This past week has just been one thing after another. Seriously. Hopefully things will settle down for a week or so, because I am damn tired.
So Buenos Aires was supposed to be something great. And for awhile, it was…
Alejandro and I were having a good time. I was getting along great with his family; all was well. When we needed money, we grabbed our insturments (him on the guitar and vocals, and me on either percussion or sometimes rythmn guitar) dipped into the nearest subway station and played the sad, sad blues as the antique cars raced smoothly along the glistening steel rails through the cool underground tunnels.
We toured the city; I saw the El Oblisco in the heart of the city on Avenida Nueve de Julio, which is the widest avenue in the world, spanning six lanes in either direction…larger than a city block in New York City!
Then, one day, Alejandro began acting differently. Before, when we were traveling, I would share everything I got (food, cigarettes, anything) with him and he would do the same with me. While we were on the road, we made all sorts of exciting plans, and the way he was talking he wanted me to stay in Buenos Aires for a very long time, talking about organizing trips to Texas for tourists and things like that. I only wanted to stay until I got my mail.
Then one night he told me that all of a sudden he didn’t want me to stay in his flat anymore, stating that “he was tired and stressed from his travels, and wanted to be alone.” This complicated things for me, as I had already posted his address and assumed that mail was on the way. He suggested I get a job and rent my own flat. What the hell, I didn’t want to live in Buenos Aires!
So now I was in this big city without a place to stay. I couldn’t just keep going south…I would miss my mail! What was I supposed to do for the next two weeks? I had nothing, no money for food or anything, and I soon found that resturaunts in Buenos Aires are apparently quite familiar with my free food schemes, so I ate nothing. At this point, I was pretty sore at Alejandro.
But then I remebered something my Dad told me in a message after my last note:
“I have noticed your notes becoming more militant towards people who do not give you things when you have done nothing in return. You seem to be condemming people for doing their jobs and even stealing outright from them when they refuse you free food for a second time. If you choose not to work, fine, but do not expect everyone to share in your adventure and enable you to continue with handouts. Earlier in your trip, you took what was offered but now you seen to be asking and even demanding people give you free stuff. You seem to have no problem with using guilt, guile, and even outright dishonesty to get what you seem to feel you deserve.”
He is, of course, correct. As my journey has progressed, I have begun to shift from hoping that I get that next meal, that next ride, that next cigarette, to expecting it. And that’s really not what my adventure is about, is it? While scheming to get free stuff is certianly a necessary part of the trip, it is only a tiny portion of what it’s really all about. I was focusing solely on getting what I wanted, and was willing to bend a few Origonal Rules to do so. Instead I should have been focusing on the true nature and ultimate reason for my trip: a both physical and spiritual journey to see something wonderful and vast (the world) through the eyes of something small and ultimately completely insignificant (the lonely nomad,) and also to connect on an intimate level with my fellow members of the human race.
So I quelled my anger, and curbed my resentment twords Alejandro. While it’s true he did offer his home to me and the suddenly yank it away, it’s still, after all his home. My being upset for him not welcoming me into his personal living space for a few weeks seems, when put into context, completely ridiculous. So I hold nothing against him.
Later that evening as I was trying to figure out what to do for the next two to three weeks, I was talking to some good friends back home (The Harpers) on a bit of bummed Internet from a nice hotel that seemed to have no trouble beliving that my slightly pungent self was a guest. The Harpers told me that they wanted to send me money, and I told them awesome! That would be a great help right now. They said they would go to the Western Union website and let me know how things went. Fantastic!
So I made a mistake I’ve made before in both Lima and in Nicaragua: I counted my chickens before they hatched and spent the money before I actually had it.
Since I had no intention of losing what little gear I had left to muggers on the mean streets of Buenos Aires, I found what qualifies as a cheap hotel in Argentina (an expensive country) and convinced the owner to let me stay for the night on credit and pay the next day. He was an extremely nice fellow, and told me yes without hesitation.
The place is called the Palace Hotel Rondeau, on Avenida Entre Rios 2100, and if any of you find yourself in Buenos Aires I highly reccomend it. Not because it’s rooms are fantastic or because it’s prices are rock bottom (the rooms are great, but at AR$50 a night it’s not the poorhouse,) I reccomend it because of the incredible genorosity and compassion of the people who run it.
Here’s what made them so great: Not only did they let me stay on credit, they would give me money to go eat at McDonalds (which I admit I was craving for some reason) and even cook for me in the mornings and the nights! Full, healthy meals! Then later, when I would go up to bed around nine or ten, someone would knock on the door bearing tea, sweet bread, and even Oreo cookies!
The first night I was there I formulated my plan for the next few weeks. I decided I was going to go to Còrdoba, wait until my mail arrived to Buenos Aires, and then return to collect it and continue south. I planned to leave as soon as I could pay the hotel, which, presumably, would be the next day.
