Before I tell everyone about my adventures over the last week, I thought I would share what I am feeling as I booked my flight to return to the US (I’m not sharing the date). I’ve been asking myself the following question the last few weeks and possibly the last few months. When is it time to return home? I’ve decided it’s better to come home for the right reasons rather than the wrong and I’m happy to report it’s not because of a lack of funds(although that is part of it), job loss or tragedy. I am coming home because I am ready. I’ve accomplished all I set out to accomplish minus the husband, the dream job and maybe a few other fantasies I built up along the way. It’s true those things would have been nice but for me it’s always about the people I meet and the beauty I encounter. It’s about learning. Travel is an education you cannot obtain in textbooks especially since it is difficult to teach someone about acceptance and culture.
I’ve tramped through two continents from the oceans to the mountains from the churches to the mosques and synagogues from the museums to the open-air marvels eating and drinking along the way. I might not remember everything I’ve seen or heard but I’ve engrained visual memories in my mind. The clouds blanketing Table Mountain in South Africa, the pristine lands of Botswana, the magic of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the richness of the land in Ethiopia, the power of nature to name a few things. The stories of a nation torn apart by war, the quest of parents in every village, city and country to provide for their children. The amazing people who have changed my life forever. The one thing that stands out most for me that I continue to reflect on daily is that we are all the same. What divides us also brings us together. It’s a powerful feeling to know my country isn’t that much different than the next but that I enjoy certain freedoms and a special way of life that many of us in the United States take for granted.
Living in Buenos Aires has been my study abroad, my cultural immersion and my dream all wrapped up in a vino tinta and slab of beef. Each day I need to remind myself I am still only a tourist. I cannot survive on what I consider a blessed way of life on 20 pesos a day($5). I like Starbucks, I like the fancy gym, I like manicures and pedicures, I like eating out and more than anything I love traveling. At the beginning of this journey, I didn’t think I could survive a month let alone seven without partaking in my frivolous behavior. These are typical things we add to our everyday life because we can. The truth is I don’t NEED expensive haircuts, shopping extravaganzas, the Four Seasons and Starbucks. I used to believe my life was better because I could afford a weekly pampering or because I could order the $25 bottle of wine rather than the $7. It isn’t. I’ve learned to live simply and to appreciate each bite of food, each sunrise and sunset and more importantly to live my days taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a beautiful world. I am thankful my parents raised me to believe in myself; to take chances in life; and to be proud of the person I am when I look in that mirror. I am not perfect. I make mistakes every single day but it doesn’t matter because that is who I am that is who we all are. I will be returning home soon enough (Patrick you better clear out that “spare” room quickly) and I will continue to have many stories to share but no one can take away my experiences of the last 7 months.
…And now let me take you back to my week in Buenos Aires…
This week was full of surprises. I met a new friend from my Spanglish outing for dinner at a restaurant in Palermo. He is an Israeli/Brit and recently moved to Buenos Aires for a change of pace and more business opportunities outside of the US and Europe. Being the same age(yes there are many of us life break folks down here), we shared similar concerns and I appreciated his zest for life and his candor about my travels. We had a great night chatting about politics, jobs, the world and of course movies. It was nice to be out and enjoy a normal conversation.
I woke up feeling a bit under the weather but nothing unusual until 3 pm Wednesday when I started getting aches and pains. I texted Landra and asked if she was ok (we often eat together) and she was fine. About 2 hours later, my stomach started revolting against me and I truly believed a demon had occupied my insides. We all know I am not good at being sick and I am even worse when I am alone in a foreign country. I sent some emails and texts indicating I was dying to a few people and no one seemed to care except for Joyce who decided it would be a good idea to CALL my landline 2 times. Here I am in Argentina, three rooms away from the phone, curled up in a ball with a headache and my abdominal muscles playing a fabulous game of boxing and Joyce stalking me. When I didn’t answer, she then sent frantic emails asking if I was ok. I WOULD BE OK IF YOU STOPPED CALLING ME AND LET ME TRY TO SLEEP. Oh mothers! It took 3 days to get back to normal but I am once again devouring the Argentinean food I so adore. They call it food poisoning in the US but the Spanish translation fits much better “comida intoxica.” On the list of things I prefer never to try again, it’s at the top.
Landra had a dinner party on Friday and her host mother helped her cook an incredible meal. I wasn’t exactly 100 percent healthy so I was careful to eat only the rice and crackers. Of course, I deemed the wine a necessity since it would kill off any remaining traces of bacteria in my body. What a treat to have a real life dinner party in Buenos Aires complete with conversation in Spanish. You know it’s a good time had by all, when the conversation heats up and the English language makes it way to the table. When tensions rise, the native tongue always comes to the forefront. It’s impossible to express emotions with ease in intermediate Spanish. I guess our classmate Christian, a Swiss, felt pretty strongly about the direction in which the European Union was heading. Do I see a future politician? Gosh I sure hope he is smarter than that!
Saturday, my school visited the Tigre an area about 45 minutes from Buenos Aires that lies on the Parana Delta. The town sits on an island created by several small streams that swirl around other tiny islands. The downtown area reminded me of a German or Swiss village but when I mentioned that to my classmates the Europeans in our group all started arguing about which country. I give up. I’ve decided in some ways Europe is still at war. They get along for the sake of getting along but Europe has a long history and many things are not easily forgotten. There is written history and then there are the stories passed on from generation to generation. Ironically, Europeans came to the Tigre/Delta to farm the rich land and stayed. It wasn’t worth even explaining that factoid.
After walking through the town, we made our way to one of the channels where we boarded a boat and toured one of the waterways to another island. We had a lovely lunch in the sun and then hiked along the Delta. It wasn’t the peaceful hike I was hoping for as the sun started setting and we had to hurry back but this is how they do things in Latin America…backwards. We dined for 3 hours and hiked for an hour. Typical! It was a beautiful day and I was happy to have the chance to see a new city.
The rest of the weekend I spent relaxing, shopping and watching movies. I highly recommend seeing UP. It’s not just for kids and beware of the tearjerker ending. Landra and I celebrated FLAG DAY, (another stinking Argentinean holiday), seeing the flick and enjoying the popcorn con azucar. Instead of butter, they spray some caramel coating over the kernels. It worked for me. Tomorrow, I begin the last two weeks of my Spanish class and I am determined to make the most of daytime studying and nighttime partying. This weekend Landra and I met another fellow 35-year-old who quit his job and is traveling for a year. He is a crazy Brit and he inspired us to shake it up a bit. I mean if he can party until 6 am and still make it to 9 am class why can’t we? I let the Irish in me take a 4-year-hiatus but watch out Buenos Aires.
Oh and if you really must know why I decided to book my flight today, let me share a short story. At the gym yesterday, I was weighing my pros and cons about staying in Buenos Aires and then I headed to my local Starbucks. While fumbling over some Spanish words, a fellow American stepped ahead of the line and told me not to worry about my language skills. She had been in Buenos Aires for a year-and-half and was still struggling. Then she informed me she was 35-years-old too; that she desperately needed a place to get a good wax and manicure and that she was living with 3 roommates in order to survive. That was my version of the nail in the coffin. I thought it was fitting that it all went down at Starbucks.