Lost and Found | A Snapshot of our Life on the Compound

I don’t exactly know what I expected when we decided to come stay in university housing. Well, scratch that, I had many ideas wandering through that gray matter of mine. In some ways, the university-owned compound we’re living on here in northwestern Argentina is exactly what I was hoping for. It’s verdant, scenic, bucolic, idyllic–all those words that travel book writers like to overuse. This, we anticipated and longed for.

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But there was so much more that we didn’t expect, and really couldn’t have even thought up if we’d tried. (I swear we didn’t try; I tried not to!)

For example, I didn’t think that I’d be fighting off urges to make Lost and DHARMA Initiative references three times per day. To me, this place holds just the right air of mystery, complete with a morning and afternoon haze.* The compound’s raison d’être is research, but many of the area’s families have been here for generations, previously farming the land. Throw that together with the remote location, the squawking parrots, decade-old buildings fallen out of use, and the living forest behind me, and I challenge you not to talk about smoke monsters and polar bears. (Confused? Read a bit a http://lostpedia.wikia.com/).

I’m not entirely sure of the history of this plot of university-owned land, though we have been given some tidbits of information from our [/the husband's] host here. The lab he works in (a building which he tells me deserves its own post…I take his blogging requests seriously) was meant to be a hospital, but didn’t quite make it. The houses, scattered among the hillsides of the compound, are filled with others associated with the university, its agricultural or ecological research, or park management. There are recreational areas that look as though they once saw their time, but upkeep may have been impossible after the Hanso Foundation cut funding.**

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horco molle university residence

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I mean, for reals, keep emailing us on the weekends. Just so we know we haven’t been “left behind” or, in the spirit of Lost, aren’t the only survivors of a second purge.

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Okay, all kidding aside, the university compound is beautiful. The bird watching, even from our dining room table or back yard, is outstanding. Who knows, maybe we’re seeing the Argentina equivalents of the robin, but they’re still new and exciting to us. The trees are tall and play hosts to several other species of plant life. Most endearingly, not all trees appear to be green. Since it’s spring here, the lapacho trees are in pink and yellow bloom. They are beautiful up close, but just as alluring from a distance, when they dot the hillside with splashes of color.

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There are horses that wander around, and we still, even after asking, haven’t discovered who, if anyone, actually owns these horses. On our first morning here, the horses even wandered right up to the door, grazing on the grass. The grass has since been cut, but our run-ins with the horses haven’t been any more limited since. You’ll no doubt see more photos of these creatures in the near future.

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Neighborhood dogs bark loudly in morning, serving as the compound’s gang of roosters. Most of the dogs belong to families staying on the compound, but typically, they have free reign to roam with one another. The occasional stray can also be found, but I’ve actually seen more of those in the woods while hiking than around our house or the lab. The neighborhood dogs, though full of growl and bark, have absolutely no bite. Though I’m not tempting them either.

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Just as interesting as the horses, maybe even more so, are the ants. They work tirelessly. What an indefatigable group! They are there every day in thousands, carrying leaves or pieces of matter that are at least the size of their bodies.

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I also can’t get over the fact that there is citrus growing in the same place I am living. Okay, California and Italy, I get it. This is no big deal to you. But after two years in Québec, the fact that I can pick an orange or a lemon from a tree growing 100 meters from where I lay my head is thrilling.

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The remoteness of the compound hasn’t been alarming or disorienting. Only mildly inconvenient when groceries are needed. Generally, the tranquility is nice. Even the lack of Internet in our house has been kind of nice.  Here, Jordan’s able to get some work done; we’ve read some books that have been on our To Read lists for way too long and spend time connecting in conversation. I can cut out a portion of my mornings for daily quiet times and I’ve even actually started that one project that I’ve told so many of you I would start.

So, we’re not really Lost. Not at all. Maybe just a little more deeply found.

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But just in case, there is a bus that swings by the front gate every hour.

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*It’s not the smoke monster or even fog. It’s most like a combination of the smoke from the burning of sugar cane and the pollution from the city.

**That’s just another Lost reference–not an actual funding organization.

Empanadas, Hiking, and Remote Sensing | Three Days in San Luis

Somewhere between Buenos Aires and Yerba Buena (suburb of San Miguel de Tucumán) lies San Luis. Actually, scratch that, it’s not exactly between them. It’s wasn’t exactly on the way. But it wasn’t that far out of the way, either.

When we first arrived (via an overnight bus ride), we both noticed how much it felt like Tucson, Arizona. Clearly the Spanish colonial influence comes into play, but also the arid mountains that surround the city feel quite similar. More than that, both cities feel small, easily navigable, but come complete with a university student population.

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When Jordan began arranging our stay in Argentina, a couple people mentioned to him that he really ought to visit San Luis and meet with a group at the university there. These guys are good at what they do, know their stuff, and are fun. This is what we’d heard. Now, we know it. Okay, if I’m being honest, Jordan probably knows that better than I do. I frankly couldn’t verify someone’s knowledge of land use and land cover change and how to analyze it using remote sensing technologies. But their comments at least sounded legit when I was sitting in on Jordan’s mini presentation to the group.

