Friday, December 10, 2010

home sweet home

Back at the end of October, I remember having conversations about the heat or how much people in Argentina go out at night, and being told "Oh Mia, just you wait... this is nothing." I would laugh and make a joke about 'nothing' in English must mean something very different, then... but after a few days of 90 degree temperature differences between here and Northfield and not being able to quite remember what it was like to not stay up till morning, I finally am realizing that I should never doubt a Formoseño again. The time since returning from Patagonia has gone by just as fast (if not faster) than the trip itself. While all the traveling I've been able to do so far has been absolutely amazing, I can't tell you how good it feels to be "back home" again. And Formosa really does feel that way- like home. Not in the sense that it feels like my home back in Minnesota, in fact, it doesn't feel like Northfield even slightly. It feels like home in the sense that I can give directions and know which bus line to take to get from place to place, I know which banks allow me to take out the most money at a time, and of course have the ice cream flavors at both Grido and Gnomo practically memorized (not that deciding on just two flavors is any easier that way). My family here really does feel like family and, despite being 5'7" and blonde, I feel like I fit in with them perfectly. There's not a doubt in my mind that I hit the jackpot with where I am right now- my family, my friends, my home, my city, everything. But the four month mark came out of no where this time and with the way December is going so far, I can already tell time will only pick up from here. So how bout a few highlights from the past two weeks, eh?

Festival de Folklore
The night we arrived back in Formosa, Mauricio (my future host brother) had a performance at the amphitheater in town. Not knowing anything else, but convinced it would be adorable, I tagged along with Carmen (future host mom) and Jim (other American). As we found our way to our seats, we were surrounded by little boys dressed as gauchos and girls in bright colored dresses running around in every direction. The south may have been stunning, but there was nothing like three-hours of traditional dancing and singing to make me appreciate how unique and rich Formosa's culture really is. 

Back in October, I started taking these art classes at the theatre downtown. For 10 pesos a month (virtually nothing), you can take as many classes and subjects as you want. Besides the buck fifty double-scoop-chocolate-dipped-crunch-topped ice cream cone downtown, it's the best deal around. So naturally, I was just itching to start classes back up in December. Once I walked in the art institute, however, I realized they were taking everything down- and was told by Roque (the incredibly nice man that works there) that unfortunately there aren't classes until February because the air conditioning is too expensive during the summer! I was bummed but fine with this knowing how busy December was going to be and the fact that I'll be in Brazil all of January, but Roque wouldn't let me leave without being able to offer me something to do. So I am currently on a team of artists working to construct and paint a mural for a nature reserve here in Formosa! Can't believe my luck on landing that one. 

Basketball games
Formosa's basketball stadium is just a little over three blocks from my house, and I have been running around it all year long, but over the past two weeks my friends and I have really made the most of it and are becoming true Union fans. Their star player, David Jackson, is from the States and naturally Jim and I are determined to go to enough games and cheer in enough English to catch his attention and become chums. While that plan is still in action, we did end up meeting Meaghan Mikulas from North Carolina. She is married to another of the players, is super sweet, and in her very Argentinean way has already invited us to go to the beach or out to an asado! Only in Formosa, I'm tellin you. 

Asados, Poker, Mechanical Bulls and Flood Football

All separate highlights, of course, just all with the same crazy Argentinean group. One of my closest friends here in Formosa comes from a big family with even bigger personalities. They are all so extremely generous and friendly, and although I never know what exactly a night with them has in store, I can always be sure my cheeks will literally sting from smiling once it's over (so usually around 6 in the morning). With their backyard and patio as the stage, they bring the entertainment with nights of dancing cumbia, playing poker, singing karaoke, playing football in the middle of a downpour, or even renting a mechanical bull just for kicks and giggles. Fortunately Lucas and his girlfriend Cele are two of the few from my course staying in Formosa to study next fall (March, that is), so I know the memories made with this family will keep coming all year long. 

