back in good old buenos aires

Have I mentioned how much I love this city? Being back here for my last few days before returning home has made me fall in love all over again. Late brunches of cafe and facturas, máte in the park, admiring the amazing architecture and the general faded glory of a city with character. I can’t believe my time’s almost up, and I certainly don’t want to go…

But, asi es la vida, and you can’t live in blissful study-abroad mode forever. While wandering around the Recoleta cemetary yesterday we ran into two girls from California, just arrived to start their semester at the same university I was at. It felt weird passing on advice and recommendations and feeling excited for them to experience this amazing place, when I was in their shoes only a few months ago. As much as I’d love to stay here longer, I guess I’m ready to return home as well, as in I feel like I’ve gotten so much more than I even expected out of this experience and it’s been so perfect that it’s not meant to last forever.

a few photos of the weekend’s wanderings:


along with my pace of life, so too has my internet connection slooooowed down…

There’s nothing like waking up to over a foot of gloriously white snow over a small farm in rural Argentina. Of course, when you then have to wade through the snow with far-from-waterproof tennis shoes everywhere, it’s a different story, but still enjoyable overall.

Unfortunately our internet connection here at the farm is horridly slow, thus I haven’t had the desired opportunity to catch up on this blog, but here’s a bit about what I’ve been up to.

My first couple of weeks on the farm have been far more fun and far less work than I had expected, and with the unexpected snow fall, life has been pretty relaxing to say the least. Many an evening is passed with yerba mate by the fire and some guitar or a conversation about U.S. foreign policy (a favorite argentine passtime). Last week our hosts drove us in to town to watch a community protest against contaminant mining in the region that has been threatening water potability in favor of multinational investment. As far as the actual farm work, we’ve mostly been helping out with preparation for the weekly fruit and vegetable market where the family sells apples, potatos, and various fruit preserves. But I would say that more than what I’m learning about the operation of a small-scale organic farm, the value of this experience has been taking part in a true Argentine household and seeing and hearing their perspectives on life. Most people will tell you that the provinces outside of Buenos Aires might as well be a separate country in terms of how different the culture and way of life are, and limited as my experience may be, I would certainly agree.

Muchos, muchos viajes

Long story short, the semester ended, I moved out of my apartment in Buenos Aires and spent a week traveling through Còrdoba and Salta (northewestern argentina) with my friend Des, was back in Buenos Aires for 3 days, then embarked again on a long bus ride to Viña del Mar, Chile, to visit my old host family from the time I studied abroad in high school, and now I’m volunteering at an organic farm for a month in the province of Mendoza back in Argentina near a town called Tunuyàn.

Phew! So much has happened and hundreds of photos have been taken, unfortunately I suck at keeping this blog updated and have left the cable for my camera in buenos aires, so these updates will be brief and imageless, but better than nothing I hope.

So to begin, our time at the University of Belgrano came to a close with final exams and remarkably generous grading standards. One by one our departed from dear Argentina to return to the states. I think this is the first time in my life I’ve had to say goodbye to good friends I really might never see again, and let me tell you, it completely sucks.

Moving out of my apartment was a sad experience too, and kind of weird in the sense that packing is generally associated with leaving a place for good but I’m not technically “leaving” buenos aires until August 4th, but I no longer have I place I can really call home there anymore. I lugged my far too heavy bags to my friend Vina’s place in San Telmo where she kindly let me crash for a couple of nights before we left for our trip.

We arrived in Còrdoba by overnight bus on thursday June 24th and the adventures began, but more on that to come…

"asi que, bueno…

Well suffice it to say I’m not the best blogger, yet I’ve kept up with the classic study abroad tradition of forgetting to update my goings on until over a month and a million events have passed.
But anyways, I’ll do my best to make up for lost time. So when I l
ast left you I was really starting to hit my grove with the language and feeling quite content and…at home shall we say? In the past month I have come to truly love my life here and all the people in it. Between classes with our at times eccentric professors, crazy nights of live music and smokey clubs, running repeatedly into the extensive red tape of argentine bureaucracy, finally having our own group of argentine friends, and generally living this porteña life, I have come to love this place.
A few highlights: Debating (in spanish) with most stubborn prof
essor/ex-employee of the World Bank about the nature of multinational corporations, wasting too many hours of my life on my as of yet still incomplete visa process, being nearly crushed alive by the collective hug of thousands of porteños squished into the widest avenue in the world to celebrate their bicentennial, conversations over yerba máte in the park about the culture of the argentine asado, my first tango lessons, witnessing true sports hooliganism first hand while watching argentina’s first world cup match with a group of college guys complete with hearing the city celebrate the win as everyone runs out onto their balconies and into the street to cheer, introducing our friends to the infamous “american breakfast” complete with scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, fruit salad, pancakes, french toast, and syrup made from scratch, coffee in one of the oldest cafes in the city (Cafe Tortoni) where borges and the like wrote their masterpieces, navigating the public transit system like a pro, embracing a diet of far too many refined sugars and carbs, feeling that wonderful sensation of being at home and never wanting to leave…
A few photos from recent events:

Sarah, Vina, and Desiree at Vina’s amazing San Telmo apartment for an asado.
Downtown on 9 de Julio for the bicentennial celebration, watching Argentina vs. Cananda… that’s Messi on the screen, as if Argentines needed another source of national pride they have the greatest current player in the world on their team.

Cafe Tortoni, established in the 1800s, was the local haunt for the buenos aires literary crowd throughout the early 20th century.

El Caminito in La Boca, the highest concentration of tourist activity in the city considering that the street itself is only about a 100m long.

Tango on Calle Florida.

This pic doesn’t do justice for the “quilombo del bicentenario” (quilombo here roughly translates to shit show…).

A small group of committed people…

One of my favorite quotes is one by Margaret Mead that goes “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

And this is why I love my internship. I work (work here meaning unpaid volunteering of course) for a small argentine NGO called Responde (response) that aims to fight rural depopulation due to urban migration through community development in Argentina’s small rural villages. My favorite part about the organization is that it’s completely run by Argentines working for their fellow Argentines, not a trait common to international NGOs these days. The office is a small space right in the heart of downtown with at most 10 people working on a given day, and yet they’ve managed to reach over 600 rural towns in the 7ish years they’ve been working. Projects range from school curriculums to community centers to agricultural workshops to tourism ventures, it all depends on what the communities who come to them want to do. And that’s my other favorite part about Responde, the communities come to them for help…yet another trait not so common in the world of international development where the prefered method of “intervention” involves descending upon an unsuspecting village deemed in need of developmnt by the grand, well-funded saviors.

So anyway, what do I do at Responde? Well, besides write blog posts…No but really, I actually do have a purpose that does not involve getting coffee for people or filing their papers. My work varies between doing Spanish to English translations of grant proposals, informational texts, and stuff for the english website, as well as research for different projects in the pueblos or for fundraising. Since no one in the office really speaks much English, I’m often asked to search the English-language resource databases on google or what have you and then give them a summary in spanish.

And I actually really enjoy the translation work. It’s surprising how difficult it can get but it’s also a strangely fulfilling task. I find the hardest part is knowing where to draw the line between translator and editor, as in where do you try to keep as much of the original wording and structure versus scrapping whole paragraphs and just re-writing it with the same intent and feeling, but in a way that’s clearer in the new language. And the value for me in doing the translations has been really getting to see and interact with the differences between the Spanish and English languages in terms of the conventions of form and structure.

In terms of my personal spanish abilities, I feel like I’ve substantially improved in recent weeks. My conversational fluency is really starting to click to the point where I am actually having a conversation in Spanish, both in my words and thoughts, to the point where the Spanish comes more naturally and it actually takes me a minute to switch back to English. And in terms of my comprehension, I’m at the point where watching a film in spanish with english subtitles is more of a chore than without them because I’ll be reading the subtitles but also understanding all that’s said and then get caught up on the fact that they’re not always the same or even remotely in sync. But of course the best moments of my language learning experience have been noting the surprise from locals when they learn I’m not argentine or when they tell me “hablas muy bien, tenès un buen accento.” (that being the vos form for those who care)

Entonces, hasta luego amigos.

la Tierra del Vino

So it’s been a while, and sorry for the delay, but such is the busy nature of study abroad I guess. Anyways, a couple weeks ago I had the chance to travel to Mendoza, Argentina’s most famous wine producing region. And it was everything and more that such a reputation would suggest. The landscape was stunning, the wine delicious (and not to mention incredibly affordable) and it was all in all a wonderful respite from the big city. As the photo album here would suggest, it was an amateur photog’s dream come true:

The photos are a little out of order, but the gist of the trip was a day spent touring some vineyards (bodegas) and a day spent on a “High Mountain” tour, which included viewings of Aconcagua, the highest peak in Latin America. I definitely had a sound of music moment standing up in the Andes, the wind rushing around me and breathing clean air for the first time in weeks. We also got to taste some andean snow melt water right out of a stream (the guide assured us it was clean enough to drink, and so far so good).
And the wine, oh the wine! One of the vineyards we visited was an organic bodega and we got to try malbec grapes right off the vine. Also, not sure if anyone else is aware of this, but there’s a white wine varietal specific to South America called Torrontes, and it’s absolutely deliciously sweet. We visited one boutique “vinoteca” (winery) where we sampled all 9 of their wines for only 15 pesos (less than $5 USD) and their most expensive bottle only cost about $15 USD, and yet this wine was amazing and wasn’t even available for export or purchase in any store or restaurant, only right there in Mendoza. But aside from simply learning the proper way to hold a wine glass or the words for fermentation in spanish, I had a wonderfully relaxing and refreshing weekend.
Since then I’ve been up to the usual shenanigans, with the exception of midterm season that is. Strangely enough (or maybe not so much, depending on how you view the academic aspects of “studying” abroad), I seem to have lost nearly any and all of my Berkeley study habits. Alas, it has been quite inconvenient, but I have managed. Our parciales, or midterms, are largely short-answer and essay formatted tests on the general themes covered in the course, so as straight forward as one could hope. It’s been interesting to note how even though my conversational spanish skills have improved tenfold, my academic writing skills have remained largely stagnant. I’m still at the point of translating my thoughts from english to spanish and then writing that down only to find that it no longer sounds as clear as I’d intended, but hopefully I’ll make some progress before the semester is through.
In other news, I turned 21! Talk about an anti-climactic coming of age birthday, considering the legal drinking age here is 18 and even that is a pretty negotiable limit. But I enjoyed the american tradition of drinking a bit more than I should have, only in argentine fashion with the drink of choice being some good Malbec and the setting an asado (bbq).
So now, a little bit older and a little bit wiser (one would hope) I continue into my second half of study abroad…more pictures to come!

such a beautiful city

Buenos Aires has so much history. I love how every corner you turn there’s at least one building that’s around a hundred years old with beautifully crafted balconies and moldings…yet with the distinctly south american touch of a run down convenience store converted out of the bottom story. In my quest to absorb as much of this city as possible, I’ve taken to picking random destinations like artisan fairs and such to visit and then walking there by way of random streets to try to see things off my usual bus routes. This past weekend, for instance, I headed down to the San Telmo neighborhood, one of the oldest barrios in B.A. It’s down towards the city center where the streets are narrow and the buildings ancient and lovely. Perfect time to whip out the old SLR! So the photobucket link bears the fruits of that journey:

Also included are some photos from the March 24th protests at the Plaza de Mayo for Day of Remembrance of Truth and Justice. Essentially it’s a day recognizing the grave human rights violations committed by the military junta that took control of Argentina in the 70s and 80s, otherwise known as the “Dirty War”. There’s a big march every year where the various political, social, and other cause-oriented groups in the country come and have a forum to be seen and heard. There’s a part of the march where they carry down the Avenida de Mayo a huge banner displaying all of the faces and names of the victims of the dirty war, known as the “desaparecidos”, or the disappeared. There’s just so much history in this city, you can never get your fill (or at least I can’t).

La Vida Porteña

So, finally my life has taken on some sort of a pattern.

Last week was our first real week of academic classes. Registration was a mess, with webpages crashing and half the students (including myself) not even receiving the correct web address. But it all worked out in the end and I’m taking all of the classes I wanted, so can’t complain. I’m taking an advanced Spanish language class and three latin american studies classes including history of latin america in the 20th century, political systems of latin america, and economic globalization in Argentina and latin america. So basically, I should know a thing or two about this continent by the end of my stay. My professors all seem really nice, maybe not as passionate about teaching as one would hope, but still knowledgeable. My globalization teacher is quite entertaining and has no reservations about sharing his opinion of the world with us, from why Che Guevara’s story is a total farce, Marx had nothing new to say, and how populism is a myth used to win elections. The best part by far is though is the schedule. Each class, with the exception of spanish, is only once a week for 2 hours (spanish is twice for 2), so I only have class monday through wednesday, with one class monday morning at 11, and two on tuesday and wednesday each starting no earlier than 1pm.
As for the rest of my week, I am also doing an internship with an argentine NGO called Responde that works in community development in small rural villages to counter rural to urban migration. I’m doing mostly translating work for their webpage and different grant applications right now, but eventually I’ll get a chance to travel to the pueblos with them and actually see the projects in action which is really exciting.
That’s all for now, I’m actually off to my first tango lesson, so wish me luck!

