Malbec por favor

My trip to Mendoza has most definitely been during the best time of year. I left the United States in the beginning of Fall and arrived during Argentina’s Spring. We have had warm, sunny days lately – This is my kind of weather!

Bodega Norton was quite the outing! Founded by Sir Edmund Norton of England in 1895, today it is one of the biggest wineries in Mendoza. My program and I were able to see the whole process of wine from the grape to right before it is exported.

Our day began with a lunch assortment of exquisite meats and cheeses. Wine was included, but little did we know this was not the wine tasting portion of the tour! At lunch we helped ourselves to red, white, and rosĂ© wine. Dessert was a hybrid of flan and dulce de leche (of course) which was incredibly rich and smooth. It was accompanied by a dessert wine. As you can imagine, our group which primarily ranges from 20-23 year olds, was quite tipsy after all this “help yourself” wine. By the time it was time to start the tour and actual wine tasting, some of us weren’t sure if we could get up! We might have concerned the coordinators a twee bit, but hey, we’re newbies!

We were able to see the big tanks where grapes are first compressed into wine. After the process of the grape skin and seeds floating to the top, it is moved over to a wooden barrel. It will sit here for a few weeks until it is bottled. We were able to taste the difference of when it is in the tank versus barrel. There is a more bitter taste when it is in the tank which makes you think the alcohol content is higher. In actuality, there is more alcohol when it reaches the barrel stage, although the taste is much smoother. This leads me to believe good wine has a higher alcohol content, but makes you think there’s no way you can get tipsy off of it 😉

This past Friday, I organized a day for us to go to the Mendoza Zoologico and Museo de Arte Moderno. The zoo was really big and had some animals I hadn’t seen before, such as the vicuña which sort of looks like a four-legged kangaroo. It is native to the Andes region and only found in South America. There is a big controversy about one animal in specific that is in the care of the zoo: Arturo. Mendoza is located in a desert region, so the weather here is very dry and tends to get very hot in the summer. As you can see, this is no place for a polar bear, such as Arturo. Arturo has been at the zoo for close to 25 years now, but his quality of life here is very sad in my opinion. When we came across his habitat we were appalled. He has a small swimming pool, two fans overhead and a carp that keeps out some sun. He was hiding when we came by, and good thing too because it was hot! He is too old to sedate and move, so he will be staying here for the remainder of his life. Apart from the sad story of Arturo, we really enjoyed seeing other exotic animals such as an African elephant, camels, and more. We then took a bus to the museum of modern art located undergound of Plaza de la Independencia. It was fairly small, but only about a dollar to enter. It had some very interesting pieces of modern art, some of which were very abstract for my liking, but nonetheless intriguing.

Yesterday was Argentine Mother’s Day. I had been looking forward to it for the following reason: My Argentine dad is a plastic artist who on the side works for the government and makes weekly visits to the local penitentiary (yes, as in prison). He made close to 300 small abstract paintings for the inmates to give to their moms on “Dia de la Madre.” Nerea and I went to support him. With the permission of the prison and handing over two forms of identification, we were allowed to enter. We set up outside of a visiting area where there was heavy foot track. I felt safe despite the fact that I was surrounded by delinquents. Interestingly enough, Argentina grants them the human right to wear their own clothes. I was a little confused as to where the prisoners were (ha-ha) since I didn’t see anyone in uniform, but then my dad explained it to me.

It was lovely to see how happy the moms were as Norberto would personally sign their gift. I sat next to him passing him the paintings and then envelope. Each mom would also get a potted flower. Such a nice gesture from my Argentine dad. I was glad we had this activity, because my Argentine sister doesn’t have her mom in her life, so participating in this thoughtful act was great for both of us.

