Well, here I am in Buenos Aires, Argentina! I made it here alive and am slowly finding my bearings. I arrived on Tuesday afternoon, and though at that point I was a ball of frayed nerves and butterflies, when I stepped out of the airport into the sun and 80-DEGREE WEATHER I figured nothing that felt like this could be bad. I took a cab to my apartment in the barrio of Almagro, where I met my host Irina. I felt instantly relieved – not only because she was so friendly and welcoming, but also because I could understand basically everything she was saying, something I had feared would not go so well between my lack of Spanish practice in the past few years and the sometimes difficult Argentinian accent. Irina lives here with her boyfriend and mother, with a few extra rooms for students like myself. There are two other students in my exchange program living here as well: a boy from Nicaragua and a boy from Japan. (They’re great roomies!)
By the end of the day I was somewhat settled and a bit more comfortable, but still incredibly nervous – something I never expected given my love of traveling and Latin American culture. So I pulled out my iPod, put on the sixty-minute Moksha Yoga CD I had downloaded online before my trip, and started practicing. And just like that, I was home. For me, this is one of the most valuable gifts yoga has given me: wherever I am, however lost or lonely I’m feeling, I can come back to my mat (or in this case, a mostly clean wooden floor) and feel at home again. I’m sure everyone has something like this – an expressive art form, a favorite sport or hobby. Anyway, an hour later I was calm and relaxed, and after a nice Skype session with my mom, headed to bed.
Wednesday and Thursday were orientation, and I was further encouraged when I met (and continue to meet) the other awesome exchange students and local porteños. Yesterday sealed the deal: it was one of those perfect days in a new city, spent wandering somewhat aimlessly and making beautiful discoveries along the way. I didn’t have to be at USAL (Universidad del Salvador) for orientation until the afternoon, so I got up early and went to Gala, a little gym about a block from my apartment, for a spinning class. It was great, although I think I also accidentally acquired an unwanted personal trainer due to the [slowly diminishing] language barrier. Oops.
(Although, as a side-note, it’s only been a few days and already I can feel myself thinking in Spanish and becoming more comfortable. I have a long way to go and lots of little mistakes to correct, and I don’t mean to brag or get ahead of myself, but I can’t help but think… I am going to be SO FREAKIN’ FLUENT by the end of the semester. Woo!)
Next, I decided to visit Palermo, one of the “chicest” and most wealthy barrios of Buenos Aires (to give you an idea, some of its sub-barrios are called Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood). Buenos Aires has lots of buses (“colectivos”) and subways (“el subte”), but I usually prefer to walk when I can. So I wrote down a few street names on the back of an ATM receipt and headed north. The walk to Palermo took about thirty-five minutes, and it was interesting to note the changes in my surroundings as I moved north. My guide book describes my barrio, Almagro, as “gritty working-class,” and my journey began alongside numerous street fruit vendors, porteños rushing to catch the colectivo or subte, and many small grocery stores, bakeries, and even smaller ferreterías. As I neared Palermo, the streets seemed more open, trees were planted on the sidewalks, and open-air restaurants and expensive clothing stores lined the streets. I wandered around the shops for a while (most of which had those fancy doorbells you have to ring to be let in), grabbing business cards of those places that made me think of someone from home (Mom and Dad, I have so many good restaurants and furniture stores / design galleries for you. Hint, hint).
With about an hour before I had to be at school, I ended my trek at b-Blue, a restaurant and smoothie bar that has what my family might call “Annie food.” Sitting out on their terrace, blueberry smoothie and guidebook in hand, listening absentmindedly to the Germans next to me, I thought, “This is perfect.”
Academic Orientation was nothing special – as soon as I sat down in the small auditorium all the walking caught up with me and my eyes drooped – but afterwards I joined one of my new friends for a quick bite in a little homemade pastry shop by the school. She also goes to McGill, and over my quiche and her croissant we chatted about BsAs, switching back and forth from Spanish and English with our exhausted brains. My final triumph of the day was mastering the subway system. It was my first time finding my way home alone, and I passed with flying colors.
Then last night I had my first night out on the town, in a popular and extremely crowded bar called El Alamo. Not gonna lie, I was intimidated by the porteño reputation for going out at 2 a.m. and staying out until 6 a.m. on an early night. Luckily, the Argentinians we were with had come from work and it was happy hour, so I met up with my friends at an easy 9 p.m. I was initiated with my first Fernet, a popular Argentinian liquor usually served with Coke. For me, the closest comparison would probably be Jägermeister, but without that sweet, sticky sensation that makes it bearable. I can’t say I loved it, but when in Rome… I had a blast, and after a night of dancing with my new friends (who seemed to grow in number every half or so as someone new entered the bar to a round of cheers) four of us headed out in search of late-night pizza (my semi-veganism didn’t go over too well, but I hijacked the crust) before I cabbed home and collapsed into bed.
That’s all for now. If you’re still with me, thank you / sorry.