Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Why I love Argentina

So here's what I love about Argentina... Forget for a moment that it's a country with some of the most beautiful scenery on earth - with immense blue, calving glaciers in the south to desert moonscapes in the north to beautiful forested waterfalls in the east. Ignore the sophisticated airs of Buenos Aires, with the great tradition of tango, perhaps the most sensual dance on earth. And ok, let's not talk about the food, which even for a vegetarian palate like mine offers an amazing array of delicious treats, from empanadas to Mendozan wine. As for sweets, once you've tried dulce de leche, or any of the variety of pastries and desserts made with it, there's no going back.

But what really keeps me coming back time and again is the people. I love the fact that I can leave for six whole years, and when I come back, people act as if I've never left. And if I meet someone new, they act as though they've known me forever. No matter where one goes in Argentina (with the usual exception of Buenos Aires, of course), one is immediately accepted as part of the family. Even with only a day or two of notice for my visit, I am always welcomed with open arms, the only complaint being "why are you leaving so soon?"

Argentines have a great communal custom of drinking "mate." You put herbs into a vessel with one straw that gets passed around to whoever is part of the conversation, with fresh hot water poured onto the herbs each time. And whether you've known someone for one minute or one century, you are immediately offered a drink of their mate, a swap of germs that for most western cultures you would need quite a bit of getting-to-know-you to accept.

My three weeks in Argentina took me from the spectacular Iguazu Falls through the desert province of Chaco in the north, followed by a visit to the Jesuit estancias in Cordoba, the "cradle" of the Argentine flag in Rosario, a rainy day in the beach resort of Mar del Plata, and a few days soaking up the atmosphere in Buenos Aires. It was my fourth visit over the last 12 years, and even though I always enjoy the sights and smells and tastes of the country, the most important reason for returning is that each time I leave Argentina feeling like my heart could burst with all the affection and generosity that come from so many wonderful people without my really having done anything at all to deserve it.

So I hope you all at some point get a chance to visit this wonderful country, and that in the meantime you are spending the holidays with the people you care about most, enjoying some of that same heart-bursting feeling that I am.

Happy 2008!

Adventure map for 2009...