The food here hasn’t been everything I’ve expected it to be. The European influence here is very strong, specifically the Italian influence. Hence, the food more than anything is Italian – there’s all sorts of pasta, raviolis, white breads such as baguettes, and pizza. I’m honestly getting really tired of eating pasta at home and might have to say something soon! I don’t know how these Argentines manage to stay skinny but all this white carb will probably be leaving with me on my hips and thighs! They also eat a lot of “milanesa” which is a thin, breaded meat (usually chicken from what I’ve seen). I have liked this and personally prefer chicken to red meat milanesa. My Argentine dad makes the best one from what I’ve tried so far. The other thing I have liked are their “caprese” empanadas which are like a spring mix (tomatoes, mozarella, basil, etc.) empanadas. See what I mean when I refer to the Italian presence here? You can’t avoid it. Not to mention just about everyone has an Italian last name. Yesterday I learned that my Argentine dad is first generation in Argentina and speaks fluent Italian. His parents emigrated from Italy shortly after they married and now reside in Buenos Aires, where he was born. It’s been really interesting to experience how prevalent the European influence is in Argentine society still today.

Side notes:

(1) When in Mendoza, Malbec is the best red and Torrontes is the best white wine type. We were able to try both of these at Bodega Norton.

(2) I’ve finally got the hang of military time which is what they use here.

(3) I’m really proud of myself because I’ve managed to not to fall into an “acequia” quite yet. Acequias are water canals that run through the whole city to transport water since Mendoza is in the desert. They are very inconveniently placed between sidewalks and streets, so when you get off a car parked along the street you better watch your step!

(4) I bought a mate! I absolutely love the embroidery work on it. The inside is “calabaza” and outside is leather. Now I can get on those Mendocinos level and start passing around my cool new mate.

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Dulce de Leche

Where to begin! So much has happened in the last few days but here is my attempt to sum it up…

Since my last entry, I have gotten the hang of my studies. Most indefinitely upon arriving, I was struggling with the “study” part of study abroad. When you are overseas, it’s easy to get distracted by the many things there are to do here.

On our outings thus far I have gone to El Cerro de la Gloria, Plaza de la Independencia, and Parque General San Martin where I saw the Portones del Parque and the Fuente de los Continentes. I attended my first Tango Show called Con Vino Tango that had free wine tasting included (I can get used to this). Last week we went to el Museo Area Fundacional to learn about how Mendoza came to be founded, the history of the city and its major earthquake in 1861.

I have been to the best “boliche” (nightclub) yet. A big group of us consisting of my friends from the program and Mason and I’s host siblings’ friends (we were easily 30) went to Runner last weekend. There was huge inflatable beach balls that were thrown around the crowd, fireworks and awesome music and lights. Best part is we got into VIP for free thanks to one of our Argentine friends. My friends and I were all blown away by how late the nightlife begins here. The norm is for it to start poppin’ around 2am so we went around that time. I got home at 7am! I can’t say I’ve ever gone to bed when the sun has already come up and birds are chirping! Not surprisingly, the following day was not very productive for me.

This weekend we had our first excursion. The program coordinators took us to Uspallata where we did hikes with breathtaking views (including Parque de la Aconcagua) and were also able to zip line, rappel and rock climb. (My pathetic fear of heights only permitted me to rock climb). We stayed in a hostel that had a cabin feel and had green and trees all around. It was the first time I was able to get to know the other girls from the program that I have not had the opportunity to speak with at school. I felt that it was a great bonding experience for all of us. And I was able to take some great pictures!

Considering it is already week three, I feel like I have gotten a feel for most things by now. I load my phone with minutes (when I remember), know where to charge my bus pass, move around on the micro, taxi and by foot, and have established an awesome group of friends both from Davis and locals from Mendoza. I feel very comfortable with my Argentine family and already feel that 10 weeks won’t be nearly enough time here. Maybe they’ll adopt me?

Tomorrow we will be going to our first winery! I am very excited for this because as a lover of red wine, I can’t wait to experience wine tasting in Mendoza, Argentina’s main hub for wine exportation.

Random side notes:

(1) While I am here I am trying to stick to Fernet and Coca Cola (since we don’t have Fernet in the States) and take advantage of the cheap, high quality wine.

(2) When in Argentina and addressing your most esteemed friends, it is typical to insult them the whole while you talk to them! It’s hilarious to watch and listen to, but that’s love for them.

