Sunday (the 3rd) marked a full month of living in Mendoza for me. This past August was easily the fastest month of my entire life. I can confidently say that every day of the month I either did something that was brand-new to me, or I met someone who I had never known before. Ever since I got down here I have only been able to think one day at a time. If I tried to plan any further ahead I would get lost in all the possibilities. Since I know September, October, November, and December are going to be filled with excitement as well, I am going to attempt to recall everything I did in my first month right now:
31 Jul. 2017 – Like anyone in my position, I started packing the day before I left. This was the first time I have ever checked a piece of luggage while flying, so that was already something new for me. Usually when I travel I shove everything in my carry-on bag and my “personal item,” and even for this trip I still packed relatively light; I only checked one hiking backpack which is smaller than a typical suitcase (my secret to packing light: lots of underwear, not a lot of anything else).
The next day, I boarded my flight and crossed the equator for the first time in my life. The planes I flew on were big and fancy compared to what I am used to (they had TVs on the back of each seat! This is probably only exciting to me…).
After I landed in Mendoza, I took a taxi from the airport to a hotel where I stayed for the first night. That’s where I met the other U.S. student in my same program who I now take all my classes with. I also met my program director that night, as well as ate at an incredible restaurant.
The next day was spent being tourists, seeing all the big things to see in the city and not having a clue as to what the tour guide was saying about them. I also met my host family who I will be living with until I leave Argentina. They are extremely nice and fun to spend time with. At first it was difficult to understand them (like everyone else), leading to a little bit of awkwardness for me (not being able to talk to the people feeding you is weird), but I think they have hosted students at least a few times before me because they seem totally fine with my lack of communication ability.
They also try to include me in things; one of their daughters (who I think works for a media outlet of some kind) took me to a high school where a city politician was visiting. So, I got to see a school, which is different because a lot of them have a central courtyard with all the classrooms surrounding it. Every once in a while, my family has big family meals where they cook a ton of meat (knows as ‘asado’). Me sitting there not saying anything to them while they talk for hours at the table is totally cool and doesn’t faze them. This is great because I get to enjoy the amazing food and slowly improve my Spanish comprehension.
Those first few days we also met the other foreign students who are all from many different countries around the world. Despite some speaking Spanish and others having more or less knowledge than others, I think most of us were still affected by the daily schedule of life here. Personally, I was completely drained every day for the first two weeks. The schedule here means I don’t go to bed until later in the night. There is also a larger gap between meals so even though I would eat a full meal for lunch my body would be expecting something by early evening. A month later: I am pretty much used to the schedule here. My body doesn’t expect food at the times it normally does in the States and I have also adjusted my sleeping schedule to this place.
School – Four classes and an internship. Two days of the week I have three classes back to back (normally not a huge deal, but the Spanish aspect takes a toll), the other days I either have just two or one class per day, so Tuesdays and Thursdays will be the challenging days. Luckily, the instructors for the classes are very understanding of our ability, or lack thereof, to fluently (or smoothly, or quickly, or easily) speak the language.
I remember being asked by a few people if I needed to buy books for my classes. At the time I did not know. Now, I can answer: nope. Well, all but one of my classes don’t need books. The books we need for the one class are just short literature stories, and they cost about 5% of the price of books in the States, my first book cost $1 USD. . . outrageous.
One of my classes is actually about wine, so in one month I have already walked through four different wineries and an olive oil factory. I laugh to myself because where Omaha stops, the corn rows begin. Where Mendoza stops, the vineyards begin. A lot of tourism to Mendoza is for the so-called “wine country,” and for good reason. I have been told different statistics by different people, but if I travel the middle road and remember properly, there are more than 2,000 wineries in the Mendoza region. Of these couple thousand there are a couple hundred open to tourism, some massive, others itty-bitty, all offer wine tastings. In these, I try my best to act like I know what I am doing. In reality, I feel kind of bad because I probably do not appreciate it as much as someone else would. Nonetheless, my taste receptors still work, and the wine they give is almost always better than the cheap stuff I usually drink (we were given a fortified wine and I did not agree with it, nor did anyone I was with).
