¡Vamos a Argentina!

¡Hola a todos! ¡Feliz verano!

This is the blog that we will be using to document our travels in Argentina! The teachers have been excitedly preparing everything for our departure on Wednesday! We will be departing from Sheehan High School at noon on Wednesday, July 26th.  From there, we will be starting a whirlwind Argentinian adventure!

A few friendly reminders…

  1. Don’t forget your passport.
  2. Please remember to bring any medications and self-administer forms.
  3. Don’t forget to call your banks to let them know that you will be using credit or debit cards in Argentina.
  4. Please remember to bring a small gift for your family as a token of appreciation.
  5. Don’t forget to bring a fleece jacket, sweater, or sweatshirt. Layers are best!
  6. Remember to bring comfortable walking or hiking shoes for our outdoor excursion days.

For  more information, please consult the Packing list for Argentina. The teachers will have copies of student passports as well as medical/insurance information.  On Wednesday, students will receive ID badges with their host family’s address and information.

Please feel free to check this blog periodically for information about our whereabouts and fun adventures! Looking forward to our 2nd Wallingford Public Schools-Colegio del Carmen, San Rafael, Argentina Student Exchange Trip! Stay tuned!

Sincerely,

Miss Fallahi, Miss Churma, Ms. Rose, and Mr. Fleischmann

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Last day already?!

Thursday marked our last full day in Argentina. After our last day of classes, many of us went out shopping to pick up some last minute goods to start packing up. Some students went to the night performance of the musical while others spent time with their host families at home. As I was packing, I realized that buying a lot of things from Sabores on Tuesday was problematic in that it gave me a lot of glass jars to pack up! I meticulously wrapped each jar in a plastic bag and then wrapped it between clothing items for some extra protection. I was suspicious as to where all my clothes went because it seemed as though I was coming home with far less than I came with! After some switching around (our suitcases couldn’t weigh more than 50 pounds!) I was set. Ms. Churma and I enjoyed our last dinner with Nancy and her family, where Nancy gave me a set to use for drinking yerba mate – the traditional tea-like beverage of Argentina and some yummy dulce de leche filled chocolates as a farewell gift.

Bailamos, one more time

Tuesday was the second day of presentations. Once again the five groups presented to three different groups of Colegio del Carmen students about their culture. All of the Colegio del Carmen students and teachers seemed to enjoy the presentations, especially the younger students who excitedly asked many questions in English and Spanish after each presentation.

Saturday afternoon the chaperones ventured out with Mannie to Sabores, a local artisanal shop that sells homemade goods. They had a tasting in which you could sample some of their most popular items such as a garlic and almond spread, dulce de leche, raspberry vinegar, green olive and pistachio spread, cheese and various fruit jams and jellies. We tried the samples and soon realized how delicious and natural everything tasted – the jams were made in a different process than I had ever heard of – they completely cook the fruits and vegetables in the heat of the sun. After sampling some more, we each filled up our baskets with jars to bring home and share.

Tuesday night all of the students involved with the exchange, the chaperones, some other Colegio del Carmen students and teachers got together for our farewell dance. Even though we still had a couple days left, the dance had to be moved up because of the musical that was being put on Wednesday and Thursday night. The school rented out a club and we had the whole venue to ourselves. The DJ was pumping the music and the lights were blinking neon as all of the students (and some of the teachers!) danced the night away. I think that it is safe to say that a good time was had by all.

On Wednesday morning, the chaperones had the opportunity to visit the house where Jorge Luis Borges lived to get away from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. The family that currently runs the home took us on a tour, giving us tidbits of history and showing off the decor. We noticed that every room had its own style – my favorite was a bedroom where the floor was made from horizontal slices of tree trunk. After the tour of the inside of the house, we went outside to go through the labyrinth in the back yard. The labyrinth was designed in the early 2000’s by the tour guide’s brother as a tribute to Borges. We made our way through the think bushes only to get lost half way through. We got back on what we thought was the right track and made our way to the end, excited by our victory! Or not. Our tour guide informed us that we had not completed the maze, but rather had turned ourselves around at the halfway point and did the first half a second time!

On Wednesday night, many of us attended the musical that was put on by Colegio del Carmen’s 5th year students. The title of the musical was Make Music: It’s time to React. The theme of the musical was that it was a benefit concert to support a local hospital with money to purchase powdered milk that helps feed malnourished children. There were many “stars” performing such as: Bruno Mars, Brittany Spears, The Beatles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc. Each group dressed up much in the style of the bands themselves and performed various songs. In between sets, the class showed various informational videos about children in the world that are suffering from malnourishment. The videos were humbling and had a serious impact on the audience – they also worked well as the Colegio raised a great deal of funds to donate to the hospital!

