When I arrived...
I stepped off the plane in Cordoba and landed in a completely different world. Even the landscape had changed, not to mention the language, the culture and yet, since walking into my host family’s flat, I felt nothing but at home there. They may not speak English, but luckily I had some Spanish lurking from my A-levels two years ago.
This quickly gave me a head start in communication and I found it invaluable for my entire visit, always jumping at the opportunity to communicate and try and be understood! However, they made me feel as though I was educating them in some respects, trying to gain glimpses into my culture, my language, while submersing me in Argentinean foods and ways of life.
My volunteer placement in Equine Therapy
This was what I had come for and I was so excited to get started. I was nervous too though, having not worked with children with disabilities before, and didn’t know what to expect. I really did not imagine an atmosphere like the one I experienced. Pain and hope clashed and managed to coincide, the horses becoming the families’ link to slices of happiness. I saw so many smiles, so much motivation and most of all, felt part of an amazing team working there.
I’ve always loved horses and have been riding since I was young, so I felt completely at home with this part of the therapy. But if you ever felt lost, Veronica (the owner) was never far! She is the one who made this placement the experience it was. I never saw her without enthusiasm, love and affection for everyone present. You could just see how the parents smiled at her when they came.
I was so surprised at how much the horses could help with so many disabilities. The calming affect they had on everyone who rode them was inexplicable. They also helped with motor exercises, getting more in touch with human emotions and, overall, the happiness. The children counted down the days until they got to ride again and you could see the difference it made for them.
Of course, there were bad days; working with children and animals is never a predictable experience! But that only made the break-throughs all the more poignant. In truth, this little place is, not only hope and motivation for all the families, but it became my safe haven as well.
What not to miss out on
It’s hard to narrow down what one MUST see, as there is way too much! I do encourage everyone to make the most of Cordoba though – I saw a couple of art museums, the Sunday market is definitely worth a trip and I also recommend the palace and some of the cathedrals because they have stunning architecture.
Don’t be afraid to get involved in every social thrown your way! I did a puppy drive on my first weekend, helping find homes for puppies in the market and it was one of the best experiences I had there. If you can afford it, do check out some of the typical Argentinean restaurants, there is one that includes a tango show too, which can be worth it. This is only a mild selection of what I did in Cordoba and I was only there for a month.
Ask around – there are lots of other places both the staff and other volunteers can recommend. And, of course, you can’t really knock the nightlife either, there is ALWAYS something going on, no matter what day of the week. I warn you now though, nights start late, don’t expect to be home until morning!
Outside of Cordoba, I was lucky enough to spend two out of my four weekends travelling in Argentina – I spent 3 days in Buenos Aires and 2 days in Iguazu. If you haven’t seen either, put them to the top of your list! It’s hard to do everything in Buenos Aires in 3 days, so plan it well and don’t miss out on La Boca, San Telmo or the city centre. For one of our nights there, we joined a pub-crawl which was really the best way to see lots of the city and meet so many different people from all over the world. We also spent a day in Lujan Zoo outside of the city and it was one of the strangest days of my life! It’s like a giant farm with exotic animals and you’re allowed to go in the cages with the lions/tigers/cubs...I’ve never done anything like it and probably will never have the chance again!
Iguazu was also mind-blowing. You only really need a day up there as I recommend the Argentinean side of the waterfalls the most. Also, if you’re feeling fearless, try a boat ride underneath them! The scenery was simply breath taking...
My top tips
Just go for it! Whatever placement you find yourself in, whatever situation, make the most of it! A month for me was definitely not enough and I’d love to return simply to visit all the amazing places I have missed like Mendosa or Salta. Buy a guidebook, they are lifesavers in planning and will help you dig out the real gems hidden in Argentinean life.
Come with an open mind and you will have the best time. Don’t be afraid to talk to everyone, all the volunteers are really friendly, and you never know, you may meet people who come from the same place as you! I was lucky enough to meet a girl at the airport, also from Projects Abroad, also staying for a month, and it’s safe to say, we are back and still in contact!
It really was one of the best experiences I’ve had. It was my first real time away from home, travelling on my own, and it couldn’t have gone any better! It will change how you see the world, so let it. So if you get this special chance, I urge no hesitation in running with it, maybe you’ll learn to fly.