Archives for posts with tag: Argentina

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI wish I could put a word to it, although doing so would unjustly confine it. “It” being those circumstances of something more than just coincidence, something that God brings to your attention again and again, like He is allowing things to come full circle for us. “It” being those instances that knock the wind out of you, that make you raise an eyebrow to the sky and ask, “Really?” Our “Dios grande,” as Miguel (one of our canellito friends) would say, is a little “chistoso” at times. Between every minute of my joyful time at La Luciérnaga and the stories and moments Fr. Boyle describes in Tattoos on the Heart, I am finding myself feeling blessed with these connections that are both awesome and at times just plain ridiculous.

And this brings to mind the question, why me? This question is on my mind almost as much as the age old “como se dice…?” Why am I allowed to be a part of this experience, which is not only confusing because of the dissonance caused by my economic advantage that allows me to come here, but how was I “lucky” enough that the events in my life lead me to here? Why am I allowed to experience something as beautiful as La Luciérnaga, or the opportunity for growth in spirituality and community?

While all of these questions have been important in helping me reflect on gratitude and grace, I realize that in focusing on my own singularity in this experience at Casa de la Mateada, there is an underlying implication that I had a part to play in this, that by some merit or action of mine I was chosen to be here rather than another. In reality, these subtle, internal insinuations that I am here because of some excellence on my own part not only isolate me from the Other, who does not have access to the advantages I was born with, but it also acts as a shield against the unknown and unexpected. If I believe that I am able to experience beauty because of my own doing, then I will expect the same from the rest of my life–but only if I keep everything under control. I can be happy if I am perfect. And the most important part of “I am perfect” (in this way of thinking) is the “I am.”

This isolating and exhausting train of thought is greatly influenced and reinforced by my college education. While I am entirely grateful for the opportunity for a good college education, it has secured my place in a grid of “I’s” wherein I am fully responsible for my own success, and any privilege I own is earned by my own good doing. And yes, there is great possibility within myself, and yes, I can achieve things. But in this search for my own best inner self, I often forget that my inner self is not man-made. We do not make it, certainly not by ourselves.

Again, I am reminded (“reminded” being used here as a gentler form of “smacked upside the head”) with the depth of God’s love, and the paradoxical power of being small. I am reminded of my place in the community, the Body of Christ, and the blessing of having not only someone, but the One, to care for me, to remember me.

And reflecting on this care and remembrance that I am unabashedly given, not only through God’s love, but through the people around me, isOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA another lesson in how tremendously important it is that we remember others. Gustavo Gutierrez notes that “…the breakthrough of the poor in Latin American society and the Latin American church is in the final analysis a breakthrough of God in our lives.” And this, I am coming to see, is real, not just a metaphor. By experiencing the breakthrough of God in such encounters, like those that happen every week at La Luciérnaga, we experience our own humility and our own reliance on others, and we break into the world of the people ignored. We are reminded of our responsibility to the poor, to ourselves. It is both a result of and point of departure of God’s breakthrough in us.

Sometimes we experience this paradox, this loss of a tightly secluded self and gain of God’s likeness of His Church through the gentle leaching away of our thoughts or those “videos,” in our head, a false reality that is perverse by nature (as no one could create a reality as complex or stunning as God). Sometimes our true nature is exposed by our being buffeted helplessly by events and people roaring by us.

La Luciérnaga is an endless source of this “pummeling” kind of grace for me. I had read Tattoos on the Heart a few times before this semester, but reading it in light of my experiences at La Luci has made it all come to life anew. Today, as our canellito friend told us his real name (we had been using his nickname all this time), Father Boyle’s anecdote about Sniper and the importance of names, and of remembering names, came to life. Our friend “Chancho” suddenly becomes Christian Javier, the name his mother gave him, and Christian Javier is really just a son loved by his mother.

We often talk about traveling at La Luci, so when I read the heartbreak of the homeboy who wrote, “they see me as less,” (Tattoos), I immediately thought of Mariano, my age, who told me that he just wants to travel wherever he’s not seen as the “lo minúsculo.” It would seem like an impossible coincidence that these parallels are forming, but really it is the formation of a bigger picture, one that we know well: that we, as humans, have that “great pull in us to connect,” (Tattoos), that we want to be known, and we want to be remembered.

