Yerba Mate 101 | An intro for those of us not from Argentina

firstmateI first met yerba mate in 2008 when I first traveled to Uruguay and Argentina. I’d read about it online before going–I wondered if I’d get a chance to try it. Then, midway through a short hike, our guide told us to climb up into the bird watching tower. There in the jungle of Misiones Province, I shared my first mate with Jordan and our hiking guide. What was I thinking as I first tasted that mate? It just tastes like green tea to me. I didn’t understand what the big deal was.

Throughout the rest of our trip, we were stunned to see how serious this mate business was for people. There we were, marveling at the amazing Iguazú Falls from the slippery viewpoints. And everyone around us had seemed to have packed in their mate. On their hips. To a national park. Into nature. I couldn’t even imagine folks from the US doing such a thing with their Starbucks (well, at least not so many of them at one time).

We never did try it again on that trip, but before returning home, we got lost, needed to ask for directions, and wandered into a gift shop. Feeling as though we should buy something to thank the shop-owner for her hospitality we bought a mate (the cup) and a bombilla as souvenirs. Never once have we used them.

After three months in Argentina, I’m finally starting to understand it’s place within the culture a bit more. I say a bit because there is still some mystery involved as far as I’m concerned. Argentinos have a sixth sense for when the cup should be passed, when the mate should be replaced, etc.

While here, I asked someone how long it had been since they’d gone a week without a mate. He told me probably over ten years ago. It’s an everyday thing, a habit. He’d only not had mate while traveling outside of the country or when he was having some health issues. It’s so ingrained in the culture that they seldom stop to think about it unless there is someone like you or I there to ask questions.

But when they do stop to think about it, it’s serious–as demonstrated by this long poem outlining the love for and place of mate in society. The poem goes on to say that someone becomes an adult when they have put that kettle on the burner and made their first mate when no one else was around. Funny, people usually tell me they started drinking it around the age of 12-14. That probably fits in with the timeline, huh?

Okay, so we know it’s serious, but what is it?

What Is It?

Here’s what mate is going to look like when someone hands you a steaming cup of it. It is the dried leaves of the mate plant steeped in hot water. There is some caffeine in it, but not much compared to your cup of joe.

aluminum mate cup in the car

Here’s what mate looks like growing as an actual plant. It’s member of the holly family.

mate plants

Where and When to Drink It

IMG_2479 (2)I recently read an article in which a Spaniard admitted to trying to order a mate in the bar while visiting Argentina. Although I can’t swear that I haven’t committed a bigger faux pas, this is one I have avoided. Because I shamelessly ask questions like these before doing it.

So, why can’t you order mate in a bar or at a restaurant? Mostly, because it’s a pretty communal thing. That mate gets passed from person to person if you’re in a group, and it might be a bit strange in a restaurant or bar setting.

Other than that, though, it seems like it’s pretty fair game. People drink it at home–alone or with their friends and family. I’ve seen people drink it work often (and of course offer it around the office). I’ve seen people sharing a mate in the park. I’ve seen people stop for a mid-hike mate at the peak of the mountain. I’ve seen couples passing that mate back and forth on our bus trips and in the bus terminal. And, it seems, no road trip would be successful if there is not enough mate to last the whole trip. Drink it in the car if you want to, but please, have someone else prepare it. I don’t want any accidents. Don’t worry if you don’t think you have enough hot water for the trip. Some roadside stops have thermos-filling stations for your mate needs, and if they don’t, you’ll probably be able to convince someone to fill it up with hot water. They’ll understand.*

Early on, I was under the mistaken impression that if I wasn’t thirsty, it was normal to say “no, thanks” to mate. But mate is not drunk because one is thirsty. If you’re in a small group/meeting someone for the first time/visiting their home, have at least the first cup offered to you. (Stop listening to the voice in your head that says sharing a straw is germy). I can’t tell you how happy I made a traveling companion when I started joining in on the mate rounds. That is, until we realized that with everyone on board drinking mate, we might not have enough yerba to last for the trip. Eek!

What You Need

At the very least, you need hot water, the mate itself (yerba mate), a mate (the name for the cup) and a bombilla (the metal straw and filter). Optional items include a thermos so you can make that mate on the go, sugar, some colder water to temper the hot, and a mate kit to store all that in. More often than not, you’ll also need some company.

The best place to buy the actual mate? Your local grocery store or convenience store (in Argentina or Uruguay, that is) is sure to have some. More and more often, you’ll also be able to find it in your local North American grocery stores. Otherwise, you could head to a specialty tea shop or even online.

