Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Trip Summary- to soon appear in "Texas FFA News" and "Santa Gertrudis USA"

The word “abroad” means many things to many people. To some, it is a picturesque view of old architecture standing proudly against the background of a water-colored sunset. To some, it is an opportunity to mingle with locals, attempting- and miserably failing- to appear as if one is not a foreigner. To others, it is simply an excuse to stuff one’s face with as much food as humanly possible- and to not feel the least bit guilty about it. During my two-week trip to Argentina, I completed not one, not two, but all three of the above options. 
Let us back up a bit. It was early September, and I had just started my first semester at Texas A&M University. I had not packed a suitcase in almost two months: a task that was once a part of my daily routine. I was getting anxious. I needed to travel somewhere, anywhere, and the sooner I could do that, the better. It was then that I remembered a program called the International Leadership Seminar for State Officers: an educational opportunity for current and past state officers of the National FFA Organization to study international agriculture for two weeks. Best of all it was abroad...and not just any “abroad.” It was in the home of tango dancing, gauchos, and grass-fed beef. There were no questions. I was going on that trip.  
With tremendous support from my many sponsors, I crossed off “travel to South America” on my bucket list, packed my suitcase, and set out for my new adventure. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on a nine-hour flight, chomping furiously on a disgusting piece of airplane chicken, and watching our estimated time of arrival tick closer and closer. At that point, I was still unsure of what exactly Argentina had in store for me. I was soon to find out about a culture that would forever change my perspective on agriculture and on life. 
Over the next two weeks, I found myself on multi-generation farms, Polo game pony breeding operations, machine sheds, port terminals, and even the United States Ambassador’s house. My first reaction was shock. Nothing looked any different than it did in the United States! Then, I looked closer. Though the landscape and the equipment and the crop yields looked exactly the same, the issues that Argentine farmers were faced with were very different. 
Argentines are much like American agriculturists in that they work, every single day, to produce a quality product. They farm their land with respect to the environment. They strive to become more productive and more efficient. They produce large quantities of soybean, corn, and beef (some of the best beef in the world, I might add). “What is the difference?” you may ask. The answer is the government under which they operate. 
American agriculture is one of the most highly regulated industries in our country. We have guidelines, restrictions, and most importantly, safety nets. American agriculture will never fail, because it has been designed in a way that it cannot. In Argentina, there is no safety net. There is no set price. There is no insurance. There is nothing keeping that farmer from failing; he simply prays that he can produce a crop and that the crop he produces will sell in a stable market. Once that does occur, almost half of his profits are taxed. Then, taxed again. Farming in Argentina is a risky and, more often than not, costly profession. When asked why one would continue in such a business, one farmer simply replied “Because it’s what I love.” 
At the time, this statement simply warmed my heart. It was not until I stood in the line for United States Customs, reflecting on my two weeks in Argentina, that his statement began to resonate with me. We, as Americans, become frustrated at our government for the policies and the regulations that are sometimes passed. We get annoyed by the efforts of those in office, or the lack thereof. It is not always what we wished for or what we had in mind. I can attest to that. In spite of all of that, though, we have never once listened to our crops be called “weeds” or had to wonder if we will receive any payment. We have something to protect us, to ensure our success...and something is much better than nothing. 
As I handed over my passport, I thought of how much I loved Argentina. I loved the people. I loved the language. I loved eating two hour meals and watching tango. I loved Argentina as much as any person could love another country. What I loved more was knowing that I live in a country where agriculture has the opportunity to thrive. 
So, if you get the chance, go. Pack your suitcase. Explore other cultures. Open your mind to new ways of doing things. Travel the world, but know that if you are going to be in agriculture, this is the place to do it in. 
Of all the things that they could have said when I returned from my trip abroad, they chose, “Welcome home, Miss Grainger.” 
It was funny. I could not have said it better myself. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

El Fin

Bad news: there are grand total of four jaguars in Puerto Iguazu, which means that the only cats I would be seeing in Argentina were the ones that dared to run into oncoming traffic. Even those were few and far between. I don't blame them, though. Personally, it was a little scary riding with an Argentine driver...a far safer bet than darting in front of one, as traffic lines or safety precautions are rarely noticed.

