* This post is dedicated to Ashley Duncan, aka: Shorts.
Of course we all know that one of my favorite things is my nickname from Chapman: Pants. Short of course, for Annie-Pants, a name given to my by Ashley Duncan early on in our college career. While friendships have changed over time, there is still a core group of Pants enthusiasts who have kept this nickname alive, and it has spread as well to calling Ashley “Shorts,” a classmate named Chris, “Sweats” (or Sweaters, if you’re me) and “Hoodie” on occasion for David Gaetke.
I don’t find that I often meet other Annies, being the rare and beautiful breed that we are, and I meet even fewer other people named Pants. In fact, the name Pants is so unique and so rare, that I had never met anyone else with that name, and didn’t expect to. Imagine my surprise when I was wearing a very sexy v-neck tee that says PANTS on the back at orientation two weeks ago, and someone approached me and said, “Annie, is Pants your nickname?”
This someone happens to be a fellow MCCer, also named Annie. I replied, “yes, Annie, Pants is my nickname and has been for several years.”
I was completely floored when she said, “That’s funny, because people also called ME Annie-Pants in college.”
Do you understand what this means?!? There could be Annie-Pants’ all over the world that we don’t even know about! It’s like, it’s such a perfect nickname, that people are just naturally drawn to calling Annies, Pants. It’s the strangest thing. I’m completely serious when I say that that was a full (ish) two weeks ago, and I still haven’t gotten over it. And maybe I never will.
We could be on to something really big here….
Why, hello there.
I’ve had a few requests to post some blogs, and now that I am practically on my way to sunny Indonesia, I decided that it’s time to get this thing going! I’m currently in Akron, PA attending MCC’s SALT/IVEP orientation. Last week, though is what I will write about for now.
On Saturday the first (of august) I said goodbye to my fam and Ryan and Amy – my summertime hiking buddies, and took off for Boston. I spent the day there on Sunday with Bryan, which was really, really fun. We had a pretty chillaxed day – mostly chatted and saw his new apt he’s moving into, went to Target with his roommate and then walked all over downtown Boston, which was actually just really cute, for lack of a better adjective. I think Bryan might have gotten a little tired of me saying that. Hahaha.
On Monday I took a bus to NYC where Devan met me and we made our way to Christy’s apt to have dinner and sell a table on Craigslist. While in the city I took the Staten Island ferry, went to Highline Park which was totally beautiful – a park on old elevated train tracks, went to Alter Boyz – a wonderful off-broadway show, was stung by a mystery insect and freaked out, went to Coney Island, visited the Met, ate a cupcake, had Ethiopian food for the first time with Kirsten and Topher, and loved, loved, loved catching up with friends and having great conversations.
The city was great – good sights and exhaustingly humid weather. After days of rushing around I was ready to just chill out. The big exciting moment came when I tried to navigate JFK and failed. Well, I almost said I failed miserably, but that would not be true. I eventually made it to my destination, a feat of which I am proud.
I took the subway out to Queens close to JFK. That took awhile in itself. I had a flight at 10:00pm to Buffalo, where I planned to meet up with Meghan, a friend from study abroad. I was supposed to be at the airport at 8:30, and of course not having a printer on the road, had not checked in for my flight yet. I was still on the train at 8:30, not worried of course because I was only a few stops away. When I got to my stop, I walked the equivalent of a couple blocks, maybe two, finding my way to the airtrain – a monorail going to JFK. Then I had to wait probably 5 or 6 minutes. Then ride between 5 and 10 minutes. So it was getting closer and closer to 9pm. This was not good. I got to my terminal and Meghan called, I told her I was just arriving at the airport. That concerned her quite a bit, but really didn’t bother me at all.
I should clarify now that I primarily fly out of either SeaTac or Orange County. OC has a very small airport and I always plan to arrive shortly before boarding. I’ve never, ever had a problem with that. At Seatac, I am dropped off at the curb, and hand my bag to the nice Alaska people who practically know me. Sometimes I even get to go in the short security line :) I found out that life in the big city is not so cushy, or quite as tame. About four of us together went along the sky bridge and across a street. We could see an empty Delta check-in counter inside. The man there blocked our way and told us to take the elevator down to the first floor. Well, that was baggage claim – really unhelpful for our situation. The women working there took us around a corner and sent us up a big ramp with cars rushing around us, me, of course carrying 85 pounds of baggage that will last me a year in Indonesia (let me just say – I look RIDICULOUS on public transportation – and airports, too).
