One month in Argentina. One solitary month without the familiar, without the routines and activities I’ve come to know and take for granted, without the old job weighing down my mind, spirit, and heart. Argentina, the land of…
Argentina, land of…
Hmm. Land of what, exactly? Beef? Gauchos? Tango? Wine? Sure, those are the pop culture descriptions floating around in our heads and gracing travel magazines and guidebooks everywhere, but what captures the essence of the land?
The land itself is more varied than perhaps any other country. Sweltering northern rainforests give way to dry canyons and arid plains while an enormous mountain range and coastline border the country and race to meet each other over glaciers in the south. Defining one of the largest countries in the world as beef, gauchos, tango, wine or even all those things seems a bit too one note, simplistic, and fabricated for my tastes. What followed that feeling was the slamming home of a long overdue revelation: there is no “Argentina.”
But more on that later; now, a little backstory. Since deciding on Argentina as the location for my first one month trip back in April, my mind has been relentlessly worrying at the finer details. Which part of the country will I visit? How will I get my hands dirty in experiential travel? The first order of business was to determine where I plan to spend the month. My tendency on vacations is to try to see every last corner of a country, but this isn’t vacation. This is a purposeful deployment to develop an understanding of Argentine culture. My new definition of work.
Again and again, I was thwarted as I drew near a decision. I couldn’t find the best place to capture Argentine culture. The answer hit me in the midst of an easy ride through my neighborhood – there is no single Argentina, just a mix of cultures and sub-cultures collected in a neat geo-political border. Obvious? Yes, so obvious, but it reminded me of those visual puzzles where you have to cross your eyes to see the 3D image (I should note that I’ve never been able to get those to work). Just as with the United States, or any other country for that matter, you cannot go to New York for a month and declare that you understand Americans.
A great burden was lifted once I divested myself of the task of experiencing the whole of Argentine culture from one month in a single location. I would still spend one month in a single location, but my task would be to understand that local cultural flavor. I quickly narrowed down my options to the three below. Since my mission is a cultural, people-oriented mission, I eliminated Patagonia and nearly all of the country south of Mendoza and Buenos Aires. There are undoubtedly wonderful places to stay in those regions, but given a month and one place to stay I feel there are better options.
Buenos Aires is an enormous and lively metropolis with strong cultural ties to Spain and Italy. It is a true melting pot rivaling New York in its melting pot-iness. The vast majority of people I’ve spoken to about the Traveling Savage mission tell me to go to Buenos Aires, but it’s not as strong a favorite as you might think. Buenos Aires is bursting with culture, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a city’s a city, and it can be difficult to cut through the homogenous city layers to get to the unique cultural layers. Is the Argentine city culture the culture I want to explore for a month?
Mendoza and the Andes
The city of Mendoza lies on an arid plain in the shadow of Aconcagua and the Andes. I’m sure you think about the same thing that I do when I hear Mendoza: red wine. Malbec, sweet Malbec. It’s my favorite red. Now I’m a wine guy, but my problem with Mendoza is that it seems to be just about the viticulture. If I were on vacation, I’d spend a lot of time in Mendoza exploring the vineyards and my own wine tolerance. From a cultural investigation/immersion point of view, I’m just not sure it’s the right choice.
Salta and the Northwest
Salta, a colonial city situated in the warm, dry northwestern region of Argentina, reflects the influences of Bolivia and Peru in the culture and people. I’m fascinated by the landscape, which reminds me of the American southwest, and the area is known for some incredible geographical features and Incan ruins. This is not your typical perception of Argentina, but the area has entranced me.
Should I stay in a city or a smaller town? Modern or rustic? Buenos Aires, Mendoza, or Salta? Oh the decisions. You might say I’m over-thinking this whole thing, but when you consider what I’m giving up to follow this dream you’ll see why I really want this first trip to set a positive and successful tone. But my tendencies are changing. I know that wherever I choose to go, if it’s not right I can always go somewhere else.
What’s your opinion? Got any tips for me?