On Monday we woke up and checked out of the hostel and waited for news concerning the hang gliding outlook for the day. While we were eating breakfast, Pablo, the guy in charge of the hang gliding, called the hostel and asked to speak to me. This made me really nervous because talking on the phone in Spanish is always an adventure. I do pretty good face to face but sometimes the accents over the phone are just too much. I was especially nervous because sometimes people from the country are impossible to understand in person! Luckily, Pablo was easy enough to understand. His first question was do you want to fly today. What a question! Of course, I want to fly today!!! The outlook was good, so Jess and I left the hostel to catch a bus to the mountains. We made it to the bus station and bought a ticket to the small town La Cumbre for $5 a piece. The bus ride lasted two hours and led us past some excellent scenery. We arrived in La Cumbre a little bit after 2:00 and waited and had some lunch at a little café next to the bus station. Finally, a whole bunch of people showed up in trucks to take us up into the mountains. We drove for about 10 minutes up and down some really crazy gravel roads. There where several spots along the way where I thought geez, “this could be South Dakota” There were even no hunting signs! Finally, we arrived at a point where we could see other hang gliders and the truck stopped. We got out and walked to the “take off point” I was a little nervous but seeing all the other hang gliders floating around peacefully sort of like hot air balloons was a soothing sight. One of the instructors strapped me into this backpack that had a seat of sorts and a backup parachute. I got a really fast paced lesson in how to run and jump. (As if it wasn’t obvious) Luckily for me, I was with the guy in charge so I got to watch everybody else go first. He also had the biggest parachute. (That can’t hurt anything right?) Finally it was my turn, and I ran and jumped!!!! The whole flight was awesome and for the most part tranquil. We were even joined in flight by a couple of Argentine condors! There was only one scary part of the whole flight. There were about 2 seconds when I thought, “Oh geez we are going to run into the cliff.” As soon as I had the thought we turned and headed in another direction, but a strong gust of wind blew us back even faster. At this point we were so close to the cliff that I thought we were goners. All of sudden the guy pulled a cord and we went into a very brief free fall. During the fall we turned sharply and were heading in a safe direction again. After about 20 minutes we landed in a pasture not too far from our starting point. We had to wait for somebody to come find us
So on Friday I set off for our amazing weekend in Cordoba. Our bus didn’t leave until around 10:00 at night, but I was determined not to take a nap because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep on the bus otherwise. I did sleep o.k. on the bus, but for some reason this bus service didn’t include a blanket or a pillow which was really awful; because it was chilly. I had the small blanket I had brought but it wasn’t enough. We arrived in Cordoba at about 7:40 in the morning and headed towards our hostel. We checked in showered, had breakfast, and thought we were ready to go hang gliding. However, we had the schedule wrong and while we were waiting to hear if the weather was nice enough to go hang gliding someone from the ranch we were visiting showed up to pick us up. So, we left to go spend our day on the ‘estancia.’ We rode in this really beat up old car covered in graffiti to the ranch. There we went horseback riding for about 3 and ½ hours with a pretty large group. I was a lot more comfortable on the horse this time around, which was good because the riding was a lot more intense. I think at one point when we were going up a hill we actually hit a full gallop for about 2 seconds. I wouldn’t have wanted it to last any longer than that, but at the time it was an adrenaline rush! After horseback riding we enjoyed a huge Argentine asado that put any Fourth of July BBQ to shame. Following the asado we took a cab back to the hostel. After a relaxing nap Jess and I got ready to hit the town to see what it was like at night and to maybe have a drink outside in the gorgeous weather. It felt like a summer night in South Dakota. We walked about 30 blocks total and saw most of the sites in the city by accident. This is a fun way to explore because you never know what is around the next corner and you don’t really have expectations that won’t be met. The city has many beautiful plazas and several long pedestrian streets that made the walk very pleasant. We came back to the hostel early and were asleep by 2:00. On Saturday we thought we were going to be going hang gliding but found out at about 11:00 that the weather just wasn’t going to permit it. We were disappointed but decided to spend the day seeing the sights within the city. On our way out of the hostel we met up with two other American girls and went with them for lunch. In true Argentine style we spent about 3 hours at the café drinking coffee and chatting. The first two hours we were there by our choice; the last hour we spent waiting for the bill. We didn’t complain because it was another beautiful day and we were sitting outside. We spent the rest of the day wandering the city and hanging out in some of the beautiful plazas. That night we headed out to an all-you-can-eat restaurant that was quite the experience. The place was huge and hade a river running down the middle complete with a waterfall. The food was also really good; and we all ate more than we should have. After supper we headed back to the hostel and kicked back on a coach and chatted with some of the porteñas who were also visiting Cordoba for the weekend. The city has a really laid back and relaxed feel so the whole day was very relaxing.
