The following post was written by Alyssa Perez, a Loyola Marymount University junior (Theology and Political Science double major) who is spending the Fall, 2013 semester in the Casa de la Mateada program in Córdoba, Argentina. Her account is a reflection on the mid-semester break which comes after students have spent nearly two months in the classroom and in their praxis sites. The break is designed to give students an opportunity to move out beyond Córdoba and explore other parts of Argentina and Latin America and to bring these experiences back into their lives–in the Casa program and beyond.
Traveling is one of the best experiences that a person can have. Visiting other places in the world has opened my mind and my heart to new places and new people, and helped me to cultivate a deeper appreciation for other cultures. During our weeklong mid-semester break,which couldn’t have come at better time, we were able to travel together and explore Argentina and Chile. We ended up having some of the best experiences of our lives and went on adventures that we will never forget.
We started off by hopping on a 24-hour bus straight to Bariloche (south of Córdoba, in Patagonia) where we were expecting super cold, borderline-snow weather. When we arrived, the sun was out and it was actually pretty hot weather. We were so relieved because none of were really prepared for snowy weather when we packed for Argentina. Our first mission was to find a hostel and we got lucky at the MarcoPolo Inn. It was like a hotel and there were tons of travelers staying there with whom we got to meet and exchange stories with during our stay. We were staying by a gorgeous lake and spent most of our two days there just soaking up all of the fresh air and views. Most of our time in Bariloche was spent eating delicious chocolate, shopping, ice cream tasting, cake devouring, relaxing, walking around, and hiking–pretty much every college kid’s dream.
It was so nice to just relax for a while, with beautiful nature all around us, and have some time for ourselves (to journal, pray, and to just think). The lake (Lake Nahuel Huapi) was the bluest one I’ve ever seen. The best way I could describe the lake and the mountains was to think of the mountains on the Crystal Geyser water bottle labels and that’s where we were. It was so beautiful and nice to be around some water since Córdoba is somewhat lacking in that area (it is in the middle of the country far from the coast). The town is quaint, and the shops are full of artisanal goods and delicious coffee. We had no schedule, no itinerary; we were just there and enjoyed every second of it.
Eventually we were ready to hit the road again, and half of our group set out for Pucón and the other half went to Puerto Montt (both in southern Chile). This was the first time in Chile for all of us, and from the second we got off the bus, it hit us that we were not in Argentina anymore. The pesos were completely different (bills in the thousands), the culture and food were noticeably different, and the Spanish was foreign to our ears. Argentina has a very unique dialect that has evolved over time, and we didn’t realize how particular it was until we were in Chile. It was a nice change of pace, but the pesos still make no sense to me- I could not wrap my mind around the fact that I was spending 5,000 pesos on a sandwich. Culture shocks aside, to say that we all enjoyed our time in Chile would be an understatement. Those of us who traveled to Pucón enjoyed a day at some hot springs deep in the Chilean mountains where we simply got lost in nature and were cleansed by the healing, natural waters. The group in Puerto Montt also enjoyed their day on a 10-hour long tour where they got to see beautiful waterfalls and took a boat around the lake. It was nice that we all got to enjoy a few days out exploring and seeing Chile for the first time; but it was even better to reunite in Valparaiso and finish off our week together (a rendezvous achieved without cell phones!).
We spent our first day in Valparaiso on a walking tour throughout the city. We saw so many of the vista points where we got a feeling for the strong European influence in the city. The most impressive and beautiful part of Valparaiso was the profusion of art and murals throughout the city. The walls on every street in the city were completely covered with murals and other inspired art paintings by local artists. We found out that art was allowed, even encouraged, by the city government as a way to allow people to express themselves in a way that was uncensored. As long as the art was not offensive, and permission from the owner was given, then any mural could be put up anywhere there was free space.
As we walked around the city on the tour, the art told us the story of Valparaiso and its people in a way that our tour guide could not. The whole city was vibrant and alive with this art and left all of us wanting more and more of the city. We could walk down the same street (or hill mostly) multiple times and find a new picture or mural that we hadn’t seen before. It was such a rich experience and we got to see and learn a lot about the city in such a short amount of time.
Some members of the group stayed an extra day and spent the afternoon at the home of the esteemed Latin American poet, Pablo Neruda. One of his homes, La Sebastian, was located on one of the highest hills in Valparaiso with a view of the whole city from his dining room chair and front garden. There we learned first-hand about his life and poetry. His house was filled with a rich collection of things he had accumulated throughout his lifetime from all around the world. Seeing his life in this new perspective gave us context and insight for his poetry, which some of us had studied in our Spanish classes. The trip wrapped up nicely with a little shopping in one of the local plazas and then we bought our tickets for the long haul back home.
Throughout the many hours spent traveling on buses and backpacking through various towns in Argentina and Chile, we gained experiences and insights that we will always remember. Some students ended the week with even more plans for future travels through Chile and Argentina in the future. Bus travel and packing lightly has opened our eyes to a whole new idea of adventuring out into the world. We set out on a mission to see as much as we could and soak up as much of the towns that we could–and I think we all ended the week knowing that we had done just that. They say that travel does the heart good; our months in Argentina (and now Chile) have taught me that traveling is good for not only my heart, but also my mind and my soul. Traveling together (in a group of almost 9), as stressful as that may seem to some people, ended up making our experience that much better. Looking back on the week, there was so much adventure, laughter, and love. I am so grateful for this opportunity to see the world, but also for all of the friends that were with me along that journey. We know first-hand that Elizabelth Gilbert knew what she was talking about–the most important things in life are to see the world, but more importantly to eat(a lot), pray (often), and love (unconditionally). That is pretty much all we have been doing during our travels these last few months: we have seen some of the most beautiful places, eaten some of the most delicious food, opened our eyes and our hearts to the world, and spent some of the best days of our lives together here in South America.