Summer Heat
The days here in Formosa can get hot. And I mean really hot. There have been a number of days where has showed an 80 or even 90-degree temperature difference between here and Northfield. It feels absolutely nothing like December, and naturally- I'm loving it. My favorite pastime has become laying out in the sun in my backyard, listening to music and eating the fresh fruit I bought from the corner. (side note: the fruit itself should deserve it's own highlight bullet point- I am pretty sure I eat my body weight in papaya, pineapple, mango, watermelon, kiwi and strawberry every week here). Add in some cool tereré and talks about life with Graciela and it becomes a truly perfect day. The sun is stronger down here, though, which meant that I got my first non-snow induced December sunburn, but it was well worth the red, and since my goal is to become more tan by February than I ever have been in August, the strong summer sun with work in my favor by the end. 
"one serving"

It took me two tries, but I am officially done graduating from high school! I walked out the doors of Colegio Nacional for the last time this morning after the ceremony and couldn't help but to think back to my real graduation back at NHS. The two ceremonies were almost nothing alike. Of course there were the inevitable similarities between every graduation: the principal or superintendent that gives the long welcome, the parents that patiently wait through the list of students until their child's name is called so they can cheer loudly and snap a dozen photos, and
my diploma
the student speaker that begins their speech with "Well, class of (insert year), we did it." Here, however, there was neither the graduation song nor caps thrown in the air at the end. Instead, the ceremony went something like this: at 8:15, students began to gather in the courtyard of our school. The 'patio' (or big open area with a stage on one end) was covered in plastic chairs and had been decorated by sheets of fabric strung overhead. Of course millions of pictures were taken as people gathered around the classmates they would soon part with, and the excitement in the air was mixed with that all too familiar feeling of nostalgia. About 15 minutes before the ceremony was supposed to actually begin, the sky opened up and everyone climbed over each other to escape the pouring rain. The students then took full advantage of the extra 45 minutes without power to take more pictures, chant more songs, and clap and dance all over the patio. Finally, the lights came back on and the ceremony began (see long welcome/waiting through list of students/sentimental speech, above, for info on that) but instead of patiently sitting through all of this- there were chanting and clapping, constant cheering, and 'the wave' was even pulled out a few times as student after student went up to receive their certificate.  It was nice to see Colegio Nacional was as much of a chaotic fiesta the my last time there as it was my first, and while I can't deny that I'm happy to be on summer vacation for a number of reasons, I think I might actually miss that crazy place. 

It's Starting to Look a Lot Like Christmas (sorta)
Although it seems impossible to believe this is December, and that X-mas is just (check the countdown) 15 days away- I love that I am finally able to blast Christmas carols and hang lights in the middle of summer without getting the usual eye-roll from Sam! And though it seems bizarre to see the decoration-section snowman-free, the fact that there are palm trees hung with ornaments completely makes up for it. I think that if Christmas weren't completely new and different this year, the homesickness would kick in a lot more- but I won't EVER have a Christmas anything like this one again, so I'm going to make the most of it.

Sam and his ginger beard, a christmas tree, and santa ornaments... ah the holidays

Plus, with my very good friend Skype, I was able to take part in the Estenson holiday traditions this year as well! Last Sunday, I sat down with my computer and skyped the fam as we had part 1 of our family Christmas. We hung up our santa and angel ornaments (a tradition our family has- throughout the year we keep our eyes peeled for a santa for Sam and an angel for me that represents our year in someway. Sam's ornament this year was a Santa with a yellow lab, in honor of our new dog, Abbey, and mine was an angel that I had bought with Erin and Lizzie on our spring break trip down to Mexico) we set up our Dickens' Village, and mom even read me a Christmas story by the fire. It was exactly as it always is each year, (which is also a clear display of how Grandma Beske passed the sentimental/tradition loving gene straight through Mom to me) but I couldn't help but to be reassured that despite not being there this year, that there are some things that will never change.  I love those three so incredibly much- I think I could travel the world twice and still not come up a better crew.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

to the south and back

Argentina just gets more amazing everyday. I knew even before I left that this trip would be hard to put into words once I got back, I just didn't realize how near impossible it would be for me to summarize the highlights.... mainly because I didn't think just about every point would be a high for me. The truth is, however, that when you take 80 outgoing, energetic, adventurous people from all over the world and put them on a bus to travel throughout gorgeous Patagonia for three weeks, you can't expect anything but a good time.

We arrived in Córdoba mid-morning on Tuesday the 9th and we spent the first couple hours in a shopping mall in the city getting to know each other. About a fourth of the crew I had already met during our weekend at Iguazu Falls, and since in the exchange-student world a weekend is all the time you need to become best friends, it was fun to reunite with so many of them. A few hours (and my first McDonalds experience in Argentina) later, we were loaded up on busses and headed for our first stop: Puerto Madryn.

