Buenos Aires, Argentina
It was a long and strenuous journey from Salta to Buenos Aires. However, it has ended well.
Once I left the Internet cafè after happily posting my last update, I began looking for the road to Cordoba, despite the fact that it was quite late at night, around ten. So I got good directions after a few tries, and learned that Ruta 9, which led directly to Cordoba, was about twenty blocks from here.
After nearly and hour I was there. I stopped at a little burger stand for a bit of water and triumphantly left with a burger and some cold french fries in my belly that a previous costumer had not wanted…the burger was barely touched! Upon arrival to the route, I walked along it until I came to the main highway several hours later.
By this time it was quite late; around two, I suppose. The road I had been following T’d off and went in two different directions. As it was so late, there was no one in sight to ask for directions, so I decided to call it a day and find a place to camp. I went off the highway a little bit and tried to find a nice patch of bushes.
As I was searching, I noticed a group of young people squatting on the side of a dirt road and having idle conversation. I paid them no notice as I went by, but one of them asked me for a cigarette. Since I never refuse a smoke to anybody, I gave him one. They started to talk to me, and I lit up a stogie myself as I fed them the usual story. They seemed very nice, and kept patting me on the back.
However, after a bit I began getting nervous. They kept asking me if I had any money, and I noticed them eying my pack hungrily. I, of course, had nothing of value, and I told them so several times. They remained unconvinced. After about twenty minutes, I decided that it was time to get out of there, so I told them later and tried to walk away. One of them grabbed my bag and pulled me back, telling me to give him some money, gringo! I again assured him that I had nothing and tried to push him off. Then, I officially started to get robbed.
He started trying to pull my bag off and push me down, so I wheeled around with my left fist and punched him in the nose as hard as I could. I felt my knuckles cave in the soft cartialdge and he went down like a sack of potatoes. Then the four others came up and tackled me to the ground. I kicked and struggled, but they were four and I was only one so there was nothing I could do. I continued kicking my legs, and heard a yelp as my steel-toed boot came into contact with something soft. I hoped it was a pair of balls.
They rooted through all of my pockets, finding nothing except a pack of Camels with two cigarettes left, some matches, and a few candy bar wrappers. Frustrated, the robbers rolled me over and took off my pack. A few of them dragged it a few yards away and dumped it out while the other three held me down. I chuckled with amusement as I continually heard the words, “No tienes nada.” (He doesn’t have anything.) The one I had punched in the face came up to me, pulled my head up out of the grass by my hair and asked me through his bloody nose where all the money was. I just laughed and told him that I said I didn’t have anything, and that he was a dumbass for not beliving me. He swore and slammed my head back into the grass. Asshole.
Eventually, after going through every part of my pack, the thieves realized that they had the bad fortune of finding what was probably the only American in Argentina without so much as one peso on him. Mumbling under their breath, they took some other things so as not to leave empty handed. Then the three that were holding me down picked me up and tossed me into the ditch before running off after their mates. Cowards.
I picked myself up out of the hole and went to inspect the damage. My pack lay in a crumpled heap surrounded by dirty clothes and pieces of paper. As I packed it back up, I re-inventoried. The thieves had taken my cigarettes, bedroll, all but two of my t-shirts, both of my jackets, my scarf, my toothpaste, and some lighter fluid. I laughed out loud; robbing a dirty leather tramp like me was akin to robbing a homeless person. Don’t expect to get much.
As I hitched my pack back up, I realized with some annoyance that the fuckers had broken the back support of my pack, making it all floppy and very uncomfortable. This perhaps was the biggest loss of the robbery: my comfort. Hijos de mil putas. At least I managed to smash that one guy’s nose in.
Adrenaline was still pumping through my veins, so I was no longer ready for bed. I went back to the highway and noticed a sign telling me the direction for Cordoba. I decided to walk until the energy wore off.
