New Year With Another Argentinian Family

I woke up quite late and checked out at 11am. Needed to take the bus at 3pm to Tucuman and then to Tafi del Valle where Magdalena’s sister was. She had a holiday house there and it was vacant until January so during these few days, I would stay with her in that house. It was an excellent idea especially for a backpacker.

I got on the bus. It turned out it was a slow one. It stopped at everywhere. My entire journey was from 3pm to 9am the next day (according to the schedule. There could be changes). This wasn’t the worst. The worst thing was the toilet. It was right in front of me on the bus. Argh! It smelled so bad. I couldn’t eat anything on the bus. It made me sick. Lesson learnt. Next time I would travel with a nicer bus and would choose a seat upstairs away from the toilets. But one thing good was the seat itself. It was definitely better than the ones in Ecuador and some in Peru.

I couldn’t sleep well. The bus stopped at a restaurant for dinner. But the food was really bad and I didn’t have the appetite. I could only finish half of the spaghetti and the chicken breast. In fact, it was so bad that some of the locals found it disgusting too. For a person who doesn’t like to waste anything, I definitely don’t like seeing people ruining the food. I feel really sad for the ingredients when I see burnt food or really poorly cooked food like some of those I had in Cambodia as a volunteer in 2019. For me, those cooks in the restaurants who can’t cook well disrespect the food.

The moon was very bright. It was almost full moon. I thought of the song I sang to Mario and Maria on the car after we went to their farm to celebrate my birthday, ‘I see the moon, the moon sees me, I see the moon shining bright on me.’ (using the melody of the wedding song. My flat mate at uni taught me this. 🙂 ) I went back to the bus to sleep after the so-called dinner. When I woke up again, I saw the moon setting. It was close to the horizon. It was different from the one I saw in Gobi Desert in Mongolia. The one there was bright white and was rising. Here, it was a bit yellow and was setting. One thing in common was it was quite big. I wanted to take a photo but I didn’t. Anyway, it lives in my memory. If I forget, then I forget. At least I have it now in my journal. (when I read this line again in 2022, I want to say to the me in 2012, ‘yes, I have forgotten. But really thank you for writing it down.’)

I woke up at six in the morning. I was still on the bus. The sun had come up.

The bus stopped at a restaurant at around 9am for breakfast. I bought breakfast and then went to the loo. When I came out of the baños, the bus had already gone. ???!!! The other passengers from another bus told me in Spanish that it was gone. They asked me to go to the restaurant to ask for help so I did. Good that the guy at the restaurant was very helpful. He called the driver and then he told me in Spanish that the bus would come back to pick me up. I bought a card to recharge my phone card. As I was about to recharge it, the bus came back to pick me up. That was a relief. I didn’t want to stay in the middle of nowhere.

I got on the bus again and asked the only Argentinian guy who could speak English to help me recharge the phone card because it was directed to a voice message box that only spoke Spanish (yes, the one-week Spanish class didn’t help me much in this case). After it was done, I called Marcela and sent an SMS to Magdalena to let them know I was ok and was heading to Marcela’s house.

The bus arrived at Tucuman finally. The Argentinian guy on the bus told me to get off there. It was very nice of him.

I went to the ticket booth to buy a bus ticket to Tafi del Valle which was scheduled to leave at 12 noon. It was 10am. I walked around the mall at the bus station. I saw myself in a mirror. Gee! I could see the mosquito bites on my face!  Please God, help me! They had to go away before the end of this trip. I needed to look for a job!

Tafi del Valle, finally!

Marcela and Javier (Marcela’s son) came to pick me up at the bus terminus. The holiday house was beautiful. (I was writing this journal on my bed in the holiday house). The window was very large and I could see the lake far away. Beautiful scenery! Javier spoke like Mario. Para para para… and I imitated him. Haha.

I rested in this beautiful holiday house. When I woke up, I found rashes all over my arms and some parts of my legs and body. I wondered why.

Everyday was a very relaxing day when I was there. I slept and rested on a hammock all the time. I occasionally took a walk.

This was where I took a rest.
A traditional horno (oven) in the garden

When I woke up the next morning, most of the rashes were gone. It was probably a sign telling me that I needed a rest. The cream that Marcela gave me helped me too. There were still some rashes on my neck but it was not too serious.

It was another sunny day. The sun was very strong. It was burning my skin. But it was such a nice place to chill out and rest after a long day of travelling.

I took a walk around that area. You can see the lake in this photo.

Marcela took me to the town centre. She drove me to the hill and another town nearby. We bought takeaways. We had dinner while watching Truman show on TV. Marcela hadn’t seen it before. I encouraged her to watch it until the end. She was surprised by the ending. I think she liked it.