We found our way into a different part of the airport and through a little maze to a complete mad house. Instead of waiting in a long line, I jumped on a kiosk and tried to check in for my flight, only to be told that I could not check a bag because it was now 9:08pm – less than an hour till take off. I needed to see an attendant. Fortunately, one was just walking by. I told her I was late and needed to check in. She directed me to a kiosk. I told her it had told me to talk to her. She again told me to check in at a kiosk. I then hit her in the face with my 50 pound backpack. O wait, no, that’s not right. No, then she told me to talk to the woman in the red jacket. That woman was a little preoccupied by a man who had apparently driven 5 hours to get there, and his family member was too late to check in for her flight. He was a tad cranky, and generally making life harder for everyone around him. He even refused to remove his friend/significant other’s luggage from the scale until they let her on the plane. Yes, that’s helpful, sir, thanks for being a jerk instead of being calm about the situation. I’m sure you’re the only one with a problem.
Fortunately the woman behind the counter who couldn’t check me in did at least give me the airline’s number so I wouldn’t have to wait in line. The woman I talked to on the phone wanted to fly me out the next day at noon. I couldn’t very well get to Buffalo at 2:00pm because I had plans to leave there at 5:00 that afternoon. I called Jet Blue instead, and the woman who answered is officially my guardian angel. She was so nice and helpful, I could have hugged her. She got me on a pretty inexpensive flight that only arrived 20 min later than my original flight. I went over to my new terminal, and it was like an oasis of calm in a harsh desert of angry travelers. The whole experience was completely different, and about a thousand times better.
The moral of the story is: always leave early for the airport, and always choose Jet Blue over Delta. I highly recommend it.
Visiting Meghan was awesome – I very rarely get to see study abroad friends :) and we went to the US side of Niagara Falls, which was a real treat. Fotos are on flickr now – www.flickr.com/a_mesaros It was a really relaxed day, then back to the airport to fly through Boston (said hi to Bry again while we were in the same city for a minute) and then on to Harrisburg. My cousin Todd picked me up there and I went to his house and crashed. The next day I had a really fun time catching up with him and Colleen and playing with their 3 year old son, Tim. I also got to drive past the place where Taylor Swift (LOVE HER) was discovered, and also saw Jon and Kate’s house (you are so jealous). I don’t actually watch Jon and Kate Plus 8, so Todd graciously filled me in on all the details of their marriage and family life. Apparently I had the wrong impression about a lot of things, so I’m glad we got it cleared up and now I can brag about having seen their place.
Orientation has been marvelous! I’m only 30 miles from Todd and Colleen’s so Todd dropped me off here on Saturday. I take off for Indonesia in 2 days! I’m really stoked for it, and my Indonesian has been improving a ton. Although, there’s really no where to go but up from here.
Being in Argentina is sort of like running (as are all good things) because once you get going, you sort of get into the zone and could just go forever. When you start on a long run, and it’s rainy and cold outside, you feel stiff and are tempted to stop. But once you get a rhythm going you loosen up, warm up, and it just gets easier and easier, and you feel like you could go on forever. But then sometimes you hit a wall.
One of my high school running coaches told me once that there is a period of 3 seconds in every race where you have to make a decision: quit, or keep going.
That’s sort of what Argentina has been like for me. When I am at Chapman I usually go home about once a semester, in addition to Thanksgiving and Christmas. I had a fear of staying there longer than 3 months at a time, and felt like I didn’t want to risk missing my family or home too much. But while studying abroad, I don’t have the luxury of flying for 2 hours and then curling up by the fireplace with my down comforter (it would take over 15 hours to get there). So I’m in it for the long haul here, and when I passed the 3 month mark on September 30th, I prepared myself for a mental breakdown to follow, but surprisingly, it didn’t happen.
As of this week, I have now successfully passed the 4 month mark, which is very exciting. I was feeling good about being here, feeling like I am very much in that zone where I live my everyday life and have friends here who I really enjoy spending time with. I was thinking that it will be nice to go home, as planned, on November 17th, but that I could actually stay longer. There’s still so much I haven’t seen!
But over the past few weeks, I have been stumbling along a bit, hitting a wall, of sorts. It’s not that bad, but it made me more ready to head how when the time comes. I feel pretty well adjusted to live in Argentina—eating late (last night after midnight, tonight at 10), taking public transportation everywhere is actually really fantastic, except when the subte is soooo crowded, and of course, speaking in Spanish. But it is also difficult to live here, because I don’t have the close friends I have in both Seattle and Orange. There are only so many students in my program to get to know, and we are all SO different. We still get along really well, but it isn’t the same as the people I would normally seek out—with similar interests and similar backgrounds.
It makes me wonder how it would be different if I were staying longer, because I am still planning on moving out of the US for a year after I graduate. I am seeking God’s will in my life for that time, but as far as I can tell, that’s what I’ll be doing. I want to go somewhere where I can connect with other Christians and be vulnerable with people who understand me, who have at least a similar perspective. I have found it really valuable being around people who do have such different perspectives from me, and then I have conversations with people from my church here, mainly my friend Vanessa, and she and I are more on the same page than I am with anyone else here, and it is quite refreshing.