I’ve asked a couple people about what I need to look for when choosing my mate (the cup). There are sooooo many variations that I feel overwhelmed even looking at them. Traditionally, they are made with gourds, but you can find them in nearly every shape, size, material, or color. The verdict? If you plan on using it in the car, look for a smaller opening (so as not to spill much). Beyond that, it’s just a matter of personal taste. Think that one looks cool? That’s the best one for you.

buenos aires mate cups and bombillos

Bombillas aren’t any easier to choose as they seem to come in nearly as many variations. If you’re really averse to sucking up a piece of mate, look for smaller openings at the end. Oh, yeah, and if you’re going to drink a lot, think of buying a little cleaning brush for it. 🙂

bombillos (metal straws) for mate, buenos aires, argentina

Like the other items, mate kits come in various shapes and sizes. It’s all about preferences.

As for a thermos, any one seems to do the trick. Just make sure you get one. As I type this, every single desk in the office has a thermos on it. Indispensable if you plan to drink mate non-stop throughout the day, I suppose.

mate break thermos chaco argentina

How to Prepare It

I only know the basics here folks. But I’ll give it a shot.

  1. Put bombilla in the mate (cup). Fill the mate with the yerba. Don’t pack too tight, but fill pretty close to the top.
  2. Add sugar if using. Just about a teaspoon or so near the bombilla. (I prefer my mate bitter, so skip this)
  3. Pour in your hot water. If it’s too hot (boiling) it’ll make it too bitter (my opinion, I suppose).
  4. Pass to person one. They sip through the bombilla until the infused water is gone.
  5. Repeat steps three and four, giving to the next person, until everyone but you has had it. Add more sugar if/when necessary.
  6. Finally take your turn. Then start 3 (2 if desired) through 6 again.
  7. If you see that it’s all been wet, and it starts “floating,” you know you’ve got to toss that yerba and refill.

People can drop out if they want. It’s allowed. In fact, here in Tucumán, if you don’t want any more, just say gracias when you had the mate back after your turn. That’s the cue that you’re finished. This, however, isn’t true in all regions, so if you follow this guideline elsewhere, people might think you’re not gracious enough. No idea.

For me, mate boils down (oh, no, pun not intended, because remember, if you boiled your water, it’d be too bitter) to this:

In Argentina, drinking mate is part of the culture. It’s something special here. When I return home, I’ll look favorably upon the mate moments I’ve had. Not much beats a mate and cookie stop in Calchaquí Valley.

Still, at home, mate won’t mean the same thing. Stripped of the culture and the community, mate, (to me) is, well, just something to have when I have a craving for, you know, green tea.

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*These few sentences may only apply (and probably do only apply) in specific parts of Latin America…and maybe Syria, where it’s supposedly quite popular.

8 Cemeteries to See Before You….Er, I Mean, 8 Awesome Cemeteries

cassie in cemeteryI know, not everyone likes cemeteries–not even during Halloween week. I get some weird looks when I tell people that I really enjoy visiting and photographing cemeteries. But I promise you, it’s not really because I have some sort of penchant for the macabre. I’m not in it for the spooky. I find cemeteries to be places where we are surrounded by history and I appreciate how loved ones choose to honor their ancestors. I’ll also admit that I find many cemeteries to be beautiful. It’s hard not to when they’re placed in such idyllic locations. Over the past six or so years, I’ve made points to visit, picnic in, or even have a martini in some amazing cemeteries. It’s gotten to the point that my sister snaps photos of interesting ones for me when she travels. I’m not ashamed. If you are, let Halloween week be your excuse. Here are 8 of my favorites so far.

8. Notre-Dame-des-Neiges | Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Oh, my conversation partner and I laughed when we saw the cemetery listed as “one of the best places to pick up girls in Montreal.” How awful of them, I thought. Yeah, okay, I still think it’s pretty awful, but after walking through it and seeing the groups of friends picnicking or the runners running, I might believe. It’s beautiful and calm.

WTMTL T09 ZAC7606
Photo By Chris Zaccia, Jason McLean (Wikipedia Takes Montreal participant) (Uploaded from Wikipedia Takes Montreal) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

7. Central Burying Ground, King’s Chapel, and Granary Burying Ground | Boston, USA

Okay, there are three of them. But this is where it all began for me. It wasn’t just one of these cemeteries that made an impression on me, it was all three of them equally. You’re surrounded by history in Boston, and the fact that cemeteries are history was really cemented for me on my visits to Boston.

boston cemetery

6. Oakland Cemetery | Atlanta, USA

During our trip to Atlanta, we actually dined across from the cemetery, not in it, and then took a stroll through it afterward. Had we picnicked, we wouldn’t have been alone. Beautiful place.

atlanta.cemetery

5. San Juan Cemetery | San Juan, Puerto Rico

Hanging out just on the edge of San Juan Cemetery along the old fort walls makes for a nice Puerto Rican coffee and mallorca break. Such a gorgeous setting.