If there is one thing I am sure I have done every day the past month: ate dulce de leche. Dulce de leche is NOT caramel. It looks like it, moves like it, and what smell it has might be similar. But, I am not a very big caramel fan; a little bit is okay, but any more is too much for me. I am a huge dulce de leche fan! A little bit is okay, but any less is just sad! My breakfasts, every day, have consisted of toast, these other toasted bread things, and dulce de leche. It’s fantastic. I can already tell that I will definitely miss this when I leave. If anyone knows of a dulce de leche hook-up in the States, please let me know (the real shit too, not the fake-knockoff-wannabe stuff I’ve heard of — I am a little serious).
One of the reasons I was excited to come to Mendoza was the proximity to the mountains. I love the mountains! They are massive, they offer endless activities, and above everything else, they are beautiful beyond my vocabulary (my English vocabulary that is, most things are still beyond my Spanish vocab…). I am a bit disappointed in myself because I completely overlooked my ability to get to those mountains. I don’t have access to a vehicle here, so I can either walk, or take the public bus to places. The bus doesn’t go much beyond the city limits, leaving me mountainless (at least I can still look at them!). 🙁 There is the option to take charter buses to places further from the city, which I will do, this just takes a bit more time and money, and I’ll have to plan them (I don’t like making plans).
I have been to the foothills near the city (within range of the bus) to go hiking for the day. It was the first time I got an unobstructed view of the country. There, we climbed a mountain, which was a small bump on the ground to anyone who lives near real mountains. I also spent a day skiing at a place called Las Leñas, which was in the mountains and also an incredible view of the mountains (did you notice the new website image?). Did I mention that I skied in the month of August? It was a strange feeling. 🙂
I’ve also flown over the Andes three times in the past month. We spent a weekend in Chile where I saw some pretty big buildings in Santiago and some really, really cool street art in Valparaiso. Being a bit of a physics geek, I was very fascinated in how the tall buildings are constructed to withstand the wicked earthquakes that are not uncommon all through Chile. I also saw the Pacific Ocean with my own eyes! For a ton of people this means absolutely nothing. I, however, have never been to an ocean. I think the beach sounds like a very neat place to spend a day, and a night. Some of the world’s happiest people live in close proximity to beaches. I have seen the ocean twice, many thousands of feet in the air from a window in the side of a jet, but up to this day I had never seen it in what I consider plain sight. Unfortunately, we were not able to make it down to a beach, so that still eludes me. 🙁
I did get the chance to spend a few minutes just staring off into the nothingness that it is. I have spent a decent amount of time in my life driving through “the middle of nowhere” (I’m mostly referring to Montana, South Dakota, Utah, Nevada, Iowa, and of course Nebraska). Because of this experience, I can’t, at all, fathom what it’s like to travel an ocean on a boat. That seems nuts!
My first thought when I looked out to the horizon was exactly that, “Where is the horizon?” I found it, but it looked a loooooooong way away. After that I looked to the left, then to right. To my left was the ocean, to my right was the ocean. Wow That’s Fantastic! I doubt anyone else there with me was thinking the same things, but to me it was amazing.
Something not amazing here: fast food. I tried a few fast food joints when I first got here. In the States, I prefer to stray away from these places as much as possible. Here, I was curious if it was at all different (I was actually hopeful). It isn’t. At all. McDonald’s tastes the same (not good, in case you were wondering what “the same” means to me). There’s a place called Kingo that serves the largest hamburgers I have ever seen in my life – I’m talking about full hand-sized patties and three patties to a single burger, then, all the typical burger condiments. So, serving sizes aren’t any different. And then there’s the infamous Mr. Dog which I have mentioned once already. They serve hot dogs drowning in condiments. Subway might be the only exception. I don’t taste it, but a friend thinks the meats taste better. So, if you want to eat fresher, come to Mendoza.
I should probably include something about the saucy condiment called “golf” since it is something new to me. Golf, so I’ve been told, is a combination of mayo and ketchup. So not only does Mr. Dog happily gift you a trough of ketchup, mustard, and mayo, but you also get more ketchup and mayo via golf (I have verified, it does come with an actual hot dog, but sometimes it takes a little searching). Golf doesn’t taste bad, on certain things, but unlike dulce de leche, I’ll quickly forget about this stuff when I leave.
Please, don’t let the fast food paint the picture for all the food. The real sit-down restaurants are spectacular, at a minimum. I don’t know what a lot of the foods are (partly because of the language, partly because some are actually different from anything in the States) so I usually just pick something at random. So far this is working great for me! I have eaten meat that literally melted in my mouth. It is no surprise that Argentinians take great pride in the quality of their meats. The other amazing thing is the price of it all. If presented to me back home, I would put a $25-$35 price tag on many of these plates. Meals here usually cost between $10-$15 (including wine)… just amazing!
