After the excitement and adventure from Iguazú a couple weeks ago, unfortunately we were thrown back into reality with every college students' favorite: midterms.... Unfortunately for me, my midterms all got moved up earlier in the schedule than I was anticipating, but after some intensive studying and plenty of highlighter marks on my hands I finally finished and was able to "reward" myself with our next excursion to Colonia, Uruguay. Despite our early call time of 7:30am, it was a day that ended all to soon. We hopped on the ferry for an hour long journey across the Rio de la Pata where we disembarked into the quaint little colonial town (with another stamp in my passport may I add :) ). From there we met with our tour guide for a quick drive around town. Our tour guide was nice enough to let us make some unscheduled stops at the old bull fighting ring and the beach to stretch our legs, take some photos, and enjoy the clean fresh air. I didn't realize how much I actually missed the water and sand beneath my toes until we were standing there and the fresh, quiet air brought the sentiments of home rushing back. Afterwards we continued on with a walking tour of the old city square. Filled with little cafes and uneven cobblestone streets, Colonia was a much needed break from the big city. For lunch we all devoured the meal of choice there which is known as a "chivito" to the locals but should really be called a "heart attack waiting to happen." Complete with chicken, ham, bacon, cheese, fried egg, lettuce, tomato, peppers, olives, mayonnaise, and french fries it was soooo good. Fortunately the sun had come out in full force by the time we finished lunch so we just toured around the city some more enjoying the little alleyways and to walk off some of that lunch! During our solo excursion we found a pier filled with benches where people were taking their afternoons siestas; so we had no choice but to blend in with the locals and take one ourselves. Listening to the water lap onto shore and watching the boats come in to anchor I felt a little bit like I was at home which was perfect. Right before we headed back to the ferry we all slowly, and very carefully walked up a very narrow spiraling staircase to the top of a lighthouse to get the ultimate view of the city and the water. It was so peaceful and yet surreal at the same time to think we had just hopped over to another country for the day. But like I said, our day ended all to soon and we were suddenly back waiting in the customs line to head over to the city.
For me, grand ornate buildings and lavish architecture are impressive and something to marvel at; but what really takes my breath away and draws me in are the natural constructs of the world that have stood the test of time and emerged through their own right, without being designed or constructed by someone for some predetermined purpose. This weekend I had the fortune of jetting off to see such a sight, one which has been deemed one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Iguazú Falls. Located at the intersection of Brazil and Argentina the falls truly are a remarkable sight. No picture can truly do them justice. Our group began our 13 mile hike for the day by working our way to the upper trail to walk along the top of the falls to gain a sense of just how massive they truly are. (Not something I would recommend for those inclined to vertigo.) From that vantage point you can glance across the "Devils Throat" and wave to those visiting on the Brazilian side. After taking plenty of photos from that angle we headed back towards the lower trail to gain another perspective. And while there were plenty of other tourists along the trails doing exactly what we were doing I didn't mind too much. The constant fluttering of butterflies and occasional refreshing mist that surrounded you distracted from the hoards of tourists. Besides, the roar of the water drowned out much of the surrounding conversations. I had thought that not much could beat standing atop a waterfall, but as soon as we made it to the lower trail I was quickly proven wrong. Standing along the bottom of the falls, watching the water come pouring down at ridiculous speeds really does make you feel small. It is a subtle reminder that nature truly rules the land. Especially when our tour guide pointed out that just a few months ago high levels of rainfall raised the water levels so high that the landscaped tourist trails we were walking on were completely submerged by at least 50 feet. But fortunately enough the levels had receded back to normal levels and we were able to hop on a boat that literally took you into the falls. Armored with our bathing suits and lifejackets we cut through the choppy waters and headed straight towards the falls. We lingered just on the outskirts of the falls for a few minutes until we took the plunge and got showered by the falls. Now that is a sight you will never forget. Looking up and seeing all that water rushing towards you was far more fascinating and exhilarating than nerve-racking!
You would think that was enough adventure for the day but it was only the half of it. After drying off and refueling with some lunch we started off for another hike. Thankfully this one was much more level than the inclined terrain of the falls, it was also devoid of the hoards of tourists. This time we could enjoy the sounds of the jungle and only had to speak in casual or hushed tones. About 40 minutes later we arrived at another hidden waterfall. While not part of the grand scheme of falls this one had its own natural swimming pool that we readily took advantage of. And even with its chilled water and uneven, rocky bottom I would take this kind of swimming pool over the fancy one at our hotel any day. Sunbathing on the rocks and taking shade under the broad leaves of the trees was so relaxing; I didn't want to leave!
It was hard to believe that we had fit all of this adventure into just one day (although my feet certainly felt the effects). But for me it was the epitome of beauty. Despite the souvenir shops and the hoards of other tourists there is no denying the grandeur of the falls and their omnipresence. Nature prevails and this weekend truly put into perspective just how small we are as individuals in the global scale. For long after my pictures fade, the water will still be racing over the edges of those cliffs in a beauty all their own.