Over the last 4 days or so I have hit a bit of a rocky patch, not feeling very motivated, but feeling like I want to do something and really just feeling like if I am going home in 2 weeks, why not just go? I still have things to see, but like I said, there is a lack of motivation right now, and I feel like let’s not sit around while time goes by ridiculously slow, let’s just get on a plane and 17 hours later arrive at SeaTac, you know?
But, as in running, I have realized that it is worth finishing, and finishing WELL. So that is what I will do, and in all of this I am evermore grateful for my family and friends, for listening to me whine about how hard life is in paradise ;) and I know that I am only more sure of my faith in God, and what I am doing with my life, never less. I am stoked to rest for a bit, and then get back to Chapman refreshed, ready to see friends and apply what I have learned about myself here in Argentina.
Last Sunday morning, I woke up at 3am to fly to Tierra del Fuego, which is the area at the southern-most tip of South America, and thus containing the southern-most pretty much everything. I happened to be going to Ushuaia, the southern-most city in the world (not to be confused with the southern-most town, Puerto Williams, Chile: population 6,000). The brilliant thing about this trip is that no one could go with me, so I decided to go by myself. It was a really good, and really interesting experience. I, of course, had a romanticized image of what it would be like: something along the lines of being destined to go by myself to discover something (or someone?) wonderful. And even though it wasn’t what I expected, it was definitely worth going.
On Sunday I just walked around and figured out the town a bit, it is on the water, a calm bay where you can see tons of islands across the way, surrounded by mountains on ALL sides. It’s the end of the Andes (Andes = amazing) which are across the water too. The islands are a mix of Chilean and Argentine (coincidentally, 2 of my favorite countries). I think the great part about being there was just how beautiful and how obscure of a place it is. It is pretty much isolated, just a few feet away from Antarctica.
Although I was sooooo close to it, (50km closer to the South Pole than to the northern border of Argentina!) I did not go to Antarctica. That will have to wait for another adventure. By the way, this is a good time to mention that it was SO cold there. Pretty close to the coldest I’ve ever been. That might be because I didn’t have gloves though. I left a glove in Chile and refused to buy more, so I just kept my hands in my pockets :) Anway, enough rambling. Someone told me that it never really gets above 15 degrees C there, and it was 7 on Monday. But on Wednesday, it was full-on SNOWING, and I had to email my literature professor and tell her I might not make it for my presentation the next day. No worries though, the plane left relatively on time. I guess that’s the upside of a lack of regard for unsafe weather conditions (totally kidding, mom and dad!).
I have to say that the highlight of the trip was the penguins, of course. They are so amazingly cute, I just wanted to frolic with them all day. Yes, I did frolic with them for about an hour, and it was superb. I had been reading online about possible excursions, etc. to go see them, and I even told my roommate before I left that there seemed to be a disheartening lack of excursions that included frolicking, dancing or snuggling of any kind. Luckily, I happened upon the only tour agency that has permission to be on the penguin island. 15 of us took a boat over there Monday morning, and first sat on the beach with them, and then walked around a bit more inland.
There was one penguin right in the designated human-path, so we all took photos with it. Then, further ahead we went into a grassy area with a lot of low bushes, and it looks really plain at first, until you stand still and you notice little pinguinitos peeking out from behind the bushes at you. I just about died of cuteness.
There was a couple from Philadelphia there on their honeymoon, and I walked around with them for quite awhile when we got back to the mainland and they told me some pretty funny stories of them trying to be outdoorsy and fit in while they’re in Patagonia, and trying to get around using what little Spanish they know, supplemented by a lot of hand gestures. They were my favorite people that I met, along with the guys that helped book my excursion, this SUPER random Argentine guy who was on the penguin trip, and a girl from my hostel who is from Tierra del Fuego.
O, and I briefly considered moving there to become a guide. I think Patagonia just has that affect on me, because I actually almost didn’t leave Bariloche when I was there in August. My penguin guide was this really awesome girl in her 20s, and there were 2 more girls there who are studying to be guides—which is a 5 year process. So that changed my mind a little bit, but I am working on pushing back all previous career goals, life plans, future hopes and dreams, etc. about 10 years so I can guide penguin tours for awhile. Maybe I could combine it with mountain climbing and kayaking….
Overall, it was great. I got to see a place I may never get to see again, and it was my first trip all alone, which was SO good for me. Even though I got lonely sometimes, now I know that I can do it. And I wouldn’t have wanted to sit at home this week, thinking about how I should have gone, you know? I needed to go and see it, as a part of the growing and learning about myself process. AND I found a place that has a really good American-style breakfast, and I just about cried it was so good.
There are just those times when you think life sucks, and then it gets better. Who doesn’t love that feeling? At one point, while I was walking alone through the National Park, and the wind was blowing so hard, and it was freezing, I thought to myself “WHY AM I HERE!?!?” But then, a little while later, the wind stopped, the sun came out, and tucked away behind the trees was a beautiful view of the water, and it was totally worth it.