Old San Juan cemetery 2

4. Recoleta Cemetery | Buenos Aires, Argentina

As the final resting place of Evita, Recoleta Cemetery sees its fair share of tourists. I’m often one of the only creepers history lovers around with a camera when in cemeteries, but definitely not in this case. It’s a beautiful cemetery and definitely deserves more than a beeline to the grave of its most-famous resident.

recoleta cemetery buenos aires

3. Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 & 2 | New Orleans, USA

I went to New Orleans for a library conference, and therefore didn’t get the time I normally would have taken to explore more of the cemeteries in this city. Even still, I quite knew I was charmed.

Lafayette Cemetery #1 New Orleans

2. Maimara City Cemetery | Maimara, Argentina

The cemetery in Maimara was such a close contender for the number one spot. Even as this post goes up, I feel a tinge of guilt for putting it at number two. I mean, look at the painted rocks of the mountains behind the cemetery. Look at the cardón cacti spread throughout the cemetery. Just look. So cool. Go ahead, click on that photo to view it even larger.

maimara cemetery argentina quebrada de humahuaca

1. Bonaventure Cemetery | Savannah, Georgia, USA

And finally, Bonaventure. As much as I loved the Maimara Cemetery in Argentina, I just couldn’t bring myself to place anything above Bonaventure. Read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil before you go. And then enjoy this beautiful view. Okay, this place might be a little spooky with all that hanging moss. But mostly beautiful.

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Happy, non-spooky Halloween week!

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Unless otherwise credited, all photos are my own and subject to copyright regulations.

Argentina | A Crash Course for the Armchair Geographer

mate break thermos chaco argentinaFull Confession: This post isn’t strictly an “armchair” geographer post. At least not on the writing side. Why not? Well, because some of what I’m writing or sharing is based on my experience actually being in the country. Still, I followed a very similar format as I have for my other armchair geo posts, so it still provides us non-academic, casual geographers with a good base.

I’ve learned so much about the incredible country of Argentina in the last couple months and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it all. Any time I learn anything, I find myself realizing how much more is left to learn. In this case, mostly I end up researching down a rabbit hole of recipes, political figures, or musicians. Naturally, it’s hard to fit it all in one post. The odds of you seeing another post (or three!) featuring Argentina in the near future are high. I think that’s a good thing. Let’s get started!

Save Face Facts

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

Save Face Fact #1: Where It Is

Argentina is found in southwestern South America. It’s big. So big that it has penguins in the south and caimans in the north.

argentina.map

Alright, now that we can find it, let’s learn a bit more.

Save Face Fact #2: What Language They Speak

In short, Argentina speaks Spanish. But no one from here would really say that. They’ll tell you they speak Castellano. And if you know a bit about the language, you know that Spanish varies greatly from one country to the next. Even within the country, accents and expressions vary immensely. Buenos Aires, for example, has its own slang called Lunfardo (but that doesn’t mean everyone uses it).

 This article does a really good job of explaining ten of the most common Argentine Spanish expressions and idiosyncrasies. 

There are, of course, other languages spoken within the country. Many immigrant languages are still spoken (Italian, German, etc.). The most widely spoken indigenous language is Quechua.

Save Face Fact #3: Buenos Aires is the Capital

plaza san martin buenos aires night

Buenos Aires is the principal city, and the Greater Buenos Aires metropolitan area is home to approximately 30 percent of the entire country’s population. Its cultural and political scene influence much of the rest of the country. You know how it feels that in the US all the movies are filmed in New York City or California? In Argentina, all the movies are set in Buenos Aires. It’s the London, the Paris. You get the picture.

Bonus fact: It’s better if you pronounce Aires as eye-race instead of air-ace.

Save Face Fact #4: The Population is a diverse mix of ethnicities and cultures.

Like all of Latin America, there is a mix of races, a combination of indigenous culture and European influence. That said, Argentina saw waves and waves of immigration from European countries, including Italy, Germany, and England. It’s not at all uncommon for us to be mistaken as being from here. Until we open our mouths or give the Holy-crap-are-they-speaking-to-us?! faces.

el ateneo cafe buenos aires

Sparkling Dinner Conversation Points

Moving on from the basics, here are some talking points to keep a conversation rolling when you meet someone from Argentina or a geographer who happens to be talking about it.

Top Attractions

Like I said, it’s a really big country and there’s a lot to see. Still, even being able to mention a few points will give you a bit of material for discussion. Here are the four biggest tourist stops that I’m usually held accountable for knowing about.