The other weekend, courtesy of an Argentine holiday, our weekend was even longer than usual so a new friend and I decided to take advantage of our free time and make the most of it by visiting another province in Argentina. Craving some warmer weather we decided to venture north to the small town of Salta, or as it’s affectionately referred to by the locals as, “Salta, la linda” (Salta, the pretty). Since bus travel is the most common method of transport across the country we figured why not do like the locals? Turns out the seats are very nice; it is comparable to flying first class, but the duration is much longer than hopping on a plane. But 20 hours later we finally made it! After finding our hostel and getting situated we decided to just wander the streets and take in the sights. The cathedrals and other surrounding buildings are absolutely gorgeous when illuminated at night. Soon enough we were starving though so we trekked down the uneven cobblestone streets to divulge in some Argentine pasta.
The following morning the real adventures started. Friday was spent wandering around the city, simply exploring. We toured a few of the local museums, some of which had been converted from old military forts or trading outposts, while others were modern sights built within antique architecture. Soon enough it was lunch time so we sought out to find some authentic “empanadas salteñas.” Everyone had told us that they were better than the empanadas in Buenos Aires because for some reason they were just fresher and juicier, and word of mouth certainly did not fail! We found a “Patio de Empanadas” which was sort of a restaurant, consisting of various empanada vendors with their own little kitchens, vying for your service. And at 3pm on a Friday it was refreshing to see how many friends and family were taking their time for lunch and enjoying the sunny afternoon without constantly glancing at their phones or watches. But after we refueled for the afternoon we decided to go for a hike. We found a path that would take you up a mountain to overlook the entire city. And while 1000 steps may not seem that far, when you’re not properly dressed for such a situation once you get to about step 500 or so you start questioning why you thought this was a good idea… But just a short while later the view was definitely worth it! We decided to reward ourselves by visiting an authentic Argentine parilla for dinner. Let’s just say that we ordered a dish that contained various parts of the cow, and that the intestines were not my favorite part.
That Saturday we got up early to be ready for our tour to the Juyjuy providence to visit the Seven Colored Mountain and las Salinas Grandes (salt flats). Our energetic and charismatic tour guide made the two-hour drive there enjoyable, but the constant switchbacks through the mountains were a little rough. But once we made it to our destinations it was as if we were in another world. Everywhere you looked gorgeous mountains and serenity engulfed you. It was humbling too, to think that these mountains have literally stood the test of time and existed long before anyone else, it truly was breathtaking. On our way back down from the mountains we stopped at a small town, that was probably smaller than many suburban neighborhoods in the States, yet it had everything you needed. We enjoyed some native stew (complete with a taste of llama) and went shopping around the local vendors. It was a sunny, beautiful, yet exhausting day.
Sunday we decided to go all out for our last full day. Again we got up pretty early and hopped on yet another bus for a two hour drive, through the mountains of course, for a rafting and zip lining adventure! The outpost that we went to was so nice and clean, and fortunately had wetsuits and shoes for everyone so we didn’t completely freeze. After the mandatory info session Marisa and I hopped into the raft with six European companions and our German/Argentine tour guide for the two-hour float down the river. Again it was an absolutely gorgeous day, and the new prospective provided by floating along the valley of the mountains was incredible. It’s not everyday that you can float through the Andes and catch glances of horses casually grazing on the banks, or try to spot the dinosaur footprints fossilized into the sides of the mountains. After abandoning ship for the last 500 meters to casually float in the river, we warmed up with some traditional asado (Argentine BBQ) before getting geared up. For what…? Just another hike up a mountain. Half an hour later I was flying across the valley suspended by a single wire, and it was the most peaceful and exhilarating sensation. Four passes later and I was safely returned to tierra firma. Lets just say that the bus ride back was pretty quiet because everyone pretty much passed out.
So many things to record, but it really was an ideal weekend. Complete with exploration, adventure, relaxation, good food and beautiful surroundings. I would go back in a heartbeat, and the locals don’t lie; it really is so neat that you’ll fall in love with it.
Here is a little visual aid to help show some of my adventures these past few weeks as I start to explore the city and my new surroundings. I will say that I really do miss the beaches and water of Lake Michigan, but the sights aren't too bad here either.
In the States it seems people are always running in and out of the nearest Starbucks or Biggby Coffee with a large to-go cup in their hand to fuel their day. Coffee is integral with the morning routine, just as much as brushing your teeth is, many times people even refuse to socialize with others until they’ve had their morning cup of joe. But here coffee (café) is a time to sit down, relax, and enjoy the company of others. Admittedly I was never really a coffee drinker; I preferred a simple glass of water or cup of tea to quench my thirst and shake of the zzzz’s. But now, just after three weeks, I can hardly wait to go sit down and grab a cup of coffee with some friends or simply by myself. Perhaps what has attracted me to it now is the experience and atmosphere associated with it. Instead of rushing in and out of the door with your to-go cup (trust me, people look at you weird if you walk on the bus with a coffee for the road), here you need to plan for at least an hour to have a small cup of coffee complete with a small treat or a few cookies, and slow down to just sit and enjoy your surroundings. There is no rush to get somewhere else or worry about what you have to do for the day, you can just talk about anything and everything, or read a newspaper front to back and leave whenever you feel like it. And what’s more is that it is perfectly normal to have a cup of coffee at 5pm rather than 5am. Here it is more of an experience rather than a chore, and it doesn’t hurt that the coffee is better too.
