Category Archives: Summer Hitchhiking Adventure!
It’s been over three and a half months since I returned from my summer trip and I’m still only on the fifth day of summarizing the adventures. This took place on the 30th of December, 2012. Sorry if this post is a bit (or a lot) strange and devoid of pictures. I don’t have any to share really
Maxi and I successfully stow-awayed to Cruz del Eje with the kids we met on the bus. It was dark outside when we got off and when the driver gave us our backpacks, I was already drained. I swallowed my exhaustion and dutifully followed the group only slightly dragging my feet. We only walked two or three blocks before we found the others they had planned on meeting up with. There were so many of them! Altogether we were at least fifteen. Everyone had dumped their backpacks against a cement wall in this plaza-type area and were sitting in a circle passing around a carton of wine and telling jokes, talking, and playing games.
I was totally exhausted and had a hard time keeping up with the Spanish but managed to stay awake. Whenever the wine supply got low they’d pass around a baseball cap; those who could contribute would and they’d go buy more wine to share. If the baseball cap fund came up short they’d take their bowling pins and metal ring and go juggle/do tricks for a few pesos to make up the difference. It was a pretty chill system actually.
In the middle of the night some kids came up on their BMX bikes asking if we had marijuana. I was shocked. They looked about eight years old. Several people in the group were surprised too but didn’t do much more than turn them away. A half hour later the youngsters came back asking for a lighter and promising to return it if we gave them one. This was by far not the strangest or most shocking thing we saw that night, though. In the wee hours of the morning we left the plaza and headed to look for a place to sleep.
We were on our way to a park by an irrigation ditch to lay out the tarp and fall asleep when a throng of people following a pick-up truck and yelling/chanting passed by. I hardly had more than two mouthfuls from the disgusting carton wine, yet I found myself questioning if I had been drugged or was hallucinating the current scene before my eyes. It may have been the most bizarre and uncomfortable thing I have witnessed in my time in Argentina. A long wooden pole was planted in the bed of the truck, attached to the back window. Tied securely to the pole with thick rope was a stout naked man in his late forties or fifties. His hair was gray and greasy, covering his face, head, and the rest of his corpulent body in stubbly patches. He had the skin of a man who had worked under the sun for many years, leathery and burnt. He didn’t seem to be very conscious, head lolling from side to side and eyes almost indistinguishable from the creases in his face.
The crowd of followers, no more than twenty, were all men of a similar age, rowdy and riotous. They were spitting and throwing wads of trash and bottles at the man. I couldn’t tell what random pieces of obscenities they were yelling out of unison, but the whole scene incited a sharp fear and confusion in my chest. Swirling police lights added to the chaos of the scene as a caboose of police cars followed the procession, sirens silent. The parade moved at about five miles per hour. I looked around to the others in our group who seemed to notice but were nonplussed. Maxi met my jolted expression, widened his eyes at me back, but only shrugged.
What the hell was that? Maybe we weren’t in the best part of town, and yes, weird things happen in different countries, but I was trying to fit this scene into a logical file of my brain and it just didn’t belong. The closest thing I could think of was some sort of Ku Klux Klan abomination or a hate crime, but there were police cars there and seemingly no effort to at least mask whatever was going on being made. If I had to put words on what I saw I would say lynch, mob, ritual, torture, I don’t know?
We turned a corner and slowly left the absurd exhibition behind as we made for a quiet camping spot. My senses had in no way been compromised, except for sleepiness, but I’m still not sure it wasn’t a hallucination. The image of the naked man swaying in his unconsciousness in the back of the little truck is still starkly fresh in my mind. I really don’t understand what happened. I feel ashamed that I just stood there and watched before shielding my eyes from the perverseness of the display, but I’m sure that there was nothing more to be done. I just prefer not to think about it (is that wrong as a human being? To just ignore a thing like that? I’m not even sure what happened…)
Anyhow, my guilt upon witnessing such a thing and succumbing to the typical bystander behavior aside, we settled down by the little irrigation creek and I lay out on Maxi’s tarp, layered in clothing to keep me warm. The others stayed up for some time, playing trivial Mexican drinking games, smoking, singing, and sharing swigs from the final carton of wine. I tried to chill out and not think about how so very unordinary my life had become within the last week. I didn’t want to be scared, so I wasn’t, but fear still licked at my throat ready to bite on a whim. Sleep did not come easily, but it did come in time.
