It was 4:00 AM on Saturday, March 9th. I, along with a group of my fellow classmates gathered outside the USC Credit Union awaiting our shuttle buses to LAX. I couldn't fully grasp that I was actually going to be in another country in the near future; it felt surreal. Granted, though, I was intentionally trying to suppress my excitement due to the fact that we had a 3 hour flight to Dallas, a 6 hour layover there, then an 11 hour flight to Buenos Aires. Brutal. I wish I could say that the commute flew by, but I really can't considering I was starting to go a little stir-crazy in the DFW airport, and to top it off, could not sleep on the 11 hour flight to Buenos Aires. Once we arrived, however, no time was wasted or spent idly.
The first day was dedicated to touring the city of Buenos Aires, making several stops in its different neighborhoods. It was interesting, because even though I was on a completely different continent, I didn't feel much different due to how developed the city of Buenos Aires is. It felt like another city, one that spoke Spanish as its primary language, never sleeps, and serves rich, heavy cuisine. Aside from those factors, it actually didn't feel too different from downtown Los Angeles or New York-- except for when we entered the neighborhood of La Boca. La Boca is most famous for its soccer team, but also its distinct architecture, represented by older, colorful buildings. It was here where I truly felt the spirit of Argentina, as the streets were filled with the bustle of the people, tango dancers, vendors, and unique architecture unlike anything I've ever seen.
From then on, excluding a day at a ranch (of which I got extremely sick), our days were filled with lengthy company visits. We had to be at the hotel lobby, ready to leave by 8:15 each morning, and would be out until about 5:30 or later each afternoon. We were all jet-lagged and tired, but it's Buenos Aires! You want to have fun, especially in one of Latin America's most prized nightlife cities. So, despite being tired, everyone hauled themselves to a nightclub, casino, or something else. Most clubs did not even open until midnight or 1:00 AM, so you were forced to be up late by default. My friends and I didn't return to the hotel until about 4:30 AM each night due to this, and had to be up bright and early at 7:00 in business attire to be in the lobby by 8:15. You would think you wouldn't be able to do that for a whole week, but as my friends and I said "When in Buenos Aires..." The locals truly do embrace the nightlife, in fact, dinner isn't eaten until around 8:00 or 9:00 up until 11:00. After that, they get ready for a night out on the town. You will find that there is still a decent amount of people up and about on the streets all the way until 5:00 AM. I can honestly say they have the U.S. beat-- way beat.
If I did have any time during the day, I would go to the local street markets to find some affordable, choice items. Besides La Boca, this was also an experience unlike anything I had experienced prior, especially in the United States. Vendors sold handmade jewelry, ceramics, clothing, antiques, shoes-- anything you can think of really. The best part was that they were all priced reasonably-- unlike the United States' farmer's markets. It's cute that they try, but I'm not paying $10 for a singular "handmade," or "artisanal," friendship bracelet made out of 3 strings, you know what I mean? Bartering for a lower price is also common, but so was up charging, especially if you did not speak Spanish and looked like a tourist. Luckily, I didn't have to experience much of this on my own as I do speak Spanish and look Latina, but I did notice it with others around me who did not speak Spanish, and especially with those who looked obviously Caucasian.
Interestingly enough though, Argentina is extremely Euro-centric in comparison to other countries in Latin America, assimilating with Italian, French, and Spanish cultures. You can notice this in the architecture, lifestyle, and especially the cuisine. Being Central American, I'm used to rice, beans, and plantains being part of a meal, so the Argentine diet was a shock to say the least. If you're expecting to eat any type of vegetable other than a potato, you can forget about it. Meals are rich and heavy, consisting of lots of meat (particularly steak), dairy, and carbs like bread and pasta. This is paired with a matching wine, and some type of Italian dessert or anything with dulce de leche. It's a lot. Dancing the night away and walking everywhere was a must to simply not feel so heavy all the time.
All in all though, my trip to Buenos Aires was the highlight of my semester. The people I befriended really made my trip, and I am so grateful to have been able to share that experience with them. Aside from that, this trip was special to me because it was my first time outside of the United States, and although it would have been cool to have gone to some tropical paradise, I believe that this was a great experience to introduce me to international travel. After seeing Buenos Aires, it has motivated me to want to travel throughout all of Latin America, and I mean other places too, but Latin America first since my roots lie there and I already speak Spanish. I felt an odd sense of home just being in a Latin American country, and want to explore that amongst its other countries. It was hard leaving all of it behind once we got onto the plane back to the states. Until next time, Argentina. Ciao!