The title is a bit of an understatement. It’s been over a month since my last post, but I think I have a pretty decent excuse. Here is roughly what the past month has been on my schedule:
March 24-28th: Paraguay
April 1-2nd: Lollapalooza Argentina
April 7-11th: Brazil
April 16-20th: Iguazu Falls, Argentina & Brazil
Then add in the fact that I leave for Uruguay on Wednesday, and that I’ve just begun prepping for my huge research project, and that about gets it up to present day. All in all, I think it’s due time that I look back on what has undoubtedly been a formative month. I think I’ll go through each of the 4 weeks in this past month, and talk about them briefly.
The trip to Paraguay feels like it was ages ago, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t stuck with me. Paraguay, to me, feels like a forgotten country. The one country that is almost always overlooked when people talk about South America. I have to admit I’ve been guilty of that as well. I knew next to nothing about the country before arriving in Asuncion. We had a powerful few days there though, highlighted by three visits. One was to a museum commemorating the victims of the military dictatorship. One was to a community of a marginalized indigenous group. And the other was to a Bañado, or slum. It was not a light trip, by any means. The visit to the Bañado is the one that has weighed on me most heavily, but not for the most obvious reasons. On the one hand, the conditions that these people live in every day are beyond heartbreaking. It would be one thing for me to describe it to you, and another to sense it entirely. Suffice it to say, it was like nothing I had ever witnessed before. But it has stuck with me for other reasons too. Our visit there started with a long chat with members of an organization that worked to improve conditions in the Bañado, especially for young women. After that, we were given a tour of the entire area. For about half an hour, we walked through the villa, and hardly spoke a word. This aspect of the visit is what I had trouble with. While I am glad I saw the Bañado, as I had never seen anything like that, it felt a bit exploitive and wrong for twenty predominately white and relatively well-off kids from the United States to walk by these people’s homes. After we got back to the organizations main office, a woman from the area asked one of my friends if the experience was like “going to a zoo.” While it obviously was a bit more than just that, there is some truth to what she asked. We went to this place, saw what was going on, felt bad about it, but then got to leave. We witnessed the everyday reality of these Paraguayan people, from a completely outside perspective. And I still struggle with how I feel about that.
Onto a much lighter topic. Lolla was an absolute blast. This was my first true music festival experience, and I had an awesome time. No major reflection in this section.
The next major trip was to Porto Alegre, Brazil. Though it is the 4th biggest city, Porto Alegre is often forgotten next to Rio and Sao Paolo. With the exception of my trip to Mexico at age 2, this was my first time being in a country where I didn’t have at least an intermediate understanding of the language. It was really an odd experience. Portuguese is interesting too. When I tried reading it, most of the time I could get a very, very general understanding of what it said. That’s referring to menus and powerpoint slides, not anything substantial. But understanding it when it was spoken is an entirely different story. Spelling wise, it’s not that different from Spanish. Pronunciation is an entirely different beast.
But not being able to speak the language forced me to figure out other ways to communicate. I did a lot of the more typical “point and nod” moves and the “hope that they speak Spanish.” The former proved more successful than the latter.
Now to the most recent week. For our Easter break, I went with five friends up to Puerto Iguazu, home to Iguazu Falls. This was my first non-program trip, so it was exciting to get off our own and explore the country a bit. The six of us took a 20 hour bus up to the falls. Thankfully, the seats folded down and were comfortable, so I actually got a decent amount of sleep. It was still 20 hours though. That said, it was completely worth it. We stayed at Poramba Hostel, which was a great little spot three blocks from the bus station. We met people from all over the world, including the UK, India, the US and other Argentines (obviously).
The falls themselves were absolutely incredible. They’re something that words and pictures cannot really capture. You just have to see them for yourself. We explored both the Argentine and Brazilian sides of the falls, and they were both absolutely stunning and awe-inspiring. If there’s one place that I would recommend to anyone, it’s Iguazu. Most truly singular and unique place I’ve ever been.
So that’s my month in retrospect. I’ve been so fortunate to travel so much, but after the trip to Uruguay, I will be looking forward to a little more time in BA.