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