Life in Capilla Del Monte

I’m going to start this instalment with an apology. I know the last post ended in a bit of a cliff hanger and for that I’m sorry, but it obviously worked since you’re reading this now!

If I remember rightly it was Thursday the 26th of Jan and I was in the boarding lounge in the airport at Buenos Aires waiting to get on a plane to Cordoba, which all going to plan would take off at 7:15am. Which was a long while away considering we got to the airport at 5 just to make sure we had time to sort everything out, which perhaps was necessary for those flying international to Brazil and Chile, however for me going a mere hour and a bit, it meant I had about an hour to kill before the gate opened at 6:40am. It took me a very long while to actually figure out when they opened as I couldn’t read the screens but then I had the brainwave of looking at my ticket which solved that problem, however I soon encountered another one when I began to hear what I assumed were other boarding calls. In Spanish. Which of course I did not understand. Being by myself meant I had a lot of time to consider all my options, however it also meant there was nobody there to point out the obvious; even if I didn’t understand the call, it wouldn’t be that hard to see everyone lining up at the gate when the time came. I eventually got it figured out and soon I was walking down the path to the bus (!!) which took us to the plane waiting on the tarmac and after struggling down the aisle to the row second from the back with my awkward bags I was finally ready to embark on the next leg of my journey.

I decided to make the most of the time and update my diary so I didn’t get even further behind than I already was, but try as I might the excitement was too much and my nose was either glued to the window taking in an aerial view of Argentina, or to the screen of my phone where I was reliving the previous day at Santa Susana. It definitely didn’t feel like an hour when the air hostess came round asking for tray tables to be stowed (I assume thats what they were saying) and we were ready to land. All of a sudden everything became very real, the paddocks below were no longer passing land, but the place where I would be, and once I landed there was no going back, there was no connecting flight, no tickets home booked for two weeks time, this wasn’t just a holiday and the next time I would be on a plane could be as far away as a year. I began to stress a little to say the least but I was too busy videoing our approach and soon we felt the bump of tyres on tarmac – we had arrived. It took an eternity to get off, of course being at the back also meant I was one of the last to do so but once we started moving there was no stopping until I rounded the corner to see a sign with my name on it “Bienvenidos Jacqui Philp” and it was purple! At the time I didn’t register the significance of the colour, and it wasn’t until a few days later that I remembered telling Maria that my favourite colour was purple and it made the moment all the more special. I was greeted with huge smiles with hugs and kisses and I was so overcome with their kindness that I completely forgot anything I might’ve been able to say in Spanish had I thought hard enough but nevertheless after a quick photo and more smiles we were headed to the car, and began driving, to where I had no idea.


Welcome Jacqui! My new family waiting at Cordoba, from left to right – Leo, Maria, Jacqui, Valen

As it turned out we were destined for the city of Cordoba, where I was lucky enough to get a tour of everything there was to see but once we had walked around for about two hours ( really I had no idea how long we were there for, or even what the time was, but what I did know was that I was absolutely cooking in my Rotary number ones) we headed back to the car and started driving for home, Capilla Del Monte. I had absolutely no idea what sort of a drive I was in for, but what should have been about a two hour drive turned out to be a relatively short one as the lack of sleep soon caught up on me and I started seeing double and fighting to keep my eyes open before falling asleep and waking up as we arrived in the small town. I still had no idea what I was in for but when I saw a sign saying Rio Negro at the end of a broken dirt road I knew we must be very close to home. Sure enough we were just around corner and that was it, welcome home! It was a very surreal moment, but it got a whole lot better when I walked into my room to see a huge purple banner covering the wall saying “Welcome Jacqui”. It was at that moment that I knew I had hit the jackpot with this family and I would be very happy to be a part of their lives, even if I couldn’t understand the majority of it.


