Not a Visitor, But Not a Local: How My Temporary Life Abroad Became My Own Microcosm of Reality Melissa Goldin December 18, 2017 Personal Travel Essays, Travel Stories 1 Comment The gas was out of commission when I first arrived at my Airbnb in Cόrdoba, Argentina, but a week (and many cold showers) later it was running at full capacity again, which meant I finally had to face my fear — the stove. It was only my second attempt ever at lighting one with a manual ignition and I still wasn’t convinced I would be able to do it without spawning a fireball or burning my fingers off. Breathing deeply, I turned on the gas as low as possible and lit a match. Blue flames popped up with a sharp “whoosh” as I jerked my hand away. “Hell yeah!” I said to no one as I hopped around the kitchen, ecstatic. I may not have known many people yet or been able to understand three-quarters of what anyone said to me, but at least I could make pasta. At the beginning of October, I arrived in Cόrdoba desperate to find stability and purpose after the first 27 days of an ill-planned, five-month, solo journey through South America. I had intended to move from city to city at a rapid pace but changed course when I quickly realized that I hated being rootless. Instead, having never moved somewhere without knowing anyone, I decided to see if I could create a temporary life for myself — to put down roots without committing to a permanent relocation — so I could get to know a city other than New York (my hometown) as an adult and perhaps feel less restless when I returned. Read this author’s previous blog post: “My Solo, South American Adventure Taught Me I Hate Being Rootless…Here’s How I Saved It“ Cόrdoba appeared, from the pages of my guidebook, to be exactly what I wanted — big enough that there would be plenty to do, small enough that I would be able to adjust quickly and close enough to nature that I would be able to take plenty of day trips. The city (Argentina’s second largest) was a chance to improve upon the person I am becoming — more confident, more mature, more fulfilled — and the life I want to lead without much risk. I could leave at any time. It was a microcosm, a test run, of reality. Cόrdoba’s ninth annual Marcha del Orgullo y la Diversidad (Pride and Diversity March) was a highlight of the author’s two months in the city. My first two weeks there were heavenly. I had my own room in a beautiful apartment, was meeting people with shocking ease and was improving my Spanish thanks in part to classes at a local language school. Cόrdoba doesn’t have a large tourism industry and I enjoyed feeling like a new neighbor rather than a commodity. For the first time in a month, I relaxed. I didn’t feel pressure to be on the move all day, every day. Having a lazy afternoon or being disappointed — normal parts of life — no longer felt like wastes of precious time since there was now room for error and adjustment. Meanwhile, learning the language gave me a concrete goal that offset my freewheeling exploration of the city. Less than a month after I arrived, I was sitting beside the lake in Parque Sarmiento with Romi, a Cordobese friend I’d met at a language exchange group. She took my mate (“mah-tay”) gourd and expertly filled it with yerba leaves, hot water, and sugar, explaining the process as she worked. I’d spent days searching for the perfect gourd — traditional, but with a modern twist — and after a disastrous first attempt at using it myself the night before I was excited to officially break it in. “Wow, I did it all wrong,” I admitted, laughing. The author (right) and her Cordobese friend drink mate (“mah-tay”) in Cόrdoba’s Parque Sarmiento. Mate, a caffeine-rich infusion sipped through a filtered straw called a bombilla, is ubiquitous in Argentina. It’s often consumed in groups, germs be damned, wherein each person drinks from the gourd until the straw makes sucking noises and more water is added for the next person. Participating in such a ritual made me feel that, in some small way, I belonged. Romi and I spoke mostly in Spanish and by the time we parted ways my brain was left an electrified pile of mush, exhausted from trying to be myself in another language and thrilled that I had been able to (mostly) follow the conversation. Despite such intimate moments (moments I may not have had during a shorter stay), my initial excitement at being in Cόrdoba was quickly fading into a rut of routine. Conversations blurred together in a soup of “where are you from”-s and “what are you doing here”-s. I had been to many of Cόrdoba’s “must-sees” and the city’s manageable size now only made me feel constrained. Plus, my days in the classroom had me yearning for the responsibility of a job. Life, temporary or not, is a constant process of finding balance, but more and more I was sinking back into bad habits. It was clear the honeymoon period was over and I needed to figure out what was next. I found a job on Workaway, manning reception at a local hostel. During my second afternoon shift, while figuring out how to field questions in Spanish I only partly knew how to answer, I mentally reviewed the past 30 days. Had I done enough? Was I having enough fun? I ran through every place I’d been, over and over, until my head felt as if it would split in two. The anxiety fueled itself — with only a month left until I planned to leave, I didn’t want to waste brainpower on doubt and regret. Though the job was giving me the purpose I had craved, it was clear I was still neglecting my simultaneous need for adventure. And so, two days later, I was hiking alone in Quebrada del Condorito National Park, savoring the silence. I could count the number of people there on one hand and the sprawling hills made me feel refreshed, alive. Thousands of ants marched back and forth carrying blades of grass twice their size while condors patrolled the sky. I hitchhiked back to Cόrdoba that afternoon. Damp from an unexpected rainstorm, I was euphoric. The author at the top of Capilla del Monte’s Cerro Uriturco during a day trip from Cόrdoba. Creating this temporary life meant living in fast forward. It was, at its core, no different than constructing a more indefinite existence, but it was also a constant exercise in adjustment and readjustment. There was less time to drag my feet against change, no good reason not to try new things or meet new people. If I wanted to make something happen, I knew (even if I didn’t always take my own advice) that there was no better time than now. Although I expect my pace of living will slow to normal play when I get home, I hope to keep a bit of that urgency, to keep pushing myself forward. At the beginning of December, I moved on to Buenos Aires. Had I stuck around Cόrdoba, my happiness would have continued to fluctuate and I would have continued to seek out meaning because that is life, regardless of location, but I have no doubt that it was time to go. I will, of course, miss the friends that I’ve made and my favorite spots around the city, but I got what I came for — a new place, a new perspective — and soon enough I’ll return to the New York, heavenly land of automatic ignition stoves, knowing that I’m there because I want to be and that I have the ability to be happy elsewhere if I so choose.