After about twenty minutes it did, and I went to sleep on my tarp in the side ally of a motel called “Swingers,” with two flashing neon hearts on the sign. The lights flickered on and off, probably from people’s vibrators overheating…
The next morning I awoke refreshed and went back to the highway. A ride was a long time in the making, though after about three hours a fellow finally stopped and drove me about forty kilometers to where Ruta 9 started back up and went all the way south to Cordoba. The man driving was a health nut, and told me all about how important it is to take vitamins. I told him I couldn’t afford to buy them, since they were expensive. Shocked, he insisted I take a bottle of them before he dropped me off.
This spot was popular; I saw five other hitch hikers there, two of them women. Competition. This was something new. At first I just went off by myself near the end, then decided to ally myself with a few of them who were going to Cordoba as well.
The women got picked up quickly, of course, but us fellows were having a rough time. Eventually, the two guys I was with went to go try a different road, leaving me there alone. After nearly three more hours a little blue French car finally pulled over on the shoulder up ahead.
Inside was a nice guy from Salta who was driving about 150 miles south to a small town called Rosario de la Frontera. He did work with engineering, and seemed to be quite well off. He showed me pictures on his phone of him and his wife in Egypt, Greece, Thiland, and other exotic places. Later, we stopped for a burger and he also bought me a pack of cigarettes. Then, he dropped me off at a truck stop in Rosario.
It was dark by that time, and the north of Argentina was proving to be a pretty difficult place to hitch hike. I had gone less than 200 kilometers after a full day of hitching. I decided to hang around the truck stop all night until I found someone to take me to Cordoba.
I was there a long time, though I did get several free sandwiches and a beer from a few truckers passing through. I sat in my chair, smoked my cigarettes, and made a sign that said “Voy a Cordoba, por favor.” No luck. I stayed awake as long as I could, killing flies and starting tiny fires in the ashtray with their broken bodies to pass the time.
Around five in the morning I was too tired to keep awake, so I grabbed my pack and slept behind the station. Around eight the next morning I woke up and tried for a bit longer until the manager told me I had to leave and go try someplace else. That was fine, as I was tired of being here anyways. So I walked.
I walked until I was out of town. I found a piece of cardboard in somebodys’ trash heap and made a sign that said “Cordoba.” After about thirty minutes a truck stopped and took me about forty clicks the the next toll booth (though not before buying me a spot of lunch.) The toll booth proved the easiest spot yet; I got picked up in about ten minutes and driven to Tucumàn by a man with such a large dip of coca in his mouth he could hardly speak. He dropped me off on the northern outskirts of the town and told me that there was a truck stop on the loop about ten clicks away. And so I walked, sticking my thumb out pointlessly since apparently nobody picks up hitch hikers who are just walking on the highway around here.
I arrived to the next truck stop just after dark and tried the same routine there. I had absolutely no luck, and all of the truckers seemed to be headed north. However, it was an interesting time there. There was a young girl who was hanging around the stop and asking people for money. She was very dirty, had matted hair, and seemed reasonably intelligent. She kept trying to go into the station to ask the diners inside for money, and would skip away with her tongue sticking out when the security guard would chase her away. Later I noticed her sitting outside the door and asking everybody who went in and out for a bit of change. Everyone seemed repulsed by her, but I liked her.
I went up next to the door and lit up a cigarette and sat down across from her. She eyed me warily, then seemed to forget about me as a person walked by and she asked “¿Tienes monedita?” managing to net a peso. I grinned. She and I weren’t so different.
I decided to start up a convorsation. “What’s your name, hija?” I said in a friendly manner.
She narrowed her eyes at me. “Don’t have one.”
“You must have a name. Everybody’s got a name.”
“Don’t have one.”
I shrugged. “Well, my name’s Patrick.” I dragged on my cigarette as she stared at me, apparently not used to being talked to like this. I thought for a moment. “You know, you and I are the same.”
She frowned. “How?”
I smiled. “Well, we both want someone to give us someting. You want money,” (she nodded enthusiastically) “and I want a ride to Cordoba.” The girl stared at me as the cars rumbled by on the highway. We sat in silence for a moment.
“Zatha,” she said. I cocked my head.
“What does that mean?”
“Oh!” I said, grinning. “Nice to meet you. How old are you, Zatha?”
“A good age.”