I woke up first, my ball-of-clothing-pillow trying to escape from under my head. It was a bright sunny day and the streets were quiet. I rose, shed a few layers of clothing, administered a few layers of sunscreen, and rinsed my face with the cool water of the ditch. One by one, the others dragged themselves from their dreams and dazedly began to wrap up the menial camp we’d made. Someone bought a couple loaves of hard bread for breakfast-type sustenance. We were packed up and headed out within fifteen minutes of the last person waking.
I was in a strange mood. Indifference, I would call it. Things had changed so much in the last week. I had changed. I don’t think I had the capacity to comprehend my life at the moment, so I just allowed myself to be numb and detached from everything going on that morning. Luckily nothing too surreal took place. We lugged our packs a few blocks to a street corner mere blocks from the bus station we’d arrived in. The group split in two to go “work” enough to pay for bus tickets to San Marcos Sierras, the next proposed destination. Once my pack was no longer my main source of discomfort and safely on the ground with the others, I recognized my hunger.
I crossed the street and bought bananas, frosted flakes, and some milk for Maxi and I. Bananas soon became one of our main meals because, unlike most fruit, they don’t need to be washed. It was a much needed relaxation to sit against the building on the sidewalk, spooning nutrients into my body and watching the jugglers. They were really some of the most incredible jugglers I had ever seen. I don’t know if that is saying much, as I’ve seen very little juggling in my day…but they really were talented.
After breakfast, two of the girls, Roci and Oli, announced that they were going to head on to San Marcos Sierras and would meet the others there. Maxi and I decided to tag along with them—the bus ticket was only like 8 pesos after all.
So I started writing this for the Liebster Award that I got from The Tipsy Nomads, but I realized afterward that it deserved its own post. I know that I haven’t gotten to this point in my recounting of my summer trip yet, but I am sharing it now to accompany the Liebster Award. Please read my >>Disclaimer<< before this post and enjoy! 🙂
It was February and I’d just arrived in Recife, Brazil from Bolivia. I reunited with one of my best friends from the US, Marketa (Tata), for carnival just the day before when both of us flew in. We didn’t know any Portuguese but were staying at Marcos’s house. It was an amazing first couchsurfing experience, but I’ll tell you more about the whole Carnaval experience and Marcos in later posts. Anyways, we’d spent the first night resting and we planned on going to the Tiesto concert this night to kick off Carnaval 2013. We had both tried to buy tickets earlier but neither of us could understand the Portuguese very well to trust the website with our credit card numbers and it seemed like you could only purchase tickets if you had a Brazilian ID, so we decided to wait until we got there. Marcos told us it wouldn’t be a problem to scalp a couple, but we were worried.
Marcos had to work in the morning so he unfortunately couldn’t come with us 😦 But he got his family friend who ran a taxi service to take us there and back safely for really cheap. We left around 9:30 and stopped at an ATM for money before heading off to Olinda (about a 20 minute trip altogether.) As we rode along, the taxi driver was trying to explain to me in Portuguese something. If we both spoke slowly (me in Spanish and him in Portuguese) and waved our arms a lot it seemed like we could understand each other. He was saying something about how we were going to get ripped off if we tried to buy tickets because it was so obvious that we were foreign and we couldn’t speak Portuguese. I agreed, but told him we didn’t have tickets so we didn’t really have any other option. It seemed like he was trying to say something more but we both gave up trying to communicate. I feel terrible that I don’t remember his name, but his memory is forever comparable in my head to the taxi/limo driver, Ranjit, from How I Met Your Mother. He was awesome.