The first time we went to La Luci, there were students from a colegio visiting as well. That day, we were introduced to the can’t-miss Argentine experience that is Victor’s impossible Castellano. Since then, a few more schools have visited, and each time, miracle upon miracle, I am understanding a bit more. The most insane part of these school visits, however, is my place, my physical place, in them. Unlike the first visit, when we sat with the masses on the steps, peering down at the canellitos from above, now we sit with them on the floor, with the rest of the pueblo Luciérnago. We are introduced as part of the group, sitting with knees all folded so more can cram onto the groaning table that becomes our seat, Darío leaning up against my legs like they’re the back of a chair, Miguel sitting to my side so he can lean over and whisper (I use the word “whisper” generously) snide comments and insults about all the kids in their uniforms (then he goes and sits with them at lunch and chats with them like they’re old friends; he’s only a few years older than them after all).

My position not only in imgres-1the room, but most importantly, my position with the people there, has integrally changed, and with that, I am integrally changed as well. Somehow, I have become a part of this group, somehow I am sitting with them, am presented as a part of them. Somehow, on La Avenida Sarsfield, in Córdoba, Argentina, in this unsuspecting place where all these lives miraculously find a common thread, I have found a home.

Rachel Nease is a student at Gonzaga University in Washington, where she is majoring in biology. 

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was a lot of talk about “living simply” at the beginning of the semester. Some of us were concerned. How can we live simply in this nice house? How can we live simply when a large pile of pan magically appears every Tuesday with our groceries? In his book, Tattoos on the Heart, Greg Boyle said, “Our choice is not to focus on the narrow but to narrow our focus.”

Here are some things that I don’t normally focus on that I have found myself focusing on this semester: steam twirling above a mug of tea, water sounds, clouds slowly moving, the smell of flowers on the walk to the bus, flight patterns of mariposas, birds chirping, clothes swaying on the line. Also, curling up with friends to watch a movie, watching sunsets together, sing-a-longs and sharing stories. I looked up from my reading to encounter a bird fly by and land on a branch perfectly in view. It was a warm, beautiful morning in our quiet backyard. I allowed myself to take a big gulp of the sun’s rays and was filled to the brim with gratitude. “Wow, I thought. I am so grateful I have the time to do this.”

Then, I realized something very important: I don’t have the time to do this. I am still busy here. I want (and need) to go to class, go to praxis, do homework, spend time with friends, pray, call my mom, clean . . .  our “to-do” lists in Argentina are as long as those in the States. This is great news because it means these moments are, potentially, everywhere. I can live simply in a tiny village in the hills of some foreign country. I can live simply in a big city. I can live simply at Casa de la Mateada and at Spring Hill College.

“The gate that leads to life is not about restriction at all.” The simplest life is the one lived in the present moment. The act of just being requires a focus so narrow… it might even exclude the simple living toaster.

Maddie LaForge is a Theology/Psychology Double Major from Spring Hill College in Alabama. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is a pleasure to introduce to you the students from our Fall 2014 (or Spring, if you are looking at things from Argentina) cohort of Casa de la Mateada. They have arrived here from different parts of the United States and from different Jesuit Universities–LMU, Boston College, St. Louis University, Gonzaga University and Spring Hill College–to open themselves to an exciting, challenging (and yes, sometimes bewildering) experience of living, studying, learning, traveling in and being changed by Argentina.

How are they being changed? It is probably too early say. But already these students have distinguished themselves by their readiness to throw themselves into the life of this place, to open themselves to the experience of being here. That takes courage. And a willingness to allow yourself to be vulnerable.

The brief introductions below were written by the students. They interviewed each other and composed brief sketches of their classmates: those characteristic features that have already begun to emerge during the first few weeks of the program. You will enjoy meeting them. And a little later on, you will hear more from them directly.

Helen FarnanOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The mighty Helen hails from Cleveland, Ohio and is currently at Saint Louis University studying Economics (along with International Studies, Spanish and Urban Poverty Studies). She is pure, sweet, and strong. She has the spirit of both a playful child and of a fierce wolf. One time, her parents told her she wouldn’t be able to run a marathon, so she signed up for one and ran it the next week. Helen is badass. In her spare time here at Casa de la Mateada she likes to build benches in the backyard and play soccer with the boys. She is also the master of pranks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAClaire Horrigan

The indescribable Claire Horrigan made the trip all the way from her home of Greenwood Village, Colorado to Córdoba with her giraffe pillow pet, Wilbur (and her sense of adventure) in tow. She is in her third year at Boston College, studying economics with a minor in Faith, Peace, and Justice. Claire loves to run and to be outside; she also loves baking delicious pasteles, painting and making art. In Boston, she likes to volunteer with Saint Francis House, eat cannolis, and generally obsess over the Jesuits. She loves the beautiful architecture and the antiquity of the churches in Córdoba, and is amazed at the welcoming nature of the Argentines. She thinks that the warm and loving culture here and the continual besos are wonderful!

