Luján Basilica

Lujan Basilica

Unfortunately the sun was setting by the time I arrived at Luján Basilica this evening. The photos I was able to capture are less crisp than I would have liked but I was in a hurry trying to beat Buenos Aires traffic. The basilica was erected in honour of Our Lady of Luján who is a celebrated 16th Century icon of the Virgin Mary. I don’t exactly know what that means, and I was raised Catholic. I have completed four of the seven sacraments, which means you should fear me. Kidding!

Okay apparently I can’t upload anymore photos! WordPress won’t let me! Bastards. Check back later if you care.

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Who will defend the animals?

She's so cute I could eat her

She's so cute I could eat her. But I won't!

For an animal lover it can be discomforting to see one in duress. While visiting San Rafael, Mendoza I was shocked to find so many homeless dogs wandering the streets and parks in pursuit of food. Many of them had broken legs, and no one cared.

I truly believe (maybe it’s more hope) that if we are judged at the end of our lives it will be for our treatment of animals, those among us who are the most innocent and defenseless.

The apathy towards the suffering of animals is criminal. I can’t understand it, let alone tolerate it. I’ve been a vegetarian for seven years, and living in Argentina has tested my resolve, but I have never wavered. Nor will I. The cuisine of a specific country isn’t a good enough reason for me to start eating meat.

I’ve noticed that women, more than men, draw comfort from food, and enjoy writing about their culinary experiences. Maybe it’s similar to the relationship that men have with beer. What I do know is that I have a different relationship with food; it’s merely for sustenance. Well that’s not true. I have a sweet tooth.

Maude

A sweet tooth for some dog loving!

I’ve had to defend being a vegetarian for years. Most people attempt to question how devout I am, or label me as a hypocrite when I reveal to them that I eat eggs occasionally. My response is always the same: I’m doing my part, what are you doing? I buy vegan shoes, and if it once had a face, I don’t eat it.

Through the years I have met many people who profess to have practiced vegetarianism, but gave it up for various reasons, maybe a job, or a boyfriend, or because they claim that vegetarianism caused a vitamin deficiency.

Becoming a vegetarian means that you have to educate yourself about food and one of the most popular misconceptions is that a vegetarian diet lacks sufficient protein. That is a complete fallacy. North Americans already consume too much protein as is, most of it derived by eating too much meat. Plentiful amounts of protein can be found in beans, tofu, green vegetables, and many other healthier options.

Cancer rates have been linked to eating too much red meat, while vegetarian diets have been proven to decrease the risk of certain cancers. Simply put, being a vegetarian is good for animals, including the most self-entitled of the lot: Humans.

I have a yearly physical and Dr. Laura orders a series of blood tests, one of which measures vitamin and mineral deficiencies. In seven years not once have I had a problem, in fact Dr. Laura assures me: “You’re in textbook good health.”

I stopped eating meat because I informed myself about where my meat was coming from. Being a thoughtful person I lost sleep thinking about how animals are raised for the sole purpose of ending up on our dinner plates. Most of them live in abhorrent and inhumane conditions that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. How could I continue eating meat when I knew what I did about where it came from?

My philosophy is that all animals are as valuable as human beings. I don’t know where we ever got the idea that we were somehow more deserved of life than any other species but it sounds like a justification to continue eating meat, guilt free.

Animal right’s groups like PETA give a voice to the voiceless, without them there would be further atrocities committed against animals globally. Think about what that would mean for our planet and our ethics.

I have had more arguments on the subject of vegetarianism than I care to discuss. The topic drives most meat eaters to foam at the mouth, and I don’t know why. I am not insinuating that they become vegetarians overnight, but I am advocating that they inform themselves. Don’t put a piece of meat into your mouth until you’re willing to visit a slaughterhouse and watch that animal be murdered in cold blood, without remorse, or compassion.