Upon our arrival into Iguazu, we were hit with the blasting, 100 degree weather. Being from Texas, I was prepared to handle this hot, humid disgusting-ness. The difference is that in Texas, we have air conditioners that work. And in Texas, you aren't wearing the same shirt for several days in a row. Not the case in Iguazu. We'll just say that I am certain I smelled very...lovely. Of course, they do have showers. The only issue I had was that ours had two nobs (as all showers do); although, these were labeled "hot" and "hot". Nope, not a typing mistake. Turn on one "hot" nob, and your water was scalding. Turn on the other "hot" nob, and your skin was melting off. It was quite the dilemma. I couldn't not shower. So, I cupped my hands and proceeded to throw water onto my body for a good ten minutes. Cup the burning water. Throw. Cup the burning water. Throw. Cup the burning water. Throw my hands up in frustration and accidently hit the shower curtain. Crash- the shower rod falls on my head. I quit. Back to smelling lovely.

Fortunately for me, that fresh shower feeling wouldn't have lasted long. We began our morning with a hike in the Iguazu National Park to view the Devil's Throat Falls up close. I'm not certain how to describe in words what I was about to see. We'll just say this: everything that you've ever seen on tv or pictured in your head or looked at on a postcard, looks nothing like the real thing. It's a sight that literally stops you dead in your tracks. All you can do is stare...and become immediately humbled/amazed/thankful for the existence of such magnificent things. You may have never believed in a higher being before that point but a sight like that will convince you that God truly does exist.

This sensation continued for the remainder of the day, as we traveled to other falls at the park. By this point, we were panting, sweating, and looked pretty much like we'd just risen from the dead. Next up, basking in the hot, hot, HOT heat as we waited to board a boat that would take us directly beneath the falls. That's right. I, Allison Grainger, traveled into a waterfall. No need for a shower anymore. I was soaked.

Of course, the heat mixed with the safari truck ride (in which I saw no monkeys or tucans or jaguars or pumas...but I did see some trees that were supposed to be important for some reason or another. I can't remember those reasons, probably because trees aren't as cool as jaguars) left me restored to my previous state of moist from sweat. It was the half drowned-rat and half tornado-for-a-hairdryer look. Yeah, I would not be impressing any Argentine men today.

No need to worry, though. I wouldn't be seeing any more gauchos on my trip. The falls were one of our last stops. We made our way to where three countries- Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay- meet at the Parana river. We took our final photos. We ate our last meal. Then, we boarded the bus, headed to the airport, and commenced with a full 24 hours of airport life.

Before long, we had landed in Miami. It was 6:30 am, after a red-eye flight. Once again, I looked...lovely. As I stepped off, the thoughts of my trip flashed through my mind: the long meals, the relaxed attitudes, the quiet beauty. I realized for the first time that life doesn't have to be so hectic. It's okay to take a seista or a 2-hour lunch or even just a deep breath. That's something the Argentines realize that we seem to forget: you can pause for a few brief moments and-surprisingly- the world still turns. The world never falls apart because you stopped working for a few seconds. It was a fact that I had always known...yet, somehow always seemed to forget.

Then,  I thought of the lack of government support, the never-ending Coca Cola (which I'm now soooo tired of drinking), and the sticky weather. I had experienced a different culture in a way that made me appreciate their way of life...and be thankful for ours. As I was handed my passport, the gentleman announced, "Welcome home, Ms. Grainger."

Funny. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


The past few days have been all about the culture of Argentina- the gauchos, the food, the shopping, the architecture, and of course, the dancing. I wholeheartedly admit that (as much as one can enjoy looking at different farms and ranches or discovering the heart of Argentine agriculture) the past few days have been the best so far. It was all about eating, eating, eating. And when we weren´t eating we were dancing or shopping- basically, we were busy being tourists...and we were pretty good at that.

