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Archive for January, 2011

Hello Everyone,

Just a quick update, as we are literally packing our bags and trying to get all those little last-minute things done before we leave Buenos Aires!

I think I can safely say that we both have a mixed bag of emotions: excitement, sadness, fear…stress and fatigue.  But, either way, in a few short hours we’re boarding a bus for Bariloche (see map!).  We’ll be taking a 21 hour or so bus ride down South, to start our exploration of Patagonia.  It should be a fantastic few weeks. We’ll spend some time first around the top of Patagonia in Bariloche, then work our way down to El Chatlen (not on the map, but it’s halfway between Bariloche and the tip of Argentina) , then to the very bottom – Ushuaia, in Tierro del Fuego.  We’re really looking forward to seeing some amazing natural beauty in this part of our trip, and we’ll try to post pictures and update when we can.  Internet is going to be uncertain from this point on, but we’ll do our best.

We love you all!

Sharon and Tyler

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We can hardly believe it – in less than two weeks it will be time to move on!

When we came back from our trip to Mendoza, somehow it was already January, and that surreal feeling that the world is moving out of your control was just starting to happen.  Now it is in full motion – time swirling by faster than expected, the list of things to do and time to do it wrestling with each other.  Boxes to mail home, music and movies to download (no laws on that here), pictures to back up, iPod to update, laundry, saying goodbye to our favorite places and people.  The fears and doubts of this trip – what next?  Uh, like, where should we go?  Home? Continue on?  And the hardest questions – how and why.

Buenos Aires and the little side-trips we’ve made have been fun, some of it, even great.  We both wish we had done a few things differently…spent only 3 months here in the city being the major one.  Convincing our friend from Portland to take back a bag of fall clothes and souvenirs for us another.  Having the newest edition of the Lonely Planet so our budget wasn’t blown to pieces.  And the usual suspects are all around us: I wish I’d studied more Spanish, taken more classes, gone to the climbing gyms sooner, made a bigger effort to find a church community.  But, it’s time to just remember the best, try to put into words and cohesive thoughts the lessons we’ve learned, and move on.

And speaking of the lessons we’re learning, why don’t I share a few, before I get into the thick of things?

Being fully present in the moment. I like my friends at home; I don’t like making new friends much and I don’t care for acquaintances.  I’d rather save my energy for those deep relationships that sustain me.  This has some validity, I think, but it’s also quite wrong.  Here, the only friends we can hope for aren’t going to be forever, and we can choose to run from that, or embrace it.  Eventually, I gave in, and I remember one moment, in the most unlikely of places (a bar) someone I had just met, shared a vulnerable history of a twisted past. I was shocked that he would share something so personal to near-strangers (and no, it wasn’t the alcohol talking) and was inspired by it.  This is a lesson I’m always being taught, re-taught, and reminded of, but it was refreshing to revisit it here.

Interruptions and Slow Walking. Life here is always being interrupted.  Strange, sudden government holidays, people coming and going, power outages, traffic jams, subte strikes, you name it.  The Type A part of me doesn’t like when my plans “get messed with” and I don’t like when things aren’t efficient. But, it happens here, and people have the great flexibility to just make the most of it, and I too, am slowly learning. Related to this is the fact that people here walk like tourists at the Space Needle.  They walk painfully slow, randomly stop with no warning, and are generally irritating.  But they’re never in a hurry; they’re enjoying the walk, and they’re smarter for it.  Not only because they’re not allowing stress to enter their realm, but because when you walk slow you don’t get as hot or sweaty.  I enjoy my slow saunters to and from work, and enjoy taking the bus even if it takes longer than the subte (it has better views).  I’m slowly learning not to think about tomorrow, or later today (though I still think planning has a place), but just enjoy the now.

Listening and the art of communication. Having to learn another language has many benefits, but I’ve recently been reminded of one I’d never paid much attention to before.  Listening.  I can understand a lot more Spanish than I can say, in the moment.  I can read books, I can watch movies, but I can’t always respond before the subject changes.  I was painfully reminded of this the other night at a bouldering gym with new friends; I could follow their conversation, but by the time I thought of the correct way to say something, the topic had changed. Now this can also be a lesson in letting go of perfectionism, too.  But, listening.  I’ve always admired people that can get shy people to talk – who just listen and ask questions, rarely talking about themselves, expect to sympathize or relate. I try to do this, and fail miserably, when I’m speaking English.  In Spanish, I find myself listening for long stretches of conversation, being forced to ask questions to clarify or get more information, and rarely talking at all, much less about myself.  And its quite refreshing, and something I hope I can apply to my daily life and interactions back home.