Then I noticed a big rig pulling up and I excused myself to go and ask him where he was going. It wasn’t Cordoba, so I went back to the doorway. Zatha looked up at me.
“What’d he say?”
I sat down heavily. “Not to Cordoba. But maybe the next one.” A man came out the door, and in answer to Zathas’ plea for pesos, he gave her a piece of hard candy. She took it, looked at it dismissively, and held it out to me.
“Sure.” I took it and unwrapped it, popping the sugary treat into my mouth. A group of guys came out and lit up cigarettes. I bummed one, struck up conversation, told them my story, and soon had myself a foot long club sandwich with meat and cheese on the way, courtesy of my buddies. They left soon after the sandwich arrived.
As I fested, I noticed Zatha looking on hungrily. I broke the sandwich in half and offered it to her. She snached it out of my hand and took a mammoth bite. We dined in silence. Later, Zatha dissapered into a back alley and I never saw her again. I wonder what happened in her life that put her where she is today. In any case, she ceartinly seemed to deserve better.
Later on, I made friends with one of the station attendants, who allowed me a safe place to sleep and a very much-needed shower (I hadn’t had one since the iron-ore mine in Chile more than a week before.) The next morning I hung around for a bit longer until one of the truckers told me that there was a better stop for drivers going south about ten kilometers away. So I went.
As I was walking along the shoulder, I noticed one of the numerous horse-drawn carriges carrying a variety of fruits passing me by. I asked the driver if he was going by the truck stop up ahead, and he said yes.
Soon, I was riding atop a pile of unshucked corn on a wooden cart with wagon wheels on it being pulled slowly twords my destination. Now I can add horse-drawn carriges to the list of types of vehicles that have given me rides…
We arrived after about half an hour. I hopped off, thanked the driver, and walked up to the station. The warm wind blew angrily, whipping dust about in little whirlwinds. I went inside immedietly and asked for bread and water. They brought me out a plate of rice, a slab of stewed beef, and some coffee. This was going to be a good station, I could tell…
After finishing my meal, I went out to go and ask around for a lift to Cordoba. I saw a guy with a beard and wearing a green Bolivia soccer jersey and a bandana on his head walking through the lot. He looked like my kind of person, so I went up to him and asked him where he was going. He told me to Buenos Aires, and he was looking for a ride. Another hitcher! Argentina seems to be full of them!
I told him I was going to Cordoba, which was on the way to Buenos Aires. He told me that none of the truckers there were listening to him, and that now he was out by the road just signalling by thumb. Since we were both going in the same direction, I went out with him.
After a bit more conversation, introductions were made. He was Alejandro Troyano, a twenty-seven year old Argentinan from Buenos Aires who speaks nearly perfect English and was returning home after five months in Bolivia bumming around and playing the blues on his guitar. Badass! That, again, sounds like exactly my cup of tea!
We chilled on the side of the road for a bit. He broke out his guitar and started playing some deep, soul-filled blues, his deep rough voice complimenting the fat notes perfectly. His blues in English sounded almost perfect, with only a few words betraying his Latin origins. He had a harmonica, too, and I borrowed it and followed along.
We simply chilled on that roadside next to the truck stop playing the blues and halfheartedly hitchhiking all afternoon. As soon as it got dark, we headed back to the station.
Alejandro didn’t have any money either; we were quite the pair. He even had an extra bandana and gave it to me to wear so that we looked similar. We went into the resturaunt at the stop to get some food. Alejandro didn’t seem to understand.
“But we do not have any money!”
“How will we get food?”
“You’ll see. It’s easy. I’ll teach you.”
A few minutes later we had a few waters and a huge basket of free bread. Apparently very hungry, Alejandro feasted, unable to figure out how I was able to get so much bread without so much as one centimo. My response was that I’ve been a poor leather tramp for a pretty long time now.
That evening we slept at the stop, having become pretty good friends by that time. We lay on our respective sleeping materials in the back part of the truck stop, listening to a tiny radio with a USB MP3 player attached to it. Alejandro proudly announced that he had “only four songs on it,” but that it was okay, since they were good ones. Later, he invited me to his flat in Buenos Aires for a time, and I decided to accept, since I had not yet gotten a response from my friend in Cordoba. So now we were traveling together! It was nice to have a companion for once; life on the road can be very lonely.
