Category Archives: Argentina

2019 October Read-a-Thon: Argentinian Adventures

My Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon continues! It’s a beautiful day outside, and the colors of leaves and fall-blooming flowers are just gorgeous throughout the neighborhood. So after lunch, I put on my earphones and went for a walk while listening to one of my chosen books. But now I am back inside and just finished reading a short book about a planthunter in Argentina

Argentinian Adventures: A Planthunter in Argentina, by John Lonsdale, is a series of essays about three of his planthunting trips to Argentina.

…from the author:

Argentina is a fascinating and endlessly varied country. This book accounts of three visits, the first of which was a three-month tour of the north of the country, collecting plants for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. This first visit encouraged me to undertake two further visits while still employed by Kew Gardens. Because of these botanical connections, there is a wealth of references to the fabulous flora of the region. Flora can’t exist in isolation to fauna, and animal life is discussed whenever it is chanced upon. Several exciting episodes imposed themselves into what became increasingly eventful journeys.

I love reading about planthunters! It’s such an interesting combination of plant information, culture, and travel. I enjoy looking up the plants they find, names in Latin, of course. And I do enjoy the travel and cultural parts of these experiences. This was a fun one for me because I was familiar with northern Argentina and many of the places he talked about, although not the remote areas.  Here are some of the plants he mentioned in these essays.



When I was 17 years old, I spent a year in Argentina as an exchange student, and after that experience I always considered myself a “Citizen of the World,” not just a citizen of my own country. But I’ll admit it:  I’m more of an armchair traveler than a real traveler, although I would love to visit many different far off places!  Books have always encouraged and mostly satisfied my wanderlust, so I will continue to read books from other countries and cultures.

There are many booklists online about books from countries around the world, and many blogging friends have put together challenges to encourage a broader range of reading. I love putting together lists, so I thought I would build this post with a list of the countries of the world so that when I read a book from or about that country, I can log it here. It’s the journey that calls to me, not the finish line.

I will read as many books in translation as possible. There are also many books for young people that provide wonderful stories and information about other cultures/countries, so I look forward to reading some of those, as well.  Since I’m starting in 2019, I will include books I’ve already read this year that qualify for this self-challenge and will provide links to my reviews.

It is important to me, as a “citizen of the world,” that I broaden my reading journey even more during this time of increasing nationalism. I truly believe the motto of the American Field Service (now known as AFS Intercultural Programs):

“Walk Together, Talk Together, 
O ye peoples of the Earth,
For then, and only then,
Shall ye have peace.”

