The Astromaid Chronicles

Slow Travel, Creative Living, and Speculation

Beware The Onion Look-Alikes!

Shannon here, after a very long hiatus, after a very long and productive spring.

I have one message for you all:

BEWARE THE ONION LOOK-ALIKES.

What does this mean? you might be asking. Let me explain.

A few nights ago, Jorge wanted to cook a meat-and-veggie stew. He’s very good at these. It’s definitely something we’ve planned to offer in our eventual Argentinian restaurant. The sauce, the veggies, the meat, the spices–it’s all so very delicious and subtle and mixing.

However, when Jorge set out to make this stew the other night, he told (re: whined to) me, “But Shannon, we’re out of onion!”

“Go to Kroger and get some yourself,” I said. “You have a truck and legs. Go on.”

He didn’t go to Kroger. Instead, he set out to make the stew onion-less. I admit, I was a little disappointed. Onion makes everything better, for some reason. The same reason why I get a little sad when someone tells me they didn’t have garlic for a particular dish. Like, come on, people–these are basics. It’s a sad day when you run out of onion or garlic and can’t replace it.

But I digress. I was working upstairs in my office this evening at my newer part-time job, so I wasn’t around for much of the cooking part. When I came downstairs later to check in on all the tantalizing smells wafting upstairs, an exuberant Jorge greeted me.

“I found onion,” he tells me. “Look!”

Inside the pot, slices of onion simmer alongside potato, carrot and steak bits. I nod appreciatively. “Where did you get it?”

“From outside.” He swirls the spoon inside the pot.

I think about this. Duh. We have green onion outside in the planter, growing, healthy and green, lovely and onion-y! Of course! I take another look at it. But that bulb looks way too big to be the green onion I’d been cultivating. Those onion roots are usually slender and small. This root was bulbous and hefty.

Small, slender roots of the green onion. Mmm...delicious.

Small, slender roots of the green onion. Mmm…delicious. [Photo Credit: www.wisegeek.com]

But I didn’t say anything. I figured, hey, what do I know? I planted those green onions last September. Their underground parts might have gotten very large in the interim. Who am I to judge an onion’s private soil bits?

Dinner was served. We sit down and enjoy a delightful stew. Everything was delicious–until I ate the onion slice. It was a horrible taste–so bitter and strange. I swallowed it down fast. I figured it was just one of those random disgusting tastes that sometimes inexplicably crops up in meals. Like, I dunno–a slip of the cook’s hand, something innocuous but gross, a weird bit of potato, who knows? Everything else tasted fine, so I didn’t think much of it.

Dinner ends, and I hurry back upstairs to continue my work shift. Meanwhile, Jorge cleans up downstairs, turns off all the lights and tucks himself into bed. I am working in my office for awhile, and about an hour or so after we’d eaten, I begin to feel really strange.

I’m dizzy. I’m unable to concentrate. And God help me–I feel like I could puke. I NEVER. EVER. PUKE, either.

“Jorge?” I call out. “I feel sick. I feel like I might puke.”

There’s a few second’s pause on his end. Then, he replies, like in a horror movie, “Me too. I really feel like puking.”

Three minutes later, while I’m sitting at my desk trying to convince myself I’m just hallucinating the nausea, Jorge rushes from our bed to the bathroom and begins puking his guts out.

“I love you,” I tell him feebly from my office, which is right next to the bathroom, while he retches his face off. “I’d come help you if I weren’t afraid of puking my guts out too.”

“It’s okay,” he tells me between heaves. “Stay in there.”

I wait for him to finish, intent on consoling him once he’s done retching. But once I hear the water running as he’s rinsing his mouth out, I feel a familiar sensation. A hot rush of sick barreling from stomach to throat. Dizziness, heat, and discomfort creeping through every cell of my body. I rush to the bathroom, put my face into the same toilet he’s used for the past ten minutes.

And I puke my face off, too.

“IT WAS THE ONIONS,” I wail as I empty the contents of my stomach. “THEY WEREN’T RIGHT.”

Later, once the puking has subsided slightly, he tells me the onions were slimy at the base. I google a little bit and read about others’ horrifying encounters with eating slimy onions. Vomiting, nausea, and the like. I feel distantly consoled. Like the internet is telling me, Hey, this happens to everyone. It’s okay. It was just bad onions.

I remind myself of this as I continue to vomit from midnight until 8 am every hour, on the hour.

Every thought about the stew I had eaten, or any form of any onion ever, makes me distantly nauseous, though.

Finally, I’m able to roll onto my side without puking around 8am, so I snag a few hours’ sleep. Once I’m up and about the next day, my first order of business is to uproot and dispose of all these slimy green onions I’d unknowingly cultivated. What horror in the garden! I storm outside, eager to upend all of these sinner scallions, to let them die a painful, shriveling death in the sun as a penance for our illness the night before.

When I get outside to the planter where my green onions were…I notice nothing missing.

As in, there are no green onions that had been pulled for yesterday’s dinner. Jorge had put something else into his stew. AND I HAD NO IDEA WHAT IT WAS.

When Jorge returned home that day from work, I showed him the green onion planter. “There’s nothing missing. What did you put in our stew, JORGE?”

He insisted it was onion. Onion growing on the side of the house. He gestured toward the back garden, the one up close to the house. The area of the garden where I had definitely, decidedly, never planted onion ever.

As we were walking down the driveway, he gestured toward a plant in the front garden. “It looked just like that,” he said. “Just like that onion there.”

