The road less traveled (part 1)

May 28, 2017

“Yo puedo viajar, ver el mundo, conocer a gente y ser independiente. Me siento afortunada.”

“I get to travel, see the world, meet people and be independent. I feel blessed.” Bar Refaeli  

     Words cannot express the joy that I felt during my independent trip to Luján, Buenos Aires last week. I have so much to share with you all that I don’t know where to start! My trip to this beautiful city would not have been possible without crossing paths with a very good-natured professor three years ago, when I was just a timid college freshman. Each year, Susquehanna University receives different educators from all over the globe to teach English for a year in one of their classes. During my first year of college, the Spanish department welcomed two modern language fellows, one from Spain and another one from Argentina. Barbara (or everyone used to call her “Barbi” as a nickname) not only taught the lower levels of Spanish, but she also led the weekly language tables, where she was able to share many facts about Argentine culture. Since I had already taken a lot of Spanish courses before beginning college, my level of the language was more advanced, so I was only able to interact with Barbi at the weekly Spanish language tables. The funny thing is, during my freshman year, my mind was more set on going to Spain. But, tis life, things can change so rapidly for the better. So, in the midst of her talking about Argentine culture, I had no clue that I would actually be living it three years later for a whole semester. Fast forward a couple of weeks back, I was able to get in contact with Barbi to let her know that I wanted to come and visit her while I was still in the country! Last week was considered May week (May 18-May 25) and no classes were in session for university students. So, I knew that traveling to Luján, Buenos Aires during this time period was not only the perfect opportunity for me to visit Barbi and her family, but I would also be able to explore more of Argentina. So, as an independent young traveler, I purchased my bus tickets and began to prepare and pack for my trip!

     Honestly, I would describe the day of my departure to Luján as very hectic. Although the bus was not scheduled to leave until 9:25 PM (May 19), I was scrambling around all day making sure that I had enough clothes to wear for an entire week and made sure I had enough food to accommodate my dietary restrictions for this duration of time. Also, just the fact that I was going alone this time on an overnight nine hour bus trip to an unknown place made me a bit anxious. But I repeatedly kept reassuring myself that if I could travel alone for the first time in the air for over nine hours when I first came here in February, this bus trip would be a breeze. Although the bus terminal is only about five minutes away from the apartment that I’m living at, I left an hour early because I just like being punctual like that and I knew that if anything happened, I would have some time to spare. The prediction of something out of the ordinary happening transpired right outside the apartment the moment I got in the taxi.

As I have described before in my previous blog entries, the traffic here is insane, especially during demonstrations in which, as a result, many streets are closed. The combination of demonstrations taking place and it being a Friday night made traffic even more frantic. When I was settled in the taxi and told the driver my desired destination to the terminal, he attempted to veer into the left lane despite the bus that was coming right on the side of him. The next thing I knew, the bus had hit the taxi that I was in on its side. Thankfully, I was sitting on the other end of the taxi. But, what a way to begin an independent trip right? The taxi driver got out of the car and began to bicker with the bus driver. Obviously he couldn’t take me to the terminal now, so I had to take out my heavy suitcase and my other tote bag and attempted to find another taxi amid the crazy traffic. Thankfully, my host mom’s friends, who had just left the apartment at the same time that I had left, witnessed the whole incident and they were gracious enough to drive me to the bus terminal with time to spare. Despite the vastness of the bus terminal, I was able to find the location where the bus was supposed to pick me up. There were a variety of buses so I asked a couple of questions to the people in charge of the tickets, just to make sure I was getting on the right one. I definitely didn’t want to wake up the next morning finding myself way out yonder.

     The bus ride to Luján was exceptionally smooth because it was a megabus and the arrival time (around 6:15ish the next morning) was actually ahead of schedule. After getting off of the bus, my first intention  before waving a taxi down was to head to the bathroom, where, despite the lady cleaning in it, the filth was unbearable. Fortunately, there was toilet paper and I brought my own anti-bacterial soap. But, she would not let me leave that bathroom until I paid her for her cleaning efforts.

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     I walked through the frigid temperatures with my heavy suitcase and tote bag and at last was able to find a taxi. Barbi had told me specific directions to get to her house that I should relay to  the taxi driver because sometimes (especially in Buenos Aires) they are terrible at directions and will try to do anything to get more money. (reminds me of the time when the taxi driver ripped me off and I had to give him $100 U.S dollars the first time I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I explain that incident in one of my primary blog entries) The precise directions that I told the taxi driver allowed me to make it to Barbi’s residence with no problem and upon my arrival I was met at the gate by her two guard dogs. 