Related to this is communication in general, something I absolutely hate learning (I am a firm believer that one should be allowed to communicate in their natural manner, and that anything else is cheapened), but I do it for my marriage and for my work, and, well, as a general life/social skill I guess.  I am not a good communicator, by any means.  Learning other languages helps with this on a social level, but being, what sometimes feels like trapped, in a so-so city with your spouse in one room, forces one to learn communication in a different light.  Its been difficult, but its also something we never dedicated enough time to in the States because we were “too busy.” Well, now we have worlds of time, and its been interesting to see just how different we are, and also to see just how easy (and hard) some of the fixes can be.  These are lessons we’re just beginning to learn, but I hope they continue, and that God grants us the grace to do so in a loving manner.

Future “Plans”: the how

We’re not sure what the plan is yet (can you believe that?! Me not having a plan, less than two weeks out?! This trip must really be getting to me!).  I bought tickets to spend a day in Colonia, Uruguay Friday to get another stamp to brag about in our passport (it happens, even if you try not to), and consequently renew (hopefully) our tourist visa for another 90 days so we don’t have to rush out of here.  After that our general, sort of plan is “go to Patagonia” but we’re not quite sure how to go about that.  We have some ideas, and we’ll probably end up buying bus tickets to Bariloche next week and hoping it all works out.  We’ve heard rumors its can get expensive down there, which I find strange, as I mostly just want to hike around and look at stuff, maybe even camp if we come across equipment, but we’ll just have to see how it goes.

The idea after that is to make it all the way down to the tip of the continent, Ushuaia, and then? “Up through Chile” however that works out.  There’s been talk of volunteering on an organic farm (WWOOFing) along the way, talk of staying at YYAM bases to save money, of hitchhiking and couchsurfing.  Dreams of making it to Bolivia and Peru, to Guatemala, Mexico, and Cuba. That is to say, we really don’t have many answers on the “how”s of the trip, but we have this, perhaps naive, faith that it will all work out, for better or for worse.  Should be interesting.

As for when we’re coming home, well, a recent chat with a friend, among other things, reminded me to keep that on our radar.  We’re still not sure.  There’s been talk of packing up and calling it quits directly from Buenos Aires, or directly after Patagonia, depending on the budget.  There’s been more talk on trying to hold out until at least May or June, and there’s been some talk about coming back in August or September, “if all goes well.”  There’s also been whispers in the back of my head of staying…for as long as…?; of course I have no idea or plan yet, but if some opportunity came along, well…if I can get my cat down there it’d be hard to pass up.  But, no such opportunities exist for us as of yet.

Doubts and the Why’s

As for the “why,” this is more difficult, and I’ve actually written an entire separate blog about it, which I still haven’t finished. I keep asking myself, is this worth it? Why are we here?  Why did we do this again? We could be at home, with my cat, having a normal life where I can eat all the cheap, spicy Mexican food I please and hang out with people I love everyday.  So, why are we here, spending all this money?  Is it just to learn a language? Just to experience a culture?  Haven’t I done that already? Are we actually doing what God wants for us, or are we doing some mumbled, half-assed version of what God wants? Why can’t I be given clarity, or peace? We have an idea, a romanticizing idea, of this great exploratory travel, where we spend hardly any money and meet great people and have revelatory experiences along the way. Not only has this been done before, it’s very hard to do in today’s world.  So then, what’s left?  We’re not with a church…we’re not missionaries…we’re not with any kind of program…we’re not in any kind of commitment.  I like these things because they lend me structure and security (but are those false?), but here without those things on this trip, I am haunted and full of doubt.  I try to have peace that it will make sense someday, that some opportunity will come along and it will be great, that when it’s all said and done I’ll say, this was the trip of a lifetime, totally worth it!  But most of the time, I just feel overly privileged and lost.

Tyler and I have been talking a lot about this tension I have, and many others have as well. We grew up in what some would call a sort of legalistic, hyper-emotional Christianity.  If we didn’t do our devotionals every day, if we didn’t cry at worship and retreats, we were bad Christians, riddled with guilt, our relationship with God nearly salvageable. Sounds silly now, but that’s what it felt like, in many ways.  So, later in life, as the classic cycle goes, we rebelled.  We’re all about the emergent church, we don’t need structure, we don’t need rules, it’s all about the heart-relationship, and that’s personal.  While this has many benefits, it’s not quite right either.  Because of this, I see many friends who live in hip “communities” with a lax mission, many of them eventually “realizing” they don’t need the Christian faith anyway.  A slippery slope, either way.  And thus, the circle comes ’round again, and I find myself saying, spiritually (and let’s be honest, physically) I’m a spoiled brat. I barely have an ounce of spiritual discipline (and I always eat exactly what I want). I need to take some things from that legalism (the discipline side) and add it into that flexible emergent stuff, and see what happens!  Well that’s all great, but, how do we add in the discipline to this, very lax, emergent-style trip? We get the obvious (read our Bible and pray, duh! and yet, that seems so hard), but..what else can we do? And how do we keep the balance of freedom/grace/discipline without it turning into that old enemy legalism?  An interesting journey indeed…