Now when I say that we eat constantly here, I mean it. Imagine the American Thanksgiving...multiplied by a thousand...for every single meal. For example, we had the opportunity to visit a gaucho estancia. After enjoying horseback riding and sneaking pictures of the gauchos when they weren´t looking (like I said, we are good tourists), we went into the buildings where lunch was to be served. We started with bread. Then, they brought the salad. Then another salad. And another. Next, it was a link of chorizo...and then the blood sausage (which you should NEVER try...I´m beginning to think the word ¨delicacy¨ means ¨any normal human being would hate it¨). Before long, they brought out the biggest slab of beef I had ever seen. By this point, my stomach was about to explode. I wasn´t exactly certain how I would manage to scarf down that steak...and that´s when they came by with chicken. And then ribs. And then, when you really were on the verge of bursting into a million tiny pieces, they brought dessert. This entire process lasted over two hours. It´s wonderful and exhausting all at the same time. It is perhaps my favorite thing about Argentina- the fact that they take several hours to eat one meal. It also explains why they have ¨seistas¨; one meal and you feel like you ran a marathon.

After our lunch at the gaucho ranch, we got our first taste of Tango. Once again, I fell in love...only this time it was with the music. All along, I thought that Tango was just a dance. I pictured pacing back in forth, back in forth with a rose in your mouth. Ha. No. It´s not only dancing, it´s music. It´s an introduction into a whole different world. It´s almost an out of body experience watching these performers. You´re transported to this whole other universe in which everything is simpler yet exciting. I´m not sure if any of that even makes since, so let me say this: watch a Tango show at least once in your life.

Of course, the one at the gaucho ranch was only a teeny tiny taste of what would come later at the actual Tango show we went to, but it was a great introduction to the true pride of Argentina. Another thing they´re proud of? Gauchos. They have reason to be, of course. Not only are they adorable- they look like they just stepped off a Spanish ship- but they are TALENTED. A traditional gaucho demonstration is to stick a pen in one´s mouth, race full speed ahead on a horse, and try to pull a ring off of a flapping piece of paper that is tied to a pole...using only the pen in their mouth. I won´t lie. I was impressed.

Upon our return back to Buenos Aires, we got a final taste of Argentine agriculture. It was the day I had been looking forward to the most: the day when we would go to the Buenos Aires livestock market. I had previously antipicated how exciting this would be. After all, up to 50 different auctioneers work in the same market (simultaneously auctioning off the cattle in their sections) as the buyers make their bids from the cat walks or from down below on horse back. What I hadn´t expected was to hear about the crazy laws that the market is supposed- note the word ¨supposed¨- to operate under. For example, the Argentine government passed a law to move the market out of the city. The market didn´t move. A few years later, the government passed a separate law to move the market to a different city. They still didn´t move. So now, there are two different laws stating the market should be in two different cities...and it exists in neither of them.

We spent the next several hours getting lost on the streets of Buenos Aires, shopping in the local markets, and walking down the famous Florida Street. We toured the entire city from Boca (the poorest part of Buenos Aires where the people live in makeshift houses under the highways) to Palerma (the richest part of the city where there are palaces upon palaces). All of it was breathtaking.

Our final stop in the city was to the house of the US Ambassador in Buenos Aires, where we met with Foreign Ag Service Staff, students from an organization comparable to FFA, and the Ambassador herself. Each of these visits merely reiterated what I had already learned: Argentine agriculture is right on the heels if not equal to American agriculture...and their people make you want to rearrange your life so that it moves at a slower pace, so that you truly enjoy every thing you do.

