Meghann in Argentina: Heading North

November 13, 2017

Last week I had the amazing opportunity to go on a weeklong trip to northern Argentina with my mom. We took a three-hour flight up to the city of Salta, a provincial capital of the northwestern region, and then continued our journey by taking a road trip in a rental car up la Quebrada de Humuhuaca, a beautiful trail dotted with small pueblos. We got so far north that we were less than 100 miles away from the Bolivian border—and you could tell! Both the geography and the culture were completely disparate from anything that I have experienced in other parts of Argentina thus far. While in Buenos Aires I usually can’t see beyond one city block due to the massive buildings, in the north, at literally every point you look out from you can see gorgeous, colorful mountain ranges (many of which are pre-cordillera, or in other words, “mini Andes mountains”). My mom had to do a lot of nervous driving through mountainous, twisting roads, but the views were well worth it.

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In northern Argentina, the mountains can change from red to green to yellow to purple all within one stunning view.

Even more surprising than the differences in geography, though, was the distinct culture we encountered in all of the little pueblos that we visited (some of which had only a few more than 100 permanent residents). The city of Buenos Aires is well known for being very European; from the architecture to the food to the people, sometimes it feels more like I am in Spain than Latin America. I am really interested in more indigenous cultures, so being exposed to this way of life in the north was a unique experience for me. In many of the pueblos that we visited, the primary way of earning a living is to sell small artesanías, or handicraft work, to visitors. I loved looking at all of the beautiful colors and designs that seem so much more bright and colorful than what I am accustomed to seeing in Buenos Aires.

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In the small town of Purmamarca, a market with artesanías opens up every day around the main plaza. Among the most common things I saw were alpaca clothing, tapestries, and tiny wooden carvings.

My favorite day was one that took us from the smallest pueblo we visited to the Salinas Grandes, or salt flats, of Jujuy. My mom and I went with a guide who explained how the salt flats formed and how the industry is important for the indigenous people that live near them (this salt, once iodine is added, is used for human consumption all over Argentina). The best part of the tour in my eyes, though, was that the guide brought his four llamas out into the flats to help carry a picnic for the three of us.

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Walking with four cute llamas through a picturesque landscape provided many excellent photo ops.

I feel as though I say this every time I go somewhere new in Argentina, but once again, I am awed by the diversity of this country. Going to the north (and befriending llamas) was definitely another unique experience that I won’t soon forget.

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Meghann in Argentina: Flavors of Argentina

November 3, 2017

I can’t believe that I have made it over four months here without writing about (in my opinion) one of the best parts of traveling: food. Argentina has not let me down in terms of food—even ordinary weekday dinners with my host parents have a certain indescribable Argentine flare. I have also definitely taken advantage of the culinary scene in the city. Every Saturday night when my host family does not provide me with dinner, I go out with friends to a cute area of the city called Palermo, which is filled with different types of restaurants and bars.

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Choripan is a very typical Argentine meal. The word is a combination of “chorizo” (a spiced sausage) and “pan” (bread), and it is topped off with a sauce called chimichurri. You can buy choripan as street food from carts or vendors (as seen in this picture) or also in nicer restaurants.

Photo #1. Caption: Choripan is a very typical Argentine meal. The word is a combination of “chorizo” (a spiced sausage) and “pan” (bread), and it is topped off with a sauce called chimichurri. You can buy choripan as street food from carts or vendors (as seen in this picture) or also in nicer restaurants.

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Perhaps one of the most classic foods that Argentines can’t seem to live without are empanadas. There are empanada shops with huge varieties of flavors on almost every block, and most are sold for just 11 pesos (about 60 cents)!

 

Photo #2. Caption: Perhaps one of the most classic foods that Argentines can’t seem to live without are empanadas. There are empanada shops with huge varieties of flavors on almost every block, and most are sold for just 11 pesos (about 60 cents)!

