Living in New York can get stressful and overwhelming at times (or like every day) so it’s important to get out of town. Like 5289.81 miles out of town. At least that’s what I did in December when I went to Argentina by myself.
It wasn’t easy figuring out where to go. I hadn’t left the country in 5 years and I couldn’t afford to do a big fancy trip. Technically some people would argue that I had no business traveling at all, but sometimes you know you just have to no matter what, and for me, being an extremely confused girl going through her Saturn Returns with the number 30 hanging ever more before her, leaving to get some perspective was ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.
OK, I’ve made my point. Also, you should go to Argentina too if you feel like it. It’s fun!
I started the trip out in Buenos Aires. People wanted to know why I chose Argentina (it was a question I got over and over again on my trip.) Basically it was because I heard it was affordable, friendly, and that Buenos Aires was “the Paris of South America.” It was also less familiar than Europe and I didn’t want to go somewhere where people would speak English and I would basically feel like I was in New York City. I also didn’t want to go somewhere where my currency was poop.
I instantly loved Argentina. Even though I got tied up at the airport and couldn’t figure out where the car service was that the hostel ordered for me, I didn’t care (Which believe me, I usually would). When I got in the cab and we drove through the unexceptional highways that could have been from anywhere I still knew I loved it.
We experienced terrible traffic, but I was OK. I saw the gorgeous walls of murals and graffiti that Buenos Aires is so famous for, and then it was clear I wasn’t home.
I looked at the buildings, and old town houses with balconies that looked like they came straight out of Paris – except for the distinctive layer of soot that covered so many of them, not to mention the random tags that seemed to tell that kind of decadence to go fuck itself. I watched the light, obstructed by the lush trees, create small uneven patches of light and shadow across the city walls. I have never seen a city that had so many trees.
I stayed in hostels the first half of my trip. The first place I stayed was in Monserrat which borders the popular San Telmo neighborhood. I stayed there because I read that it had good transportation options. The hostel also only cost $10 a night. As soon as I got there the owner asked me if I wanted to get a vegetarian lunch with him. Funny thought considering that EVERYONE I knew said that going meat free in Argentina was next to impossible.
(BIG TIP on SHOPPING: Of all the neighborhoods I was in Monserrat had the best prices for clothing and other goods. I noticed the same items were far more expensive in other neighborhoods, especially on Avenue Sante Fe.)
I met a lot of awesome people at the hostel. An American from Texas who spoke flawless Spanish and was working at the hostel because he wanted to get out of the U.S. He never told me what he wanted to do with his life, and of course being from New York, I wondered what he wanted to do. But people didn’t really talk about stuff like that. In fact, I had no idea what most people did until I had been speaking to them throughout the evening, and I was the only one asking the “What do you do?” question. And to be honest it felt pretty superfluous. Asking the question was more like a habit. I didn’t really need to know the answer.
That being said, I will have to describe my friends by their nationalities and how it felt to be around them instead of what they “did”.
My friend Adrianna is from San Pablo, Brazil. She learned English entirely through watching the movies and I was the first native English speaker she ever spoke with (who didn’t also speak Portuguese). The best part about her was this: She liked herself. I didn’t have to hear her belittle herself, question whatever she was doing, or any other kind of crap like that. She was a gem among women, unscathed by the patriarchy at least when it comes to self-esteem. She was not self-conscious and she lived life without a plan. She didn’t even know where she was staying the next night, actually, and she wasn’t worried about it.
I never knew that a simple trip to get some vegetarian breakfast (we are both vegetarians) would result in us wandering the city for hours, but we did. Of course, considering it’s Argentina that was how hard it was to find a vegetarian restaurant (I think I may have overestimated my luck on day one).
It was also hard to find anything because we were used to getting around with our smart phones and neither of us had even the most basic cell phone service. Neither of us was fluent in Spanish either. I knew next to nothing and Adrianna knew quite a bit, but sometimes there was confusion regardless. We didn’t know where we were going, we were just kinda letting Buenos Aires tell us what to do, and so far it was a pretty good tour guide.
First we ended up downtown, then we wandered into Recoleta.
We took this awesome walk over this colorful bridge. We imagined the building on the other side was a museum (It was actually a law school). We were waving our arms around and we kept saying “I’m so happy.” I didn’t know what it was, maybe it was because we were actually experiencing things. It was like we were back in time, in the 90s, where things just happened and you just went with it rather than trying to build an itinerary on your smart phone as you go.
Eventually we found ourselves in the famous Recoleta cemetery. It was beautiful, but you start to think…”I’m around a lot of dead people now.” There was an eerie silence to the place despite all the tourists. I thought about my own life and what I wanted to do with it, because the inevitable was that I would die some day. In that quiet death didn’t seem so bad though. Not that I want to die or anything.