Last weekend, I went on a quick trip up north with my program to Iguazu falls, at the corner of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. We flew for an hour and a half on Friday, and stayed at a really nice hotel in the little town (Puerto iguazu) that’s there to hold the tourists who come to see the falls. Some of you may have seen the movie The Mission, which was filmed at the falls, about the Jesuit Missions that were there during the colonization of South America.
The area reminded me SO MUCH of being in El Salvador. It’s a sub-tropical rain forest, it was pretty humid and buggy, and there are toucans, monkeys and jaguars there. The falls are on a river (I think it’s just called the iguazu river) that separates Brazil from Argentina. At one point, the land just drops down, and there’s a long series of waterfalls all the way across, and about a fourth of them are on the Brazilian side.
On Friday we chillaxed at the pool at our hotel, I took a nap in a hammock and was totally in heaven. That night, I didn’t really feel like doing much—I’ve been sick and I didn’t really have an appetite and just felt blah—but I decided that since I didn’t feel like doing anything, that I might as well do something, so I went out dancing with the group. We went to a bar called Cuba Libre, and it was SO FUN. As you can imagine, I’m a terrible dancer, but once we got going it was just really fun.
Saturday morning, we got up early and had breakfast at the hotel and went off to the National Park with our tour guide, Paz. She was a really cute girl that smiled a lot and cracked little jokes all the time. Her name is Maria de la Paz, but she goes by Paz for short, which means peace. We walked (SO FAR) to La Garganta del Diablo (devil’s throat) canyon. After walking down a road forever, you turn off into the trees and walk on a raised walkway over the river for I would guess 2 km or more. The river sort of floods through a treesy area, so the walkway is a series of bridges between the various clumps of trees. The Garganta is a short canyon that you look down into from above (eeeeek!) and you can’t see very far into it because it is completely filled with mist. And Brazil is on the other side!
(PS, no, I didn’t go to Brazil, because you need a visa, etc. and its really difficult for North Americans. But apparently because the land is higher up over there, you can get a really good view of all the falls together. But when we were in a boat at one point, we got LITERALLY within 15 feet of brazil, we were so close!!).
We went back a ways toward where we started our trek, and went on the Circuito Superior (upper circuit) which goes along the San Martin falls. O, I should explain that looking at the falls from Argentina, there’s a loooong stretch of them, one after another the curves around to the left. And then there’s San Martin Island, where I hear there are ruins of the missions, and then past that is the Devil’s Throat. So on this new trail, we went on walkways along the top of a bunch of the san martin falls.
Then we went on the lower trail, which just gives you a different (and spectacular) view of the falls. Then we went on the Gran Aventura, a boat ride UNDER the waterfalls. I know. I was so scared! They took us in this dinky little boat under the san martin falls, over to the devil’s side, and back. And then we went down the river a ways, and got out and got into a safari-like truck for the last part, which took us back to the entrance to the park. The only problem was that right as we got into the truck, a thunderstorm hit, and we were completely uncovered, and already soaking wet from the boat ride because we’d been dunked so many times. But you know, it just added to the rainforest awesomeness, so it was good.
Sunday morning was also really good. We got up SUPER early again, and went on an excursion to go canopying (ziplining through the trees!) and rappelling. As usual, I was scared, and I’ve gotten really good at arguing with guides about how I am afraid of heights and they need to be nicer to me or I won’t do it. They usually get a kick out of that. So we walked up the rickety-est set of stairs I have EVER seen in my life. And then went on 3 ziplines, totalling a HALF MILE. I know, intense. So then we rappelled down a waterfall, and that was sweet, although surprisingly less hardcore than what we did in bariloche, because the guide was in control the whole time, which was really for the best because I wouldn’t have trusted myself with the ropes in all the water.
It was a fantastic weekend, and if you want to see pictures of intense waterfalls in a lush green jungle, I suggest following this link (even though you already have it bookmarked): flickr.com/photos/a_mesaros
Amor y besos a todos.
O, and I’m going to Tierra del Fuego tomorrow, so you’ll be hearing from me sooooon about that!
Time for another update on my travels around South America :) I think I mentioned to most of you last week that I have plans to see a lot of different places while I’m here, and that means trips about every other week or so until the end of October (eek!). Last Wednesday, I got home from Chile, where I went with 4 friends: Alicia, Allison, Jessi and Meghan.
The issue with going to either Chile or Brazil is that they have reciprocal visa policies, and because it is difficult for their citizens to get into the US, they make it difficult for us to get into their countries. So for a North American to get into Chile, you have to fly there and pay US$100. OR, to get by that fee, you can sit on an uncomfortable bus for 21 hours and they’ll just let you in no problem when you get there. So we went by bus, of course, but there is limited service to Santiago from Buenos Aires, so the bus is what they call “semi cama” or half-bed. This means that the seats are really narrow and only lean back about 8 inches, and I didn’t realize this until we got on the bus, but they also don’t give you a blanket.
