Delia Downes

Delia Downes

"When you come to the edge of all you know, you must believe in one of two things, there will be earth upon which to stand or you will be given wings." I'm 60 years young, extremely happy with my life experience and open to ever more enlivening possibilities

A trip Jujuy

 Posted by Delia Downes at 10:41 am  Argentina  Comments Off on A trip Jujuy
Jun 262014

Well, now that it is Thursday, June 26, I am finally finding some time to write about my past weekend.

In the northwest corner of Argentina, bordering Bolivia and Chile are the two provinces of Jujuy and Salta.  This is an extremely remote area in the Andes high desert foothills.  I traveled with a group of 12 from the Able Spanish School by bus from Cordoba.  The trip took about 14 hours with many stops along the way.  We traveled at night and although 14 hours on a bus may sound like torture to some it is quite a comfortable experience in Argentina, as the bus seats nearly fully recline into sleeping chaises and they supply both blanket and pillow.  On the way up a hot meal was served by an attendant and a movie shown.  We left at 8:30 p.m. and so arrived Friday, mid-day, fairly well rested.  After establishing our base at a beautiful hostel in Tilcara we spent the afternoon hiking Pucara a reconstructed pre-Columbian settlement.

The hostel in Tilcara

The most notable thing about this place aside from its remote beauty is the numerous cacti that grow everywhere.  These things have to be hundreds of years old considering their size.  There is a story about an Argentine general fighting for independence from Spain  who being short on troops and supplies ordered his men to dress some of the cacti as soldiers, then stampeded horses around the encampment creating a great deal of dust and the impression that he was leading a great army.  Evidently the ploy worked and he went on to win Argentina’s independence from Spain.  I think the guys that had to dress the cacti should have been given additional combat pay.

We also had a great lunch in Tilcara where I had my first meal of llama.  Yes, llama.  The indigenous people here, though most were exterminated throughout Argentina, make complete use of the llama, using it for labor, wool, meat and burning their bones to use as fertilizer in their fields.  This struck me as similar to the culture of Native Americans and their relationship with the buffalo, not to mention their near extermination.  We were served llama a few times on this trip, llama empanadas, llama with quinoa, spicy llama appetizer.  We were eating so much llama we began to make up dishes like crème de llama, or dulce de llama.  But really it was tasty.

Llama and quinoa

On Saturday I rose early with a few girls from Germany to watch the sunrise.  Although it was a bit bright when we started out the sun had not yet risen above the mountains, so we did get to witness a transformation of shadows, light and color as it climbed into a brilliant blue sky.  It was nice to be up early just us and the local dog population.  There is an ever present canine sub-culture everywhere in Argentina.  I am really fascinated by how they live so independently with their human counterparts,  each with a busy itinerary for the day of observing, exploring, reporting, eating, snoozing etc.  They travel alone or in pairs usually, but never more than 3 at a time.  They know each other, the streets they prowl, the usual routines all around them and become excited if anything is out of the ordinary, eager to investigate, reporting their findings with barking commentary.  I fell in love with this little dog that appeared this afternoon as we walked past her house.  Isn’t she stunning.

There is just so much to tell you about this trip.  I know I cannot get it all in.  The one thing the pictures cannot describe is the intensity of the silence.  No photo can capture its beauty, just believe me when I tell you no sound, no traffic, no planes, no people, no birds, just again, once in a while, a distant bark.

We later went to Purmamarca and hiked the Cerro de las Siete Colores, Hill of Seven Colors.  I must admit I’m beginning to feel my age with this group that is 30 to 40 years younger than I.  I’m just glad I did not wait any longer to visit these remote locations.  There is a limit and I may be reaching it.  Remember now we are at least 6,500 ft above sea level and climbing.

Later that night we  dined at a a restaurant and yes had more llama, and listened to traditional folklore musicians.


Equine Therapy Week One

 Posted by Delia Downes at 1:47 pm  Argentina  Comments Off on Equine Therapy Week One
Jun 232014

Unfortunately, when I wrote about my first week at work, last week, just as I was about to publish I lost the WiFi service and everything I had written was lost. I have decided therefore to write everything in Word and then cut and paste. That way if it is lost I will have an additional copy.
So to recap, I began working last week in the Equine Therapy Program. Ricardo is the man that runs the program and he speaks only Spanish except for “Come on baby,” so I really need to improve my language skills. Luckily there was another young girl volunteer, Margo, who had been working there for the past month who was able to show me the ropes. That’s the good news; the bad news is that Thursday was her last day so this week I will be on my own. Margo is only 18 from France, speaks fluent Spanish and English and of course French, studies international health at Duke University in North Carolina and is leaving to go to China to study Chinese. Imagine meeting that kind of competition in the workplace. I have found among the volunteers that I have met that they are mostly, young ambitious women with a drive to do what they can to help others.

