On December 26th I woke up a day after a good Christmas celebration with my family to leave for South America. My mother and brother dropped Rafael and me off at Levi’s house and from there, Rafael, Levi, and I drove to Dallas. We parked Levi’s car at the Dallas-Forth Worth Airport Hotel and took a shuttle to the airport where we met the rest of the gang – Scotty, Tony, and Ryan. After waiting a few hours for the plane we finally boarded and began our sixteen-day journey.
It was at the Dallas-Forth Worth Airport that my first feelings of being a foreigner manifested themselves. When we were standing in line to board the plane, the realization that I was about to spend a little over two weeks in a land of people that didn’t look, talk, or come from the same culture as me really sunk in. The flight attendants made the boarding announcements in Spanish, which I know very little of, the people in the line spoke Spanish and all looked different from me. Thank goodness we had Rafael as a translator, because I the trip would have been nearly impossible without his bilingual talents and the alienation I experienced would likely have been maddening.
Eventually our first flight landed in Mexico City where we spent a thirteen-hour layover sleeping in the airport. We then flew to Santiago, Chile and had our first sleep in an actual bed in over twenty-four hours. It was a nice night except for the fact that we got to the hostel around midnight and had to wake up at four in the morning to catch our bus to Mendoza. Also, Levi lost his phone that night after misplacing it in the cab from the airport to the hostel. The fact that he lost his phone was disheartening at first, but it eventually became a running joke throughout the trip and even Levi joined in the jokes. After arriving at the Santiago bus station and making friends with several stray dogs, we were finally on our way to Argentina. After about a five-hour bus ride through the Andes and fearing we would lose Rafael at the boarder, we made it to Mendoza, the wine capital of Argentina.
Mendoza was a very pretty city. However, due to the flat terrain of the city and the way the dense trees lined the streets, I almost felt claustrophobic in some areas. The first night in Mendoza was spent at the hostel. There we met many interesting visitors, some from Israel, Brazil, and the Ukraine. We mingled with them all night and learned a lot about life in their homelands. The next day we went horseback riding and afterwards ate some of the best steak we had ever had. At the horseback riding place I met an electrical engineering student named Raphael from Quebec. He told me of his optimism for renewable energy in the future and hoped the newly elected Donald Trump would aid in rather than hamper that process. Raphael really admired the work of Elon Musk and was glad to see Trump meeting with the visionary engineer.
In Patagonia we spent two full days in El Calafate and Bariloche. This was probably my favorite part of the trip because it’s where we did the most outdoorsy-type activities. We visited the Glacier Moreno where we saw huge chunks of ice fall off the glacier and make a sound upon impact with the water comparable to thunder. We hiked up a tall mountain in Bariloche and took a ski lift down, which was admittedly my favorite purchase of the whole trip. It was so peaceful. From Patagonia we went to Vina del Mar where we relaxed on the beach before returning to the USA.
The biggest thing I got out of this trip was an inspiration to learn Spanish. It was such an inconvenience not to be able to speak the language of the people in the countries we visited. Since the trip I have been learning a little more Spanish with the Duolingo app on my phone and watching Spanish cartoons with English subtitles on Netflix. The practice is helping, but I still have a long way to go before I become comfortable holding conversations in Spanish. I now have the deepest empathy for Spanish-speaking foreigners travelling in English speaking areas.