Katie Riley '14

This weekend the Holy Cross group went to Mendoza for our last big group trip together. In terms of days spent away from the city, it was our shortest trip, but for me, it was our best trip. The bus ride out west only took us 14 hours, which seemed like no time at all compared to our other longer trips of roughly 20 hours. We left Buenos Aires Thursday night and arrived in the city of Mendoza mid-morning on Friday. After checking into the hostel, changing clothes, and having a quick lunch, we hit the ground running with a wine and olive oil tasting tour. I won’t lie, I had been looking forward to this specific tour for months. Growing up near Napa Valley, California and having a father who works in the wine industry has meant that I have grown up around wine. I enjoy learning about it and tasting it. I had fabulous time wine tasting in Spain with my family a few years ago and so I had been eager to repeat the experience in Argentina.

We went to two different wineries on our tour. First was Don Arturo, a small, older, family-run boutique winery followed by a newer, more modern, larger winery called Vistandes. I liked the feeling of being at the cute, old winery, but I was much more impressed with Vistandes because they had a patio that looked out over the vineyard and straight ahead was an amazing view of the Andes Mountains. The weather was warm and the sun was just starting to set over the mountains, which made for an unforgettable experience. Besides the patio, the best part of the second winery was the fact that our tour guide was from Worcester! This is the second time in a month that I have met someone in Argentina from Worcester—what a small world! After the wine tasting we stopped at a factory that makes olive oil and we took a tour to see how the oil was made as well as to taste some of the products. I am allergic to gluten so I didn’t partake in the tasting (dunking bits of bread into various types of olive oil) but I did try an olive straight from an 80-year-old olive tree, which was so bitter that I immediately spit it out.

The next day, Saturday, we had a 12-hour bus excursion planned to visit various sights around Mendoza. After my experience in Salta with the bus rides, I was slightly dreading having to spend the day on a tour bus, but it ended up being one of the most fabulous experiences I have had in Argentina. We started the day by driving out to the Andes and watching the sunrise over a lake in the mountains. At home, I live on an island so I am literally always surrounded by water. I had been feeling a little landlocked since arriving in Argentina so the trip to the lake was a great way to recharge. We then continued driving along the Mendoza River and even stopped to taste some ice cold mineral water from it. The next stop was a natural rock formation called Puente del Inca where the water has turned the stones a yellow-green color, which makes it look like a waterfall of colors is pouring down the side of the rock. If that was impressive, it was nothing compared to what we did next. We drove to Aconcagua National Park and took a two-hour hike to see the tallest mountain in the Americas, Aconcagua. The day was so clear that the view of the mountain was absolutely perfect. In fact, all the views in the park were magnificent. Besides Aconcagua, we also stopped by a little lake in the park where sulfur had turned the water a brilliant shade of turquoise. After the hike we stopped at a little shack for a delicious (and cheap!) lunch before heading back to the city of Mendoza.

Our last day in Mendoza we spent walking around the city, exploring the plazas, and stopping by a famous park. The weather was a perfect 75 degrees and sunny so we spent the rest of the afternoon laying on the grass in a park and enjoying just being in Mendoza. We finished the day with some ice cream and then headed to the bus station for our return trip to Buenos Aires.

This past Saturday I felt like such a local because I went to an event that is definitely only for people “in the know.” My friend found out about an underground food market (cleverly named the Buenos Aires Underground Market) via a Facebook event and it seemed like a fun way to spend our Saturday afternoon, so we went. I had joined the event on Facebook and had been following all the posts with pictures of the vendors that would be there and what they would be selling. The page itself was odd because some of the posts were in Spanish, but the majority were in English. I realized that the event was being held by a mostly ex-pat crowd, not Argentines, which made me even more excited to go.

The market was held in an abandoned warehouse in a part of the city that I had never been to before. My friend and I had to climb three flights of stairs past empty shop rooms and piles of scrap metal before we got to the market itself. Once we arrived we had to buy vouchers instead of paying the vendors with pesos. With eight tickets in hand, I headed into the market. Even though it was a small market, I felt overwhelmed because everything looked amazing! There were stands for drinks, frozen yogurt, all kinds of baked delights, granola, meat, and cheese. I walked around and talked to the different vendors who were mostly from the U.S. I met people from Chicago, Colorado, and even a woman from San Francisco! I ended up using my vouchers to grab some pulled pork, a cup of Cajun beans and rice, and a delicious piece of fudge from the woman from San Francisco. I was so full by the time I left! I was bummed that I missed out on the Vietnamese table because their food looked so tempting, but by the time I saw it, I didn’t have enough vouchers. Plus, there was no way I could have eaten any more. Thank goodness the vouchers were a little expensive because that stopped me from buying and trying everything in the room.