None of that really matters though, of course, because we were going to chile! I can handle just about anything for 20 hours if it means I get to see a new country. AND the sweet thing was that we got the front row of seats, so there was nothing but window in front of us. There was a fantastic lightning storm that night, with the added thrill of the driver driving down the middle of the highway, full speed ahead in the pouring rain and oncoming traffic. It was super cold at night, and I didn’t sleep very well, but right after sunrise we headed into the Andes. It was so beautiful, and then we realized why the trip takes so long when it is only 13 hours across Argentina. The other 7 or 8 hours is for driving 5km an hour up the mountains and down the other side. We made it across the border without having to pay anything, although we were a bit miffed that our Chilean stamps didn’t show up very well on our passports. Then we went down the curviest rode ever, where we thought we would tip over the side of it on the way down the mountain, but again, we had front row seats for the excitement.
But then we got to Chile and the real fun started. 5 people were a lot to travel with, but we were really flexible and didn’t mind splitting up to venture out on our own. I had told my friend Kristi that I would look into finding a co-op to buy hand made crafts for World Markets (I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s a non profit in Seattle that sells things made by artists around the world) so I found the co-op and picked out a bunch of stuff to buy online later (thank goodness I didn’t have to shlep it all back to Buenos Aires!). The best part was just being in a brand new city all by myself, finding my way around.
Our hostel was in a really artsy neighborhood called Bellavista, and we heard (after booking it) that it wasn’t a great area as far as safety, but really, it was fine. All the buildings are painted different bright colors, with lots of cute restaurants around. Our hostel was really homey, with big beds and down comforters (way nicer than my bed in Buenos aires!) and some nice people who worked there, and some awkward ones, but they just added to the ambience.
The next day we went to Valparaiso, where we frolicked around for a day and a half. The highlight there was definitely seeing Pablo Neruda’s house, a famous poet who was exiled for writing things against the corrupt government. His house is designed to look like a ship, and there are beautiful views of the city and the water below from every floor. The house is still full of his furniture (he died in 1972ish) and we wondered how much money we would have to pay to buy it from the Pablo Neruda Foundation. We figured about a trillion dollars. Although, he had 2 other houses in the area, so really, what’s one less? I claimed the master bedroom.
The funniest moment in Chile: the 5 of us were walking down the street on the way to Pablo’s house, and a man walked by us, and stopped the conversation he was having on the phone to say, “O my God! Welcome to Chile beautiful ladies!” and then went back to his conversation, probably telling his friend ALL about us :)
Valparaiso is built on the side of a hill, and all the buildings and houses go up, away from the beach. Pablo’s house is up toward the top, so we started walking down the hill to where we started, and it was cold and windy, so we stopped in at a little restaurant for a cup of coffee. We ended up staying there for a long time, admiring the view, and then decided to stay for a leisurely dinner and dessert. So all of that added up to about 5 ½ hours, but it was soooo fun, and all 5 of us were there, and we had great conversations and laughed a lot. It was really the perfect way to spend an evening.
The best part of being in Chile was just looking around and seeing the sights. Valparaiso is all the way across the country from Santiago, which is about an hour and a half. All the way there were rolling green hills and little towns and houses, a few cows, some forest, cacti, and then BAM! The ocean. All in a matter of minutes. It felt very South America, and very calm. That was the great thing about Santiago, it’s so much calmer than Buenos Aires, and feels a lot smaller (the buildings are generally a lot smaller, whereas in BA it feels like they’re all skyscrapers). But it also feels so much safer than Montevideo. It’s the best :)
The charming thing about transportation there is that they have colectivos, which in Argentina means city bus, but in Chile means an inexpensive taxi that has certain streets it goes to. They wait in a certain area, and when they have enough people to fill one (or more than fill one with the 5 of us) then off they go! It reminded me of how I’ve heard that in Mexico they have micros, which are like VW buses that they cram with people and drive like crazy all over the city. This isn’t that intense, but it’s definitely a thrill.
We walked all over the beach on Sunday, and then Monday we were back in Santiago for more sightseeing. Jessi and Allison had to leave for BA on Monday afternoon to get back for a midterm, but Alicia and Meghan and I didn’t leave until Tuesday morning. We met a ton of international friends at our Santiago hostel the second time we were there, and Meghan and I had dinner with 2 british guys, a brazilian and a dutch guy on Monday night. It was really fun, and I even learned all about the british flag (apparently its made up of the English, Scottish, welsh and northern irish flags put together, but I haven’t checked that yet…).