Before we got to the stadium, he pulled off the highway, slowed down the car and rolled his window down to talk to someone in the night. I could understand snipets of the conversation and figured out the rest through body language. The man was trying to sell tickets to the taxi driver for $95 reais (reals) a piece—which sounded fantastic! Online they were $100. I kept my mouth shut though; best not announce my foreign-ness to the world right now.
The taxi driver scrunched up his face and shook his head several times before rolling up the window on the guy and driving away. He explained to us that we shouldn’t have to pay that much. Marketa and I were worried. What if we couldn’t find tickets closer to the show? Or we ended up paying much more? That was an awesome deal in our opinion; we never dreamed we’d actually save money by buying scalped tickets!
The second scalper we found closer to the entrance of the stadium. He had his price set at $90 reais. Yes! But the taxi driver again shook his head and made a face. He didn’t drive off though. He rolled up the window like a boss and looked back at us.
“Oitenta e cinco?” (Eighty-five?)
“Sim, sim!” Marketa and I both answered eagerly, super pumped that we’d been able to save a total of $15 on the tickets.
He rolled down the window again, kept a straight face and nodded slightly as he said, “Oitenta,” (80) with conviction.
Of course the scalper pinged back $85 and the taxi driver handed us our tickets, which were cool-looking card things that said Club Life.
We started to get excited. It had been over six months since I’d been to a concert, the last time was coincidentally with Marketa before I’d left for Argentina. I was also particularly pumped to see Tiesto because, even though I didn’t know much about him, my brother had seen him in concert a couple of years before and had an incredible time.
We thanked the taxi driver over and over for helping us and agreed to meet him back at the entrance at 7 AM (it was about 11 PM.) I think I’ve gotten used to eight hour salidas (going out) but Marketa still looked kind of dazed. There was a bubble of youngsters our age, some dressed for going out, some in regular clothes buzzing at the entrance of the studio. Assuming this was the Brazilian version of a line, we parked ourselves near the back and waited impatiently. The tickets said the concert would start at 10:30 but we both assumed it would be at least an hour late since we were still in South America after all. I had grown accustomed to this sort of thing.
We were both antsy and excited, surrounded by Portuguese and totally on our own in the sea of people. I eagerly asked questions about every one back home, how they were doing, new gossip, etc, but every five minutes or so when a pause came in the conversation, we’d just shake our heads and make a strange sound of delight. “I can’t believe we’re actually here!!!” I tend to have a lot of those moments where I’m still excited to have an experience even though I’m already experiencing it. Like how you want to keep eating on Thanksgiving even though your stomach is on the brink of bursting. We couldn’t keep still, so we started meandering towards the front of the bubble, just to see what was going on at least.
Speaking in English about what was going on turned some heads. Several people offered us help that we graciously declined. Eventually we just got stuck in the knot of bodies near the front, a sensation that we’d become all too familiar with throughout the rest of Carnaval but one that seemed to incite our anticipation now. The concert-goers had taken up a chant, frustrated about the hour and a half they’d been waiting. (It was now midnight.) I recognized curse words that were similar to Spanish and tried to hold back my giggling, the surrealness of my current situation making me giddy. Two guys behind us started talking to us in English. I can’t remember clearly if they were from Switzerland or Portugal, but we made small talk while the crowd grew impatient. They recommended some beaches to us, offered to show us around the city during our stay (although we never saw them again…), and translated some of the chanting for us.
At around 12:30 the crowd near the front let out whoops of delight. Yay! The line was finally moving! Just kidding. A cold can of beer passed over my head, surfing its way to the back of the bubble. Another one passed and Marketa and I shared looks of confusion. The two guys behind us told us that they were giving out free beer because we had been waiting so long. I grinned and squeezed to the front to secure a can for Marketa and I. We were thrilled that we managed to get one of the free beers. It seemed to taste better than usual.