My gaze landed on the plant. It was no onion at all. I never planted any bulb onion in my garden, front or back. I never planted anything but the slim, slender, totally innocuous, non-vomit-worthy green onion.

Jorge had pointed to the daffodils.

We ate a motherfucking daffodil in our stew.

Jorge pulled the daffodil in the middle stage, without the flower. Just when it looks exactly like a green onion.

Jorge pulled the daffodil in the middle stage, without the flower. Just when it looks exactly like a green onion.

Now it all made sense. Why else would we have puked our guts out like some modern rendition of the Exorcist: Food Edition? We had literally poisoned ourselves, as evidenced by any google search on Daffodils:

All parts of the bulb are toxic to people and animals, but the toxicity level is low unless you eat a large quantity. For example, a handful of bulbs is considered toxic, while one bite may lead to an upset stomach. If you accidentally ingest lycorine, you may begin to have stomach problems, such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, as well as salivating, trembling, depression, convulsions and tremors. [Why Are Daffodils Dangerous?]

We had nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, salivating, trembling, and a whole lot of depression regarding WHY IS THIS PURPORTED ONION TRYING TO KILL ME?

Yeah, just an accidental dinner-time poisoning. OOPS.

Jorge felt horrible throughout all of this, I should mention. He stayed up with me while I puked the night away, and felt so badly for causing all of this terror from one simple stew. Once we found out it was a daffodil instead of a rotten onion, he felt even worse. Who harvests daffodils instead of onions? It’s a mistake anyone could make, I suppose, if you aren’t well-acquainted with your wife’s sprawling garden.

At any rate, we’re much better now, and definitely on the healthy side of our unintentional daffodil poisoning.

We’ve both learned what slimy onions can do to someone’s gut as well as the accidental daffodil, so I hope all of you will take all of these lessons to heart and avoid both rotten onions and perfectly good daffodils during your next home-cooked meal.

A Hiatus, A Job, and A Pet

It’s been almost a month since I last wrote. A MONTH! I have no good excuse, either. I tend to have a surplus of ideas at all times. And then I don’t post them generally because of the ever-present doubt in the back of my head that lingers (and burns) like a fart that just won’t go away: Who even cares?

And in the shuffleboard of my priorities, the blog usually gets the last slot, so there’s also that.

But really, there’s a conflict inside me. I have so much I want to write about. I’d love to return this blog to a more mundane recapping of my days and weeks. I feel people used to read it more when it was about that stuff. But I strayed away from that because I began to ask myself, who even cares about this?

I mean, technically speaking, nobody does. But also technically speaking, everybody does. It’s the same impetus that draws us to novels, stories, overheard snippets, and more. We’re just inherently interested about other people’s lives. Even if we don’t actually care about it.

But I also thought I’d be more sparing with my content, so that I could produce real, bonafide pieces that I cared about and put effort into.

I mean, I still want to do that. I’m not trying to publish random assortments of spelling errors here.

So I think there’s a middle ground. I’m going to try to post more often, with lower self-censoring and with higher regard for writing about whatever the fuck I want to write about.

So what the hell’s been going on in my life?

I started a new job. It’s a part-time thing, nights only, four days a week, also remote work. I get to talk to people on the west coast, speak in Spanish, and create (AND MAINTAIN!) spreadsheets. Not bad, for a side gig!

I went to Nashville recently with one of my best friends, Leslie. It was a combination foodie and yoga tour. We studied with my mom’s authorized Ashtanga teacher, and were collectively sore for two days afterward because that’s what studying with Shae means. She tweaks you so hard that every aspect of your practice feels it. We also consumed a frightening amount of tofu and talked until our vocal chords shriveled up.

Kentucky I-65 S Detour

Views of Kentucky during an unexpected detour on the drive south.

Nashville Cowboy Boots

Token cowboy boots in Music City!

East Nashville, TN

Hip mailboxes in East Nashville.

Earlier this week, Jorge crept into my office with a mysterious cardboard box and a crazed, gleeful look on his face. “I have a surprise,” he warned, maybe ominously to my ears as I assessed the box and realized it could be only one thing: a pending pet.

AND LO! Inside the box was a quivering bunny. Super small, super cute, and very, very caught in this box. Jorge explained that he’d rescued the bunny from certain death, since one of the farm cats was about to kill it.

“Awesome,” I said, eyeing the little creature, millions of questions springing to mind. Questions like: where are we going to put this little thing so he can exercise and play enough that he doesn’t get angry and depressed? How can we let him know we mean no harm? He has no idea what’s going on and he’ so scared, how do we calm him? What do we feed him? What will we do with him when it’s time for us to leave for South America later this year?

Jorge fashioned a makeshift cage for him, and his attempts to escape the box haunted me the entire night. I felt physically heavy because this tiny creature was in our house, confused and scared, on the fast track to becoming our pet.

The next day, the cage improved, and we played with the bunny more since his fear factor had diminished a little bit. We named him Benny. Jorge was in love. I worried about Stockholm’s Syndrome, because here we are the captors, taking this rabbit hostage until he falls in love with us. But as my friend Alison pointed out, that’s the case for most pets. So there’s the other side of owning pets, I guess: thinly veiled psychological manipulation.