Also on Monday I went to the 2 highest points in Santiago, Santa Lucia and Cerro San Cristobal. The city was a bit smoggy, but it’s still pretty, because it looks like the mountains end RIGHT where the city starts, which, they very well could. I wanted to walk to the mountains from our neighborhood, but Meghan thought that would be ridiculous. I thought of you, Ashley Pottenger, when I wanted to walk across the city of Santiago, because I know you’d do it with me! You are my inspiration :)
I am sending you photos too, of the coast, my friends, the curvy road and the Andes. And, as always, to see more pictures you can find them at: www.flickr.com/photos/a_mesaros
And, I am going to Iguazu falls this weekend with my program, and I’m expecting it to be GORGEOUS (there are over 250 waterfalls where 2 rivers come together at the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. Romantic? O, I think it will be. Check for more pics next week!
PS, as I am writing this, I am watching the Sound of Music with my roommate Kim, and here is a direct quote: “I would give my life to be in this movie singing” Beautiful.
Hello friends! It’s time for another update on Argentina. First, just in case you don’t get past this first part here are the most important things you need:
NEW photo website: http://flickr.com/photos/a_mesaros/
Address: Cespedes 2539 Piso 7 Depto D
(1426) Capital Federal
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Send me letters and postcards! But no packages, it’s a long process to pick them up at the post office :(
OK, now for the update! As you probably know by now, I am here with AIFS, a group of 15 students from the US. This past weekend, we all went to Uruguay together. We had been to Uruguay before, to a small town called Colonia, which is just about the cutest thing ever, and this time we were in Punta del Este and Montevideo.
I was talking to my dad the night before we left, and he said he thought Uruguay should be hotter than Buenos Aires, and that got me thinking about how it is a bit closer to the equator, but not so much that it would make a huge difference in temperature, you know? And then, it hit me: it’s JUST like going to Oregon from Seattle. It is indeed closer to the equator (just like Oregon in relation to Washington…) and we flew there in about 40 minutes which is just like flying from Portland to Seattle. And then I started seeing all these similarities that are really there between the northwest and the Argentina/Uruguay situation. The people here and in Uruguay speak with the same accent, and have a lot of the same traditions and customs, the weather is similar…Montevideo is a smaller, less popular version of Buenos Aires…You do see the connection, don’t you? The similarity is striking. Something for all of us to consider.
But getting to what we did there…we flew over there last Friday, and it was cool because this is a group of people I wouldn’t normally travel with, but they were really fun nonetheless. (We’re going to Iguazu falls in 3 weeks together and that should be really fun too!) When we arrived in Montevideo we took a bus an hour and a half to Punta del Este, which is the town on the very corner of Uruguay where the Rio de la Plata meets the Atlantic ocean. We walked around town for a bit and then chillaxed until going to dinner. Dinner that night totally rocked. We went to this little restaurant down by the water and I sat with a group of girls on a couch in the corner and we sat around chitchatting and eating for a few hours. We were with Valentina, a coordinator for our program who is our age, and it was the first chance I’d had to have a really good talk with her, and it totally rocked. Especially because it was in Spanish.
I feel like I’ve sort of hit a wall with Spanish. I’ve been here over 2 months now, and I have about 2 ½ left, but I feel like I’m not getting enough practice. My roommate Kim and I decided last week that we’re only going to speak Spanish together, which lasted about 3 days. I will make her start again tonight for sure. It’s been hard to meet argentines, and the first people I knew here were students from the states, so generally that’s who I hang out with, you know? I’m working on it though, I promise! I just feel like its so much easier to meet people when I’m traveling. More updates to come on that :)
Moving right along, I have been accomplishing a lot of firsts here while studying abroad (rappelling, feeding pigeons, snowshoeing, whalewatching…) and now…gambling! We went to a casino after dinner on Friday night, and I lost $10 on electronic blackjack. I totally didn’t even see it coming; I had been doing so well. Next time, I’ll win it all back I’m sure.
One of the best parts of the trip was the people we met by the harbor in Punta del Este. Meghan and I were just walking along on sat. afternoon and met Mariana, an artist. She paints scenes of Punta del Este and puts really good quotes on them by Spanish/latin American authors. They’re hard to describe, but really well done, so I bought a bunch of them for World Markets. (World Markets is a non-profit run by my friend through UPC, my church at home, and they support artists by selling their art in the states).
After chatting with Mariana for awhile, we moved on down the water a ways to where the fishermen were cleaning their fish, and there were sea lions hanging out there waiting for the fish scraps. There was a guy that just seemed really at home there, and he started telling us all about the sea lions, and we thought he was a fisherman, but it turns out that he was just there visiting with his wife from Montevideo. We ended up talking to them for about an hour without even noticing! The sea lions were really fun, and so was the couple we met. The woman was carrying around a half-empty bottle of wine, which should give you an idea of just how fun she was :)
I had some of the best meat of my LIFE in Montevideo on Saturday night. It’s called matambrito de cerdo, and it’s the upper-side area of the pig. The seasonings, saltiness and tenderness of that dinner was so heavenly. When I got in bed that night I told Meghan I was still thinking about my food and how it had changed my life. I’ve never enjoyed a piece of pork so much.