Later we met up with Adrianna’s friend from Brazil. We preceded to have a conversation in English, Portuguese, and some Spanish over cocktails. Then we went to a restaurant for wine. I tried to tell my friends that you should not go to any place that has plastic food outside of the restaurant because that’s a sign of it being a tourist restaurant. They didn’t get that, so we just went in – my New York foodie ways slapped to the wayside. But you know what? It was wonderful.
The next day I tried to get my phone working. As I mentioned I didn’t have a phone I could use, so before we went on the trip I tried to get my unlocked phone working at this little cell phone store where I heard the guy spoke English. This wasn’t true. In fact he wasn’t there at first and me and the woman in the store tried to communicate through google translate on her phone. It sorta worked, but it had its limits. Then the guy came and got my phone working, but with no data. I left. Later I discovered that you have to go on three separate visits to get data on your phone in Argentina (As a friend said, “It’s the classic Argentine way, making everything way more complicated than it needs to be.”) Regardless, I started to wonder why I was so obsessed with getting data anyway. Did I think I could yelp gluten free restaurants there? Confession, I did.
Later my friend Jan Luis, who also works at the hostel, joined Adrianna and I on a trip to La Boca. He is German and traveling in South America until the spring when he’ll go to University. He was very free-spirited for a German and prided himself on not being the stereotypical controlling German. The first night I stayed in the hostel he had this great idea to cook dinner for everyone. He, Adrianna, and I went shopping and made a big feast. It was so fun. Things got pretty funny when we needed to buy booze though. Jan Luis had to have this particular type of vodka and he wanted it real cheap. We went to like three billion places, some of which we had to convince to reopen for us, so that he could get this vodka at the price he wanted. Eventually, after what seemed like hours, we got it. I couldn’t help but find the whole thing funny.
Of course he and many other travelers (like real long term ones) often sell you on an idea (a plan, or a place) because it’s cheap. That is usually the main positive adjective in your vocabulary when you travel. IT’S CHEAP. I was annoyed by it at first because it was so not my typical life style but I knew that I needed to learn to love the word cheap if I were to really achieve the life I want: A life rich with time to play, rather than things to own.
Speaking of expensive things, I brought something rather expensive with me on our trip to La Boca. My new DSLR camera. I thought it would be great to document my trip while I was away. I made such a big deal about it before going and insisted I must have this camera for my mere two week trip. While sitting in the bus on my way to La Boca I realized what a terrible burden it suddenly was. On seeing me taking photos of my friends, a young couple spoke to me as they were exiting the bus, “Please be careful with your camera. It’s not safe here.” (Jan Luis translated). They were genuinely concerned. I got really scared and wondered why the hell I thought this was a good idea again. Especially on my own like this?
We got to La Boca and I kept worrying about my camera. I didn’t want Jan Luis or Adrianna to stray too far from me. But La Boca was full of people and it was touristy, all five blocks of it. I took some footage of Tango dancers and relished in the colors. All in all though we all felt disappointed. This was it? We soon caught a bus to San Telmo.
San Telmo was anything but disappointing. When they say Buenos Aires is like the Paris of South America, they are probably thinking of San Telmo. Fancy Parisian style buildings with large windows complete with gorgeous balconies juxtaposed with crumbling sidewalks and garbage make it the quintessence of what I feel the word gritty really means. A kind of dirty beautiful. I wanted to know every block of this neighborhood. I stopped into a bookstore, which turned out to be an English bookstore, and found a couple options for us to eat. They were all too expensive for my German friend so we settled on another little spot where I ordered Eggplant and a half bottle of wine at like 4 p.m.
There we met our server, whose name I don’t feel like putting down because he may be like “why are you writing about me weird girl I met once.” He was this good lucking man from Venezuela who spoke impeccable English and quickly pointed out how my pronounciation of the word “divirtiendo” (I’m having fun) was totally unacceptable. He told me about the racial discrimination he experienced in England and how people of all races lived on the same block where he was from – and knew each other by name. I told him how it wasn’t like that in the U.S. People don’t talk to each other even if they look alike, let alone if they didn’t. He told me about how the president of his country told Monsanto to fuck himself. In my state of buzztitude from the wine, this made me want to sing. Then he told me that Argentina had let Monsanto in and I quickly wondered if I was eating something from Monsanto at that very moment!
After our ‘linner’ we walked back to the hostel in a brilliant wine haze that made the day seem like it would stretch out forever. I was so happy. Then we got to the hostel and I looked at my bus ticket. I was getting on a bus to Bariloche, Patagonia, that night. I thought it was leaving at 10:22. Well, it was leaving at 8:22. It was 7:30. And here I thought I’d mastered the 24 hour clock.
I rushed out of the hostel like my life depended on it, and everyone else came to my aid. Even Jan Luis ran out to get me a cab. In the cab ride I wondered if I would make the bus. I am so anal about time, stuff like this barely happens. But somehow, I did not really care. I would get there or I wouldn’t. There would be a plan B if I missed it, and it’d also be cool. So even though the traffic roared and the car fumes swirled through my windows on the Buenos Aires highway I felt at peace.
And then I caught the bus.