By day 3, I felt better about Benny because we got hay for him and some rabbit pellets and his cage was really awesome by then and he was totally cool with eating in front of us and he just seemed to be really warming up to the human-rabbit-indoor-sweet luxury life. I thought, yeah. This can work, Benny. You can nuzzle against my neck while I read and you’ll playfully chew toilet paper tubes and I’ll sprinkle hay everywhere and you’ll look at me with sparkling eyes that tell me you love your captor with all your heart.

The next morning, as Jorge made his rounds downstairs, he discovered that Benny had died.

We’ve been in mourning all week. I feel bad, because we probably killed him with his diet. Baby bunnies have notoriously sensitive stomachs, and the switch from wild farm life to captive greens diet probably pushed him to his end.

In fact, it was probably the carrots that did it. What terrible, terrible irony.

RIP, BENNY! We loved you, however briefly.

Benny the Bunny! March 2016 - April 2016

Benny the Bunny! March 2016 – April 2016.

What Do I Look Like, A Drug Lord?

When Jorge, Kelli, our friend Sam and I began packing up and shipping out of Argentina, we opted for the night bus between Mendoza and Valparaiso. About 9 hours long, it’s an easy way to save a night’s expense at a hostel, though you do miss some of the stunning views by day as you ascend the craggy, rusted mountains of the Andes.

Being that it was a full moon the night of our trip, we were able to catch ghostly glimpses of the terrain. And with our bottle of wine, the four of us had a fun time chatting, sipping delicately out of the world’s tiniest plastic cups, and planning for the upcoming days in Chile.

andes mountains

Here’s a shot of the Andes during the day, from a border run in late 2013.

A few hours into the ride, we knew the aduana, or customs control, would be happening soon. The typical steps of a land border crossing, at least between Argentina and Chile, are as follows:

  1. Approaching the border, a border official will board the bus to inspect things. He usually leaves after a quick once over.
  2. Fifteen minutes later, you’re at the actual border. Enjoy the frigid mountain air.
  3. Everyone must get off the bus, line up in front of two windows, and get their passports stamped/attended to.
  4. Linger outside for awhile, buy some Chilean sandwiches, wait until your bus pulls up to the next customs door.
  5. All the luggage is offloaded from the bus onto a conveyor belt, where it is automatically X-rayed.
  6. Passengers must line up in front of two long tables, where we place our hand luggage in front of us. Dogs sniff up and down the tables a few times.
  7. Our hand luggage is then scanned through the same machine. Anyone who didn’t pass the screening has to open their luggage so it can be inspected by an official. (And if they don’t pass the inspection…well, they don’t cross the border!)
  8. Re-board the bus, and try to catch a few more hours sleep until you arrive in Valparaiso!

Los libertadores border crossing

“Los Libertadores” border crossing; every Mendoza-Santiago bus route runs through here, high up in the Andes. [Photo Credit: Soy Chile]

Fairly straightforward. Getting INTO Chile is often more difficult than getting INTO Argentina because their import rules are much stricter. They do not allow any fruits or vegetables of any kind to be brought into the country, and most loose food is confiscated.

So around the time we knew we’d be approaching customs, we collectively realized we still had a crapton of chocolates leftover from our impulse purchases earlier that day at the Mendoza bus terminal. And nuts! We had so many nuts and chocolates.

TIME TO EAT. We began scarfing chocolate, unwilling to let Chilean officials confiscate our hard-earned candy. They were gourmet, for god’s sake! I’ll eat myself sick before I hand these over just so they can be tossed in the garbage.

Our bus shuddered to a stop at the first control (step 1) while we were mowing down. The official boarded the bus as normal. Our bus was oddly empty, only about ten people on the 2nd level with us, where normally it could fit up to 60. The official didn’t have many people to assess before he made it to us.

He paused at our seats. After a curt assessment, he asked if he could see all of our hand luggage.

I nodded and grabbed my backpack, still popping chocolate almonds into my mouth. He began to rummage, one by one, through our bags. We exchanged confused glances as he did so.

He hadn’t asked anyone else on the bus for their hand luggage. And in my ample border crossing experience, on this exact route, the most I’d ever been asked to show was my passport.

As he rifled through our belongings, I offered him some chocolate. He curtly declined.

“What is this?” He held up Sam’s lip gloss, which was in a spherical pod.

JUST LIKE THIS LIP BALM, except without the pineapple, the floating face, and the HILARIOUS ENGRISH. Take care of that crackle with this adorable lip balm.  [Photo Credit: Alibaba.com]

“Just lip balm,” she said, as he opened it up and examined it against the lights of the bus.

After he’d inspected all of our hand luggage, he told us to get off the bus. “Bring your hand luggage with you, we need to get your bags out from the bottom.”

Now this was really weird. Wordlessly, we followed him off the bus, sending wide-eyed looks between each other, wondering why we were being singled out. At the side of the bus where the luggage is stored, the border official and the bus employee pulled our bags down. They laid them unceremoniously on the side of the highway.

The official pulled me aside as he opened my big backpack. Wearing gloves, he pulled out my personal items and handed them to me to hold as he searched–my sandals, a Little Mermaid towel, piles of clothes. At the same time, another border official, who had already searched through some of Kelli and Sam’s things, grabbed my hand luggage and began searching through it again.

“Who’s is this?” His voice came out gruff, angry.

“Mine,” I told him, arms piled high with my crap as his colleague continued scouring my bag.

“Come here.”

I looked helplessly between the two officials. How was I supposed to go through two of my bags at once? “Uh…I don’t–…um, what do you–? It’s already been inspected!”