Puerto Madryn
Though the drive was a long one (1,500 km!), time passes quickly when you're playing games or watching movies or turning the bus into a make-shaft disco and getting to know people from all over the world... and the final destination was well worth spending a night on the bus. We took advantage of a chance to stretch our legs immediately after arriving and spent the evening exploring the coastline, grabbing a bite to eat at a corner cafe, doing an already much-needed YouTube abs workout to try to battle our alfajore intake, and enjoying some quality girl-talk as we fell asleep (okay, crashed) in our rooms. 

The next morning we were up bright and early at 5:20am with an incredible day of sights ahead of us. Our first stop was at Puerto Pirámides. Here, we piled out of the busses, strapped on some lovely orange life jackets, and boarded the boats to go whale watching. Admittedly, I thought we were just in store for a nice boat ride and pretty view of the coast, with the chance of seeing a whale or two in the distance... but just a few minutes out on the water and we were snapping our cameras like crazy at whales not more than 10 meters away. Before heading back home, we stopped at Caleta Valdés where we saw one of the world's largest colonies of adorable, chubby sea elephants laying out in the sun. Back in Puerto Madryn that night, a group of us decided to get a game of ultimate frisbee going down on the beach, and once we realized that it was far too windy, we improvised and our game of frisbee turned into a two hour game of beach-rugby and one of my favorite nights of the trip. It was the perfect way to cap off our stay at Puerto Madryn before heading further south to El Calafate!

El Calafate
After another nightlong road trip (highlighted with satisfying my craving for microwave popcorn and stopping at a penguin colony!) we arrived in El Calafate, Argentina. Of all the amazing cities we stayed in throughout the trip, El Calafate ranked way up there. The clear touristic highlight of the trip was spending a day at the Perito Moreno glacier- the only growing inland glacier on earth. We took a million pictures of the glacier and the Cerro Fitz Roy mountain peaks from our cruise boat and from land, where we could really get a good view of the calving. Call me a sucker for the simple stuff- but as amazing as this day was, it was equally matched by the ways we spent our free time: tanning and playing frisbee at the base of the Andes, grazing through the souvenir shops and local art fairs, and making an "American breakfast" of french toast, scrambled eggs and bacon in our cabin.

 From El Calafate, we took off for EL FIN DEL MUNDO, Ushuaia!
I know I just said El Calafate ranked way up there, but I think hanging out in the Southern-most city in the world took the cake. If you look on a map, you'll see that the very tip of Argentina is actually not connected to the rest of the country, meaning that you have to drive through Chile in order to get to Ushuaia (more importantly, meaning more stamps to our passports and adding dolphins to our list of spotted wildlife!).

Though we didn't arrive in Ushuaia till late at night, it's far enough south that the sun was just setting behind the mountains and we got a perfect view of the city and harbor below lit up like a little Christmas village.
Our schedule for down in Ushuaia was really relaxed and open, with a few trips around the city or to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, allowing us lots of time to explore on our own and use the phrase "we're at the end of the world, why not?" as much as possible.

Lake District: Esquel, Bariloche, San Martin de los Andes

Before I knew it we were packing up our suitcases and heading off to the next stop. The drive from Ushuaia to Argentina's lake district is a long one, but almost two days, over 2000km, and about a dozen games of truth or dare later... we arrived.

Throughout the next five days, we traveled between Esquel, Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes. I don't know (or know if I want to know) how many pictures of the mountains and lakes I took- but every turn our bus took around the winding roads gave us a view that topped the last in sheer beauty. We went to National Parks, a chocolate factory, walked up and down the streets window shopping, and my personal favorite: swimming at the base of the Andes. 

The other exchange students on the trip were incredible and I feel like I've known some of them for years instead of just a few weeks. I met people from every background who, after this year, are going to head out in every direction.. but for this trip, we were all together to have a good time and see a little more of this awesome country. And it was better than I ever even imagined. 

ps- I've loaded all my pictures from this blog and a few more onto another tab titled (creatively) "photos"

Monday, November 8, 2010

patagonia, here i come!

Today I leave for the long anticipated Rotary trip to Patagonia! I have (finally) packed up my suitcase and backpack, have gone to the bank to pull out the extra cash I'll be needing, and have said so-long to my classmates. Now all I have to do is sit and wait for my bus to come so I can be on VACATION! 