Tafi del Valle. A small town. A place for local tourists but not foreign tourists (not as popular as other places in Argentina back then). I was glad that I was there. It was a special treat from the family.

Alright! Time to leave Tafi del Valle. Before that, I needed to work. I had to make the beds for her new tenants. After that, I packed my stuff and had breakfast. And then I saw Marcela putting towels on the beds so I suggested we fold the towels into a heart shape. She said they didn’t have this custom in Argentina, but she let me do it anyway (it turned out her tenants loved it and the couple hugged each other when they saw it). After everything was done, she took me out for lunch. We had lunch at a restaurant in a hotel. It was quite a good one and finally I had a full meal, like a meal that really made me full. She didn’t eat too much. Then she left to greet her tenants.

After she finished her chores, she took me to another hotel on a mountain for a coffee. She chose a very nice dessert (dulce de leche) at that hotel. It was amazing!!!!!

My first time to try dulce de leche. Oh, it was DELICIOUS!!
The place was also famous for their traditional cheese.
Traditional cheese, Tafi del Valle – Tucuman

The place used to belong to Jesuits but the Spanish came and expelled them. Then the locals took back the land. The land was huge! 

She then took me to the mountain to have a look at some wooden furniture. The shop used wood and cowhide for the chairs. They were very comfortable. While Marcela was paying for two chairs, I played with a little kid there. He obviously wasn’t shy.

The kid I played with at the furniture shop

Marcela drove back to her own house. It was a 2.5-hour drive. We talked during this ride. She did her best to tell me in English the history of Argentina, what she thought about Peronism and the Spanish rule (the Spanish took away gold, silver etc. from Argentina to Spain). That reminded me of the tour guide in Machu Picchu. He told us about the architecture of the buildings in Machu Picchu. It was slanting inwards because they had earthquakes in Peru. Buildings with this design would help the buildings to survive the earthquakes. Then he said, ‘look at the buildings in the city. The Spanish buildings are all straight. If there is an earthquake in the city, those Spanish buildings will not survive. The Spanish didn’t treasure the wisdom of the Incas.’ I had a feeling that the Spanish rule wasn’t that popular at all. But it happens in many colonies. Not too many colonies like the ‘conquering nations’.

Of course, she mentioned about Falkland Islands and Margaret Thatcher too. As I write this, I youtube a video about the history and war (simplified version) which you may like. :D)

As for Peronism, while it was true that the government back then helped those poor people a lot which was a good thing, they in a way also encouraged people not to work and wait for the government to feed them. Actually, this was (and is) one of the problems in many countries.

The more Argentinians I talked to, the more I found that there were many problems to be solved in their country.

I arrived at her home and then she took me to Mass. It was the Holy Family’s day. It reminded me of the time when I was in the villages in Thailand – the priests gave presents to the couples who had been married for more than 20 years.

I met her two other sons – Jose and Santiago (the twins). It was so hard for me to differentiate them. I showed them the video I took of Mario in which he said something in Spanish very quickly. They laughed. I told them how hospitable Mario was. Marcela said the three of them were very close. Well, I was not surprised. They were born in the same year.

They prepared the bed for me and they even lit the insect repellent for me. That was very sweet and kind of them.

New Year’s Eve.

The entire family came for dinner. I got to meet all of them. I’d love to talk to them in Spanish but their accent was a bit different from the one I learnt. They also admitted that they had stronger accent than the Peruvians. I tried to listen but I couldn’t understand anything. Then the focus turned to me. They asked me why I came so I told them the whole story including my trip in Mongolia.

It was still very hot and humid, just like Christmas Eve. At 12 midnight, we said happy new year to each other. They stayed and talked until 1 am or so. They told me New Year’s Eve was like this every year. The whole family gathered together and celebrated it. 

Like Christmas Eve, people let off fireworks after midnight. Javier told me it was legal. But people spent a large sum of money like 1,000 peso on this. The average salary was only 4,000 – 5,000 peso. As we were watching fireworks let off by the neighbours, the rain came. It was exactly like Christmas Eve. I spent time with them until 2 or 3 am. It was a good experience – to spend new year with a local family – although I barely understood their conversations.

New Year’s Day.

I woke up and did yoga with Marcela who was a yoga teacher.

Then, I went out for a walk to a nature reserve.