Jordan spent a lot more time than I did on campus, but I still managed two lunch time visits and some Internet poaching time. I had no real purpose in being there, but was happy I went. For one thing, I met a professor from Wisconsin. Go Bucky! Which made me happy. Secondly, I met a post-doc from French Guiana/France. Which also made me happy. Because even if I didn’t practice my French much, I did indeed practice it.

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On the two days I visited the lab, I joined the others in eating empanadas. (No, not everyone at them every day…) They assured me that in the next two months I’m going to have more than enough opportunities to photograph empanadas. But you know I like to be diligent. And now that I’ve eaten empanadas in Tucumán, I can attest that they really are different. Not just in taste, but in appearance. I will also try to be diligent in the near future and get a photo of those.

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For a good portion of our/my (non-lab) time in San Luis, I ventured off on my own a bit, wandering as the lone gringa in the plaza, reading and imbibing caffeinated beverages. And I was still taking photos. The city’s main plaza is beautiful, the main thoroughfare lined with bars and restaurants. The downtown area, just around the plaza was quite nice as well, but I didn’t explore too much beyond these areas. Our hosts told us it was a quickly-growing city, taking in a lot of people who are fleeing the urban craziness of Buenos Aires.

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cafe con leche y tiramisu m cafe

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Of course I didn’t spend all my off-campus time by myself.

We spent one evening with a couple researchers from the lab that Jordan was visiting, and the (like me!) significant other of one of them.’Twas an enjoyable meal with good conversation. (Note: The photos we took were, well, nothing short of hilarious. And there was an Internet-shy person in the middle of the pic. I edited to the best of my abilities.)

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On another occasion, our gracious host took us on a short hike just on the edge of the city. Again, while hiking, we couldn’t believe how much the city felt like Tucson to us. We say this, recognizing that we haven’t been to many other cities in the US Southwest or cities in Argentina with a similar climate. Still, if anyone else (I’m sure you’re there, just not sure if you’re reading my blog) has also been to both, we’d be curious to know your opinion on the matter. Back to the hike…

We hiked for only about an hour, trying to catch the sunset over the city. Our host’s dog, Samuel, joined us for the event. He rode in the back of the car with me. I tried to get a selfie with him. It failed.

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Luckily, the other photos from the hike turned out a bit better. Even some with Samuel in them. Our hike started here and continued along a few of the mountains.*

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Thank you much to the guys at the university for hosting us (okay, sure, mainly Jordan, but whatever…me, too). Thanks especially to our one host who hates having his photo taken and hates the Internet (you know who you are). And finally to Sylvain and Mélodie (I assume that’s how you spell your name!) for joining us for a lovely evening meal on our last night in town.

From San Luis, we hopped on yet another bus, 13 hours this time, before finally arriving in San Miguel de Tucumán. There, we were met by one of Jordan’s colleagues. In the last week, we’ve been settling in, doing our usual things–just in a different place. Can’t wait to share some photos from our “home” here.

***

*Our hosts always seemed to take about the mountains around San Luis with air quotes. Sure, they are dwarfed when compared to the Andes, but if we in Montreal got to call it a mountain, certainly these are mountains, too.

Hmong Culture: A Crash Course for the Armchair Geographer

Hmong women at Coc Ly market, Sapa, Vietnam

Photo Attribution: By Brian Snelson from Hockley, Essex, England (Flower Hmong women) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In the month of July, I continued my Armchair Geographer fun and decided to learn more about Hmong culture. I chose the Hmong people for the same reason I chose Somali culture last month: there is a significant immigrant population in Wisconsin and learning about these cultures before and during my stay in Wisconsin would make learning about them more practical and enrich my visit. Admittedly, my time in Wisconsin flew by and although I had the best of intentions on reading two books that focus on Hmong culture and making some of my own Hmong food, kayaking and family reunions seemed to take up more of my time than my self-directed studies. Between that and continued travel, it took me a little longer than I’d expected to gather some of my resources and the information that I’d learned throughout the month. Still, I wanted to share what I learned.

Save Face Facts

So that we don’t feel super silly in conversations with real geographers or Hmong people themselves, we’re covering a few of the basics that we really ought to remember.

Save Fact Fact #1: How to Pronounce it.

First things first. If this is one of the first times you see it written, you might be curious about how to pronounce the word Hmong. The “h” is silent. This young lady explains her frustration with people insisting on the wrong pronunciation.

Alright, now that we can pronounce it and won’t forget it, let’s learn a bit more.

Save Face Fact #2: Hmong is a people group, an ethnicity, but not a country.

The Hmong are a people without borders. The Hmong people are spread throughout several Asian countries, as well as the United States and France. Throughout their history, they’ve been a minority population and do not have one country.

Save Face Fact #3: Here’s where you’ll find Hmong people.

Originally, the Hmong were thought to be found in China. Throughout history, they’ve been forced to migrate to different countries. 95% percent of Hmong people are currently located in Asia, spread between Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, China, and Vietnam.

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In the second half of the 20th Century, some Hmong started leaving Asia, and many are now found in the United States. Hmong immigrants tended to settle in California (about half of them here), Wisconsin, Minnesota, Washington, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.

Save Face Fact #4: Hmong people speak the Hmong language.

