We had a long weekend this past weekend so last week I kept trying to plan a trip with some friends from the program. Many people headed north to Iguazú Falls, but since I have class on Fridays from 12:45-14:45 (try getting used to the 24-hour clock without subtracting 12 once you get past mid-day… it’s hard!) and the bus trip is eight hours I opted against it this weekend. Finally, as Shabbat came to a close on Saturday night I was getting more and more restless and anxious to ditch the city for at least a day of some peace and quiet. Nothing was panning out and I was getting really frustrated and considering throwing caution to the wind and going it alone since I have met many females traveling solo in this country. Much to my parents’ relief, I’m sure, I went to dinner Saturday night with Liz, a girl from my program, an Argentine, and a girl from Finland who lived in Honduras for a while and had just backpacked down to Patagonia and back to Buenos Aires by herself (yes, you read that correctly), and Liz said that she would love to join me. We already had plans with a bunch of people from a local hostel to go to a boliche (dance club) after dinner and knew we’d be out late (7AM!) so we decided to be up by 11 and meet by 12 to go to the bus station.
The man who goes alone can start today, but he who travels with another must wait till the other is ready. — Henry David Thoreau
Due to a strong desire to sleep in and the bus station proving very difficult to find, we finally were able to meet at 16.30. It took me a good half an hour to find the right station since the subte, ferrocarril (train), and bus terminals are all on the same street right next to each other. After walking into three different buildings the size of warehouses and not finding the correct one I was beginning to get this incredibly overwhelming feeling of being trapped and being literally unable to get out of the city. I finally found the right building at the very end of the street and Liz was there ten minutes later. Since we had only decided the night before that we were going on this trip and were only vaguely sure of where we wanted to go we decided the entire trip was going to be about spontaneity and going with the flow. We walked into this bus terminal with backpacks, cameras, and guidebooks in tow looking very much like tourists. I had only a scrap of paper in hand with the names of two bus lines that should have a line to San Antonion de Areco, the city we had decided on due to its proximity to Buenos Aires and the resulting mere two hour bus ride.
After approaching the window for one of the companies I had written down giving the salesperson the date that we needed to return (the following Monday evening since we had class Tuesday morning) we were told that all return buses with the exception of the one at 9:30AM were booked. A less than 24-hour trip was out of the question so we stepped to the side trying to figure out what to do. Don’t go? Take the trip next weekend when it’s not a holiday weekend? Go and find another way back? Liz suggests we pick a different city. We open the guidebooks to pick the next nearest city and I mention that our class isn’t until 10AM so if we can get a bus back early Tuesday morning we could stick with our original “planned” destination. There’s a bus at 6:30AM Tuesday morning. Perfect.
We spent to two hours on the bus gazing out the window at the sprawl of Buenos Aires and then the ghettos (because I’m not quite sure what else to call them–slums?–or what the term is here. In Brazil I would assume favelas, but we’re not in Brazil.). Then a few quick views of The River! Did you see that river?! Buenos Aires is a port city, and I swear one would never know it unless you were in Puerto Madero or one of the other upper-class barrios that line the water. Towards the two hour mark we start wondering how we’re going to know when to get off. The bus made several other stops but there was no formal announcement of the location was made we just knew that some people disembarked while others boarded. A few minutes later we pull off an exit and Liz sees a sign that reads ‘San Antonio de Areco’ so we hop off the bus after it stops in a small parking lot. Looking around there are no signs telling us which direction to head or any street signs giving us any indication as to where we are. We aren’t sure whether to go inside and find out if we should get a taxi, if we should walk, if there’s another bus we can take, nothing. So we just start walking.
We walk about two blocks and spot a street sign, find our location on the map in the guidebook and notice that we’re about 10-12 blocks from the location of one of the hotels mentioned in the book. As we walked down the street towards the center of town we couldn’t help but marvel at all the architecture and the silence (do you hear that silence? It’s so quiet! I love it!). Aside from the tranquility the first thing I notice is the subtle aroma of fires burning as we walk along the neighborhood streets. Since autumn and winter are probably my favorite seasons you can imagine that I have thoroughly enjoyed the immense amount of hot chocolate, tea, soap, and varieties of squash and pumpkin there are for me to consume, but I have yet to smell a fire burning in Buenos Aires so I soaked it up as much as I could. The sun was setting so we walked briskly wanting to make it to the hotel before dark.
We find the first hotel after about half an hour and an old man comes to the door to tell us that the hotel is full but recommends one a few blocks away that should have a room. As he makes his recommendation he tells us that they have computers, TVs, and many other ammenities that he thinks will entice us. Then he tells us that it costs about A$130 pesos per person. We quickly do the math and realize that it would cost us about US$43 each. In other words, too much money so we set out for the second guidebook recommendation.