It was strange though, no one seemed to be pushing or trying to grab at the cans. Guys, come on, it’s free beer! I turned to our translators.
“Yes, they made it free beer because we wait so long.”
Surely they were just going to give out a few free beers to pacify the crowd. Our translators weren’t the best at English and it left Tata and I confused. Finally, at 1 in the morning, the doors opened, the bubble popped, and people flooded the arena.
“Come on, girls. We go get drinks!” The translators headed for one of the red tents whose workers were passing out cans of Skol from long bench-like coolers as quickly as possible. Kids were leaving with two or three cans in hand and spreading around the arena. Apparently this was no joke. They had really decided to make the whole concert open bar.
Tata and I couldn’t believe it. In the United States this would never happen. Free beer all night??? Surely they would run out or or…who knows but for a mere two and a half hours of waiting we had free beer all night?! We shared an enthusiastic high five and cried, “Free cerveja!” Could this night get any better? Yes.
^^Play this song while you read 😉
The high ceilings and huge venue dwarfed the stage. Small red tents offering food and free cerveja dotted the perimeter. The only source of light came from the giant screen behind the stage flashing at us in various colors. The beats of Deadmau5 bombarded us from all angles and the bass thumped through the floor beneath us. As we cheers-ed our free beers (to Sanchez :P), we physically couldn’t keep the grins from taking over our faces.
A mediocre DJ opened for Tiesto and we took solace in the free beer, without it we might have gotten a little bored of the same rhythms hamsterwheeling through our ears. Finally, at about 3 AM Tiesto came on. The light show was almost as spectacular as the music and the vibe of the crowd. We danced and screamed and made frequent trips back to the beer tent. In the end we really didn’t drink that much—about 5 or 6 beers each, but we were more than drunk on the experience. We ended up in the front of the crowd, gripping the bar, a pair of blissful Statians jumping and screaming and swaying to the music. We marveled at the demeanor of the other people in the front lines of the concert. Everyone seemed so….nice. No one shoved me, stepped on my foot, or elbowed me in the ribs. We had plenty of space to dance gleefully and people actually took turns being in the front of the chaos. I’d never seen anything like it. People were just so happy and pleasant. The feeling was contagious and we even traded spots with the fans behind us for a while.
Tiesto didn’t play for long. At four thirty he had finished his set and gone off stage to be replaced by another DJ.
The new DJ was probably just as mediocre as the first but he seemed a little better now that my mood had skyrocketed to a caliber of unmatchable happiness. We were still disappointed that Tiesto hadn’t played for very long—we couldn’t get enough—and we didn’t know what we planned on doing for the next two and a half hours… The replacement DJ wouldn’t be playing past 5:30 or so and we had to keep entertained until 7 AM. Wasn’t there an after party or something? No one seemed to know, so I took it upon myself to get us invited to one back stage. Surely there was something.
Marketa knows me well, and she understands that when I get a crazy idea like this I’m unstoppable with my ‘I-got-this’ attitude. She just went with it because there wasn’t much she could do anyways. We went to the entrance to backstage which was being guarded by a relatively short bouncer in his late thirties. He, of course, did not speak English OR Spanish, but I tried my best to communicate. We wanted an after-party. Who knows what he said, but it was clear that we couldn’t get backstage VIP status without pink wristbands. No matter how much I begged and pleaded, we weren’t going to get back there without them. He really seemed like he wanted to let us back through but it was his job to keep out the crazy drunk girls after all.
So I took up my plight with an innocent camera man leaving from backstage. He said that we couldn’t get back there either and I tried to improvise a sob story about how we had nowhere else to go, blah, blah, blah. He seemed truly sympathetic but he had no right to let us back there either. After what seemed like an hour of trying I still hadn’t given up. Finally, the bouncer made a gesture to listen and we leaned in close. He told us he had an idea. We’d need pink wrist bands. And then he winked.