The next day the money didn’t come. Nor the next day. Nor the next day. I was getting rather frustrated and scrounged up a peso or two every day to check the Internet to see if the transfer had been completed. But nothing came.
Of course, this was entirely my fault for spending the money before I even had it. The Harpers had, and still have, every right not to send me jack diddly-squat, as I have done nothing for them that entitles me to any sort of payment whatsoever. They are doing this because they are nice people.
So far it still hasn’t come, but I don’t really care about the money; the only reason I was stressing over it so much was because I didn’t want to stiff the good folks at the Hotel Rondeau who had been treating me so kindly. So I dipped into my emergency funds which are stashed back home in the States and consist of seventy-five dollars that was being saved to pay for the entry visa into Brazil on my trip north. I had my Dad wire it to me, and that day I was able to pay the hotel and leave for Còrdoba.
However, the generosity of the Hotel Rondeau had not yet run out; the seventy-five dollars came out to AR$284, more or less. My bill at the hotel was AR$250. The owner noticed how little I had left and asked me how I was going to pay for the bus to Còrdoba. I told him I was just going to hitchhike, and he was adament that I not do so. I assured him I had done it many times, and that I would be perfectly all right, yet he refused to listen, convinced I would be murdered. He practically had to staple AR$110 to my forehead to get me to take it. That was nearly half of my bill, and I wanted to pay these people for being so incredibly hospitable! I don’t even like money!
In the end, I took it, and was soon at the Buenos Aires bus station, which actually looks like an airport it’s so enourmous. I paid for my ticket to Còrdoba and then used the Internet for a bit while I was waiting for the bus, which was due to arrive at 1850 hs.
Around 1830, I discovered something highly distressing had taken place sometime in the past hour…
My passport was missing!
Oh, nightmare of nightmares. This could take months to sort out. I desperetly searched every pocket of my clothes and every orefice of my bag, but to no avail. It was gone! I had placed it stupidly in my back pocket after showing it to the man at the ticket counter for ID, and was certian someone had swiped it while I wasn’t paying attention. God fucking damnit!
I don’t know if I’ve ever been more angry and upset in my entire life, though I did manage not to make a scene. I tried the lost and found. Nothing. I asked a cop, but he said there was nothing he could do.
And then I noticed my bus to Còrdoba pulling out of the gate. I clenched my jaw in fury. There was no way, on top of all this, that I was going to miss my bus. I ran as fast as I could out to it and got them to let me aboard.
I went to my seat (number 25) on the top of the double decker semi-cama bus, sitting down heavily and fuming. Whoever stole my passport, I hope they got AIDS. I was going to have to get on the Internet and send about a million emails and-
Wait a second.
Holy John F. Kennedy, the Internet! I remembered now! My passport was at the Internet cafè! I had taken it out of my pocket to get some information off a piece of paper I had tucked in there and I had left it by the keyboard! I needed off this bus NOW!
I practically flew down the stairs to the cockpit and tried despretly to explain to the driver what had happened. Eventually he got the point, and the bus hissed to a hault as he deployed the air brakes. The station was still close…just across that field! He told me to run and get it, and that he would wait. I took off like I had a four-stage rocket strapped to my back.
Three minutes later I burst into the Internet place. All I managed to get out was
The attendant gave me an icy look, reached under his keyboard, and pulled out my passport. God in heaven, the relief I felt was indescribable. I took it, and, cradeling it in my hand like it was my firstborn child, zoomed back out the door, shouting, “Thank you, I mean, gracias!!”
By the time I got back to the bus, my energy was well past the reserves and was now running on fumes alone. Fucking cigarettes. I clambored onto the bus, crawled up the stairs, and collapsed in a heap into seat 25.
Well that was a relief. After an hour or so I was breathing slower and my heartbeat had dipped back below ten thousand beats per minute. The conductor put a movie on the on-board telivision network, some cheesy eighties flick about Tom Selleck trying to raise a baby.
My mouth was getting dry; I needed moisture! So I went and asked the conductor if there was anything to drink onboard, and he pointed me to a couple of faucets. One dispensed cold water, and another dispensed coffee. Hm. Very nice.
I had a few glasses of water, then got a cup of coffee. Hot damn, that was some good coffee! I temporarily relocated myself to the empty seat closest to the coffee machine while I watched Tom Sellecks’ moustache bob around the screen like a possessed wolly bear caterpiller.
Two hours and eleven cups of free coffee later, the movie was over, everone else was sound asleep, and I was wired. I sat up in the front on the second level so I could see the road ahead of us and counted how many yellow dashed lines we passed on the road per minute (we averaged about 225.)