Buenos Aires | The Cultural Hotspot

We’re lucky, right? We already knew about this from above. Think restaurants, museums, cafes, markets, and dancing. To see posts from our time visiting Buenos Aires, check out this post and this post.

buenos aires

Mendoza | The Most Well-Known Wine Producing Region in the Country

We’re going here in November because it’s sort of on our way to the airport. We’ve heard many good things and are excited to slowly sip this place off of our bucket lists. It’s found in western Argentina, toward the border with Chile.

simon creek vineyards

Iguazú Falls | One of the World’s Largest Waterfalls

As little tykes (all right, only about six and a half years ago), we came ventured here on our honeymoon. The waterfalls are located on the border between Argentina and Brazil.

iguazu falls

Patagonia | The Stellar Glacier and Hiking Region of Argentina

I haven’t been. And I won’t make it on this trip. But someday (I’m looking dreamily off into the distance as I type this).

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Photo credit: Bariloche- Argentina» por ChipppyTrabajo propio. Disponible bajo la licencia CC BY-SA 3.0 vía Wikimedia Commons.

Literary Figures and Contributions

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The amount of poetry and prose to come out of Argentina–Buenos Aires in particular–is astounding. An extensive list of influential Argentine writers is clearly beyond my scope and the scope of this post (many to choose from!). So, I’m going to leave you with a short list of some of Argentina’s heavyweights.

  • Jorge Louis Borges | If you know one Argentine author, make it this guy. His most popular work was Ficciones, but he wrote hordes of other things, including essays, poetry, and other books.
  • Julio Córtazar | Also a novelist, short story writer, and essayist. His name is also all over street signs in Argentina.
  • José Hernandez | Hernandez is most well-known for writing Martin Fierro. Think of Martín Fierro as the Don Quixote of Argentina. It’s the romanticized story of the guacho figure. It’s widely available for free on the internet, in PDF form if you’d like. English translations are also available via Google search.
  • Cafe Tortoni | You got me. This isn’t a person. It is, however, a place where many of Buenos Aires’ literary greats gathered or work on what would become sort pretty dec (pronounced dees; short for decent; as slangy as I get) literature.

Music

This probably should have been made into its own post. Music in Argentina is varied and I’m just barely beginning to get a handle on it. It’s probably obvious based on the display below, but I tend to gravitate toward the folk music over the modern-day rock and pop. Without further ado…

Folk Music

Argentine folk music is made up of several types, but it is roughly grouped into Andean, Chacarera, and Chamamé.

Jaime Torres is one of the most well-known folk artists from northern Argentina. He plays the charango (something like an Andean ukulele), as you’ll see in the playlist below. I could listen to this all day.

As for the Chacarera, you’re already familiar with that from our Spanish-language playlist, right? This type of music originated in Santiago del Estero, a place a have an affinity for now 🙂

And finally, the Chamamé, the type which I’ve listened to the least out of the three, but consider it reason number one for me to learn to play the accordion. It comes from the provinces of Corrientes and Formosa, where there were many Polish, Austrian, and German immigrants. Yet another playlist for your listening pleasure:

One more note here, you’d better make sure you remember the lovely late Mercedes Sosa.

Tango

I’m supposing you’ve heard a bit about the tango before. If you’re looking for a good summary on how it came to be, this webpage has a great introduction. Tango comes to you straight from the brothels of Buenos Aires. Okay, okay, it used to. For a classic tango playlist, check out the following video. It should be said that modern tango, while clearly tango, is a bit different. And is reason number two for me to learn to play the accordion.

Rock/Pop/Modern Day

Honestly, I thought that at the end of our stay here, I would have a little more knowledge about Argentina pop and rock music. I guess we were more into the folk and older Latin music movements while here and simply didn’t take the time to get to know rock and pop. However, I’ve been told that the “greatest Argentine rock band of all time” was Sumo. I did some listening and can appreciate some songs, but frankly, haven’t gotten that into it. You have a listen and let me know what you think.

If you look at some Top 20/40 charts for Argentina, you’ll notice a lot of what you see mirrors the international charts.

Argentine Cuisine

Argentine food is often said to revolve around the three Ps: parrilla (grilled meat–lots of beef), pizza, and pasta. We’ve found this to pretty much ring true anywhere that we’ve been in the country so far. Asados (barbecues) are not only meals, but pastimes.

asado buenos aires

homemade pizza

But there’s a bit more to the cuisine than that, obviously. I plan to delve a little more into food a bit more separately, because there’s so much more I want to say about it, so here I’ll leave you with a quick overview.

argentina breakfast desayunoBreakfast is typically coffee, medialunas (mini croissants) with dulce de leche (yes, caramel for breakfast!) or butter, and a fruit cup. There are many variations and it clearly depends on personal choice as well.

