The Cookie Incident and How I Got Over My Fear of Strangers

In general, I am a very independent girl.  I don’t like to have things done for me and I like to think I’m self-sufficient.  Even when I was a baby I refused to eat unless I could hold the spoon myself because I just don’t like asking for help!  This has certainly caused me a great deal of trouble in the past, especially with school, and is something I’m trying to work on.

So, at first, hitchhiking was naturally very hard for me.  I felt like I was soliciting people for charit-ous rides.  In reality it is nothing like that, but my fierce independence was left stubbornly struggling with the idea that people were really giving us a ride out of the pure goodness of their hearts.  One man we hitchhiked with from Cruz del Eje to Deán Funes put it like this (in Spanish):  “I actually don’t pick up hitchhikers for any humble reason at all.  It’s purely selfish.  When I was younger I hitchhiked all of southern Argentina and now, picking them up is my rare opportunity to relive that now that I have a family and am settled down.”  A lot of people who gave us rides had actually been hitchhikers in their youth and therefore felt more inclined to let strangers into their cars.  Others had never picked anyone up before but were bored and wanted someone to talk to.  Each driver was a unique and incredible character; the next time I go I’m going to make a point of at least taking a picture of every person we ride with to visually document their stories.  They all contributed to my picture of Argentina’s warm, social culture and diversity.

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^^taken from World Inhabit

Despite our first few lucky rides, though, I still felt uncomfortable verbally asking people for rides.  I much preferred standing on the side of the road with a sign and letting people stop out of their own curiosity.  The problem is, that’s not always effective.  This was the case for us once we got back to Carlos Paz after Playa de los Hippie.  We managed to get a ride really quickly from the trailhead of the playa by a couple (or a brother and sister, I couldn’t tell) who were going back to their hometown of Carlos Paz.  They were sweet and talkative, but Maxi and I were totally brain-dead tired and with caras de culo (mad at each other) because of the cookie episode after hiking out from the beach.  I’ll tell you what happened, but I can’t promise I’m not still ‘opinionated’ about the incident:

After only a few hours of sleep on the beach, a little bit of a hangover, and a long hike out under Cordoba’s stifling blanket of summer heat, we emerged at the top of the hill on the road back to Cuesta Blanca as a pair of ravenous, sweaty backpackers.  The fruit stand I told you about was open and busy with tourists chatting over a beer or fellow hippies refueling with snacks.  We flung our things to the floor, I took my shoes off (greeted by many awkward glances, but it felt marvelous so I didn’t care), and Maxi sat down.  He bought food the last time so it was my turn.  I had eleven pesos, which wasn’t much, but we just planned on buying a couple of apples or peaches.  I waited in line for what seemed like forever and was about to abandon all dignity and lay down on the cool tile floor in the middle of the store when my number came up.  They were out of fruit.  ;agsoiahsgoihwaegih Rawr.

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Well, thinking on my feet and looking behind the counter I chose an economical bag of cookies that would at least hold us over until we got to a real supermarket.  I was positively starving and beat as I got back to the table and slumped into the chair across from Maxi.

He just shook his head, “No, we can’t eat these.  They have meat in them.”  If you didn’t know, both Maxi and I are vegetarians.

“Uh…?”  I was kind of just gaping at Maxi, lacking the energy to even bring my jaw to close.

“Yeah, they have beef fat, read the ingredients.”  I scanned the ingredients and sure enough, the twentieth ingredient or so was “grasa vacuna.” I lazily dragged my eyes back up and stared at him.

“See? All of the cookies here have it.”  I looked back down at the tiny font as if I’d missed something.  Nope.  Still there.  I’d never realized that the cookies I’d been eating for months had beef fat in them.  Suprisingly, I haven’t died from them yet.  Looking back at the line for food though, now twice as long, I almost did.

“Ok, well,” I sighed, “we won’t buy cookies again, but… I already bought these and the line is going to take forever again and…I dunno.  Can’t we just make an exception this one time and eat them?”

Maxi raised his eyebrows.  “No…I won’t eat them. It’s not about making an exception; it’s about the cow that died to make the grease for those cookies.  If I made exceptions all the time, I wouldn’t be a vegetarian.”