 

It has also been fun to cook with friends from different countries. We have done “cultural” food nights at friends’ apartments where everyone makes something from their home country, so I have also had the chance to try everything from homemade French Canadian to German food here. Some of us also tried our hand at doing our own asado (barbeque), another Argentine culinary tradition. Although I can’t say that I was too helpful with grilling, it turned out pretty well for a group of foreigners!

 

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Our attempt at homemade asado (barbeque).

 

The only downside to the Argentine diet is that it is generally pretty bad for you—I have even found myself missing the salad bar at Dhall. I’m amazed at how healthy the population here looks considering a pretty high percentage of the usual diet is red meat, wine, and a very large variety of deserts. I’m guessing that people can stay healthy due to the amount of walking required for getting around the city. Even though the public transportation is great, I still probably end up walking over five miles every day.

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One of the best and most famous deserts are alfajores, cookie-ish deserts that vary based on region in Argentina. These are fancier coconut alfajores filled with dulce de leche, but you can also buy them in corner stores (there are probably over 50 kinds of pre-packaged alfajores).

 

While the food here has been great and I am still enjoying trying new things, after six months I will definitely be happy to return to foods that I am more accustomed to in the U.S. (and to finally eat a few vegetables)!


Meghann in Argentina: Weekend in Uruguay

October 24, 2017

This weekend, after almost four whole months in Argentina, I finally left the country to spend the weekend in Uruguay. It’s funny to see other friends that are studying abroad leave their home country nearly every weekend to travel to other countries; while Argentina is so expansive and has so much diversity within its own borders that I definitely have not had a lack of things to see or do, it was nice to get a new stamp in my passport. I went with sixteen other students from my university to rent a house in the countryside of Colonia, a small colonial town located right on the water. Colonia is just a short one-hour ferry ride away from Buenos Aires—in fact, if the weather is nice, you can faintly make out part of the skyline near where I live.

 

We started by taking advantage of the beautiful weather by heading to a small, hidden beach that the owner of our rental house told us about. You could walk out almost a quarter mile with the waves only going up to your waist, which was peaceful to do under the sunset with no one but our group around. Being totally alone in the water and seeing my friends on the beach as tiny, ant-like figures, it was crazy to think that Buenos Aires was less than fifty miles away from where I stood.

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Our own “private” beach outside of Colonia. In the distance, you can see a small island that many of us swam out to.

The next day a few of us ventured two hours southeast to the capital city of Montevideo. While my host parents have told me that Montevideo is “un Buenos Aires chiquito,” or “a tiny Buenos Aires,” there was still a lot to see in the city. We explored markets, plazas, and the Ramblas, which is the longest sidewalk in the world that stretches across the entirety of the beautiful coastline of Montevideo.

 

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The architecture of Montevideo did not fail to impress—this building in Plaza de Independencia towered as tall as many of the structures in Buenos Aires.

Our final day was spent in the city of Colonia, which was definitely my favorite place in Uruguay. We walked around the historic quarter (a UNESCO World Heritage sight) by an old lighthouse and convent ruins, relaxed in the sun on a dock by the waterfront, and explored the cute cobblestoned streets where the Portuguese and Spanish influences were inescapable. I can’t say I ever imagined that I would be sitting on top of 17th century ruins while eating gelato as the sun set on the water in Uruguay, of all places, but sharing that experience with some of the great friends I’ve made here is something that I’ll never forget.

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Everywhere you look in Colonia, you see cobblestone streets and palm trees.

 

 

 

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Spending our last couple of hours in Uruguay in the historic quarter.


Meghann in Argentina: The “Study” in Study Abroad

October 10, 2017

Based on all of the stories and pictures from my adventures around the city that I share with my family and friends from back home, many of them have joked that I don’t even go to school here—contrary to popular belief, however, I am indeed fully enrolled at la Universidad Católica Argentina (better known as UCA). UCA is a private university with an enrollment of around 18,000 students, located in a very modern neighborhood called Puerto Madero, which translates to “wooden port.” This name is fitting, as UCA is situated right on the water—the views of the river from a few of my classrooms are beautiful (albeit distracting), especially during my evening class when the sun sets over the water.

