The Damage is Done

Day is Done by katiealley on Flickr

A stunning vote in the Argentine Congress on Friday led to the president's withdrawal of a highly controversial agricultural tax put into place earlier this year. For those of you who haven't been following the situation, the recently-elected president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, handed down a decision in March to increase overnight the tax on agricultural exports from 35 to 44 percent. This move came without congressional approval and set off a firestorm of controversy and protests throughout the country, bringing about food shortages, price increases and a deep lack of faith in the new government.

The tie-breaking vote against the tax, cast by none other than the vice president, has shown that apparently the government does listen to the will of the people on occasion. Unfortunately, the farm conflict tarnished Argentina's image as a reliable agricultural exporter, and several countries began looking elsewhere when exports came to a standstill. Argentina is missing out just as the worldwide demand for wheat, soybeans and other crops is greater than ever.

Although the agricultural producers can breathe a sigh of relief for the time being, many are wondering what la presidenta has in store for the future while lamenting the losses they incurred as a result of the conflict. For example, Daniel's family, landowners in the province of Buenos Aires, made the decision at the start of winter to leave the fields fallow this growing season. Daniel explained that operating under the tax increase, the chance for profitability was extremely low. Any unexpected circumstance, such as the breakdown of a piece of farm machinery requiring an expensive repair or replacement, would cause profits to evaporate. His family decided to wait and see how the conflict would be resolved, and they are pleased with the outcome, but regrettably they have lost the opportunity for a harvest, as it is too late to sow crops for the coming season.

Here's hoping that Cristina doesn't have another trick up her sleeve because the country has got a lot of catching up to do.

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The Butterfly Jar

Lori releasing "Troyella" by Chuckumentary on Flickr [Creative Commons]

I dedicate this poem to Daniel on the occasion of his 35th birthday.

The Butterfly Jar
by Jeffrey Moss

We had a jar with a butterfly.
We opened the lid and it flew to the sky.
And there are things inside my head
Waiting to be thought or said;
Dreams and jokes and wonderings are
Locked inside, like a butterfly jar.
But then, when you are here with me,
I can open the lid and set them free.

The world can be a lonely place sometimes, especially if you find yourself a stranger in a strange land. May you all be blessed with the good fortune of having someone in your life with whom you can open the butterfly jar.

[Photo credit: Chuckumentary]

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Friends & Strangers

"Strangers are just friends waiting to happen." – Rod McKuen, Looking for a Friend

When it comes to friendships, I've always been a big believer in quality over quantity. I've known my best friend, Jen, since the 8th grade (although it wasn't until 9th grade that I decided I liked her!). Over the years there have been ups and downs, as with most friendships, but I would venture to say that we are closer than ever at this point in our lives.

When I first broke the news to Jen that I would be moving to Argentina, she seemed a bit incredulous. She looked at me dejectedly and asked, "But you'll be coming back, right?" I'd recently returned from a four-month stay in Argentina, and we both missed spending time with each other face-to-face. Although neither of us acknowledged it aloud, we both knew that our friendship would be challenged by the 5,500 miles that would some day separate us.

As an expat, I know that in reality the challenge will be two-fold: maintaining my relationships with family and friends back in the U.S. while forging new relationships in Argentina. I have always been an outgoing and sociable person, but building a a new circle of friends in a foreign country will definitely test my mettle. I am extremely fortunate to have the love and support of my boyfriend, Daniel, and his family in Argentina, but those relationships don't replace the need and desire for friendships with other women my age.

Perhaps I am worrying prematurely since I won't be moving abroad for at least a year, yet as time passes and I inch towards making the great leap, these sorts of fears are unavoidable (and normal I suppose). Once in Argentina, I'll just have to focus on turning strangers into friends while ensuring that I don't become a stranger to the friends I already have.

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When I Grow Up, I Want to Be a Travel Agent

Buenos Aires from the Natural Reserve by lrargerich on Flickr

Well, not really (no offense to the lovely folks in the travel industry), but I do feel like one at the moment. I've been busy coordinating all of the details for my next trip to Argentina including flight schedules for the two dads, hotel and apartment options, as well as trying to plan just the right itinerary to entertain two men who have fairly different ideas of what makes for an enjoyable trip. This is no small undertaking, I assure you!

The first few days will be spent in Necochea with Daniel's family. This portion of the trip will be relatively low key (apart from the insane, all-out party that promises to be my 30th birthday – please note sarcasm). I'd like to pop over to Mar del Plata for the day so the dads can get a taste of the city during the off-season, and then it's on to Buenos Aires for about four days.