In the world today, there are over 4 million native Hmong speakers. There are several different dialects, but most Hmong Americans will speak either the green or the white dialect. The dialects are named this way because of the colors worn by the women who speak the different dialects.

The language is written with the same latin alphabet as English, but there are actual several writing systems for the language. The most popular were developed in  the 1950s. It’s also a tonal language, meaning your tone isn’t used just to change meaning, but actually changes the entire word.

To hear a bit of the language, check out the Hmong 101 language video here:

Save Face Fact #5: The Role of the Hmong in the Vietnam War

After the Vietnam War, the United States began to see a wave of Hmong refugees. There’s a reason for that. During the Vietnam War, many Hmong sided with the CIA and worked with US against Pathet Lao. After the US withdrew, many Hmong faced threats of genocide, and many had to flee to refugee camps in Thailand and look for new homes to avoid persecution. The Hmong who fought against Pathet Lao are often referred to as the “Secret Army.” This is an extremely important part of recent Hmong history, and helps to explain why we see more Hmong in North America.

Dinner Party Conversation Points

You probably aren’t going to go straight to talk of the Vietnam War if you meet a Hmong person. In most situations, that’s probably culturally insensitive. In fact, you probably want to have a normal conversation with a Hmong person, as you would anyone else. But still, if the subject of Hmong culture comes up, you want a few, generally uncontroversial, topics to pull out at dinner parties, the following subjects would make a base for conversation starters and questions.

Farming

hmong farmers marketThe Hmong have strong farming roots, stemming from their farming practices in Asia. Their society was heavily based on farming, hunting, and gathering. When this is such an important part of one’s lifestyle, it’s no surprise that those who travel halfway across the world might still be interested in farming. The Internet is absolutely full of interesting stories about Hmong immigrants adapting their farming practices to their new homes: in Alaska, in North Carolina, in California, and in Minnesota. You can also learn more about Hmong farming at the Hmong American Farmers Association website.

Farming helps Hmong people preserve their culture. Not only the actual farming lifestyle, but also through producing foods that are used in Hmong cuisine.

Personally, I was thankful for this while visiting Wisconsin and Minnesota. The farmers markets I visited were filled with wonderful produce, much of which was produced by Hmong families. Sure, there are the usual veggies you might expect at a Midwest farmers market, but you’ll also be able to try fun things like longan and bundles of fragrant herbs.

Embroidery

hmong embroideryHmong embroidery is intricate, beautiful, and unique. The dresses are marvelous. I loved so many of those that I saw at the St. Paul market. If I actually had a wedding to attend this wedding season (okay, it’s basically over now), I think I would have talked myself into buying one. Unless you’re attending a wedding with many Hmong people, you could bet that you wouldn’t match anyone else there.

The embroidery is of course not limited to dresses, or even clothing. You can find pillows, decorative wall hangings, and some small embroidery pieces. My sister gifted me a tiny piece of embroidery work that was made by one of her Hmong friends. It will be perfect as a tiny framed piece.

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Hmong Cuisine

When you hear Hmong cuisine, think soups like the famous Vietnamese pho (pronounced something like “fuh”) and other curry soups. Think a delicious papaya salad (pictured in the foreground of the second photo beneath this section), larb, a  Laotian minced meat salad (also pictured, just below the papaya salad), delicious egg rolls, spicy (but not too spicy) Hmong sausage, perfectly steam rice, and bamboo soups.

I never really got around to doing much Hmong cooking this month. Sad, especially considering I purchased a cook book this month specifically to steer my farmers market purchases. Still, I was able to slip in a few food experiences and learn about the cuisine, even if I didn’t make much myself. My first experience was Hmong egg rolls at the Barron Farmers Market. Hmong egg rolls come with vermicelli noodles and cabbage (among other vegetables), but can be vegetarian or meat-filled. Throughout the month, I most often saw pork egg rolls. To make your own, try this egg roll recipe.

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The three next photos are from my sister date to Egg Roll Plus, an authentic Hmong restaurant in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. How lucky is Eau Claire to have this population and cuisine readily available! If I lived there, I think I’d have a standing Pho Tuesday dinner date with the husband.

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hmong food laab/larb

hmong curry soup

Visiting the Hmong Marketplace in St. Paul, Minnesota, with my dad was one of the neatest outings I had while being home. We were venturing to the Twin Cities to pick up the husband and decided to make a day of it. We started by browsing the shops and eating at the food court. Later, we visited the Somali mall and picked up some Somali teas at a coffee shop in the area. Lovely day of trying tasty food and drink.

We bought some Hmong sausage with steamed rice, a small portion of sour bamboo soup, and three egg rolls. We resisted eating all of the sausage and egg rolls so that we could share a bit with Jordan when he arrived. The soup was, well, easier to save for others to try. Initially, the soup tastes good, but then you’re hit with a unique, bitter aftertaste that seems like it might take more than a few attempts to acquire.

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hmong sausage and egg rolls

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To learn more about Hmong cuisine, check out two of my favorite Hmong food bloggers or consider checking out or buying the cookbook below.