46/196 books read.
Red = click to read my review
Blue = Read but not reviewed

  1. AFGHANISTAN:  Nasreen’s Secret School, by Jeanette Winter
  6. ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA: A Small Place, by Jamaica Kincaid
  7. ARGENTINA:  Argentinian Adventures: A Planthunter in Argentina, by John Lonsdale
  10. AUSTRIA:  Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke
  13. BAHRAIN: Round the Bend, by Nevil Shute
  17. BELGIUM:  A Dog of Flanders, by Ouida
  18. BELIZE
  19. BENIN: Idia of the Benin Kingdom, by Ekiuwa Aire
  20. BHUTAN
  24. BRAZIL:  Manuscript Found in Accra, by Paulo Coehlo
  25. BRUNEI
  30. CAMBODIA:  The Elephant’s New Shoe, by Laurel Neme
  32. CANADA:  The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables, by Catherine Reid
  34. CHAD
  35. CHILE
  36. CHINA: Bronze and Sunflower, by Cao Wenxuan
  37. COLOMBIA:  Waiting for the Biblioburro, by Monica Brown
  44. CUBA:  Island Treasures: Growing Up in Cuba, by Alma Flor Ada
  45. CYPRUS
  53. EGYPT
  60. FIJI
  62. FRANCE:  Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  63. GABON
  66. GERMANY:  The Solitary Summer, by Elizabeth von Arnim
  67. GHANA:  Emmanuel’s Dream, The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, by Laurie Ann Thompson
  68. GREECE:  The Moonspinners, by Mary Stewart
  71. GUINEA
  73. GUYANA
  74. HAITI
  77. ICELAND:  The Little Book of the Icelanders: 50 Miniature Essays on the Quirks and Foibles of the Icelandic People, by Alda Sigmundsdottir
  78. INDIA:  A Tiger for Malgudi, by R. K. Narayan
  79. INDONESIA:  The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene Du Bois
  80. IRAN
  81. IRAQ:  The Librarian of Basra, by Jeanette Winter
  82. IRELAND:  A Week in Winter, by Maeve Binchy
  83. ISRAEL
  84. ITALY:  Marcovaldo, or The Seasons in the City, by Italo Calvino
  86. JAPAN:  Sweet Bean Paste, by Durian Sukegawa
  87. JORDAN
  89. KENYA:  Facing The Lion: Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna, by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton
  91. KOREA, NORTH:  North Korea Journal, by Michael Palin
  92. KOREA, SOUTH:  Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner
  93. KOSOVO
  94. KUWAIT
  96. LAOS:  Mali Under the Night Sky: A Lao Story of Home, by Youme Landowne
  97. LATVIA
  98. LEBANON:  The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran
  100. LIBERIA
  101. LIBYA
  105. MADAGASCAR:  The Aye-Aye and I, by Gerald Durrell
  106. MALAWI
  109. MALI
  110. MALTA
  112. MAURITANIA:  Deep in the Sahara, by Kelly Cunnane and illustrated by Hoda Hadadi 
  114. MEXICO
  116. MOLDOVA
  117. MONACO
  120. MOROCCO:  Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish, by Dorothy Gilman
  122. MYANMAR (Burma)
  123. NAMIBIA
  124. NAURU
  125. NEPAL
  126. NETHERLANDS:  The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
  129. NIGER
  130. NIGERIA
  132. NORWAY:  Snow Treasure, by Marie McSwigan
  133. OMAN
  134. PAKISTAN:  Malala’s Magic Pencil, by Malala Yousafzai
  135. PALAU
  136. PANAMA
  138. PARAGUAY:  Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, by Susan Hood
  139. PERU
  141. POLAND
  143. QATAR
  144. ROMANIA
  145. RUSSIA:  A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
  146. RWANDA
  150. SAMOA
  154. SENEGAL
  155. SERBIA
  162. SOMALIA
  164. SPAIN
  165. SRI LANKA: Trouble in Nuala, by Harriet Steel
  166. SUDAN
  167. SUDAN, SOUTH:  A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park
  169. SWEDEN:  An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good, by Helene Tursten
  170. SWITZERLAND:  Heidi, by Johanna Spyri
  171. SYRIA: Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, by Margriet Ruur and illustrated by Nazir Ali Badr
  172. TAIWAN
  174. TANZANIA:  Death in Zanzibar, by M. M. Kaye
  176. TOGO
  177. TONGA
  179. TUNISIA
  180. TURKEY
  182. TUVALU
  183. UGANDA
  184. UKRAINE
  186. UNITED KINGDOM:  Cider With Rosie, by Laurie Lee
  187. UNITED STATES:  The Country of the Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett
  188. URUGUAY
  190. VANUATU
  193. VIETNAM:  Water Buffalo Days – Growing Up in Vietnam, by Huynh Quang Nhuong
  194. YEMEN
  195. ZAMBIA

Six Books


Me on the Argentine pampas in 1967.

Although this has been a difficult year for me in many ways, a year of loss, it has also been a year of reading. Since July, reading has been my solace and a way to honor the memory of my special reading mother.  I have read 91 books so far this year, unlike in1967 when I only read six books!

1967 was the year I was accepted into the American Field Service (now known as AFS Intercultural Programs) as an exchange student to Argentina. I spent a year there, which was an absolutely incredible life-defining experience. It was not an easy year, especially in those days before computers, cell phones, and instant world-wide communication with everyone you know!  Letters often took two weeks. Phone calls home were wildly expensive so I only made one call home during the entire year. I was far away from home and relatively isolated as I went through the inevitable culture shock and adjustments to my new language and my new family. But after four months, I could speak fairly well, began to dream in Spanish, worked hard to begin reading in Spanish, and became more and more fluent in the language over the year. It was an amazing experience, to state it simply.

