“Couldn’t possibly tell you how I mean. But I can dance, dance, dance. So when I trip on my feet, look at the beat. The words are written in the sand. When I’m shaking my hips, look for the swing. The words are written in the air. I was a dancer all along. Dance, dance, dance. Words can never make up for what you do. The words are written in the dust.” ~Lykke Li with Bon Iver
I read Julie’s post two weeks before my flight home to Philadelphia, wishing I’d been graced with her advice during the middle of my own trip. On one hand, it had felt refreshing to pass from tourist to tenant as I put away my camera and fell into a rhythm of living. On the other hand, this left the door open to an unconsciousness in which the days blended into one, I worked more than I should have and I lost my sense of wonder for the vibrant city around me.
As Jess and I realized how much time had elapsed and how little traveling we had done as the sand slipped from the top to the bottom of our hourglass, we dedicated most of February to traveling:
Iguazú Falls – The magnitude and force of la Garganta del Diablo, the main falls, were so humbling that I was ready to go home after seeing it. The 36-hour round-trip bus ride was worth the opportunity to stand over what actually looked more like an avalanche than a waterfall. Armed with my normal level of travel research – none – I was therefore thrilled when Jess informed me that there were several hundred more waterfalls in the national park. As we wound around the trails, each turn brought more stunning waterfalls into view than the last. We couldn’t have crafted more perfect weather in Photoshop, as a 100-degree sun and cotton-ball clouds dotted a Twitter-blue sky. If I hadn’t felt the water cascade over me myself as we boarded a boat and zipped under a few falls for the finale, I would still think it had all been a painting.
Córdoba – Our lack of travel research finally caught up with us, as the main attraction in the capital seemed to be the mall. Conjuring up nightmares of my first hostel experience in Germany in 2008, we opened the door to the room of our hostel in Córdoba to an oversized, underdressed, middle-aged man lounging in bed. He later told me that he was living in the cramped 11-bed dormitory for a month before and after heart surgery. After dodging his offers to go to dinner or a boliche, I successfully dragged Jess, our Canadian amigas to a “sky-high, red, glass, rectangular bar” I’d seen earlier that day, giving only that description to our poor taxi driver in lieu of an address or a name. It closed one minute after we got there. I later fell flat on my face on our slippery hostel floors, and the front desk attendant had to scrape me from the tiles. The next morning, food establishments were either closed, well-hidden or nonexistent, as nearly every local directed us to the food court at the mall.
Mendoza – We enjoyed a lovely wine tasting at a boutique bodega in our whirlwind several hours in this famous winemaking region, courtesy of the warm and welcoming French couple who started the winery after retiring. They were generous enough to let us try their full selection of vinos as well as pad our stomachs with meats and cheeses so delectable that I developed an uncharacteristic craving for both in the month afterward. We left with bottles of wonderful wine and excellent extra virgin olive oil, as well as inspiration to cultivate new passions all our lives.
- Chile – After arriving at 6 a.m. at a hostel that didn’t open until 8 a.m., we embarked on an hour-long cab ride with the craziest old man I have ever met to traverse a distance we later learned was walkable. He must have been deaf because instead of rotating his head 45 degrees when he wanted to ask us a question, he stopped the cab, got out, opened the back door and stuck his head into the backseat to consult us. Not appreciated when the temperature was about the same out. Ignoring our protests, he also rapped on various residents’ doors for directions, such as an old couple who answered the door in their nightgowns. He then threatened to call the cops on us and the British couple we’d befriended on the bus when we refused to pay him for getting lost in his own city. I thought of pimping out Maria to cover the half we weren’t willing to fork over, but the tango molester I’d set her up with struck me as the possessive type.
It was 1 p.m. by the time we were able to check into our hostel room. The wine purchases we’d lugged from Mendoza were beginning to seem like a tipsy mistake. And to top it off, I had fallen sick instead of asleep somewhere in the Andes Mountains after we had to exit the bus in the middle of the night to go through immigration at the border. But aside from this hellish greeting, we fast fell in love with Chile:
Valparaíso – This bohemian port city with colorful houses set into steep hillsides introduced us to Chile’s magnificent street art. From mosaics to murals, the vibrant art coats walls and streets and is more aesthetic than the graffiti in Buenos Aires. Our hostel’s trapeze was only upstaged by the breathtaking ocean view from Pablo Neruda’s bed in his cliff-high home.
