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"