I told him I knew that we needed pink wrist bands…but our’s were white. I didn’t understand the wink at all. Had he decided to let us through? He pointed towards the stage to another bouncer guarding the railing and winked again saying something about the pink wrist bands. Maybe we could get them from him? We gave him confused expressions and began making our way to the other bouncer. It seemed lighter in the arena now and half the crowd had retired for the night, but the music pumped on. We arrived at the other bouncer and before we asked him we hesitantly looked back at the man guarding the door. He winked at us yet again and pointed down. We looked down at a pile of confetti on top of some boxes near the railing. Huh?
^^They’d blasted confetti during the concert; this picture is taken from a photographer’s website from the concert 🙂
I picked up a pink piece of confetti, cocked my head sideways and looked at him with scrunched up eyebrows. He nodded to us and gave us a thumbs up. Somehow, we had understood each other and it suddenly clicked. I’m not sure I would have really known what to do had I been sober but I grabbed two pieces of pink confetti, handed one to Marketa and instructed her to hold it over her white wrist band. We looked like complete dorks as we marched back to the bouncer and showed him the confetti on our wrists. He smiled and ushered us back stage.
I can only imagine how Tata felt, not having understood any of the Spanish or Portuguese and suddenly landing back stage because of a piece of pink confetti. I felt accomplished, confident, and cocky. I was sure we were going to party with the crew and continue the craziness of the night. A tall dark bouncer with a kind smile led us backstage and outside. He told me something about money and, though I was even more confused, knew he was asking us for $20 reais (about $10 USD.) Whatever, we’d spent wayyyy less than anticipated so a $5 USD cover to get to an after party was very much in the budget. We gave him the money and we went through a door leading outside.
We were assaulted by the sunlight. So bright. When had it turned day time?! When our eyes adjusted, we saw a few people sitting on the curb of a sidewalk waiting for a van to pull around to load equipment, but the parking lot beyond was largely empty. The bouncer led us around a corner, stopped, and asked us something I didn’t understand. I repeated in Spanish that we wanted to meet Tiesto and he seemed confused. After a little bit of language see-sawing, we finally figured out what the other was trying to say. He told us that Tiesto had already left. While bummed, I was still proud of getting back stage and shrugged it off. We were going back inside when I remembered the $20 reais and asked him for my money back. It was obvious that he was uncertain about it but he finally pulled us behind some speakers and discreetly handed me the money, muttering something about how his bosses couldn’t see him giving me the money back.
We exited through the same gate we’d come a little confused and star struck. Neither of us was completely sure what had just happened as the bouncer wished us luck on our way out. The few stragglers that were still clinging to the stage were herded out by the staff into the entranceway. It started to rain outside and I vaguely remember dancing around in it with Marketa. If the night could become any stranger, we found some starving-looking kittens and were talking to some cute boys when we got kicked out into the rain entirely. One guy offered us a ride home, but that didn’t sound like the best of ideas to us, and we wouldn’t abandon our awesome taxi driver either. We’d yet to pay him! The last of the kittens ran away and found shelter somewhere inside the building when we finally saw our taxi driver pull up and ran through the rain to the safety of the car.
I don’t remember the ride home much except that I was feeling sick. I wish we would have tipped the taxi driver more but I was more than gone at that point (because of only 5 beers…seriously…) I woke up at about 3 in the afternoon in Marcos’s house still in my clothes from the night before feeling groggy but stunned. What a crazy, wild, bizarre, surreal night. It had finally happened. My waking life had collided with my dreams into a confusing combination that I found difficult to separate. Yep, last night happened. It would have been even crazier if we’d have met Tiesto, but it was still the best night of Carnaval by far and one of my most dizzying, eventful nights ever.