P.s. I still need to inundate my cup of coffee with sugar to satisfy my taste buds, I’m not that used to it yet.
Coffee done the right way. ;)
Well classes have officially been in session for two weeks now, and while it certainly is no Grand Valley State University, it has its own unique charms… Things are much more relaxed and vague here, which is difficult for a structured and organized Type-A person like myself, but I’m learning to go with the flow--gradually. Fortunately, I was able to arrange my schedule so I only have classes Monday through Wednesday (four day weekends!) with one of those classes including a Tango dance class! Dancing in of itself is typically out of my comfort zone, but what better time and place to learn the Tango than in its birthplace? But not only will it hopefully make me a little bit more graceful, but also it really does help you appreciate the culture of it as well. My other classes are just as interesting, from studying the history of Latin America’s relations with the rest of the world to its economic foundations and operations (while in the midst of an economic crisis) should make for an interesting 14 weeks. But what is even more interesting is meeting students from all over the world. Granted the majority of the students studying abroad here are from the States, but there is also a large population from countries such as Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy, Columbia and many more. It’s refreshing to hear their perspectives and takes on global matters, to gain a new appreciation for the diversity that is not as pronounced back home. Most of those not from the States can speak their native tongue along with Spanish and English, which I am severely jealous of. But with that being said I am starting to pick up more and more of the native Castellaño language down here, gradually...
The best part is after school when I can just wander around, taking various routes home (without getting hopelessly lost) and explore the little nooks and crannies of the city. So far the majority of my learning and understanding has taken place in the streets, conversing with locals and trying to adapt and appreciate another way of living. There is a limit to textbooks. They can inform you of the basics and logistics of how things are or supposed to be, but it is not until you close the book and explore “real-life” that the actual learning begins. I can read an economic textbook front to back, but until I read the local newspaper that discusses the latest developments of the economic crisis down here can I really understand the implications. Or I could conjugate a million verbs in a Spanish workbook, but it’s not until I listen in on people’s coffee conversations or casual exchanges on the bus do the lessons really stick and the words of the text come to life. Those are the moments when learning becomes exciting and effortless.
Well I'm finally here! It's been about 3 days since I arrived in Argentina and I feel exhausted because we have continually been on the move. From meeting everyone at the airport and moving into a hotel, then moving into our new homes with our madres, to touring the city and going though introductory orientations it has been a lot to take in to say the least. Before I left everyone kept asking how I felt, and I always felt unsure because I could never reply with a basic answer. I would usually just sum it up as a "whole collection of emotions." But sure enough that's what I have experienced so far. For this really is my first time leaving my parents and family behind for an extended period of time, and definitely the furthest I have ever been. It is exciting to be in a new city and explore the streets that you haven't ever been on, but it can also feel nerve-racking because it is all an unknown. The security blanket that I had been accustomed to in the States is quickly ripped away and you're on your own. It can be as frightening as it is fascinating. One moment I'm excited to be with new people and seeing such marvelous sights, but then I wish I could share it with my loved ones at the same time. No matter what though I have to remind myself that nothing but good can come from this, there will be ups and downs, failures and successes and the only way to make it through successfully is to try to take it all in, one step at a time. I did just move my life to a new world for 120 days so I can't reasonably expect everything to be perfect (even though I will have to remind myself of that). But with all that said I am excited to try the infamous steak here, sit in cafes and study/people watch and explore the rest of the country, and enjoy everything in between as well. So who knows what the next 120 days will entail, I know there will be highs and lows but I also know that I will get through and succeed one step at a time.
This blog is to track my travels as I venture off to Buenos Aires, Argentina for the next three months (eek!). I've always wanted to travel, there is too much to see in the world just to stay in one space your entire life. As a girl who continually scrolls through the travel category on Pinterest, I knew that there was something missing. I wanted those spectacular pictures to be mine. I couldn't be content with just a small caption, I want to be able to tell a story with every image captured, be able to relive the moment and take myself to another world. And the amazing thing is, it is all possible.
However, no one is going to hand you a camera or endless plane tickets and tell you to go have fun and explore the world (unless you have a really amazing job), but you have to make it happen. You have to harness that courage and all those dreams and ignore what others say. It's an investment in yourself. So no matter how scared or nervous I am, those fleeting moments are quickly eradicated with an overwhelming sense of excitement and adrenaline ready to run the world. It would be so much easier and far less time consuming if I just stayed home and continued on with my routine. But where is the fun in that? I know that there will be ups and downs (all of which I'm sure you will get the pleasure of reading), but I also know that in the end the memories and experiences will far exceed any reasonable doubts. Unlike a textbook or or an app, traveling affords you an abundance of priceless knowledge and appreciation that simply cannot be taught. So with that being said, here we go...!