Thursday, December 1, 2011

El Fin del Mundo, El Principio de Todo

The End of the World, The Begninning of Everything

Part 1

Ayy caramba, it has been far far too long… but I have been busy but no excuses. Now, where do I begin, where do I begin? So much time has passed, so much has happened, so much to write this is overwhelming, there’s so much to say. Ok. Deep breath. Let me take you back. Waaay, waay back. 3 months back. When the first chatter of ISPs among the group began. What’s an ISP you ask? … an Individual Study Project. Basically you choose any topic related to the theme of our program, (Regional Integration, Development and Social Change) develop a research question and then conduct all of the necessary research, write a 20-40 page paper in spanish and prepare a presentation in 4 weeks. Also, you technically have free reign over WHERE you do your research as long as it’s in one of the countries we studied and visited (Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil)… as long as you are going there because it is essential to your topic… and as long as YOU do all the planning. So despite all of these extra clauses to the “you can do your research anywhere” announcement, the chance to venture outside the city was far too exciting of an opportunity to let pass. After one good, hard look at the map of South America Ben, Noah and I made a pact (which involved huddling up, putting our hands in the middle and saying “Go Team” or something like that) to travel to the southern most tip of Argentina. Destination: El Fin del Mundo (The end of the World) Well, that was 3 months ago and just last weekend I returned to Buenos Aires from that exact destination and one heck of an adventure.

Now I’m going to fast forward to November 12th which means that I am not going to go into detail about all of the hoops (and man were there a lot of hoops) we had to jump through to get permission to do our research so far away, and I’ll just skip the dramatic part about me almost not being able to go because I didn’t have a contact for an interview (part of our research requires us to conduct related interviews), and maybe at some point I’ll come back to all of the happenings in between. But here we are, now, November 12th the date of our flight to Ushuaia aka El Fin del Mundo. I didn’t sleep much the night before…packing and anxious excitement… so I passed out on the flight (which meant that I missed the awesome snack box – made sure that didn’t happen the next flight.) About 3 and half hours later I was woken up by quite a bit of turbulence – and thankfully so, because the view out the window was stunning and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it… snowcapped mountains as far as the eye could see. When we got off the airplane I was literally almost blown off the stairs (yes! We got off the airplane on the stairs like celebrities – I think that was the first time I didn’t get off an airplane via a jetway – except celebrities would have had a jetway this time cuz there’s no way Justin Bieber would have let the paparazzi document him and his hair combating the wind like we had to – I’m certain it looked like we were trying to move through molasses – the wind was SO strong. not cute. Funny, but not cute.) Anyways, we made our way to our Bed and Breakfast where we were excitedly greeted by the owners of La Maíson (4 generations of women Elsa about 80 years old, Adriana – 55 más o menos, Solange – 27 ishh (we are still debating that one) and Chloe, the 3 month old baby) who would be our new family for the next 2 weeks.

Part 2

The average person who visits Ushuaia stays for about 2-3 nights, so when this family found out that we were staying for 2 weeks – they were thrilled! Obviously good business for them, but they are also the kind of people who truly enjoy getting to know the people that stay in their house. They live for those late night conversations over a cup of coffee. And so when we arrived we were greeted not only with hugs and kisses but also a fresh baked cake, which drew all of us into the dining room for the first shared merienda of many. The task over the next two weeks would be to find the right balance between work and play. Ultimately we had come to Ushuaia to experience the world at it’s ends, to make an epic journey and soak in the beauty of a place so unique…err…I mean…. we had ventured all the way to Ushuaia with high hopes and motivations to uncover the hidden answers to our gripping ISP questions. Too be honest, being the nerd that I am, both were true, and thus, a balance was needed. My ISP was (still is) about how the Ministry of health confronts the health problems the city faces through health campaigns. Being located in a somewhat isolated place with a rigorous climate ultimately leads to poor nutrition, low levels of physical activity and high rates of tobacco use. I studied the roots of these problems and how the health campaigns dealt with them. This meant that I made quite a few visits to the Ministry of health located across town… this also meant that I had to make quite a few phone calls in Spanish. Phone calls are not my strong suit to begin with and making them in Spanish on cell phones with bad service is generally a recipe for disaster…. Almost every time I talked to someone there was that moment when neither of us understood each other, I would be asking for them to repeat a street name and they would be saying, “sorry I don’t know what you’re saying…”…Luckily the people of Ushuaia got used to giving the same directions over and over again and I got pretty good and zooming in on google maps and having those “aha!” moments… OHhhh, she meant Tekenika (actual street name) not ¿Tiene Sheniqua? (translation: Do you have Sheniqua?)…good thing I figured she wasn’t actually asking about anyone named Sheniqua and just said ok.