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My morning view of the river and city skyline while walking to school.

I chose to enroll in four classes in the Latin American Studies Program, which is a group of classes taught primarily for study abroad students. All of my classes meet once a week for three hours and are taught in rapid-fire Spanish. By the end of such long class periods my brain is always fried, but hearing so much Spanish (especially about specific academic themes as opposed to regular conversational Spanish) has definitely been a huge help to my language skills. I am enrolled in Peronist Argentina (Peronism is a political movement/ideology that is highly relevant in Argentine politics), Latin American Art and Architecture, Political and Social Processes in South America, and Argentine Civil Society, and so far I have really enjoyed all four classes. Argentine Civil Society, which is about Argentine Non-Governmental Organizations and their comparative efficacy, is definitely my favorite class. The professors bring in a lot of guest speakers that work for local NGOs, and it is interesting to hear how such organizations (and the problems that they seek to address) differ from those in the United States. We also did a class trip to Plaza de Mayo, a famous plaza outside of la Casa Rosada (the Argentine equivalent of the White House), where unfortunately many homeless people gather to sleep at night. There, we helped cook dinner and distribute clothing with a group that aids the homeless population in this area every week. It has been awesome to have the ability to be engaged in and learn more about the community through my schoolwork.

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Friends from my Latin American Art and Architecture class. Like Richmond, classes here in the Latin American Studies Program tend to be very small!

While sports teams, clubs, and activities in general associated with the university are not common here like they are at Richmond (which is something I definitely miss!), I have also had a couple of fun experiences through UCA outside of the classroom. A few weeks ago, classes were cancelled for a daylong tradition called las Olimpiadas de UCA, or the “UCA Olympics.” The different majors/schools at UCA form teams for a variety of sports and activities that take place in a massive sports club on the outskirts of the city. I played volleyball for UCA’s team of international students—although it was difficult to understand volleyball terms in Spanish, it was still a very enjoyable experience. In typical Argentine fashion, at the end of the day, everyone gathered for a huge asado (barbeque).

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Enjoying the asado after volleyball!


Meghann in Argentina: Iguazú Falls

October 3, 2017

There is not much in this world that is worth a stuffy 20-hour bus ride, but las Cataratas del Iguazú (Iguazú Falls) definitely make the list. Located in a national park right on the tri-border of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil, Iguazú Falls are the largest waterfall system in the world. I learned that the name “Iguazú” actually comes from the indigenous Guarani words “y,” meaning water, and “ûasú,” meaning big—and big water is right. The sights were some of the most amazing that I have ever seen, and the sheer size and volume of water have to be seen to be believed.

 

I went to the falls with a trip organized through the buddy system for international students at my university, so the insanely long bus ride was made slightly better knowing that almost 250 of my peers were in the same (uncomfortable) position as me. We all spent the weekend at a hostel close to the national park, and on Friday we had the opportunity to spend the whole day at the falls. The day started with a spectacular boat ride that took us down under the falls themselves (well, not directly underneath them, otherwise our boat would be at the bottom of the river) and provided awesome views from below. We got completely soaked racing around the falls and the river, which divides Argentina and Brazil (so technically, the boat driver told us we might have gone a few feet into Brazil…).

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Las Cataratas del Iguazú (Iguazú Falls)

 

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Before my friends and I got completely drenched

After we got off of the boat, we rode through part of the jungle where a guide told us about some of the natural diversity around Iguazú—apparently the park has a very impressive variety of flora and fauna, but the only animals we saw were called coatis, which are raccoon-like animals that terrorize visitors by sneaking up and stealing their food. It was pretty funny to watch them in action when we stopped for lunch, but I definitely wasn’t one of the people that went up and pet them. The rest of the day was spent walking around the park to see the falls from different viewpoints. We ended at a point called “la Garganta del Diablo,” or Devil’s Throat, an area of the falls that supposedly prompted Eleanor Roosevelt to comment “Poor Niagara” when she visited Iguazú.

