After nearly a year of planning, thousands of dollars of saving, and 36 hours of travel, we made it to Buenos Aires, Argentina. It has been a relatively smooth transition, and we feel strangely comfortable and at home in this city. The biggest difference is language, but Don and I are on a mission to learn as much as we can as quickly as possible. We´ve both got Spanish on the mind constantly and it´s only a matter of time before we find ourselves some classes or a tutor and become conversational. I´m getting us by for now, and Don learned about 100 new words his first day here, but we keep imagining how wonderful it will be to fully communicate with everyone around us.We have to keep reminding ourselves to take it slow; we have only been here 2 days and can´t expect to learn everything all at once. It is interesting to see all the tourists around us from all over Latin America (and possibly Spain?) speaking Spanish. At first I was jealous that they could get around so easily and then I realized that we had that opportunity on our road trip throughout the United States. Now it´s our turn to experience all of the joys and tribulations that come with international travel. I can only imagine how challenging it must be to travel somewhere with a completely different language, like Russia or Japan. It is a thrilling thought that the next time we are in the United States, we will hopefully be fluent in Spanish.
Our road trip, which seems like years ago now, ended in Incline Village, Nevada, where we spent 8 days preparing ourselves for our 10 month adventure in South America. Incredibly, I had so much on my to-do list that I spent all of the first 5 days in Tahoe sitting in front of my computer. I was essentially organizing my life, eliminating my computer and phone, and tying up every loose end that I could think of. There was also some planning and preparation involved. For example, we signed up on helpx.net, which is the website we are doing work exchange through, and we also had to pack our bags and pick up any final items that we thought we needed. We “applied” to 3 different hostels in the Patagonian town of Bariloche, where we hoped to work for a couple weeks while exploring its many trails and lakes. The first one that got back to us said they were full, but the second one to respond said they could use our help starting on November 26th. We cannot wait to experience our first work exchange and know that we have a whole two weeks in one place getting to know the people and the area. We did get to have a little fun in Tahoe visiting with friends and flying in a plane with Deb, a family friend and our host (she let us stay in her beautiful cabin the whole week). Unfortunately stress got the best of me and I did come down with a cold just before leaving town. I am still coughing a little, but I am over the worst of it, and it gave me a good excuse to take lots of Nyquil while traveling.
When it was finally time to leave, Don and I felt more than ready. Even my mom was prepared for our departure, although it was hard for her to let us go. Our first flight was just from Reno to LAX, but it was delayed by about 2 hours. When we got to LA, we had 8 hours to wait before our next flight, so we found a nice patch of carpet, locked up our bags, blew up our sleeping pads, and got some sleep. When we woke up, we were all set to check into our international, 3-part flight. Unfortunately, the next 2 hours did not go as smoothly as we´d hoped. The TACA/Avianca employee who was checking us in asked if we had return tickets purchsed and when we told her we didn´t and explained our plan to travel all around South America, she said that she couldn´t allow us on the flight without them. She explained that Argentina could charge the airline a fee and possibly deport us if they saw we didn´t have a ticket out of the country, and there was nothing we could do to make her budge. We hadn´t brought smart phones with us so we spent over an hour on a pay-by-the-minute computer and a few strangers’ phones attempting to buy cheap, bogus bus tickets from Buenos Aires to Uruguay or Paraguay. After nothing but failure, and with serious fear that we´d miss our flight, we were forced to buy 2 plane tickets out of the country for a total of $1,700. The ticket lady promised me over and over that we could get a refund on them as soon as we got to Argentina. We rushed through LAX to get to our flight, and then spent the next 24 hours hoping that we hadn´t just wasted our savings.
Our flight to El Salvador was pleasant and short, filled with lots of nice people. We only had to wait about an hour in the San Salvador airport before we boarded another flight, this time headed for Bogota, Columbia. In San Salvador, we watched flash-flood rain come down in sheets for about 3 minutes at a time before letting up, which explained the beautiful green land we saw when we flew in. It was interesting flying into Bogota, because that is where our (very flexible) itinerary has us flying out of in 10 months. The airport in Bogota was huge and we walked around it for about 2 hours before boarding our final 7-hour, overnight flight to Buenos Aires. Don and I both downed a couple Nyquil and managed to sleep through the entire flight, a fact that we are still celebrating since we seem to have zero jet-lag. We did wake up for about 10 minutes to scarf down our 3rd airplane meal of the day, and the next time we woke up, we were in Argentina.
We made it through immigration and customs without any trouble, but then we had our return flight to take care of. We spent about 2 hours wandering around the airport trying to follow people´s directions to the TACA/Avianca office where we hoped they would help with the refund. When we finally did find them, they said we had to call. When we called their 800 number from a pay phone in the airport, the man I spoke with said I could only request the refund online. We finally had to admit defeat, at least for a few hours, exchange some money, and find our way to our hostel. We walked past all the other tourists getting in taxi cabs to where we saw city buses pulling up, and paid a measly 11 pesos (less than 2 dollars) to ride downtown. Fortunately we met two very nice Columbians on the bus who spoke broken English and helped us figure out where to get off. We all got off together, walked a couple blocks down crowded streets of stores and restaurants, and then they pointed us in the direction of the Subte, the underground subway that they said would drop us very close to our hostel.
Our quick subway ride landed us right in the middle of town, and only 3 blocks from the address I had for our hostel. We walked to where our hostel was suppsoed to be, only to find an apartment-style building with no signs anywhere. We had no phone or computer, and little knowledge of the Spanish language, so we basically accosted every stranger who walked by, showing them the name of the hostel and the address and looking bewildered, until finally 3 Australian girls came out of the unnamed apartment building. They explained that the sign had blown off and that the small hostel was indeed on the second floor of the building. We got inside, got shown around by the nice manager Leon, sent some emails, and set out to explore the town. We walked for a few hours, ate a tasty late lunch of pesto ravioli and a steak sandwich at a corner cafe, and then returned to our hostel exhausted. I spent the rest of the night reading and drinking mate on the softly lit patio overlooking a busy street. It was romantic and moving and I could see why people fell for this city. We got to bed at a reasonable hour and I slept in the next morning until 10:30! 11 hours of sleep never felt so great.
Today we must have walked over 6 miles. We explored the city center, Florida street, and the neighborhoods of Retiro, Puerto Madero, and San Telmo. Buenos Aires knows how to build beautiful parks and colorful streets, and we haven´t even seen Palermo yet, which is supposed to be the “neighborhood of parks.” We investigated the Retiro Bus Station, only to find that our ride to Bariloche would be more comfortable, but also much more expensive than we were originally led to believe. We walked across the Avenue Cordoba bridge and down an incredibly ritzy and popular waterfront street and finally got ourselves some food in the middle of San Telma´s famous Sunday street fair. After filling up on tasty empanadas, we walked another mile or so back to our hostel. It was a successful day of exploration and sensory overload, but neither Don nor I has experienced any culture shock. I think it must be because this is such a huge, westernized city, so the transition from the states is much less jarring than my previous travel experiences. It makes for a nice transition for Don, and it makes us less tired and overwhelmed, and more available for adventures. We have 2 more full days in Buenos Aires and both are booked with plans to visit even more neighborhoods and more cafes and restaurants. If one thing is certain, Argentinians love their coffee, mate, wine, and beef. We don´t think we´ll have any trouble fitting in here. We are already aching a bit for the mountains, so we´re really looking forward to Patagonia. Now that it´s 10pm, everyone is sitting down to their late dinners, and I´m off to find some helado!