Farah KerawalaOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Farah’s adventurous spirit has led her all across the world! From Tajikistan to China to Korea, nothing is too foreign for Farah. And now, Argentina. Farah enjoys listening to music, chatting with her friends, drinking coffee in mom and pop cafés, and taking long walks. One of her major talents and hobbies is photography, which she picked up from her roommate in China who had a camera. She most enjoys capturing nature and candid photos of her friends in their funny moments. In addition to this, Farah also has a passion for languages. She believes that they allow you to communicate and develop deeper relationships with people of other cultures, which would explain why she has chosen Modern Languages as her major!

Maddie LaForgeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Maddie enjoys making chistes. Poquitos chistes. She hails from the land of alligators, jambalaya, and voodoo. Her motto, “¿porque no?” allows her to embark on many great voyages while wearing her trusty chacos. As a theology and psychology double major at Springhill College in sweet home Alabama, all Maddie does is read, read, read, no matter what. Maddie also enjoys long runs, immersing herself in Latin American culture, and eating chocolate. Maddie is a ray of sunshine, even in Casa Sol.

Rachel NeaseOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the one and only Rachel Nease. A true Fort Collins, CO, native, Rachel loves the outdoors, especially the mountains. She is a junior at Gonzaga University, majoring in biology and minoring in Spanish. Rachel loves working with adults with disabilities through GUSR (Gonzaga University Specialized Recreation). When she’s not studying or volunteering, you may find Rachel playing some variation of a string instrument. We at the house are hoping for a concert one of these days . . . In true Rachel-fashion, some of her favorite things about Córdoba so far are the beauty of the Sierras, churches and graffiti. She is looking forward to getting to know the people of Argentina and learning the culture and language.

Abbi SamsonOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Abbi seizes each day with an ambitious, joyous disposition, often expressed through her graceful, energizing dance movements (she is a dancer). This LMU student’s pursuit of knowledge and spiritual growth is ceaseless, propelling her into dynamic conversations and sometimes carrying her across continents. Spanish proficiency has quickly integrated itself among this nature lover’s other tongues (including Swedish, French, English and even. . . cat!). Abbi, a Pennsylvania native, is studying Dance and Theater and looks forward to exploring deeply rooted unconscious patterns within herself this semester.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMonica Smallshaw

This beautiful chica hails from the coast of sunny California, specifically Huntington Beach. She has brought her love for fun in the sun with her and enjoys going for jogs or walking around town. As a self proclaimed people person, she has gotten to know many Argentinians already. Due to her love for staying in motion, she is almost never sitting down, but once in a while she will take a break to read and will read just about anything and everything.

 

20140802-131843.jpgIt is late winter here in Argentina. The trees are still bare, and the nights cold. But already we can feel the weather beginning to turn warmer. The heavy jackets are starting to come off. Movement in the streets is a little livelier. Spring is on the way.

So too is a new cohort of students (they are due to arrive next week). Soon enough we will introduce them to you. But it feels important to us to pause at this turning of the seasons to reflect more personally on where we have been and where we are heading. In truth, it is difficult to speak with certainty about either of these things. We are beginning our second year in Argentina. So much happened this past year– a rich, abundant, joyous, challenging and sometimes bewildering first year of our program. We are still absorbing it.

And the path ahead? We have a rich program planned for our students and we are confident in our ability to guide them through it. But we have also learned from experience that it is impossible to predict what will happen from month to month–from power outages, to labor strikes, to complicated narratives around the Argentine debt crisis–even as we have gained a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, the rhythms of everyday life here. So we know that much of what lay ahead is and must remain unknown to us. We are learning to accept more and more the need to simply walk into our days with attention and openness; and to trust that the path ahead will gradually become clear.

It has been a little over a year since we arrived here in Córdoba in the depths of another, much colder winter. How little we knew all that awaited us! But as we disembarked from our plane, together with four of our five children and one seriously-stunned cat, we could feel how momentous this move would be for us. And it has been. The first cohort of students arrived not long after and soon enough we were off, tumbling forward into this grand adventure: orientation, classes, first visit to praxis , community living and the gradual unfolding of all the diverse elements of life here in Argentina: the extraordinary kindness and graciousness of our new Argentine friends, the food, the music, the vibrancy of the city, the physical beauty of the surrounding countryside; also the complex social, economic and political realities that shape everyday life here. All of it.

We have also become more aware of our complicated, ambiguous status as extranjeros. We have come here in part to help our students learn (and to learn ourselves!) what it means to accompany and be accompanied by others, and to do so in a country, culture and language not our own. Any one of those ways of being “Other” might make this task seem not only ambitious, but presumptuous. Yet one of the joys of being part of this program has been witnessing the way our students have responded to this challenge. How generously they have opened themselves to their experience here. How responsive they have been to the challenges and opportunities they were given. How vulnerable they have allowed themselves to become to a place and people that were, at first, almost completely unknown to them.