In the program there are about 7 horses, but they really only use two for therapy. This is one of the horses used for therapy.

I did my best to groom about 3 last week with the limited supplies they have for grooming. If I had known how little they had I would have brought a suitcase filled with supplies and tack from people I know, including myself, that have so much, and duplicates of brushes, combs and picks. One horse had such a big knot in his tail that when I started to work on him, I was told to just forget it as it had not been combed in over a year or more. I took that as a challenge and got him looking good in only about a half hour. I will be sure to keep him looking good while I am here and work on some of the others.

We had about 12 children come for therapy and they are so excited to get on the horses. We walk with them around the facility, instruct them to look ahead and sit up straight, and to hold the reins with two hands. Some are very talkative and others not so much. One girl was so entranced by just looking at her own hands that she never held the reins or looked ahead. I was so worried that she would fall off, but I must say for as distracted as she seemed, she had incredible balance.

After the children left we had a good-bye lunch for Margo, “choripan.” Not sure if that’s the right spelling but Ricardo grilled fabulous sausage or chorizo as it is called and we ate it with bread out under a large tree next to the barn. We also had mate, which is a shared drink of a strong green herb tea that you all drink from the same cup and silver straw.  Some also had wine but of course I only indulged in the mate.

Choripan Almuerzo

On Thursday we had no children and since Friday was a holiday it was very quiet. So Margo and another rider, Thomas and I all rode for a while. It was a little tough getting used to the very hard saddle and the gate of my horse, Toribio. He had a very bouncy trot and equally bouncy canter, but I did adjust and did not fall off. I will continue to ride him when I can so that I can get used to his gate. As I said, Friday was a holiday and instead of work I went with a group from school on a tour of Jujuy a northwestern province of Argentina. More about that later.




Father’s Day

 Posted by Delia Downes at 1:32 am  Argentina  Comments Off on Father’s Day
Jun 162014

Today is Father’sDay, I suppose around the world.  I was surprised to learn that it is celebrated in Argentina.  I don’t know why, I just was.  Nora did not seem to think it an important day.  Not that fathers are not important or mothers for that matter but her take on it is like that of a lot of people.  It’s a Hallmark holiday, commercialized for commercial gain.  If we really care about our parents they should know it every day or at least most days.

I wore a locket around my neck today with my father’s picture in it.  This was my commemoration of my love for him.  As a young girl with a sick mother, who was always on the verge of death, I often bargained with god to take dad and leave mom.  She was just so much more important to me at the time.  I honestly thought I would die shortly after she did, but that didn’t happen and I got left with dad.  Even though I resented god at the time for not listening to me and for taking the most important person in world from me, I realize it was a better plan in the long run.  Dad needed us and we needed him, and after many years I began to know him better, as a person and not just as my dad.  He was a real character, he had integrity and an enormous heart especially for his children.  I am truly grateful to be his daughter.

Today there were 3 dads present.  Carlos the dad and grandad, Santiago his son-in-law and Diego, Santiago’s brother.  We celebrated with an asado, or barbeque with lots of meat.  Like in the US the men manage the grill.  It was a really nice family gathering.  The family is very affectionate to each other in a demonstrative way, I suppose typical of their culture, but unfamiliar to me.  Not just the quick peck on the check in greeting but more so.  For example while one of the boys was speaking with his grandmother he took a strand of hair and tucked it behind her ear.  I thought about a 15 year old boy doing that at home and just couldn’t see it.


Of course after the meal we came home and Carlos, Nora and I watched Argentina play in the World Cup.  It was not the most exciting game but Argentina won.  That should make for a good beginning to the work week tomorrow.  I’ve watched a number of games since Thursday when the World Cup began and to date I think the most exciting game was Chile and Australia.  Though Australia lost they played a good game but Chile was awesome. I spoke in Spanish all day as I do everyday I am not in school, since no one speaks English.  I think I did ok.  The family thought I was great, but I struggle so much.  Tomorrow is my last day of school before I begin my volunteer project on Tuesday.  I hope I know enough Spanish to get by.

