América Latina: Argentina es un Lugar Salvaje

A note about format: The previous format of this blog featured in-depth chronological recounts of my adventures. This grew tiring to write, as I’m sure it did to read. Going forward, I’ll adopt a more casual format that expresses my feelings better than a stoic log of events.

Argentina

One month passed as I was back home. While this can be detailed elsewhere, I was giddy to board the plane on Halloween that sent me from Detroit through Atlanta to Buenos Aires, the capital and largest city in Argentina. Just as going into Europe I didn’t know much about the countries I went to, I was equally as clueless headed into Latin America. Thus is the reward of travel, to actually learn about the world at large, getting out of your little box.

After a 10-hour long flight complete with 2 AM turbulence over Columbia, I touched down in Buenos Aires. Just in time for the RY-Kublai Buenos Aires farewell party. Tossing my things aside, I napped at my Airbnb, located just a few blocks from where Kublai was staying. The evening came and I made my way to the party, greeting friends and meeting new ones. I felt happy to be back on this journey, to pick up where I left off.

This country delivered its promises…in an unexpected and also stressful way. Before diving in, let’s consider that Argentina is highly corrupt, at both the public and private levels. This has been an ongoing issue for years. It’s not a particularly friendly country to those of African descent. The once prosperous economy (indeed 7th largest in the early 1900s) has spiraled into a long battle with inflation and corruption.

Buenos Aires: Argentine Melting Pot

I spent the first few days of my trip in Argentina’s capital and largest city. This large metropolis has lots of cultural and ethnic diversity. This is easy to see in the colorful facades. Strolling the streets, I had my first experiences with Latin American culture. The laid-back, easy going nature of most Argentines leads you to forget this is an alpha city. And indeed, true to their Spanish roots, the city stands next to its siestas and midday closing of shops to nap and relax.

Galileo Galilei Planetarium – Almost…

I only had a few days in BA. After farewell, I tried to get into the planetarium and see what’s up. Nevertheless, the limited hours and lack of careful planning let me to go there three times only to find it closed each time. So much for that part of my tourism.

Instead, Milan (our RY city experience manager from Belgrade who came for a visit), Susan, and I wandered around the Argentine capital aimlessly, sweating away from the spring time warmth.

Capitulo Dos: Córdoba

Four days go by quickly. Early morning first Saturday in November, we boarded a grueling 7-hour bus ride from BA to a much smaller city in Argentina’s center. And boy, I wasn’t prepared for the month long roller coaster ride that was this city… the flashbacks to Lisbon crept into my mind every week as something new went awry.

It was totally different from BA. And in a not-so-good way.

Let’s not forget overall: This is South America and Argentina to boot. So as a third-world country, I expected it to be more difficult for a gringo to get by here. I also expected it to be more difficult to eat a plant-based diet here. Córdoba proved these statements true, boldfaced and underlined. And boy, did I have a few battles while I was here.

The first night in the apartment was awful. After a late arrival, there was no information, and I had no way to connect to Wi-Fi. Restaurants nearby mostly didn’t exist, and the ones that did weren’t open late, contrary to Argentinians’ preferences for late-night adventures.

The next day, I fell down the stairs at the Indian restaurant with slippery steps. Not dramatically, but enough to bruise my ass and my ego. I tried with much effort to find vegan-friendly restaurants. There were a couple, but with a bevy of national holidays this month, I wound up adventuring to them (sometimes by the nasty, polluted bus system) when they weren’t open despite double-checking beforehand. I sweated, battled unreliable bus schedules, tripped over broken cobblestone sidewalks, and narrowly avoided collisions with oncoming automobiles thanks to a lack of traffic control at most intersections. It was rare even to find a pedestrian crossing signal – I only saw a handful while I was there.

While I didn’t burn the place to the ground, one night I fell asleep while simmering chickpeas for several hours, waking up to a casual burning smell. I went into the kitchen to discover a plume of smoke and blackened legumes. This foolishness resulted in my apartment reeking of burnt chickpeas for over a week. The weather also decided to crank up the dial, turning the heat up past 95F with humidity for a stretch of several days, guaranteeing sweat for even low-intensity walks while also hampering my burnt-smell clearing efforts.