I left the market having spent a few more pesos than I had anticipated, but it was so worth it! Talking to the vendors, spending time with friends from school, and eating awesome food is always worth a few extra pesos in my book.

I was looking at the calendar the other day and I realized that I have officially passed the halfway point of my semester in Buenos Aires! It is a 20-week semester and I am now in my 11th week. I can’t believe that I have been here for so long! Looking at the semester from this point of view, it seems like I have so much to do in so little time. Once I realized this, I made a list of all the things that I have yet to do or see in Buenos Aires and I am committed to doing a few activities a week in order to get them all done before I leave in November for my semester break.

I started my challenge by going to see a free show at the world-famous Teatro Colón. According to my guidebook, the theater, built in 1908, was the largest theater in the Southern Hemisphere before the Sydney Opera House was completed in 1973. It is one of the most prominent buildings in Buenos Aires and the only one if its kind in Argentina. I had wanted to take a tour of the theater but it was going to cost more than 100 pesos so I had been putting it off, and luckily I did! My friend found out that the theater was passing out free tickets to see a concert celebrating 50 years of diplomatic relations between Argentina and Korea. For the concert my friend and I definitely sat in the worst seats in the house, but what can you expect from a free ticket? It was still great to see the inside of the theater even if we had to sit in the nosebleed section.

Next, I went to take a tour of the Congreso building. I walk past it a few times a week on my way to class and it looks so impressive from the outside. I have been dying to get a peak at what the interior looks like. Plus, the Political Science major in me desperately wants to see what the inner workings of the Argentine government looks like. Too bad that the day I went for the tour (again, free!) they had to cancel all tours due to an emergency meeting. I guess the Congreso will go back on the to-do list.

Third on the list for the week was the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA). It is one of the major museums in the city and a popular tourist destination, which is why I was slightly embarrassed that I hadn’t been to it yet.  My friends and I decided to go on Wednesday because that’s the day students get in free. Of course, when we went the main exhibit was closed for restoration (I think I have the worst tourist luck ever). So, I didn’t get to see any of the promised Diego Rivera or Frida Kahlo works, but rest of the exhibit was fairly interesting except for one room that was dedicated to an exhibit about potatoes which I thought was a little weird. Hopefully I have more luck next week with round two of my city explorations.

Do you get carsick? Are you afraid of heights? Then Salta is not the place for you.  I learned this the hard way over the weekend on our trip to the Northwestern regions of Salta and Jujuy.

We left Buenos Aires on Wednesday evening and arrived Thursday afternoon in the town of Salta. The most wonderful thing about stepping off the bus (besides the fact that we had finally stopped moving after about 20 hours) was that it was warm outside! The weather in Buenos Aires has been miserable ever since we arrived—cold and rainy almost every day. This was not the case in Salta. I was able to wear a t-shirt and flops for the first time since I left California and it was amazing. We spent our first afternoon doing a blitz tour around the city of Salta and ended the afternoon with a gondola ride up a near mountain so we could watch the sunset over the valley. I think I would have enjoyed it more had I not been dreading the actual ride up the mountain. The sunset, however, was magnificent, and so I ended the day excited to explore more of what the region had to offer.

I wasn’t really sure where we were going the next morning when the bus showed up at 7:30am to pick us up for that day’s excursion. We were told that we would be visiting this little town called Cachi and seeing the valley. I had looked it up in my guidebook and all I saw was a little, cute town in the middle of nowhere. Little did I know, it would be one intense bus ride just to see this town. We basically spent ten hours on a bus/minivan winding up the sides of mountains, climbing thousands of meters and stopping along the way to take pictures. The worst part was that I don’t think Argentina really values guardrails in the same way that we do, so on some sides of the mountain, the only thing standing between your car and a tumble down the cliff is a little wooden pike. It didn’t exactly make the ride much easier, especially for me because I don’t do very well on these types of car rides. In fact, I try to avoid them whenever possible. Luckily, we arrived safely in the town of Cachi, spent a few hours looking around and then had to make the trek back down the mountain to Salta.

