The Native Tourist

By Madeline Blasberg

Last week I received my first care package since coming abroad.  She’s got bright red hair, stands just over five feet and comes from a faraway place I once knew quite well…

I met my friend at her hostel on Sunday afternoon, nearly teo months after hugging her goodbye on the streets of Buenos Aires.  Anna’s study abroad program and mine were logistically only 12 hours apart by bus, but light-years apart in every other way.  While she interned for an advertising agency, lived in an apartment with another Mizzou student, fended for herself in grocery isles and obscene bank lines and traveled every weekend, I navigated a massive public university, chatted in broken Spanish with my two Argentine host sisters and settled into a new kind of life.

I spent my first week in Argentina with Anna in Buenos Aires.  She guided me through the trauma of ATMs denying bank cards, taught me how not to die when crossing the street and shared with me an inaugural mojito and night out dancing until 5 a.m.  Not only did I get to spend time with a very important person in my life in a very incredible city, but I also got to ease into life in Argentina.  And now, 77 days later we are together again.

   Hanging out with Anna and some of the people on her study abroad program, lunching in a park and making family dinner.

Her final hurrah in Argentina was a few days in Mendoza with me, where I showed her my city, introduced her to the life I have found here and reignited the tourist inside of me who had gotten a little too comfortable.  It’s a difficult balance to strike, studying abroad for six months.  You want to jump on any bus/ taxi/ plane/ mule or horse drawn wagon that can potentially take you somewhere new, but you also want to stay put, blend in and just enjoy where you are.

And that’s what I’ve been doing.  I’ve been watching my host mom as she puts the final pieces of lace on the wedding dress she’s making in her sewing room upstairs.  I’ve been reading in the park by the mountains, trying not to stare at the couples making out two feet away from me.  I’ve been spending time with new Argentine friends,  eating in with my family as we debate if Osama bin Laden is actually dead and waking up on Saturday mornings at noon only to then let myself sink back into sleep.

Perhaps maybe, just maybe, I had achieved what I’d hoped would be possible — I had Argentinified just a bit.  I was able to bring Anna home to eat tortas and drink wine with my family of three girls and a crazy cat, introduce her to the important people in my life and hopefully show her how Mendoza looks outside of the pages of Lonely Planet.

It’s a difficult world — studying abroad you have to straddle the line between native and tourist.  But often times natives do the worst job of appreciating their own home.  We forget to go to the places we say are just so beautiful, or do the things we recommend to others.  We become complacent, and assume we’ll always do it the next weekend, or when it’s a little more convenient.  We assume we’ll always have more time.

Anna’s arrival reminded me that there is still so much here for me to do, and see and experience. And I was also able to see Mendoza with the eyes I had the first week I arrived.  Flipping through the pages of guidebooks, and perusing blogs of people that have come before, I realized just how much remained unexplored.

So, with Anna by my side, I set out to cover new ground.  We rode around on horses in the campo, following the line of the Andes on the horizon.  Unfortunately, my horse was broken.  Roto.  Couldn’t do nada.  Following the instructions of our gaucho guide, I adjusted my grip on the reigns, leaned forward, nudged with my heel and cooed to the horsey that we should vamanos.  Vamanos! Horsey wasn’t having any of it.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Caramela didn’t even know she had a rider.

At the half way point we stopped for a leg stretch and photo shoot, and when it was time to remount I put my left foot in the stirrup, and hoisted myself up.  When I was somewhere in mid air, with my right leg poised to swing around to the other side, Caramela suddenly swung her rather massive rump towards me, throwing me off balance and into a rather spectacular whirl of flailing limbs which ultimately ended up with me landing butt-first on the ground.  Hip checked.  By a horse.  Suffice it to say that I did not coo to her the rest of the ride home, and that the next time I meet a diva horse I will be much, much better prepared.

Anna and I also spent a day enjoying the thermal pools of Cacheuta, an hour outside of town.  We opted for the slightly more expensive spa day, complete with several pools of different temperatures, a natural cave sauna, mud bath, delicious lunch and enough time to fall asleep in the sun.  It felt strange treating myself to such a luxurious day, but when I looked out from the infinity pools at the river gorge and mountain backdrop I really did not think twice about coming.

Saying goodbye to Anna reminded me of how suddenly rich my life has become with incredible friends and experiences, and it also reminded me of the plane that I, myself, will have to catch in less than three months.  Thinking about leaving depresses me, so instead I’m thinking about making every moment count.  And in the end, maybe it’s possible to be an honorary Argentinean native.  I can blend, live and be here just as much as I can explore and still see my Mendoza with  fresh eyes.

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