(3) Lastly, people here seriously love their dulce de leche! It’s like peanut butter for Americans. They put it on just about everything!

Hasta la proxima!

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Hola from Mendoza, Argentina!

Mason Naz Mason & Naz me drinking mate Hello all and welcome to my first blog post 🙂

I arrived to Mendoza, Argentina on Saturday, Sept 27th with Lisa. We traveled for just about 24 hours! But we were happy to fly together. We ran into Naz, my other friend from the program, at the airport in Chile. The three of us and two other girls were all on the same flight from Santiago to Mendoza.

Upon arriving, it was lovely to see host families claim their host child. Also rather funny to watch since they know what we look like and we have no idea what to expect! The program coordinator dropped me off at my new home in downtown Mendoza. Nerea, my host sister, was the first to receive me. She is 21 years old and also studying Psychology. She has been an absolute sweetheart and has called me her “hermana” ever since I arrived. My host father, Norberto, is a famous artist in Mendoza, specifically known for his plastic art. Although he is not a man of many words, he is very loving and has made me feel welcome. I am the first international student that they host in their home.

My family is Catholic and we pray before meals. Also, I have learned that people here eat dinner LATE! For example around 10 or 10:30pm seems to be normal. “Mendocinos” as they are called, are also accustomed to taking a “siesta” or nap, after lunch. The first day I just laid in bed and played on my phone because I wasn’t use to being told time for bed in the middle of the day!

Sunday, Nerea organized for us to go to the Mendoza River with her friends. Her friend Bruno picked us up with his red monster truck and with 8 of us in the car we were off! It’s funny how 3 people in the front and 5 of us in the back was seen as no problem. Also drinking in the car (not the driver though) is no biggie. It was great to be with Spanish-speaking friends my age! Naz tagged along since she lives close and does not have host siblings. We met Mason, the only male in the program, at the river with his host brother, Francisco, and his friends.  The two groups of youngsters got along great! We got to ride around the lake on the ATV or “quatrimoto” which was exhilarating. We also tried “mate” for the first time. From what I gather, friends tend to drink this herbal drink when out at the park, river, etc. I personally didn’t like it that much, but am open to trying it again.

Monday was orientation at Universidad de Cuyo. Nerea took Mason and I on the bus for the first time. The bus was PACKED and obviously Mason and I stuck out like sore thumbs since we were being taught where to get on and off. I also think our NorthFace backpacks gave us away. When we got to school, Mason noticed that his iPhone had been stolen out of his front pocket – What a bummer, but life goes on.

It was great to meet the other 17 people in the program. It was like an introductory meeting – We went over important things to know, the agendas for the different levels, and were given cell phones to make local calls. This was followed by a lovely dinging experience outside – accompanied by Mendoza wine of course! During lunch we were able to try lots of different types of meats such as vacio, morcilla, etc. Our families picked us up at the end of the day. In the evening, I went out to eat with Mason, Francisco and Lisa on Aristedes, a downtown area with bars and restaurants. It was lovely at night with all the lights. Francisco treated us to a typical drink here called “Fernet”. It’s served with a bottle of Coca Cola and the suggestion is 30% Fernet and 70% soda. The three of us really liked it upon our first time trying it!

Today was my first day of school. I really liked both of my professors: Profesor Lazzara and Profesora Guillermina. I have school 9am-4:30pm and lunch is included in the program. We eat in the university cafeteria. My classes today were Argentine Literature & Culture and Argentine Cinema. At the end of the day, I took the bus home with Naz to her apartment to see where she lives. We then walked to my house to know how to get to each other’s places. It was nice to know how easy it is to get to each other’s places for sure. I am very optimistic that this experience is going to be life changing – It has already opened my eyes so much. I love my new family for they have truly tended to my every need to make sure that I am very comfortable. I am also very lucky to have a host sister that wants to take me everywhere and wants me to meet all her friends. I know these three months that lie ahead of me will be incomparable to anything I have experienced before and I plan to blog throughout so that you can come along with me!