He grunted and pushed it aside. Then he motioned to Jorge to follow him behind the back of the bus. The official searching my bag finished, and told me I could put everything back inside. Then he disappeared to where Jorge and the other guy were.

All I could see was Jorge’s face as they talked. Serious faces; occasional nodding. Intense glances. They were fucking questioning him.

My belly flopped. Was this about to be a problem, like a real, honest-to-god IMMIGRATION PROBLEM? [Cue horrifying flashback to Bolivian Immigration problems.] My mind started doing somersaults as I waited for some word from them, or my husband. Kelli, Sam and I huddled nervously as we waited.

Finally, the officials motioned us over. “Get back on the bus.”

THANK GOD. We re-boarded the bus quickly, settling into our seats with something like delirious relief pulsing through the air.

“What did they say to you?” I asked Jorge as the bus rumbled to life once more. The passengers at the front of the bus side-eyed us, probably wondering what we had done to warrant such a search.

“They were looking for weed,” he said, and went on to explain that the officials were looking for marijuana in all our bags–all the way down to Sam’s lip gloss. Convinced that we had it stashed somewhere, that we had been smoking it somewhere. Behind the bus, the officials had tried to bargain with him–if you guys have any on you, just let us know and we can work something out for you. We’ll make you a deal. Just admit it.

SERIOUSLY.

We gaped at him, incredulous, horrified, totally confused. Why on EARTH would they suspect us for SMUGGLING AN ILLEGAL DRUG INTO CHILE?

Clearly, they didn’t find the treasure they were looking for, because we don’t smuggle illegal substances across international borders. 

Of all the passengers on the bus, they chose us. And why was that?

Was it because we were foreign? Maybe because of my dreadlocks? Was it because we were three American tourists, lost in a conversation in our own language, trying to be nice by offering chocolates?

Who knows. We sure don’t.

The incident weighed on us, hanging somewhere between astonishment and fear. What if this had been a different country, a place where cops bribe people to confess something, while they plant a drug in their belongings? What if this had been a situation where not finding anything in our luggage didn’t matter, and we’d be carried off to jail anyway?

Those places exist in the world. And oftentimes, it’s up to luck about what happens to you on the road: what society you’re traveling in, what border official is looking you up and down, what night of the week you happen to be traveling.

Once we made it to the actual border and our luggage was offloaded again to be X-Ray’d and sniffed out, none of the dogs noticed us, our backpack, or Sam’s “questionable” (yet adorable) lip balm.

It’s times like these that make you wonder all the ways that things can go REALLY wrong! Have you guys ever had a touchy situation like this traveling abroad? I want to hear about it!

The Actual Wedding Party, Finally (South American Wedding Voyage Pt. 4)

I’ve been so dreadfully tardy in finishing the saga of the Argentinian Wedding. My apologies! As of now, the party happened three weeks ago. Eek! Egads! Godzilla! Anyway, here’s how the night went down.

We were whisked into Negro’s car and driven around town with friends and family trailing behind us in their own cars. Everyone honked and shouted, and we made a loop around the plaza a few times. This was our “caravan” to announce to the pueblo that we were getting married!

When we finally arrived to the venue, everyone was there. Jorge and I entered through an archway, arm in arm, where all our guests greeted us with grins, cameras, and applause. In the background, some terribly romantic 90’s song played–something like Phil Collins, I shit you not–that maybe made me die laughing on the inside as I beheld the majesty of such a reception.

And then the hugging began. And the photos. One by one, everyone approached us to hug us, kiss us, wish us well, and snap photos with us. I’ve never hugged so many people in ten minutes! Good lord, the amount of cheeks I touched.

Stepping through the arch...begin the hugging onslaught!

Stepping through the arch…begin the hugging onslaught! Here with us are Jorge’s parents: Yvar and Coka.

After greeting everyone, people made their ways to the tables and food was served in rounds: starting with empanadas, then the Russian Salad and bread, and ending with those little guys involved in the rural transaction I mentioned in a previous post.

The main table

Waiting for dinner to be served! We hired some local guys to be our waiters for the evening. Please note 2 of the 40 stolen roses on the table.

After we ate and drank, Jorge and I made rounds to each table to greet our guests and take pictures with them.

Posing with friends...CHEERS!

Posing with friends…CHEERS!

And then the damndest thing happened. One of my fears, I suppose, was something unexpected and foreign happening to me, something that might put me on the spot. Jorge reassured me that nothing of the sort would happen. “We’ll just be eating, and greeting, and drinking til dawn.” Seemed like a solid enough plan.

Music sprang to life after we finished greeting all the tables. Jorge and I were called, very urgently, to the dance floor.

“IT’S TIME FOR THE VALSE,” they all told me.

“WHAT IS THE VALSE?” I screamed inside while smiling appreciatively and going where I was told.

Jorge and I began a simple dancestep alongside his parents. This is pretty easy, I thought. I can do the Valse. I got this. It’s like a piece of cake, basically.

Getting the dancing started off....

Getting the dancing started off….I cling to Jorge, hoping I’m doing it right.

And then Jorge dislodged from me and floated away. I sighed with relief. Well that wasn’t so bad. Before I could make a furtive exit-stage-left, one of our friends swooped in to dance with me. And then another. And another. The entire male guest list made their rounds, one-by-one, to dance the Valse with me. Jorge received all the female members of the crowd. And with over 100 guests, this was no speedy feat.