Now, I love Maxi.  He was a great trip companion and he put up with a lot from me…but in that moment I’ll tell you what I wanted to do: I wanted to tear open the bag of cookies, stuff three in my mouth to momentarily satisfy my growling tummy, and take another handful to crush and crumble in his hair all while releasing a near-inhuman snarl of frustration.  Here’s your stupid beef fat cookies!!! I had just walked a long way uphill with my heavy pack in the heat, waited in line for twenty minutes, and I just wanted my f*****g cookies.  But I didn’t do that.

Instead, I swallowed, took a deep breath and aimed one of my well-known teeth-grinding glares straight into Maxi’s eyes.  He just innocently asked if I could go find something else to eat as if my glare had no effect on him. Verbally making it clear to how unhappy I was about this, I melodramatically got up and all but stomped back over to the counter (as best I could barefoot.)  I managed to cut the line after a couple of customers and trade in the HUGE bag of cookies for two alfajorcitos, not even the size of my fist, that lacked sufficient dulce de leche and tasted mildly stale.

Consequently, I was already in a sour mood when we were going back to Carlos Paz, to say the least.  When the man and woman (I don’t want to call them a couple if they were brother and sister…it feels weird) dropped us off, we got some real food and parked at a gas station, researching how to get to our next destination.  I held a sign for a while to get out of the city, then Maxi held it, then me again, then Maxi…and so on.  Eventually Maxi suggested we start asking individual drivers who were filling up and see if we could convince them on a more personal level.  I already felt weird holding a sign and accepting rides from strangers—asking them directly was like selling myself or…I don’t know, but I didn’t like it.  I refused and instead sat unhappily with all of our things while Maxi went and did the dirty work.  Maybe I was being bitchy, but I just felt like it would come across wrong for a girl to ask a ride from random strangers.  It went against the core lessons of everything I had learned in preschool.

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I went to the bathroom to change and rinse my face in the sink.  When I came back, I found Maxi using his broken Spanish to try and convince a young couple in their thirties to give us a ride.  The man’s girlfriend looked extremely skeptical about the whole thing as he tried to convince her that it wouldn’t be a big deal to just drive us to at least the bus station.  That’s where I stepped in. 😉

I told them that we had been sitting there for a couple of hours trying to find something and we had just resigned to taking a bus—that we’d been traveling for a few days and were exhausted.   The girlfriend seemed to warm up to the idea a little bit seeing that Maxi was traveling with a girl.  Remember, girls aren’t psycho axe murderers, we’re little innocent lambs who smell like flowers and love puppies.  During the ride they both relaxed considerably and told us it was the first time they’d picked up hitchhikers.  Even though they weren’t really taking us more than a few kilometers, they warmed up to the experience so much that by the end of the ride they told us they’d have invited us to dinner if they didn’t already have tickets to a theater show.  As we got out, the man gave us the rosary from his rear-view mirror “for our journey.”  Even though I’m not really religious, the gesture was touching and I still have the rosary hanging in my room to remind me of the kindness of the people we met on the road.

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As I had more and more positive experiences with hitchhiking and discovered both the selfish and selfless reasons that drivers had for letting us tag along, I became more comfortable asking for a lift.  I still don’t feel completely at ease going up to a truck driver in a gas station and asking where they’re headed, but I don’t feel like I’m asking if they want a little ‘company’ either.  I would say that hitchhiking can be explained like many people explain the irrational fear of snakes (that I personally feel I share with the other sane people of the planet…):  They’re more afraid of you than you are them.  It’s true.  Just like the average person would be scared to hitchhike, the average driver (at least in the US) would be scared of picking one up.  Once you draw away the curtains of fear you find that the sun is shining and it’s a very positive experience.

P.S.  The magic of the river at Playa de los Hippie magically cured my rash.  Turns out I wasn’t stung in my sleep by a lethal scorpion!  Hooray!  Sure did give me a scare though…

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About Autumn Standing

I love words; my name is made up of real words, even. I am studying Global Tourism and Spanish with a minor in Business Administration at Colorado State University but this year I chose to study abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. That's why this blog was born--to keep my beautiful family and friends informed of my whereabouts, thoughts, accomplishments, and mistakes.

Posted on April 9, 2013, in Argentina Part I, Summer Hitchhiking Adventure!, Travel and Study and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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