One of the perks of being an exchange student is the opportunity, and the excuse, to travel. Although I feel like I justify my spending with the now-familiar phrase “When am I ever going to live in South America/have this opportunity again?!” I do think it is important to take advantage of the occasion to travel while abroad. Although my schoolwork has been very demanding, I managed to finagle my schedule so that my Fridays are completely free, thereby making it easier to take weekend trips. So far this semester I have visited two important places in Argentina…and they have been some of the most amazing trips I’ve ever taken…
In September, I traveled to Iguazu Falls in the northeastern corner of Argentina with a group of over 200 other exchange students. Although traveling with such a large group of people was quite chaotic, and I never plan to travel in such a big group again, I made two really good friends on the trip, one of whom I will be visiting in Colombia in February and the other, a student from France, who has invited me to eat Christmas dinner with her and her mom here in Argentina.
All that aside, the trip was worth every penny. The falls are absolutely INCREDIBLE. There is a reason why Iguazu is known as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the world. For anyone who has been to Niagara Falls, I hate to break it to you, but Iguazu is 100 times better! The sight of the falls was absolutely breathtaking, and my brain had difficulties comprehending the shear amount of water that I was seeing cascading all around me. Pictures really don’t do it justice, but I have included some below to give you an idea of the extent and beauty of the falls. I also took an optional boat excursion that allows passengers to physically experience the falls-our captain drove the boat right into some of the cataracts! Iguazu is a place I would love to visit again.
My most recent trip started out very different than my first. Instead of traveling with a large group, I went with just one other person, my friend Sarah (an exchange student from Ohio). We traveled to Puerto Madryn, a medium-sized city on the eastern side of Patagonia. After a bus ride of just over 18 hours, we were ready for the main attraction: whale watching.
From July to roughly December, Puerto Madryn plays host to hundreds of Southern Right Whales. In fact, we visited beaches where the whales can be seen directly from the beach. However, in order to get the full whale watching experience, Sarah and I hopped a boat and took an excursion out into the waters past Punto Pirámides. During the hour and a half ride, I saw several mother whales with their 3-4 month old babies (which were already HUGE). Since baby whales are very active, I even got to see one whale jump out of the water and twist in the air…not once but 4 times in a row. Many of the whales even got curious enough to swim very close to the boat.
There is something very powerful in seeing such majestic animals in their own environment. Take THAT SeaWorld! However, I got to a point on the excursion when it dawned on me that I was looking at the whales more through my camera lens than with my own eyes, and I got frustrated with myself. Since the pictures really aren’t anything like the experience, I realized that I was missing the message the whales were trying to show me…that living, breathing, feeling, experiencing is what matters. Yes, pictures are great, but it also felt really good to put the camera away and just live in the moment, something that I am trying to be better about doing from here on out. When did the world become so obsessed with documenting everything anyway?
While in Puerto Madryn, Sarah and I also took a tour of the Peninsula Valdez and were able to see some other wildlife, including penguins and sea lions. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it to Punto Tombo (the largest penguin colony in South America) but I was able to take a very unpredictable bike ride to Doradillo beach to see more whales. The bike ride ended up being quite the adventure that ended with the two of us passed out on the beanbag chairs in the hostel. Overall, it was a wonderfully relaxing weekend and a nice break from the roar of the city and the stress of my classes.