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Jess in Buenos Aires

The day before my departure it felt as if my guts were turned inside out. I was leaving everything in London, the sheltered life of a European upbringing and most of all I was leaving my family and friends. The pain and sickness  left as soon as the air-plane wheels lost touch with the runway. The rest of the flight I spent sleeping, bouncing in and out of dreams and back into reality.

On arrival in Buenos Aires it hit me, I had finally escaped and gone through that small door I had never dared to go through. The next hour until arriving at my new home in Buenos Aires was tiring and stressful, as the language barrier suddenly hit me. It was a Sunday morning and the place I had to originally pick my keys up from had closed, the cab driver had tried to let me know but found it very difficult to explain this to me. He began to talk to me with his hands and feet explaining to me that he was not kidnapping me, but that he had to drive me to another location, which ended up being a back alleyway where we fortunately met the lady who had my keys just as she was leaving the house. This again was a sign for me that I clearly needed to learn another language if I did not want that small door to another country to shut firmly in my face.

We made our way straight through Buenos Aires, first passing the shanty towns that had settled on the outskirts. It looked like a forest made out of concrete that had been hit by a storm leaving  branches fallen and twisted resting on each other. Dogs were running the streets and children laughing. A woman was shouting down at her neighbour while beating the dust out of her carpet. The forest of concrete soon turned into a city, which now looked like a Spanish or French city that is slowly falling apart, very similar to the street scenes of Bangkok. The grid organisation gave me the feeling of being in a cornfield where one feels entrapped, but yet can see right down to infinity at different points (another Alice in Wonderland moment). The streets gave me long perspectives of a seemingly never-ending city and I was right there caught in the middle. I was trapped in a game of Pac-man where I had to go either left, right, back or straight ahead; there was no ´back´ or ´side street´ where I could escape the sounds of the cars or people. It was a city purely comprised of streets that seemed eerily familiar an endless parade of London ‘Oxford Streets’ (without the pedestrians overflowing the side-walks).

I do not know why Buenos Aires got its name of ´Good Air´, it is as though the city was constructed within a chimney and the smog has no way of escaping. It has settled in the grid system of the city, like dirt settles in the grouted edges of tiles. Not even if the sea created a massive wave that swept its way right through the city would it be able to cleanse it.  Instead it would be even more dirty, as the ´Rio de Plata´ which envelopes the cost of Buenos Aires most closely resembles the colour of a soiled puddle of water, though Argentinians argue that the colour is mainly due to minerals found in the soil which dyes the water the shade of a desirable English tea.

On arrival in my new home to be for the next two months I was amazed. It was nothing like the concrete forest that had been hit by a storm I’d just seen. I was living in a big three story house comprising of 8 bedrooms connected by a grand wooden carved staircase, which twisted itself up towards the roof terrace as if in desperate search for the sun. There were 7 people living in the house initially, which later on rose to around 12. Everyone came from different countries around the world; the United States, Norway, England, Germany Austria, Holland and Brazil. The living room always had someone to talk to and evenings were often spent either cooking in the house or going to a party (mainly evenings were spent doing both).

A standard day for my friends and I would comprise of waking up between 9 and 12 am (depending on when we came back after the night before). If we had time, before class at 2 p.m. we would quite often do some site seeing in Buenos Aires such as having lunch in Palermo Viejo, visiting the colourful area of la Boca, going down to the port, or just a stroll through the many green areas one can find within Buenos Aires. The school timetable ran from 9 am – 1 pm or 2 pm – 6 pm.  As a rule we chose the 2 pm – 6 pm timetable as we generally only came home at 6 or 7 am, after a good night out.

Now sitting in my flat in Barcelona I have many flashbacks of good times I had in Buenos Aires, and the places I visited during my stay. The friends I made in Buenos Aires also feel the same and two of them have already been out to visit me in Barcelona. One of my friends is still living in Buenos Aires after meeting her boyfriend there, and another decided to stay on in Argentina after her course and is currently working for a language school in Barriloche. Another girl, that I met on several occasions during my stay in South America (we met during my visit to Iguazu waterfalls, then later bumped into each other in a night-club  in Buenos Aires, my friend saw her in Patagonia, and again I ran into her in another night-club in Buenos Aires and finally in Uruguay – all purely by coincidence!), moved back to Uruguay when returning home to London after her 11 month solo tour through most of South America. She soon realised that being a tourist or traveller is a lot different than real life though, and returned back to London with happy memories of her travels and multiple memorable stories to tell.