This was a legit cycle through all the guests. EVERY SINGLE PERSON DANCED WITH US. Even Jorge’s uncle, who’s like 95 years old and can’t walk without a cane.

Dancing with Jorge's uncle, his father's older brother...cane in hand! Hey, old age isn't any excuse not to VALSE!

Dancing with Jorge’s uncle, his father’s older brother…cane in hand! Hey, old age isn’t any excuse not to VALSE!

Halfway through, I was sweating and wondering when it would be over. It was like, 20 minutes of Valse’ing. For a surprise Valse Attack, THAT’S A LOT.

Once the music (thankfully) stopped, Jorge and I had a little bit of time to wander and relax. Though really, I couldn’t relax fully. After a Surprise Valse Attack, who can entirely relax? The family might have more surprises planned.

After a time, we were ushered to the cakes. Jorge’s parents bought these for us (another gift, in addition to the cow), and one of them had a cake topper of a guy on a horse with his bride riding behind him! Very appropriate for the Gaucho Jorge.

Cutting the cake with Jorge...as the little ones watch with anticipation.

Cutting the cake with Jorge…as the little ones watch with anticipation.

Once the cakes were cut and rapidly devoured, Jorge’s family had not one but TWO more surprises for us. What on earth could be left, you might be asking. Yes, I was asking myself the same question.

You guys might recall my recap of our wedding reception, and ceremony for that matter, in the States. It was what some would call totally non-traditional. We abided by almost none of the rules of wedding events and etiquette.

Well, in the way that the universe is a master of balance whether one wants it or not, South America made up for the tradition that North America lacked. Jorge’s family hit every point–not just the traditional wedding dance, or the cake cutting, or the parade around town, etc.

His family gifted us wedding rings, those little round symbols of love we’d opted against, and they also made a highly emotional, sentimental presentation that made everyone at the party bawl their eyes out.

THE AVILA CLAN KNOWS HOW TO TUG AT THE HEART STRINGS.

After Jorge’s cousin Guillermo finished reading the heartwrenching letter that Jorge’s family members had collectively created, the announcer (yes, we had a real radio personality at our reception) handed the microphone to Jorge so he could say a few words.

And then he handed it to ME, so I could say a few things. Panic cinched my belly. Here it was–the dreaded on-the-spot moment. I had to speak in front of a group, with a microphone, in fucking Spanish. And say something gramatically correct and sufficiently sentimental.

UHHH, YEAH. I basically said “I LOVE YOU ALL, THANKS BYE” and handed the mic back to Mr. Radio Personality and ran away.

Oh: and the nieces presented us with the rings on a platter which was, come on, let’s be real, the cutest thing I’ve ever fucking seen.

The presentation of the rings, on behalf of the nieces!

The presentation of the rings, on behalf of the nieces! We promptly placed them on the wrong ring fingers.

Leaping to catch the hat...which Jorge tossed to the men.

Leaping to catch the hat, which Jorge tossed to the men. What a great action shot!

Tossing the flower bouquet! Jorge's niece, Stefania, caught it.

Tossing the flower bouquet! Jorge’s niece, Stefania, caught it.

Once all the traditional bits were out of the way, we basically continued drinking and dancing until sunrise. Jorge’s parents stayed at the party until the very end, which was around 6 A.M.! They helped us pack up and bring everything back to the house, which was an admirable feat. His parents usually go to bed around 10 P.M., and they’re in their 70’s, so this was pretty damn impressive. Their baby son’s wedding reception is a sufficiently big enough event that I’m sure they made it through on adrenaline and shrieks of laughter alone!

By the time I passed out, it was well after 7 A.M. and my body was sore from dancing, laughing, and EATING. To the sounds of twittering birds, I drifted off into a peaceful sleep. Argentinian Wedding Reception = A BLAZING SUCCESS!

Wedding Party Preparations (South American Wedding Voyage Pt. 3)

Saturday, February 20th. The day of our Argentinian wedding reception.

Jorge was up earlier than I was to go run some errands with the truck, many men, and various cargo loads involving freezers and tables and chairs. The piglets were already cooking over a low, wide open charcoal pit in the yard by the time I got up, where one man with a shirt that read “Asador Profesional” (Professional Grillmaster) tended the meat.

The professional, hired grillmaster!

The professional, hired grillmaster! Photo by Kelli Noonan.

Our wedding party wasn’t slated to even begin until 10:30 PM, so with the army of Jorge’s extended family behind the preparations, most of the tasks were covered. Kelli, Facu, Claudia, Sam and I took care of a last-minute issue where the tablecloths Jorge rented came up drastically short–like ten tables short. So he bought a roll of some flimsy, tablecloth-like material, and we set to work cutting more of those. Truth be told, we were a little uncertain how the unevenly-cut squares would look draped over the tables, but we rolled with it.

I was pretty uncertain how ALL of it would turn out. As the bride in her husband’s country, I only had a vague idea of what the hell was planned for us. Jorge’s sisters-in-law and nieces planned things in hushed whispers, shooing me away from time to time, and throughout the laidback yet productive afternoon, there were plenty of tears and hugs shared between us ladies. Jorge’s mom especially felt the emotional current running high as the final preparations for her baby boy’s wedding celebration were wrapped up.

In the evening, we went to the pool to begin setting up. The pool closed for the evening at 7, so we headed over around 6 to begin straightening up, washing off the patio area…and, of course, lounging in the waning sunlight drinking wine and beer. Because, hey, wedding celebration!