My purple room – I couldn’t have done it better myself

Seeing as I’m writing this a week later some of the details are a bit shady but I’ll try and do may best to tell them as it happened. The rest of that day went very quickly, we had lunch, I unpacked my bags and promptly fell asleep, not waking up until it was about 8 o’clock. This turned out not to be a problem as I found out that everything really is South American time, and we weren’t having dinner until about 11pm, which turned out to be a trend, as we usually eat at sometime between 9 and 12pm. The next couple of days were a blur, at least the time that I wasn’t sleeping or eating was…

I’ll start with the town itself and then work from there. Capilla is a very small green town in Cordoba (9 hour drive from Buenos Aires), located at the foothills of the Cerro Uritorco mountain, the highest point of the Sierras Chicas, a mountain chain in Punilla valley. It’s quite a small place, the epitome of in the middle of nowhere, with highway runing along the edge of the town and its such a small place that if one was to take their eyes off their surroundings they might be driving past the ‘thank you for visiting Capilla del Monte’ sign without even realising it.  The town is tiny, peaceful and charming, surrounded by nature with a hippie vibe and a tranquil atmosphere. Downtown there are just a few cafes and restaurants, many organic and natural food stores, craft shops, Yoga, Reiki and meditation studios and even a small cinema. Many locals sell their crafts and delicious homemade pies around town. Although its so small, there is definitely no shortage of interesting, historic and fascinating things dotted around the place, and from my understanding (I can’t be completely sure what with the language barrier) both the origin and goings on around the mountains are somewhat extra terrestrial with reported sightings of UFO’s and paranormal activity, but the closet I’ve got to anything odd is the lightening storm that noiselessly turned the sky into a strange purple glow. The extra terrestrial aspect generates huge revenue during the tourist season, which it is now, and every day there are multiple busloads of tourists who flock to get a bit of the action (which usually turns out just to be a photo under the Capilla Del Monte sign which has an alien peering over the top of it, something I’ve yet to do) and walk around the many shops with a small green man in the window.

Then there is the beautiful scenery, La Calabalumba river, a rock which bears uncanny resemblance to a shoe, a huge lake and the opportunity to climb the mountain if you’re feeling adventurous. ‘Downtown’ as everyone likes to call it, is relatively well looked after, a few cracks in the road here and there, but as soon as you make your way into the streets, you’re met with potholes and bumps, falling down fences, and in many streets like our own, a narrow dirt, or mud depending on the weather, path filled with channels created by the heavy spontaneous rain and the vehicles which try to navigate them.

The first few days were an initiation of sorts, first I met my councillor Juan Carlos, his daughter and the exchange student from Germany staying with them, and got the grand tour of their ‘house’ the downstairs of which acts as a hall for the campground/hostel/public pool/farm that is also part of their property. While we waited for Maria to return, Leo took me to see the incredible stone cathedral which sits on top of the hill which was absolutely breath taking, with incredible detailed paintings on the roof, beautiful statues and a shining gold altar. That afternoon we went to the river, Leo and Maria under the impression that I had never seen a waterfall up so close, until they later realised I live 15 minutes from Hunua falls, however it was still amazing, the river itself flows through the rocks and there are many natural waterfalls along the way. After walking for about 5 minutes we came to the perfect place where one could jump off the rocks, which much to the horror of Maria and admiration of Leo, I did without hesitation. We stayed for about an hour, laughing at the girls only in the water to take photos, gasping at the occasional time someone came particularly close to the rocks below, and overall enjoying the summer heat. One of the things I have noticed, not just in Capilla Del Monte, but Argentina in general, is the number of stray dogs hanging around everywhere, and as we were walking back along the river, one in particular took a liking to us. It wandered slightly ahead of us, checking to make sure we were still following every now and again, stopping when we did and he soon became a faithful companion. As we neared the skinny swing bridge to cross the river we saw the huge line of people waiting to do the same, so Leo being the boy that he is decided it would be better to cross the river further up, but the message didn’t get passed along to the dog, who had squeezed through the crowd and was waiting faithfully at the other end of the bridge. None of us had realised until we looked back to see him looking back to where we would’ve been coming from, holding up everyone trying to cross as he tried to look for us. Maria wasn’t too keen on returning home with another mouth to feed so much to Leo and I’s disappointment we continued walking, the fate of the dog unknown. On the way to the car we had a token tourist moment, taking a photo with Leo posing as aliens, then despite their protests, walked back to the car with no shoes on, shocking them both as I proceeded to walk across the stony path, my New Zealand summer and hot sand accustomed feet serving me well.


