Friday, March 8, 2013

Reverse Culture Void Shock

The view from the dining room balcony
After about two weeks, I am now settled and content in my long-term yet temporary home of Mendoza, Argentina. Luckily, my Latin American travel this time around was more successful than my first go—I even managed to pull off three times the normal snack amount on my Puerto Montt to Santiago flight! Ah, the wonders of being a friendly, Spanish-speaking gringa. Arriving in Buenos Aires one day late to study abroad orientation was a bit of a rush and definitely a more difficult change than the United States to Chile transition, and for completely different reasons.

Iglesia and market in Buenos Aires
After getting some strange looks from fellow passengers at how excited I was to see my checked bag, I successfully and safely navigated the post-customs taxi barrage and was off into the city. Turns out Buenos Aires is absolutely gigantic. Seeing concrete after building after concrete from the taxi was a derailing change at best from the mountains I’ve been living with for the last few weeks. Arriving at the hotel and settling into the study abroad program went smoothly, but one aspect was still incredibly jarring—I was now absolutely surrounded by Americans. Nervous Americans getting used to a new country and speaking very rapid English, nonetheless. This on top of how ridiculously many people there are in
Cemetery cats to keep the mice population at bay
Buenos Aires versus how very few trees was a bit too much for me, and within my less than 24 hours in the city, I was already overwhelmed. I was quite seriously convinced that I could feel my blood pressure rising just by being in this environment versus the laid-back Patagonian lifestyle I’ve grown to adore. I even managed to get minorly hit by a car reversing from a driveway the moment we first left the hotel for dinner. I instinctively slapped the car and immediately regretted it for fear of retaliation from the driver. He didn't care at all, but I still think Buenos Aires didn't really work for me from the get-go. I’m afraid I prefer my disastrous-but-wonderful solo travelling experience to the sometimes cattle-herding nature of study abroad, but things have gotten better from that first day and my program is indeed fantastically well-done.

Host mom Patri and hermanito Simón
Needless to say, it was a welcome change to leave Buenos Aires for Mendoza and meet my host family: I was much more comfortable immediately upon getting into my host mom’s car and commencing rapid Spanish about mountains again. It turns out she loves mountains just about as much as I do, so my first day was spent about 25 km south of the city bumbling around the mountain town of Potrenillos with my host mom, Patricia, and six-year-old host brother, Simón. It was absolutely beautiful and a great way to get to know them and see the area. I was hiking again! Hallelujah!

Katie, Shawny, Mega and me on Cerro de la Gloria
Getting to know Mendoza itself has been quite a bit of fun and my body weight in ice cream consumed over the last two weeks. I’ve somehow ended up in the Boulder, Colorado, of Argentina, as luck would have it. The city is even physically arranged the same way: mountains in the west, major cross streets easily translated to Boulder’s Broadway and Boulder Creek Path (by bike, of course), and there is even a Pearl Street Mall equivalent next to the main Plaza Independencia. My favorite part is Parque San Martin, the gigantic park at the base of the mountains. I spend time there every day in search of fabled slacklining Argentinians and even better: the main school I take classes at, Universidad Nacional de Cuyo, is in the park.

Plaza Italia during the festivies

I live in an apartment directly next to Plaza Italia, one of the four smaller plazas, and walking distance to just about anywhere in the entire city that I want to be. This also earned me a prime seat for the Italia Festa during my first few days in Mendoza. The Italian descendants of the city had their annual three-day party in the Plaza Italia, complete with food and music all day and all night. I fell asleep to accordions and fireworks every night, a rather drastic change from my life in a tent, but it was still a great start to Mendoza.

The elaborate Vendimia stage
In fact, this seems to be the season of festivities, in particular Vendimia, the wine festival of the grape harvest. The full week-long celebration starts off with a weekend of parades, reinas (queens) from each departamento of the Mendoza provincia, throwing of fruit to (or at) the parade audiences, gauchos riding in the streets of Mendoza, and the main Vendimia performance attended on Sunday by the study abroad group, or el tren de los gringos, as I affectionately call it. I would sum it up as Miss America meets the Olympic Opening Ceremony, complete with coronation, a beautiful outdoor venue surrounded by the hills, and some pretty incredible dancing. If I had just been considering taking tango classes before, the tango at Vendimia sealed the deal.

Helado all day errday.
I’ve mostly settled into daily life here, although it is still strange to not be in Chile and especially not be in Torres del Paine anymore. Transitioning from complete and utter paradise is rather rough, but it’s quite a bit easier when you’re changing to the different form of paradise that is Mendoza. My good friends, Katie and Shawny, and I have boiled down to a system for each day after Spanish class: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, we run in Parque San Martin. Tuesday and Thursday, we try a new heladaría (ice cream shop). Life is beautiful. As is helado. On a completely different not that I don’t have space to write on, feel free to ask me anytime about the latest protests complete with tire fires, and catching baby geckos in my Spanish class. I’m getting used to living with my small and lovely host family, which is surprisingly difficult to find my cultural place in. I’m being broken of my hard-earned habit of washing the dishes, as my host mom beats me away from them every time I try. Plus, after years of cooking for myself at school, returning to a family eating system (especially on the Argentinian schedule) takes some relearning. I really do miss cooking, but I can handle a change for a semester.

Katie, Shawny, and me at the first Música y Vino
I have been surprisingly exhausted, so most of my time has been spent recuperating from sleeping in a tent for two months. Still, I’m working my way up to the Mendozan nightlife and I am so excited for all of the salsa and tango action here. A usual weekend night starts with dinner at 10pm and goes from bar to baile to breakfast at 8am. Hence my taking my time to work up to that from living in a national park. Completely different life, much? So far, the best discovery we have made is the "Música y Vino en las alturas" night followed by the Cineclub Stocco: free wine served on a rooftop terrace at sunset with live music, followed by a free movie. This week was classic tango guitar, vocals, and flute, and Alfred Hitchcock’s "La Soga" (Rope, en inglés). Absolutely my kind of Thursday night, every Thursday. Class selection is coming up very quickly (well, it is March) and I’m looking at a line-up of almost entirely art, dance, and music classes and possibly some ecology. Mountains, Spanish, wine, helado, art? I may never go back to Wheaton, at this rate.
Not too shabby for a first day in Mendoza

Much love from the Mendocinas,


  1. I suppose that's Pampas Grass (Cortaderia selloana) in a real pampas for that closing photo? You'll be ready to start watching Dancing with the Stars just for the Argentine tango competitions by the time you get back.

    Did you get a chance to see Comet Pan-STARRS before it came over to the Northern Hemisphere this week?

    1. Yes! The tango here never ceases to be amazing and I've especially loved the music. I met an Argentinian the other day who filled an entire page of my notebook with his favorite tango musicians, so I'm very excited to check those out.

      I don't think I would have known if I saw the comet or not! I saw quite a few shooting stars while in San Rafael, though, so it's made for some beautiful star-viewing nonetheless.