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¡Buenos Dias! I just got home from my family trip to Argentina and boy do I have a lot to unpack (literally):

* Watched Bohemian Rhapsody on the flight over. I can understand some of the backlash for retreading cliches and how Freddy’s LGBT relationships are depicted, but it didn’t fully hamper my enjoyment of it. I’ll elaborate if I ever get around to reviewing the movie, but I’ll just say, Rami Malek, congrats on that Oscar win! You deserved it!

* DAY 1: We arrived at Buenos Aires around 3:30 in the morning. We spent the first few nights there in a nice little place called The Hotel Magnolia. It was so small that our family virtually had complete run of the place. We even got featured on the hotel’s instagram.

* The only thing not so nice about it? The daily power outages. At least the staff was kind enough to give us flashlights.

* The Magnolia is in a section known as Palermo SoHo (as you’ll see later, Buenos Aires has a lot in common with New York). Like the real SoHo, poverty is mixed with avenues full of hip eateries and stores. Two places I saw but didn’t get the chance to visit were A.Y. Not Dead (I’m a big fan of Spamalot so I got a kick out of that) and one called, I kid you not, Spaceball. SPACEBALL.

* If you go to a cafe called Cocina Regional 1810, get the rice pudding, NOT the flan. Also, note to self, attempt to recreate the ricotta/ham empanadas with the roasted sugar on top when I get back home.

* I’d go into extreme detail concerning the banquets of delicious fresh food we consumed every day in Argentina, especially at breakfast, but thankfully for you guys I’m not JRR Tolkien. The only thing I’ll mention is that jar of dulce de leche I brought home with me is going to be part of my complete breakfast for quite some time.

* While walking around, we found an honest to goodness working video store! The windows were filled with Spanish posters for classic movies and everything. It warms my heart to see the business isn’t dead yet.

* We finished the night with a welcoming party thrown for everyone by my aunt and uncle at the local yacht club. It was there I learned that cucumbers are surprisingly beneficial when dealing with mosquito bites.

* Something I also learned: Two things Argentinians love at their dance parties are smoke machines and colored strobe lights, especially when they’re combined. Fun, though I had to excuse myself from the dancing quite a bit in order to regain my bearings.

* DAY 2: Time to act like a real know-nothing googly-eyed tourist. We spent the majority of the day on a bus tour of the city and its surrounding districts, which make up just a small fraction of Argentina. It was my first time on one of these buses and I admit it was kind of fun. They treated us well, the seats were comfortable, and they gave us plenty to eat and drink.

* As I said before, Buenos Aires and New York are surprisingly similar in some regards. They both believe they’re the greatest the city in the world, there’s a staggering blend of old and extremely poor and new and vibrant, they both boast the longest avenue ever (9 de Julio and Fifth Avenue/Broadway, respectively) and they’re both waiting for God to return in some form (for them it’s the Pope coming back for a visit after a 4+year absence as of writing, for us it’s news of impeachment). They even have their own Central Park complete with zoo eco-park and people exercising and playing with their dogs. Had it not rained heavily the night before we would have crossed a lake to see a hundred year-old rose garden planted in the middle, so we settled for taking pictures with it in the background.

* We also visited a famous cemetery filled with shockingly beautiful mausoleums. Among them was Eva Perón’s. Certain family members who shall remain nameless had to be held back from singing “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” while we were there.

* Also in the cemetery, my sister had a run-in with a family moving a coffin and they called her out because they thought she was taking pictures of them. Thanks to my other cousins’ teasing she spent most of the trip thinking they put a curse on her.

* Our ride took place on International Womens’ Day, so we got to see groups of women and students in green marching to demand the legalization of abortion and a protest in front of the Presidential Palace. Viva le resistance!

* Buenos Aires has an unusual situation regarding their dogs. I thought most were strays, but actually their owners trust them enough to walk ahead or behind without a leash. Unfortunately they tend to not pick up after their pets either.