The rest of the week has been filled with visits from what must be half the town, Maria explaining to me they are a very social family (to say the least), family meals where I am the only english speaking person at a table of 20, afternoon naps, meals at every possible moment and party after party preparing for Leo’s departure to New Zealand. And it’s been a blast. Another thing I’ve noticed is how family orientated they are, with at least on grandparent here most of the time, just popping over to say hello, coming round for lunch,  dinners with cousins just because. There are also some who live from further away in Cordoba, but when in Capilla seemed to spend majority of their time here with us or other family, which was an awesome thing to see, and the bond between my ‘brothers’ and both the older and younger cousins is so nice, but especially the older ones, anyone would think they are siblings, but not the bickering type, more the inseparable best friend type with admiration of the older and the love for the younger as well as the general care and concern for each other. It always makes me smile to myself when I see one of the boys come up and hug Maria, for no particular reason and its nice to see that even though they’re classic teenagers who hang out with their friends and party on the weekend, they always have love for their parents and are never to cool to show it.


Family farewell for Leo


Spending time together by the pool with Valen and Maria, taken by Leo

While a lot of the time has been incredible and unforgettable for all the right reasons, there are of course times when it isn’t such smooth sailing and even though I laugh about it with my english speaking friends, sometimes things are difficult here. One of the most challenging occasions is when we are having a meal with a big group of people, usually family, who of course know each other well, speak fast Spanish and little English, and what tends to happen is conversation continues on without a word of english for a good 5 minute, sometimes even half an hour will pass and I won’t have spoken since the last time I realised I was being asked a question. When it is my turn to speak, its after someone has spend the last few minutes trying to translate a question directed at me, but other than that I stick to smiling when every one else smiles, laughing when everyone else laughs and praying that I’m not the one their laughing and smiling about. It’s times like these when the extend of what I’m doing really hits home, as I have time (not out of choice but still) to stop and think and let my mind wander, sometimes into dangerous territory, about how lonely it gets sometimes and how out of place I am, no matter how much everyone tries to include me, and I think in not just the back of my mind, but every one else too, that no matter how long I’m here for, or how well I speak the language, I will always have a degree of foreigner in me that sets me apart from everyone else, wether that be in a good way or a bad way. I think I first noticed this on my first Saturday night here, when the plan was to have dinner downtown with friends, then go out afterwards. Dinner was delicious, and when we had finished eating Valen, Sabri and I went down the road to get ice cream and went to the small fair which runs on weekends. Even though I couldn’t understand half of what was going on, the most important thing to remember is laughter is the same in all languages, and it feels  just as good for the soul whether you understand the joke or not. It’s interesting thinking back because when Leo and the other boys joined us it was so incredibly fun and everyone was enjoying themselves, and it wasn’t until we went back and sat with the adults that my mood started to change. We had been at the table for a while, the ‘kids’ having their own conversation while the adults were having theirs and I found myself caught in the middle. Seeing that I was empty handed Maria offered me a drink which I gratefully accepted even if it was just something to focus on rather than trying to understand the conversation while not being part of either. Everyone started getting up to leave when Valen asked if I was coming to the club with them (to the rotary people reading this, don’t panic, it’s legal the minute you turn 16) but my mindset had spiralled from happiness and enjoyment to just wanting to go home and be away from everyone. These moments come and go every so often but its usually after being with groups of people who forget you can understand and just continue talking as if nothing is wrong, and each time its as difficult as the last. Of course there are people who speak English, and I’m biased in saying this but they are my favourite people at the moment, for example the cousins living in Cordoba, Macarena and German. It was after Leo’s big farewell where all family who could possible be there was, and the ‘kids’ (Cousins and brothers and girlfriends and Jacqui) had moved off and were passing drinks that German and Maca’s true ability to speak english was revealed. Dai and Leo had gone home so it was Valen, Maca, German and I just chatting by the pool. It was honestly the nicest feeling to be able to talk to people my own age and even though it was a bit difficult at some times we talked for almost two hours about everything from what I think of Argentina, to Maori culture and the conflict between Maori and land and Waitangi and all sorts of other irrelevant things that seemed so much better at the time because talking about something is always better than nothing.


German takes a photo at dinner, from bottom left around the table – Chino, Santiago (cousin), Maria’s sister, Leo, Dai, Valen, Camilla (cousin), German and Maca’s mum (Chino’s sister… I think), Macarena, Jacqui, Maria, Chino’s dad, Maria’s mum, Chino’s mum and German

I just took a look back at everything I’ve written and realised that I may as well start calling them chapters rather than posts, but theres so much to write about its hard finding somewhere to stop. I think here will do for now, but don’t forget to come back soon, as theres so many more stories left to tell, and I still haven’t really gone full on novel about Buenos Aires, which will definitely be worth waiting for, plus I have heaps of photos to add. Until then though…

Chau – Jacqui Philp


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