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Easter Renewal (Or Listen to Your Grand-dad)

1 Apr

One of the challenges in our last days before moving to Argentina was struggling to answer many of the shall we say… specific … questions from family and friends.  But a year and a half later, there’s one I still find myself asking from time to time.

“You have to keep in mind,” my grand-dad gently pressed us. “Are you running to something or running from it?”

My grand-dad is slow to impart wisdom. Even in his 80s, he seems to prefer listening and learning from those around him.

Grand-dad and grandson with his name

Grand-dad and grandson with his name

And at the time he asked me this question, I couldn’t answer him. Or, more truthfully, I didn’t want to. It felt like the right answer was to tell him I was running to something. And that wasn’t exactly true.

When I left my job in Los Angeles, I was definitely running, fast and far, from it. For five years, I had taught in at a public high school in South Central L.A. And, for four-and-a-half of those years, I had loved it. Helping kids become first-generation college students, teaching teenagers how to read, being a part of the movement to close the widening social divide in the U.S., it all filled me with a great sense of purpose, pride, and joy.

And then, halfway through year five, I lost the joy in it. There’s a bit of a mantra among good teachers, “Once you’ve stopped enjoying teaching, Stop teaching.”

It was time for me to go. Sometimes, these huge life decisions can seem difficult, even impossible to make. For me, one day, I went home, started to cry, and I couldn’t stop. I mean. I. Could. Not. Stop. It was really that quick. In one night of extremely sad clarity I knew it was time to go.

And so Grand-dad, I was running from something.

Some people are blessed with overwhelming awareness of one thing that they are really passionate about and good at. I had that for a while with teaching. And then, it ended. I didn’t know what was next, or where I was headed. I simply knew that this particular chapter was over, and I didn’t want to just sit and wait for a new one to begin.

This is obviously only part of the story of why I moved to Argentina. Stephen has his own personal one. And, we also have a more important one together.

It being Easter season, a time of mourning loss and celebrating hope reborn, here’s the hopeful ending to this story.

After six months of feeling professionally lost in Argentina, an opportunity came to teach elementary kiddos at an international school here in B.A. One conversation with the principal, and I knew I wanted it.

I never thought I could enjoy teaching such little ones. Turns out, it’s mostly thanks to them that I get to love teaching again. Through their young eyes, I’ve regained delight in the simplest of pleasures and amazement in all things new.

Getting ready for the new year

Getting ready for the new year

BAICA 2

For me, this season has had me reflecting upon some of my losses leaving L.A. A humbling realization that I could no longer hack it at a job I still believe so deeply in. A grief over my vision for those kids, their future, and the harsh contrast with reality. A desperate silence that can come with unwillingness to accept God’s handling in all things, wanting him to do more.

Good things still happening. You never forget the kids who thank you personally before graduation.

Good things still happening. You never forget the kids who thank you personally before graduation.

Love this kiddo. We were freshmen together.

Love this kiddo. We were freshmen together.

This guy is about to graduate from university!

This guy is about to graduate from university!

And, it has me celebrating in a way my own renewal. From a night of tears and loss, to my simple day today in a café – smiling as I lesson plan for my new group of kids, reflecting on my hope for their lives, and feeling grateful in the work I get to do.

So now, Grand-dad, I think I can tell you that a year and a half ago, I was definitely running from something more than I was running to anything in particular. And, I think that’s okay.

I’ve noticed a trend among long-term travelers and expats. It seems many of us experience a similar urge to run from something at the beginning of new travels.  I’m convinced we’re not the only ones.

We’re all created to continually search for renewal, in essence, to run from the parts of ourselves that keep us from being our best, loving our best, serving our best. It’s necessary at times to shed the old before we can find the new.  And while we find different solutions to these crossroads in life, my grand-dad’s sage words can probably help us all along the way.

What are we running from?

What are we running to?

A Long Weekend in Montevideo, Uruguay

18 Aug

Another three months went by since we last hopped the border into Uruguay to renew our tourist visas in Buenos Aires. For this trip, we went to Montevideo, Uruguay, and had a fun time in a city that goes to sleep much earlier than Buenos Aires. Here are some of the memories. Enjoy!

The pictures below are from our day at Bouza Bodega, Parque Rodó in Montevideo, and Mercado del Puerto (Port Market) where we had some amazing food in an old-style atmosphere.

