Christian Mera, Class of 2015
Argentine Economist Lecture (Alexis)
I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived in Buenos Aires, but I prepared myself to do a lot of walking. I had just bought new nike running shoes to do all my walking in as much comfort as possible. What I noticed immediately was that the sidewalks were so poorly paved, I had to watch my every step. There were large cracks in the pavement, uprooting trees, large piles of dirt, glass, and concrete just lying off to the side of the walkway due to the constant, ongoing construction. The reason I was so conscious of the sidewalks and streets in Buenos Aires is because I have Cerebral Palsy, a physical condition that affects my balance and coordination skills in my legs. I can get around pretty well, but when I know I have a full day of walking ahead of me in a foreign city, it can feel pretty daunting. As we began walking around the city and seeing all of the different and beautiful types of buildings, I tired easily but I didn’t want to miss out on anything! I just accepted the fact that I just had to do the best I could do with walking, and remain conscious of my physical health. I always had to be extra careful in certain areas where road construction and development was always at work. There were certainly nice areas of the city that I found very pleasant to walk around in, but that was not always the case.
Contrasting Architecture in Buenos Aires
From the instant we landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the hustle and bustle of the streets put me into a perpetual state of dizziness. Cars zoomed and honked, tail gated and swerved to dangerously close stops. I felt my chest seize with anxiety and tried to mentally block the nerve racking traffic, telling myself that soon I’d be within the safety of our hostel.
Upon arriving at the hostel, I couldn’t help but laugh at the stark contrast of architecture not only outside of the building, but within it as well. From the outer perspective of the building, the hostel looked as if it were the entrance to some magical land. Sardined between two rather modern yet run down multi-story edifices, our hostel managed to fit a massive and heavy wooden door on its small face. The door looked as if it belonged to a classically designed castle from some Disney movie.
Across the street a small market sat nestled between other modern apartments that awkwardly and narrowly teetered towards the sky, and just up the street a bright yellow home (perhaps divided into smaller apartments within) was an eye sore in its outrageously beautiful Victorian styled design. As I looked up and down the street, making a double take here and there, I wondered if the rest of the city was that much of a “mix”. As I have come to recently realize, the entire city of Buenos Aires is one big collage of every type of architectural design imaginable–and this fact is as hilarious as it is fascinating. In a work entitled “Buenos Aires – a cultural history” by Jason Wilson, I recounted a section on “Modernity and Plagiarism” within the city, and Wilson himself describes the city as one that is “constantly mutating” (Wilson, 4). So not only is the city a jumble, but it is a continuously growing and changing jumble. Everywhere you look a modern building of metal and glass can hug the stucco and stone of a building constructed so long ago, that those who built it are long dead.
Finally opening the door to what could have lead to Narnia for all we knew, I was a tad less surprised to see the same mix of old and new, rustic and mod decorating the hostel. Opening our bedroom door with a storybook kind of key, the lock clicked with a dull thud and the heavy wooden door that resembled the main entrance creaked open. Our bedroom consisted of two twin beds and a bunk bed set. My roommates and I found the beds that we would be resting in for the next two weeks and talked and smiled about the funny neon covers of the bed, and the attempted retro style within such a vintage looking room. And then, within a pause of our discussion, it hit us like a wave.
The noise of the streets of Buenos Aires is not only incessant but boundless. It is relentless in its efforts and volumes and tireless even when you are desperate to find sleep. Traffic haunts me like a dark shadow, and even in the supposed safety found here in the hostel, I am still tail gated in my most tranquil dreams…
Midori Komatsu, Class of 2015
Hanging Out with Commuters in Buenos Aires
The first form of transportation we used was the bus. Buenos Aires has a constant stream of buses coming and going throughout the city for an affordable price depending on the destination. The quantity of public buses was almost in equal amount to cars. The price can range between 1 to 4 pesos per person. If compared to the US dollar, 1 dollar equals 5 to 7 pesos depending on the exchange rate, which means bus rides cost less than a dollar. There are also many subway stations called Subte that reach many parts of the city at an affordable price for 2.50 pesos per person. Apart from buses and subways, there are also trains that can reach farther parts of the province of Buenos Aires. The prices for these trains are also cheaper compared to the United States. It can range from 8 pesos to 20 pesos depending on the station.
However, there are a few inconveniences with the public transportation. For example, buses do not take bills, and this can be very bothersome if you have no coins or not enough coins with you. Most Argentinians have the bus card called sube which is fast and practical, but for a tourist that isn’t sure if he or she will be using the bus as often it can be impractical. Also, exchanging bills for coins can be very difficult since most business want to keep their change or simply don’t have. Another issue that presented to us while in Buenos Aires, was the schedule of the subways. In various occasions the entrance to the subway was closed for different reasons. If you aren’t familiar with the schedule, like we were, you might prefer to take the bus instead of the subway. Moreover, buses and subways didn’t have air conditioner and both can get very crowded and uncomfortable, especially during summer. Though, a few amount of buses did have air conditioner. Another small issue is the condition of the subway trains, it wasn’t at its best since there was graffiti all over it, and the seats weren’t very clean either.
