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Map of Argentina

It started in 1988. A letter arrived in Lenka's Minnesota mailbox, announcing the names and location of my Argentenian family. It still remains a mystery why I picked Argentina out of all the places to go. I didn't speak a word of Spanish. I never really heard of the country; all I knew is that it wasn't communist - an obvious requirement. Is there such a thing as destiny?

The letter contained this map from my soon-to-be host sister Carla. City of Esperanza ("City of Hope"), my home away from home for three months. 

I arrived at the Santa Fe airport, frantically paging through a Pocket Spanish Dictionary while the plane was taxing to the gate. "Hola. Como estas. Estoy alegre estar aquí". I recognized their faces from the photo below. I knew from the letter that my host parents didn't speak any English. My host sister spoke it well, but she would be away at the university most of the time. "Welcome Home, Lenka" was the first phrase my Papa and Mama uttered, as timid about trying to speak my language as I was theirs. But it felt so good to be so heartwarmingly welcomed. Almost as if I already fit...
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Let's dust of the good ol' scrap book and first take a quick trip down the memory lane—Then & Now.
Mi Familia Argentina 1988 Mi Familia Argentina  2003
The very first picture taken in 1988 was of Carla and me sitting in the living room, right after the arrival from the airport. You can still see a bit of apprehension in our eyes. How will it be? How are you? Who are you? Forward fifteen years. How have you been? How are you? I still know you even though you've grown! It felt so good to reconnect again. And yes, I wore a pink color on purpose for the first picture taken in 2003, secretly hoping that the chairs and curtains would still be there as well.
Hermanas 1988 Hermanas 2003
Familia with Geoff

The years also brought with another change: Geoff. My family welcomed him with open arms and immediately proceeded to initiate him through rituals reserved for any man who courts a Nagel woman. "Korta la ..." 

I had no idea that the family grew by one member. Our four-legged sister Petunia ("Petu") was first a bit jealous of the attention her two older sisters got.  

Carla, Lenka y Petu
Mama in kitchen

Mama in her new kitchen. Her and Papa have made the cabinets and decorations themselves. They've both become quite the skilled artists. Too bad I didn't inherit any of those genes! 

From our diary: "It's several days later and we are at Lenka´s parents house in Esperanza, Argentina. We were greeted with wonderful hospitality. Being here has been a pequeña (little) Eden. We have settled into a daily routine of feasting, siestas, swimming, heat, drinking, empanadas, y more swimming. Lenka is more and more fluent in Spanish every day, while Geoff is still stumbling through 4 languages intertwining themselves on his beleaguered brain cells". But wait; there is Google for help with translations! Also - notice Geoff's back —and that is after applying SPF 50 lotion. 

PC bonding
Lenka & Geoff at the pool.

Did we mention this is paradise?

This was the pool in Mama y Papa's backyard. A tropical paradise. 

Life is good.

Catching up on politics from the past 15 years. 

Papa y Lenka at the pool
Chicas on bikes

Seeing teenagers ride bikes on handlebars brought back memories from my school days in Esperanza. To Geoff, however, it brought on a different kind of fascination. From our diary: We've been taking nostalgic tours of the town, czeching out the local disco where Lenka broke the hearts of young Argentinian boys. Geoff´s mouth has remained open jawed, as we passed by the beautiful South American beauties here, sometimes riding three per bicycle with tight pants and revealing tank-tops. Geoff has joked with Papa that he is a muchos intelligentes man to choose this place in the whole world to live. 

Which brings us to another flash through history...
Bienvenidos.  Minas chanchas 1988 Bienvenidos.  Minas chanchas 2003
Nuestra Senora del Huerto
So maybe a picture of a church isn't quite fitting (or is it?) after the previous photo montage, but it brings us to an important part of history re-visited: the Nuestra Senora del Huerto high school. My parents were kind enough to put both Carla and me into the best private school in town. Yes, I went to a catholic school for two months. Uniforms. Nuns. Church mass every morning. All girls. I was the only person allowed to wear jeans underneath my uniform. It was great to be able to visit the school grounds again. As you can see from the pictures, the essence of the place remains the same. But wait - is that a man on the premises!!! At least the St. Mary separates us.
School courtyard 1988 School courtyard 2003

In order to enter the School it is necessary to have suitable clothing (Neither flip-flop sandals, nor shorts, nor tank tops, nor exaggerated decolletes, nor naked torso).


Because the School is not a beach, nor is it a nightclub, nor a place for a stroll. It is an Education Center. Because here we strive to teach in the values: sobriety, work ethic, austerity, hygiene. 