My research also gave me the opportunity to meet us with residents to talk about their perceptions and beliefs about how the climate and location impacts their level of exercise and diet. My advisor for the project has family friends in Ushuaia and before I left she gave me a few names and phone numbers so I could get in touch with them in order to get the inside scoop from the feguinos (person from Tierra del Fuego) themselves . Well, what I thought was going to be a formal interview with Abo Trebuck basically turned into an hour and half long personal tour of Ushuaia --it was so cool! We drove along the coast, hiked to this beautiful viewpoint, drove through the mountains to this hidden waterfall and talked a little bit about health in Ushuaia:) The tour also included a stop at his home to meet his daughter and an offer to meet up over the weekend to head to the National Park. Now that interview, I have to say was a pretty good balance of work and play.

We ended up taking his offer to go to the National Park, which turned out to be one of my favorite days in Ushuaia. And more than just being escorted to the National Park, Abo had us over for lunch with his family before we went. It was a hardy ravioli lunch shared with a truly generous family. Abo also got us into the park for the Argentine rate ;) … those argentines sure do know how to work the system. The National Park was gorgeous even though it was cloudy and overcast. Once again we were driven all over the park and over the course of a few hours we saw SO MUCH beautiful scenery, which most people (who walk through the park on foot) never make it to… it was more than I ever expected from a complete stranger but boy am I glad I made that phone call. I still get texts from Abo every now and then just checking in and getting updates on his choir practices.

In between phone calls, interviews and tours around Ushuaia we also spent lots of time with the bed and breakfast family. It was really interesting living with them – their style of life is so different, there are always new people, from all over the world, moving in and out of the house…a unique way to make a living. Collectively the ladies speak Spanish, English and French… and at one point I was sitting at the table having a conversation in Spanish, while another couple was talking in French and 2 other people were having a conversation in English, all the same table. Hello, study abroad! Gotta love that. I also gotta love the fact that the “Maíson women” became like family to us… we would eat dinner together, we got cooking lessons on how to make homemade bread and alfajorcitos (dulce filled cooke treats J) and we even shared a bathroom. By the end we would be watching and feeding baby Chloe while they showed the new guests around the house. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Possibly the most memorable night in Ushuaia was our last night there – it was Thanksgiving, which obviously isn’t a holiday in Argentina, but we obviously still wanted to celebrate. SO we decided to mix Argentine and American traditions and had an asado(wonderfully delicious bbq) at the B&B with our new fam. So that afternoon we went to the butcher shop and got LOTS of meat, dusted off their grill and got to work. Little did I know there were ALSO plans to celebrate my birthday while everyone was still together. So, while I was standing outside keeping Adriana, the grill-master, company/enjoying the free smells, everyone else was inside decorating the dining room for my birthday with streamers and balloons. When I came in with a platter of meat, they all surprised me and sang a round of happy birthday! We also told Solange, the main chef in the house, about pumpkin pie – so she gave it her best effort and it was carried in after dinner accompanied with another rendition of happy birthday as well as a flame –shooting, spark-spewing candle – unlike any I have ever seen… it was hilarious, and tasty and VERY, VERY nice.

Leaving the following day was certainly sad, but our Patagonia adventure wasn’t quite over…


  1. I'm going to hazard a guess that the end of the world now has clean sponges.

  2. I would have liked to have seen a picture of the hoops. Can't wait for Part Dos.

  3. ahhh cliff hangerrrr

    this sounds absolutely AMAZING though :)