Monday Adventures

On Monday, our group went on our last excursion, which consisted of two parts. We started the cold and windy day with a tour of the Bianchi Winery. Upon arriving at the winery, we explored a little and then went on a guided tour of the whole facility. We learned a lot about the wine-making process from the growing of the grapes to fermentation and bottling. Our tour began outside, where the guide explained that the grapes are all harvested by hand and that the grape vines are trained to grow a certain way so as to get the quantity of grapes they need. We also learned that the more grapes a vine produces, the lesser the quality of the wine, so the balance of growth is very important.

After moving along the front of the winery, we got to see the tanks where the wine ferments and then watched a short video. We the descended down into the barrel chamber, where the wine sits in barrels from six months up to 2 years depending on the type of wine and quality. As we moved along, we learned about the bottling process, and even saw the cages where bottles of wine are kept before they are sold. The tour ended with an explanation of the process of making champagne, including how every bottle of champagne that is made at Bianchi has its labels affixed by hand because of the type of label it is. The tour ended, bringing us back to the room where wine was available for sale – we reminded students that they could not purchase wine even for their parents (Sorry! School field trip!), so they found other ways to buy some souvenirs to bring home – I won’t go in to any details so that I do not spoil any surprises!

We once again boarded the bus and headed back into the Valle Grande territory. Our next destinations was Euca, a park of eucalyptus trees with various ropes courses hanging between them. We learned that Argentina has the ideal climate for eucalyptus trees to grow in because it is at the same latitude as Australia. As we entered the park, lunch was the first thing on the menu. After that, we all assembled at the entrance where it was explained that there were four different courses: the yellow course, the green course, the blue course and the red course. They ranged in difficulty from 1-4 (respectively), with level 1 being 4 meters off the ground and level 4 being 12 meters off the ground. After being fitted with safety gear and harnesses, all students and teachers had to complete an introductory course to make sure they knew how to use the equipment well.

After that, everyone got started on the various courses. Some of the tasks included: walking across a tight rope, zip lining, crawling through tunnels, gliding on a standing swing, climbing ladders and walking across hanging boards. Each safety harness had 2 clips, so everyone was attached to a secure rope at all times, meaning that if they were to slip they would still be well-supported. As one course was finished, may moved on to complete the next, some going in order of difficulty, while others skipped around. I cheered on people from the ground, taking pictures and not tempting fate with my fear of heights and general lack of coordination! After 3.5 hours on the course, everyone was tired out and many easily napped on the bus ride home.

Hopefully everyone rests up because Tuesday marks the second day of presentations, followed by a dance at night!

Sunday Funday

Sunday morning all of the chaperones, their hosts and some of the other Colegio del Carmen teachers got together for a traditional Argentine asado. An asado is similar the the American tradition of barbecue, where people get together and cook meat on a grill. On the menu for the day was chorizo, steak and chicken. We left from the city part of San Rafael and drove about 45 minutes along the picturesque Argentine landscape. Along the way we saw vineyards and olive trees along with some stunning views of the Andes mountains as we entered the Valle Grande area. As we continued, we noticed a lot of cabañas, or cabins, which are available for rent and are a very popular place for visitors of San Rafael to stay. Being a semi-remote location surrounded by mountains, I could easily understand why it is such a desirable location for people to stay while visiting the area. Even in the winter with barren trees the views were breathtaking.

We arrived at the club where the asado was to take place and it reminded me much of a campground meets drive-in restaurant. There were stalls in which cars could park and next to each stall a grill to cook on. In the middle there was a large open area where some kids were playing soccer. It was all so very peaceful and serene. When we got to our assigned area, we unpacked the car and set up for our asado much in the way we set up for a picnic – chairs came out, then a table, table cloth and food – lots of food. Carlos, Mannie’s husband, lit some logs on the open grill to start getting it nice and hot for the meat. We helped set up and then explored the area a little bit. We were right next to what will be a river in the summer, but is now mostly dried up because the area is holding water in the nearby dam to save up for summer.

When it was time to eat, we all sat around the table and were served the meat of our choosing. Not being able to decide, I took a little piece of steak and chorizo. As I tasted each, I discovered that they were so tender and full of flavor. Along with the delicious meat, we feasted on vegetables, salad, and of course bread. After dinner was a yummy dessert of apple pie made by Mannie with a phyllo dough style crust and some pastries (as if we weren’t full enough from the asado!).

Before heading back into town, we all took a ride up to the dam that was holding the water from the river. We went up a long, winding road with tunnels that went through the mountain. All along the way, cars were pulled over on the side of the road and people were having picnics and enjoying the beautiful day. Once we got to the top of the dam, we were met with yet another breathtaking view.

Spectacular Saturday!