  1. Annie Vang: This blog (lots of recipes, but not exclusively) was recommended to my sister when she worked at a Hmong school and she passed on the recommendation to me. Love browsing it.
  2. Hmong Cookbook: A simple food blog with traditional recipes, a cooking glossary, and some information on Hmong culture.
  3. Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America: This cookbook is much more than a cookbook. It tells the story of two neighbor families whose lives were joined together through Hmong cooking. It explains cultural interactions and teaches you more than just recipes. Kindle version will save you about 12 dollars.

Jewelry

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Black hmong women sapa vietnam 1999“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

If you do the least bit of Pinteresting using the word Hmong, you’ll find tons of photos of beautiful jewelry. Jewelry tends to be silver, very prominent (no tiny pendant here!), and lovely. Must of the traditional Hmong jewelry is what I might equate with “statement pieces.” It’s definitely worth your time to take a look.

Folklore

Hmong have a history of oral tradition. Many of their traditional stories have been passed down this way for generations. Thanks to the Internet, many of these are being written down and shared with not only the next generation, but also others from outside the culture who are interested in learning about it (me, for example!).

The DC Everest School District in Wisconsin offers the school website in Hmong, and has uploaded two traditional stories on the web: The Promise (a story about a warrior returning home to learn that his beloved had been killed) and The Frog Prince (a story of a woman’s loyalty to her Toad husband).

The Hmong Association of Long Beach also has a PDF with illustrations and two folklore stories available for free. What I like about this PDF is that they also provide a biography for the storytellers themselves.

If you do a bit of internet searching, you’re sure to find even more. My favorite is the Magic Fish story, by the way.

Hmong Celebrations and Rituals

Within North America, these traditional may be practiced differently, or not at all, depending upon the family.

Hmong New Year

If you live near a Hmong community, you’re probably a bit familiar with the festivities which occur during the Hmong New Year. The Hmong New Year takes place in November or December, marking harvest time (refer back to the farming above!). Kinda like a Thanksgiving in a way. For immigrants it marks as a general celebration of Hmong culture as well. Think dancing, traditional dress, traditional foods, and maybe music and storytelling depending upon how the community near you celebrates.

Calling of the Soul Ceremony

Three days after a child is born, they are given a first name by the caller of the soul. According to my cookbook (see above), “it is customary to kill a pig or a cow and prepare many dishes using the meat to serve the guests who attend.”

Hmong Weddings

I’m going to quote my old trusty cookbook again here (obviously, this cookbook delves a lot into culture, not just food.) “Hmong weddings consist of a series of events that take place over several days: negotiating the…contract, welcoming the bride.., and celebrating the union. Each event includes a meal with traditional food and beverages.” If you’re interested in viewing some photos of the events and learning more about it, check out the photo gallery and article (My Big, Fat Hmong Wedding) by Joe Nguyen.

String-Tying Ceremonies

When a family member or loved one is preparing for surgery or a long trip, friends and family come together to tie a single string around their wrist in order to protect their soul. Red is for health concerns. White is for safe travels, good wishes, and blessings.

Tread Lightly, Neo Geo

You guessed it, things that are normally uncomfortable to talk about will be: politics and personal religious beliefs. But here are some more specific topics that may be controversial or sensitive depending on the person:

  • The Vietnam War: No surprise here. Obviously, if the subject is mentioned and someone is sharing, listen to what they have to say. Know that any opinions you might have on the issue could be taken in a different way if you aren’t expressing yourself correctly.
  • Cute babies: I’m not kidding on this. The Hmong 101 presentation does a good job of explaining that some traditional Hmong families might be offended to hear this. Read the presentation for a bit more info.
  • The decision-making process in families (clans): It’s complex and deeply-ingrained. It’s not the way I do things and I don’t understand its complexities. If you don’t either, maybe don’t weigh in, but instead listen without judgment.
  • Religion: While it is relatively common to meet Hmong Christians, even more still practice their traditional religion. As always, it’s best not to assume what religion someone practices, and simply ask politely instead once you get to know someone.
  • Persecution: The Hmong people have been ethnic minorities throughout their history. Know that this topic could be extremely painful and sensitive to talk about. Don’t assume you have a right to ask about it.

Where can I find out more?

I recommend looking at the following resources to learn more:

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Alright, folks, I hope something in here taught you something new or peaked your interest. Do any real experts have comments on what I missed or may have not explained accurately?

I am really happy that I decided to dig a little bit deeper and learn more about the Hmong culture. My older sister is particularly interested and loves celebrating the Hmong New Year. I had a lot of fun talking to her about her experiences working at a Hmong school during one of her practicums. There’s still so much I don’t know, but at least I know a little more than I did. I hope that my gathering the information I learned throughout the month might help some of you understand the Hmong culture a little bit more or be more interested in learning about it as well.

As always, thanks for reading. And being an armchair geographer along with me.

***

My sources for info:

  • http://www.omniglot.com/writing/hmong.htm
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hmong_language
  • http://asianavenuemagazine.com/2013/who-are-the-hmong-people/
  • http://joelpickford.com/g_hmong-project.php
  • All of the learn more resources listed above or items referenced throughout the above text

A New Buenos Aires | Buenos Aires Part II

As many emotions that visiting places we had once been as newlyweds stirred, we knew we had to take advantage of being in Buenos Aires and see and experience things that we hadn’t been able to get to before. There were certainly restaurants and stops that I’d been eyeing, but we didn’t really schedule anything. This turned out to be perfect, because our host ended up being full of helpful advice and information. With his guidance and our propensity for walking, we were able to really enjoy our time together as tourists while we walked down different streets, ate new dishes, tasted new wines, and met new people. And if I am being totally honest with myself, I know that I enjoyed the new experiences much more than “revisits.”