- Viña del Mar – Sinking into the sand of this beach town as the sun elbowed its way through the clouds, I remembered why I’ve always been happiest living at the beach.
Santiago – We weren’t sure why most people we’d consulted hated on the capital because for me, a city engulfed by mountains, cleaner and calmer than Buenos Aires and less than an hour from the beach struck me as a strong contender for the perfect balance between city and nature. The abundance of seafood and fresh juice selections added to my growing suspicion that it would suit me to live in Chile. As did the opportunity to enjoy a bike tour without getting hit by a bus. I imagine the nightlife is incomparable, though, so it’d be ideal to live in Santiago by day and Buenos Aires by night.
Back from our travels, I dedicated March to the planning and execution of a training for several new reporters for work. Recruiting, interviewing, hiring, translating materials, learning journalism vocabulary and training – all in Spanish – tested the language skills I’d acquired to the max. But thanks to the help of many wonderful people, it was amazing. I am profoundly grateful for the experience and the incredible women who have joined our team.
By the time I looked up, only one month remained: April.
Perfectly timed, my quasi-cousin Katie visited for the first week of April to Swiffer up the dust that had settled on those middle months. With an adventurous spirit and an uncanny understanding of me reserved for a select few people in my life, she was just what I needed to, in the words of Lykke Li, find the words written in the dust and dance, dance, dance. Luckily, shaking people proved to be her favorite dance move at the “biblioteca” (library) and “bellagio” (Vegas) – Katie’s admirable attempts at “boliche” (club). Leave it to Katie to make even a library sound fun.
Since making her stay in our house would have been like locking her in the chokey in “Matilda,” we rented a lovely apartment and together went on vacation in Buenos Aires. I again became a tourist as we dined, danced and discussed our way from an inaugural champagne brunch to a final adventure purchasing custom-made leather jackets.
I dusted off my camera as if it were Woody in “Toy Story” and once again toted him along everywhere we went, delighting in all the things a lens can make you see. “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” practically played in the background as Jess and I showed Katie our favorite places in the city.
I couldn’t believe how long it had been since I’d paid them a visit, broken promises of how I’d frequent them once a week when I first arrived. And as Katie’s fresh set of eyes registered new discoveries, I was incredulous that it’d taken me half a year to make their acquaintance. So when she left for the airport, I was deeply grateful to stumble across Julie’s poignant post a few hours later to buoy my renewed sense of wonder for the city for my remaining weeks.
The next day I made it a point to prolong the reappreciation of the things I’d taken for granted during those middle months. It was Easter Sunday, and although I no longer practice the Catholicism of my upbringing, I never pass up any real or invented opportunities to celebrate positive concepts, in this case new life.
Emerging from a much-needed 11-hour sleep, I revitalized myself with OJ on our sunny roof that had seen me visit less and less as a quicksand swallowed me during the middle months. Gazing out at the city’s buildings, I smiled at the many days I had enjoyed this adobe terrace as my home office. Half-shady and half-sunny so I could simultaneously work on my computer and tan in my bathing suit, this oasis had been the reason I never tried too hard to move.
Continuing the theme of new life, I next took my well-fed and hungover body from our vacation out for a run. I always walked through six to eight parks to get to and from the park where I ran. A bus would’ve been faster, but I preferred the hour round-trip stroll. I meandered a slightly different way each time to feed my understanding of the city, always marveling at how isolated points I’d previously visited connected. But I always made sure the way I wound maximized my park time.
And on this day of new life and renewed appreciation, I stopped along the way in one of the parks simply because I’d never done so before. A sunny bench seduced me, and my mind meandered to where I had been a year ago. I realized it was exactly one year since my first official breakup, though in retrospect, I had begun breaking months before then.