Chair preparation...en masse!

Chair preparation…en masse!

As more things clicked into place, the full vision of Jorge’s family’s preparations began to unfold. They had pulled off an entirely professional veneer, far more elegant and put together than I originally thought a public pool could look! The flimsy fabric I’d cut only hours earlier made quite a nice tablecloth, after all.

The final product--amazing!

The final product–amazing!

Snapshot of our table decor. Simple yet elegant!

Snapshot of our table decor. Simple yet elegant! The yellow napkins are just standard paper!

The flowers adorning the center of every table, as well as a small bouquet I carried around, were snipped furtively from around the village by Jorge’s innovative sister-in-law, Carina. She managed to rob, *ahem*, borrow, over 40 roses. WELL DONE! These are the type of creative people you want to have around for last-minute tasks.

Once our tables were set up, we all rushed back to our respective homes to get ready for the party. Imagine this: Jorge’s parent’s house, a three-bedroom, one-bathroom cozy structure, full of fifteen family members rushing around in various states of undress and hair preparation. Including the bride, who desperately needs to shower, but just can’t seem to dart into the bathroom quick enough.

Kelli, who was staying at the hotel across the street, seemed to be the best option. I gathered all my necessary items and rushed across the dirt road. It was after 10 PM already and the bride was still sweaty and gross. I banged on the heavy wooden door of the hotel, tapping my foot impatiently as I waited for the receptionist to let me in.

Knock knock knock. Waiting. Knock knock. More waiting.

“She went out to go buy something,” Jorge’s brother-in-law told me when he strolled by and saw me waiting. “She should be back soon.”

Shit. I knocked again and called out Kelli’s name, hoping she might hear me through the winding hallways inside. And then I went around to the side of the building and tried to call through the thick cement walls. Maybe she was showering and couldn’t hear me. Panic unfurled. The bride was going to be the last one to the shindig!

At the front of the hotel, I paced and waited, hoping for the receptionist to show up. Still nobody.

And then I noticed the front window. Wide open. I checked it out–just high enough to be uncomfortable, but I could probably swing inside there. I tossed my clothes and toiletries inside onto the floor, and hoisted up. I couldn’t get my leg up. I tried again. The edge of the window nearly punctured my spleen. Surely, there would be a bruise tomorrow. And then Guillermo, the brother-in-law, bent down and offered me his knee.

“Step here, and then you can make it inside!”

I hesitated, but the clock was ticking. It was climb on top of him, or wait god-knows-how-long for the receptionist. I clutched onto his shoulder and stepped up. Hoist and BINGO–inside the window. I nearly clattered to the floor, and then scooped up all my stuff and hurried as fast as I could to Kelli’s room.

When she opened the door, she hadn’t heard any of my desperate, stalkerish pleas from outside the hotel. I bathed as fast as I could, and when I bolted out of the hotel, the receptionist raised a brow but didn’t question how I’d gotten inside.

NEXT UP: THE ACTUAL FREAKING PARTY

Commence the Candelaria! (South American Wedding Voyage Pt. 2)

After a long and somewhat (re: totally) hungover Wednesday in Mendoza, we managed to scrape ourselves out of bed and into the pool, wander the magnificent parks, and then finally head to to the bus terminal around midnight for our late bus to San Luis.

Leaving from Mendoza at 1AM, the plan was to arrive to Quines, a town just 15 minutes outside of Candelaria, around 8AM the next day. We’d save a night’s rent in hostels, and we’d be like, magically closer to our destination with only the blink of an eye.

If only sleeping on buses involved the blink of an eye. Instead, it involves the torturous, endless non-blinking of sleep attempts, sleep failure, and all around discomfort. But hey! We saved a night’s rent in hostels! We arrived to Quines around 9AM, one hour later than expected, where Jorge’s father dutifully waited.

In Candelaria, where it was approximately 95 degrees, only slightly hotter than Mendoza, we began the endless rounds of familial greetings. I remembered what it must have felt like for Kelli, the endless revolving door of new faces and relatives that can only be distantly recalled from one meeting to the next. Sometimes I still feel like that.

Here’s the thing about our arrival in Candelaria: I, the novia/bride, was arriving almost a full month after Jorge, the novio, had shown up to begin the formal wedding preparations. He’d been working tirelessly to arrange details, contract the DJ, find the cake(s), settle the location, etc, etc, etc. And more etc.

Much like I had been the Primary Reception Organizer in the USA, Jorge was now manning the wheel of this crazy wedding train by himself…while I sat back and relaxed. Because that’s what equality in marriage means, goldernit! I’ll handle the North American affairs, and HE handles the South American affairs!

That said, here are some of the more interesting details behind our Argentinian Affair:

1.) THE LOCALE. Jorge wanted to host our wedding reception at the local pool in Candelaria. Except, they don’t rent to people. Like, ever. Turns out, his parents are good friends with the mayor. So they asked the mayor, who oversees the public pool, if he might make an exception this once. “If I win the re-election, it’s yours,” he said. And if he didn’t win the election? Well, then our Plan A would be Plan Crap.

Around November of last year, we received word that our beloved mayor did, in fact, win the re-election. That meant our open-air locale was golden…pending any rain storms, that is.