So I’ll admit that I’m missing home just a little bit today; given that you guys all had the day off and I was in class! Also, I found out that they don’t do really do anything to celebrate their independence day here which falls on the 9th of July. Nonetheless, I hope you all enjoy the fireworks and your time by the lake. This weekend I am off on another weekend excursion. This time the plans include hang gliding and some more horse back riding. Cordoba here I come!
Today it was back to class and the daily grind (if you could even call it that here!) The class stretched on for what seemed like forever, but we where finally talking about something that I seem to somewhat understand and for once I was picking it up faster than the other students in the class. After class I waited for Jessi in the library and worked on some homework. Then we headed back towards the house to try and attempt to run some errands. I wanted to go to the post office to mail postcards (I know you are all waiting for them) However, the line was out the door and onto the sidewalk, so maybe tomorrow. We also went to a representative of the bus company that has an office on the corner to buy bus tickets for this weekend. We are going to go to Cordoba, which should be amazing. This was awesome because we didn’t have to go all the way to the Retiro bus station and talk to a million different people just to buy tickets. I wish we would have known about this guy earlier! The travel agent was impressed with my Spanish and we ended up having quite a lengthy chat about Argentine and U.S. politics. At one point while running errands we stopped and had ice-cream at Persica. We where enjoying our ice-cream when a couple of kids stopped to ask us for change. Unfortunately, I really needed the only change I had left in my pocket to ride the bus back, so I couldn’t give it to them. They then proceeded to ask for what was left of my cone! I didn’t understand what they were asking at first; and then when we finally figured it out I was really surprised and shocked to the point that I didn’t know what to say. The kids looked fairly well dressed and fed so I’m not sure if they were legitimately homeless or just trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the foreigners and have a good laugh at us. Either way the whole situation was pretty bizarre. When I arrived back home I had a very pleasant surprise: I FINALLY GOT MY DEBIT CARD!!! Yeah, for no longer having to pay extra fees to withdraw cash!
Today I didn’t really do anything besides go to class, nap, and do my homework. However, that was because I needed to have all of it done before family night! This time we went bowling. We played two games and it was really fun. I won the second game with a score of 110…not bad for me! Maria and Luciano were hilarious and of course there was plenty of Quilmes and peanuts for anybody who was interested.
On Wednesday after class we went to a MALBA a modern art museum that has free admission every Wednesday. Some of the art was really interesting but in general I don’t get modern art. So, we spent about two hours wondering around, but the museum is actually really small so this was about all that we needed. After the museum visit I returned home to tackle some of my never ending homework and to squeeze in a short nap before dinner.
The bus ride back from Mendoza was very tranquil and uneventful. I went to sleep as soon as they were done serving dinner to try to get the most sleep possible. I ended up getting about 9 hours in total, which is for sure the most I’ve had at any point during the trip. After we got into the bus station we tried to take the subway back to Jessi’s homestay because she was moving out of her horrible homestay and into mine! Unfortunately, the subway line we needed was closed down due to some sort of imechanical problem. So, we had to take the train back to my homestay. It was a little bit out of the way, but this way we dropped of the luggage we had with us and thus didn’t have to carry so much from Jessi’s homestay. I went with to help her move and we were done in about an hour. Afterwards we both showered, ate a real breakfast (since the one of the bus was grossly inadequate) and got ready to go to the fair. We had made plans to go to a weekly fair that takes place closer to the city limits in an area called Mataderos. This fair is less touristy than the others because it is a lot harder to get there. You have to know what bus to take; which is nearly impossible unless somebody gives you specific instructions. Luckily one of my roommates who had just left had filled me in the week before. So, at about 1:00 we headed to the main drag about a block away to take the bus. Unfortunately, my roommate wasn’t very specific and hadn’t said which direction to take the bus. This is something I should have asked. We ended up taking the bus the wrong way and went about 10 blocks out of the way. The end of the line occurred not 5 minutes after we got on and we had to get off and pay again to get back on. Next, we rode the bus for about an hour until we arrived at Mataderos. By this time we were starving so we set off to find somewhere to eat. We wandered into a restaurant with a sign out front advertising a folk music show. A waiter showed us to a seat but we couldn’t hear anything because the music was so loud. Somehow we managed to order platter of grilled meat for 2 and a salad although there was no menu (something that should have been a sign to us!) We waited a long time for our food. While we were waiting we watched another person who looked lost wander in. We laughed and joked that he must also be a foreigner; surprisingly the waiter sat him with us since he was by himself. It was a lucky decision for him since he didn’t speak any Spanish. Turns out he was from Australia and we tried to talk some; but the music was so loud that we failed miserably. When it came time to pay we were really angry because the waiter tried to rip us off. We tried to remedy the situation; but we still ended up paying almost 100 pesos for lunch for both of us. We were still angry when we left which is ironic because this meal was a feast and we still only paid $15 dollars a piece. We spent the rest of the day walking through the fair and riding the bus back home. Overall, it was a good way to experience a different side of Buenos Aires and to remind us just how big the city is. It is easy to forget since we spend all of our time in a relatively small zone that makes up our neighborhood and downtown.
