An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Buenvinidos Buenos Aires

I’ve been putting off South America because it’s always seemed close and somewhere along the way I developed the idea that I should start far while I’m young, energetic, and handsome then work my way back. There are a few flaws however, to this strategy: First, I think I will always feel younger than I am. Second, ever since the invention of coffee, energy is simply one cup away. Third, I’ll probably always be handsome. And fourth and maybe most significantly, South America is not really that close!

The flight from Newark to Buenos Aires is an approximate 14 hours with a short layover in Houston, where you stop, deboard, and just as the blood gets to your feet, you get back on the plane for the remaining 10.5 hours. To be honest, I hadn’t done my homework at all on South America, Argentina or Buenos Aires. I purchased the Lonely Planet, which is about the size and weight of a cement block, but after sleeping, eating and pleasure reading, the “initial decent” was announced without my even cracking the Lonely Planet block.

But it’s never too late to start doing your homework, albeit standing in line waiting for customs is cutting it close. So I got busy. Casually introducing myself  to everyone in the near vicinity, fishing for clues like a good part of town, transportation into the city, any tips that might be useful to a new non-Spanish speaker in Argentina. Before I got my passport stamped, not only had I met another guy from a town two hours from my Arizonan hometown, I also managed to split a cab with three others to the city where someone was already booked in a notorious hostel.

Unfortunately, my luck slowed a bit. We walked into the hostel, humming with young energy. Music playing. Argentine twenty-somethings dashing back and forth checking in internationals all suited with backpacks. The problem with a popular hostel is that it’s…. well popular. So with no space I hit the streets, walking to the next closet spot… full. Then another, full. Then again. Finally, with shoulders strained and sweat dripping, I found my home for the night. A 14 hour flight and city-wide hike is not necessarily rejuvenating, but when you get to Buenos Aires, you don’t have time to rest.

I tracked down my Arizona friend and we took to the streets. This place is beautiful. I’d heard it called the Paris of South America, and as much as I love Paris I was skeptical, but I can see the relation in architecture. The people are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen in the world. Every menu serves steaks of all type for five to fifteen dollars. Malbec wine starts at one dollar in the supermarket. A liter of local beer, also a dollar. Bus or train-one peso (or approximately 33 US cents).

Within two days, I experienced two amazing things. The first came walking down the streets just after sunset. Apparently it was a national holiday. One large street was closed and along the stretch of pavement stood several stages. Musicians played their Latin beats. At their feet danced hundreds of couples, but not just any dance… the Tango. Rumors of the sensual swerving all proved true. To watch an elderly man, bathed in music and emotion, take his lovely wife into his arms… pause to synchronize their souls to sound, then move fluidly, sensually, flawlessly across an ordinary street-I was moved to watch.

The second experience was equally moving but on another level. Buenos Aires is known for its late nights, and on one of these late nights I was walking along a major road when I noticed a line of people ahead of me. The queue stretched half a block. The people were dirty, frazzled, but patient. I walked to the side. When I finally reached the front, the reason was revealed. Squatted down in front of a just-closed McDonald’s, one man shoveled through two large bags of food. Hamburgers, fries, chicken sandwiches, he orderly passed out the food to those waiting patiently… hungrily.

I’ve been asked before why I like to travel. Growing up in a town of 2,500 residents, I met people who had never left the confines and comforts of “home”. When you grow up like this, your view of the world is no wider than the frame that holds the pictures others have taken. The world is black and white. But since I’ve traveled, I see there is more. And the more I see, the more colorful my life becomes.  Why do I travel? Because in one moment, on a random street in Argentina I’ll see a picture of love I’ve never seen before. Then two streets and one night later, another moment happens and I have a glimpse into a life I may never understand. And when I take a moment and stand back to look at life as I would a brilliant painting, I see colors vibrant and darker than I ever knew existed… but I see life.

I came to Argentina to find a need, and if possible fill it. Well within days of my arrival I was assured of one thing… the need is here.

1 comment

1 seth { 12.15.08 at 5:23 pm }

i love it…and, i love the last minute preparation. some would call it procrastination but isn’t it really just enjoying the moment? i’m sitting here laughing right now at the thought of putting off the reading thru a 25 hour flight until the decent. HA.

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