An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Posts from — March 2009

Shoes and Horses

7 o’clock came awful early.  And I do mean awful. The alarm sounds-piercing the darkest part of my soul. I frantically scramble to find and stop the torturous beep of my watch which I had attached to the foot of my bed the night before so as not to just push the button and roll over in agitated rebellion. I know what you’re thinking: “7 am? Wow, Derek, you poor thing!” Yeah, yeah-I know for some of you 7 am is almost laughably late and might even be considered sleeping in. But when evening activities carry you consistently to 3 or 4 in the morning, 7 comes too quick.

When I finally remember where my watch is, I stop the alarm, curse the sky and roll out of bed. As usual, my questioning existence fades by the time I get to the shower, where I rinse off any residual irritation, then continue to get ready.

Outside it had showered as well, and the streets of Aires glistened under a blanket of moisture. The skies were grey, dripping with inconsistency, but my spirits were bright. Today would be a good day. Today would be the shoe drop.

I walked to the hotel and entered the lobby where a group of volunteers had arrived the night before from different parts of the world. I introduced myself and realized something very clearly, that is how different my life had become. I had wandered just down the street from my hostel, still soggy, I met a range of people from different places. Several were students, a couple young energetic entrepreneurs, a real estate agent living in Costa Rica, a young man who had once lived on the streets of skid row-now resolved to helping others—but all had roots, homes. They had steady lives, which afforded them several days absence before requiring their return. But each came with purpose, and I was honored to join this group of like-hearted people.

Pepe arrived, spirited as ever. He explained the day’s events including our first disappointment. One shoe drop was canceled due to the rain and in sufficient roads. The shoes, he assured, would be delivered at a later date, in the meantime, we would kill a couple hours with sightseeing before continuing to one of the poorer neighborhoods in Buenos Aires for the other shoe drop.

We piled into a minibus, humming with the energy of a humanitarian summer camp, and after a Starbucks and a couple key sights we arrived. The children were starting to gather outside the meek school building. We organized the boxes by shoe-size, then ushered the children in. One by one, the young Argentines were escorted to a chair. Then if only for a few precious moments, the boy or girl would rest humbly on his or her throne, and as kings and queens we kneeled at their feet, smiled into their eyes, and fitted each with his or her very own, very new pair of shoes. Our knees collected dirt, dirty feet filled clean shoes, and our hearts were warmed.

When we finished, Pepe cheered us back on to the bus and told us of a special treat. Alejo was in small polo tournament outside Buenos Aires, we would close the afternoon with an Argentina past time. During the 1½ hour bus ride, as the weary travelers slept, I kneeled by Pepe, asking details of future projects. With me by his side, Pepe called and confirmed the school and needs with the distant superintendent, then hung up the phone. “He is very excited to have you! I’ll arrange the details and email to you tonight…”

The rest of the afternoon, we sprawled over grassy blades under the cool shade of strong trees watching mighty horses and Argentines speed competitively by. We were the only gringos but it didn’t matter. The contented locals rode, laughed, played this cowboy mix of golf and soccer. As the orange Argentine sun set, the air was sweet and rich. The men gathered sweaty, dirty, happy as they sipped beer in the company of their beautiful adoring wives. I breathed deep and slowly.

It’s hard to say, but I think in this moment under the pink sky, somewhere in the Argentine country, after a day of fitting shoes on tiny feet… I think it was this moment when I fell in love with Argentina.

March 9, 2009   No Comments