As usual, I was lost. I missed the entrance of the nature reserve. I couldn’t find it so I decided to go back. I was swinging my hand as I crossed the road and then suddenly my hand touched something. I looked on my left and saw a dog, ‘Oh, sorry. I didn’t know you were there.’ It followed me around. On my way to my temporary home, I saw the entrance of the nature reserve so I went in. The dog continued to follow me. I thought it would protect me but when other stray dogs barked at it, it hid behind me. =_=” Anyway, there wasn’t much to see in the nature reserve so I left.

The dog followed me back to the house but I couldn’t let it in. Poor dog. I forgot to thank it. I hope it was fine.

That night, we went out for dinner at 9pm. It was their practice to eat that late. Marcela chose a restaurant that served traditional Argentinian empanadas. Yummy! The chef cooked them in a big horno, like the one in her holiday house, the traditional way. It was impressive and I liked them.

She told me a lot of things about her life, her children, etc. Similar to Magdalena, she wanted to marry her children off. That was so funny. I wonder if all of her children are now married. I haven’t heard any news of that kind. Maybe I should send them a message. 😀

Marcela drove me to the city of Tucuman before she tended her yoga centre.

First thing first – eat. I was so hungry. I also checked the bus schedule to Iguazu. That was my travel plan.


I ran into Marcela and Jose in front of the church so I ‘invited’ Jose to be my tour guide. 😀 He took me to the House of Independence museum. So, Argentina won the battle because of a mistake that a Spanish soldier made. He thought the war was over and that they won so the soldiers marched to Argentina but then realised they didn’t win the war. They were defeated in Tucuman.

It was a good story. Jose tried hard to translate the Spanish into English for me. That was very kind of him.

A little market outside the museum. I bought a necklace there. It was woven using beads and seeds.
The entrance of the museum
Church in Tucuman
A corner inside Convento de San Francisco

Javier told me at dinner that he was robbed in Buenos Aires. He told me the whole story. When I heard that, I had an ominous feeling. Never underestimate your sixth sense.

Jose took me to the nature reserve where I went to the other day. It turned out he worked there and he said there was a zoo. ‘Really? I didn’t see that.’ I was distracted by the dog.

He first took me to see the place where he worked. He helped to grow plants and he explained the process. Those plants included native Tucuman plants and exotic plants. For the exotic plants, they came from Australia and other provinces in Argentina. When I was asked by his colleague what native plants I had at home, I couldn’t answer it. Just trees… I had no idea what their names were… Then she asked me about animals… I could only think of the pink dolphins. She was interested and would like to see them. I sent her a website about them. It’s really interesting to talk to researchers. It’s their curiosity and their questions that intrigue me. They are usually humble too because they know there are many things that they don’t know.

A monkey

We had to be accompanied by a guide. Some of the animals were illegally transported to Argentina.

A bird. Look at the sharp beak and claws. It must be a predator.

This zoo was also for research too. It belonged to a university. According to Marcela’s daughter, the professors or lecturers didn’t do research because there was no funding. The government didn’t want to support that as well.

Big cat
Another big cat

Time to move on. Marcela changed Santiago’s doctor’s appointment so that she could take me to the bus terminus for the trip to Iguazu. That was very kind of her.

Before we went to the bus terminus, she drove me to Avenue 9 Julio. That was when Argentina became independent (July 9). The statues along the avenue were important people who made contributions to Argentina.

We said goodbye at the bus terminus. Another moment which I hated. Who likes to say goodbyes?

20 hours on the bus.

The bus was late.

I was sitting beside a Catholic Sister who could only speak Spanish and Italian. The air conditioning went wrong so the bus stopped at a petrol station to fix it and I had a chat with the Sister at the cafe at the petrol station. She told me her name, her age and her convent and her congregation. She also told me why and when she became a Sister and why she was learning Italian. It turned out all that information was very useful and helpful later.

I told her in broken Spanish about myself. She was very patient when I struggled with my Spanish. I really liked her. Her destination wasn’t Iguazu of course.

We got on the bus again after the air conditioning was fixed.

She got off the bus and we continued our trip. After a long while, I saw her phone on the floor. Oh my goodness! Now that I had her information and I knew her congregation, should I look for her congregation in Buenos Aires? Or should I give it to the driver? Someone called but I accidentally pressed the ‘hung up’ button (it was the kind of old Nokia phone which I had forgotten how to use). I hoped she would call again. In the end, I made a decision. I asked the other passenger to help me. She passed the phone to the driver, I believed.

After I checked in the hostel in Iguazu, nearly the first thing I did was to google her congregation, sent a message to them and explained what had happened. A few days later, they replied to me. They said most likely the phone was gone. 🙁 Sorry, monja.

27 December 2012 – 4 January 2013

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