     Our three-year reunion was very joyous and after talking for a long while about my trip and what she has been doing within these past couple of years, she showed me to my room and I began to get settled.After eating breakfast, I went with Barbi to run a few errands and we were able to go to a dietetica (food health store) to pick up more food to accommodate my dietary needs. Although Luján is small, (so small where everybody knows one another) it’s still considered a city within the Buenos Aires province, located about an hour away from the capital city Buenos Aires.  It’s very well known for its Basilica, which was built to honor the Virgin of Luján. Many people, especially those from the federal capital make pilgrimages to the Basilica to commemorate the virgin, or the patron saint of Argentina.

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     In combination of the lethargy that I felt from the long bus ride and the rainy and cold weather, my first day in Luján was very tranquil. After arriving from the dietetica, I rested for the majority of the day, drank mate, and enjoyed catching up with Barbi. I also was able to meet her husband and their adorable one year old little girl.  Later on that evening, we all went to her parents house, where we ate a typical Argentine lentil soup, called guiso de lenteja, which was perfect for that cold fall night. Her parents were very kind to me, welcoming me with open arms and offered me seconds of the soup and lots of dessert (a fruit bowl) despite me saying that I was already satisfied. We didn’t leave the house until 12:30 AM that next morning. By the time we got back to the house, I was very tired, but also excited, knowing that Barbi, her husband and myself would take a trip to the federal capital that same day.

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     From the very moment that we arrived in Buenos Aires, to the time that we left, I was in absolute awe at everything that surrounded me. There is so much to see in this metropolis that it’s impossible to see it all in a single day. In order to get a basic overview of what the city has to offer, Barbi and I decided that taking the city tour bus was the best option.  The weather was a little nasty to begin with, but within a couple of hours, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, which made the tour even more enjoyable.

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We saw an abundant amount of attractions and historical sights such as:

1.      La casa rosada (the pink house)- This is where the current president of Argentina (Mauricio Macri) resides. It’s located in a huge square (plaza de Mayo) and throughout history, has been surrounded by many significant political institutions of Argentina.

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2. Animated cartoon character park-Argentine comic strips, also called historietas, are very well-known world wide and are recognized as being the best in all of Latin America.  They were especially popular in the 1940s and demonstrated the local culture to a certain degree. Their famous status lasted for more than 20 years. I was able to pose next to both Clemente and Mafalda, two famous Argentine comic strips launched in the 1960s and 1970s

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3. Floralis Genérica- Although the national flower of Argentina is the cockspur coral tree, this popular steel flower, located in plaza de la flor (flower plaza) is 65 ft high! The mechanical petals of the flower opens and closes according to the suns position. How cool is that?! Designed by an Argentine architect, Eduardo Catalano, the opening and closing of the petals symbolizes renewed hope everyday.

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4. La Bombonera- This literally translates to a candy box, but it’s the name of a stadium, home to fanatic Boca Jr. soccer fans, a very famous team in all of Argentina. It’s located in a very colorful neighborhood called La Boca (mouth). The  name is inspired by the fact that it sits right at the mouth of the Matanza-Riachuelo River.

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     After spending about two and a half hours riding the city tour bus, and getting on and off of it to explore specific places as we wished, we went to the mall to eat lunch. Barbi’s husband wanted to go see his favorite soccer team play at a nearby soccer stadium with some of his friends, so Barbi and I had to navigate the immense city on our own. It was a bit of a struggle, but we managed to have a delightful rest of the day exploring the city! By the end of the day, both of us were very tired, but we really wanted to go to one more museum before leaving. However, that plan was interrupted when we approached the parking space where her car was SUPPOSED to be. We were astonished to find out that the car was towed.  You would think that the people responsible for towing the cars would be more lenient on a Sunday. One thing I have definitely learned about travel is to expect the unexpected. I admired Barbi’s tranquility after discovering this dilemma. In this situation, I would be in panic mode, freaking out for a couple of moments and wouldn’t be able to rest until I got my car back. However, Barbi’s response was, “Let’s go to the café and get something to drink and we’ll figure this all out.” Thankfully, within the next hour or so, we eventually got her car back.

     Although I really wanted to go the museum as we had originally planned, I told Barbi that we didn’t have to go this time, seeing that it was getting late and she had to prepare to teach classes the next day. I was very excited to know that I would accompany her to the private schools where she teaches at. And I  was also not aware of the unexpected surprises nor the inspiration I would gain within that same week…

 

 

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