Sunday we went to a huge flea market that had everything from gold fish to puppies to underwear, to jewelry and produce. We wandered around there for awhile and then held the most unhealthy puppies I’ve ever seen in my life (wow, sounds like a lot of extremes—best pork, worst puppies—but I guess Uruguay is just an extreme place, who knew?!). I was holding a little baby yellow lab, and I told the vendor that she was thirsty, and his response was “O, ok, I’ll give her a coke, hahahahaha.” Pretty much not ok. Whenever I set one down in their box, they didn’t move around at all, they just laid there exactly how I left them. That would not go over very well in the US, but I could not write an email long enough about all the differences I’ve experienced.
The rest of the time there we hung out at the beach, which in Montevideo is actually at the river, not the ocean, but still good. The beach was super crowded and a ton of people were playing soccer and drinking mate (maté). There’s a wall along the road separating it from the beach, and it was completely covered with people sitting along it, and other people brought chairs to just chillax on the sidewalk by the wall. It was 30 degress C, or 80 F which was nice, but pretty humid as well. Also, there was a big dead fish problem. In both Punta del Este and Montevideo, the Atlantic and the Rio, there were dead fish EVERYWHERE. So we didn’t so much go in the water, except to say we’d been in the Atlantic in Uruguay.
I hope you’re all doing well, and enjoying the last little bit of official summer time up there. I realize that I mostly tell you all about my travels, so I’m going to come up with some fun stuff from my everyday life in Buenos Aires, since that’s where I spend most of my time. I’m going to Chile with 4 friends next week, leaving on Thursday, so you’ll be getting more updates about that when I get back! I also just have to tell you that right now it is raining harder than I ever remember seeing it rain. I’m in the library at school, and if there wasn’t an underground tunnel to my class, I really don’t know if I would go.
Anywho, as always, I love hearing from you, and I’m thinking about you all! I could use some prayer for continuing to build solid friendships and more people to have one on one conversations with in Spanish—its SO important!
On Sunday of this week, my program, AIFS, took us to an Estancia (ranch) about an hour outside the city. Unfortunately it was raining, and I knew that even before I got out of bed, because Meghan called asking if she still had to go because she wanted to stay inside where it was warm and dry (she did end up going, but because her host mom told her to, not because of me). Kim (my roomie) and I walked over to where we were meeting the bus and my feet got wet in the rain and puddles, and stayed wet all day :(
BUT, when we got there we had really delicious empanadas (which I know how to make now, and I’m going to make them for all of you at Christmas!). We went to the barn, and watched a guy milk a cow, and then a few people tried it too. Then we all got on some really angry horses and I was one of the first, so there was time to sit around being worried that I was going to get thrown off if and when my horse got in a fight with another one. Luckily that didn’t happen! Then we went for a short ride around a couple fields, and my horse kept putting his ears back and trying to run around the other horses, and my saddle was slipping sideways, which was a bit unpleasant. Then as we were getting back to the barn, my horse (and Kristina and Nick’s horses) kept stopping to eat grass and I couldn’t make it start walking again for more than 5 seconds at a time. So one of the guys who works there kept hitting my horse to make it go, and then it would start running! Soooo not ok! And then he just stopped and ate again.
Then we had a carriage ride around the ranch, and sat by a fire for a minute before going into the dining area to eat lots and LOTS of meat. Asado (barbecue) is really traditional in Argentina, so that’s what we had, and they brought us several courses of it: sausage (and blood sausage, which is…interesting…), chicken, and at least 2 kinds of beef. While we were eating there were dancers and singers performing typical songs and dances from various parts of Argentina. Then one guy played songs on his guitar from the countries of people who were visiting—Russia, Colombia, Peru and the US. And Ben, from my group got up and sang When the Saints go Marching On for the US portion of it. An AMAZING lunch! Also, the ice cream was delish.
The next part of our day was to go out and see the gauchos in action. Gauchos are traditional Argentine cowboys, so we sat and watched them race their horses and herd horses and there was even a horse whose best friend is a dog. What could be cuter? Also, there’s this tradition where women hang their rings on a bar above the rider’s head so he has to ride by and stand up on his horse and grab it and then offer it to her. Then they get married *sigh*…¡que romántico! And then we had mate (gaucho tea) and ate cookies and talked to our program coordinators. Liza and Valentina came with us, and they sat and patiently explained the difference between llevar and traer, which is to take and to bring, respectively, and depends on the geographical location of the speaker.
It was a fun day, even though my horse made me a bit nervous! It was really nice to come home after a day in the rain to take a hot shower and watch the last 3 episodes of season 3 of Desperate Housewives :)
On Friday night I went to the ballet for the first time! Six girls went together because people 25 and younger can get tickets for 90% off an hour before the show. We saw Cinderella for 4 pesos, and we were on the lowest balcony, so that’s a pretty good deal. It’s only 1 peso for the 3rd balcony ($.30) or 6 pesos ($2) for the ground level seats, someday I may splurge and go for that, but I was very satisfied with my experience. It wasn’t exactly the Disney version of the story, but I liked it better because Prince Charming goes all around the world looking for her, and in the movie, he just sends his chauffer to find the girl. A very good experience, and now I feel uber cultured.