Not that they have not struggled at times. No one has been unaffected by the recurring waves of uncertainty and disorientation well-known to anyone who has lived abroad. A lot of things just don’t seem to make any sense (the names of things in the farmacia; the ever-changing bus routes; the way dinner-time and bed-time seem almost interchangeable; the free-wheeling life of dogs on the streets). There are unexpected bouts of fatigue and homesickness. An urge to seek refuge in the familiar. Over time these feelings dissipate; but they never go away completely. And this is a big part of the growth and stretching that happens in this kind of experience. You gradually learn to relinquish your own idea of how the world is supposed to work. And accept that another way is possible. It isn’t easy. But its good for you!

That’s a big part of what we have learned this year—being here has been good for us, and for our students. We hope, in time, that the communities who have opened their doors so generously to us, and the colleagues who have been so generous in their work with us, will also be able to say that their experience of us, and the program, has been good, is good. Perhaps they already do. But we are still so new here. Looking back and yet barely beginning.

Along with our students, we are still trying to wrap our minds around all that has transpired this year, how we have been touched and changed by this experience. It is not easy. Maybe it is not even possible. So we share stories, memories of our time together. We do our best to stay in touch, to help each other navigate the different transitions (going home after such a big experience can be challenging), to regard one another with the love and affection we have come to feel for each other during the time we have spent together. That in itself is a gift.

Still, it is not just about us, or even about our students. Casa de la Mateada is about this country, this city, its barrios, the people we are coming to know in the praxis , at the university, in the kioskos and panaderias, on the buses, in the streets. Their well-being has become important to us (as our own well-being has so clearly become important to them, much to our astonishment). And we try to express this in whatever way we can. Mostly by paying attention, by opening ourselves to their lives, and to their realities. Trying to understand what it means to practice accompaniment. Doing what we can to stand together with them. This is a simple thing. But it is not always easy to know how to enact it. We are learning by doing. By feel. By continuing to respond to what unfolds before us.

Often we feel our own helplessness, especially in relation to the larger social, economic and political currents moving through this country. The country is suffering through an acute economic crisis. Nor is there any clear sense of when or whether a way forward will be found. On the ground, prices for food, rent, and services keep going up. Life feels hard, the future uncertain. Of course, life here is not completely defined by these problems. Families gather for Sunday asados; friends meet in the park to drink mate and talk; the distinctive courtesies that mark ordinary daily life here still pertain; and the famous Argentine talent for improvisation is on more or less continuous display. Of course.

Still, day-to-day life here is not easy. Nor is it easy to imagine the way ahead.

For us and for our students, these realities complicate the question of what it means for us to practice solidarity and accompaniment. In many key respects, not least by our U.S. citizenship and our relative social and economic privilege, we are insulated from the difficulties facing ordinary Argentines. We don’t stand altogether on the same ground as they do. Even as we seek to engage with Argentina and to stand with our Argentine friends in relationships characterized by mutuality and reciprocity, we recognize and feel this difference. What does it mean, in light of this, for us to practice solidarity, to stand with others?

This not an easy question to answer. Nor should it be. In fact, it is probably good for us that it remains a live question, and that it continues to inform the daily work of our program. It helps us to proceed with greater openness and humility, to recognize how much we don’t know, how much we still have to learn.

We feel intensely the wonder and gift it has been for us to live in this beautiful, amazing, complex country. Even amidst the challenges and the struggles, we feel this. Nowhere is this clearer than in the small scale of day-to-day human interactions, in the kindling of friendship, in the simple practice of paying attention to one another. Here we catch glimpses of something immensely valuable for all of us: the emerging sense that we do indeed belong to one another.

IMG_1013The moment of arrival. You have been anticipating this moment for so long–when all your wondering and dreaming and uncertainty about what is to come finally gives way to your actual arrival in this place. When you are no longer anticipating, but actually here, now.

You walk through the gate and feel yourself enveloped in warm embraces (kisses too, for this is Argentina). Someone takes your bags, asks about your trip: “how you are feeling?” You hear someone else exclaim: “how happy we are you are here!” And then you are on your way.

The moment passes that quickly. Soon, you will walk across the threshold of your new home. You will meet the other students and the community coordinator with whom you will share your home. Soon you will begin, little by little, entering into your new life in Córdoba, Argentina. Soon. But not quite yet. You are still feeling the preciousness of this moment, a moment that will not come again: the sense of the relief at finally being underway (you are really here!), no longer anticipating, but embarking for real on this new adventure, beginning to open yourself to all that is to come.