But one of the most difficult things for me that year, as an avid/obsessed reader, was that I had little access to books (in English), and, of course, my reading focus needed to be on learning and reading in Spanish. So over that year, I only read 6 books in English. Those six books are seared into my memory because each one was like a little oasis in the desert of my reading that year. It was very hard for me NOT to be able to read much that year, and it made me appreciate deeply the freedom of my yearly reading experience ever since. However, giving up reading-like-crazy for a year in order to have the experience of a lifetime…was so worth it!

Here are those six books:




I am awake early this morning. Sadness woke me from a grieving dream about a friend who is moving away.

So I made some tea and opened a book of poems from the library. Poems by Ursula le Guin. I read her introduction and then a couple of random poems. Poetry touches me like music, going straight to my heart in a way that bypasses all my filters and protections. I was touched by her words — words that describe similar experiences and familiar feelings — we have shared common ground, the Poet and the Reader.

And then I found her poem called “Dos Poesias Para Mi Diana.” There, inside this poem, was an electrical connection!  Without knowing anything about the personal life of this writer, her words alone, without explanation or history, let me know that we have walked the same pathways, shared two far-distant places on this planet. I am thrilled, touched, overwhelmed momentarily by the synchronicity of this magical connection. And it’s like the voice of a friend from far away gently reminding me that distance, and time, are irrelevant. Our connections, our friendships, transcend time and space.

Good morning, my friends!

These Attacks of the Past

“I have them, these attacks of the past…”
~ The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

This week I have been listening to The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, and the line above really struck home with me. I have them, too, these attacks of the past. And I’ve been having them a lot recently because this is a significant year for me. It has been 50 years since my year as an exchange student to Argentina, a year that had a profound effect on the rest of my life. And since my father kept every letter I wrote home during that year, I have words from my younger self, as well as many memories, to help me revisit that experience. I hope to share some of that with you, if I may.


Before cell phones!

50 years ago today, my hurried preparations were complete for spending a year abroad. In the 3 week period between receiving my acceptance letter and my departure, I got my passport and required shots, was tutored by the Spanish teacher at my high school (since I’d had five years of French, but no Spanish training), put together a wardrobe that I hoped would work for the year, and was almost finished packing it all into one large suitcase. I said goodbye to my school friends who would graduate before I returned. I had just turned eighteen years old and the longest I had ever been away from home was two weeks at Girl Scout camp. But I was over the moon with excitement and ready to take on the world!


I wrote these words about my departure for Argentina in a post I published here in 2008.

In early 1967, I was chosen to be an exchange student with the American Field Service (now known as AFS Intercultural Programs). Looking back, I realize that the year I spent in Argentina was a “pivot point” in my life — that point where I stood still, poised to move in one direction or another. A photograph of me, at age 18, was snapped at the moment I hesitated at the top of the stairs while boarding the airplane to Argentina, looked back over my shoulder, and then began the forward motion of my life.


50 Years Ago: A Dream


Destination: Argentina!

It started as a young girl’s dream: I wanted to be an exchange student!  50 years ago today, my dream came true. On January 25, 1967, at age 17, I received my acceptance letter from the American Field Service, (known today as American Intercultural Programs) and I began a journey that shaped my life in so many ways.

In 1963, I was inspired by our charismatic young president, John F. Kennedy, speaking to a group of American Field Service exchange students visiting the White House. (See the video link below of that speech.) His call for international understanding and his hope for our younger generation bringing peace to the world, touched my heart and set in motion my dream. 54 years later, his words still move and inspire me.

letter-from-afs-1967I can look back 50 years now to that January day and realize the full impact that letter of acceptance was to have on my life and thinking. That year shaped the young me into the adult I am today. That experience of living for a year in another country, completely immersed in another culture and language, shaped my view of the world and broadened my understanding of humanity. We all live similar lives and share similar hopes!