And that was it. Adios Buenos Aires! We hopped on a plane and headed to Puerto Iguazu. I may not be seeing any more gauchos...but perhaps tomorrow I will see a jaguar. I may not get as close to it as I would those cowboys, but just like the gauchos, they will be nice to look at.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"No hablo espanol muy bien"

Well, two things are for certain. 1) I CANNOT speak Spanish. This became slightly apparent our first day in Argentina. We walked into the restaurant of Hotel Presidente in Buenos Aires, and I realized that I had never been so excited. This was the first time that I could use my Spanish! I marched right up to the counter, looked the waiter in the eye, and proudly stated "Quisiero uno pasta con cuatro quesos, por favor." Score! I did it! My Spanish had all come back to me! It was "excelente" first.

Until about five minutes friend, Ryan, from Iowa had yet to receive the ham sandwich that he had ordered. Still proud of my Spanish speaking skills, I called the waiter over to ask for his food. And then, it happened. My mind went blank. I couldn't remember. "Jamon" was ham. "Queso" was cheese. What was "sandwich"?? I stumbled my way through the sentence (only well enough to get Ryan some ravioli rather than the anticipated sandwich). I was so frustrated. I asked every person I knew. I checked the menu. I racked my brain for HOURS...only to find out that the Spanish translation for sandwich is, well, "sandwich". Epic fail.

That, of course, was only the beginning. I have continued to attempt speaking to the locals. It always turns out the exact same way, though.
     Me: "Hola!"
     Argentine: "Hola! (And a bunch of random Spanish words that are strung together very, very, VERY quickly.)
     Me: "Umm, lo seinto. No hablo espanol muy bien." 

Yep, that's all. A grand total of three sentences is about as far as I ever get. The translation of those sentences merely reminds me of the one thing I had truly feared- I cannot speak Spanish. There is no doubt that I need to get into those Spanish classes mucho pronto. I'm in desperate need of some help here!

The second conclusion that I have come to throughout my time in Argentina is this: Argentines love, love, LOVE coca cola, beef, fruit, and ice cream. Our food has been excellent- even if we do eat the same thing at every meal. Cold cuts, cheese, and fruit for breakfast. Cold cuts, beef, and vanilla ice cream with fruit salad for lunch. Then, some kind of beef and vanilla ice cream with fruit salad for dinner. And you can bet that at every single meal, there will be mucho, mucho, mucho "Coca". Don't let me confuse you. This is NOT a complaint. Just as observation that Argentines might possibly love ice cream more than I do...and I come from the home of Blue Bell ice cream.

Along with these two newfound truths, I have also discovered a sunburn in the shape of a shirt collar (yeah, I look pretty cute with my giant red triangle on my chest). The charter bus makes me extremely tired; I fall asleep almost every time I sit down. Argentines use "budets" (still not sure on the spelling of that) to clean their bottoms after using the restroom; I still haven't gotten used to that addition to the restroom, and I certainly have chosen to forgo using it. Most importantly, though, I've been introduced to a whole new world of what I considered to be "global agriculture."

Yesterday, we visited Terminal 6, a port terminal company that was founded by two competing companies (Bunge and an Argentine company). This was, by far, my favorite visit as of yet. The process for loading and shipping and the fact that only 4 people could run an entire biodiesel plant blew my mind. Unbelievable!

This was followed by a trip down the Parana river (the third largest in the world), and a visit to a swimming hole-type drainage system. Yes, I swam in that. Yes, I can say I did it. No, it did not smell pleasant, look pleasant, or feel pleasant. Ha ha.

Before I knew it, we had drifted off for a few hours of sleep, woken up, and were on our way to a polo horse breeding farm. All I can say is that I REALLY want to see a polo match after that visit. And also, I can now say "Tomar un photo con migo, por favor"...which means "Take a picture with me, please." (Make that a grand total of four sentences that can now be spoken in Spanish).