Learn how chickens, cows and pigs are killed just so you can have a satisfying dining experience, and don’t forget to post the picture on facebook! If you can’t commit to becoming a full-time vegetarian then try making small changes. For instance, try eating meat only twice a week as opposed to five, and slowly incorporate more fruits and vegetables to your daily meals. Or if that’s too much of a commitment, try to purchase organic meat. At least this way you’re secure in the knowledge that the animal, when alive, didn’t suffer.

When I look at a picture of my lovely soon-to-be three-year-old English Bulldog Maude, I couldn’t imagine forcing her into a life of servitude only to be killed violently for my own hedonistic pleasure. Perhaps I look at animals as something to love, not to eat. To think about how many unfinished meat is thrown into the garbage at the end of the night (clearly because it wasn’t marinated to ones satisfaction), I am compelled to speak up.

This is not to say that I am ignorant of the plight of children, quite the opposite. When I was in Tanzania two years ago I visited an AIDS orphanage and witnessed the treatment of the disabled.

While my peers were busy playing with the babies and toddlers I wandered the hallways and found a young boy with Cerebral Palsy strapped to a chair, alone, and based on his hygiene, forgotten. I worked with a teenager with Cerebral Palsy for a year when I lived in England and although each individual is unique, no child deserves to be abandoned because they require special needs. Not by their family, and certainly not by society.

What I am saying is that if we can’t care for the innocent and disenfranchised, what hope does the future of our civilization have when we’re more concerned about hooking up at clubs and bars, owning cars and iPods, obsessing about our appearance and updating our facebook statuses?

Walking through the streets of San Rafael witnessing so many unwanted injured dogs begging for comfort and love, I struggled to understand how people could callously ignore their plight. We have this notion that it is always someone else’s problem, but that’s such a cop-out.

I was sitting at a café enjoying a coffee and croissant when a black dog came up beside me, clearly nursing a broken leg. We made eye contact and he sprawled out near my feet where he fell asleep almost instantly. My heart sank. What was I to do? Unlike in Canada there are no animal welfare protection agencies in Argentina.

I am ashamed to tell you that I did what every other person in San Rafael does daily: After the bill was settled, I walked away. His image is now permanently ingrained in my memory, and I will never forget him.

In the end when we choose to eat meat that’s what we’re all doing: We are walking away from our responsibility to make the world a safe and loving place for everyone, including animals.

South Americans do not believe in spaying and neutering their pets, resulting in an overpopulation of unwanted dogs. On my trip back to Buenos Aires I passed seven dead dogs on the side of the road, presumably each were hit by a vehicle. I also passed several trucks crammed with cows. I made eye contact with one unlucky cow pinned to the wall of the truck and we stared at each other for a long time. I wanted to save him so badly I started to cry. I felt as helpless as he did.

Lately I’ve been flirting with the idea of becoming a vegan and have drawn inspiration from health activist and author Kathy Freston.  She has great tips and recipes that anyone can employ.  Check her out.

Maude

Save Maude from hungry humans!

Parque

Black Sheep Films

San Rafael, Mendoza, Day V — German Cuisine

Restaurante Alemán

Restaurante Alemán

Today I ate. A lot. I ate so much my belly hurts. I heard of a German restaurant buried somewhere in the country side of San Rafael and couldn’t resist checking it out. Owned and operated by a friendly German expat who speaks fluent Spanish and a little English I was treated to a unique experience. The vegetable strudel was to die for and the hospitality the best I’ve had in Argentina so far. Maybe that’s because there wasn’t a single Argentine employee!

This morning I met Fabian who owns the home where I’m staying and he couldn’t stop talking about how white I am. He didn’t understand how I could have lived in Argentina for six months without getting a tan. I told him there’s this new invention called sunscreen. By the looks of his leathery, wrinkled, and cancer fetching skin, he could benefit from just a little.

This is my last day in San Rafael, I leave tomorrow morning for Buenos Aires. Mendoza city was on my itinerary but I was comfortable in sleepy San Rafael, and I appreciated the solitude it afforded me before I have to return to the energy and vitality of BA. On the trip back I have one more stop scheduled at Luján Basilica and I’m eagerly anticipating it.