I have taken a tango class as well! This will come as a surprise to many who know me as I’ve never been a dancer. I enjoy watching others dance, just never been one myself. I’ve been told that tango, specifically, is a hard form to dance. I guess there’s nothing like a baptism by fire! I’m actually lying by saying I’ve only taken a class in the past month, but I’m not going to tell the true number until my skill reflects more that of someone who has only attended one lesson (I blame it on the language barrier!).
And then there’s soccer. No, sorry, fútbol! We have watched a couple national soccer matches so far and they are very fun. I’ve never been a sports fan, and still am not. But what I am a fan of are the fans. The reason I enjoy going to sporting events is the atmosphere that the fans make when everyone is cheering for the same thing. So, watching a soccer match on television isn’t very appealing to me. But, watching a fútbol match on a TV in a bar in the country that is playing in a national game, yes, I can do that!
Before going to the first match, I was told that for big matches there would be people in the streets afterwards and to be careful. If they win, people parade, if they lose, people riot. So far I have seen neither a parade nor a riot because the first game was a 0-0 tie, the second game was a 1-1 tie. The tension in those bars in the final minutes of those games was unbelievable.
Things I don’t like after a month: people walking down the middle of the sidewalk and the exhaust pollution. I have already commented once on the sidewalk kings, and my opinion is still the same. I intentionally try to only walk on the right side, but it doesn’t work no matter how hard I try. I somehow find myself being forced to the left edge of the sidewalks. The other thing I don’t like is all the exhaust from vehicles. I noticed it right away when I first got here but thought I would get used to it after a week or two. Still, every day when I walk along the streets I can smell the fumes. I suppose after spending the better part of 22 years in the wide-open city of Omaha, and rarely walking along the non-existent busy and crowded streets, it is something that will take longer to adjust to.
The last thing that happened in the first month was adjusting my feeling of home. I wrote in an earlier post about my definition of ‘home’ and how it is not tied to a geological point on earth. Rather, home is the place where I feel comfortable. Home is where my family and friends are and where I can always go and be welcomed. In the past month, Mendoza has started to carve a little place into what I consider home.
I first noticed this when we went to Chile for a weekend.
We flew from MDZ to SCL, after we landed we got into a taxi which drove us into the city. As I was staring out the window of that cab I got this strange and uncomfortable feeling. I was in a new city, there were buildings all over, and I recognized nothing. Spinning a Twister dial and me guessing would have presented the same odds of finding the direction north. Even the language was different. I was in the process of getting used to Mendoza-accented Spanish and now I was attempting to unravel Chile-accented Spanish. A small part of me wanted to go back home to Mendoza where I was more comfortable. That’s when it hit me, and I smiled at myself; these were the exact feelings I had when I arrived in Mendoza just a few weeks prior! In just that short period of time I had become comfortable enough with Mendoza for it to feel like ‘home’. I have a sort of surrogate family here, I have new friends here, and I know how Mendoza works more than Santiago, Chile.
Don’t worry, Mom, Omaha is still home to me.
Family, friends, comfort. I will always have those in Omaha and it will always be home unless everyone I know there, strangely, moves away. Even then, I know Omaha better than any other place, so I will always be more comfortable there than any other city or country.
Slowly, though, Mendoza is making its own little home for me. As I said, I have people here, and every day I am becoming more comfortable. Much of the city is still unexplored for me, but the parts I do know I am getting to know well. Without thinking I now know which way is north, most of the time. Using Celsius isn’t strange, nor is the use of Argentine pesos. Besides measuring distances in kilometers, I haven’t had the need to use the metric system very much, so that’s still different but not essential.
The fact that I will be here for three more months also helps with calling this new place home. If I was leaving at the end of this month it would feel more like visiting for a long time rather than living here for a short time. And speaking of time, realizing that a month has already gone by tells me just how fast the next three are going to go. Three months sounds like a lot to me, but considering I started writing this post before the month of August ended, and now we are almost 50% finished with September, time soars. Writing these posts also probably makes things go faster. It fills my free time and I actually wish I had more time to write because it feels a bit wrong posting about what I did in the ‘past month of August’ when I know that I will not get this on the website till close to halfway though September. Maybe I should start working on “What I Did My Second Month” right now!
Besos, y’all! 😘