Las Mujeres Plus One in Buenos Aires

23 May

Maybe it’s because we have to regularly answer the question, “Why did you move to Buenos Aires?” But, it seems most long-term expats I’ve met here are all endeavoring to improve themselves in one way or another. Learning to create a more balanced work-life ratio has definitely been a focus of mine, and a recent visit from the fam was a happy way to check up on how I’m doing.

Case in point, when I lived in Los Angeles, I never took the trek through the Hollywood Hills, until some of my oldest friends made the trip out to visit.

“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson-

I never made the journey to the Grand Canyon until my mom road-tripped with me back to L.A. for my second year of TFA (Teach For America), and we did everything possible to prolong our arrival.

A trip to Flagstaff should really never end with out heading south to Sedona.

I never even made it to Disney Land until one my best friends, a badass hair dresser in New York, visited and giddily insisted on frolicking about the Magic Kingdom for an afternoon.

This is not an app.

So, when my mom and sister’s trip to Buenos Aires approached, I was delighted to find that I already had an extensive list of “my favorite” places to take them. This served as proof that amidst the flurry of daily life, I was managing to accomplish one of my goals here – to have an outside-of-work life … on a regular basis.

Moving to a foreign country in part demands this. Unlike the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls, which will always be somewhat accessible in the States, very likely, this period of time is my one chance to understand Argentina through the way it displays its art, creates community, and parties on the weekends.

And so, thanks to my own homework, and the helpful advice of some generous students (and despite a raging stomach flu), I managed to show off the parts of this city I love, conquer some new adventures, and appreciate my many blessings in my life.

If you’re currently in Buenos Aires and contemplating what to do with traveling loved-ones (or about to come yourself), here are some suggestions:

1. Estancia La Candelaria

One of my students from the town of Lobos suggested to go here for a “dia del campo,” and it was a perfect start to the trip. Going through Lobos Bus, it takes about an hour and a half to get there. I highly recommend it!

First reason why: There’s the comforting familiarity of Starbucks on the opposite corner of the bus station.

Second reason: At the estancia, they feed you all day long, and the grub is DELICIOUS!

The day kicked off with some traditional empanadas. They reminded us of the ones our kind friends made us at SPCC before our move:)

Meat roasting from the time we arrived.

Argentine brunch. These ribs seasoned with nothing but salt were the best of my entire life.

The friendly, talented dancers/gauchos/servers made the camp feel a bit like Kellerman’s. One of the men even strode up to our table and all but demanded a dance with Baby-I-mean-Emily (not pre-choreographed).

Reason #3: The estancia provides the space and amenities to do a lot of normal family stuff that small Buenos Aires apartments don’t really accommodate. Such as …

Reason #4: It also provides a bunch of more unique activities.

Getting pulled by a horse while sitting on cowhide

Horse back riding

Walking tree-lined country roads

Visiting old churches

2. Walk the Palermo Park

Walk Los Bosques de Palermo. Serene stroll by day, transvestite street worker locale by night.

End up at El Rosedal

3. Visit Evita’s grave at the Recoleta Cemetary

Pay the small entrance fee for a view of the catacombs where you can peer out the windows of the monastery the monks never left and see a modern version of what was their only glimpse of the outside world.

4. Plaza de Mayo

We skipped the Obelisco and opted instead to check out …

La Casa Rosada

When I asked my students about must-see sites in Buenos Aires, Cafe Tortoni was hands-down the most popular recommendation. The old-school cafe embodies Porteño nostalgia.

It’s super touristy but worth the trip for a cafecito and look into B.A.’s past. Hi Stephen! (My family is infamously terrible at taking pictures, and Stephen’s behind the camera in most of these adventures – thanks:)

5. San Telmo Market

Check out the San Telmo market on a Sunday afternoon.

6. Colonia, Uruguay

Why get one stamp in your passport when such a pleasant boat ride can get you two? This was my mom and sister’s big vacation for the year, and Colonia – particularly the beautiful vista at the Radisson in Colonia – was the perfect place for them to relax.

7. Tango Show

The quintessential touristy tango show will have you sitting amongst a bunch of foreigners. But you will still feel totally entranced by the other-worldliness of the dancers and especially the musicians. I couldn’t recommend more La Ventana – with their phenomenal six-man accordian orchestra. I’ve been twice and loved it both times.