* An unfortunate fact about Argentina is that its economy is in the toilet – what’s not so unfortunate if you’re a tourist is that everything there is dirt cheap. You want quality leather? Delicious sweets for the ride home? Soccer gear? It’s all yours for $20 or less!

* An assumption we made about the Hotel Magnolia based on something the manager said was that the water bottles they gave us at the front desk were complimentary. We learned that wasn’t the case when we checked out and found an extra $175 in US dollars for all the water we drank. Oops.

* DAY 3: Took an hour and twenty-five minute ride out of the city to the Santo Domingo Ranch where we’d be spending the rest of our visit. It’s a 130 year-old working ranch with actual livestock kept near the houses where we’d be staying. Most mornings we woke up to the sounds of a rooster crowing.

* Stars. Stars of wonder, stars of might, stars of royal beauty bright.

* The big house with its grand, empty halls and decorations for ages past initially reminded me of The Shining. I began wishing I brought a baseball bat with me. Though by the end it became felt much more hospitable. My room was in what my sister referred to as “Rapunzel’s tower”.

* I would have recreated Mabel’s character-defining “Yay, grass!” from the first episode of Gravity Falls, except said grass was home to enormous anthills. One of the groomsmen found out the hard way that you have to watch where you’re standing when out on the grounds.

* The same day we arrived was the big wedding day. We had hoped to stream it live to our grandmother back home, but alas, the internet connection was almost nonexistent. I became the unofficial videographer and recorded the whole ceremony as well as some candid moments from the reception on my phone.

* The cocktail hour featured some authentic Argentinian dancers. The most fun was when they pulled in some spectators to show them some moves. My cousin, the groom, was one of them. He didn’t so much tango as he stomped his feet like a chimney sweep from Mary Poppins.

* Everyone said that the barns where the reception was hosted was like being at Hogwarts: the big doors open and boom, long tables with candles everywhere.

* These barns also became a temporary home to a wedding crasher:

This is Juan. Juan is the magical party crashing owl. You must share Juan with 500 friends within the next twelve seconds in order to have seven years of fun parties. If not, you’ll have two left feet at every dance and Juan will rip your face off with his bare claws, devour it, and regurgitate it as a pellet, as owls do.

* Everyone we told about Juan didn’t believe us until we took them to the barn to see him for themselves. And any Argentinian who was nearby laughed their heads off at the stupid gaping Americans who have never seen an owl before in their lives.

* Not joking about Argentinian weddings being all-night bacchanalias, by the way. The main dinner consisted of barbecued meats piled onto our plates, then desserts, drinks, and pizza being served intermittently. Lots of dancing too. There were plans for fireworks later on but they weren’t procured in time, which might have been a good thing. A bunch of drunk guys shooting off explosives in a heavily wooded area? That’s sure to end well.

* Somehow managed to stay up until 4:30 in the morning, got to bed by 5. Did not get up until 12:30 in the afternoon the following day. Remarkably, I was awake and having breakfast before my own parents were.

* Stars, in their multitude, scarce to be counted, filling the darkness.

* DAY 4: Explored the REAL Rapunzel’s tower on the ranch, an ancient but still functioning water tower.

No imprisoned princesses or wacky Warner Brothers at the top, but thankfully no horny Lannisters either. The stairs were so long, narrow and dark and the summit appeared to be so in danger of crumbling apart that it wasn’t quite worth the harrowing experience to get up there. I’m normally okay with heights, but this was the closest I felt to the kind of vertigo that James Stewart has in the movie of the same name. My dad, who doesn’t like heights at all, even braved part of the way to help me get back down safely, bless him.

* Speaking of dangerous experiences, my sister had a wild time with one of the horses. Turns out the equines on the ranch get pretty frustrated with having to carry inexperienced riders on their back after a while. She was backed through some pine branches and would have been bucked off if she didn’t have such a good grip on the reins. It was scary for all of us, but as of now she’s no simpatico with horses in general. My parents all but forbade me from giving it a go myself that day.