The next morning I awoke before Alejandro and went to the resturaunt for a bit of water. There was a new staff of workers there, and they kindly gave me a cup of tea and some crossiants. Alejandro was along a few minutes later. He sat down across from me and looked at my tea and bread, shaking his head.
“I do not know how you get so much free things.”
I shrugged and handed him on of the crossiants. “A lot of practice, my friend.”
After our breakfast, we went and looked for a cigarette. We found a nice fellow sitting outside of a dirty little casino out behind the station who was smoking and went and asked him for a couple. He turned out to be a really chill dude. Named Pedro, he was very friendly, and proudly showed us the new tattoo on his calf of his soccer team. Before we left, he even gave us a joint to smoke. Sweet.
After me and Alejandro went out back and smoked it, we looked around unsucessfully for a bit for a ride. Then we went out to the road and tried out luck there. This was becoming a little frustrating by now, as we had seen at least five other hitch hikers pass through here since yesterday, and all five had gotten rides by now. However, we were more or less baked, so we didn’t really care. As the sun got hotter, we moved to the shade and played some more blues.
Towrds the beginning of the afternoon, I was getting hungry for lunch. So I told Alejandro that I was going to try and score some food in the resturaunt; his job was to find a ride. When I got inside, I noticed that the same staff that had been there when I had arrived the day before was working once again. That meant they had seen me before, and it wasn’t like I had changed my clothes or anything, so they were sure to recognize me.
Sure enough, pickings were slim. I noticed a man that had left an entire fried flounder on his plate with only a few pieces taken off of it. I asked the lady if I could have a bag for it so as I and my friend could eat some lunch, but she told me no, that they weren’t giving me any more food. That kind of pissed me off, since they were just going to throw it away anyways. Why couldn’t they give it to me? It would have been plenty, even for both of us! It was all right, though; I took my revenge upon exiting and swiped a couple of candy bars from them. One way or another, they were going to feed us lunch.
EDIT: I don’t feel bad about this particular theft, as stealing from a gas station is stealing from a major oil corperation, something I do at every oppertunity because oil companies suck the life out of the world. MN, 02 OCT2010
I went back to the roadside and told Alejandro that it was time to leave. The station was no longer a reliable source of food. So we packed up and began walking. I noticed a small white pill bottle on the side of the road. Picking it up, I noticed there was still four pills inside! The bottle said “For pain relief” and I did had a bit of a headache, so I popped two and Alejandro popped one. We were pretty sure they weren’t poison pills or anything, and I was hoping it would be LSD or something like that. Turns out, they were just pain pills, and my headache went away.
A few kilometers later, we reached another gas station. This one looked relatively deserted, but we went over to get a bit of water. The attendant was nice, and let us take showers. We left this station around three.
Alejandro came up with an idea. Clearly, the north of Argentina was pretty much the worst place for hitch hiking ever. Nobody was even glancing at us. So he suggested that we make a sign that said simply “30 km.” That way, we could get short lifts, and eventually get to Buenos Aires faster than we were going at a walking pace.
His idea worked! Soon, a van pulled over and took us about 30 kilometers, dropping us off next to a couple of fishermen pulling aguilla eels out of a ditch. After this, we walked for several more kilometers and another truck pulled over and drove us nearly fifty clicks. We rode in the back, and had to get down as we passed a police checkpoint, since it’s apparently illegal to ride in the back of a truck in Argentina. We left this truck about 11 kilometers from the border of the province of Santiago.
After stopping at a little resturaunt (I made Alejandro use the food-procurement skills I taught him to prcoure a few free sandwiches) we continued walking south, the sun setting to our right.
After about six kilometers of walking, the mosquitoes decended on us. Millions of them, enourmous, relentlessly attacked every bit of exposed skin. And we still had five kilometers to go until the next patch of civilization! I switched on the afterburners and hoofed it south as fast as my legs would take me, the sound of a million tiny wings buzzing just behind me. Alejandro wasn’t able to walk as fast, and I told him he was on his own and to meet me at the nearest gas station, if either of us had any blood left by then.