Fianlly, around 0100, the caffine wore off and I crashed like a drunk teenager running a red light during rush hour. Ahh, blissfull sleep. I halfway awoke hours later just as the sun was peeking over the horizon. I was just thinking idly how beautiful it was and was about to go back to sleep when I remembered something. Weren’t we supposed to arrive in Còrdoba at about…
I sat up and pulled my ticket out of my pocket.
Last time I checked, the sunrise wasn’t before 3 am. Something was up here…
I went down once more into the cockpit and asked the driver:
“Where are we?”
“About twenty minutes from Catamarca,” he said, without taking his eyes off the road.
Catamarca? What? I crinkled my brow. “Aaaand…how far is Catamarca from Còrdoba?”
He gave me a look. “About four hours…north.”
Hm. North…this was a problem. Did I really just ride the bus four hours too far north? Did I really just do that?
It appeared so.
The driver told me to go back to my seat, that we weren’t stopping until Catamarca. Great. I felt exactly like Ross from “Friends” when he was dating the girl from Poukeepsie and he fell asleep on the train and went all the way to Montreàl. ‘Are we really in Montreàl??’
I gazed out the window. Are we really in Catamarca? Damnit, this bus trip was just one thing after another, wasn’t it?
So when we got to Catamarca, I asked the bus driver how I was supposed to get back to Còrdoba.
“Buy another ticket,” he said, as if I was purpously bothering him with silly questions.
“But I don’t have anymore money.”
He gave me a “and how is that my problem?” sort of look and dissapered into the station. You know, it’s a good thing I’m totally used to being stranded hundreds of miles away from where I’m trying to go in a foriegn country that’s not even on the same continent, or even hemisphere as my land with fifteen centavos and only one cigarette, otherwise I might have freaked out just then.
It looked like it was back to the old standby. So I changed out of my flip-flops and into my walking boots and set off in the general southerly direction of Còrdoba, thumb in the air.
I walked exactly eleven kilometers before I got picked up. It was a good walk, though, and the cool morning air was bracing. A nice change from the city air in Buenos Aires. The ride was a good one as well, and took me about 250 kilometers to the tiny and ridiculously windy town of Deàn Funes. I tried all day to get a ride the 120 kilometers more to Còrdoba, the freezing gusts literally knocking me down several times, but no one would stop. It was stupid cold and I had no jacket to speak of, so I had to use my sleeping bag as a kind of a cloak. Around dark, I went into the nearest gas station and drank hot water, mumbling about the apparently heartless folk of Deàn Funes who won’t take a frozen gringo 120 clicks to Còrdoba.
Twords eight the temprature sank like the Titanic, and it began to sleet. Wonderful. Good thing I had this warm 24 hour gas station here that I had every intention of staying in all night long. The attendant was a great guy, though, and asked every single person that came inside if they were going to Còrdoba. Apparently no one was. I was starting to wonder if Còrdoba even existed at all; this was the fourth gas station that I would be spending all night in asking folks for a ride to that city. Not one single person even admitted that they were going there at all, though I think some of them were lying through their teeth. They say they were going north, but when I watched them leave the lot they turned right and blantantly headed south. Fuckers.
I stayed up all night with the attendant and drank more free coffee, though this coffee was even better than the comendable coffee on the bus… it was expresso-style! Caffine overload! Woo hoo!
The next morning, I was tired of hanging around the gas station, so I told my mate goodbye and hit the road walking (though not before he gave me five, yes, that’s right, five free packs of cigarettes for the road. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!)
After about an hour or so, a big rig pulled over, which is amazing since I’ve not once ridden in a big rig in Argentina so far…they are very picky here. An hour and a half later, I arrived at last to the illusive city of Còrdoba.
The girl I was supposed to stay with had given me her number before and told me to call as soon as I got into town. I used the truckers phone and soon was off to meet her at someplace called Patio Olmos at one o’clock, prepared to make a good first impression.
Her name is Virginia Piña, and she was an exchange student in New York with my friends the Huggins family a few years back. The Huggins speak very highly of her to me, so I was kind of nervous, belive it or not. I tried valiently to find Patio Olmos, but soon found myself totally lost.
At one thirty I wandered by a large building, and suddenly someone came up to me and said, “Are you Patrick?” Oh damn, it was her! I guess this was Patio Olmos! I felt embarassed; there was me, half an hour late, wandering about in the square with a dirty bandana in my hair, a week’s worth of beard growth, a lit cigarette jutting from my lips, and a perplexed look on my face. Some first impression I made.
Hopefully she doesn’t judge first impressions too harshly; I hope we will get along well. Oh, and I’ve discovered that no one actually sent anything to the Buenos Aires address yet, so I am just going to recive my mail here at Virginias’ house. Much easier. I hope it arrives here quickly, as the last thing I want to do is overstay my welcome. If it takes too long, I think I’ll just hitchhike to Chile to kill some time and pick up my packages on the way back.
The Modern Nomad