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As always, eating was one of our favorite activities. Because we knew that our time in Argentina was a little longer than the last time, we weren’t as worried about hitting the three P’s of Argentine cuisine (pizza, pasta, and parrilla (grilled meat)). We still got all of them in during our time in the city, but not really because we were seeking them out. Every morning, we ate in, since our host put on quite a spread. We even had eggs benedict one morning; fresh scones the next. The rest of our dining out came mostly at the recommendation of our host. I, personally, was quite thankful, because there is only so much meat this gal can eat in three and a half days. During our short stay, we managed to eat daal and chicken curry, authentic Mexican tacos, and even a wonderful vegan meal (in Argentina, I know!). Something that struck me during this visit was the overwhelming amount of visually stunning desserts. There were facturas and tortas and alfajores everywhere I turned. We stopped at the bakery just down the street from where we were staying every day to buy something for our late afternoon tea. One night, after an afternoon with alfajores and a slice of cake followed by a meal out, our host came over to share a piece of lemon meringue pie–just because.

And a note about the wines. Last time we visited, we didn’t know anything about wine. The trip inspired us to learn a little bit about it, but we still know very little. The first night we went out, we looked at the wine list, converted into dollars and figured that each glass ended up being about six dollars up to 20.* That seemed comparable to Montreal or Wisconsin prices. We each picked our selections and ordered from the waiter. Oh, the look he gave us!

“Quieren dos?” Yes, we wanted two glasses. Why was that weird? “Son botellas; no son copas de vino.” Oh, holy vino, a six dollar bottle of restaurant wine?! I guess we hadn’t actually ordered wine at a restaurant the last time we visited. Prices get even crazier at the grocery store. That solid malbec that costs you sixteen dollars at the SAQ in Montreal? About 4.50.

This city, I tell you what. Coffee, dessert, affordable wines, and quality restaurants. Love eating in Buenos Aires. So. Much.

For our recommended restaurants, look to the end of the post.

las cabras buenos aires

las cabras buenos aires

argentine breakfast

artesano vegetarian in buenos aires

tacos al pastor che taco buenos aires mexican

buenos aires wine grocery store

postre buenos airesbuenos aires buller pub microbrewery

We also enjoyed actually interacting with fellow travelers. Since the place we were staying was quite cozy and breakfast was served to the group, we got to meet the other guests. We shared travel notes and a nice meal with Jordan and Andrew (from Ontario) and Richard (from California/Japan).

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We’d heard a lot about the Puerto Madero neighborhood in Buenos Aires and wanted to do some exploring. There’s a nature reserve there–rare within the metropolis. We heard it was the place to go for bird watching. There are also, however, huge crowds and no actual silence or tranquility. At least on the weekend. We had an okay time strolling, though truly I most valued the neighborhood walk as a form of exercise. The overwhelming majority of people joining us for the walk seemed to be locals, which was nice, but I can also see why other tourists aren’t making this stop a priority.

puetro madero buenos aires

puerto madero buenos aires

One of my favorite stops was one that I’d been looking forward to ever since my mother-in-law posted Buzzfeed’s 16 Bookstores to See Before You Die on my Facebook wall. (Next Bookstore on my list is Munro’s in Victoria, BC, by the way!). I would estimate that we spent two hours in El Ateneo on Santa Fe. From the outside, it might not look amazing (though not shabby), but the inside will not disappoint. And neither will the onstage café. I did make one purchase, a parody of the Argentine classic Martín Fierro, which will hopefully inspire me to read both in Spanish.

el ateneo buenos aires

el ateneo buenos aires bookstore

el ateneo buenos aires bookstore

el ateneo buenos aires bookstore

el ateneo buenos aires bookstore

el ateneo cafe buenos aires bookstore

el ateneo cafe buenos aires

el ateneo cafe buenos aires

My other favorite non-food stop was the San Telmo Flea Market. The market starts near the Casa Rosada and winds down La Defensa all the way to San Telmo Plaza. This adventure was new for us, since we hadn’t timed it right on our last vacation. There were artisan crafts offered throughout, antique stands neighboring asados and tango demonstrations. The street musicians near the plaza were amazing. The neighborhood itself was adorable (yes, yes, I know it’s touristy, but there is a reason after all!), with colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, and unique art. The antiques flea market nearly made me want to buy a house, just so that I could have a reason to buy something.

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san telmo mercardo market

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bombillos

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san telmo buenos aires window

san telmo bar

san telmo flea market

san telmo church

san telmo tango

san telmo market street musicians

san telmo windows

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san telmo sand art buenos aires

san telmo buenos aires

I’m not going to swear to you that there won’t ever be a third time in this city. In fact, if I make it to the expected 82 years of age, odds are quite good that I’ll be returning at some point.  And that I’ll eat too many desserts, freak out over the prices of wine, and be surprised as how stupid I was the last time I was here.