That year also shaped my beliefs about my responsibilities as both an American citizen and a citizen of the world. My experience as an exchange student is why I am so deeply concerned about the direction my country is taking under this new president with his hate-filled rhetoric and his closing of so many doors. But I realize that my experience of 50 years ago is also what gives me HOPE and direction.  I know firsthand that there are many good, kind, caring people in the world, from all different cultures, that are committed to and working diligently for peace and understanding among nations and for human rights everywhere. That is what I will continue doing, as well.

“Everyone who comes here to live and study — every American who goes abroad to live and study — forges one more link of world understanding and sympathy.” ~ John F. Kennedy

The Whispering Land, 2

While I was living in Argentina as an exchange student 40 years ago, my Argentine family took me on a wonderful road trip to the northern parts of the country.  So as I read The Whispering Land, by Gerald Durrell, I particularly enjoyed his chapter called “Jujuy,” (which is fun to pronounce: Who-Who-ee) and about his visit to what is now Calilegua National Park. His descriptions sparked memories!

…Then we sped round a couple of corners, down a hill and into the valley of Calilegua, and the vegetation changed, so suddenly that it was almost painful to the eye. Here were the vivid greens of the tropics, so many shades and some of such viridescence that they make the green of the English landscape look grey in comparison.  Then, as if to assure me that I was back in the tropics, a small flock of parakeets swooped across the road, wheezing and chittering.


I’ve always loved reading about animals, and Mr. Durrell’s stories about the animals he found in Jujuy were fun to read. His love for animals is reflected warmly in those stories.  Here are a few of the animals he wrote about:

The Whispering Land


During the last few weeks of school, needing distraction from tests and report cards but not having much time to read, I picked up a book that’s been on my shelf for a long time:  The Whispering Land, by Gerald Durrell.  I knew nothing about Mr. Durrell (although I recognized the name of his author brother, Lawrence Durrell), but this little book was about his travels to Argentina, and that caught my attention.  It turned out to be the perfect book to read during intense times!

From Penguin Books:

Durrell_statueGerald Durrell (1925-1995) was born in India, spent his youth on the idyllic Greek island of Corfu, and traveled the world, keenly observing the people and animals he eventually wrote about — the characters that make his readers laugh out loud. His works include a novel and several books based on his myriad worldwide collecting expeditions, including: My Family and Other Animals; Birds, Beasts, and Relatives; A Zoo in My Luggage; The Whispering Land; and Menagerie Manor.

Mr. Durrell was a wonderful storyteller, and the experiences he wrote about were fun and fascinating. I loved his descriptions of Argentina, and loved his stories of the animals and the people he encountered on that trip.

On every side of us the scrubland stretched away, dark and flat, so that you got the impression of being in the centre of a gigantic plate.  The sky had become suffused with green as the sun sank, and then, unexpectedly, turned to a very pale powder-blue. A tattered mass of clouds on the western horizon suddenly turned black, edged delicately with flame-red, and resembled a great armada of Spanish galleons waging a fierce sea-battle across the sky, drifting towards each other, turned into black silhouette by the fierce glare from their cannons.


I’m quite fascinated now with Gerald Durrell after reading this book and learning a little bit about him, and I’d like to read more of his books!  Mr. Durrell was a naturalist dedicated to saving species from extinction. The zoo he and his wife started is still a charitable organization dedicated to that goal. This year, on July 12th, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust is celebrating “Durrell Day,” their 50th anniversary.  It is located on Jersey in the Channel Islands, and wouldn’t it be terrific to go there for that celebration?

Two years ago on Masterpiece Theater, there was a very nice film based on his book, My Family and Other Animals. My husband and I ordered it from Netflix and watched it the other evening. It was fun to learn a little more about his family and Durrell’s early passion for animals.

