Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Incredible Argentinian Hospitality

Argentinian Asado
Before going to South Africa, my friends and I drove to the Argentinian countryside to eat tasty Asado (BBQ). Nacho's friend lived in a Hacienda out there. Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the Argentinian doctor who led the Cuban Revolution, once said that Chilean hospitality was amazing. He wrote in his diary: "Chilean hospitality, as I never tire of saying, is one reason traveling in our neighboring country is so enjoyable." Well, I didn't experience that in Chile (when I went with my brother), but I found the Argentinians to be the most hospitable people in South America - and in my experience, the second most hospitable people in the world - only second to the Lebanese.

I was in a farming city - a distance out of Buenos Aires with a couple named Abril and Ignacio ("Nacho"). How did I find them? Remember when that boat almost killed me? Well, as I nearly bled out on the beach, a young doctor cleaned my wound and her boyfriend accountant arranged a ride for me to go to the hospital. They were Abril and Ignacio. (And from their perspective, that's how they met the Los Angeles lawyer on sabbatical, maimed on a beach.)

Setting the table for lunch at the Hacienda
After I got stitched up and I stopped bleeding, I went back to the beach to show them I was well and thanked them. I told them I was going to Argentina on my way to Africa and asked them if they would have me as a guest. They said yes.

My flight into Buenos Aires from Bogota was rough - rough in the sense that I got there at 3:00A. And I had to wake up early in the morning to catch my flight to Bogota. When I arrived into Buenos Aires, I caught a bus to see Abril and Nacho. I just needed sleep. I was so tired. I was running without sleeping for something like 30 hours.

Abril's friends housed me in the city center. Abril and Nacho drove me around the city land marks, and we talked. I understood most everything they said, but sometimes I had difficulty understanding words they said with an accent.

Abril and Nacho gave me a lecture on mate. Do you know what mate is? You'll see Argentinians drinking it from a metal straw out of a cup.
Abril, Nacho, and me (from left to right).
Mate is a tea brewed from the indigenous plants and branches of Argentina that the first people of Argentina drank. Nacho and Abril gave me an entire lecture on mate.

I didn't know it was such a social event. Argentinians will offer mate to strangers to drink. It's for social connection. Now it makes sense, why one guy got offended when I didn't take it. Next time, I will. It's to connect to other people, and I think it works.

I met both Abril's family and Nacho's family. In fact, Nacho made his own asado at his place. My Spanish was good enough to speak to both families. I also noticed the instant connection I made with strangers, just because I spoke their language. Of course, I still need to improve, especially in understanding different dialects and accents. But I think my sabbatical was good move in improving my foreign language skills.

(But I think my favorite family member was Abril's Newfoundland dog. I loved how social he was. Made me want to get a dog.)

I also learned about how closely tied Argentinian identity is linked to the cowboys, the land, and ranching. Americans might think they loved their meat, but I found a butcher on every corner in the city. I think Argentinians have a bigger love for their meat.

Also, their culture is different from Colombia and Peru and Ecuador. They seem to have retained more of their Italian heritage - which can be seen in the salamis and bread in the supermarket.

In South American, Argentina was the most expensive country. Also, it seems like taxes are high for everything, and the people often complain about their corrupt government. This also appears to be a global problem I'm seeing in every country I'm visiting (and also a problem at home too).

In my four days in Argentina, I met over 30 people. That's a lot! And when I came back to Buenos Aires to fly out - an Argentinian stranger paid for my fare on the bus. That was nice of him, except I went to the wrong airport.

I can't tell you how many people started talking to me on the bus in Buenos Aires. Maybe, it's because I'm Asian, and I speak Spanish. In any event, despite having my long distance bus break down on its way to Buenos Aires and going to the wrong airport, I still caught my flight. Thank goodness. I left really early and that helped. Abril predicted a thing or two might go wrong on my way to Buenos Aires. And she was right: Exactly, two things went wrong.

That's it for my 8 months in South and Latin America. It was time to move on. As Che said in Motorcycle Diaries: “I now know, by an almost fatalistic conformity with the facts, that my destiny is to travel...”

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