I'll be gone for just under three weeks and will have no idea how to sum up a three week vacation to Patagonia with friends from all over the world once I get back. SO, instead I've decided just to post the itinerary of my trip here and be able to spend more times on the details and highlights upon my return! 

  • Nov 9: Córdoba – Puerto Madryn. Departure at 14:30 hs making stops in Río Cuarto; Santa Rosa de la Pampa, Río Colorado and San Antonio Oeste.
  • Nov 10: Puerto Madryn. At mid day arrival to the cabins and rooms distribution. During the afternoon we will make a city tour visiting seaside promenade, quay and monument to the Tehuelche Indian in Punta Cuevas where we will have an magnificent view of the city.
  • Nov 11: Puerto Madryn. Full day excursion to Reserva Provincial Península de Valdés. Walking round the Florentino Ameghino isthmus Patagonical Fauna Interpretation Center. Arrival to Puerto Pirámides and travel by boat for incredible experiences: Sea trip for seashore sightseeing and observing the magnificent Southern Frank Whales and sea wolves on their natural habitants. Return to the quay. Lunch. In the afternoon we will go to Caleta Valdés where we will find one of the world´s biggest sea elephants colonies and where we might have the chance to see „Orcas“ (wrongly known as killer whales).
  • Nov 12: Puerto Madryn-Calafate. Departure at approx. 07.30 hs visiting Trelew and the Reserva Faunistica Cabo dos Bahias where the biggest continental colony of Magallanes Penguin is living. There besides watching their particular uses and behaviours we will have the opportunity to see the most spectacularly calmed and deep blue sea unique in the patagonic seashores. Around 18.00 hs we will go towards Calafate stopping in Comodoro Rivadavia (for having dinner), San Julian, Piedrabuena and Esperanza.
  • Nov 13:  Calafate. Arrival at mid day. Lunch. Free afternoon for resting or walking around the city whose main turistic natural attraction is the spectacular „Lago Argentino“ which consists of the melted water from the argentinian glaciers.
  • Nov 14: Calafate. Excursion to the Parque Nacional los Glaciares: Departure approx. at 08.30 hs. We will travel around the shores of the Lago Argentino where we will be able appreciate in just 80 km the vegetation which will  change from praries to forrest, besides the enormous snowy peacks. With a little bit of attention inside the  leafy woods we might have the opportunity to watch deer, fox and native birds such as condors. After making a stop in the park administration we shall proceed to the final destination „El Glaciar Perito Moreno“ (the only growing inland glacier on earth). Lunch and free day to walk around the viewpoints located in front of the glacier which has a total length of 5 kms. Return to Calafate at approx. 18.00 hs
  • Nov 15: Calafate. Day to make optional activities like Trekking in the „Glaciar Perito Moreno“, Cerro Fitz Roy and Lago del Desierto, excursions by boat to the different lakes and glaciers such as Spegazzini, Mayo and Upsalla. Furthermore you will have the chance of visiting cave paintings  from the local indians.
  • Nov 16: Calafate-Ushuaia. Departure at 04.00 hs hs towards the city of Ushuaia making stops in Rio Gallegos the argentinian custom, the chilean custom and Rio Grande. The attractivity of this journey is that for 4  hours  we will pass through chilean territory because it is the only terrestrial access to the province of Tierra del Fuego. Then for an hour  we will go by ferry through the Strait of Magallanes. The arrival hour to the city of Ushuaia depends on the duration of customs and immigration paperwork of the international police  but it is estimated that the arrival will be during the late night.
  • Nov 17: Ushuaia. Free Morning for resting. Lunch. Travelling from the city Ushuaia up to the  „Cerro Martial“. At the end of the afternoon you will have the chance to go shopping (tax free).
  • Nov 18: Ushuaia. Excursion to the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego: walking around mountain roads between leafy forrests which contains local flora like lenga, cohiue, nire, canelo, and more than 30 kinds of bracken and 400 kinds of moss besides the uncountable amount of wild flowers. After observing the beautiful panoramic views of Canal de Beagle its mountainous islands and the limits between the argentinian and chilean islands will arrive to the majestic Bahía Lapataia where is the ending of the road we are travelling through „ruta nacional numero 3“. There we will have reconaissance walk with a specialized guide. Return to the city and free afternoon to take a boat excursion over the „Canal de Beagle“ (Optional).
  • Nov 19: Ushuaia - Esquel. Departure at 06.00 hs towards Río Gallegos by the same road we have already travelled to get into Tierra del Fuego Island. Stop in Rio Grande, customs and Río Gallegos where ww will have dinner. After dinner we continue the trip to Esquel.
  • Nov 20: Esquel. Arrival during afternoon. Free day for resting.
  • Nov 21: Esquel - San Carlos de Bariloche. Departure during the morning visiting the Parque Nacional los Alerces. The trip starts at the park administration where you will listen to an informative talk and later you can visit the interpretation center and the museum of Los Alerces. After that we will continue to the shores of the Lago Futalaufquen where you will keep on walking surrounded by the vegetation limited by the lake already mentioned until we arrive to the „Pictografias Rupestres“ and the „Mirador Aborigen“. Return to Esquel where we will have lunch. We will visit the town El Bolsón, after that we will  continue the trip to Bariloche. Arrival during the evening.
  • Nov 22: San Carlos de Bariloche. Excursion by the Circuito Chico and Punto Panorámico from where we can appreciate an magnificent view of the Lago Nahuel Huapi and its islands and the background of the snowy peaks of the Cordillera de los Andes. Then we will visit the famous international hotel Llao-Llao. Return to the hotel during the afternoon.
  • Nov 24: San Carlos de Bariloche- San Martín de los Andes. After breakfast we will leave towards San Martín de los Andes by the route de los 7 lagos, visiting Villa la Angostura, Lago Espejo, and Lago Falkner, arriving in San Martín de los Andes approx. at  19 hs. This excursion is depends on the route. 
  • Nov 25: San Martín de los Andes - Córdoba. Departure after lunch, with stops in Piedra del Águila, Neuquén, 25 de Mayo, Santa Rosa de la Pampa y Río Cuarto.
  • Nov 26: Córdoba. Arrival to the City of Córdoba at 13:00 hs.