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*That is the official exchange rate. If you’re using the blue dollar exchange rate, things are even cheaper.

Recommendations

Lodging Gus’ Recoleta Guesthouse

Eating Che Taco, Tandoor Indian, La Hormiga (pasta, pizza, and steak), Las Cabras (parrilla), Café Tortoni, Buller Pub for microbrews, and Arte Sano (vegetarian)

Visiting El Ateneo Bookstore, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the Recoleta Cemetery, and the San Telmo Flea Market

Returning to Buenos Aires

For the first time in my short, little life,* I have traveled to the same place as a tourist. There are many caveats to this, of course, if you include family visits. And yes, I do seem to consider myself a tourist when visiting my homes. (Need evidence? Look at all the Wisconsin and South Dakota posts). I see the appeal in returning to the same place for vacations. Someday, I too might have a family cabin to escape to. But at this point, when traveling is a bit easier (read: kidless), I didn’t have any real plans to return to the same place as a tourist. Plans do change.

plaza san martin buenos aires night

This month, we returned to Buenos Aires, Argentina. We first came six years ago, as part of our sixteenish-day honeymoon. Our timing was quite traditional–we left for South America two days after being married. This time, we stopped because we had to fly into Buenos Aires to reach our destination (Yerba Buena in the province of Tucumán). And since we were going to go anyway, we decided to stay a couple days.

buenos aires mate cups and bombillos

We enjoyed our entire trip (split between Uruguay and Argentina) at the time, but the whole thing was a bit of a whirlwind. Between the wedding planning, the added stress of making one of the largest life commitments possible, and the fact that Jordan had planned the entire trip as a gift/bit of surprise, I didn’t have time to do my normal Cassie thing. (My normal Cassie thing means researching the place I’m going at least a bit, sometimes too much, so that I can process and understand what I’m seeing just a bit better).

cafe tortoni buenos aires

I loved so many of the sights, smells, and tastes from our trip. Dulce de leche changed my world. I suddenly loved wrought iron. I felt surrounded by history and beauty by visiting Recoleta Cemetery, which, ahem, put the nail in my cemetery-loving coffin (too much? yeah, i know).  I knew I liked the city, but I also knew it was pretty overwhelming (it’s huge!). Maybe I had remembered it more fondly than it truly was. And since we returned, I had always wondered if I loved it because I had let it the city simply blindside me (without having any expectations) or if it had more to do with simply traveling as newly-wedded pals.

recoleta cemetery buenos aires

If I returned as an older (not old) and wiser (still not actually wise) lady, would it still feel the same?

buenos aires

For this reason, I couldn’t help but return to some of the same places that we had gone before. I would estimate that one third of our time in Buenos Aires was spent revisited places we had seen. These are the experiences included in this post. Everything in here is pure re-do. Though done just a little bit differently each time. I know, in a city this large, with so many things to see and do, that seems kind of ridiculous. But I wanted to better cement these experiences in my memory, see if they were somehow different, and more than anything, make sure that everything I thought I remembered was real.

buenos aires architecture

The architectural delights are real. We walked through several of the same neighborhoods as last time, including Recoleta and the city center. In some ways, it feels as Parisian as Paris. Until you try speaking French or see a palm tree, naturally.

buenos aires architecture

buenos aires teatro colón doors

buenos aires

buenos aires teatro colón

buenos aires streetlamps

buenos aires night

buenos aires night

buenos aires dog walker

recoleta buenos aires

recoleta buenos aires

The Recoleta artisan fair does of course still exist. Although it seemed a bit more low-key than I remember. I wasn’t concerned with buying the perfect souvenir like I was last time. And I was much less worried about being pick-pocketed this go ’round. (You can’t blame my 22-year-old self; I didn’t know many, if any, people who had been to Buenos Aires and I was going off of the paranoia-preaching guidebooks that we had). This time, we got to simply wander through, making our way to the cemetery.

recoleta feria artesenal

chorizo recoleta buenos aires

jordan eating chorizo

The cemetery seemed as I had remembered it. I may have spent as much time in there as I did before. Correction: I spent the same amount of time in there as last time, but didn’t visit Eva Peron’s tomb this time. I did, however, take a photo of the tourists waited to see it. The cemetery itself was amazing, but I remember waiting to see Evita’s tomb only to be underwhelmed. Truthfully, now that I like taking pics more than before, I would have stayed significantly longer if the husband hadn’t been suffering from a hangry attack.

recoleta cemetery entrance buenos aires

recoleta cemetery buenos aires

recoleta cemetery buenos aires

recoleta cemetery buenos aires

recoleta cemetery buenos aires

recoleta cemetery buenos aires

recoleta cemetery buenos aires

recoleta cemetery buenos aires

recoleta cemetery buenos aires

We also revisited the National Library. I say revisited, but calling our stop last time a visit is a bit of a stretch. This day, we made sure to go on a day when it was open. I am happy to have visited, spied on the library users in the reading room,  and seen the exhibitions. That said, I know if I return a third time to dear Buenos Aires, I won’t feel the need to make this same stop unless attending a specific event of exhibition.