My home in Cordoba

 Posted by Delia Downes at 1:50 pm  Argentina  Comments Off on My home in Cordoba
Jun 122014

Here are Nora and Carlos my hosts in Argentina.  I will have to take a better picture of them another time.  I just snapped this the other day while they were both fiddling with a camera trying to figure it out.  Electronics, baffling people around the world.  They are very sweet and helpful.  I have spent a lot of time with Nora doing my best to converse in my poor but improving Spanish and she is so patience and helpful.  She speaks very slowly and is very animated so that when I do not understand a word, she definitely gets the meaning across.  I go to school by bus in the late morning.  Class begins at 2 and goes until 6 at which time I return home also by bus.  The one thing about being in Argentina this time of year is that it is winter.  It really is not that cold, especially compared to the winter we had in the US this past year, but it gets dark early.  I can handle the lower temperatures,  but I really don’t like the early darkness.

This is the front of my home.  Very picturesque, don’t you think? It is the only house on the block with flowers.  There is an enormous poinsettia plant right inside the gates as well, with giant red flowers.  These bright flowers make for a good landmark when I get off the bus so I know where I am going.  I have not yet figured out the bus system.  All I know is that there are at least a dozen bus lines that come by that I can take into the city and home and they all come to this neighborhood and the vicinity of the school.  I have not yet however, figured out what makes them different.  I may never.

This morning before school I walked to the top of a hill in the local park and took this picture of Cordoba in the distance.   I feel like I  have been away from home for a very long time and it has only been a few days.  It is amazing how time warps when everything around you is unfamiliar.  I knew this about the unfamiliar and even though I was expecting it, the experience is still surprising.  I can hear Morea playing outside my door.  She plays with a beat up plastic bottle, a doggie toy and recycled favorite of Grati’s as well.  Well I wanted to provide some photos for you to get a feel for where I am.  I have a picture of my teacher Belen, but it is turned sideways and I can’t figure out yet how to turn it the right way.  So I will either take another photo tomorrow or figure it out, but now it is time for bed.  All is well in  Cordoba.  Buenas noches




Primera dia

 Posted by Delia Downes at 11:52 am  Argentina  Comments Off on Primera dia
Jun 092014

For my sake and for all those reading I will proceed in English, although I must say being fully immersed in Spanish is definitely going to improve my language skills.  It is difficult, but fun.  Perhaps not having to pass a test or get a grade is adding to the enjoyment and lessening the stress.  I got here yesterday about noon and to my host home about 2.  My hosts are Nora and Carlos.  I have a picture that I will post later this week.  I just want to get started.  Of course Nora fed me upon arrival, empanadas, very good.  I met her daughter, son in law and granddaughter but I was particularly thrilled to meet Morea, their terrier that looks and acts remarkably like Grati my terrier who I was afraid of missing tremendously.  While I will still miss Grati it is nice to have Morea around.  I took a long nap yesterday and had another meal upon awakening and struggled to have conversation but did ok.  Today, Monday, I went into to Central Cordoba by taxi to go to school.  I got there at 9 and left at 6 pm, taking the bus home without incident.  Pretty good.  We had a lesson on Argentina’s history.  It is very dark with military coups and revolutions, lots of bloodshed and tragedy but they seem to be on a good course now.  The economy however is struggling and all the people seem to effected.  I may go into that more later but for now I can only say I realize how spoiled I am as an American, lucky and yes grateful but really spoiled.  Even those that have here lead simple and challenging lives.  We also took a tour of the city.  It is not so big but very busy and crowded.  There are a lot of young people as there are about 10  universities in the surrounding area and the second largest university in South America is in the center of Cordoba.  The weather is great so far.  Being the end of autumn I do not think it cold at all, but the natives do.  I showed them photos of our past winter so that they can feel better about the coming months.  Tomorrow I have school again, the rest of the week in fact but not all day.  The hours going forward are 2 pm to 6 pm and next Monday I begin work with the children and the horses.  I am really tired now, so I will call it a day.  Buenas noches.




I’m doing this

 Posted by Delia Downes at 6:49 am  Argentina  Comments Off on I’m doing this
May 142014

So “I’m doing this.”  I keep saying that.  I’m retiring after  working at the same company for 29 years. I’m going to Argentina to volunteer in an Equine Therapy Program helping disabled children.  I’m going to be living with an older couple, really not much older than I; and if all goes right, I’ll be coming home in three months, speaking Spanish.  “I’m doing this.”  The last time I felt like this and said “I’m doing this,”   I was single and pregnant.  That was 30 years ago.  It’s all very exciting and everything will be new, at least to me.  I’m not much for social media, Twitter or Facebook, etc.  but I will learn cause “I’m doing this too” a blog. So I hope I get the hang of it for anyone who wants to follow.

Just a few more days left of work, then a break, then  off to Argentina, June 7.  I’ll check in again then if not sooner.  Adios

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