Study abroad is a strange combination of rushed and relaxed. Some weeks, I have hours to kill with no homework and it feels like I’m on vacation instead of in school, and then this week I have three different papers due in eight days. I sprint the two blocks to the bus stop (PSA: don’t do that, you might jump off a curb and sprain your ankle) only to wait fifteen minutes in the rain for my bus to actually arrive. I skid into class right on the hour only to see the professor stroll in fifteen minutes later. In the same vein, I spent a long month looking forward to fresh air and new views to the four-day trip planned by our study abroad program this past weekend, and it flew by in the blink of an eye.
Not only that, but the trip itself was a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. Four CIEE staff members and forty-ish students rode fifteen hours on a bus from Buenos Aires to the city of San Juan in the western desert region of Argentina, then five hours more to La Rioja, where we visited a national park, a provincial park, a town called Chilecito, and an abandoned mine. At the end of the day, everyone agreed that the views were stunning and the company was great. But there was the one universal complaint: the fact that we’d spent the majority of our day on a bus getting from place to place and back to the hotel again rather than actually out exploring the area and enjoying the scenery. As much as we like to joke about “argentiempo” and the benefits of things running late or completely off schedule, it can be frustrating to get up early, be ready on time, be told you’re spending two and a half hours on a bus, and then actually be stuck there for five. Or to get off one bus and immediately get on another one. Or to have your mother ask you what you’re going to be doing the next day and literally have no idea whatsoever. But there comes a point when it’s all about perspective – good or bad, we were on an adventure and we were all going to want to tell the story down the road. The question becomes, how are you going to tell it? For me, it comes down to three things.
Cell phone service is overrated. Partially to conserve battery for picture-taking and music purposes, but mostly because my Argentine carrier didn’t reach all the way out to the middle of the desert, I kept my phone switched to airplane mode for 90% of the trip. Which means that for the first time since being here, I was pretty cut off from the world back home. I love my friends and family, but I wouldn’t have wanted this trip to be any other way. Because none of us had service and there isn’t a whole lot else to do on a bus if you’re not listening to music or sleeping, there were hours of games and good conversation, swapping of snacks and stories, and endless inside jokes created (probably half of which were about Hamilton). People could have chosen to find other ways to be disconnected and distracted, and there would have been some fairness to that response when you consider how long we spent sitting in the same spot. But it’s pretty telling of who and how these friends are in the world that on this trip, nobody did.
Along those lines, good company is really all you need. The first night, we slept on a bus. The next day, we spent most of the day en route to our hotel, watched the sunset on the red cliffs of one of the parks in La Rioja, and finally rolled up to the hotel around 9 or 10pm, exhausted, exhilarated and mostly starving. As tired as we were, I know I laughed harder than I had in weeks with the girlfriends I sat with at dinner that night as we cracked jokes, told stories, and consumed a crazy quantity of pasta. Just as everything seems to have reached its peak level of crazy, chaotic, and confused, there’s something about who you’re with that’s more important than where you are or even what you’re doing there. We all stayed positive, we all supported each other, and we all had a great time. When you spend that much time with the same group of people, you’re bound to leave with either conflict or community, and I’m incredibly grateful that I left with the latter.
Detours are blessings in disguise. Remember that two-and-a-half hour bus ride that turned into five? (something we’ll probably be saying for the rest of our lives) By hour three, we were trying to figure out what had happened to get us so behind schedule since the guide had literally told us the ETA when we left that morning. But what he had also told us is that we were going to take a different route back to San Juan from La Rioja than the way we’d first come two days earlier, so that we could drive through the last bit of mountain scenery, stop and take some pictures. At this point in the weekend, we were all pretty done with detours – but let me tell you, that was one of the most stunning drives I’ll ever take in my entire life, and one of the most fun bus rides I’ve ever been on. McKayla broke out her portable speakers and we took turns DJing, singing along with everything from early 2000s rap to James Bay and Vampire Weekend while we wound our way through mountain roads with skies that took your breath away. In the middle of the monotonous, there are some of these moments – the kind that stick out of the sand like jewels when you sift back through the memories – that make it all worth it.
So, will I be up for a twenty hour bus ride any time soon? Probably never again. But I have to tell you, all it takes is one good adventure to show you what really matters in those in-between moments. Especially as this trip marked the halfway point of my time in Argentina, and I’m feeling pulled between hurry up and wait as July gets closer every day – La Rioja was just what I needed.