buenos aires biblioteca nacional

biblioteca nacional argentina buenos aires

The next stop on our revisit tour was the Bosque de Palermo (Palermo Woods) area of the city. Last time, we went to the Botanic Gardens, but we skipped the Japanese Garden. This time, we decided to pay the 32 peso entrance fee to see it. It’s pretty, yet small, and compared to the free Botanic Gardens, less interesting. The first couple photos are from the Japanese Garden, the following are from the free gardens and parks in the area.

japanese botanical gardens

japanese gardens buenos aires

capybara buenos aires zoo

mate plants

buenos aires botanic gardens fountain

buenos aires botanic gardens

Note Jordan in the background of the next photo for scale:

buenos aire botanic gardens

The only restaurant that we went to a second time was Café Tortoni. This is where the literary greats of Buenos Aires went to meet and write. Now, it’s overrun with tourists and brunching crowds. Still, I specifically wanted to go here again because I wasn’t a coffee drinker six years ago. Last time I went, I ordered a hamburger and a Pepsi from my tuxedo-ed waiter. This seemed like a travesty in the country’s most well-known café. We had to return to do things right.

cafe tortoni

coffee at cafe tortoni

cafe tortoni churros

Revisiting these places did confirm their existence. And really, for the most part, they seemed exactly as I had remembered them. Returning to Buenos Aires didn’t teach us much about how the city might have changed in the last six years, although it most certainly has (metropolitan cities seldom stay the same for a long time, I imagine). Instead, it taught us so incredibly much about how much we have changed. Some of the things that we saw looked the same, but we felt differently when visiting them. We understood things in a different way, with our slightly altered world view. It’s comforting to know that we’ve changed and learned a lot since our last visit, but also inspiring to think about how much change life has left in store for us.

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Tomorrow or the next day, I’ll share some of our new Buenos Aires experiences with you. This sharing is coming to you from our current “home,” where we’ll be based for the next two months or so.

*This short little life was has gotten longer. We calmly celebrated my 29th birthday by settling into our temporary digs and making our first home-cooked meal in a week or so. There was also a bit of malbec to celebrate both occasions.

In Transit | Visiting Friends and Family in Minnesota

I’m going to start this out by saying that many blogger fails have been committed. This post could have had oodles more photos, but even I, yes even the annoying Cassie who snaps photos of you to no end, do take brief breaks from documenting my life.* Sorry about that.

Anyway, our full transition from my in-laws’ place to our guest house in Buenos Aires took 72 hours. Admittedly, it could have been less. But then it would have been way less fun. We borrowed a car, stopped to visit grandparents, stayed with Jordan’s brother, went to Brookings for breakfast, stayed with some friends in Minneapolis, met up with two lovely ladies for breakfast there, and coerced one of the aforementioned lovely ladies into giving us a ride to the airport.

First stop: the grandparents.

gparents.filmstrip

Time passed more quickly than we expected, and in no time (although clearly some time), we were already behind schedule.

As mentioned, after moving on from Tripp/Gregory County, we stopped in Sioux Falls to hang out with some family yet again. The night passed quickly, even though we didn’t have much to do. We played with our nephews, chatted, and got some Indian food. We almost went for Italian before realizing that we’d probably have a harder time finding Indian in Argentina. And we arrived too late to starting cooking.

At one point during dinner, bath time was mentioned. I don’t even know how this happened, but the nephews (and then Jordan and my brother-in-law) started chanting that I was to be the one in charge of bath time. I had been selected. We also got to tuck the nephews in for the night. When leaving the room, Walter slyly asked, “If Henry and I wake up in the night, we can come snuggle with you and Jordan?” Who says no to that?

The next day we went with my sister-in-law to drop the boys off at daycare. Walter seemed so proud to show us his school/daycare. Too adorable to watch him looking at us and waiting for reactions. Thanks to G&K, by the way, for letting us stay with you. Hard saying goodbye to everyone, but these four especially.

The next morning, we drove north to Brookings. First, we checked on our alma mater, SDSU. Second, and most importantly, we met with Jordan’s Master’s thesis advisor and his wife for breakfast. We love getting together with them. They are the perfect dining companions, always prepared with anecdotes and interesting stories to share.

From Brookings, we drove toward Minneapolis. We stayed with Ben, our college friend. It had been entirely too long since I’d seen him. And I still hadn’t met his wife. Of course, I’m hoping it’s the same for them, but Jordan and I really enjoyed ourselves when staying with them (even though so short). Sometimes friends grow apart after six years of separation. But sometimes they just grow in parallel. Our lives are different, but it didn’t seem to matter. We’ve grown as people; he’s grown as a person. Great conversation along with some lovely Minnesota microbrewery stops. The perfect evening.

Microbrewery 1: Indeed. Loved the setting. And the black American ale.

indeed brewery minneapolis

Microbrewery 2: Bauhaus. Loved this setting evening more. I don’t have a great picture of the courtyard, but it’s the industrial look turned hipster (but not frighteningly so) done right.

bauhaus brewery minneapolis

Below is the only photo I got of Ben and Kim. Next time. Next time.

bauhaus brewery minneapolis

bauhaus brewery flight

bauhaus brewery minneapolis

The next morning breakfast with Ally and Laurie came quickly and went quickly. More great conversation. So many topics to cover in so little time. Thanks for meeting us and letting yourself get roped into taking us to the airport!