Maxi and I entered the bus station in Carlos Paz as two dirty, smelly, and exhausted backpackers. We were resigned to take the first bus that would get us closer to La Rioja (our chosen New Year’s destination) that we could find. Bus stations are a bit disorganized in Argentina though. I guess I don’t have much grasp of a Statian-modeled bus station to compare them to but I suppose if I were to take a bus in the States I’d search for a Greyhound time schedule online. It’s not super common there to take buses cross-country, at least from what I gathered during my first 19 years of life in the USA. It is here though. Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world and, with almost 40% of the population living in Buenos Aires Province and the rest scattered across the varying land of the nation, there’s a high demand for long-distance bus travel. I’m getting off topic though.
The majority of bus stations are set up in cement buildings with several different “booths” for each bus company. Walking in you might feel kind of like you’re at a mall or a strange type of market. Each company runs their own business and uses their share of the platforms. It isn’t like looking up airline tickets online and finding the cheapest company. You have to go ask each separate bus company for a list of their times and prices, so it takes a bit of research if you’re not really sure where you are going except “north.” Sometimes, when you purchase a ticket they just give you a slip of paper with no time or platform number or destination. You are, at that point, responsible for figuring things out. It doesn’t seem very secure to me, and I think Maxi was a bit frustrated by the lack of organization too, but hey, TIA (This is Argentina.)
Luckily, Carlos Paz’s bus station wasn’t too huge. First I went to bum a more detailed map of the area from a tourist booth. I actually ended up in a 30-minute conversation with the student intern there. He was studying Chemistry in Cordoba and really interesting to talk to, giving me some advice about where to stay in La Rioja, suggestions for what to do, and how to get there. After talking to him, I asked a couple of companies for schedules while Maxi guarded our things. I found out that there was only one company that would take us north this late in the day. It was $50 pesos per person, though, just to the point where the route changed and headed to our chosen city; that was 5000% more expensive than hitching a ride, ,more even.
We discussed it, were kind of irritated, but eventually decided that we didn’t really want to sleep in the bus station and preferred to at least get to a vantage point where we could hitch a ride. Eventually, we settled on tickets for halfway to the turn off, meaning we’d be on the bus for about an hour and a half, get halfway there and then go camp in Capilla del Monte. We waited for the bus to get there (at around 7:30 PM.) I practiced the guitar while Maxi searched for honey roasted peanuts and raisins—he couldn’t stop craving them after the excellent choice of snack food I’d offered on our first hitch hiking ride in the Fiats. But he came back empty handed and we got on the bus hungry, sleepy, and in need of showers.
The bus decided they didn’t have enough people so they waited in the terminal another thirty minutes to see if anyone would join in. Max wasn’t the only one frustrated with the system but we were both at least glad to have cushion-y seats. No one else got on in the next half hour as it began to get dark outside. We’d probably have to find a hostel once we got to Capilla del Monte instead of camp, definitely exceeding our daily budget, but oh well. We finally set off and it wasn’t five minutes before I got bored of taking funny pictures of Maxi snoring and joined in on the Z’s. I woke up disoriented and a bit dizzy.
The bus seats were so much more comfortable than anywhere I’d slept in the last few days and I had slept long and hard. Only problem was, I’d slept long and hard. I quickly woke Maxi and asked him what time it was. We assumed the bus driver would have told us when to get off since we’d only paid for half of the journey…but it had been an hour and forty five minutes since we’d dozed off. We were both kind of panicked. If we were at all accurate in our calculations, we’d missed our stop.
There were more people on the bus now, even though it was still largely empty. I turned to the people next to us, who also looked like stinky young travelers with a thirst for adventure. They said we hadn’t missed our stop, that it was the next one, but were naturally interested in where we were from and where we were going so we started chatting. That’s how we met John, Braian, Juan, and Cynthia. They were all from different parts of South America backpacking around and making enough to move from destination to destination by doing malabares (juggling and street performances) at street corners or traffic lights. They asked us what we were doing in Capilla del Monte and we responded that we were trying to find something cool to do for New Year’s. In less than five minutes we were invited to spend New Year’s with them; we could just stow-away on the bus for an extra half hour and get off in Cruz del Eje. They were meeting some friends there and were going to go to a little mountain pueblo called San Marcos Sierras to hang out and spend New Year’s there.