Balneario, Candelaria, Argentina

2.) THE ACTUAL WEDDING. Jorge and I wanted to marry in both the U.S. AND Argentina. Like, you know, sign documents and shit. Make it legal, ceremonial, and legit. However, when Jorge went to the civil registry in Candelaria to inquire about setting a date for this, they told him they’d never seen a case of marrying a foreigner. It’s true, I may be one of only several North American gringas to ever grace the fields of Candelaria. They had to call the capital city, where there was similar confusion, which ended up in a very firm “Sorry, she can’t marry you on a tourist visa”. So…I’m supposed to wait until I’m a legal resident of Argentina? Yeah, sorry, that’s never going to happen, guys. So, the “legal signing” part of the wedding=called off! Legal in one country is good enough, amirite?

3.) THE FOOD. Somewhere around week 2 of Jorge’s time in Candelaria, I began to hear conflicting accounts of what food would be served. First it was a full range-asado, then it was only cow, then it was empanadas, and then it was pork. Confused, I asked Jorge what we were actually going to have. My original vision of the party was something a bit macabre, I admit–like swinging loins of puma, pork and more. But here’s what actually went down: Jorge’s father gifted him (re: us) a cow. Jorge sold this cow, and with that money he bought 7 piglets. These 7 piglets were what our 100 guests ate. 1 gifted cow = 7 pigs. Talk about a rural transaction, ya’ll. 

Once we got to Candelaria, it was a whirl of mate, naps, and sweltering heat. And then in the evening, we drove to San Luis, about 1.5 hours away, to go pick up some of our friends that were arriving via bus from Chile at 10PM.

Meet Facu...Jorge's nephew!

Meet Facu…Jorge’s nephew!

These were friends of ours that we had not seen since leaving Chile in mid-2014, so the excitement was running high. Once we rescued them from the bus terminal, we immediately congratulated ourselves with pizza and wine. After this delightful, late-night dinner, with storm clouds swirling in a Midwest-reminiscent way overhead, thunder echoing in the distance, we began the haul back to Candelaria.

About mid-way through our trip home, rain happened. Except, it was really strong rain, and really sudden. We waited it out, wowed by the electrical storm in the distance, interspersing clenched precipitation anxiety with lighthearted conversation. Closer to Candelaria, though, the storm really picked up, so much that we had to slow to a crawl, teeth gritted against the hail that had begun to pelt the truck.

We dropped off our friends where they’d be staying for the night, and then brought Kelli back to Jorge’s parents house. The rain poured so hard we could barely cross the road to take her to the hosteria, or local hotel, which was  right across the street from Jorge’s parent’s house. It was THAT insane. Jorge had to drive her in the truck just to cross the street.

But the lady on duty didn’t hear the pounding on the door over the sounds of the storm. Kelli and Jorge returned to the house, where we all retired to bed.

The storm grew worse. And worse. And worse. Winds swirled and moaned and tore through the foliage outside. When a break occurred, the storm only grew fiercer moments later. The roof began to creak, like it was struggling to stay attached. It continued this way for hours. I couldn’t fall asleep, despite my most excellent falling-asleep-in-raging-storms skills.

This storm was different. It was intense in a way that made me rigid with anxiety. Was this a tornado? Every sign seemed to point to YES.

I won’t lie–I was a piece of plywood in bed that night, listening to all the sounds around me, struggling to discern whether the roof was actually seconds away from detaching from the house, listening for any signs of the tell-tale freight train sound, only breaths away from leaping up out of bed to scan the dark horizon for a funnel cloud.

Outside, it sounded like a free-for-all. Random things blew and blustered in the wind. It seemed like errant objects crashed against the side of the house. At one point, I was fairly sure a side of the house had shaken loose and drifted half-attached in the fury. Something outside our window banged and clanked. Shit was getting real out there.

Around 5AM, I heard it–the freight train. I seriously did. I shook Jorge awake. “Do you hear that?” He didn’t seem to share my concern. Not a Midwesterner, obviously.  I waited it out, easing nervously back into bed, listening with perked ears for every flinch and moan from beyond the windows. Finally, the winds receded. I drifted to sleep.

The next morning, our friends came over for a late-morning mate. We were all bleary-eyed zombies after the storm. My friend Samantha, who is also from the midwest, but from the more tornado-prone region of Missouri, commiserated with us over our sleeplessness the night before.

She, too, had heard the freaking freight train. At exactly the same time. And a Missouri girl knows her tornado signs, even better than Ohio girls!

Candelaria has no basements, let me add. This was one of the primary points of concern as I imagined a tornado ripping its way through the farmland. Where the hell do you go then? The innermost, windowless place, I suppose!

We spent the rest of Friday washing glasses, drinking mate, and running errands. And, of course, speculating about the crazy, freak tornado we had miraculously survived the night before.

candelaria storm argentina

Washing glasses in preparation for the wedding…while reliving the horror that was the crazy storm of the night before!

UP NEXT: ARGENTINIAN WEDDING TRADITIONS

A South American Wedding Voyage, Part One

HEY GUYS! Here I am, after several weeks’ absence. I swear, we’re not dead. We’re not starving, kidnapped, or even carried away by the freak tornado that appeared in Candelaria 24 hours before our wedding.

We’re alive, and well, and actually in Valparaiso at the moment. But that’s not what I came here to write about.

Blogging–no, sorry–using the internet in Candelaria is difficult. There’s only that one freaky government signal to sustain the whole village, and though it reaches the cornfields it doesn’t quite reach Jorge’s parent’s house. So updating the blog, or checking emails, or even communicating with loved ones while in the pueblo is nigh on impossible. So all of my internet activities are slightly backlogged.

