With her husband Noah and daughter Lila, Leigh Shulman shrugged off her old life in New York to travel Europe, the US, Central and South America. Advocates of slow travel their pace ground to a halt when they settled in the Argentine city of Salta and founded an art and education NGO.
I’m sure you’ve never heard this before: where are you from?
I’ve moved around a lot, which makes it hard to say where I’m from. I was born in South Africa, spent grade and high school in the US. I’ve also lived in Israel, Panama and Argentina. New York City – Brooklyn, really – is the place I’ve spent the most years, and I definitely consider it home.
And what did you do there, then?
I moved around a lot with what I’ve done, too. I designed and produced websites for MTV, taught in the NYC public school system and also at universities. I’ve been a writer, an editor, and finally started my own company incorporating all these things. After my daughter Lila was born, I closed the business to be a stay-at-home mom.
How did you end up in Salta?
It was really more of an accident than anything else.
When Lila was about three years old, my husband Noah and I decided to sell everything we owned to travel, but we also had in mind that we were looking for a new place to call home. We traveled all over Europe, the US and Central America, and originally came to Argentina as a planned stop on the way to Uruguay. Thing is, we never made it to Uruguay. After traveling a bit in Argentina, we fell in love with Salta and decided to stay.
Have you lived abroad before?
Well, I spent the year before college in Israel. Then Noah, Lila and I lived in Panama for about six months. We also spent a bit of time living in the south of France and a few months in Buenos Aires, too. We’ve been in Salta longer than anywhere else we’ve lived abroad.
So what’s so good about Salta?
Salta is like the perfect middle ground of everything. You have mountains and country right near the city. The climate is temperate, but it rarely gets too cold or too hot. You have just about everything you could want from a city — art, food and culture — but it’s really easy to drive half an hour and be in what feels like the middle of nowhere.
People here, also, are incredibly mellow which makes life so much more pleasant.
And what don’t you like?
It’s been tough slowing down to Salta pace. After years in NYC, I’m used to planning and knowing what will happen with advance notice. Here, getting together with friends, school meetings, asados, even work schedules often only come together at the last minute.
Another thing that has been difficult for me to get used to: People don’t like to say no. It’s considered more rude to deny someone something they want than it is not to follow through. Shall we get together for coffee? Yes. And then you never hear from them again. It’s tough parsing the difference between someone who really doesn’t want to hang out and someone who is just really relaxed and letting plans happen as they happen.
The expat community, by the way, is really fantastic. There aren’t a lot of us, but most of us who end up here, do so because we want something different and really love the relaxed nature of life.
Do you feel like an insider or outsider?
A bit of both.
Often, born-and-bred Saltenos aren’t that open to foreigners. They’re “muy cerrados” as many like to say. They have their lives, their families, their friends, and they don’t open up easily to new people. That said, there are still plenty Saltenos who have been very accepting, not to mention people who have moved to Salta from other places in Argentina and the expats.
How do you support yourself?
Noah and I founded Cloudhead Art, an art and education NGO with the purpose of connecting people through social media in order to create, collaborate and share ideas.
Many of our projects are non-profit. Our for-profit projects are educational programs, from webinars on designing projects via social media to leadership programs for high school and college students that focus on volunteering, art and travel. We also host people in the Cloudhead Arthouse through Airbnb, offering a significant discount for volunteers and artists.
Any advice for wannabe Salteens (I’m sure this is wrong. What do you call yourselves?)
Salteños. With the accent over the n. But I may have to start calling them Salteens now.
Salta is a great place for families. It’s also great if you’re looking for a more mellow way of life. It’s growing hugely, and there’s a lot of space for people to do just about anything they’d want to do. If you’re a fluent English speaker, you are almost 100% guaranteed work here, because for the most part, while many want to learn English, very few actually speak it.
Is the move permanent?
I don’t consider anything permanent. We’re here so Lila can have a stable place to call home and to do our work with Cloudhead. But I assume we will all want to move on at some point, although I have no definite plans.
Finally, tell us about something typically Salta
There is nothing more Salteno than gauchos and empanadas. I would venture the empanadas here are the best in the world. In Bolivia they even call empanadas Saltenas. They’re smaller, not fried and the meat is cut by hand, never ground.
But we didn’t move here for those. What we like is that people are incredibly friendly and helpful. Life moves in a really lovely way and supports spending time with family, getting enough sleep and generally enjoying life.
Leigh is a writer, photographer and mum currently living in Salta, Argentina where she runs Cloudhead Art, an art and education NGO based on creating, collaborating and sharing via social media. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.