Monday, June 11, 2012

Trip to northern Argentina

This weekend CEA took us on an excursion to northern Argentina to visit an estancia/mate processing farm, to see las Cataratas de Iguazu (Iguazu falls) and to visit a reservation of the GuaranĂ­ people.

Before I describe the trip, a quick note: This is where the program you chose is important. There are no less than 4 different programs and some independent students in my class, so the education you receive is equal. The excursions, the Iguazu trip in particular, are differentiating. Some programs don't bring you to Iguazu, some bring you there but don't guide your trip, another had problems booking flights and several peoples trips got canceled. Not every program plans something Friday-Sunday and covers most expenses. I only had to pay out-of-pocket for one lunch and some snacks on the trip that we took, and a boat ride which was optional.

We left Thursday evening and took an overnight, 13-hour bus ride to Iguazu. That was probably the nicest bus I've ever seen and was more comfortable than most of the planes I've been in. All the seats were like business class on a plane, with leg rests and seats that reclined way back. The food, however, was barely palatable and the second movie choice was poor (Little Man. Really?). The bus included free drinks which started with whisky on the rocks (not for me), then soda or beer, and finally champagne. I did not lie when I said it was a nice bus. The only bad thing about the bus ride was a I somehow managed to rip a HUGE hole in the butt of the only pair of jeans I brought to Argentina. Luckily I brought khakis and a pair of sweats, or I would have been severely out of luck later in the trip.

When we arrived at the bus station we got on another smaller, private bus and drove to the mate farm. We walked around the farm and saw how they processed mate. Then we just relaxed in the sun while they prepared an asado for us. If it had been warmer there was a pool we could have swam in. There were piles of meat roasted over coals for at least 2 hours. We had choripan for sure, chorizo sausage on bread, and other meats I don't know the names of but they were good too. Then we snacked on fresh from the tree mandarine oranges and tea, and for dessert a mandarine orange cake with mate. Wow, can you say spoiled?! After all that we got back on the bus and drove 4 more hours to Puerto Iguazu and our hotel.

We arrived at the hotel just in time for dinner, a buffet with a pasta bar that was delicious. I could eat the tortellini verduras con pesto y hongos (spinach tortellinis with pesto and mushrooms) for a week and be happy about it. A few of us decided to check out the late night scene, but it was early when we went out and nothing much was going on. Supposedly it picks up around 2AM, but since we had to be up at 830 I just called it a night instead of waiting to find out.

Saturday morning we went to Iguazu Falls, the highlight of the trip and the big excursion of the program. The falls are simply amazing, it is impossible to describe their power and beauty. I took over 200 pictures though, so that is worth about 200,000 words, right? We hiked most of the day absorbing beautiful scenery, getting soaked by the spray of the falls, and getting harassed by coati. Coati are like the raccoons of the jungle, but they are cute and fearless of humans. I gave one an orange in the hopes that I'd get to see him peel it, but I almost started a fight instead. Oops! One (or two?) stole half a sandwich from Allie by distracting her when they got another girl to spill her fries everywhere!

After lunch we hiked the lower trails which also include an area for a boat ride through the falls. Seven of us girls decided we were ok with getting soaked to the bone for the experience of getting up close and personal with the falls. We rode so close to them we were practically underneath. I couldn't see anything when we were that close, but the view of the falls from the bottom was awesome.

Shortly after leaving the falls, the cold adrenaline had been subduing came back to kick me in the ass. Even though it was an early and chill night (which included a nap), I still felt sick on Sunday when we went to visit the reservation. I am never sure how I feel about trips like that. On one hand, I think it is important for the Guarani people to be able to share their culture, on the other hand, I felt like I was watching a spectacle at a zoo some of the visit. Their lives are a bizarre mix of the traditional and the modern, and the result looks like abject poverty, not a throwback to a simpler time. Some had electricity, but our guide's son had died of being electrocuted. They had land, but can't hunt because they are afraid hunters with guns will accidentally shoot them. The traps they showed us were just for educational purposes. Children sang for us in GuaranĂ­, which was adorable, then we were offered a little market of handmade crafts. Most of the people in the village work from home making souvenirs for tourist, and they sell a CD of kids singing. Its a difficult topic to tackle, how to improve the lives of indigenous people without totally losing their culture, or making them a spectacle, or reliant on welfare and cramped into tiny reserves. It is uncomfortable in the US and in South America, so we don't talk about it. I must admit, I was happy to leave.

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