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Gena Mavuli

Gena Mavuli takes a break between dining and writing to pose for the camera.
Gena Mavuli takes a break between dining and writing to pose for the camera.

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I found myself in Buenos Aires via an indirect route. After all, is there really a direct way to decide you need to go to graduate school in Argentina, 6,000 miles away from anyone that you know, and then to do it in a second language? I thought I spoke fluent Spanish before arriving—apparently not. In my first few weeks here I was often told I spoke like a Mexican, and then asked where I learned castellano. What? I learned Spanish in Central America, castellano is something I’ve only recently learned to manage and realize it’s the same language with some slang and arrogance attached to it.

I thought I knew how to assemble a life in a new country, but evidently I do not have half of the documents or acronyms necessary (CUIT, DNI) to obtain anything semi-permanent here, including a reasonably priced apartment, a bank account, an ID card, or health insurance. All I have is a passport on which my name isn’t even correct — the last remnant of a former version of me. Regardless, here I am with both porteño and international friends who like to gloat about the United States’ failure in the World Cup, along with many embarrassing actions my government has taken worldwide, bursting all the while with Argentine soccer pride, even though they sadly got knocked about by this year’s host, Germany. It sure is nice to see people love and respect their country, acknowledge and move beyond the bad and relish in the glorious.

Life here is good to me, and thankfully the good outweighs the bad. I go on kayaking weekends with locals, eat empanadas or alfajores with coffee at any hour of the day. I try my damnedest to speak in lunfardo (castellano’s slang), eat dinner at 10pm, linger over cocktails and cigarettes for hours, see the sun come up when I leave bars, and to embrace the idea that the vices of American life are routine and accepted indulgences here. Above all, I never leave home without my precious GuiaT to guide me through the city. I may never really figure out how to be porteño, but I certainly have a grand time trying. (Oh yeah, and on the side I am doing my Master's degree - squeezing in some studying!)

Q: What is the number one reason why everyone should visit Buenos Aires?

A: The number one reason why everyone should visit Buenos Aires is to experience dulce de leche. No really, it’s that good. Everyone should visit Buenos Aires to humble themselves. Buenos Aires proves that not only is there life in the Southern Hemisphere, but that Buenos Aires competes with Paris, London, Rome and New York as far as fashion, high-class restaurants and thrilling nightlife are concerned.

Q: What is your number one tip for foreigners arriving to Buenos Aires?

A: My best tip for gringos in Buenos Aires (visitors who are either here or planning to arrive) is to learn a few words of Spanish — the basics — before they arrive. Most cab drivers don’t manage English well, so it can be a gamble if you’re not into taking the bus (which is a challenge in and of itself). If you stick to the touristy areas you are likely to find someone who speaks some English, but some of the most interesting areas and people are located where English hasn’t quite taken hold yet.

Q: What is your favorite city bus line and why?

A: My favorite bus line and why is easy! The 152! It brings me close to all of my friends who live on opposing sides of the city, and it is one of the buses that runs most frequently, seeming to pass whenever I need it. Really, this bus goes everywhere from Belgrano to La Boca, and it always drops you within a short walk of anywhere you’ll want to go!

Q: What do you dislike the most about Buenos Aires?

A: I recently had to buy a pair of jeans sized large!  And I’ve even lost weight since my arrival! Of course, I was able to get the mediums on, but they looked as if they had been spray painted over my skin.  As a size 6 back home in the States, evidently I am one of the largest women that shop in major department stores here in Buenos Aires. Good or bad, I have a fairly large ego — ask any of my friends — but shopping for jeans in Buenos Aires will drive anyone not built like a 14-year-old boy or who doesn’t live at the gym to drink and smoke to excess.

Q: What is the most amazing or memorable experience you’ve had since arriving in Buenos Aires?

A: My top Buenos Aires experience keeps getting trumped! I recall one great night and then think of another that beats it out. Even so, one spectacular night still stands out in my mind. This night took place at the Nature Reserve located on the edge of town, forming the border between Puerto Madero and the Río de La Plata. A local Argentine let me in on a secret tip: once a month, the wonderful people at the ecological reserve give nighttime tours of the park, which ordinarily closes at sunset. However, on these special Friday nights you can take a tour with up to 200 others for an evening of forest adventure on the city’s edge. Luckily, they split people up into groups of about 25, most people arming themselves with thermoses of hot water for the matè stop at the beach, others armed with water guns and whoopee-cushion-like pranks.

Omar, one of the few surprisingly punctual Argentineans I’ve met, and I arrived at 8:30pm to get in line for the 9pm tour. Just before nine, the first 30 people were ushered in and introduced to our jolly, lumberjacklike tour guide. He had a sense of humor and really knew how to entertain the crowd, which proved to be imperative since we were a tough group that night—a bunch of ramshackle misfits only mildly interested in Biology, but mostly interested in getting into the dark, without lights, seeing the stars, cracking jokes, falling over one another laughing, and holding hands with strangers in a maze of the unknown.

The three-hour tour constituted many games of wonder, blindness and giggling. I suddenly felt that I was back in the 10th grade at a Peer Leadership training weekend, quickly playing icebreakers and trust games, and laughing with the innocent, worry-free glee that momentary escape from adult reality provides. Any sort of serenity that could have taken place was lost on our group of fun-loving pranksters who’d, when we were supposed to have our eyes shut, spray water, pinch buttocks, or plant rubber snakes at the feet of timid women. Since we were in a nature reserve, smoking was prohibited, but in the nature of rebels everywhere, inevitable little red dots lit up the group, which resulted in one woman scolding the “irresponsible, unappreciative, self-righteous, disrespectful” participants. It was all I could do not to laugh in naughty amusement.

Our halfway point was where many chose to pass around mate gourds and bags of snacks, and converse on the side. Omar and I sat on the largest rocks closest to the ocean we could find, while he chatted and I consciously fought every muscle in my body aching with the urge to dive into the thunderous, dark water. In daylight, the ocean is a sad color reminding one of the intense pollution produced by the city, but the reserve beach at night, like so many other things, takes on a different life, possesses a different magic.

Our way back to the entrance was less mysterious, with people discussing dinner plans, club plans and life as we walked toward the skyscraper nightscape. Omar and I opted out of barhopping in favor of thick pizza, cool glasses of beer and reliably great conversation until 4am. Needless to say, I bailed on my morning plans to go on a group bike ride, something that happens more often than not; Saturday morning plans take second chair in favor of extending the night and sleeping hard well into the next day.

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