Lunch or supper could consist of the three Ps (from above), but you’ll also see a lot about milanesas and/or lomito sandwiches, which are both beef sandwiches (usually). The main difference is that a milanesa is covered in bread crumbs before being cooked.

In the northern part of Argentina, things are a bit more Andean, and you’ll start to see humitas (a dish from corn), tamales, llama, and quinoa.

Let us not forget the king of street food: the empanada. This varies from province to province, but is usually a pretty safe bet. They come with beef, chicken, cheese, or a variety of other things tucked inside.

empanadasa san luis

Last, but not least there is dessert. I cannot tell you how many varieties of cookies there are in Argentina for I think no one could actually know. Cookies and cakes are everywhere. Often, they’re made with dulce de leche.

Also notable are the delicious flavors of ice cream that seem to be on every corner.

Sports

I was tempted to say that there was really only one sport here: fútbol. It’s true, soccer is by far the sport I’ve heard the most about. Argentina’s got a great national team, which made it to the World Cup Finals this year. The most important soccer player to know is Lionel Messi (often referred to as the world’s leading player). Diego Maradona, so the husband tells me, is the most important historical soccer player to know. In case you’re into soccer and needed another look at Messi’s skills:

Rugby is relatively popular in Argentina as well. We also hear and see a decent amount about equestrian sports. Speaking of equestrian sports, the official national sport of Argentina is pato (Spanish for duck), which is a bit like polo. I haven’t watched a match, but have seen games being played as we drove by.

Tread Lightly, Neo Geo

cactus chaco argentina santiago del estero Watch out for these thorny subjects!

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:

 

  1. Opinions on the Current Government: No surprise here. Many people in Argentina are either very pro-KA (the current government, headed by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner) or very anti-KA. 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.
  2. The Falkland Islands/Malvinas: I’ll admit to you that a couple years ago, I had to learn this lesson the hard way. I was quietly listening in on a conversation between to Argentine classmates about the Malvinas. I didn’t offer any opinions, but was trying to ask some questions. One straight-out asked me my opinions. I prefaced my statement, saying I didn’t know the situation well enough to know, but…then I said something very Switzerland-like, wanting to not take a side. Already, not taking a side was bad enough. For many people, this is a subject about which they are very passionate. State an opinion if you must and want to, but be very mindful of the other person’s. (Not sure what I’m talking about? Here’s a Wikipedia link about the conflict for you).
  3. The Economy and the Default to the US: It’s not the best time for the Argentine economy. As this article outlines, the economy is facing issues with the value of the peso, defaulting on loans to the US, and recession in general. It’s true that the exchange rates are more favorable for us (making groceries and wines that we’d never be able to afford in Quebec very affordable). I can’t complain, personally, but definitely know that these economic woes are affecting many people here in real ways.
  4. Grass-fed Beef Controversy: Of course it’s a generalization (as there are some vegetarians even in Argentina :)), but Argentinos tend to love their beef, and traditionally, Argentina produces a lot of beef. This can be a great conversation starter, but the if you want to get into it about whether most animals are raised in feedlots or are still grass-fed or the export taxes and government policies surrounding the beef industry (see here and here), things could be a bit stickier. And if you plan on going into the how beef production contributes to deforestation, be prepared to calmly and thoroughly explain it.
  5. Controversial Political and Culture Figures: Last but not least, read up on some controversial historical figures (e.g. Ernesto ‘Che’ GuevaraEva Perón (a.k.a Evita) and Juan Perón). Be aware that although you might love the tee shirt, not everyone feels the same way about all the well-known folks in Argentina’s history.

Oof, that was a little heavy. How about a pretty plaza photo to lighten the mood?

san luis, argentina plaza

Alright, folks, I clearly didn’t cover all there is to know about Argentina, but I’m hope something in here taught you something new or peaked your interest to learn more.

Did anything surprise you? What else do you think could or should be added?

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

salinas grandes jujuy, argentina

*All photos not otherwise credited are my own and are subject to copyright laws and all that jazz.

If you liked this post, you might be interested in reading: What is the Chaco? | 6 of Your Chaco Questions Answered, Hmong Culture | A Crash Course, or Somalia | A Crash Course

5 Facts You Might Not Know About Salt Flats…and a whole lotta photos from the Salinas Grandes

salinas grandes jujuy, argentina On our last road trip, Jordan and I drove from Purmamarca up to Las Salinas Grandes in Jujuy, Argentina. Neither of us had ever seen one in person before, so the the 1.5 hour drive from Purmamarca was definitely not something we considered an obstacle. Salt flats are places begging to be seen and photographed. That’s said, the drive itself didn’t disappoint, either. The road weaved from mountain to mountain and climbed its way up to 4,170 meters. We even had a vicuña sighting on the way back down.