I’ve been writing these blog posts in my head for days now, waiting for the moment where I could sit down and elaborate some of these tales. So where do I begin?

At the beginning, of course. Here’s a whirlwind summary of how it all went down.

SATURDAY FEB 13th:

Kelli and I eagerly appear at the CLE airport for our flight, very much on time. I run into my best friend’s mother at the airport, because things like that happen to me. We go to our gate, the flight is a little delayed, we are getting progressively more wine drunk in celebration of our upcoming wine tours in Argentina, and then suddenly it’s time to board. We board.

Forty minutes later, they tell us we have to get off. Some sort of light for the fuel gauge is not operating, one that MUST be operating prior to take off. The mechanic to fix it won’t be there for two hours. Everyone groans and deplanes. We scoot into the line immediately, eager to reschedule our flight for some sort of magical, immediate replacement that will still allow us to make our connection in Miami.

Last glimpse of Ohio Winter

Goodbye, Ohio? Just kidding. You have one more day here.

It doesn’t happen. The only flight we can take is one leaving almost 24 hours later, routing through Texas. American Airlines mechanical failure strikes again! Remember the engine failure from Lima to Baltimore in 2014? They offer us a free night at the Sheraton, which we take, only mildly soothed by the promise of clean, fluffy beds in exchange for our immediate departure to Argentina. I have no winter jacket, since I left it in the back seat of my father’s car since I was on my way to summer in South America why would I need a jacket? At the Sheraton, Kelli finds what may or may not be a bed bug. We change rooms, expensively dine, and steal all the free shampoos in both rooms (the one thing I had forgotten).

SUNDAY FEB 14th:

The day we were supposed to be arriving in Mendoza, at noon. We lament this, awake late, and go to the North Olmstead mall to eat greasy food and shop unsuccessfully for bathing suits. We have interesting Lyft experiences, catch our last glimpses of Ohio winter, and show up hopefully to the airport around 5pm. Kelli has to check her carry-on bag at the gate. When we arrive in Texas later that night, we are relieved, but there is little time between flights and a gate agent tells her, somewhat unconvincingly, that her checked carry-on will show up in baggage claim at her destination…wherever that may be. We board the flight to Santiago, Chile, eager for free wine and movies.

I watch The Martian, and realize my longheld dreams of being an astronaut might not actually come to fruition after all. Maybe I’m not cut out for long-term space travel. Maybe I’m only meant to be a lower atmospheric day-tripper. These are things I’ll have to figure out once I enter the space program, I guess.

MONDAY FEB 15:

Hello, Santiago! We make it to the Benito Juarez airport, which is full of expensive wines, Chilean Spanish, a Starbucks and…Ruby Tuesdays? Yep. We consume delicious quesadillas, doing our best to while away the hours until Argentina. We do yoga in the waiting area, pilfer Starbucks’ internet, waiting for the fucking plane to board, and then finally, magically, we are on the plane to Mendoza. About an hour later we are landing on the other side of the Andes, going through customs, and then we are waiting at the one lone baggage claim in the mostly-dilapidated airport that looks more like a forgotten regional airport than a bonafide international airport.

Kelli’s checked carry-on luggage is the first to appear, much to our surprise. Then the rest of luggage appears. SCORE! Wild luggage success. We scurry out of the airport, into the sweltering heat…and Jorge is waiting for us, smiling with his arms open wide.

[cue sappy love music]

[kissing]

[hugging and then more kissing]

Yeah, yeah, after a month apart, I had to stroke his beard a little more than normal, I admit. We get into a taxi and are whisked away to downtown Mendoza. The heat collides with the sonorous, Italian-reminiscent Spanish vowels, and between the sweat and the soot and the palm trees I remember what the fuck it is  love about this place, why these foreign destinations are so intoxicating, why these voyages are not only desired but necessary.

Once we check into our little room at the hostel, Jorge’s friend Gustavo comes over and we begin to straight summer hang–poolside, with freshly cracked beer, all sorts of bug-swatting, heat-relishing, summer style.

TUESDAY FEB 16:

We sleep in, then Kelli and I have a slow but methodical yoga session next to the pool. In the afternoon we go on a wine tour, our first ever in Mendoza! We visit two wineries and one olive oil factory. They are all interesting and varying levels of delicious and clean. We each leave with a case of wine. Oops! Or should I say, SCORE!

Mendoza Argentina bodega

Standing in front of the wine barrels we wish we could be swimming in!

Mendoza Argentina bodega

It’s a good day for a bodega stroll. 90 degrees outside, but 60 degrees in the wine cave!

Argentina Wine Tour

Wine tasting. Would you believe some people tossed their wines after tasting them? THE HORROR.

That night at the hostel, we have a cookout and invite all of Jorge’s friends. It is full of meat and wine and bread. I feel like a glutton, as always, since it is a stark contrast to my regular, chosen diet. We have a delightful, drunken time. Hurray, Argentina! Hurray, Malbec! Hurray, South America!

We go to bed, bellies satisfied and South-American-plump. We need the sleep, because much greater treks await us. And so much merriment is already surrounding us, and so much more awaits!

Not only is my best friend Kelli with us, experiencing this region that is so special to Jorge and now to me, we are about to celebrate our love and our union in the southern hemisphere, with Jorge’s friends and family.

Next installment: Commence the Candelaria!

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