Thursday was an exciting day because we were leaving for Mendoza! I took my clothes to the laundry place before class and did some other small things to prepare for the trip. After class I packed my backpack and away we went. This bus trip wasn’t quite as far as the last one…only 18 hours. The funny thing is if you were to drive the same distance in the states it would probably only take 10 at the most, maybe less. We went in another double-decker diesel bus, but this one was even nicer. The seats were better than a first class airplane and laid down all the way! We spent the night trying to catch up on sleep, but the roads hear are not the greatest so the night was filled with bumps and stopping to pay tolls along the way. There was a lot of fog so we arrived in Mendoza a couple of hours behind schedule. We took a cab to the hostel which was called Hostel Lao and was a paradise like experience that only cost us $10 dollars for our one night there. We showered and ate breakfast and then made plans for the day. We roamed the city for an hour or so and stopped by a travel agency where we booked a tour to visit some of the wineries that afternoon. We ate lunch at a place along the pedestrian avenue. Our waiter was really fun and we spent a good chunk of time conversing with him and getting advice for things to do and see in Mendoza. After lunch we headed back to the hostel to wait for the tour to pick us up. While we were waiting we booked a horse riding excursion for Saturday. The wine tour that we booked was in Spanish so the tour was filled with Argentinean travelers just visiting for the weekend. There was also one guy from England, but unfortunately for him; he hadn’t realized that the tour was in Spanish and didn’t understand any of it. We went to 3 distinct wineries and at each place we got to sample two or three different types of wine. Every place also gave us a small lesson in how to evaluate wines. By the end we were feeling like drunken wine connoisseurs! Our last stop was at a factory that made olive oil and canned olives. After the last stop we hopped back on the bus for the ride into town. Along the way we watched the sun set over the Andes; it was incredible. I kept wishing that the bus would stop so we could get out and take pictures of the sunset; but we had to settle for photos out of the bus window, which of course didn’t turn out that great. Seeing the sunset made me really excited for the horseback riding excursion that we were planning for tomorrow. After the tour, I took a 20 minute powernap in the hostel and then we headed out for supper. We went to this typical Argentinean restaurant where we had an amazing steak dinner for $10 US dollars. That never gets old! After supper we returned to the hostel where to our surprise they were serving free wine. I figured I had already had enough for one day; but it was free so I said I would take a little bit. The guy pouring the glass didn’t know when to stop so I spent the next couple of hours chatting with other world travelers (mostly from England and Australia) over a glass of Malbec. After that; I showered and went to bed in order to be well rested for the next day’s adventures.
The next morning Jessi and I got up early and packed up all of our stuff. We ate breakfast and put checked out of the hostel. Then we sat down and started waiting for the tour group to come pick us up again. Unfortunately, bad luck seems to follow me here and the taxi drivers in Mendoza had decided to go on strike and block off some of the streets causing traffic to be horrendous. Also, the tour was running on Argentine time (which means it was about a half hour late to begin with) we were supposed to be picked up between 8:30 and 9:00, but we didn’t actually get picked up until after 10:00. We both wished we could have slept in, but we were so excited that the frustration didn’t last long. The drive to the mountains lasted about 20 minutes and the beautiful scenery we saw along the way was a good indicator of how good the experience was going to be. We arrived at the ranch and watched as the rancher and the tour guide got everything ready. Finally it was time to start. I watched Jessi (who is an experienced rider) get on the horse and tried to mimic very closely her actions. Luckily, I was riding the smallest horse so it wasn’t so hard to get on (although I’m sure I looked ridiculous nonetheless!) Ironically, my horse was named gringo and so there were a lot of jokes about a gringa on a gringo. These horses are used to carrying foreigners and had been trained to respond to non verbal cues, supposedly. We started off without a problem and my horse naturally ended up at the back of the pack which I was fine with because I didn’t really have to do anything he seemed to understand to just follow everybody else. However, this didn’t last for long. Turns out this horse liked to lag behind lazily maybe munch on some grass and then trot to catch up. I was definitely not ready the first time he decided to trot! Also, I would keep telling it with my non-verbal cues to stay caught up with the group, but nothing seemed to work. After about an hour and a half we stopped for a break and had some bread and mate, the tea that is so famous throughout South America. It was the first time that I tried mate, and I’d have to say it wasn’t as bad as other students had made it sound. After we got back on the horses, gringo really decided that he didn’t want to listen. Finally, I started talking to him in Spanish and to my surprise he listened perfectly to commands given in Spanish! After discovering that, the rest of the ride went without major incident. I spent the next hour taking in the beautiful scenery comfortable with my ability to manage Gringo. The moon was visible even though it was the middle of the day and was somehow magically centered over the closest range of the Andes. In the distance we could see the snow capped peeks and then the volcano further in the distance a snow covered volcano. The views from that journey are not something I will soon forget.
