MattNoonan's Travel Journals


What is the best ethnic food you ever had that you just can't find at home?

birria, a traditional mexican dish. luckily on the southside of chicago, there are plenty of birria...ias.

  • 28 years old
  • From Illinois, United States
  • Currently in Cordoba, Argentina

Chile & Argentina: Surrounded by a Bunch of Friends that I Have Yet to Meet

ramblings concerning a 6 week jaunt through Chile & Argentina. April/May2011

A Few Words in Favor of Couchsurfing

Chile Castro, Chile  |  Jun 04, 2011
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In order to save money, and more so, to get to know people who live in the areas that I’m traveling through, I’m trying to find a place to couchsurf rather than paying for lonely hostels or hospedajes.  The thing that sets couchsurfing apart from any other sort of living situation is exactly that it’s a living situation.  In a hostel or hospedaje, you just sort of put your stuff down in a room and sleep there at night or maybe find a good group of fellow travelers that can at least accompany you while you all explore together.  With couchsurfing, your host is not only the one responsible for the roof over your head, but also your friend, your guide to the place in which you’re staying, and a human. 

In Lima, I stayed with Jorge for two nights.  Three hours after landing in Lima, I found myself in a bar talking with him, a Dutch guy and a German guy, listening to a blues group who sang in English.  Jorge was born in Perú but grew up in Canada, learning English and Spanish at the same time.  He lived in Chile as a journalist under—or shortly thereafter—the rule of Pinochet.  When I was with him—he’s about 40 something now—he was working at home for an English newspaper in Lima.  Jorge taught me about pisco, the lack of a coffee culture in Perú, and a bit about the different types of ceviche.  He showed me around his neighborhood and gave me a key to his home.  I trust him.

In Arica, I stayed with Hannah who grew up in New York, but has lived in Spain (twice) and Colorado, and has probably traveled to other places that I haven’t asked her about yet.  In her early thirties now, she’s on month 2 of 24 of working for the US State Department, teaching English in Arica, Chile.  As a food and thrift fanatic, she has given me handy tips on how to find cheap and wholesome eats in Arica and has generally told me all I need to know about getting around town.  She hooked me up with a bike from a friend/student of hers, whose father owns a bike shop.  We cooked an amazing, vaguely Italian, dinner together that included noodles cooked with parsley, fried onions with garlic, and chicken breast bathed in an incredible sauce made from roasted peppers, toasted almonds, and red wine.  We exchanged some music and some thoughts on some things.  I feel about her how I might feel about a friend that I’ve had for a while, or at least, as I would about any other amazing person I’ve met while traveling.  All of my ProWorld compañeros would agree that in just a few days we were already pretty strongly bound in the clutches of intimate temporary friendship and lifelong understanding and concern.  I feel more or less the same sort of understanding with Hannah, with the only difference being the lack of new things we got to experience together, like those that all of the ProWorld gang shared. 

In Córdoba, I stayed for about two weeks while I awaited Eisen’s arrival.  First I stayed with Guada, who was my first only Spanish-speaking host.  I figured I’d give the whole only Spanish thing a go, since I was originally supposed to be WWOOFing on a farm with only Spanish-speakers at that same time.  Guada described herself as the one of her friends that everybody sees as the mother.  This was obvious from the get go.  She’s an incredible cook, keeps a relatively tidy home for a 20-something, and generally seemed open and accepting.  She definitely loved her friends a whole heck of a lot and they felt the same towards her as they helped her tidy the apartment up, cook a meal, or buy groceries.  The only problem with staying with Guada was that she didn’t have an extra key to her place and that combined with her not being around the house very often made it difficult for me to get back inside after a day of being around the city without her.  All-in-all, it was a good experience and I hope to maybe experience a little bit of the community she had with her friends at some point in my life, with my friends.  I wish she didn’t speak so damn quickly and Argentinean though.