After all is said and done, I’m still excited about some of the lessons I/we am/are learning. And I comfort myself with the fact that God can use any experience to His good, and that even if we’re doing things the wrong way (have I made a grave mistake?!) we’re still learning important lessons, and they’re still going to be used in some awesome way in the future, and someday we’ll realize all that.

Thoughts?  Comments?  We always appreciate hearing from everyone (we also got quite a few Christmas cards – thanks!).

Love,

Sharon

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Hello!

I apologize for being lazy about the postings, again (one computer for two people doesn’t work out well for us, especially with traveling in the mix)  But, I will take the time now to share with those interested, how we spent our holidays here in Argentina.

December 24th

our neighbor's christmas decorations, complete with mechanized carols...

As I’ve commented to a few people, the big day here is actually Christmas Eve.  People usually gather with their families for a big dinner at about…10 or 11 p.m.  The classic Christmas dish is vite thonel which is a sort of chilled roast beef dish, served with a mayonnaise-tuna-pea sauce.  Sounds yummy, doesn’t it? It’s usually served with ensalata rusa which is like potato salad, plus beets, usually minus celery, and various other salads and cold dishes.  For a humorous and entertaining blog entry from our program, Road2Argentina, about Christmas in Buenos Aires, see this link.

Before the big dinner, we spent the 24th sleeping in, watching “Its a Wonderful Life” and basically doing absolutely nothing. I think it was 95F that day, so it was too hot to do much else, and most places were closed anyway. We had dinner with our host-family, who invited her sister, a few friends, and their kids over for a nice potluck dinner on her balcony.  We contributed deviled eggs and pasta salad to the dishes, which were more 0r less well received (there was another hard-boiled egg dish, where the eggs were cut in half and smothered with salsa golf, a mayonnaise-ketchup blend).  We started dinner at about 10 or 10:30, and it started out mostly awkward and a bit strange, with the guests maybe feeling uncomfortable with us there (we sure felt out of place!) and maybe wondering if they should speak in Spanish or the little English they knew.  After a few glasses of wine, things started to get better.

As midnight approached, everyone started setting off fireworks.  And here, it’s not just sparklers and piccolo petes, they set off real, big fireworks – from rooftops, balconies, the streets, you name it.  It seemed like there were a few organized displays at nearby parks, but for the most part it was loud, chaotic, madness.  At midnight we made a toast with hard sparkling cider, and wished each other a “feliz navidad!” Afterwords we sat around for awhile, munching on the food, Tyler and I at this point feeling like we were celebrating the 4th of July rather than Christmas.  Really, it felt like 4th of July, we even had ice cream for dessert.

At about 1:30 a.m., we got a call from Tyler’s friend inviting us over to their house. Seeing as we were still hanging out on the balcony, wide-awake, we decided to walk over.  Tyler’s friend was staying at his cousin’s house, who is, I think, an art trader from Italy.  Needless to say, the house was quite impressive.  Here, our Italian friend insisted that everyone eat pan dulce which he served with a chocolate, sweetened-condensed milk sauce that made it delectable.  Afterward, we basically hung around his amazing house, playing wii, playing and singing songs on the guitar, and having interesting conversations in a mix of Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, and English (but mostly Spanish…) until the sun came up, when we finally walked back home.

It was truly a unique holiday, but we were grateful to spend it together, and to be able to be fully present with new friends and acquaintances.

December 25

my christmas present was finding this kitten at a friend's hostel!

On Christmas Day, we didn’t do much.  We slept in quite late (obviously) and maybe watched another movie, I can’t recall.  We spent some time Skyping or trying to Skype our friend’s and family, and relaxing all day once again, avoiding what we could of the heat.  It certainly didn’t feel like Christmas at all.   We had leftovers for dinner that night with our host-family, and later took our leftovers to a friend staying in a hostel nearby.  From there we made an attempt to go out for a Christmas drink, but after a long walk to a place with too much of a cover-charge, and another long walk to a bar that was closed (again!) we gave up and went home. Not exactly an eventful Christmas, but we didn’t mind too much seeing as it just felt like a hot summer’s day anyway (it was!).

