn’t survive in the wild make up the adventure tour in the educational part of the forest.  We got to see lots of different types of birds: parrots, owls, falcons, eagles, toucans (did you know that a toucan’s tongue looks like a flesh-colored feather).  There were also monkeys, an anteater, some baby deer, and an alligator.  Then Jessi had to cross the border to catch her plane back to her temporary home town, and I had a lazy afternoon of journal-ing waiting around for the shuttle back to the airport.

It was such a relaxing trip, away from the sounds and smells of the city and I wasn’t ready to go back quite so soon.  I miss green space surrounded by so many buildings all day.