Sitting in this peaceful park on a sunny Sunday on another continent, I also realized that I was whole again. With the help of many people, pages and peregrinations, I had glued my pieces back together and sanded myself a smoother and shinier surface. There was no pain, no anger, no blame, no regret – just thoughtful reflection and marvel at the human’s ability to regress, progress, change, adapt, heal, learn, accept, forgive, grow.
As I started to walk again, a stray dog began to trot next to me. It must have looked a lot as if I were taking him for a walk – most dogs in BsAs don’t wear leashes – because when it stopped to interact with another dog, its owner asked me if the dog were mine. So when I started running once I got to the final park and found myself at the same pace with another jogger, I imagined it looked as though we were running together as well.
He was my dad’s age, and running has always been our thing. As the lap elapsed, I again marveled at how quickly the year had done the same. I realized it had also been more than a year since my dad and I had all but stopped speaking. With new life the theme of the day, I was grateful that he and I had recently videochatted for the first time since I’d been away and even made plans to go to the Penn Relays together the weekend I returned home.
Stretching afterward in the gorgeous garden on a sunny Sunday on another continent, I again found myself whole. With the help of many people, pages and peregrinations, I had glued my pieces back together and sanded myself a smoother and shinier surface. There was no pain, no anger, no blame, no regret – just thoughtful reflection and marvel at the human’s ability to regress, progress, change, adapt, heal, learn, accept, forgive, grow.
After each mile, I stopped – partly because I was out of shape and partly because I wanted to do what Julie advised so beautifully in her post:
Relish the stability because it often signifies that an end and, therefore, new beginning is right on the horizon. There are so many miracles in an ordinary day that can be realized if you pay attention to them.
Rather than hurrying or torturing myself through my run, I savored my surroundings at one of my favorite places in the city, Rosedal. Here, parks hosting people doing everything from drinking mate to performing circus tricks engulf a paved circle for runners, walkers, bikers, rollerbladers, skateboarders and scooters that hugs a lake and rose garden. Lykke Li and Bon Iver’s performance would fit in seamlessly. In relishing it, I even found new aspects to the old favorite. Like the Patio Andaluz, beautifully tiled like in the steps in that video and dedicated:
“A la caballerosa y opulenta ciudad de Buenos Aires en testimonio de la comunicación espiritual …”
I decided to dedicate my final weeks to the same.
After the next mile, I napped on a bench in a bed of flowers and fountains. I opened my eyes to rays of sunshine, a butterfly landing nearby and a harp playing in distance. All I needed was a kiss from a prince, and I could’ve been the newest Disney princess.
After my last lap, I bought fresh-squeezed OJ from a street vendor and collapsed on the grass in the parks to watch a family play fútbol. It truly was a universal language, as Julie called it in her post. Hours later, I found myself editing an article from Rwanda about the sport.
It was a slow and beautiful Sunday of reconnecting with the old and celebrating the new, something we usually forget to do when we get lost in the middle.
But, in the words of Band of Horses, “If I am lost, it’s only for a little while.”
Harmonizing the old and the new, Katie’s visit helped me find that the middle is actually a crucial piece. I first met Katie after boarding my first plane when I went to live with her family when I was 15 for an exchange program, my first extended adventure away from home. The experience confirmed the love I had seemed to sense in my heart for the new life I find in finding new homes and new friends in new places, a love that had now brought me to Argentina. But it’s in the middle that these novelties transform into something worth keeping with you as you get older, where Katie transformed from a host sister to the dear friend who visited me eight years later in my newest home. The exciting and new eventually becomes the old and true – but only if we cherish them enough in the middle.
“Weight is coming off, soaring high. Pleading you to stay, come alive. Say you mean it, seal it up. Say you wanna try. Say you haven’t had enough. Say you wanna. Once you get the feeling, it wants you back for more. Now it gets ethereal, feet ain’t on the floor. One step like you needed it, jumping at the wall. Why won’t you believe in it until it’s gone?” ~Bombay Bicycle Club