Both of us considered this one of the best stops during our trip here. After spending an afternoon exploring the flats and taking photos to our hearts content, I couldn’t help but think, “That was awesome. Oh, yeah, and why does that exist?!” and then go look up some information about salt flats. Curiosity killed the cat, but keeps me kicking. The fruit of my labor and our camera:

5 Facts I Didn’t Know About Salt Flats

1. You need three things for their to be a salt flat: an arid climate, a source of salts, and an enclosed drainage basin (so those salts don’t drain away). (Source)

2. The largest salt flat in the world is the Salar de Uyuni, located in Bolivia (some day I’ll go!). How big is it? Over 4,000 square miles. (source)

3. That salt flat (from #2) is so big, flat, and clear that it’s used by NASA to calibrate satellites (source). This is a double geo-nerd fact.

4. We’ve got them in North America, too. This most well-known are the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah and the Badwater Basin Salt Flats in California. Have any of you visited these before?

5. Salt flats have crazy mineral properties and resources, but they’re also used for some strange events. The Bonneville Flats are home to a car racing club (and many racing events) and the Badwater Basin flats are home to an ultramarathon.

Look closely at the photo below. See all those ridges in the “far”mountain. Switchbacks for the road.

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Geo-joke ahead: Jordan got high in Jujuy. 4,170 meters high.

salinas grandes jujuy, argentina

salinas grandes jujuy, argentina

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Seriously, this drive and this visit blew my mind. So fun to see.

In case you haven’t gotten enough of salt flats and you’re interested in making your own mini-salt flat, check this link out: http://www.education.com/science-fair/article/Miniature-Salt-Flats/.

Sure, it’s meant for kids, but lots of you have kids around. Pretend you’re doing it for them 🙂

salinas grandes jujuy, argentina

Warning: Do not read this if you drink your wine with an air of pretension | 2 Days in Cafayate

Here I sit. I’ve got my photos all placed in the post and I just can’t think of how to write the things that I want to. I’m trying to express the feeling I had when our bus first starting rolling into Cafayate. Vineyard after vineyard nestled up against the mountains. It’s hard not to be giddy about it.  (I guess we can’t say that the magic of travel has worn off for me yet, huh?). It’s a beautiful setting for a little city of 12,000 people. It’s exactly what I hoped it would be.

cafayate argentina vineyards

Sure, the city runs on tourism. It’s the kind of place where tourists gather on the plaza, taking in the views and ordering the empanadas and local wines in bad, foreign accents.

cafayate argentina plaza at night

cafayate argentina alfajores sign

cafayate argentina

cafayate argentina

casa de la empanada cafayate argentina

cafayate argentina church at night

wine ice cream miranda's ice cream cafayate argentina

cafayate argentina

I don’t think anyone goes to Cafayate worrying about how they can tell their friends that they “escaped the beaten Gringo trail” or had a “deeper” travel experience than the other. We know that we’re going for the scenery and the wines.

I, for one, am okay with that and thankful the locals will have us. Because the scenery, empanadas,* and the wines rival those of anywhere I’ve been to date.

quebrada de cafayate salta argentina

casa de la empanada cafayate argentina

chato's wine bar cafayate argentina

Back to that scenery, we had a great time on our tour of Quebrada de Cafayate. Our tour group consisted our about 8 people, all of whom were really-laid back and curious. There were mini-hikes, endless photo opportunities, and lots of local historic information from the tour guide. What a natural canvas of creativity!

quebrada de cafayate salta argentina

quebrada de cafayate salta argentina

quebrada de cafayate salta argentina brea tree (tar)

quebrada de cafayate salta argentina

quebrada de cafayate salta argentina

quebrada de cafayate salta argentina

quebrada de cafayate salta argentina

quebrada de cafayate salta argentina

quebrada de cafayate salta argentina

quebrada de cafayate salta argentina

quebrada de cafayate salta argentina

quebrada de cafayate salta argentina

DSC_2543 (2)

quebrada de cafayate salta argentina

quebrada de cafayate salta argentina

(As for how I defied gravity while in Cafayate, simply rotate the photo, so that I’m standing up. The rocks are actually slanted about 30 degrees or so. I laid against the rock wall, tucked my toes into place (there’s a little wedge of rock there) and leaned backward. Our tour guide knew exactly where to and how to take the photo.)

Yes, Cafayate–with all its nature and libations–is a splendid place for tourists.

I will admit to you, however, that there are still very different types of travelers in this town.

There are those of us who have limited budgets, stay in hostels, and are learning about the world of wine.

