Photo © Madeline Russo

Madeline on assignment in Argentina

As winner of the 2018 Travel Writing Scholarship to Argentina, Madeline soaks up every tip and opportunity that comes her way on this trip of a lifetime.

A photo of Madeline
Madeline Russo from the USA
Writing Scholarship 2018 Winner

Madeline finds out what it means to be a travel writer, learning from mentor, Tim Neville then setting out on her own assignment as she journeys from Iberá to Patagonia.

Buenos Aires

Workshop. Day three. We linger near the exit of Café Flor, brimming with six hours’ worth of Tim’s wisdom and unlimited cappuccinos. Tim and the barista are locked in an enthusiastic exchange, and as our mentor’s questions ricochet I see Claudia, my fellow scholarship winner, subtly unlock her phone to take notes. I follow suit.

“So how long have you guys been in Buenos Aires?”

“What kind of people come here?”

“Why should clients come to this particular café? What makes it different?”

On our trek back to the hotel, we thank Tim for the demonstration. “It’s really helpful watching you do it,” Claudia says. I nod, my own interview attempt from the first workshop still painfully fresh.   

“What?” Tim looks around, startled. “What are you talking about?”

“You weren’t trying to show us a real interview?”

His confusion wavers slightly. We begin to giggle. To Tim, interviewing come as naturally as breathing. He simply can’t help himself.

Photo of Madeline in the colorful streets of La Boca
La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Photo credit: Ellen Hall

Iberá

“Is this how it’s spelled?”  

My guide, Matías, leans forward to peer at my notebook, rocking the motorboat slightly. He nods. “L-a-v-a-n-d-e-r-a.” The said bird flutters away and Matías sits back, sipping his yerba mate through a thick silver straw. His face is round, young, cheeks creased by a smile as he holds his red mate gourd out to me. “You want to try it?” 

That night, I eat alone. Classical music plays quietly as I slurp spaghetti, peering through black windows at the sky overhead. As I eat, Matías enters with a man who introduces himself as my driver to-be. We shake hands, and as they turn to leave Matías waves to me shyly. I half-stand for a hug, but before I leave the bench he hastens out the door.  

I dream that someone knocks on my door. Pause. They knock again. My eyes flutter open, and before my mind is fully awake I know who the knocker is. I swing my legs out of bed and pull the door open to... no one. Nothing but the sound of insects, a breeze, and the trees swishing softly.  

My shoulders slump as I push the door closed. A white square no bigger than my palm lays between my feet, a slip of looseleaf folded neatly. I squat, trying to decipher Matías’ thin black scribble. I smile and bring the note close to my chest, sadness and delight buffeting my heart equally at his words:

“Keep on traveling!”

Iberá, Argentina
Iberá, Argentina. Photo credit: Madeline Russo

El Chaltén, Patagonia

“That’s Mount Olympus.” Claudia states, pointing matter-of-factly.  I nod.  There’s no questioning it – this is a celestial place. 

Slate-gray mountains laced with snow. Glassy pools of cerulean reflecting the peaks. Pearly rocks underfoot encrusted with ice. Miles away, we make out an incandescent block of white locked between two mountains. Viedma Glacier, we decide, and it rumbles affirmatively. 

A deep ache pulses through my feet. My water intake for the day extends to three fistfuls of snow. Cold sweat clings to my shoulders, and my eyes blister with euphoric tears. Musings from our hike echo through my head, hopes and fears and where we go from here, and I cry at the wonder of it all. Claudia’s face is flushed with pure, ecstatic, wild, and unconquerable joy. She throws her head back and hurls her scream across the lake.   

“WE’RE IN ARGENTINAAAAAAAAA!”

Photo of Madeline in El Chaltén, Patagonia
El Chaltén, Patagonia. Photo credit: Madeline Russo
This scholarship was run in partnership with:
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