***This is a guest post by Emily @ Let’s Roam Wild***
A Year in Argentina
“You’re leaving for a year?” The look on Jamie’s face was one part fright and two parts anger. Through an accidental slip of the tongue from another friend, she had just found out that I would be departing in five months for a year to live abroad in Buenos Aires during our junior year of college. I hadn’t intentionally kept it from her, I had just wanted it to be final before I broke the news. Within three short days I had applied to extend my study abroad program, found a replacement for my room on the lease, and officially declared I’d be spending a full year down south…way south. We’d never spent more than a summer apart since we became each others’ extended families back in sixth grade. She’d be leaving too for Australia for second semester, but was downright pissed that I’d be ditching her for an additional half-year and that she’d found out from someone else.
I’d been in a relationship that I was having trouble getting out of, was getting sick of my small college town and it was -14 degrees outside. I needed a break. My obsession with exploring new places was ignited after a slow, six-week trip through the tiny country of Israel. It was followed by two weeks in small town, Szarvas, Hungary and then another six-week summer stint living in Sevilla, Spain. Spend a year living in the Paris of South America? Get a fresh start, even if temporary? Yes, please.
“We’ll be so fine, Jame. I’m sorry you found out this way.” I felt terrible that my secret had been let out, and not from me. I knew this news would be hard for her to handle. I was confident we’d get through this; our decade-long friendship had carried us through some of the roughest moments of our lives. And now, as I write this story, I look down at the rusty gold “J” staring back at me from my right-hand ring finger, the memento that we bought to remind ourselves of the strength of our friendship while apart, and smile because she’s the one cheering me on to my next adventure.
Even then, especially then, my wanderlust had taken control of my life. It was making my decisions for me, and it isn’t always kind to those who love me. It is slow travel that fuels my soul.
I came back from Italy and felt unsettled. I’d just spent two weeks exploring Rome, Florence, Tuscany, Cinque Terre, and Bologna with my boyfriend. This trip exploded with romantic panoramic views, countless life-changing meals, and sites that have drawn people in for centuries. Why didn’t I feel satisfied? Why hadn’t this place become a piece of my identity like the others?
I don’t travel to just see things. I travel to learn about how people live, to understand what makes a culture special, to share in the true essence of a place, to challenge myself. I reminisced about family dinners with my host grandma, Shabbat at my Argentine boyfriends’ house with and asados, or barbecues, at the country house with Giselle, my portena best friend. I remembered my plane ride home, feeling like I was leaving a piece of myself behind. And I thought about how my favorite Pandora stations are Bacilos and the Latin Workout music stations, I find myself seeking out every empanada and Argentine steak place and I gush over porteno Spanish when I get the rare chance to hear it on the streets of Chicago.
Since you’re here reading about how to slow travel Argentina, it’s probably pretty obvious to you why that trip didn’t leave a mark like the rest. This was the first time that I visited a country, spent less than 3 days in each place, didn’t know the language and interacted with almost zero locals. It wasn’t Italy itself, it was that I traveled in a style that wasn’t my own. I had grown accustomed to a completely different way of travel and had no idea. I am a slow traveler. I now know that am most fulfilled by my travels when I have spent meaningful time with natives of the land I’m visiting, when I’ve enjoyed significant amounts of time in the places themselves, when I’ve walked, hiked, experienced the land itself, and when I’m pushed out of my comfort zone.
How to slow travel in Argentina
Maybe I ran away from a boyfriend, or boredom. But whatever I was escaping when I decided to leave Madison for Buenos Aires, it led me a country that shaped my identity in ways that I’m still discovering. Part of what made my time there so uniquely impactful was that I felt like I’d become a part of the Jewish community of Buenos Aires. My host grandmother, boyfriend and best friend were all Jewish. It was fascinating to uncover the similarities of my Jewish culture back home and the shared traditions of Jewish Argentine families. Being adopted into the porteno Jewish community transformed my experience as I viewed the city through a local lens and began to understand the expansiveness of the Jewish collective history.
Lesson learned? Find local experiences. Whether it’s couchsurfing, finding a temporary working gig with workaway, or signing up for a homestay yourself, I challenge you to push yourself out of your comfort zone and seek out your place in the local community. I don’t believe that you can really understand the nuances and beauties of a culture, until you become a part of it.
Home base or on the go?
Argentina has incredibly diverse biomes. You’ll find urban areas, dessert, plains, jungle, and mountains due to the sheer massive size of the country. For an outdoor adventure lover like myself, there’s no shortage of inspiration. As I was studying abroad, I used Buenos Aires as my home base. My suggestion to anyone who is slow traveling through Argentina – plan to spend at least a week in the capital and plan ahead to make sure you’re hitting the right restaurants, off-the-beaten-path bars, festivals, and porteno favorite experiences. If you can use Buenos Aires as your home base, I’d do that as well. But, if you’re going to be constantly on the move, I’d suggest starting there (since that’s likely where you’ll fly into) and going in a long oval around the country, starting in the north, heading west and south down to Patagonia and then back up on the east side.
For you slow travelers, I suggest you travel through the bus system. There are typically three different types of buses. I’d categorize them as luxury, middle class and the cheap seats. The biggest difference on each is how far back your seat goes and the level of service provided (on the luxury you receive meals and free champagne and whiskey and your seat is plush leather).
Since Argentina is so large, you’ll find that many places have very long bus routes between them. I’d suggest doing the overnight buses so that you’re not wasting daylight hours on the bus! And, if you can afford it, go for the luxury. I’m a budget traveler, but it was really nice to have a leather seat that went back 180 degrees for a good night’s sleep. Remember, you really only can book within 30 days of you departure. Here’s an example of what it looks like to take a bus through Argentina.
Example one-way options to Iguazu falls:
From Buenos Aires (Retiro Cap. Fed.) to Puerto Iguazu (Misiones)
Rio Uruguay First Class – $145 – Welcome Drink, pastries, cold dish, hot dish, refreshment, dessert, breakfast, blankets, pillows, individual screen, seats with 180º reclining. Wifi service and a laptop computer available to the passenger.
Rio Uruguay Coche Cama (Cama Ejecutivo) – $125 – Cold dish, hot dish, dessert, refreshments, breakfast, blankets and pillows. [From my experience, this seat goes back pretty far, but not 180 degrees.]
Rio Uruguay Semi-Cama – $110 – Cold dish, breakfast, refreshments. [From my experience, this seat goes back a little bit, like an airline flight seat.]
Where to visit
Below you’ll find a few places that I think are must-sees when slow traveling through Argentina. While there are of course even more, this list should be a great place for you to start on your slow travels through Argentina.
Urban: Buenos Aires (the greatest) and Cordoba (smaller city)
Mountains: Bariloche (snow-capped mountains and pristine blue lakes), Mendoza (wine country), Cafayate (red mountains up north), El Chalten (world class hiking)
Glaciers: Calafate (Perito Moreno glacier)
Coast: Puerto Madryn (penguins, sea lions, whales) , Mar de Plata (beach), Ushuaia (southernmost tip)
Desert: Salta, Jujuy, Salinas Grandes (salt flats)
Jungle: Iguazu Falls (waterfalls)
What’s next for my slow travels?
In my next trip, six months in Southeast Asia, I’m looking forward to making myself find experiences with locals and not letting myself only hang out with other travelers. I’m going to actively try to learn as much as I can of the languages so I can make real connections with the people around me. I’m going to move slowly in order to allow each place I visit to leave an impact on me. Since I’m not traveling with any organized program this time around, it will be all on me this time to make sure I have the experience that satisfies my travel style.
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