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Katherine Alt

Tren a las Nubes: Train to the Clouds
Red peppers drying on roadside in Valles Calchaquis, Salta

Vineyard after harvest at the Bodega Vasija Secreta in Cafayate
Evaporation pool where salt crystals form in the Salinas Grandes Salt Flats, Salta

Reddish mountains in Quebrada de las Cochas, Salta
Group photo at Santa Catalina Jesuit Estancia in Cordoba

 

Hometown: Savannah

Major: Liberal Studies, concentration in Spanish

with a history minor

Class of 2012

 

Train to the Clouds

We sat down to chat with senior Katherine Alt about her Armstrong study abroad trip to Argentina, where she encountered sweeping landscapes, enchanting history, a passionate tango show, and…gnocchi?

 

Why Argentina?

I think that this trip was just the perfect combination of my two academic interests: Spanish, obviously I knew I’d be using that in Argentina, and history and culture. I’d been taking Latin American history from Dr. Michael Hall, and what better way to learn it than to go there?

 

Preparations

It was really beneficial to be in the Latin American history class, because already going into Argentina, I knew a lot about its history, especially post-colonial and the more recent history. So, that made me feel like I kind of had an inside glimpse into the culture. I knew it would be winter there, so I did a lot of practical preparation, too. I bought myself some new walking shoes and a sweater.

 

First Impressions

It’s so funny, because Buenos Aires is such a large city, and one minute you are driving past houses made of corrugated tin, and then four minutes later, there’s a Chanel boutique. The range of wealth and of social classes is visible from the window of a bus.  And everyone drives really crazy down there. That left a big impression, also.

 

Favorite Place Visited

Argentina has such a variety, and being in the Salta province in the mountains was my favorite. We stayed in the mountains for five days, and there are these microclimates. At first, we were 12,000 feet up, and the mountains were green and rolling and gentle. On the next day, we’re in the mountains still, but we were farther north, and the mountains are red clay and jagged. It was like there was going to be a rockslide at any minute. And then two hours later, you are in a salt flat.

We also saw fields of peppers that had been picked that were drying to make spices, and we saw meat hanging on what looked like clotheslines. They were making jerky. There was something to nibble on no matter where you were. In the mountains, there were little market stands and stalls along all the stops.

 

On Food

I knew going into the trip that the food would be excellent, because Dr. Hall is a foodie and I am, too. I will try anything, so that’s exactly what I did. I ate everything that was put in front of me. Argentina is known for its beef. They consume more red meat per capita than any other country in the whole world. But I can totally see why. The beef is incredible. It’s all grass fed, and they know exactly how to cook it. But I tried new things that I had never tried before, like kidney and intestines. I found, and all of our tour guides said this separately, Argentines don’t eat to live, they live to eat. And that’s true; every meal is an event.

Argentina has a big Italian influence from an immigration influx in the 19th century, so gnocchi–freshly made, perfect, fluffy gnocchi–was one of my favorites.  On the 29th of every month, they have national gnocchi day. Everybody in the whole country eats it, and I think that is an amazing tradition, one that I wanted to bring back with me.

 

Most Memorable Smell

It would definitely be grilling meat. We went to restaurants where they literally put a cutting board in front of you as your plate, and people walked around with trays of different cuts of meat, and they would put the meat down in front of you until you had to ask them to stop. We called it the “meat parade.” Food is just such a huge part of their culture. The smell of espresso brewing or of meat grilling or bread baking, there’s always a food smell, no matter where you are.

 

Most Memorable Sound

The sound of the winds over the salt flats, and in the mountains, everything is so quiet.  It’s really calm, and the air is so clean. Oh, and the sound of trains. I’d been on trains in the states, but it’s completely different there. We were in sleeping cars, and we were literally rocked to sleep by the train.

 

On Traveling with Dr. Hall

He’s so knowledgeable and so fun. He did such a good job planning the trip. He did lectures on Argentine history in chronological order while we were there, and he spaced them out perfectly. On the day he lectured about Argentine independence, we were in Tucuman in the building where they signed their declaration of independence. He did a great job of making the connection between what we were trying to understand of the culture, and then going right into participating in it.

Also, with Dr. Hall, the range of food was incredible. We ate at these wonderful, upscale parrillas (restaurants) with steak and all kinds of grilled meat. But then, we were driving through the mountains, and Doc got the bus to stop and pull over on the side of the road, so that he could buy fresh goat cheese from a little family that lived up in the mountains, and we took that to our wine tasting.

 

On torrontés, an Argentinean white wine

Oh, it’s delicious! It’s really unique. It smells really floral and citrus-y, and you think it’s going to be a sweet white wine. But when you taste it, it’s really crisp and dry, kind of like a pinot grigio. The grapes are only grown in Argentina, and are a hybrid of a local grape and a European grape. It’s still made in small batches, and only certain bodegas make torronté, so that was the wine I chose to buy and bring back to the states with me, because it was so special.

 

On the tango

The athleticism was what really got me. It’s just stunning what these people can do with their bodies, because if they do one misstep, they are going to kick each other or fall over.  It’s so precise, but it’s really passionate, too. That was perfect; it was like Argentina in a nutshell, on stage.

 

Best advice

Just go. Make it work. Take out a student loan or get a scholarship. It’s so worth it to see a different part of the world. And when you do go, be open. Be willing to try new things, and don’t be limited by preconceived notions.

 

Armstrong’s study abroad programs are open to the public based on space availability.

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