All around South America, countries are celebrating their independence. The 25th of May, Argentina celebrated its 200 years of age. I don't remember much of the french bi-century celebrations because I was a little young at the time but here they sure did it the real way! 4 days of non-working, only celebrating la Patria. People came from all over the country to be here and BA was more colorful than ever. In all terms. We celebrated Argentina, reliving moments of its past, rediscovering its cultures, hoping for the future.. I was truly moved. Ar-gen-tina! Ar-gen-tina! I wonder what would happen in France if we shouted Vive la France for 4 days in the streets of Paris... In any case, it's a good pre-game for the coming up Wolrd Cup hysteria. I guess we're going to have a lot of that, I can't wait!
There is something about me, when I start a new project I always think I will make things better. I don't know if it is faith (faith that each of us has the capacity to make a difference), pretention, or lack of sense of reality but I always do, and more often than the contrary, I end up disappointed with myself... I guess I should resolve myself to the fact that I will not change the world after all...
I just started working for an Argentinian association named Circo Social del Sur which uses circus as a medium to socially integrate youngsters of the " villas" (local favelas) of Buenos Aires, a project i truly believe in and I'm proud to be a part of. Nevertheless, Circo Social has no organisational structure and even though it is very nice to share work altogether, doing each and all a bit of everything (and at the same time!), it is extremely difficult to get things done efficiently and bring the project to the next level. What they seemed to expect from me was an opportunity to incorporate some management style and marketing orientation to their activities. What I end up doing is helping out in the current affairs, that pop up with no anticipation and without much long-term vision, in a quilombo. Have I ever told you that the Argentinians have a special word to describe mess and disorganisation?....
Because in Argentina (to pick up where we left in on the "demora" subject), for the sake of not being under pressure there are no schedules or deadlines -or if there are you certainly are not expected to meet them- and no accountability for anything. This would obviously go against human liberty and dignity! This is present in social life but is also true in the professional world and has dramatic consequences. Apart from the fact that nothing is ever ready when needed, you also will be required to do random things without further notice, your schedule will change all the time, information will be lost, people won't turn up to meetings, etc etc. Haven't yet understood how that makes me more free and flexible. Definitely doesn't make me more laidback.
In this quilombo, I'm trying to do my best, and once again am working on my lacking patience skills. I'm trying to convince myself that we are dependent on context and people and that very little is up to us individually in the end. Fortunately it is extremely rewarding on the human level, everyone is lovely, the kids we work with are refreshing and inspiring, the circus training opportunities are great, we got to go to the Cirque du Soleil show, I can practice my spanish. I just wish we could be a little more efficient and I'm struck by the fact that I don't have what it takes to really make things better...Welcome to the real world Mathilde, say hello to the real you.
I'm definitely not a loner and usually dread staying alone but I'm not the most social person either and will not hang out with people just for the sake of it. Especially when it comes to meeting backpackers in hostels, for the most part aussies (sorry...) on a 4 month-world tour, mainly interested in being loud, drunk and half-naked. Thanks to them I think I might have found my inner peace...sometimes nothing is better than being alone.
I almost died riding on the "tren de las nubes" which is ironic as it literally means "the train to the clouds"- when a huge rock dislodged from the side of the mountain (the train runs through the mountain at 4000m) and broke through the window landing about 10 cm from my feet, exploding glass everywhere around us. Luckily noone was hurt, just very shocked.
I have seen mountains of every possible color in Salta, have been thrown into a Dali painting during the Salt Flat tour, drank 96° alcohol chewing on coca leaves whilst praying to the Pachamama (Goddess of the mountain) inside a mine at 4200m, have eaten on the streets in Bolivia without being sick and walked around the country without getting robbed, yet I have not been able to see one single animal, not even a mosquito, during my three-day trek in the Amazonia jungle.
Traveling with boys is nice, there is much less drama than with girls. But then again you have to be prepared to be left alone due to very last minute change of plans. Just being practical...ahh guys...
In Bolivia, getting information is a lost mission. The thing is, "out of respect" (...) Bolivians will always give you an answer to your question whether they know it or not (and to be fair they usually don't). You end up far from the place you wanted to go, doing things you hadn't planned, and losing a lot of time. I guess you have to be patient and flexible. I'm still learning.
Walking, smoking, running at 5000m of altitude is now no challenge to me. Back to sea level walking feels like flying and breathing makes me high.
After a month spent in the Andes, being back in Buenos Aires is like being back in Europe, and it could almost seem a little boring...Fortunately I just started working in a social circus so i'm in for some nice surprises!
The portenos (people from Buenos Aires) have the reputation of being arrogant, show-off, proud of their culture and their looks, and convinced that they are the best people in South America, including the rest of Argentina. They never get tired talking about how great there culture is...you will never have heard enough about the tango, the mate, the asado, and the italian abuela. I guess as a foreigner in the city for only a few months, willing to learn all about the place, it's entertaining and can also be touching.
However they are also known for taking advantage of people. It is described as being "vivo". And the foreigners are in the front line. Not only do the Argentines set different prices for tourists then for locals (hotels, plane tickets, museums) -which I guess could somehow be understood as they are stuggling to survive here as wealthy tourist use their country as the cheap holiday option - they also sometimes don't put prices at all leaving little doubt about how they make the bill according to what you look like and how well you speak spanish. For people actually living there, it is a little upsetting. You learn to double check your bill every time you go to the restaurant, and most of the time you find that you have been charged for a dish you didn't order...