Hector Castaneda, Class of 2015
Jessica Delgadillo, Class of 2015
Howee Wu, Class of 2016
Tamara Siemering, Class of 2015
Vegetarian in a Foreign Land
One of our first missions once we landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina was finding food. The city of Buenos Aires had a hectic, crazy vibe with a constant flow of speeding buses and taxis. We quickly discovered these cars stop for no one, leaving us pedestrians fending for our lives at every crosswalk. The sidewalks are wavy due to missing patches of pavement and turned over piles of cement. One moment you’re walking on cement, then on a patch of dirt and gravel and then on a board that’s been placed over a ditch.
It’s easy to pass up the restaurants, shops and hostels that line the streets. Every store and restaurant lives up to the phrase “hole in the wall.” Eating out every meal, we became quite familiar with the restaurants of Buenos Aires. Among our group of students we ate at places that served burgers, pizzas, empanadas, pastas and barbeque. We were introduced to traditional Argentine foods including “choripan” and “empanadas.” As a group we observed that for the most part Argentines eat two things: bread and meat. It became apparent to me that finding vegetarian food in Argentina was going to be a challenge. The empanada was a reoccurring meal throughout our trip. An empanada is a doughy pouch, generally filled with meat and cheese, baked until delicious and warm. At first the empanada seemed like a revolutionary food product to me, however minus the meat it is simply cheese and dough, which will do strange things to one’s stomach. Needless to say, I had trouble adjusting to this new diet. Aside from empanadas, there was the choripan, a chorizo in a bun, sort of the Argentine version of the hot dog. Let me tell you that choripan without the chorizo is a sad state of affairs indeed.
From day one obtaining meals in restaurants was an obstacle. The fact that I don’t speak enough Spanish to even understand the menus made for a surprise every time my meal arrived. Each time I could only hope I had managed to avoid meat. The words “pollo”, “jamon” and “pescado” ended being my tools for restaurant survival. As a vegetarian in Buenos Aires, I mainly ate carb filled foods: breads, pastas, more bread, cereals. Eventually I discovered the wonderful markets that sold fruit and vegetables for just a few pesos. The nature of our trip was so fast paced, it led to eating out more than anything else. However, I am sure that if I had the confidence to make meals for myself I could have created something that didn’t involve the Argentine favorites: bread and meat.
Caroline Sell, Class of 2015
Explosion of Beauty
I like to think of myself as a very adventurous person. Until I realized that it was only in theory.
Someone once asked me if I had ever gone camping, my answer was yes. Until I realized, I actually hadn’t. I had never slept in a tent in the middle of nowhere nor had I been to a camping site before. I guess I had only dreamt of it. It must have been a really crazy dream too because I thought it had happened in Mexico! Anyway, how does this relate to this LC you ask? Well, one day when we were getting ready to leave from the constructing site in a rural area in Argentina to return to the busy city of Buenos Aires, four of us decided last minute to stay behind to work on the floor of the adobe studio. I was skeptical in staying, but a night under the stars while getting to know some of my classmates more was all the more exciting, not to mention, I love working outside and doing hands-on work. So, nailing the wood floor down was a dream come true!
Once the others had left, I felt nervous for it would be my first time camping outside in a tent, a legit tent, one that was a bit broken so we used tape to hold it up. Regardless, I felt safe and a bit relieved because I had two other friends I would be sleeping with in the tent, Katy and Tamara, and Andrew that would be nearby, who slept in Pablo’s humble home. I have two older sisters and thus felt reassured and in high spirits because I was reminded of them.
Prior to this trip, I had experience building homes with wood, nails, cement, bricks, and working with mud and hay was a completely new experience. It would be my first time building an adobe studio from scratch too! Up until this point, I still was uncertain of how this was going to turn out. We had only put up the logs that would be used as the structure, but within a few short hours we had a floor to walk on, and a new floor to sleep on as well!
The next morning when the white bus pulled in, I was happy to see everyone! But, I would miss the night before when we ventured out to the local stores and restaurant where Pablo, the artist and whose property we were working on had taken us after having finished the floor. It was an astonishing sight to see, it was a small community that was made entirely of recyclable materials. I had never seen something so well made from recyclables, and if I had, I hadn’t taken the time to realize it. That is one thing I can thank Argentina, this Learning Cluster, and Tomas. I take my time when speaking with friends and loved ones, and noticing the small things—taking the time to appreciate everything.
Well, now I can say I’ve done many things, as I went camping for my first time, went to travel to Uruguay for the first time, I met an Australian, Uruguayan, Paraguayan, and Germans for the first time, I met new people both from Soka and abroad, I had my first SGI meeting in Argentina and then my second one in Uruguay, I helped built a sustainable adobe studio, I helped lead the group a few times which was a new experience for me—I’ve always relied on others as I am the youngest of my family. Excuses excuses, I know. But now, I have many new and beautiful stories to tell.
I am thankful for this adventure of a lifetime and I look forward to the many I have to come.
I thought I was adventurous, until I realized I have yet to sky dive!