The next day was round two of mountain adventures. I cringed when our guide Maria told us that it would be an even longer day and that we would be climbing even higher into the mountains. Our first leg of the trip was a stop in a town called Purmamarca where they sell hand made goods. We only had an hour to do a quick shopping trip and have our picture taken in front of Cerro de los Siete Colores (or the Hill of Seven Colors) before it was back on the bus and straight up the mountain (not exaggerating—the road was so steep it felt like we were driving at a 90 degree angle) so that we could reach the top at over 4,000 meters. I declined the photo op at the top of the mountain and instead hid in the bus with my eyes closed waiting until we reached a lower altitude, chewing furiously on my coca leaves to help balance my oxygen levels. When we finally did reach the valley it was to stop at the Salinas Grandes, Argentina’s famous salt flats, which are in the neighboring province of Jujuy. You could see the salt deposits from miles around and close-up it looked like a combination of snow and sand. After Salinas Grandes we made our way through the valley via an unpaved road they refer to as a “famous highway.” I couldn’t be sure if that was irony or not, but either way, the scenery was beautiful, the car ride, however, was a nightmare.

We made it back to Buenos Aires two days later after another long overnight bus ride and I am so happy to be back in the city on flat land. It was cool to visit Salta and Jujuy, but if I don’t have to see another bus or mountain for a while I’ll be very happy. Now I just have to catch up my schoolwork and write my first paper of the semester.

After reading through my previous blog entries, I realized that I had left out an important piece of my experience: my daily life. Yes, I go on trips and excursions and act like a tourist, but I also go to school and have a schedule. Like at Holy Cross, my day revolves around my classes. On Mondays I have two classes, which are each about 2-3 hours long. Then, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays I have class in the afternoon (which means Wednesdays I don’t have class at all!). I thought it might be a good idea to explain what a day in my life is like, but then I thought an even better idea would be to actually show my friends and family what it’s like to live a day in my life here in Buenos Aires. Here is my day in photos…

The elevator in my house. I have to use it even though I live on the first floor because I don't have the key to the stairs. Sometimes I wish I had this problem at Holy Cross too.

Waving good morning to the neighbors as I leave the house. Oh did I forget to mention that the Papal Nuncio (the Vatican's ambassador) is my neighbor?

Taking the bus to class

Made it to the university! Today I had class in the "Letras" or Literature department

When in doubt, I look for the USAL green signs above buildings that describe what department is housed in that particular building. This building has the offices of the administrators who work with "intercambios" or exchange students.

Waiting in the Intercambio building to have a meeting with our HC program director to talk about classes

El Ateneo--the most famous book store in Buenos Aires. I went there to look for a book for my literature class. Usually students don't have books. You have to go to a kiosk where they have a copy of your reading assignment on file and you have to ask for a copy. It can be a very confusing process (especially if you don't know what kiosk to go to).

My dry cleaners. Some days after class I stop by to drop off my laundry. The couple who runs it are so nice to me, even though every time they ask for my name they spell it wrong. "Katey," "Keliey," and now it's "K" with a scribble--they've given up

My favorite pit-stop on my way home is the grocery store. I love picking out what I am going to cook for lunch the following day.

I usually end my day (or start it, depending on my schedule) at my little gym down the street. Lately it's where I have been watching the Olympic too. I get to workout and catch up on Olympic news at the same time.

I am officially the only Holy Cross student living in my house now. The first group of HC students that studied abroad here in Buenos Aires have all gone home and so now it’s just us juniors (I can’t believe junior year is here already!). It’s so weird that Cynthia isn’t going to be around anymore. I had gotten so used to having her here that I forgot that she wasn’t going to be staying with me until November. Now, without her around to answer my every Buenos Aires question I guess I am going to have to start figuring things out for myself. I actually have to pay attention when taking the bus because there won’t be anyone to tell me when to get off. I’m going to miss her so much but I’m also excited (and a little nervous) about the idea of really being on my own. It’s time to take the training wheels off my Buenos Aires experience and go out, get lost, and make the city my own.

