(text-only version; photos will come when the internet feels up to it)
We arrived in La Falda on April 11, Day 100 of our trip. For those who don´t know, La Falda is the small town in the central Sierras of Argentina where Leticia´s aunt and uncle Pat and Hector and cousin Felipe live. It is also the town where we spent a year during my sabbatical in 2007-2008. Anna went to preschool for half a year here, and Zeke learned to walk and say helado (ice cream).
We arrived after 13 hours on the night bus from Jujuy and an hour 40 minutes on the bus from Cordoba. As we got closer, Anna was more and more excited, especially as we started to notice familiar landmarks. La Falda feels pretty much the same, though there are notable differences. There is a new road over the mountain now, so the city of Cordoba is closer, and La Falda is busier. There is, as always, construction, either for residences or for summer houses or rentals for people (from Buenos Aires, mostly) who spend some time here each summer. Pat and Hector live in a nice small house (designed by Felipe) on the same property as the old house. Felipe, after years of work, got his degree in civil engineering, lives in the old house, has an office downtown, and is busy surveying and managing projects. The house we lived in, two houses away, is lived in by Andrea, our former landlord.
When you are playing a game at full speed, you often don´t realize how tired you are until after you stop and the adrenaline wears off. So it was for us our first few days in La Falda. There is a feeling a bit like jet lag that you get from spending a night on the bus, and we felt that, but there was also the accumulated fatigue of these months on the road, still concentrating to speak and understand spanish (and it is harder in Argentina than Peru and Bolivia), dealing with the common problems of finding shelter and food. And so we did not do much. Pat and Hector´s yard is large (by Argentine standards), and Zeke spent hours, with us or alone, playing soccer. We read books and went for walks downtown to visit Pat and Hector at the store.
We enjoyed the luxuries of a) the attention of family, b) Pat´s care and food, c) having a washing machine, d) drinking water from the sink, e) having a kitchen, f) sleeping in two different rooms, g) knowing where the stores are, and h) having a cat to pet. After months of anonymity, it feels crazy to walk along the street and have someone get out of a car and say “Paul!”, but in La Falda it happened. We were stopped sometimes by people who remembered seeing us four years ago, who commented on how the kids have grown, on how good their (and our) spanish is, and how nice that we came back to visit. Best of all are Sunday afternoons, when we have Sunday dinner (sometimes asado de Felipe) with Pat, Hector, and Felipe. On other days there were hikes with Hector, mate in the afternoons with Pat, and hanging out with Felipe, including one great day trip to the other side of the mountain, where we came upon sunday-afternoon horse races outside the small town of La Pampa. ¨You will never see more gaucho-y gauchos than these¨, said Felipe, and Anna and Zeke were re-inspired to drink mate and get bombachas (gaucho-esque pants that Pat and Hector soon got them for birthday presents).
There was some work as well, as I visited the university in Cordoba where I visited in 2007-2008. They were very good to me, providing access to any class I was interested in, an office shared with another visiting professor, and contacts at other universities down the road. It is great to return to a place and find that people remember who you are. I gave a talk there in the number theory seminar, my most researchy talk of the trip, and the classes I visited gave me some ideas to take home.
This all is past tense now, as we have taken another night bus to Salta, in northern Argentina. We broke up the time in La Falda with a two week trip to Uruguay and Buenos Aires, meaning we spent about a month in La Falda. It is sad to leave, but we imagine we will be back within four years, and we feel the pull of the rest of the trip, as well as the pull toward home.