Tuesday, September 22, 2009

This week's interview... Totty from Argentina! By Alfonso Lara Montero

Totty is English but she arrived in Argentina a couple of years ago to write her dissertation and she decided to stay! I became amazed by reading her profile and I thought I had to interview her. She kindly accepted my call and… this is the result! Writing a dissertation in Argentina, amazing stories in a shanty town, socially and ecologically responsible tourism, wonderful countryside…

Do you want to know more? Scroll below. You will not be disappointed!

Alfonso: How are you?
Totty: I am very well, thank you, in Buenos Aires, and the weather is horrible…

Alfonso: Is it?
Totty: It has been raining for 3 days, but it is good because it hasn’t been raining the rest of the year. It has been very dry, so it is good…

Alfonso: It is always good to have some rain, too…
Are you based in Buenos Aires?

Totty: I live between the countryside and Buenos Aires, and I spend around 3 days in the city and 4 days in the countryside. It also depends on the people who come to stay, so if I have guests I have to stay in the countryside. I also have a kitchen garden in the countryside and a cow that I milk, so I have to take care of all these things.

Alfonso: It is very nice talking to you because I am very interested in responsible and sustainable tourism. Not long ago, I interviewed Alan from Mexico and now in the same connection I am interviewing you with the aim of giving our readers a sense of what in responsible tourism is being done across the ocean.
I read your profile and it is amazing the fact that you went to Buenos Aires to write your dissertation and then you decided to stay, to set up your own business and to make it socially and environmentally responsible.
Why did you decide to go to Buenos Aires to write your dissertation?
Totty: Because I did Spanish in my undergraduate degree, then I was doing a Masters in which I could go anywhere in the world to write my dissertation. It had to be on a political topic and since Argentina is a Spanish speaking country and there are certain political things going on, I organized to come here.

Alfonso: You worked in a shanty town… How was that experience?
Totty: I worked at the edge of a shanty town for 3 months, and it was amazing. I was teaching English but it was hard to get children to come there because the shanty town was so big that they had to walk a long way to go to the school and mothers were really frightened to leave their children alone and pick them up. However, the children who came really benefited from it.
On the other hand, the children who came to class had many problems and you suddenly may have found out, for example, that your mobile phone was stolen. Then, in the middle of the class you may hear the mobile phone ringing and you realize it is your mobile phone!

Alfonso: Hahahaha…
Totty: I really enjoyed the experience, but unfortunately, it is so dangerous that after a while I decided to leave it. I was told by people who lived in the centre of Buenos Aires “You are mad, what are you doing? That is so dangerous…” For example, if you forgot to get off the bus, you ended up in the middle of the shanty town. It happened to me once when I was with a friend, and we ended up running for our lives to get back to the school, which was just at the edge. The political situation in Argentina got worse, there was more crime and it was more dangerous, so I decided it was not safe. However, I have friends, who are still doing it and they have been fine; they did not have any problems.

Alfonso: Did you feel that your life was at risk sometimes?
Totty: Not when I was in the school. If you got off the bus, someone came to pick you up and take you there, things were ok, but the situation was dangerous and I felt it was too risk to keep on doing that.

Alfonso: Afterwards, you set up your own tourism business… Why did you take such decision?
Totty: I run a gallery for the whole year, I worked for Argentines and I loved it. Then, I decided it was time to have my own business and work with foreigners. I love having contact with people from outside and the gallery was mainly focused on people from Argentina. The other reason was because my partner and I decided to run a business in the countryside, and now there is a total number of 3 farms. Since I love the countryside, I thought it was a good way to combine being in the countryside, being in a relationship and being able to have my own business.

Alfonso: Do you consider your project to be sustainable (ecologically and socially)? If yes, how do you manage to do so?
Totty: I produce lots of the food for the people who stay. I grow my own vegetables, I produce my own milk. We have our own animals; we do not use any non-organic fertilizers.
It is socially responsible as well because those who stay are in constant contact with nature and we help local communities, since we employ locals as well. We also teach them to grow their own vegetables. We also help to sustain the local economy; for instance, we nearly have 2000 cows in the three different farms.

Alfonso: You have referred to the interaction with locals… My next question is twofold:
1. How do you interact with locals?
2. How do you make travellers experience local culture?

Totty: One of our big focuses is to show people the real Argentina and have an authentic experience. We take people to amazing places that we have found in the surrounding areas, such as a bar where all the “gauchos” come and play their guitar, and they are so happy to talk with travellers… We take them to a big gauchos festival where you see the gauchos doing rodeos and there are lots of stands where they sell all kinds of locally made products. The people working with us are always happy to share information about the countryside and The Pampa.

Alfonso: You seem to be fascinated by Argentina… Taking into account that if you wanted to practice Spanish you could have settle in a different Latin American country, why did you decide to settle in Argentina?
Totty: For Europeans, there is something about Argentina… You almost feel like if you were in Paris or somewhere close home. You have good restaurants… They have everything here. They are very civilised in the city, but when you go out there is an incredible countryside, a huge amount of space… I fell in love with the countryside and the city fits really well since I have a flat here, a lot of English friends, I made Argentinean friends… I may have chosen another country but Argentina just happened to be in the right place and in the right moment.
There are also negative things, such as the queues as regards administrative issues “trĂ¡mites” (pay the bills!), but I also feel there are less rules, which may not be good, but I love the fact that there is less regulation and I feel more free. There is so much to see here that you could never be bored: the mountains, the icebergs, the sea, the lakes…the possibilities are endless!

Alfonso: It was lovely talking to you. I do appreciate that you attended my call. Thank you so much!

Totty: All right, thank you, bye.

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