Saturday started off as a relatively low key kind of day. Many of the students went on a trip to the city of Mendoza, which is the capital of the province. There, they hoped to do some shopping and explore the city with their host families. I personally enjoyed sleeping in a little, catching up on some missed sleep from during the week. I am extremely grateful for all we did during the week, but it is always nice to recharge the batteries for another busy, fun-filled week!

In the afternoon, Many of the teachers involved in the exchange got together and travelled to Los Reyunos, a dam that receives water from the Diamante River, forming a lake in the lower mountains in San Rafael. The lake itself serves as a water resource to nearby villages and as a place for people to practice various water sports such a scuba diving, fishing, canoeing and water skiing. There are areas around the lake with flats that are available for rent year round that provide a lovely view of the lake area. It was a gorgeous, mild and sun-filled day that was perfect to spend overlooking the picturesque view. We set up at a spot overlooking the site, eating pasteles fritos (reminiscent of fried dough) and siping on yerba mate (year-ba mah-tay), a traditional Argentine loose leaf tea that you put in a mate cup and drink through a special metal straw. It is a very strong tea with almost as much caffeine as a cup of coffee and paired deliciously well with the pastles fritos and churros filled with dulce de leche. After sitting around for a short while chatting and enjoying one another’s company, we noticed some boats out on the water and decided to go on a boat ride.

We went down to the water and all got on a lancha (boat) that took us out on the water to see more of Los Reyunos than we could from where we were sitting earlier. The guide told us about some of the history of the site, but I mostly enjoyed the spectacular views of nature (I REALLLY want to upload pictures, but the Internet still isn’t cooperating 😦 I will post them ASAP, I promise!). As we headed into one area, the guide told us that in the summer they stop the boats at a certain point and allow the passengers to jump in the water and swim a little bit. The water is 30 feet deep at that point and usually close to 80 degrees in the summer time – It was around 40 degrees this day, so no swimming was going to be done this time! On the boat ride back, we noticed the familiar site of a zipline cord and Ms. Fallahi and I decided that we were going to be adventurous and go ziplining. I was very nervous and hesitant at first, especially since the zipline went over the water at a decent height for a pretty good stretch. As I watched people before me go, my nerves calmed and I got very excited. Once I set off, I got the most lovely view of the water below and felt like a bird soaring above it. Ms. Fallahi and I both agreed that we would both do that again!

When we got back into the center of town, a quick coffee was enjoyed before heading the Nancy’s apartment for dinner. She had prepared for us a traditional Argentina meat dish – carne en masa. Beef is cooked inside a cast iron casserole surround by masa, a type of dough. Because it is enveloped within this masa, the beef comes out very tender (and delicious). For dessert we enjoyed my favorite food – chocotorta, a cake made by mixing dulce de leche with whipped cream and layering that mixture between chocolate cookies dipped in coffee.

Sunday we will be going to Valle Grande, not too far outside the city of San Rafael to have asado, the equivalent of BBQ in the United States. I will talk more about that in my next entry! 🙂

¡Bailamos!

Friday marked the end of our first week in San Rafael. In the morning, a small group of the teachers and students got together and visited Nuevo Sol, a day camp for individuals with Special Needs. As we toured the facility, we got to know what a very special place it is. The building itself was impressive and filled with a plethora of resources for the people who attend the camp. We learned that they have a maximum capacity of 60, and during the day they are divided into 6 groups that rotate through the 6 different rooms the facility has to offer. We split up, with the students going to different rooms and he teachers touring the facility. We go to see some students working on an art project and feel the relaxing environment of the sensory room, where everything is dark and calming with various activities to calm the senses such as a hammock, ball pit and lava lamps. We learned that one of the goals at Nuevo Sol is to help the attendees develop important life and social skills, and that the families do not pay to send their family members there (attendees ranged from youth to middle aged adult).

At 4, the students and their hosts gathered at the Colegio and had a dance lesson. Dance teachers came in and demonstrated 3 different types of dance: the Argentine tango, Argentine folklore and Cumbia. After viewing 2 demonstrations of tango, the teachers brought out all of the students, paired them off and taught them an 8 step set of the tango. After a few practice rounds, they danced to music. It was fun to watch the students from Wallingford and San Rafael learning and practicing together. After the tango lesson, the same process happened with the folkloric dance, but this time our students learned 4 eight step sets. After the folkloric dance lesson, a Cumbia dancer came in and taught a few dances as well, except for this time or students danced with her, following her steps pretty accurately! As we watched and took pictures, I couldn’t help but think that Cumbia reminded me of Zumba!

After the dance lesson, the teachers decided to grab a coffee at one of the coffee shops in “el centro” (a downtown like area). As we rounded one of the corners we discovered that we were not the only ones to have the idea of caffeinating – a large groups of the students were also enjoying café at Havana, one of the popular coffee shops in the area. It was awesome to run into our students outside of school, enjoying one another’s company.