Starter

The butter was delicious

Vegetable strudel

Vegetable strudel -- to die for!

Beer

Life would be meaningless without beer

Dirt road

The restaurant is far from the beaten path, a remote location 10 km from the main road

Bienvenidos

Bienvenidos!

Maude again

Maude the dog

I love my dog

I love my dog. Look how beautiful she is. I was enjoying wine in the sun when a group of dogs came up to me this afternoon. They were so cute, but not as cute as Maude, the Queen.

San Rafael, Mendoza, Day IV — La Represa el Tigre

La Represa el Tigre

La Represa el Tigre

Last night I was sitting by the pool and staring up at the sky thinking about all the people I know who are no longer here. I don’t know where people go when they leave this planet, but I was thinking about lost souls nonetheless. One of my many flaws is that I can live in the past and that can make me melancholy from time to time. Life is fleeting, and for some of us, too fleeting. As the breeze kissed my face I imagined those who have passed on sitting with me, sharing a laugh.

English lessons with my students have lately been based on the topic of the environment.  It annoys me that humans believe it will be us who will lead to the annihilation (I really wanted to use that word!) of the Earth. It seems so egotistical. The planet survived long before us and will survive long after us. It will no doubt be responsible for our undoing. Earth will find a way to protect itself from the damage we have and continue to inflict upon it, and will rid itself of our selfishness. After we’re gone, it will simply heal.

Why the hell am I talking about this? Anyway, while enjoying my Bianchi wine I noticed how the clouds were merging from all directions and feared the rain would ruin a lonely, yet pleasant evening. My glass empty, I sat myself up and returned to the cabin for a refill when a sudden gust of wind came in and cut off the electricity. No television, no Internet, nothing. The rain came and it was vengeful. I went to bed and woke to a cloudy sky.

Tired from the last couple days of activity I wanted to take it easy and drove to La Represa el Tigre. More rock and water, but an example of how human beings try to control nature. No matter how much we convince ourselves otherwise, all the levies, dykes and dams are ill-prepared against nature’s wrath. How dramatic!

Cloudy day

It was a cloudy day

The River Ran Through It

The River Ran Through It

Me

Me

Afterwards I went to the centre of town, ate some pizza and enjoyed some beer. Life, can it get any better?

Plaza San Martin

Plaza San Martin in San Rafael, Mendoza

Mary and child

Madonna and child, carved in wood

What do you call these things?

What do you call these things?

San Rafael, Mendoza, Day III — Casa Bianchi Familia de Vinos

Casa Bianchi

At 2,000 pesos a pop this could be yours

I like wine, beer and vodka but don’t know a hell of a lot about them. Perhaps I should apologize for knowing nothing about the alcohol that I enjoy, but is it really that terrible? I know what I like and I stand by it. Mendoza is wine country in Argentina, and in San Rafael the most popular winery is Casa Bianchi, only a stone’s throw from where I’m staying. Unfortunately when I arrived I succumbed to one of my aura migraines and was out of commission for 90 minutes. Luckily I didn’t throw up! Still feeling murky I went ahead with the guided tour and had a wonderful time. The whole experience made me question why I have yet to visit the wineries in the Niagara region of Ontario. When I’m back in Canada that’s one of the first things I plan on doing.

Casa Bianchi

Casa Bianchi

Wine tasting

55 pesos buys you an escorted tour into this room where you can taste three glasses of Bianchi's premium wines. 1 Malbec, 1 Sauvignon Blanc and 1 Cabernet Sauvignon. I bought two bottles of the Sauvignon Blanc.

A nice display

A nice display of Bianchi's best wines

The dome

The room was beautiful and our voices echoed

A nice demonstration

Our tour guide took us through each selection

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens

Wood

This is why wine tastes like wood! The tour was in Spanish, I was lost!

Grapes

The Malbec grapes

Grapes

They tasted good

Enjoying some champagne

At the end of the tour I was thrilled to receive a complementary glass of champagne