Back to the food desert, most of the mainstream grocery stores were nasty, run-down, and overflowing with unhealthy, processed foods chock full of added sugars and oils. It immediately occurred to me why a lot more people here were overweight or just generally sickly looking compared to Europe. This wasn’t as bad as, but reminded me of, the levels of obesity back home in the US. There were several many dieteticas, little health food shops, littered around the city. However, these provided only a subset of the options found at places even in Buenos Aires and relatively dietary-deficient European countries. The restaurants and eateries were also subpar. Even my fellow omni Remotes complained how poor the food quality was. I guess being Córdoba is a college town, they are used to selling cheap, crappy food to hungry students willing to shell out even a few pesos for a meal to get them by.

What do you even do here?!

Córdoba did not brim with activities. If you aren’t a native who guzzles mate like its a non-renewable resource, you won’t find yourself much of a fit among this city. There was a jazz festival that was relatively tame even for jazz’s standards. And outside of that, most days there wasn’t much to be found outside of gray and beige city facades, poor stray dogs, and the incessant blasting of popular Latin American tracks like Se Preparó or Criminal, both (and many more) espousing the same beat rhythm.

Our track events, at least, saved me from total boredom. The hike up the Sierra mountains helped me to restore my connection to nature outside the small city. The view of the condors was great, too.

We also had a cocktail mixer! We were taught how to make the perfect cocktails by a local Córdoban bartender. Unfortunately, I didn’t take pics because I was too busy snapchatting it instead. 🍸

Another track event took us to a local band house where the residents are aspiring cooks and musical artists. We also learned some farming techniques.

Thanksgiving: USA, USA, USA!

Being we were in Córdoba the month of November, I spent Thanksgiving away from home. This was in a warehouse-style co-working space in the sketchy outskirts of Córdoba city center. Complete with football, beer, and WAY TOO MUCH FOOD, US Americans celebrated their holidays away from home, while those from other countries joined in their first celebration of the controversial holiday. But it was a nice gathering of all of us remotes, at least.

Alright, Let’s Get The Hell Out Of This Place

One of the cornerstones of Remote Year is guaranteed internet access. Well, this month featured slow internet galore…cellular data crawled, apartment internet was barely reliable. The lack of decent food sabotaged my palate. The absence of livelihood stood in stark contrast to Buenos Aires’ varied nightlife. I fell down the stairs, got sunburnt, got an eye infection, and struggled more than once at restaurants and shops to find (vegan) food that didn’t taste like chalk. Also, the coffee nearly everywhere was awful. Since going on RY, I’ve found more of a taste for coffee than at any time in my life, and even I can safely say the offerings of café in the city are subpar at best.

I think the cherry on top of the shitcake of the month of Córdoba was getting stuck in the elevator in my apartment building. Together with six other foreigners who were visiting from France, we got stuck around the 3rd floor of our building. Thankfully, they spoke Spanish and were able to communicate with the staff outside the car. Waiting in agony for over an hour crammed in a hot box, I reflected on what this was trying to teach me. Finally, after much delay and lack of communication from the building staff, we were manually lowered with a crank tool to the lowest floor. I burst out happy to breathe fresh, cool air, and then climbed 9 flights of stairs back up to my apartment, dealing with the resulting panic attack and flare-up of my fear of elevators.

This month was a struggle, and while I never want to go through it again, I’m glad I persevered.

Let this also serve as a reminder to all of those who see my wonderful pictures and become jealous of my journeys: yes, it is all that, but it is also all that and a bag (pot) of burnt chickpeas sometimes. Not every moment on long-term travel is glorious. I’ve struggled with loneliness, homesickness, maintaining interpersonal relationships, chronic and acute health issues, language barriers (especially in Spanish America where English is a rarity), and balancing work and play.

It sucked. I wanted to cry so many times. I felt disconnected, unmotivated. Europe had such beautiful buildings, a never-ending nightlife, rich cultural charm, and a variety of food fit even for a picky eater. Córdoba effectively had none of these, and that sapped the glory out of my travel adventures, prompting me to question my decision to come back on Remote Year.

Then I realized this is an opportunity for growth.

This hardened me more than I realized, and I believe I came out stronger on the other side for it. I know how to negotiate my way around language barriers, how to ask for suitable food. Sometimes, you have to just play the cards you’re given. I know I can rely on myself to be crafty and figure creative solutions to any problems that I may encounter. I can rely on a support network of friends and peers in the same situation. I can take a step back, meditate, and realize that even at the worst, these experiences are temporary: they will change soon. Finally, I still am blessed to be traveling the world with a cohort of brilliant and passionate individuals.

The end of the month rolled around, not a minute too soon, and we made our way to Santiago, Chile. This was one transition day I was fully looking forward to. Putting the past behind me, I relished the opportunity for a new start in a new country, a new city that certainly would have more to offer than Córdoba.


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