There are also those of us who stay in fancy bodegas, sip more expensive wines while reading the New York Times (in print! in Cafayate!) and lounging about in a lawn chair, tapping their feet to generic jazz.

vineyards cafayate salta argentina

vineyard cafayate salta argentina

vineyard cafayate salta argentina

vineyard cafayate salta argentina

It’s okay that they do that. I can even see how it could be a good time for someone. Just not this someone, I guess. Those fancy bodegas just weren’t our scene. I loved seeing their vineyards, but I prefer to swill elsewhere.

I don’t know enough about wine to drink it with an air of pretension or sophistication. I barely get a swirl going and only when using my left hand. The thing is, I am going to keep learning about wine and its production (because it’s fun to say Gewürztraminer and a Bonarda is really good), but I know that pretension and wine don’t have to go together.

Choosing a decent wine with the help of a friendly, neighborhood vinoteca employee (who is less biased anyway) and heading back to the hostel to share it around the table is just as rewarding as worrying about the sweater-vested fella to your right judging your swirling technique. Especially when your hostel has a great view.

rusty k hostel cafayate

My favorite wine experience in Cafayate, however, was at Chato’s Wine Bar. They serve the same wine from the surrounding bodegas (they do make amazing stuff, after all), but it feels much more relaxed.

Comfortable, casual, and honest. Now that’s what a real wine experience ought to be for me.

Chato’s offers several varieties of wine flights so you can try whites, rosés, or red to your liking. Jordan and I learned a lot, nibbled, and had fun without worrying if we were drinking “correctly.” If we wanted to know about the correct way of doing something, we asked the owner, who told us plainly, explained it in simple terms (granted, our Spanish can’t grasp too much beyond the simple).

chato's wine bar cafayate argentina

I’m not saying I haven’t enjoyed myself at wineries in the past. And I’m definitely not saying I won’t enjoy them in the future. I’m just saying I hope I’m always the kind of person who enjoys a flight at Chato’s better.

chato's wine bar cafayate argentina

chato's wine bar cafayate argentina

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*I actually have had a better empanada elsewhere. But empanada wars are serious, so I’m keeping quiet.

Cafayate Recommendations

Never Heard of the Quilmes Ruins? | Let’s Fix That

quilmes ruins

Once upon a time, I read a tiny little paragraph about a set of ruins in Argentina in a guide book. It sounded neat, but hard to get to. Since there were so many other things I was trying to squeeze into one week of traveling in northern Argentina, I decided we’d probably have to pass.

But it definitely wasn’t for lack of interest.

At the beginning of our seven-day trip, we found ourselves tagging along with two researchers from the lab where Jordan is studying/researching. We spent the morning working (they did, anyway), had our early afternoon meeting, and grabbed lunch. The lunch, it’s worth mentioning, was our first time having humitas in soup form. It’s crazy to see how many ways actual corn is put to use in cuisine. (I’m from the edge of the Corn Belt, and unless you count our corn syrup, it’s pretty much scalloped corn or corn on the cob–good, but not much variety).

humitas amiacha valle calchaquieAfter the late lunch, our guides/hosts asked if we had plans to visit the Quilmes Ruins. I explained we weren’t going to have a car rental until later on in the trip, so had decided to skip it. And like that, they decided to make a detour. (Well, technically, it wasn’t just like that. There have been some local disputes over the ruins, so we asked our waiter if they were open before deciding to go).

The Quilmes Ruins aren’t far from the town of Amiacha. I didn’t exactly know what to expect since I hadn’t seen photos–I had only read the blurb in the guide book which covers an entire continent. It’d lead you to believe that 50 percent of the things to see in Argentina are in Buenos Aires (sorry, Porteños, not quite the case).

The initial view of the ruins were must more arresting than I’d expected. From the entrance (it’s a 20 peso per person fee), you’ll head in for a brief tour/talk. After that, you’re able to climb some trails to the top for a better view and then explore on your own. Here’s the lowdown on what we learned while there.

What you see in the photos is estimated to be only ten percent of the indigenous city.

The Quilmes people spoke a language called Cacán, which no longer exists.

In the language Cacán, Quilmes meant between hills.

The people at Quilmes settled there roughly around 900 AD.

They worshiped Pacha Mama, or Mother Earth.

They stayed there even as the Incas spread into the region.

The community grew many crops, including choclo, potatoes, and other Andean varieties.

The Quilmes people resisted the Spanish until 1665.

The Spanish managed to cut off their water supply, which in turn meant no crops, either.

After the Spanish had “defeated” them, they forced the people to walk across the country to the province of Buenos Aires.

I not only was amazed when I saw the ruins, I was like a kid in a candy cactus shop. I geeked out big time over these things and asked our host plenty of questions. I’ve got enough cactus photos for oodles of posts. Don’t worry, I’ll be selective, friends.