Finally, I arrived at a gas station. I was jogging, my pack bouncing crazily about in all directions, waving my arms madly about all around in a vain attempt to fend off the evil little fuckers. I went inside and sat down heavily. Then this pudgy security guard comes up to me and asks me if I had been drinking. Really? I told him no, I just wanted some water. He said that I couldn’t have any water, and that I needed to leave. What the fuck! Was I doing anything wrong here? I told him I had to wait for my friend. He was being a little bitch about it, though, and made me wait outside with the mosquitoes. That really made me want to rearrange his face with the nearest blunt object, since being outside with a million bloodthirsty little vampires is pretty much my least favorite thing in the world.
Let me just clarify exactly how much I hate mosquitoes. If I was being tortured, they could shove splinters under my fingernails, burn me with hot metal, or cut my balls off. I wouldn’t talk. But if they stuck me naked in a tiny room with a million bloodthirsty, disease-ridden mosquitoes, I’d talk in a second. Sorry boys, Charlie’s a-comin’. They had mosquitoes.
When Alejandro arrived, the security guard wouldn’t even let him rest. He told us there was a police station about 1500 meters ahead that we could go to. Alejandro and I left, muttering “Concha su madre,” under our breath.
Finally, we arrived to the police station, which was at the toll booth on the border of Tucumàn and Santiago. The cops were hospitable, and gave us some tea and a nice little room to sleep in that was relatively free of mosquitoes, a great relief for both of us.
The next morning Alejandro found us a ride to the town of Santiago, about 100 kilometers south. We were dropped of at a gas station near the downtown, and I went inside and scored a few glasses of warm milk and some sweet rolls for us.
After our breakfast, we walked. As we did so, we formulated a plan. There was a train that left Santiago for Buenos Aires at eight that evening, and word on the street was that it was pretty easy to sneak aboard and get a free ride. So we decided to go to the train station. However, it was about ten kilometers away, and we were both dead tired from all the walking the day before. So Alejandro played a little bit of blues and soon had enough money for our bus tickets and a pack of ten cigarettes.
We got to the station in La Banda around eleven. Very old and looking practically unused, we found it totally deserted. Since we were both so tired, we took naps. Later, when we awoke, a couple of guys came up to us and sat on the tracks for a bit. One of them was a long-haired fellow that didn’t talk too much, and the other was Josè, from Buenos Aires, who always had a smile on his face. They told us that the passenger train didn’t leave until tomorrow morning. I asked them if any cargo trains went by today, as a bit of freighthopping was always fun. He said he didn’t know, perhaps around ten or eleven that night.
So Alejandro and I talked it over. He didn’t want to wait for the freighter, so we decided to walk to the freeway and try to hitch hike some more. We walked the twenty blocks there and hitched it for four hours until dark. Nothing. So I suggested we go back to the station and see if we could catch the freighter at eleven. Alejandro agreed.
When we got back, Josè and his mate were there again…and they had weed! So we smoked a bit, and then sat on the tracks and played music. An old train staion is the perfect place to play the blues; the place just radiates soul. The tones of our music drifted lazily in and out of the old rafters and bounced fatly off the weathered steel tracks. Alejandro played his guitar and sang in his gravelly voice and I kept the beat on an old ice cream bucket and a couple of sticks. It was a good moment.
Later on that evening, Alejandro said we should go play at a couple of bars and get some money for beer. I thought that sounded swell, so that’s what we did! The first place was a score; we made fourteen pesos (about $3.50,) got three sandwiches, and someone bought us a beer. And here’s the best part: an older couple offered to take us all the way to about 100 clicks from Buenos Aires the next day! That was more than 1,200 kilometers! All we had to do was meet them at their hotel at nine the next morning.
So after we left that place, we got a pack of cigarettes (5 pesos) and a big bottle of beer (5 pesos.) We played at a few more places that night, spent all the money we made on more beer, and then went back to the station. It turned out that Josè actually lived in this little house on stilts above the tracks and he let us sleep with him that night, which was cool because it was raining.