After we were dropped back off at the hostel we retrieved our stuff and used the bathrooms to shower. We returned to the pedestrian street and ate a big lunch knowing that the food on the bus would probably not be all that great. Then we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering through the plazas littered with street vendors. Mendoza has a beautiful plaza about every three blocks! At about 5:00 we walked back to the hostel to get our bags and then walked the 5 blocks to the bus station where we caught our bus back to Buenos Aires.
Monday was a very relaxing day. We didn’t have class because the new students who had just arrived for the next month long session needed to take the placement exam. I did however have to go to the school to find out when and where my new class would be meeting. I also had to pay rent again! So, I slept in until about 10:00. I ate a slow leisurely breakfast and then went to pay rent. After chatting with Patricia who is my homestay coordinator I headed to the University where I chatted with a few of the students who had just arrived and got the information for my new class. Unfortunately, there are two sections of advanced and Jessi and I somehow managed to end up in the opposite sections. After class we made the trek to Retiro to buy bus tickets for a weekend trip to Mendoza. I was not looking forward to this since before it had been such a chore. Oddly, the whole process went very smoothly. It was a very rewarding thing to do because it was one of the few situations where I could really tell that my Spanish has improved a lot in just the last couple of weeks. The last time we tried to buy bus tickets I had a hard time understanding the travel agents. The bus station is loud and there is so much going on that the interference was just too much. This time however, it was easy as pie. We asked all the right questions and were done really quickly compared to last time. So that was the start of the preparation for the Mendoza trip. After buying the tickets we hopped another subway to explore some gardens in another part of town. By the time we actually got to the gardens we didn’t have a lot of time to explore before dark. The good thing about this was that we enjoyed the sun set in the park, but unfortunately we will have to go back another time to see the gardens during the day. I turned in early in order to be mentally prepared for my first day in a new class on Tuesday.
Tuesday was my first day in the advanced class. I am totally in over my head. In the last class I was one of the more advanced students in the class. This time around I am by far the worst. The majority of the students are heritage speakers or have lived abroad before for more than a year! I’m going to have to work pretty hard to keep up but the truth is that I’m started to get burned out from having class for five hours a day and homework. I wish this study abroad was less study and more abroad, but I can’t complain too much because the classes are very helpful to say the least. Tuesday night was family night again, but it was the last family night before all of the kids who have been here for a semester left so it was extra special. We went to one of the fanciest restaurants in Buenos Aires called Cabana las lilas. It was right on the water and they had valet parking. You know the supper is going to be good and expensive when you start out with 3 forks! Also, on Tuesday we got two new roommates from Kansas that were starting at the same university as me. So, I spent most of the supper explaining to them some of the things you must know in order to survive Buenos Aires. The dinner was totally worth the splurge, although I felt guilty spending so much when you can eat out for so cheap here. The dinner only ended up costing me about $30 dollars U.S. but it seems like so much more since that is really expensive here. However, it was seriously the best steak I’ve had in my life. Also, the steaks were served with little plastic cows poked into them that said “Estoy jugoso” or “I’m juicy” It was definitely an experience worth having; although, I probably won’t go back again anytime soon.
Wednesday was another pretty laid back day. I spent most of it making preparations for the trip to Mendoza. The main activity for the day was going to get our nails done. It is a must here because it only costs $13 pesos or a little more than $4 dollars. It felt good to be pampered and to not feel guilty doing it. Wednesday night Pilar was here for supper and we had lots of fun talking with her about school and various other things. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for her to teach us any more games, since she had to go to bed and we had to do our homework.