Sir David Attenborough said of Gerald Durrell:

“He was responsible for changing people’s attitudes to zoology and changing their agenda. He showed them that small animals could be as interesting as apes and elephants. His work with endangered species was incredible in that he could persuade them to breed in captivity. He then returned them to the wild. He was a pioneer with a marvelous sense of humour.” –Sir David Attenborough


Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

Tomorrow I’m leavin’ on a jet plane to visit my mother. As I was packing and preparing for the flight tomorrow, that old song running through my mind, I was reminded of another flight I took 41 ago…

In early 1967, I was chosen to be an exchange student with the American Field Service (now known as AFS Intercultural Programs). Looking back, I realize that the year I spent in Argentina was a “pivot point” in my life — that point where I stood still, poised to move in one direction or another. A photograph of me, at age 17, was snapped at the moment I hesitated at the top of the stairs while boarding the airplane to Argentina, looked back over my shoulder, and then began the forward motion of my life.

Ombu Trees

Far Away and Long Ago, by W. H. Hudson, is the second book I read for Melissa’s Expanding Horizons challenge. I really enjoyed the book, and look forward to reading some of his other works, which includes the novel Green Mansions. I vaguely remember watching that movie ages ago, starring a very young and beautiful Audrey Hepburn.

Yesterday I posted about Far Away and Long Ago, his memoirs of his childhood in Argentina, and mentioned that Hudson’s birthplace was an estancia in Argentina named “Los Veinte-cinco Ombues,” which means “The Twenty-five Ombu Trees.” I had never heard of an ombu tree until I read this book, and I loved his description of them, so I went searching for photographs. What amazing trees!

The house where I was born, on the South American pampas, was quaintly named Los Veinte-cinco Ombues, which means “The Twenty-five Ombu Trees,” there being just twenty-five of these indigenous trees–gigantic in size, and standing wide apart in a row about 400 yards long. The ombu is a very singular tree indeed, and being the only representative of tree-vegetation, natural to the soil, on those great level plains, and having also many curious superstitions connected with it, it is a romance in itself. It belongs to the rare Phytolacca family, and has an immense girth — forty or fifty feet in some cases; at the same time the wood is so soft and spongy that it can be cut into with a knife, and is utterly unfit for firewood, for when cut up it refuses to dry, but simply rots away like a ripe water-melon. It also grows slowly, and its leaves, which are large, glossy and deep green, like laurel leaves, are poisonous; and because of its uselessness it will probably become extinct. Like the graceful pampas grass in the same region. In this exceedingly practical age men quickly lay the axe at the root of things which, in their view, only cumber the ground; but before other trees had been planted the antiquated and grand-looking ombu had its uses; it served as a gigantic landmark to the traveller on the great monotonous plains, and also afforded refreshing shade to man and horse in summer… 

Far Away and Long Ago

Allá Lejos y Hace Tiempo 

W. H. Hudson was born in Argentina in 1841 to American parents. He spent his early childhood on an estancia called “Los Veinte-cinco Ombues” (the Twenty-five Ombu Trees”) outside of Buenos Aires, and it was there he began to develop a passion for the flora and fauna of the Argentine pampas. And it was those early experiences with the natural world that shaped the boy into the much respected naturalist, ornithologist, “defender of nature” and gifted writer. When he was 77 years old, he wrote a memoir of his childhood, Far Away and Long Ago. That memoir, which I just read for Melissa’s Expanding Horizons book challenge, has touched my heart.

I know that I am partial to all things Argentine because of the year I spent there as an exchange student. But this book is so beautifully written, I would have loved it anyway. It is written with a grace and sensitivity that his colleague, Joseph Conrad, envied.

In this book, his memories become stories that carry you along as he paints vivid pictures in your mind of the landscapes, the wildlife, the people and the experiences of a young boy discovering his world — the boy on his horse, completely free to explore the beauty of the pampas from early morning until dusk. He spent hours observing the birds, and although his brothers would sometimes tease him, they respected his unique abilities at such a young age.

He was also a great observer of the humans around him and included tales about the neighbors, the gauchos that worked the estancias, the schoolmasters that came and went. There are stories of his escapades with his brothers, including one that told of a mock knife fight they had when his older brother wanted to practice the self-defense lessons given him by a local gaucho. Hudson was wounded during that “fight,” but won the respect of his older brother by not telling on him.