Saturday during the day a few of us went to see the Bodies exhibit. You may be familiar with it already, it’s traveling around the US and all over the world, and I’ve just never been in the same city at the same time until now. I don’t know who put the exhibit together, but the premise of it is that since the first humans studied anatomy, it has been true that “To see is to know” (or here, “Ver es saber”). People have chosen to donate their bodies to science after they die and some are displayed as full bodies emphasizing one element. For example, when you first walk in, there’s a plain skeleton and then a whole section on bones with a bunch of examples on display, and they’ll take apart skulls to better show the structure and parts. All of the descriptions were in Spanish, but I could understand it all and learned a lot of interesting tidbits and saw the 3 smallest bones in the body. Everyone always hears about them, but you never get to see them, you know?
So there was the bones room, tendons/joints, nervous system and brain, muscles, reproductive, cancers, and more. None of it was all that terribly gross, but the way the bodies are preserved makes them look a lot like plastic, and they put glass eyes in the faces. Oh, and in the muscle room (there’s always a full body before the individual parts that go with it) the body had all the muscles pulled out away from the bones and fanned out. That was freaky.
It’s REALLY interesting, and if you want to hear some gross descriptions, I can tell you more. But seriously though, if you get the chance, you should most def. go.
Last week I started my volunteering project, which is called Vecinitos, or Little Neighbors, a little hole in the wall place out in Soldati that serves free lunch to 100+ kids and a few adults 5 days a week. My roommate Kim, and our friend Bridgitte (from Chapman!) went together. It was their second time, but my first.
Soldati is the neighborhood in Buenos Aires where this place is located. It is a much poorer area than tourists ever go to, and is a big change from my middle class neighborhood where I live with my host family, but it isn’t the poorest area of BA. It isn’t really safe to take pictures there, because I don’t want to get mugged, but maybe some day I will take pictures inside the dining room. Maybe the org. that sent me there has some on file I can show you…Anyway, if you are familiar at all with Tijuana, Mexico, it’s like that, but the houses are more solid. There are places in BA where you can find houses made of cardboard, but that’s not where this is. In Soldati, they have dirt roads and a LOT of garbage out on the streets, and behind houses, etc.
It is safe for us to go there during the day, but that’s especially because there are three of us together. Kim and Bridgitte found a woman there the first week while they were looking for Vecinitos, and we stopped by her place again, and she walked us to where we were going. We thought she just wanted to so we could visit, but then when Matilda, one of the women who volunteers there every day, walked us to our metro stop afterward, we realized they think we need protection in that neighborhood, which we definitely appreciate. While we were waiting for the metro, Matilda was telling us a bit about herself and asking us a few questions, but she really wasn’t talking a LOT, and then she told us that we shouldn’t really talk too much in that area because people would know that we aren’t from there. It’s VERY interesting.
Vecinitos itself is a government funded free lunch program. It is in a fairly small building that may or may not have some living space above it. The ground floor is a big dining room with prob. 5 tables in it that seat from 8-15 people each. There is a kitchen past that, and 6 or 7 women that are there every day to cook food and wash dishes, but only 2 or 3 of them are paid, the rest are volunteers, and all of them live in that neighborhood. The government only provides a small amount of money, but they do provide all the food. This location has been operating for 16 years, and Matilda has been there the whole time. She told us it was better before, but since the economic crisis in 2001, there’s still enough food, but as much variety, etc. It’s incredible that they have these lunch places set up the way they do, and evidently they are pretty common in those parts of town, but they are lacking, you know, it could always be better, but it is a good system. I think the main thing is that the women there should be employed, but there isn’t always money for that.
So they pretty much have their routine down, but what they need us for is to serve the food to the kids. They dish it up on plates from small to large and then serve the littlest kids first. We just run food out from the kitchen and make sure everyone is fed and that they have enough water and bread out at the tables. The kids are SO cute, but there isn’t really any opportunity to talk to them, so that’s a bummer. The volunteers there are really cool though, and have really interesting backgrounds, so I will be interested to get to know them better in the next few weeks. We have time to chat with them when we clean up afterward, so I’ll have to take advantage of that.
Marcelo is Matilda’s son, and he was really helpful in telling us what we need to do, and I don’t think he speaks any English, but he’s really patient and explains things really well and speaks clearly. He even taught Kim a bunch of new words that she’s going to have to teach me. It’s a great opportunity to get out into the city and do something for someone else, even though it’s just a small contribution. We’ll see what happens with that! God does amazing things with seemingly small opportunities, so I’m just going to keep my eyes open and serve the best that I can.