From the Jungle to the Lake Country and all the craziness of City Life in between

So when I last left you, I was still reeling from the newness of it all and trying not to get run over by taxis, but now, over a month in to my time here in Argentina, I’m finally starting to feel comfortable and almost at home in this crazy place. The past couple of weeks have been a blur, so chronologically here’s what happened:

My one-month intensive spanish language course came and went in a flurry of vocab and grammatical tenses, but it was a wonderfully helpful experience. My spanish abilities have grown exponentially since I came here, and for that I have my amazing professor, Carolina, to thank. I finally feel like I have a substantial grasp on the bigger picture of the language and its structure and I find myself reading advertisements and actually comprehending the specifics of the grammar and not just having a vague idea of what there saying based on verb roots. Not to mention the fact that I am now capable of communicating the idea of “I would have blah blah blah, had it not been for blah blah blah” or even “If things should blah blah blah next week, then I will blah blah blah” or other such odd time frames.

On Friday the 19th after class I headed over to the Retiro bus station and met up with the other students in the program for a 15 hour or so bus ride north to Missiones, near the borders with Paraguay and Brazil. We were headed for an amazing weekend at Iguazú Falls, the pictures of which are posted in the last entry. And those pictures don’t even begin to do the magnificence of the falls justice. It was one of those moments where you behold nature in all it’s grandeur and all you can say is “whoa”. We even got to take a speed boat down under the falls which was literally a breath-taking moment. It was something like being wiped-out above water, but with the same “oh my god I can’t breath” sensation. Spending a couple of days running around the jungle was pretty fun too.

So we got back Monday morning at about 8:30am, I ran back to my apartment to shower and change and then to class for the beginning of our final week of classes. Unfortunately I ended up missing more of that week than any other with an internship interview on tuesday and a consult with my academic adviser to choose classes for the semester. The interview went amazingly well. It was for an internship with an organization called Responde, which works with small rural communities on the brink of depopulation due to urban migration and provides the resources for development projects. The whole interview was in spanish which I was pretty nervous about at first, but apparently it went well because the offered me the position. I’ll be working in the downtown office most weeks but I’ll also have the opportunity to go out to the pueblos and work on the projects with them too.

Our last day of class was the 26th of February and we celebrated our surprisingly good overall grades with mountains of medialunas and dulce de leche (the quintessential argentine breakfast treat). Later that same Friday I headed back over to the Retiro station to hop on another bus, this time to the town of Bariloche in the north of Patagonia. The ride was over 21 hours, but it went by remarkably fast and there was so much beautiful scenery along the way.

Bariloche is a great town, even though it’s been thoroughly tourist-ized. The beauty of the place is just beyond belief, with huge, pristine blue lakes one after the other, separated by lush green forest and framed by the snow-capped foothills of the Andes. We had a week off for vacation, so we had a grand time going on ferry boat tours and white water rafting and hiking and eating, of course, since chocolate and ice cream are specialties of the region. My favorite part was definitely the rafting, though. We took a minivan to this quiet little farm where they had converted a barn into a storage shed for the rafting gear and had some máte and medialunas for breakfast before suiting up in wetsuits, life vests, and helments (definitely not one of my better looks). Going over the rapids was incredibly fun and between the action of paddling and the beautiful river scenery, it was a rush to take it all in. During a slow part in the river our guide let us jump out of the boat and swim for a bit, just bobbing down the crystal clear water, passing miniature waterfalls where streams fed into the river. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

Thursday we headed over to the neighboring town of El Bolson for a bit to check out the artisan fair there. If you’ve ever wondered what happened to the hippie scene of the sixties, wonder no longer for it has simply relocated down south in El Bolson. Dreds and groovy threads were abound in this small mountain town, which made for a great selection of arts and crafts. Later that afternoon we were back on a bus back to Buenos Aires, refreshed.

here’s the link to the pictures, until i can post them properly:

To be continued…