We ended our day at a multi-generation farm. I learned an enormous amount about breeding ewes as well as estate taxes and inheritance laws in Argentina. The best part of the day was when I met my new favorite person. I immediately fell in love. He's a farmer. He speaks Spanish. He's 84, walks with a cane, and says "Beep beep. Beep beep." when walking through crowds. I just couldn't figure out a way to get him back through customs, so I settled on a picture with my new friend, Grandpa.

I shouldn't be heartbroken for long, though. Tomorrow, we will be meeting up with a few Argentine gauchos. Who knows? After that, I may just decide to miss my plane back to Texas.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bienvenidos a Argentina!

It is official. Argentina was worth the wait. After many hours of packing, unpacking, repacking, unpacking again...and FINALLY determining a way around packing only five shirts for a ten day trip (thank you to the makers of Febreeze), I set out for Argentina.

With Starbucks in hand, I boarded the plane for my 9 hour flight to South America. Despite my broken speaker for the television (I won´t lie. I was a little upset that I couldn´t watch "The Social Network" in Spanish translation) and the lovely plane food that requires chewing as fast as humanly possible so as not to taste the soggy chicken and faux grilled veggies, it was quite the enjoyable ride. In fact, I knew that our trip to Argentina was off to a good start when the entire plane clapped after landing- is that a ¨Latin¨ thing or an ¨Aerolineas Argentina¨ thing? Not sure. For the sake of my own conscious when flying back on the same airline, we will stick with "it´s a Latin thing".

And with that, we were in Argentina. National FFA had previously equipped me with a knowledge of Argentine people (No worries. I will not be passing the salt directly into someone´s hands- it´s a sign of bad luck). With this newfound knowledge came excitement for the days to come. We started with a visit to a local farm. Here, I found that American and Argentine farmers are not so different. Senor Calderon even ignored his ringing phone the exact same way that any rancher I´ve ever met would have done: the phone rang, he looked at it for a loooonnnngggg time, he slipped it back in his pocket, and he resumed talking about the weather, his crops, and the government.

The difference in our farmers and theirs lies in two simple facts. The first of which is our government. Despite the many things we could argue about our national agricultural policies or even lack thereof, I have yet to hear an American politician (let alone, the President) refer to soybeans as a "weed" as they do in Argentina. Frustrated as we may be at times, at least we have something in place to protect our farmers and ranchers. The efforts made by those in public office may not always be what we wished for. They may not be what we had in mind. At the very least, though, they are something...and some effort is better than none at all.

The second separation lies in the poverty that exists throughout the country. Let me begin by saying that Argentina is the most beautiful place that I have ever been. There isn´t a single patch of grass that isn´t lush. The buildings are breathtaking. Even the slums- which are too sad to even describe- envelope a quiet, peaceful kind of beauty. Despite all of this, though, it is hard to ignore Argentina´s status as a third world country. In all of its natural beauty, this is still very evident. Naturally, this fact affects all aspects of life, especially the agricultural market. Rather than paying up front, farmers simply make vows to pay back fertilizer companies with projected crop yields. Now imagine that taking place in the United States today. It´s hard to even fathom.

I must admit, though. My favorite part of my trip so far was the son of Senor Calderon (Don´t worry. He´s only 11, so I won´t fall madly in love and never return home). He spoke zero English, but he knew what Texas was and proudly sported his favorite Texas Longhorn t-shirt. I will forgive the obvious mistake in schools for the giant hug he gave me when learning I´m from ¨Tejas!!¨ What can I say? Even Argentine chicos know a good thing when they hear about it.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Well, the countdown is on! Only 2 more days before my departure. What can I say? I'm ecstatic! My boarding pass is printed. My camera is charged. My suitcase is...almost packed (don't judge, I can't decide how many pairs of shoes to bring- three? or maybe four?) Eh, it doesn't even matter that much. Why? Because in two days I will be in the land of gauchos and tango dancing!

For those of you interested in viewing the official blog from our trip, you can log onto I will be updating this blog, as well. So, be on the lookout for great pictures and exciting stories. Until then...

Adios and vayan con dios!