"No te hagas el vivo!" (don't try taking advantage of me) is both a joke and a very serious thing and you hear it all around! I should really remember that next week when I talk to that woman in the circus or I'll end up having to pay to help them....
La demora... nothing to do with "dementia" although I guess it could be related... "disculpa por la demora" literally translating into "sorry for the delay" seems to be the imperative sentence here. It's part of the culture, and it could explain why the economy is so slow. In Argentina people are definitely not in a hurry.
If you go to a restaurant the waiter will take half an hour to take your order, another half an hour to tell you there is no more of what you asked for, and so on and so forth bringing the dish and the "cuenta", it's little to say you yourself should not be in hurry either.
I have been in touch with a woman in a circus for a month and a half and we are only about to come to an agreement that I "might" be working for them. Should I mention the fact that I am changing my plans to accomodate them and that I will probably not get paid a centavo (penny)? Yet I am the one having to harass them to get responses. After about 10 emails from my part, showing up when they is no one to receive me, several phone calls, and having to resend my phone number many times, I finally found myself promised of a phone call at the beginning of next week... Fortunately the project seems to be interested enough: it is a social circus, supported by the Cirque Du Soleil, which gives classes to youngsters from Buenos Aires' favelas, even though I am a little bit concerned about the reliability of the people I might end up working with. But I guess this is also part of the experience. Hopefully I will be able to tell you more about it sometime next week. Let's not get our hopes up but I'm positive. "Ojala!" Another very important expression here meaning "Let's hope" (+ subjunctive!). That's encouraging...
I know I haven't been writing on this blog in a long time...disculpa por la demora...
I guess it depends how many different kinds of crackers you can get...
After the "Frey" trekking, we really wanted more! Super excited about the idea of the hike on the volcano in chile, as soon as we are back from Frey, we hop on a bus in the direction of San Martin de Los Andes (4 hours, dusty road and very dusty bus), from which we are planning to take the bus (7 more hours) to Chile the next day. No luck, this same night, the walls of our hostels are shaking from the earthquake (all the way from there!!!) there will be no Chile this time... But we areflexible. San Martin is very pretty town (so neat, which for sure looks more than ever like switzerland !!) but we decide to rent a car and drive down (and so ...back) the very famous road of the 7 lakes. Extremely beautiful scenery of mountains and lakes (the pictures to come / I was the appointed driver as i was the only one who could drive a stick - rings a bell to anyone...?). But after a day in the car we are restless, we need our daily 5 hour hike, and i'm getting stressed over the uncertainty of the following days. We finally hear of a good hike to do the next day, 2 hours away from there (ahhh argentine distances...). On top of the mountain, luck strikes again, we meet a sports' teacher from Bariloche to whom we proudly announce that we have been Frey. Reaction: and have you done Otto Meiling in the same area? Us, now more disappointed than proud at this point: euuuh no.... "you'd love it, refuge next to a glacier you have to do it". By the time we are back down (after having litterally sprinting down the sandy mountain for it is so hot we can't stand it!) we have a new plan: we will not go back to San Martin but instead will return the car a day early in Bariloche and walk on the glacier !!
I'm really starting to think that in life everything happens for a reason, you just have to wait and see... Am I on the tracks to becoming wiser?
After 20 hours of bus, three incredibly lame movies (Spiderman 3, 2012 and i forget the third), a big snoring man, two disgusting meals, but a pretty good sleep and a fun ride, we arrive in Bariloche, the very beginning of Patagonia, the region of the lakes and low moutains, the Argentine' Switzerland. We have nothing organised, have just booked the first night in a hostel in the center; we are free like the good and dry (finally!!) air of Bariloche.
As we are waiting in the common room of the hostel that our bedroom be ready, I overhear one of our fellow backpackers relating to yet another, that he is just returning from the best hike he has done here. Important precision: he is coming back from three weeks in Patagonia del sur. I'm definitely interested by this conversation, I want to know more, I ask him details. It is nothing that we have read in any of our guides, and something that the tourist information center will only accept to tell us about after insisting long and showing mucho confidence and determination. We have to do it, the girls (Caroline and Hannah) are easily convinced, and we even added to our troop the company of Jan, from Germany and travelling on his own. We're booked for the next day.
After waiting for 2 hours for the bus (but which again will turn out to be a good thing as we will meet Davin aka 'Into the wild man', and his 35 kg mochila (backpack) on for a 7 day hike by himself in the mountains, and who will stick with us during the hike, teaching us mountain survival tricks (did you know that rubbing banana skin on mosquito bites relieved the itchiness?).
It's a 4/5 hour hike on rocks after taking a chairlift, a very fun (if not afraid of height) sometimes a little dangerous hike, amazing views over lakes, moutains and cascades. On the other side of our rocky moutain we go down to a first glacier's lake, and then a second one, next to which lays Refugio Frey. It's absolutely magical. We're not even tired. A (quick) swim in the (coldissima) water, some sun bathing on the rocks, card playing, pasta cooking (in a kitchen with no electricity). We feel peaceful and rejuvenated. Tomorrow we'll go down the other route through the forest.
It's only our first but already we know we have done the best thing of the whole trip. But we're at least learnt something: who needs a guide when you can listen to people's conversation? We therefore ask the argentine hiker sitting at our table in the refugio what he would advice us to do next: Volcano in chile. We're on it!
...little did we know that the next day an earthquarke would compromise our plans.
Hour 20: (Loud) Snoring.
In between: (Loud) Snoring...and screaming!
Thank God I had brought earplugs!