Did I mention I'm excited?! 

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone back home! I hope you all make the sacrifice of eating an extra scoop of mashed potatoes or slice of apple pie for me :)

Monday, November 1, 2010

the little things make my day

I feel like there are so many things down here that I get so excited about doing, just because it's in Argentina! Not saying that isn't a perfectly good reason to get excited, but often times it's just little things that absolutely make my day. Now this blog isn't about anything particularly impressive or thrilling, and I know that all of you probably have much better stories to tell about your daily lives... but I have a blog. So I guess I can just write about whatever I like, and at least to ME the little things have been pretty exciting.

First little thing that makes my day: I'm friends with taxi drivers. Blondes are rare in Formosa, and since I usually have to take a taxi into town, it didn't take long for me to become a familiar face. Now, there are many times when I'll be out running or walking around town and hear *honk honk* "MIA!!" While in the States, I probably would have found this a tad creepy- here it never fails to make me laugh. 

Second little thing: I spent Halloween on the beach! Had it been any other day, this probably wouldn't have phased me, but it wasn't until I was sitting there with some friends talking about holidays in the US when I realized that was the first and possibly only time I'll ever need to put on sunscreen when I go out for Halloween. 

Third little thing: Not that it was ever really on there in the first place, but I can now check of running a 5k in Argentina off my to-do list! Normally I get up and run before school to avoid hitting the afternoon heat, but with this having been my first day back to school in a while I forgot to reset my alarm. So a couple hours ago I decided to suck it up and just go run, and I'm so happy I did! As I got closer to the track I realized there was a really big crowd (especially for a Monday afternoon) and curiously went to check it out. Turns out I had arrived just in time and that there was a 5k race for Día de los Muertos.  They invited me to compete, and, happy to have people to pace myself with and eager to add another experience to my list, I quickly agreed. I'm not sure if it was actually me being in good shape, or just the combination of music, montage of CC memories running through my head the entire time, and adrenaline that made me kick it into gear, but I ended up coming in third! Now if only race-participation shirts were as popular in Formosa as they are back home... 

Tomorrow is Día de los Muertos, so no school again! Turns out I'll graduate from high school down here having never been to 4 consecutive days :) Instead I'm going to go shopping with my friends in Paraguay and then hit the beach again for the evening. Then just 3 more days of school and I'll be packing my bags for Patagonia! 