New Year’s Eve

On the 27th, we had bus tickets to head to Mendoza, 14 hours easy of Buenos Aires, in the foothills of the Andes, home of wine (Argentina is famous for Malbec) and, for me, mountains and rock climbing.  We spent a few days in Mendoza, riding bikes to wineries in the surrounding towns, went rock climbing for a day, and mostly relaxed in the cooler, certainly less humid, climate there.  On the 30th, we bought bus tickets to Uspallata, in the Andes, close to the Chilean border.  We spent a day sort of wandering around the tiny town, setting up plans for the next few days.

On New Year’s Eve we spent the morning rock climbing, and the afternoon riding bikes in the countryside, trying to find these supposed Incan ruins (we didn’t quite make it, turns out).   We ate dinner in the only restaurant in town that was open, and had a fascinating, insane conversation with a South African who walked up to our table and just started talking to us about “the new world order.”  After dinner we still had an hour to go until the “big moment” and being so tired from the day’s activities, I opted to take a nap, and put on warmer clothes. The nap ended at about 11:57, and by the time we were up and ready it was after midnight.  We went for a walk outside, watching the locals set off frenzied fireworks, searching for friends we had met climbing that morning.  We never found our friends, or the supposed party they invited us to, but we did have a nice time walking around, observing how such a small, rural town celebrates.  And, we were in bed by 1 a.m., as we had to get up early the next day.

we spent new year's eve climbing high in uspallata...

New Year’s Day

We were up bright and early on the first day of 2011, off to explore the Andes.  Apparently, so did 2 other former Seattleites (what are the chances?!) which luckily brought the price down and made for a much more interesting trip.  Our guide drove us all over the mountains, spouting off facts and stories in Spanish, stopping at Cristo Redentor on the Chilean-border, Puente del Inca (a natural-made bridge of mineral and rocks), Parque Aconcagua (where we hiked around the “Roof of the Americas”, the tallest mountain outside

starting the new year in the shadow of the roof of the americas..

the Himalayas), and a few other little historical points and towns along the way.   It was a great way to spend the first day of the year!  We even made it back to town in time to catch the next bus back to Mendoza that night (everything on this trip was at the last minute…).

We spent the night in Mendoza, back at .our…err…cheap, very cheap hostel, and the next day packed our bags, made the final long walk to the bus station, threw our bags in storage, and caught a bus to Cachuete, an even smaller town, famous for it’s thermal waters.  We spent a few hours relaxing the (crowded) pools, admired how smart the Argentines were to grill giant hunks of meat over wood fires and pack picnics along for the day.

Facing Fears

At the end of the day, one of my worst traveling fears became reality: we missed our bus back to Mendoza, which consequently meant we would miss our bus back to Buenos Aires.  I had thought the bus driver mentioned that the buses would leave from a different location than the drop-off point, and as we walked to where I assumed the location would be, our lovely bus passed us by, ignored our wild waves and pleas for it to stop.  I knew the next bus didn’t leave for hours (which would be hours too late) but I still walked the bus office to see what the options where.  Are there taxis here?  No.  Are there other buses?  No.  Is there any other way to get back to Mendoza?  I don’t think so. Great.  We resolved to do the only thing we could do – hitchhike our way into town.

view from the thermal pools in cachuete

The problem?  Almost no cars had room for us, and most people just weren’t ready to leave yet.  After walking to the edge of town, and seeing a taxi, who said he was “occupied” and refused to stop for us (we later saw him eating in a restaurant…) I decided to ask a nice looking old-lady in the store what she knew.  At first I got the usual answers…next bus leaves at 6 something, there’s no taxis. After explaining to her, twice, our situation, she called over to a friend picnicking next-door, and I explained our little predicament to him.  He agreed to drive us to Mendoza, for a price, of course (US$35…bye bye budget for dinner…and going out, at all, for the next week!).  Seeing as this was much less expensive than buying new bus tickets (and seeing as it was very unlikely we could find new tickets, as everyone was heading back from vacations) we took it, and had a nice chat along the way, and discovered that a car gets you there in 1/3 of the time as a bus, if you take the right shortcuts.  We arrived at the bus station in plenty of time (we even sat and had a coffee) and made it back to the hot, humid, crowded, noisy city of B.A., in plenty of time.

For pictures from our little vacation, check the links here, and here.

Happy New Year’s Everyone!

—Sharon

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