Here is where things get interesting. My dad is really not a big city guy (this is the man that visited me two times in three years when I lived in Philadelphia – did I mention he lived 50 minutes away?), preferring the beauty and quietude of nature, while my step-dad enjoys a bit of hustle and bustle and the cultural offerings that a more cosmopolitan location can provide (read: "The campo is pretty but where can I get a Starbucks?"). How to strike a balance?

So far, I have decided to take the dads on a classic tour of Buenos Aires which will include sites such as the Plaza de Mayo, the iconic Obelisk and the neighborhood of San Telmo. I'm considering booking a personalized walking tour with an English-speaking guide since the dads don't speak Spanish (this would give me a break from interpreting for a few hours). Does anyone have any personal recommendations?

I figure that two days of tooling around Buenos Aires will pretty much wear my dad out, so I have investigated two activities for the remaining time that I think will appeal to both dads and get them out of the city for a bit. I found out about the family-run Estancia Los Dos Hermanos that doesn't sound uber-touristy and will allow the dads to sample some gaucho flavor. I also read about the small town of Tigre only 45 minutes outside of the city where we can relax, take a boat ride and shop at the outdoor market.

With three months to go, there's still plenty of time to mull over the options. If you have a suggestion you'd like to share, I'm all ears. In the meantime, I guess I'll have to wear my travel agent hat a bit longer.

[Photo credit: lrargerich]

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The Countdown

Today the countdown on my iGoogle home page dutifully reminded me that in 90 days I will be returning to Argentina for my next adventure. I am very excited about this upcoming trip because this time I will not be traveling alone! I will be accompanied by a rather motley crew: my father, my step-father and my two cats! I will also have the good fortune of celebrating my 30th birthday while I am there, and what better way to do it than with an asado!?

I was pleased yet surprised when my step-dad first mentioned to me that he would like to travel to Argentina. Then, I was even more surprised when my dad said he wanted to go too! I'm ecstatic that they will be traveling with me, but let's face it: this is the fatherly inspection tour. They are going to to turn a critical eye on my boyfriend, his family and his home, and frankly, it does make me a little nervous! I'm sure all will pass with flying colors, and we will do our best to ensure that the 'rents enjoy their stay and leave with a positive impression.

As far as the cats, they are the first to make the move across the equator to their new South American home. Daniel will keep watch over them until I can move too, as my present living situation no longer accommodates my four-legged companions. I will provide more detailed information about the steps involved in taking pets to Argentina in a future post.

The plane tickets have been bought and the planning is underway, but for now, I'm resigned to wait out the countdown. Read More......

Seashells and Sunflowers

Las Grutas, Necochea, Argentina by katiemetz, on FlickrNecochea, Argentina. The mere mention of this place usually produces a glazed-over expression, as the mind frantically searches through the vestiges of seventh grade geography that remain. "Where's that? Never heard of it," comes the inevitable response, nearly always uttered in a slightly disparaging tone. I understand the reaction because it matches almost exactly the one I had when I first met Daniel, my Argentine boyfriend.

Previously, in keeping with most of my fellow Americans, my sum total knowledge of Argentina consisted of buzzwords such as tango, gauchos and grass-fed beef. Yet, in spite of preconceived notions of what I would (or wouldn't) find in South America, after a few trips to Argentina—one of which included a four-month stay—I fell in love with both Daniel and his far-off country.

In comparison with the cosmopolitan air of Buenos Aires, Necochea is a rather humble little city. It sits unassumingly on the Atlantic coast, five hours due south of the Argentine capital in the province of Buenos Aires. During the late spring and summer months, Necochea draws thousands of Argentine families anxious to enjoy the area's expansive beaches, pine forest and low-key atmosphere, but when the visitors head home, the city returns to what can best be described as a state of suspended animation until the following tourist season. Nonetheless, the off-season holds its own particular charm. A quiet walk along the sometimes rocky, sometimes sandy beach yields inviting views of the water and the coastline, dotted with a lighthouse and a rusty, old shipwreck; sometimes I even come across a seashell or two worth pocketing.

The beaches of Necochea certainly attract their fair share of tourists, but the real bread and butter of this region is agriculture. Once outside the city, the landscape transforms into miles and miles of land preserved for cattle ranching and farming. The oceans of wheat, corn, soybeans and sunflowers farmed on the pampas seem endless—as vast as the nearby Atlantic itself. Daniel's family is connected to this farmland, from which they harvest the seed-laden heads of sunflowers and golden wheat.

I've decided that I'm ready to be more than a visitor. Argentina has called to me, and I feel compelled to answer. So, over the next year or so I will begin the process of wrapping up my life here in Philadelphia in preparation to move 5,500 miles away to Necochea, another country—another hemisphere even! Let's see where life takes me.

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