Also in Córdoba, I had the good fortune of spending a lot of time with Benjamin who actually contacted me while he was visiting Chicago late last year.  We never got to meet up there, but we both felt the buena onda (good vibes), so I made sure to meet up with him during my time in Córdoba despite the fact that he didn’t have a place for me to stay.  Benjamin was actually born in Downers Grove while his father was working as a doctor somewhere in or around Chicago.  He lived there until he was about seven, so he had a pretty good grasp on English at that point such that he was able to continue learning English from TV shows and movies and the likes.  In fewer words than he deserves, Benjamin has been the best part of Córdoba for me.  He graduated with a degree in Sociology and is currently looking for a grant or scholarship to complete his doctorate in the States.  We’ve had incredible chats on all sorts of topics  that have really been raping my mind lately (raping may be a bit harsh, but I wanted a word that meant impregnating but by force.  So it goes.)  It was really great to get to delve into social phenomena, cultural issues, and Argentinean customs with someone who’s incredibly well-read, yet with a completely different world view than mine.  He also introduced me to some of his friends and we went to one of their houses to share a pollo al disco, which is more or less like a paella done Argentinean-back-roads style—in a big ass metal disc held by a metal frame over an open fire.  The cook, Erwin, was a champ.  The dish included chicken salted and peppered, onions, carrots, peas, peppers, rice, and garlic all smothered in a sauce made with white wine, tomatoes, and spices.  Bam.  The next day we went and checked out the weekend paseo de pulgas (flea market) which was full of all sorts of conversation inspiring stuff.  This sentence is a reminder to my future self to read Bukowski.  Among other things, Benjamin has been the best Spanish teacher for me since I’ve been in South America because he’s actually fluent in English as well.  He’s helped me try to wrap my head around some of the really whacky, really unique, Argentinean slang and grammar which utilizes ridiculous amounts of profanity to relate ideas such as “hey buddy!”  It’s a quirky way of speaking to say the least.  It was a real shame leaving Benji, but he was kind enough to drive my friend Eisen and I to the bus terminal to catch our bus to the northern Patagonian city of Bariloche.

In the south of Argentina  and Chile towns are small, so while there are couchsurfers present, it’s sometimes hard to get one to host you on short notice.  Thus, my traveling companion Eisen and I stayed in hostels for the remainder of our trip.  But one hostel on the misty, mysterious, magical island of Chiloé really made us feel at home and thus deserves its place in this particular entry.  The hostel was called Hostel Omera, but we originally went in because it appeared to be called “Hostel Gastronómica” and had fantastic art painted right on to the siding.  We were the only guests, though there were some people that were clearly living there that weren’t travelers or workers at the hostel.  The owner, Carlos was one of the most welcoming people we had ever met.  At a certain point, Eisen and I began to fear that he was actually going to kill us at the end of our stay just because he was too welcoming to be sincere.  But he was the real deal.  His family was exiled during the dictatorship and the lived in Sweden for 7 years.  After Pinochet peaceably stepped down, they came home to Chile.  Carlos had worked as a mime, a ventriloquist, and was a pretty talented painter.  He also didn’t speak any English, which made interaction interesting between him and Eisen who spoke no Spanish.   Even through all that, Eisen ended up with a tattoo on his leg that was adapted from one of the images on the side of the hostel.  Despite the fact that the place didn’t have heat and we could see our breaths in the room where we slept and the in the bathroom, this was the best hostel we had stayed at.  The food was excellent, the huéspedes that lived there were all incredibly quirky and generally helpful, and it made for the perfect way to get to know the island.  One of the best moments was when Carlos put on a song by Manuel Garcia called “El viejo comunista” (the old communist).  Moments later he grabbed Clarita—the wife of the chef, Carlos’ good friend Juan—and they danced a waltz right there in the dining room at 8AM.  It was perfect.  It was one of those moments that makes you realize that everything that happens is not really out of the ordinary for anyone else, and that it would probably happen regardless of your presence. It's beautiful to imagine something similar happening there right now.

The advantages to couchsurfing are many: a free place to stay, a new face to know—through which you come to know a new place—a few anecdotal situations that color an adventure, and an invaluable look into local reality.  Beyond that, it serves similar functions for the host who interprets, explains, and teaches his/her place.  Doing so reinforces his/her own place in his/her own place, defining the nuances and leading that person to dig more deeply to find the truth of his/her surroundings.  But for me, the most important part of couchsurfing is sharing, not what is shared.  Simply giving humans a means to share and to show the value of sharing is something that cannot be taught except through personal experiences such as these.  “If you want to go fast, go alone.  But if you want to go far, go together.”

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