I have been home for two weeks now. In looking back on my time in South America, I have given awards to the best parts of my experience and mention a items I did not like so much.
Best trip in part one: State of Santander, Colombia, my last weekend in the country. I traveled with G & T, the couple in whose guest room I lived, and two delightful friends of theirs. We went whitewater rafting, which I’ve done a number of times and enjoy. Then we went hang gliding (parapente in Spanish), which I had never done and found close to terrifying, kind of like flying on a trapeze was. (Click here to see the hang gliding progression from the photo below to being airborne.)
I also ate ants, which now I never need to do again. The fermented corn drink, chicha, barely helped the ants go down more smoothly.
Best trip in part two (and of the whole seven months): there is no contest here: El Calafate. I was totally enchanted by the Perito Moreno Glacier. I also got very lucky with a beautiful, sunny, wind-free day.
Best item from the US: silicone ear plugs. Without these amazing items, there are many nights I would not have slept at all. In Buenos Aires my second floor (third floor in a US building) bedroom window overlooked a busy street and was very close the intersection where this street crossed a six-lane avenue. When an ambulance was trying to get through, the noise from its sirens combined with the horns of the cars stopped at the red light trying to clear the road was so loud that people in the US commented on it during phone calls. In Bogotá, I needed the ear plugs many weekend nights when one guy would have parties in his apartment across the alley until all hours of the morning. We heard he got fined for excessive noise, but apparently it was not large enough because the parties continued.
Best planned purchase: sun-blocking long-sleeved shirt for warm weather from the Patagonia store in Bogotá. I really hate being in the sun so purchased this shirt before my trip to The Galápagos. It got a lot of additional use.
Best unplanned purchase: thermal leggings and socks in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, where it was significantly colder than expected.
Best new (to me) song: El Perdón (Forgiveness) by Nicky Jam and Enrique Iglesias because it played constantly in Colombia, occasionally in Argentina, and always gets stuck in my head. Unexpectedly, I heard it blaring from a car in my neighborhood during my first week back in DC, which made me smile (and have it stuck in my head for the rest of the day).
Best unexpected experience: being a witness at the wedding of my new friends A & S at the British Consulate in Bogotá. Both are dual citizens (UK/Colombia and UK/Pakistan). Since they had the consulate ceremony for immigration reasons, there was no big celebration or cake. So I brought wedding cupcakes. I’m expecting an invitation to a full-on party in 2016.
Favorite website: www.spanishdict.com. Translations, examples, verb conjugations. I used it multiple times a day (note to others: the website is better than the app).
Runner up website #1: www.wordref.com. The website where I usually ended up when trying to understand a phrase in Spanish or the difference between words that all translate as “however.”
Runner up website #2: www.expresionesyrefranes.com (Expresiones españolas para Erasmus en apuros (Spanish Expressions for Erasmus in Trouble) – a blog that explains Spanish sayings such as “pedirle peras al olmo” (literally: asking for pears from an elm tree; meaning: asking the impossible).
Prettiest currency: Chile. The colors are vibrant and it is printed on a paper-plastic mix, so the bills do not become torn and faded easily.
Favorite juice: guanabana. The taste is very hard to describe. It is sort of a combination of pineapple and strawberry or papaya, with sour notes and creaminess of banana underlying it all. The smell can be simultaneously sweet and musky. Just trust me and try it if you have the opportunity.
Favorite new spice: Tajin Fruit and Snack Seasoning mix. I discovered this in Colombia even though it is a Mexican product. Intended to be sprinkled on sweet fruit like mangoes and papayas, I tried it on popcorn in Colombia and then had some every day for a week. Now, I am scouring local stores to find some here (I tried another brand and it is not as good). BTW, I still have not tried it on fruit.
Least favorite Colombian food: arepas, which are the Colombian version of tortillas. Most of them have no taste whatsoever, except for those from Boyaca, which are made from a sweeter dough and stuffed with sweet cheese. When served hot, these are delicious. Otherwise, don’t bother giving me arepas of any kind. However, they may be difficult to avoid in DC because it seems that they emerged as the latest food trend while I was gone and can be tried at a dozen places.
Least favorite Argentine food: sandwich de miga jamon y queso (ham and cheese sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off). Not only will Argentines will eat dulce de leche at every meal, they will eat a ham and cheese sandwich at every meal too. If made with more substantial bread, it can be toasted and served as a meal. When on dainty miga bread, it is a snack or one item on a buffet. Bakeries sell other types of sandwiches de miga, such as egg salad or tomato and cheese. At airports and on planes, there are no choices. This led to the day when I ate a cheese sandwich for breakfast at my hotel, a toasted ham and cheese sandwich for lunch at the airport, and a ham and cheese miga as a snack on the airplane. And I do not even like ham.
Things I should have left at home: professional clothes. Although I was glad to have an appropriate dress to wear to the wedding ceremony, and wore everything I brought with me at least once, I really did not need at least 20% of my clothes.
Biggest annoyance: tourists who have no awareness of anyone around them and walk right into the middle of someone else’s photo, or stand next to the sign/view/statue long after they are done having their photo taken, ruining other people’s opportunity to take the memorable shot.
Thing I will miss the most: Spanish classes. I really enjoyed the process of learning something new.