Besos y abrazos a todos,

Friday, October 29, 2010

travel (for real this time)

Argentina is so underrated.

My Rotary club asks me what it was that made me want to go to Argentina, my classmates ask me what stereotypes Americans have of their culture, our cook Alicia asks me what were my favorite Argentinian foods before I came down and tried the real thing... To all of them, I am almost too embarrassed to admit that we don't talk about Argentina enough back home for me to have had stereotypes or favorite foods in the first place. 

A year ago, I knew an embarrassingly little amount about it here. I knew that Argentina had Messi and Maradona, tango, and a bunch of meat... but didn't know much else. Now I've realized that there isn't much Argentina DOESN'T have. In terms of natural beauty, they have waterfalls, desert, glaciers, the Andes, fields and grasslands, beaches, and jungle. I feel like the luckiest exchange student in the world because not only am I in such an incredible and diverse country- but I've gotten to travel and see so much of it already!
aren't they adorable?
Last Friday my amazing host parents Vito and Graciela generously took a week out of their busy work schedules, loaded up the pick up, and took the other American exchange student in Formosa, Jim, and I on a big grand adventure. At about 7 Friday night we jumped in the car and drove through: star-studded nights, tiny villages, modern cities, wide open corn and wheat fields, salt flats, miles and miles of vineyards, amazing rock formations, and the Andes. Two days and almost 2000km later we arrived in Mendoza, Argentina. 

Ashley and I finally reunited
Fifteen minutes later I was sprinting around the front of Vito's truck to jump in Ashley Tollefson's arms. For the entire time I have been here, every person I have been in contact with has been someone I have met through Rotary, and so I can't explain the rush of emotion and excitement to suddenly find myself in the middle of Mendoza with someone who has been practically family for the past 12 years- since I became best friends with her little sister, Erin. Ash has been studying abroad here since July and was an amazing guide for our stay. She would take Jim and I around the city whenever we weren't winding 9000m up narrow roads to get a look at Aconcagua (the highest mountain peak outside the Himalayas), taking tours through vineyards on la Ruta de Vino, or eating at outdoor cafes, and it was so good to catch up with her again! 

Saying goodbye was really hard, but fortunately I have a million and two things to look forward to right now. I just got back from a week to Mendoza, am going to be back in Formosa for my last (okay, and first) complete week of school, and then will be taking off on a three week trip down to Patagonia with the other exchange students! Then summer break starts once I get back, I'll have Christmas and New Years in the summer (SO bizarre to think about!), and then I take off again for a month long trip through Brazil! I can't believe how lucky I am!! These next few months are going to absolutely fly by and I can't even imagine the awesome experiences I'll end up with once they are done!

because even if it wasn't exactly the easiest or smoothest drive, it was certainly beautiful. 
Cows in the clouds. Of course I would find this in Argentina.
Mama, you may have needed some serious dramamine for this drive 

I am SO thankful Vito paid attention to road signs

still climbing. 

Vineyards and vineyards all the way until the base of the Andes
Plaza Independencía in Mendoza

wine country

Puente del Inca

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

travel (in a way)

These past two weeks, I have been on one of the best vacations I've taken in a while. I have gotten the chance to meet people I wouldn’t have ever met, do things I’ve never given myself time to do, really see Argentina, and speak a boatload of español. I didn’t go back to Iguazú, not to Buenos Aires, Patagonia, or the Andes… I just shut down my computer and set off to conquer the world.