School rules
La Plaza

On the way home from the school, I managed to slam Geoff's thumb into the car door. While the poor guy was recovering from the pain on the park bench, we took a brief walk around La Plaza, the heartbeat of the city. 

Who says understanding doesn't go through the stomach?

When Geoff thinks of Esperanza, the thoughts also include awakened tastebuds of Mama's y Papa's cooking. Shredded carrots in a thousand island sauce. Onions with vinegar. Cole Slaw. And ah... milanesas. Every food ingredient I recognized, and yet every creation tasted wholly new. I learned once again (first Czech, then Spanish), food is the ultimate language teaching device, as long as milaneses and svickovas exist! 

Papa y Geoff
A trip to Argentina wouldn't be complete without drinking Mate.
Mate 1988 Mate 2003
Papa drinking Mate

Geoff had experienced Mate from the Chilean side during his Patagonia trip two years back. Sipping with gauchos of Patagonia, however, was a different experience from the northern Argentinian method. The process is steeped with culture -- an anthropologist dream, replete with rituals and refinements. Where do you put the sugar? Is the mate bubbling too much. Who do you pass it to first. What is the quality and customization of the tools? 

Papa and Lenka drinking Mate


Mama drinking Mate
Geoff inhaling Mate

Toma, toma Geoff! Taking it all in. 

Thermos with hot water, bombilla, gourd, and mate leaves. A new gaucho is born. 

Mate ready to travel
Our Esperanza experiences have included:

—The simple pleasures of a bidet and long debates as to whether you sit forward or backwards on it.

—Geoff getting his thumb slammed in the car door by Lenka, followed by a demasculating near-fainting experience. Lenka's Papa prescribed 15 minutes of cute women watching to cure the spell.

—Lenka getting bitten by a bug smaller than a mosquito on her eye, causing it to swell to the size of a pomegranate

—Horned beetles the size of your palm called Escarabajos Candado that threaten one´s confidence

—Siestas, siestas, siestas

—Heat, humidity and tremendous thunder storms. Air as thick as molasses, thunder as grumbling as an old man with a hernia, and heat that a Chinook salmon would feel when left alone in the salt flats of the Mojave desert!

—No shirts, no shoes, and lots of Yerba Mate

—Eating dinner at outdoor cafes with the locals at midnight

—Of course, more culinary explorations, from Pastel de Papa (mash potato + ground beef + olives + raisin casserole), to cooked cow tongues, to pastelittos (deep fried pastries with dulce de leche or marmalade fillings) to milanesa (country fried steaks), to many mendoza wines, to dulce de leche on everything.

Curly girls

Going into the big city Santa Fe for a night out. The afternoon heat in the car makes for a great hair curl dryer. 

Carla and Carlitos are The couple of Santa Fe. We visited Carlos' family's beautiful house before hitting night on the town. 

Santa Fe house
Santa Fe group picture


Papa we promise we'll behave!

Consistent with the nightlife hours that we've experienced in Buenos Aires, going to dinner in Santa Fe means actually eating around midnight.  

Midnight dining
Carla y Carlos
Mama and Papa


Burning off the dinner at a local discoteque. The music started playing at 3am and went until sunrise. 

Lenka y cia en pedo.  Living it up
The family tree

The family tree —which includes a Norte Amerikano girl in pink scarf. 

Our tickets to Iguazu falls and Ushuaia have been ordered. The whole family came to see us off at the bus depot. Carla even dug out a Wisconsin T-shirt from the first visit. To say that we were very sad to leave the Pequeno Eden is an understatement. I struggled with the fact that I am leaving yet another set of people that are dear to me away at such a long physical distance. 

At the bus depot
Lenka and Carla hug
Now, two months after being back, people ask us what was our favorite place. A flury of images from steaks to mountains, from rhinos to ridgelines, from glow worms to tangos, and from coral reefs to iguazu flashes across our reminiscent eyes in our minds. But it really is all washed away by the warmth and sacredness of a true home that is preserved and made special by its distance -- a place that coats the soul with a recentering feeling. We both found warmth, peace and home here, and thus, became the place we most long to return to of all the varied places we've touch upon. We look forward to returning to this "clean, well lighted spot"
Mama, Papa y Carla - los extrañamos mucho. Con mucho cariño; no los olvidamos nunca. Love, Lenka y Geoff.
Next destination Lenka's Lifelong Dream Trip: Cataratas Iguazu

(c) Geoffrey Peters and Lenka J.,, 2003. For more information regarding this web page, please contact
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