His boyhood ended suddenly, he explains, at age 15, when he became ill with Typhus, followed shortly afterwards by a serious bout with Rheumatic Fever which damaged his heart. The doctors told him he would not live very long, and facing the loss of everything he loved sent him into a period of dark despair. In the chapter “A Darkened Life,” he describes poignantly this crisis and his painful transition from the joyous innocence of his boyhood into manhood. When he recovered, and was able to finally assess maturely what he had lost and gained from those traumatic changes to his health, and also realized that he could live 20, 30, 40 more years, he rejoiced:

…That was the life I desired–the life the heart can conceive–the earth life. When I hear people say they have not found the world and life so agreeable or interesting as to be in love with it, or that they look with equanimity to its end, I am apt to think they have never been properly alive, nor seen with clear vision the world they think so meanly of, or anything in it–not a blade of grass. Only I know that mine is an exceptional case, that the visible world is to me more beautiful and interesting than to most persons, that the delight I experienced in my communings with nature did not pass away, leaving nothing but a recollection of vanished happiness to intensify a present plan. The happiness was never lost, but, owing to that faculty I have spoken of, had a cumulative effect on the mind and was mine again, so that in my worst times, when I was compelled to exist shut out from nature in London for long periods, sick and poor and friendless, I could yet always feel that it was infinitely better to be than not to be. 

Today, the Argentine home where Hudson was born has become a museum and a beautiful ecological park. One of my favorite passages from the books gives you a strong sense of that time and place, and a lovingly tender memory of his mother:

All that I remember of my early life at this place comes between the ages of three or four and five; a period which, to the eye of memory, appears like a wide plain blurred over with a low-lying mist, with here and there a group of trees, a house, a hill, or other large object, standing out in the clear air with marvelous distinctness. The picture that most often presents itself is of the cattle coming home in the evening; the green quiet plain extending away from the gate to the horizon; the western sky flushed with sunset hues, and the herd of four or five hundred cattle trotting homewards with loud lowings and bellowings, raising a great cloud of dust with their hoofs, while behind gallop the herdsmen urging them on with wild cries. Another picture is of my mother at the close of the day, when we children, after our supper of bread and milk, join in a last grand frolic on the green before the house. I see her sitting out of doors watching our sport with a smile, her book lying in her lap, and the last rays of the setting sun shining on her face. 


Forty years ago today, when I was living in Argentina as an exchange student, I wrote a letter home about the death of Che Guevara. The news filled the Argentine newspapers and was the talk everywhere I went.

Nobody knows for sure if he’s really dead or not, I wrote. Last Sunday, October 8th, a number of “guerrillas” were killed in one of the many Bolivian battles. This battle took place in the southern part of Bolivia, in the province of Santa Cruz, near a small village named Vallegrande. Among the dead, the Bolivian government presumed, was Che Guevara. 

Growing up in the 60’s, we had all heard of “Che.” But because of the year I spent in Argentina, and being there when he died, I felt a special connection to him, and the story of his life and death is still fascinating to me. I didn’t understand or have enough information at that time to make a judgment about him–whether he was the mass murderer some claimed or an heroic revolutionary according to others. And I don’t know where to find the truth about him even today. Which sources or which versions of his story can I trust? In the last few years government documents have been declassified, many books and articles have been published about Che, and the controversy still rages.

I just know that I have always viewed him as a person rather than as an icon. I have preferred to read his own writings rather than biographies of him written by various people. I read The Motorcycle Diaries a few years ago and was captivated again by his youth and idealism. It transported me back to my own youthful idealism as an exchange student in 1967. I loved reading about his journey and his expanding awareness of the complex world of Latin America. And I felt that he spoke directly to me when he described the impact of his journey through South America:

“The person who wrote these notes passed away the moment his feet touched Argentine soil again. The person who reorganizes and polishes them, me, is no longer, at least I’m not the person I once was. All this wandering around “Our America with a capital A” has changed me more than I thought.” 

Che will be forever 39…”his face captured in eternal youth.” And I will always be fascinated by this charismatic and enigmatic Argentine.