After several more blocks of walking we find it only to find out that they have no vacancies either. Defeated, we walk into the nearest maxikiosco (quickmart) asking for the names of a few places. I swear the girl stifled a laugh as she told us that all the hotels in town were full and no one had any vacancies because it was a holiday weekend. Refusing to believe her and not having a place to sleep for the night we continue looking. Several B&Bs, hostels, hotels, and a tourist center later Liz jokingly points out that we can always sleep in the park. Because that one over there? It’s well-light and this is a small town so I’m sure we’ll be safe. Despite all of this not the smallest since of urgency or panic is setting in for me and the fact that we have nowhere to sleep is not fazing me one bit. Because do you hear that quietude? I love this place! We walked into a tourist center and asked the lady if she knew of anywhere that had a bed available. We explain our situation and ask her advice as per what to do and she immediately says, “Go back.” Refusing to give up we turn and leave.
At this point in this post I’d like to warn those of you who care deeply about my safety about the immense amount of impulsiveness that follows. I hope that you’ll view this as living and not as me having temporarily lost my sanity. I’d also like to say that for me, this is what travel is about: authentic experiences and taking everything as it comes. I did this not only for me, but for each one of you who may never find the audacity to do it yourself.
“The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes “sight-seeing.” — Daniel J. Boorstin
I spot a gorgeous poncho in the window of a shop and since we’re still running ideas through our heads trying to figure out what to do Liz suggests that we go in and talk to the people in the store. As I’m fingering a poncho the woman behind the register asks us where we are from and what we’re doing in town. I hear Liz begin to answer her and then go off on a tangent explaining that we have no where to sleep that night and everything is full. It was a small store so the family that was in there turns around and listens intently. After a few minutes of talking with the woman and her husband who own the store, she explains that she would invite us to come stay with them but their four boys all came home for the holiday weekend so they have no beds available. She then turns around to get an address book off the shelf behind her and commences calling friends who may have a room available.
The family in the store offered to drive us back to the bus station so we could catch a bus back to Palermo in Buenos Aires but we had already paid for our return ticket back on Tuesday morning and didn’t want to have to buy another ticket and lose the one we had already purchased. At just this moment the lady that owned the store announced that some friends of theirs, an older married couple, wanted to take us in for the night and that her son was on his way to drive them home anyway and they lived right down the road. They warn us that the house is out in the country and ask if this is a problem. A problem? Are you kidding? It was perfect.
We pull up the driveway to what is, I kid you not, a mansion constructed in the most gorgeous of Spanish architecture. The family huge dog and we were greeted by him and the couple as we got out of the car. They gave us a tour of the house and then promptly inquired about whether we had eaten or not. We had not, and since it was about 9:00 at this point (pretty standard for dinner-time here in Argentina if not later) they insisted on taking us to a nearby restaurant for dinner. Liz and I both got a ravioli dish because it sounded delicious and since the couple insisted on paying so we wanted to choose the cheapest item. This was the beginning of an amazing experience of Argentine hospitality. As we walked out to the car after dinner we both said a little prayer of thanks that we weren’t going to be sleeping in any parks that night because the air was noticeably more frigid compared to Buenos Aires even though we were only two hours outside the city.
When we got back to the house we layered up and went outside to admire the celestial view. The stars were so brilliant that you almost felt like the sky would fall down on you if you breathed and the moon was full and shone brighter than I have ever seen in my life. I would have been more than content to spread a blanket on the grass and lay there all night and my only wish would have been for a fire to keep me warm. I decided to stay out there a little longer than Liz knowing that it would be a while before I would have a view like that again, and as she turned to go I told her about how my mom and I share a fascination with the moon. How she always told me that no matter how far apart we are if I look up to the moon I can find comfort in knowing that she’s looking at the same one too. I also told her about how when I was younger and my dad came home from work late I would immediately say, “Go see moon. Go see stars,” and he would take me out onto the driveway to stare up at the night sky. I’m not sure I can explain it, but I’ve always found such a comfort in the night sky and it’s eerie to me that some times after living in Atlanta you forget what’s up there. It was always near impossible to see anything in the sky except for the moon so I’ve really enjoyed the nighttime views from Buenos Aires and outside the city.
The next morning Liz and I awoke to a very traditional breakfast of coffee, medialunas (croissants), and alfajores (sweet pastries). As we were eating Pedro walked in the door wearing the most adorable gaucho outfit ready to go work on the farm for a few hours. Anita insisted on driving us into the city (about a 15 minute drive) since she was headed in herself for the day. We asked if we could take pictures of their gorgeous home and then when them so we could share them with friends and family and they kindly obliged us.
We spent the remainder of our weekend walking around the town, checking out a few shops, eating the most delicious pizza we have ever had, and relaxing by the river because the previous day had been adventure enough for the both of us. While we both thoroughly enjoyed being spontaneous we have also vowed to–at the very least–purchase bus tickets and arrange accommodations before taking our next trip. At least on holiday weekends. 😉 We also made a point of purchasing chocolates from a local chocolatier and writing two thank-you notes to both families and dropping them off at the store since we had not been allowed to pay for anything. Not wanting to insult Pedro and Anita by not allowing them to be hospitable and be the very gracious people that they are we felt like this was a suitable way to thank them for their kindness and opening up their home to us.
“The very basic core of a man’ s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence, there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” — Christopher McCandless