Being in a language school gave many people the opportunity to meet others with whom they could travel with. I would recommend anyone who wishes to travel around South America to attend a language school for at least two weeks. It allows you to learn the basics of the language, but also it allows you to create a network of people with a taste for discovery with whom you can later travel, or meet up with at various points during your travels.

After being in Buenos Aires for 1 week I already longed to see more of this beautiful country. It is as though travelling is a drug filled with greed and a longing of always wanting more to gain further satisfaction.

I made friends with a girl from Norway in my first two days upon arrival in BA and straight away we booked a weekend trip to the Iguazu waterfalls which lie north-east of BA on the border between Brazil and Argentina. The experience was amazing and definitely a trip that has to be made if you are anywhere near (in our case an 18 hour bus ride). Who minds an 18-hour bus ride though when you have come all the way to Argentina and there are so many beautiful and amazing experiences that cannot possibly be missed? Although in reality the journey time was comparable to a weekend trip from London to Rome on a bus (which I do not think I’d ever do and if anyone suggested this to me I would probably think they are insane).  However, in this instance, in Argentina nothing was insane, as long as you were able to see as much as possible (I will not be able to use the words ‘see everything’, as I do not feel that one can see all of Argentina, it is too a big country with such diverse landscapes ranging from areas where the soil turns red like a desert to the glaciers in Patagonia where humans are almost considered an endangered species.  Mind blowing).

The Iguazu waterfalls were something I had never seen before and no photograph will ever be able to capture the strength and power it has. It is actually fascinating how the falling of water can be so impressive and breathtaking and yet we see it on a small scale every day when we open the tap in the morning to brush our teeth. Nevertheless, standing in front of this massive collection of multiple waterfalls lying one next to the other, intertwining and throwing huge gusts of water down upon the earth the way you would imagine a dragon would spit water, was awesomely impressive. Seeing it for yourself answers the question as to how one collection of waterfalls received it’s name.  The ‘Devil’s Throat’ waterfall drops thunderously into a massive hole of jaw dropping proportions as though it were indeed the entrance to hell. Every now and then (more now than then) a huge gust of water is thrown back up from the waterfall hitting the ground and leaving you soaking wet. I am not a religious person, but were I to consider where natural baptism could occur, it would have to be here. The presence of this space almost takes away your human strengths through fascination, and you come to realize that you are so small in this world, and that nature and the earth is where the true strengths lie. This is what you call beauty. Standing here it does not matter any more which car you have at home, what you are going to achieve in your life career wise, what car you are going to buy next. Standing here the only thing you are aware of is your personal existence and place within the world, and how you are linked to nature, a feeling that we often forget when standing in the concrete forest of a city. It was not only the sense of sight and smell that gave me this feeling but also my ability to be able to touch and hear nature at its most monumental. We were able to take a boat right to the edge of the waterfall, to the point where it hits the ground after lunging hundreds of meters from the rocks far above. We were at the point of ‘water suicide’. As the water particles danced around our bodies like frantic sprites, they stole away our sense of sight, we were unable to see anything but white. However, our other senses of smell, taste and touch were now intensely magnified. This is where one realises that nature is more powerful than any human can ever be. We as humans may be able to design our paths in life (or at least may wish to believe we can do so), but nature will always be stronger than us. We can build and create wherever we want to, but nature will always be able to destroy us and our creations.

Mendoza was anther trip where my Norwegian friend and I felt the need to break free from the concrete trees of BA. Being a bit naïve, and not having done our research, we thought Mendoza was located in the Andes Mountains, rather than just next to them. Nevertheless we managed to book a trip, which was only one hour away into the Andes Mountains to go hiking and rafting. It was an amazing trip, just being able to enjoy the sun in the mountains and at the sane time view the ice and snow of the mountainous landscapes on the horizon. The much talked about wine tours in Mendoza were also very enjoyable, although I believe that the half-day tour was definitely enough.

For anyone who gets the chance to just pack their bag and go on a Spanish language course in Buenos Aires I say please do it.  You won’t regret it!