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The coatis of Iguazú are accustomed to helping themselves!

 

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A view from the Devil’s Throat

 

Iguazú truly impressed me, and the trip made me excited to explore more of Argentina’s ample natural beauty in future trips outside of the city!


Meghann in Argentina: Green Spaces

September 18, 2017

Every time I go somewhere new in Buenos Aires, I realize more and more how huge the city is (around 3 million people and the 10th largest city in the Americas, to be exact). Although usually the commotion and excitement of Buenos Aires is something that I feel I can’t get enough of, occasionally everyone needs a break. Fortunately, although the city is so dense and populous, one can seek escape in any of the beautiful parks scattered both throughout and around the outskirts of the city proper. Lately, when I need a few hours away from the packed streets and cafes, the insanely crowded busses, and the towering buildings, I have found myself heading to these green oases to relax, people-watch, and feel like I am outside of the city for a bit.

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One of my favorite parks to go to is Parque Floralis, which has a huge metal flower sculpture that opens and closes with the sun.

The construction of these parks increased drastically in the beginning of the 20th century after a massive wave of European immigration to Buenos Aires. French architects were typically the ones who promoted and designed “green spaces” that took on many characteristics of French parks (this is all according to my very helpful Latin American Art and Architecture class). Although I don’t necessarily spend my time analyzing architectural components while I’m trying to relax in a park, it is definitely cool to notice the heavy European influences of sculptures, bridges, gardens, and more.

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A really popular and nicer park to go to is called Bosques de Palermo. When walking through certain parts of it, the European influences are inescapable.

While sometimes it is nice to walk through a park alone, going with friends on sunny days (which are becoming more frequent here as summer finally approaches) has also proven to be one of my favorite things to do. Acouple of days ago, a friend and I decided to go watch the sun set over the water at an ecological reserve; although it isn’t too far outside of the city, it felt a world away from my busy neighborhood. Watching the sun go down over the city skyline and getting a breath of fresh air for the first time all week was a simple yet wonderful feeling. The city of Buenos Aires is undeniably impressive, but there is definitely something special about its’ green spaces.

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Sunset in the ecological reserve.

 

 

 

 


Meghann in Argentina: Host Family

September 3, 2017

For whatever reason, be it nervousness about not speaking the same language or fear of having different living habits, many students I know are hesitant to live with host families. I can say with certainty, however, that one of my favorite parts of studying abroad thus far has been my family. I believe that living with a family in their own home has given me the feeling that I am having a real, authentic experience of what it is like to live in Buenos Aires in a way that staying in an apartment with other Americans could not. Integrating myself into the normal life of an Argentine family makes me feel less like I am a “visitor” to the country for six months.

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My host dog Rocco enjoys hanging out in my room.

My family consists of an older couple with three grown children, one of whom stills lives at home to study (which is typical here), and an old black lab. Because my host parents work and I am usually at school or out exploring during the day, the majority of our interactions occur every night at dinner. Dinners have served as a great way to both practice Spanish and get to know my host family better; there is always something new to talk about or learn (they like to learn English words too). Additionally, my host parents always love telling me where to go and what to see in the city—suggestions that I would not be able to find online or in a touristy guidebook.

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A typical dinner of empanadas with my host family.

To dispel any false notions about living with a host family that often lead students to choose different options: no, staying with a family does not “hold you back” in any way. Any time I am home at night my host mom asks why I’m NOT “saliendo” (going out), and when I come back early (which, by Argentine standards is 3am) she jokes that I should stay out later. No, language differences do not put up a barrier. My host family knows I am not fluent in Spanish, and they are always patient and helpful when I speak more slowly or pause to think about what I want to say. Despite not fully speaking the same language, we are able to discuss everything from politics to the best places in the neighborhood for ice cream. My family has been nothing but kind and supportive to me since the day that I arrived to their apartment at 6am, exhausted and nervous after more than a full day of travel. I love having a real home to call “home” here, and I am excited to get to know my host family even better during the rest of my time abroad.


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