The Astromaid Chronicles

Slow Travel, Creative Living, and Speculation

Category: South America (page 1 of 10)

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!

South America Packing List: Winter 2016 Version

About this time last year, I was hopping planes from Peru to Chicago to India in order to celebrate the wedding of my good friend Kalit. Kelli and I made the voyage together from Chicago to India…but this year? We’re going from Cleveland to South America, to celebrate my own wedding.

This Saturday, we’ll head to the C-L-E for our summery Argentina & Chile excursion. We’ve got plenty of things on the docket: Mendoza wine tour, all of Jorge’s extended family (including the far-flung relatives I’ve never met), our wedding reception RURAL STYLE, bus rides through the Andes, and the lovely VALPARAISO, with all the graffiti, sea shore, and hill climbing we can stand.

Much like last year, I’m facing the problem of what the hell do I do about the different temperatures in all these places I’m going? Because right now, in Jorge’s homeland, it’s like 100 degrees. And in Ohio, right now, it’s 18 degrees.

One thing is for certain this time–I can at least leave my winter jacket behind in Ohio. It’ll go like this: my dad will pull up to Departures…he’ll slow to a crawl, keeping an eye out for the police officers who want to shoo everyone along before they’ve had time to even cough…I will shed my soon-to-be-unnecessary jacket, feigning I’m-about-to-unload-officer motions…I’ll glance heavily at the snowfall around me…and I will barrel roll out of the car with my backpack already strapped on, gathering momentum until I feel the whoosh of hot air as I glide through the sliding doors of the Check-In area.

VICTORY. No winter jacket…no hypothermia…no ridiculous, laden bags.

For my four week trip out of the USA this year, I am packing light. Or, as light as I can muster given that I need out-of-the-ordinary things like jewelry for my wedding dress and various flats in case I change my mind last minute.

Jorge warned me the other day to be prepared for the heat. I mean, it’s a valid warning, though my immediate reaction was “Pfff, OK. Like I need to prepare for that.”

But I do. I mean, if you get somewhere that’s 100 degrees and you don’t have a single pair of shorts or a single sleeveless shirt…that’s a special kind of hell already. Your limbs gotta breathe.

That said, I’m prepared for the damn heat. I have like, three summer dresses, two pairs of shorts, all of the tank tops I’ve ever laid eyes on, and two bathing suits. I’m prepared for the heat.

But I’m also prepared for other things. Let’s take a look at this snapshot of my packing progress today.

Yeah, yeah, it looks like I've only packed five things. I swear there's a backpack with other stuff in it.

Yeah, yeah, it looks like I’ve only packed five things. I swear there’s a backpack with other stuff in it.

What are we looking at here?

Sunglasses: check.

Passport: duh. Check.

Bindis: check. You never know when you’ll need a bindi to color-coordinate with your outfit at your Argentinian wedding.

Rattle: check. This is a magical rattle and was part of a larger rattle from my best friend Heather, so this is either self-explanatory or more confusing.

Mermaid leggings: check. I may very well not put these leggings on, especially since they are skin-tight and made of a fabric that seems like it would induce epic sweating. But, let’s be real…if I get to South America and there’s even one moment where I WISH I had these leggings and I DON’T? I’ll have failed as the resident Astronaut Mermaid. After all, it’s wise to plan for a little bit of space in your luggage…and whether that space ends up fitting mermaid leggings or bootlegged bottles of Malbec wine on your way back into the country, or BOTH…hey. That’s your call.

Those are the essentials….so far, at least. Luckily, my wedding dress is already in Argentina, waiting for me, probably sweating on my behalf in the San Luis heat. That’s one item you wouldn’t want to forget for your wedding in South America, but thankfully I sent it ahead with my personal husband courier.

Oh, and don’t forget to check back for more updates on our wedding, Southern Hemisphere Edition…there’s more Wedding Woes and Wonders ahead! Signing off, for now…

Jorge Ditches Winter and Sandusky Discoveries

Well folks, the husband has officially left the country! On January 18th, he set off for Argentina, where he’s already relaxing in pools, drinking Fernet, visiting all his friends and family, and probably becoming tanner by the millisecond….while I’m left to wither and grow brittle in the Ohio winter.

*sigh* Jerk.

(Just kidding, Jorge. I love you and approve of your southern hemisphere tanning and soon I’ll be there to participate as well. Except I won’t be as deliciously bronzed as you, just mostly lobster red.)

I’ll be joining him in a couple weeks. But right before my spouse’s sudden departure, two of my good friends arrived in their RV for a couple of weeks of shenanigans with the Sandusky crew. We’ve been participating in all sorts of goodies, including a trip to Chicago, lots of shared dinners, and good quality friend time.

I’m definitely not one to feel lost without my significant other by my side. But it does take an adjustment period, and it always stings in the beginning. Time apart is nothing new for us–in our roughly three year relationship, we’ve spent up to six weeks apart three times already. So four weeks in Argentina before I arrive won’t be the worst.

But the first few days are always the saddest..and where I’m reminded how cold a queen bed can be without someone else in it. And how strange those creaks and rustles are throughout the house without the ability to scream for Jorge. (Is the gutter scraping the house? Or is someone knifing their way through the front window? I’m not sure.) And how much I maybe actually relied on him to handle certain tasks like disposing of the cooking oil and making our bed.

Since his departure, I found out something unexpected about Sandusky: there’s a weekly meditation group. Converging Paths Meditation Center meets every Tuesday at 7pm at the old Knights of Columbus building. We all went a couple weeks ago because we heard there was a kirtan. The group was so lovely that I have decided to make this part of my routine in Sandusky.

The group has been around for years. I’m shocked that I didn’t find it until now, but in a way, I’m also not surprised. Though I’ve had a daily yoga practice for years, it wasn’t until a Buddhist meditation event in Nashville that I even realized the power of intentional meditation outside of my yoga practice.

Ashtanga is considered a moving meditation; and I definitely count it as my form of daily meditation. But since my trip to India a year ago, I’ve had one resounding echo within: meditate more. As in, outside of my yoga practice. Additional meditation. Intentional meditation.

So this group found me at the right time, it seems.

It’s a weekly meet-up that feels both nourishing and restorative. I’m not a person who likes to make too many plans. If I have a couple extra-curricular things in my schedule during a week, even if they’re things I WANT to do, they can feel cumbersome or overwhelming. There’s just something about the looming  date and time of an event that has a compounding dread effect inside me.

But this meditation group doesn’t make me feel that way. If there’s one thing that I can commit to, it’s a weekly group of people that meet up and sit in silence. Hell yes.

Anybody wanna join me? 

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