My Spring Break in South AmericaBuenos Aires, Fall 2010
My Spring Break in South America
October 1st through October 11th, 2010
First Stop: Córdoba, Argentina
The first journey of my spring break brought me and six of my friends 435 miles northwest of Buenos Aires to Córdoba for “Oktoberfest” – which is virtually a celebration of old German folk culture…and beer. The small town that the festival was held in seemed to be completely dedicated to the event, with beer and/or Oktoberfest souvenirs available in almost every store within a half-mile of the park where the main festivities were taking place. Inside the park, there were huts lapped around the perimeter that offered different types of food and souvenirs as well, and of course beer…lots of beer. One of the huts even offered strawberry beer, which was way too sweet for me but some of my friends really enjoyed it. There was also several stage performances of German folk dancing, live bands, and at one point a free-for-all keg tap (which I stayed far away from). While I expected it to be a little wilder based on all I had heard about it, it was still a pretty good time.
The day after Oktoberfest, a friend of mine and I decided to go on the trekking expedition suggested to us by the staff of the hostel we were staying in (Aldea Hostel). The region we trekked through is known as La Pampa de Achala, located in the heart of Sierras de Córdoba. The view from the top of the mountains was incredible. Our tour guide was very upbeat and knowledgeable of the area and made what was at times a demanding trek an enjoyable one.
The hostel we stayed in was one of the better ones I have been in. My previous two experiences in hostels have not been spectacular – not the friendliest staff, dirty beds, cold showers etc. But this particular one was nice. The bathrooms were good as far as hostels go, and they even had an all-you-can-eat (and drink) pizza party for us, which only cost us around $8USD.
The only bad part about Córdoba was the bus ride. Ranging anywhere from 9 or 10 hours non-stop from Buenos Aires, it’s a very unpleasant ride when the person in front of you decides to let their seat all the way back trapping you in a window seat with the person next to you completely knocked out. Other than that, it was a great start to the break.
Second Stop: Cataratas del Iguazú (Iguazú Falls)
When we arrived at our hotel in Iguazú, it was immediately obvious that we were nowhere near Buenos Aires. The scenery seemed much more natural and near tropical, and the natives were darker in complexion. Also, there was a huge change in the air quality. This probably has a lot to do with the waterfall and the verdant nature of the area in general. But it was refreshing in every sense of the word to be away from the smoke and gas filled busy streets of the city for a while.
The views from the falls were simply breathtaking. It was one of those “this is the South America I’ve been waiting to see” moments. At first, I didn’t have the highest expectations because the pictures I had seen from friends who had been to Iguazú didn’t do it justice. Also, many of my friends had been to Iguazú during the colder months, so the weather was bad and it was cloudy in many of the photos. However when I went, the weather was warm and the sun was out. We even saw a rainbow at one point from the upper level. In addition to viewing the falls from the walkways that lapped around the site, we also took a boat ride to the base of the falls and down the Iguazú River. The entire day was surreal. It was something I’ll never forget.
The morning we left Iguazú, we headed into Paraguay.
Third Stop: Paraguay
As soon as we arrived in Paraguay, I immediately noticed several stark differences from Buenos Aires. For one, it seemed much more along the lines of the typical idea of what a South American city or country is “supposed to” look like (for people like me who have never been). The people were much more exotic looking due to the majority of the population being mestizo (or mixed), the landscape was much more undeveloped, and it was obvious that the population was significantly worse off economically than people in Buenos Aires. However, after interacting with people there, it was also interesting to note the welcoming spirit many of them had toward foreigners. In fact, many of them even stated that they are always excited to have people visit their country because for many people outside the country in South American upper classes, Paraguay isn’t exactly a favorite tourist destination.
Our first stops were on Rutas de las Misiones en San Bernardino (Jesuit Missions in San Bernardino). All of them were really interesting. Learning about the history of the Guaraní in the classroom is one thing, but to see the places where these cultures actually developed firsthand is completely different. There was a lightshow at one of the missions where they used water that sprayed up from the ground to project ghostlike figures from projectors strategically placed throughout the area. The projections told the history of the Jesuit missions with real life remains of the old buildings and structures where the natives and the Jesuits used to coexist providing the backdrop. It was a little creepy but very cool. The lightshow plus the fact that there was a breathtaking night sky (I spotted two shooting stars) made it a very unique experience.
After the missions, we visited a Guaraní community in Tobatí. We took a ride on a carriage pulled by oxen into the village where we were greeted with a band and a bunch of smiling/curious faces. I helped churn clay with the help of a Guaraní elder and later made a pot from the same clay. It was interesting to take in the dynamics of our visit. While we were there visiting making pots for the sake of an experience, they were there making pots and other items from clay because it’s how they bring money into their community. While their day-to-day life has to be very difficult with such little resources, I actually envied their strength and contentment with the circumstances they were dealt. It forced me to take a second look at the things I considered to be problems or difficulties in my own life and reevaluate in a major way. And the children were adorable. I am not ashamed to say I wanted to adopt one.
We finished up our time in Paraguay with a city tour of downtown Asunción, a lecture from a professor at Universidad Nacional de Asunción, and a visit to Museo del Barro/Centro de Artes Visuales (Visual Arts Center and Museum of Clay).
(Lopez Presidential Palace in Asunción, Paraguay)
This spring break was one of the most amazing travel experiences of my life. Every now and then I have to stop and remind myself of where I come from. There are so many other things I could be doing with my life right now. There are so many other ways things could have turned out for me – negatively speaking. I wouldn’t dare try implying that my upbringing was extremely harsh by any means (especially after visiting the Guaraní!), but I have friends that I grew up with who aren’t even conscious of opportunities like this. In the lower-middle class neighborhood I grew up in, I never even considered the possibility of doing anything like this until I enrolled in college and found out about studying abroad. Traveling the world was always something I thought only my upper-middle class friends and rich people could do. It costs more to attend my university for one year than my parents make in the same amount of time. Yet God has allowed me to travel the world and see things many people never even dream of seeing in person. I’ve alluded to this in my blog before, but five years ago if you told me I’d be making pots with the Guaraní in Paraguay or taking pictures in front of a rainbow cast over one of the biggest waterfalls in the world, I would’ve questioned your sanity (in addition to asking “what the hell is a Guaraní?”). It’s truly been a humbling enjoyment. It’s amazing what God can do in such a short amount of time. It gives me hope and a sense of excitement for what these next few years will bring…
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