I hope you enjoy our photos. I certainly enjoyed the stop. Thanks to our guides/drivers for taking us.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To learn more about Quilmes, check out:

  • http://edant.clarin.com/diario/2008/03/10/sociedad/s-03405.htm
  • http://www.lanacion.com.ar/817528-lo-que-quedo-de-los-antiguos-quilmes

Both links are in Spanish, so if you’re Spanish is rusty, make use of Google Translate 🙂 It’s worth it, because the English Wikipedia link is just a stub.

What’s All this Lifelong Learning Hubaloo About, Anyway?

www.therestoflhistoire.comHey, guys and gals. Today’s post still comes to you from Argentina. Canada, we’ll see you so soon. Now, on to the subject at hand.

In case you’re new to this term “lifelong learning” that I keep throwing around on the blog, I wanted to elaborate a bit.

What Do You Mean by Lifelong Learning?

Part of me (probably the wiser part of me), wants to simply write:

Let’s not complicate things, folks. “Lifelong learning” is exactly what it sounds like. It is when a person learns throughout his or her entire life. It’s everything you learn from “cradle to grave.” And if you’re not interested in the semantics any further, then that definition is probably fine for you. Go ahead, just skip to part two to see why I keep rambling on about something that seems so incredibly simple and straightforward.

For those of you who want to hold on with me through the nitty gritty, I’ve got more up my sleeve.

A Definition

There are, of course, a number of formal definitions. These definitions vary, but here’s a good, working definition. According to the Commission of the European Communities,

[Lifelong learning is] all learning activity undertaken throughout life, with the aim of improving knowledge, skills and competences within a personal, civic, social and/or employment-related perspective.

The concept can be traced backed to the 1920s to the writings of Basil Yeaxlee and Eduard Lindeman (source). The term “lifelong learning” itself became popular in the 1970s (source) and has increased in usage since. It’s seen all over the place in reports, policy justification, and on formal educational websites.

Knowing this and seeing this is great, but still, that’s pretty close to the easy definition above. I wanted to write a little more about how I, personally, see lifelong learning.

My Definition

learningFirst, a quick note about what is not meant by the term lifelong learning on this blog.

Lifelong learning doesn’t have to be expensive, is not (and should not be) elitist, and doesn’t require you to get an advanced degree (but by all means, get one if you want one and it’s right for you!).

On to the good stuff. Here’s what lifelong learning is to me:

Lifelong learning is intentional.
Lifelong learning is an endless cycle of curiosity.
Lifelong learning is asking why and how.
Lifelong learning is ferreting out the rest of the story and creating the rest of yours.
Lifelong learning is challenging yourself, finding yourself in situations that make you feel uncomfortable so that you can be a smarter version of you.
Lifelong learning is informal education.
Lifelong learning is formal education—if you want it to be.
Lifelong learning is personal. It is also community.
Lifelong learning is a mindset.
Lifelong learning is a commitment (Wait? When exactly did I get married to learning?).
Lifelong learning is tapping into the potential that YOU already have.
Lifelong learning is everyday.
Lifelong learning is for everyone.

Whew, that was fun to type! I may have been slightly caffeinated.

Okay, So Why Do I Keep Rambling on About It?

In short: It’s good for you. And I want good things for you.

In long: Lifelong learning has benefits beyond our wildest imaginations. There are entire academic journal articles dedicated to exactly how lifelong learn affects people for the better. One of these, in particular, put together a nice summary for us. From this article, I’m summarizing.

Lifelong learning:

  • Keeps you sharp and could ward off dementia.
  • Makes you more confident.
  • Makes you better at socializing.
  • Often provides better career opportunities.
  • Cuts down on neighborhood crime.
  • Means higher levels of civil engagement.
  • Helps you develop into the more awesome you (yes, that’s some serious paraphrasing, but “developing natural abilities” means the same thing, right?).

So forgive me if I can’t help but talk about it and share my learning experiences. I want people to know that they can learn what they want to and to feel empowered to do so. I want people to live lives enriched by curiosity.

I promise, if you commit to lifelong learning, you will be a better version of you. You will be the version of you that God/your community/the world* needs you to be.

What you could be is what you should be.**

So, keep learning.

_________________________

Notes

*Choose the one that best suits you. Personally, I believe in God, but recognize that not all do.

**A man named Tom Staman told me this when I was about 10 years old. Don’t think I’ll be forgetting it anytime soon.

Sources

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2001:0678:FIN:EN:PDF

http://infed.org/mobi/lifelong-learning/

http://ac.els-cdn.com/S1877042811030023/1-s2.0-S1877042811030023-main.pdf?_tid=870b7272-593a-11e4-95ac-00000aab0f01&acdnat=1413907043_52a0e9013fab10586499d3b9cf0abd8c