Luckily, before Cynthia left, she let me tag along on one last adventure with her. We went to the theater district and saw Mamma Mia, which was headlining at one of the biggest theaters in the city. I don’t know why, but for some reason I thought that we were going to see the musical in English. I do know that I am currently living in a Spanish-speaking country, but it hadn’t occurred to me that the production would be translated. Cynthia laughed when I asked her if it was in English, but in my defense when you go to the movies here they are in English with Spanish subtitles so I figured that a play would also be in English. Boy was I wrong. Not only was the dialogue in Spanish, but the songs were too! It was a little disorienting to hear Abba in Spanish, especially because they would keep certain phrases in English like “Dancing Queen” or “Honey, Honey” while the rest of the song was in Spanish. It was a great experience and I really enjoyed myself despite the fact that we were actually in the last row in the theater and so high up that I could see down behind the sets to where the crew was working. If nothing else, it made me want to go back and see the musical the next time I’m in New York City so I can get the true “Mamma Mia experience.”

I am eager to start this new era in Buenos Aires on my own. First items on the agenda: shopping and registering for new classes at the University!

I just got back from an amazing trip to northern Argentina! The entire Holy Cross group (the first semester group and our group) left Friday night for an 18 hour bus ride to a region called Missiones, which is a part of Argentina that borders both Paraguay and Brazil. We got to our hostel in Iguzú around 2pm after a long night on the bus. I was pleasantly surprised at the bus experience. The seats were way more comfortable than those of any airline I’ve ever been on! They were more like beds than seats so we all basically slept the entire bus ride. On Saturday we took a bus into town and walked out to a place called Hito de Las Tres Fronteras, which is a viewing place where you can stand in Argentina and look out and see parts of both Paraguay and Brazil right across the river. Even though it was such a tease to be so close to those two other countries and not be able to visit, it was still cool to say that I saw them. After a freezing night in out little hostel we got up early on Sunday to head to Iguazú National Park. We spent from about 9am—3pm on a guided tour exploring the massive park. Our first stop was a waterfall called “La Garganta del Diablo” or the devil’s throat. It was more like a canyon of water or a giant pit than a waterfall. It was not graceful or pretty like other falls, but more impressive and slightly scary. After that massive water hole we moved on to see some more traditional-looking waterfalls. My favorite view (a tough pick considering the day was filled with multiple breath-taking and magnificent views) was a spot where you looked out between the trees to see what looked like a wall of falls, a wall that extended as far as the eye can see. To top it off, there was a rainbow rising high above the falls. I have never seen anything like it in my life—it’s no wonder Iguazú Falls is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The next day we were scheduled to leave Iguazú around 6pm for another long bus ride, but before we left, we had one last adventure—a jungle excursion! We all signed up for this optional excursion not really knowing what it had in store for us. We hopped on an open air, safari-like vehicle early in the morning and drove out to the jungle location. Once we got there we finally got the details of what we would be doing: a jungle hike, zip lining, and cliff rappelling. I was so excited because even though I am terrified of heights, I’ve always wanted to go zip lining. After a quick walk on a dirt path (aka the “jungle hike’) we arrived at the first platform for the zip lining and we all got suited up in our harnesses, helmets and gloves and then climbed the ladder up to the starting point. I thought for a second that I might not be able to do it, but I surprised myself by pushing off and heading out into the treetops on the zip line. It was such an adrenaline rush! It was definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever done and now that I know I can do it, I have to do it again! It was so much fun. What wasn’t fun, however, was the cliff rappelling. I watched all of the other HC kids use the rope and hop backwards down the rock face and so I thought that even though I was terrified, I should at least give it a try…Bad idea. I ended up half falling, half slamming into the rock all the way down. I’m usually pretty coordinated, but I think all my coordination shut off in those few minutes and I landed with two bloody, bruised knees. I’m proud I did it, but I’m not too happy that I injured myself in the process. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience because I don’t think I will be doing that ever again.

We all hopped on the bus a few hours later and made our way back to the city. Back to school and reality!

Hito de Las Tres Fronteras (Paraguay to the left and Brazil on the right)

Garganta del Diablo

Enjoying the falls at Iguazú

the best view of the day!

zip lining for the first time

I can’t believe I’ve already been living in Buenos Aires for a week! It’s weird because I simultaneously feel like I just got here and that I’ve been here for so much longer. Either way, the past week has been a blur. I moved in with my host mom, toured the city, and started school. The most challenging part of the experience thus far (besides communicating constantly in Spanish) has been adjusting to life in a city that is so different from any I’ve ever lived in. Before I came here I heard people compare Buenos Aires to other cities like Paris or New York, but really it can’t be compared because it is just so different. There is so much to see that I don’t think I can get to it all in just one year. I’m going to try to do my best though!