(Had the stomach flu not crept into their visit, I also would have definitely taken them to a Tuesday night dance lesson and Milonga at La Catedral - a favorite venue among all locals and expats who have ever been there.)

There’s nothing that makes you feel loved like having your friends and family take time out of their busy lives to join you on your own adventure. Mom and Emilita, come back any time!!!

The First “Run” to Colonia, Uruguay

19 Jan

The little town of Colonia (officially, Colonia del Sacramento), Uruguay, gets a lot of airtime among the expat community in Buenos Aires. For those of us staying in Buenos Aires on the three-months-at-a-time tourist visa, Colonia is the most popular destination to make a “visa run.” At minimum, we just hop on a short ferry ride to Uruguay in the morning, eat and wander around Colonia during the day, and then return to Argentina in the evening with a new three month visa tourist stamp.

Seeing the “Colonia run” as a task, many expats complain about the little town. “There’s nothing to do.” For us, “nothing” sounded amazing — a much-needed break from our first three months of diving straight into local life in Buenos Aires.

So we turned our visa run into a 4-day, 3-night vacation. We are so glad we did. This trip to Colonia turned out to be about as close to our ideal vacation as we’ve ever had, as it provided us everything we always want in a vacation:

  • a daily activity schedule centered on great food and when to eat it
  • plenty of “down time” to read and unwind
  • a large body of water
  • perfect weather for staring at the water all day
  • a comfortable bed
  • a clean and beautiful pool
  • minimal people, minimal noise
  • free live music
  • motorbikes or scooters for rent

We loved Colonia so much we thought about moving there to get out of the big city, but later realized that we just needed to move out of our tiny BA apartment. More on that later. For now, enjoy the pictures.

**Fellow expats, scroll to the bottom for some suggestions and helpful tidbits about your visit to Colonia.

Here are some of our thoughts on how to enjoy Colonia.

General Advice:

Relax. Seriously. Bring a book and enjoy doing nothing. Plan on staying at a restaurant or cafe for at least two hours. Drag the most out of every corner and crevice of the town.

Restaurant Advice:

Trust the TripAdvisor reviews. They are spot on.

El Buen Suspiro” only serves picadas, but the cheeses, meats, and setting are stunning. We didn’t have a reservation, but it was a good thing we arrived “early” at 8:30pm to snag one of the small tables.

Lentas Maravillas” was by far our favorite daytime location (open 2pm – 8pm) that we went two days in a row. The owner, Maggie, prepares tasty and unique sandwiches to enjoy out in her backyard overlooking the docks and river. The name of this place, “Slow Wonders,” defined the whole trip for me. Come ready to relax and read and stay a while.

La Bodeguita” surprised us. It was the busiest place we ate at the whole time and quickly figured out why. Go just before sundown, get a table out on the back patio and watch the sunset while greedily eating a $100 Uruguayan peso pizza (that’s US $5). We originally order two, but loved them so much we ordered a third.

Hotel Advice:

To have the good food at your fingertips, stay in the historic district.

We couldn’t afford the Radisson, but stopped by to see what the hype was about. It looked amazing. The pictures online didn’t do it justice. For our next run, we’ll be staying there for sure.

While it gets a number of bad reviews at TripAdvisor, we stayed at Hotel Italiano and enjoyed it. The rooms are smaller than the average hotel room, but the bed was comfortable, the room was quiet, the shower has pressure, and the two pools were beautiful and clean.

Ferry Advice:

While SeaCat and Colonia Express are often cheaper than Buquebus, they are smaller boats (and not as comfortable) which means that if you are like me and get seasick quickly, you want to avoid them for journeys over 30 minutes. Whatever you do, be sure to at least take the one-hour ferry, as opposed to the 3-hour ferry, on your return trip. Do it both ways if possible.

Things we wanted to do but didn’t:

On a future run, we’ll go further out into nowhere land and stay at El Galope, a hostel and ranch, where we’d have access to ride horses, bike to a deserted beach, visit Victoria’s goat (and cheese) farm, and enjoy more of “nothing.”

Also, we’d love to take a day trip to the Uruguayan wine country in Canelones. Winery info here.

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