Three different times in the night, Alejandro woke me up, telling me that the train was here, which meant it was eight a.m. and time to get up. The first time, it was only two a.m. The second time, four a.m. The third time, six a.m. Alejandro was simply so excited to return to his home that he could hardly sleep. I didn’t blame him; five months is a long time to be away from home.
So we left around seven thirty, stopped for a bit of tea, and then waited at the hotel. Around nine-fifteen, the couple came out and we were soon on our way south! Alejandro and I were very excited to be finally getting closer to Buenos Aires. We stopped on the way at a church/musem that our drivers wanted to visit, and Alejandro and I hung out by the car and ate cookies, niether of us being the churchgoing type.
We arrived to a small village about 100 clicks from Buenos Aires around eight. It looked like we would be spending the night at this place, since we didn’t have nearly enough money for the bus. So we went to the downtown with the intention of playing a bit of music and maybe getting a pizza with the money.
The first place we hit was a score…twenty-five pesos! My old ice cream bucket/drum was rattling with coin! So we went into a pizza place and got a huge, delicious pizza. A few cool guys there bought us a beer. Then these two ritzy-looking older women started to talk to us, and Alejandro told them of his adventures and I told them of mine. About an hour later, two guys in suits came up to us and shook our hands. They told us that our stories were very interesting; turned out, they were radio DJ’s and they wanted to interview us on air! Holy shit! I gotta work on my Spanish! They said they would contact us in a few days to schedual an interview. Damn! (EDIT SEPT 2011: Niether of us were ever contacted. Bummer.)
So we were super happy. Then the two older women (who were every bit of the definition of cougers) were happy for us. Alejandro broke out his guitar and sang music, and those two ladies were pratically dancing on the table. At least they kept our glasses full of wine. And then three more hot younger girls in their late twenties came in, apparently friends of the cougers. Me and Alejandro simply couldn’t belive our luck. All three of the girls were obviously oggling us. It was awesome. Then one of the cougers got really drunk and had to go back to her hotel, and the gaggle of women left to help here there. However, they weren’t gone before inviting us to go swimming at their pool the next day. Can you say score?
When we left that place Alejandro and I couldn’t stop laughing for a solid fifteen minutes. I kept telling him how obvious it was that one of the couger women was totally trying to get him back to her hotel (Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?) which caused fresh fits of mirth.
We just chilled around town that night and played music. Once, Alejandro was playing for a crowd of nearly thirty kids, all around the age of fourteen and all who were drinking beers and chain-smoking cigarettes as if they were twenty. By the end of the night, we were a pair of local celebrities; every person in the town recognized us by two a.m., and everybody waved at us like they just saw Brad Pitt walking down the street. It was pretty cool, I tell you what. We got lots more free booze and weed.
Around four we were exhausted, so we went back to where our bags were and crashed out in a field behind some trees. We woke up the next morning around seven and walked to the road to hitchhike, wanting only to get to Alejandro’s apartment to have a shower and a sleep in a real bed. Five minutes later, who should drive by but one of the cougers from last night! Of course, she gave us a ride. We asked about the pool party, but apparently the other couger was too hung over.
She turned out to be a lot nicer when she wasn’t drinking heavily; she was a retired, divorced flight attendant from Argentine Air who had managed to net millions from her husband in court. Pretty much your typical rich older woman. She bought us coffee and then dropped us off in Buenos Aires! Finally, we were there!
Alejandro’s apartment was still a ways away, so we talked our way into a free subway ticket and soon were there! A nice flat in downtown Buenos Aires, (which is a beautiful city) in Parque Patricio. We took showers, relaxed, and chilled with his friends while playing music all night long.
Today was a day of rest; tomorrow, we are going to play in a few more bars and devise more schemes of making money, which include teaching English and organizing city tours for tourists. I like it here. I will definently stay for awhile, probably a month or so. Many interesting things are sure to happen, so I’ll post a weekly update.
Over and out, my friends!
The Modern Nomad