While I am here I am trying to balance exploring the city like a tourist and living like a local. As far as touring goes, I have been to the obelisk (the iconic monument in the center of the city), walked down Calle Florida (the seemingly endless main shopping street), experienced a protest at the Plaza de Mayo (the historic plaza commemorating the May revolution that led to Argentina’s independence), and seen the Casa Rosada (where the President works) among other things.  As far as living like a local, I’ve gone to the grocery store, joined a gym, and bought a cell phone. Trying to adapt to life in Buenos Aires has been made so much easier thanks to another Holy Cross student, Cynthia, who lives in the same apartment with me. She has lived with my host mom for the past five months and she has been an amazing source of information on everything from places to eat, things to see, and how to not spend money like a tourist. Even though she will only be here for a few more weeks it’s great to have another person in the house to help with the adjustment period. I can’t imagine coming here and being one-on-one all the time with my host mom. I also can’t imagine trying to figure out the neighborhood and daily activities without Cynthia.

Now that I have started school I am on a schedule, but it is so different from the one I have at Holy Cross. Usually at Holy Cross, I get up early in the morning, go to the gym, have breakfast, and then spend the rest of the day going to classes and meetings and doing work. I usually eat dinner around 6:00pm and then I go to bed early. Here, however, I am on Argentine time. I get up later and have a tiny breakfast before I meet up with other Holy Cross students and we walk about an hour to get to the Academia, which is where we have class from 9:30am until 1:30pm. After school, we walk together to get a cheap lunch nearby and then we all head back to our houses via the Subte (their version of the subway or metro). I get home around 3:30pm and then I have the rest of the afternoon to myself. Usually I am so exhausted from my day that I can’t do much more than the little bit of homework we get and maybe work out at the gym. My host mom gets back from work around 7:00pm and we sit down to dinner around 8:30pm. Here, that is an early dinner—some of the other HC students don’t eat dinner until after 10pm! My schedule this week will be a little different because all the Holy Cross students are taking a trip together to Iguazú Falls, which is on the Brazil border, north of Buenos Aires. I hear it is breathtaking and I can’t wait to see it!

the Holy Cross group at the River soccer stadium (the two rival teams in Buenos Aires are River and Boca)

The obelisk in downtown Buenos Aires. It sits in the middle of the widest avenue in the world!

The Casa Rosada

Puente de la mujer in Puerto Madero (the city's newest and most expensive neighborhood)

It’s hard to imagine that in less than a week I will be in Argentina. I feel like the semester just ended and summer has just begun, but I also know that a week from today I will be starting school again. How is that possible? I still have boxes to unpack from last semester.

I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to simultaneously prepare mentally for my departure and enjoy the remaining time at home with my friends and family. I’ve found that it’s a little difficult to relax when you’re feeling intense anxiety about leaving. Luckily, my mom, sister and I planned a spur-of-the-moment girl’s road trip down to L.A to take my mind of things. We drove down to Anaheim on Tuesday, stopping by the Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach Boardwalk on the way. I had been feeling guilty that I have lived in California for about 15 years now and I had never been to Santa Monica or Venice. It turned out there really wasn’t much to see, especially because the weather wasn’t nice enough to go swimming. Once we arrived in Anaheim, we spent two nights at a Disney hotel overlooking California Adventure and we spent all day Wednesday running around the Disneyland theme parks. Despite the screaming children and scary Disney characters, it was an amazing time. We headed home on Thursday and although I was exhausted from the trip, I was glad to be home so I could focus on doing last minute Argentina prep.

Before I could focus on Argentina, however, I had to focus on the going away barbeque that my family was hosting for me. Even though it isn’t unusual for me to be going thousands of miles away for months at a time (which is what I do every semester for school), this trip seemed to warrant a celebration, or at least made a good excuse to have one. Ever since I can remember my family has been hosting these types of gatherings with my closest friends and their families and they are always so much fun. We all met back in kindergarten and our families have sort of melted into one big family unit. When we all get together it is like nothing has changed despite the fact that my friends and I attend college all over the country and we have grown up quite a lot in the last 15 years. This was the perfect send-off for my upcoming trip. There is nothing better than knowing that no matter how far away I go or for how long, I can always come home to this community of families who love and support me.

3 days until I leave! Time to start thinking about packing…

The Santa Monica Pier

The Santa Monica Pier

My sister and me in Santa Monica

looking into California Adventure from our hotel room

A going away gift from my friends (a drawing of Argentina and the U.S that says, "wherever you may be, it is your friends who make your world")

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Katie Riley '14

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