Watch out, Buenos Aires!

Our time in Navarro, Argentina at Gaia Ecovillage was an inspirational work and educational experience, while at the same time being incredibly low-key and relaxing. Though the days were hot and long (we woke up at 7 a.m. to get ready for breakfast and dinner wasn't served until 9 p.m.), the laid back setting of the farm kept me from being too exhausted.

Navarro, Argentina

All visitors at Gaia take part in the daily farm work and chores, which vary depending on the time of year and the necessary tasks at the time. As I complained in my last blog post, I was on onion duty almost every day in the kitchen, but when I wasn't being tortured by sulfurous fumes, I helped to prepare the meals for those staying on the farm. 

Twice during our stay, we had pizza, which was built atop a handmade, wheat crust with either a light olive oil sauce or red sauce. While the head cook had us make a couple of pizzas with a sickening heap of onions on it (so many onions that it made this allium aficionado never want to encounter the layered bulb in any future culinary excursion), 

Gaia Ecovillage pretty much embodies the ultimate goal that I would like to accomplish in life. While becoming a famous, award-winning author would be a dream come true, I would love to use whatever fame, money and notoriety that I gain in the future to buy a plot of land to build my own sustainable ecovillage. 

My ecovillage (in a fashion similar to Gaia) would consist of small, eco-friendly houses that people could either buy or rent, as well as farm space, studio space and a major  I could get a group of people (most likely artists, writers, musicians and other creative-minded people) to peacefully live together sharing in farming and upkeep duties, while fostering an environment of ingenuity. 

In the past, many of the people who I have shared this idea with have labeled my "ecovillage" as a Charles Manson-esque commune and have warned me not to serve Kool-Aid to my "subjects." Experiencing the culture at Gaia helped to ensure me that it is entirely possible to live this lifestyle in a non-creepy, cultish fashion.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

After our week sans meat, chocolate and coffee at Gaia (the latter two being the toughest for my mother and me to abstain from), it was onto the bustling city of Buenos Aires for a night before returning home to California. Due to the time constraints, we were unfortunately only able to spend two days and one night in Buenos Aires, but we made the best possible use of our time there. 

Along with the Wasi Apartment in Lima, Peru, our hotel in Buenos Aires was one of the two best hotels of our trip - the Argentina Tango Hotel, located at Suipacha 545 (C1008AAK), Buenos Aires, Argentina. 

Nestled within the Florida District, and close to all of the attractions downtown, the Argentina Tango Hotel is upscale and chic. The amenities include a bilingual staff, complimentary breakfast buffet, free WiFi, cradles for children under 2, air conditioning, safety boxes, refrigerator and soundproof windows.

After settling into our hotel rooms, our group went out for one last dinner together before returning to North America. After a week sin carne, the perfect spot for our omnivorous group was La Estancia Asador Criollo - located at Lavalle 941, (1047) Capital Federal, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This Argentinian barbecue restaurant was the perfect cure for our iron deprivation - the menu consists of a large array of meats in various preparations, but can be best narrowed down to beef, pork, veal, goat, chicken, sausages and offal.

Included in the table service fee are meat-filled empanadas with dipping sauces and a champagne toast at the end of the meal.

While the options are seemingly limitless, my mother, siblings and I ended up sharing the mixed brochettes platter - kebabs of beef tenderloins and chicken served on a platter with burning coals underneath. The plate meant to be a serving for two people was more than enough food for two adults and two children.

Our hearty meal served as a perfect segue between a week on a vegetarian farm and our time in the city that night and the following day.

Known affectionately as the "Paris" and "Big Apple" of South America, one brief walk around the city makes it clear to see how Buenos Aires earned its nicknames. The classic, European-style architecture in many of the buildings is in direct juxtaposition to the brightly lit, Times Square-style signs just a couple of blocks away. 

Though we didn't get to see many of the highlights of Buenos Aires, we did get to see La Casa Rosada - also known as the "Pink House" - which is the presidential residence for Argentina, currently inhabited by the nation's first female president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Also known by its official name La Casa Gobierno (Government House), it was built in 1873 and features Italian architecture and baby pink paint.

La Casa Rosada, the presidential residence and office for the Argentinian head of state, features breathtaking architecture reminiscent of the style prevalent during the renaissance in Italy. Photo Credit: Lauren J. Mapp

In addition to La Casa Rosada, we were also able to see the Washington Monument's Argentinian doppelgänger, El Obelisco de Buenos Aires. Amidst the LED-light-clad signs and one of the busiest intersections of the city, the Obelisk stands at 220 ft. and was designed by Alberto Prebisch, who served as the mayor of Buenos Aires from 1962-1963.

El Obelisco (The Obelisk) - built in 1936 from Cordoba white stone - towers over the streets of Buenos Aires at a height of 220 ft. Built for the 400th anniversary of Buenos Aires, it has been the site of many political, social and religious gatherings, to include the promotion of condom use as a preventative measure against AIDS/HIV, STDs and pregnancy in 2005 for Worlds AIDS Day. Photo Credit: Lauren J. Mapp

After two days of sightseeing in Buenos Aires, it was time for us to make the trip home. Though we were only gone for three weeks, it felt as though I'd been gone for at least three months.

Cliche as it may be to say that an international trip was an "incredible and life-changing" experience, for me, it truly was just that. At one point while we were in Argentina, I glanced at a world map where Buenos Aires was the focal point, and it wasn't until I realized that I couldn't see San Diego on the map that I was able to digest how far I was from home.

Ultimately, this trip strengthened my desire to complete my book on international food traditions and made my wanderlust even more insatiable than it was to begin with. Where my next trip will take me is still yet-to-be-determined, but I look forward to flying off to observe other cultures, eat traditional dishes, snap photographs and take notes along the way.


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