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And with that, our time in the States had come to an end this go ’round.

One airport hitch,** four airport tacos, two airplane meals, a cab ride, and 19 hours later, we arrived in Buenos Aires. In the most welcoming little corner of the city. I highly recommend the guest house we stayed at: Gus’ Guest House in Recoleta. Can’t say enough good things about the host and his recommendations.

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buenos aires plaza de mayo

Once I get a chance to sort through a few photos, I’ll be sure to have some Buenos Aires posts soon. We are currently in San Luis, where the husband is meeting with other scientists (agronomists, geographers, environmental scientists and the like) at the university. Me, well, I am regrouping from the bus ride, poaching university wi-fi, and scheming to convince Jordan that we need to rent a car to visit Sierra de las Quijadas or make a stop in Córdoba. Wives everywhere, intercessory prayer is welcome :)

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*Since I referred to myself in both first and third person, this sentence is a little confusing. But I am hoping you’ll understand.

**We had one unexpected issue on the way down. We went to the airport, and foolishly hadn’t checked to see if entry requirements had changed since the last time. We are now required to pay reciprocity entrance fees of 160 dollars each. You need to show that you’ve paid these taxes before you’re allowed to check in. We had no idea. And our fellow lodgers here confirmed that it’s not clearly listed on the US State Dept website, either. Thankfully, MSP airport has free wi-fi and the agent told us that most places will accept the electronic copy as long as bar code can be read. The issue then is that it can take up to half an hour to process (that’s with the extra 30 dollar expedition fee). Be sure to print this in paper, even if you think it’s silly when you have the electronic copy.

Better than a Petting Zoo | A Visit with the Neighbors

wagon wheel

In Montreal, I talked to my neighbors in the apartment building hallway. We lived next to each other for all of eleven months (eleven and a half at the prior place). I met Amos, the friendly young hipster whose mother and some adorable dog visited him from time to time. I met two other young gentlemen in the hallways. They seemed nice, but I promptly forgot their names, knowing I could either ask again if needed or simply make small talk in the stairwell while pretending either of us actually remembered each others’ names. We met the woman across the hall. We smiled and held the door when the other was carrying groceries. And then there was the one neighbor we actually knew things about. An older gentlemen, living with his son, who we chatted with about books, weather, our health, and whatever second-level small talk might arise. If ever (since moving away from our respective homes) we cared about a neighbor, he would be the guy.

But even that extremely (and I’d say many times over) pales in comparison to the relationships that my in-laws keep with their neighbors. They’ve been there for years. The neighbors have babysat their children. They have real chats about real life. They really know each other. Someday, in some city, town, or countryside, I hope to have this type of relationship with my neighbors.

It’s funny how a simple conversation leads to something delightful. One evening while home, Cece discussed how much she liked eggs, and a discussion of where eggs come from ensued. (We left the conversation pre-birds and bees, don’t you worry). My mother-in-law decided it was time to take a visit to the neighbors’ place to find out where the farm fresh eggs they’d been receiving were coming from. She called one night and asked when we might be able to come. The very next day, the ladies and children piled into that handy pick-up, drove a mile or so down the gravel road, and visited the neighbors.

sunset

Earlier, there had been a discussion about taking the kids to a petting zoo. After this trip, a petting zoo seemed almost silly. Sure, if you don’t have access to chickens, sheep, goats, horses, and a donkey, you could go to the petting zoo. But if you have super cool neighbors with all that stuff who will let you bring children over…well, that’s a better bet.

sheep and kids

We spent time meeting animals on the farm, including cats, Rufus the dog, Dream the horse, goats, and sheep. Watching the kids interact with each other and the animals was hilarious. I can’t say I wasn’t ever nervous when a child came running over with a new kitten in tottering tow (poor little kittens), but I can say that all three of the kids seemed to love every minute of petting and holding the animals.

sheep boy

red barn south dakota

baby goat

goat

goat eating

brown horse

red barn with door

kids at farm

two sheep salt block

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sheep

And we really did see where those eggs came from. One of our nephews walked right into the coop and picked up an egg. He made it look like he knew exactly what was happening. Maybe he did. There has to have been some cartoon about egg-laying, right?

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kids gathering eggs

farm fresh eggs

After this, we headed across the street for what was definitely my favorite part of the evening: bringing the sheep/goats in. Okay, it wasn’t so much bringing them in as much as opening the gate and letting them cross the road in some sort of beautifully routine and obedient fashion. Maybe not impressive to those who see it everyday, but super cool for me. And the kids, too. I mean, I didn’t forget that I was there for the kids :)

south dakota sheep farm

donkey and sheep south dakota landscape

sheep crossing dirt road south dakota

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Thanks so much to Bob and Lorraine for letting us come visit. And for being great neighbors. We certainly had a great time visiting. We even heard Walter exclaim, “This has been a beautiful day!” in 100 percent childhood seriousness in the middle of the visit. We didn’t disagree.

south dakota landscape

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One quick note: I’m writing from Buenos Aires! We made it safely and have ingested more delicious facturas (pastries) than we ever needed. And there may also be some ($5, yet quality!) Malbec washing it down. I’ll be updating on Buenos Aires/Argentina soon!