* One of the things that kept my sister safe during that incident was the ranch’s dog, whom I nicknamed “Bandito”. I didn’t realize at the time that he was already friendly with all the ranch’s horses and assumed he was scaring it instead of trying to corral and calm it. Shame on me. No one knows who Bandito really belongs to; some said to the kitchen staff, others to the vaqueros (cowboys), but he was virtually the perfect dog. Sweet and friendly to everyone, didn’t bite or steal food, very protective (he stood guard every night and ran into the woods if he saw a fox or any other kind of animal) and we grew very close to each other.

15/10 good boi, very precious, muy bueno perrito, Bandito.

*(sigh) I miss him already…

* I’m not a fan of sausages, but I couldn’t get enough of the chorizo they served here. Our big bonfire barbecue dinner out near the woods was fantastic – though it got creepier outside the darker it got.

* And we’re lost out here in the stars, little stars, big stars, blowing through the night.

* DAY 5: Last day, and I made it count. Tried my luck with the horses and had a much better time of it, thanks to my cousin’s expert horsemanship. The only trouble I had was when my steed went slightly off course twice for a quick snack.

* Got some decent sketches done of the ranch house and the flowers growing around it. Took plenty of pictures, so I know what I’ll be drawing for the next several weeks.

* Squeezed in some bike riding and ping-pong at one of the barns before our farewell lunch. The wonderful kitchen staff whipped up some homemade gnocchis that were some of the best I ever had. Their pesto sauce came this close to besting the one my mom makes from our garden every summer. It’s no secret that Argentinians are just as close to Italians as they are to the Spanish, and it shows in their personality and cooking.

* Seriously, did I mention the stars out there are fucking beautiful? I saw the Milky Way itself for the first time, and I swear I caught more than a few glimpses of some shooting stars. It’s nothing like the nighttime view back home, which is sparse by comparison. I’ll treasure that awe-inspiring glimpse at the cosmos always.

* I didn’t get as emotional as everyone else at the wedding but was the first to tear up when it was time to head home. After mulling it over I think I understand why: my cousin’s been living in Argentina for several years now building his own life, and I already accepted that long before most everyone in my family did. We weren’t really close when we were little despite growing up together because at that age the opposite gender was considered icky, but I’ve seen him mature as he forged his own path and traveled the world. Every time he returned home he’d come back a little bit wiser, a little bit stronger, but still the same fun-loving goof who adores his family. Neither of us settled for what our parents wanted, and we developed some respect for each other because of that. Through this our bond strengthened into what it is today. Him getting married was just another step into his future that most everyone takes sooner or later. But it’s something I was proud to be a part of. Unlike most weddings, it was a wholly unique experience made all the more sweeter because we were surrounded by people we loved and befriended. And by the time the bus that would take us to the airport arrived, I realized that this time, unlike all the other family vacations we’d been on together as we grew up, he wasn’t coming back with us. He was staying with a wonderful woman whom we embraced as one of our own. He had fully tied himself to a life no one but himself could claim in a country so distant that it seemed like another world. I was sad because the trip was over. But his next adventure with his wife was just beginning.

* That and saying goodbye to Bandito, too. I may not have been able to take him with me, but at least I know he’s happy keeping the horses in line, snapping at flies in the garden, and rolling around in the grass. Ay, Bandito.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about Argentina for now. Love the city and the country, but not the flights to and from there. And I’m glad to be back where water tastes normal and internet access is easier. Would I go back though one day? Definitely. There’s still so much I want to see and do. Whenever my family plans a vacation, I want to go to somewhere new but always shoot for Disney because it’s ingrained on my very soul. Not that I have any regrets of course, I love the parks. But whenever I visit World Showcase and get a taste of what other countries have to offer, my desire to see the real thing only grows. Argentina doesn’t have rides or meet-and-greet characters (unless you count the tango dancers in La Boca who try to get money from you like the costumed characters in Times Square), but my short time there proved that the world has so much to offer beyond what I’m used to, and I want to experience as much of it as I can.