It’s something they preach at every Rotary event and orientation “don’t spend so much time on the computer!” …but they are always talking to a room full of 15-19 year olds living in the 21st century who have grown up absolutely surrounded by this sweet little thing called ‘technology’, so those long speeches aren’t really all that effective.
‘Cause really, technology is AMAZING! This fall, through Skype I’ve gotten to see the inside of more dorms than my entire college search, been able to watch the reconstruction of our kitchen floors, and even see St. Olaf in the fall (a sight I thought I’d miss for the first time in 18 years). Through e-mails, I’ve been able to get important documents from my dad overnight, see adorable pictures of my cousin Brian’s new baby twins, and send birthday greetings to friends and relatives (since postcards are a rare find down here). Facebook, of course, has kept me up to date on all that is going on back home and in the lives of the other N-field outbounds around the globe. Technology is an awesome, powerful thing.
…That’s the problem. Because it is so (pick word: incredible, fast, easy, free, interesting), it doesn’t take much for it to become a boredom-buster, time-filler, or just an escape back to the good ol’ world of íngles… basically, It’s an awesome, powerful thing that can easily get in the way of an even more awesome and powerful experience- and the real reason I decided to sign up this this loco adventure in the first place. I’m sure all you wise Rotarians out there are hoping to hear that I did this because I was listening and just wanted to be the best exchange student I could be. I can pretend if it makes you feel better, but in all honesty, I just did it for myself; for a little challenge, experiment, and a little me-time.
So, I went AWOL, and shut it down: skype, facebook, e-mail, my blog, everything, OFF. And I loved it. One day, I felt artsy, so I went down to the center and joined the art institute where I will now be taking drawing, painting, ceramics, guitar, voice (what?!) and indigenous art classes for the summer and fall. Another day, I felt hungry, so I spent a few days in the kitchen cooking up a storm and have now mastered a number of traditional dishes. I’ve learned (VERY) basic portuguese online, gotten pretty dang good at yoga, and don’t even know how long I went without speaking or hearing English. It was only two weeks, and unfortunately my dream of conquering the world in such a short time didn't quite happen, but I’ve at least learned to see the world around me in a whole new way. 
and the world, my friends, is pretty freakin’ cool.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Las Cataratas del Iguazú

The minute I learned I was going to be spending this year in Argentina I hopped in the car and hit the travel section of our public library. I still remember the excitement I had as my parents and I flipped through the pages, marveling at pictures of tango-dancers, Patagonia, the Andes, gauchos, and Iguazu Falls. I held the book closer as I landed on the picture of those great waterfalls, trying to imagine what that photographer must have felt like as they stood at the base of those cascades...
...I had no idea.
This weekend it was my turn to be the one standing in awe as I and the 38 other exchange students in our district explored the jungle and waterfalls of Iguazu. I could tell you stats about how at 8,900 feet wide they are the longest waterfalls in the world, or how there is so much water rushing over those 275 cascades that you could overfill twelve Olympic sized swimming pools per second, or I could talk about the monkeys, birds, and wildlife that make up the exotic jungle. I could.. but I can't pretend to be a good enough writer to be able to encapsulate those falls in a blog post.
So instead, I'll do a quick recap of the weekend and leave you with a few pictures in hopes that with 1000 words each they might do a better job:
My weekend started Friday evening as the 3 other exchange students from Formosa and I hopped on a bus and took off. After a quick layover in Resistencia our group grew to thirteen, and by 9 the next morning we were eating pastries at our hotel in Puerto Iguazú. From there the real adventure began: a weekend of hearing about the Rotary trips available throughout the year, of traveling to a lookout point where we could stand in Argentina and look across the river at Paraguay and Brasil, of getting absolutely drenched as our boat sped up to (and under) the crashing waters of Iguazu falls, and a weekend of making amazing memories and friendships with the other exchange students in our district.
I know I say it all the time, but Argentina is so cool.
the exchange students of district 4845 in Argentina, with Paraguay and Brazil in the background! I would have been excited seeing three states at the same time- three countries was pretty amazing.
from left to right, starting in the back:
Belgium, Demark
Washington DC, Minnesota, Germany, and Minnesota!
First glimpse of the falls
From the top of the cascades (holding onto my camera VERY tightly)
Octavio and I getting right up to the edge
Watching as the mist of 'Salto Bossetti' waterfalls soaked those below
Andy, Ruby, Pierre and I taking in the view
The waterfalls and jungle couldn't even fit in the frame
the waterfalls that drenched us from head to toe
(my whimpy poncho couldn't do a thing to keep me dry)
loading the boat
One of the last shots on the boat before our ride turned from 'show' to 'shower'.
In the distance, you can see the Garganta del Diablo (Devil's Throat)- the first of the 275 falls
more waterfalls, more jungle
Las Dos Hermanas
Not looking at ALL like tourists... ;)
Walking out to the Devil's throat. Couldn't have asked for a better day.
Garganta del Diabl0: every second would overfill an Olympic sized swimming pool.
Also, look closely and you can see the rainbow stretched across the cascade
One of the MANY vibrant butterflies

Canon del Diablo and the mist of la Garganta from 230 ft. below