I extended my chapped hands into the eerie darkness. With a flip of my wrist, a dim light was suddenly cast upon a pair of low, wooden beds, each with a single wool blanket that barely spanned the length of the small cots. I slumped under the weight of disappointment. I let my bag slip off my shoulder and fall to the floor. The curiosity that had permeated me moments before had vanished. In my wildest dreams, I never expected my summer vacation to be like this. “Welcome to Argentina,” I muttered gloomily as I collapsed on the nearest bed.
When I awoke the next morning, I found myself curled in the fetal position, shivering from the bitter cold. Fumbling around the room, I discovered that there was a dysfunctional space heater in the corner and no running water. Frustrated almost to the point of tears, I quickly dabbed at my eyes as an unexpected knock came from the door. A beaming young man in a heavy coat told me in Spanish that he had been hired to show me around. What could be remotely interesting about this little village? Little did I know that touring the rustic town of La Para, Argentina would change my life forever.
As we strolled down the dirt roads, streams of morning sunlight crept across the town’s flaxen fields. Meadows would sporadically burst into life as a pair of Monk Parakeets darted out from the sea of grass, flitting after one another a short distance before sinking once more into the pasture below. Though it was hardly daybreak, La Para was teeming with townspeople returning from the dairies, carting fresh milk to and fro. La Para, which translates to “The Stop” is so named because the bus route does not venture past this rural dairy town. It was here that I first discovered Argentina’s delicious Dulce de Leche cream, which I found just as worthy of recognition as the legendary Argentine steaks.
I had spent the entire day with my guide, Raul, exploring provincial marketplaces. La Para was too small to have many souvenir shops, and at first I kept thinking that no fruit stand could compare with the massive shopping malls of Atlanta. Yet as the day went on, the jubilant Argentines began to charm me. If I asked the vendor for a keychain, he would personally escort me to another stand and help me locate the perfect one, even if it meant that he lost a sale. The children followed me down the streets gibbering in their broken English and offering me rides on their shaggy ponies.
On the way home that afternoon, Raul suddenly stopped and pointed down a dusty lane to my left. Then he said proudly “Mi casa.” To my dismay, I realized that he was trying to show me his house, a dilapidated mud hut with several stray dogs roaming around a yard scattered with rubbish. Raul did not seem to notice the tears welling in my eyes as he turned to continue down the road, still smiling and chatting with enthusiasm.
That night, after thanking Raul and pushing open the door to my cottage, I was amazed to see that my room had completely transformed. When I looked at the woolen blankets, I saw each handwoven row of intricate patterns and brilliant hues framing the cots, whose exquisite parrots and coiling vines I discovered sprawling across the bedsteads, carved with painstaking care. Yet everything was as I had left it that morning — everything except me. Suddenly, I realized that from the proper vantage point, one can see true prosperity anywhere. As the wise Anne Bradstreet once said, “If we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” In light of La Para, all of my life’s dirt lean-tos emerged as immaculate hotel suites after all.
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