This week we welcomed seven new students to begin their time in LMU’s Casa de la Mateada program in Córdoba. Their excitement was palpable as we met them at the airport (as was ours at finally meeting them). It somehow managed to transcend even the fatigue of twenty plus hours of travel, and perhaps soften some of the lingering sadness at having left family and friends and a life that they knew and recognized behind, for. . . what? Well, that is one of the questions that has already come tumbling out during the first couple of weeks: why exactly am I here? And where is here anyway? (the ‘idea’ or image of Argentina is quickly being replaced by the actual, concrete, and immensely complex reality) Also, how will it feel being so far from home living in a place I hardly know? And, is it always this blasted hot here (students arrived to temperatures well above 100 degrees, the famous Córdoba summer)? Will I be able to understand and express myself in that utterly distinctive Spanish (Castellano) spoken here in Argentina? What will it feel like living in a tight-knit community of students for the next four and a half months? Will I get to know the ‘real Argentina,’–its beauty, its complexities, its challenges? And so forth.

So many questions. And none of them fully answerable. Not yet anyway.

There is in this arrival a sense of all that has been left behind, as well as all that is still unknown, still unfolding, still to come. A sense of being, for the moment anyway, in a liminal, fluid space–between worlds. Not an easy place to be; but a place and a moment charged with possibilities.

This is also true for those of us (directors and community coordinators) who have been here since last July, who have been working steadily to create a space and a program where students can thrive and grow; where they can learn to risk themselves and practice the fine and subtle art of accompaniment. We are also between worlds, so conscious of all we have lived through during these past months with the first cohort of students (a remarkable, brave and creative group, whom we grew to respect and love). We carry within us such a strong memory of how generously they poured themselves into their work, how vulnerable they allowed themselves to become in the face of all they encountered here, how much they grew and changed. Also, how hard it was for them to leave. Leaving the country, yes. But even more so, having to say goodbye to one another (was there anything of themselves that they did not share these past four months?), and to their new Argentine friends from the praxis sites with whom they had developed such deep bonds of love and affection. A painful departure, made more so by the uncertainty of whether they would ever return.

This too is part of the experience of students who enter this program: gradually waking up to the realization of the “once only” character of their lives here in Córdoba. “No one steps in the same river twice” observed Heraclitus. The river keeps on flowing. You can step in this river only once. That is true of every moment of our lives; there is only the singular, utterly unrepeatable present moment. Yet, somehow the experience of stepping out of your life and entering into a life and world so different from anything you have ever known (which happens to all of us here) heightens your awareness of this fact.  This can and sometimes does leave you feeling startled, aware that the usual categories for constructing your identity no longer hold in the same way they once did. Who am I in this place? What has become of all my familiar points of reference—social, cultural, interpersonal; or the identity to which I have become so accustomed? My very self? These are just some of the questions that emerge as you enter into the life of a place not your own. Not the easiest questions to face or respond to, but good and important nevertheless. And potentially a means of opening yourself more fully to the world and to yourself.

Somehow, mysteriously, all of us—those who have come before and those who have just arrived, those from the U.S. and those who call Argentina home–are bound together in this common work. We are learning together how to open ourselves to and stand with those whom we encounter, those who inhabit a world so different from our own and yet with whom we also begin to see we share so much in common. And we are being challenged to learn how to fold our disparate worlds together into some kind of a whole. Feeling the depth of the bonds that connect us to our families and friends back home, even as we open ourselves to the new, still emerging relationships we are forming here. Seeing the well-established sensibilities formed by our life in the United States in being recast in response to the rich, new and still-strange personal and cultural sensibilities of this place. Feeling how entering into a new and different social, economic and political reality can help us see with new eyes our place in the world and the complex reality of life in our country.

In the weeks and months ahead we will do our best to represent these complex realities by featuring stories and images of our program as it is unfolding in the present moment, and with stories and images from our alums who have made the journey home. The life of this program cannot be confined to what happens here in Argentina, after all. It begins here. But its power and significance continue to be felt long afterwards, in ways that we and our students and our friends in Argentina are still discovering, and will continue to discover in the months and years ahead.

Still, all that discovery is rooted in what unfolds in particular moments–as when a new friendship begins to take hold; or when you encounter suffering which you can neither make sense of nor distance yourself from; or when some new awareness about your self and your place in the world and how you want to live gradually dawns in your mind.

Such moments are precious and unrepeatable. They are worthy of all the care and attention we can give to them. We are here, after all, once only.

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.

1

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.

2It 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!).

3

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.

S5ome 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.

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