^^Cynthia, Maxi, Braian, and John
Maxi and I just looked at each other and grinned. This was the feeling I loved about this trip. I very rarely felt unsafe or that things would not work out. The phrase, that we’d repeat whenever we were worried about getting stuck somewhere or things not working out, “Siempre tenemos suerte”, (We are always lucky) was born in this moment. I can’t even explain how things just seemed to fall perfectly into place while we hitchhiked through the north. They just…did. Yes, we had our fair share of rough nights, but things always seemed to work out like this. Don’t know where to spend New Year’s? Well, let’s just relax about it. Sure to find something. And that we did. 😉 We decided to tag along with these random kids we’d just met to Cruz del Eje. The bus driver didn’t even blink an eye when we got off a half hour later than what we’d paid (he probably would have taken us all the way to Bolivia without noticing…)
San Marcos Sierras turned out to be one of my top three favorite places we went during the trip. It wasn’t so much the place as the people and the things that I learned. I’ll tell you why next time because I’m procrastinating on studying for my Management midterm, but I’ll write soon! No promises this time, since I tend to break those 😉
Look–my photo got shared on The Tipsy Nomads blog 🙂 It’s from my two and a half weeks in Brazil, which I’ve still yet to write about. Marketa and I spent the entire week lounging around the beach and enjoying the sun. Such a great trip =D
The Tipsy Nomads is a super creative idea to share pictures of drinks from around the world. Check them out if you have a chance!
Autumn Standing from the travel blog Standing In Argentina has sent in this fabulous picture from Pipa da Praia, Brazil. It is at the Praia do Amor, which means ‘Love Beach’. She is just lounging around on a February day and drinking with class.
The drink is a typical Brazilian drink, a Caipirinha.
Sooooo much lime.
The Tipsy Nomads: What a wonderful shot! Love the lines and vectors in the picture, as well as the drink which is taking centre stage. Thanks for sending it in Autumn, love it.
Alright, let’s return to my crazy summer adventure and recount the next chapter.
I think I left off when we arrived in Cuesta Blanca and collapsed onto the beach bathing in sunlight and eating palta–tomato–mayonesa sandwiches. Pretty pristine moment. After we finished, I snapped into my swim suit and we crossed the bridge looking for an empty stretch of beach to get some sand between our toes. It wasn’t hard to find. We were just out of view of the bridge—a spot with shade, sun, and even a rock in the river perfect for dipping in just up to your ankles. We spent the next few hours enjoying the paradise of the sun and water, fooling around on the guitar, and cat napping.
The sand was full of micah and had a surreal sparkle in the sunlight. I couldn’t really capture it with my camera but here are my best attempts:
I woke up before Maxi and went and splurged on a bottle of fernet and some Coca-Cola at the convenience store to celebrate our successful arrival to the beach.
Turned out Max was hiding some celebration refreshments as well—his favorite crappy cheap wine, Santa Ana. We gathered sticks for a camp fire and I expertly built the twig and showed off my superior boy scout skills. Max busied himself breaking apart the dead branches we’d dragged down to the beach saying, “Yeah, well…see, I was always the one who helped put the tent up, ya know? Not actually starting a camp fire…” It’s ok, I had his back. I only learned how to build a campfire a couple of years ago and am still embarrassed that I went through the majority of my life not knowing how to strike a match and perform an essential survival skill…This time I was incredibly proud as we sat near the fire drinking ferne y coca and vino from the bottle and eating the rest of the avocadoes and tomatoes we’d purchased earlier.
We talked for hours about politics, the benefits of hitch hiking, Maxi’s adventures through Israel, and our excitement about what was to come in the next two months we had to travel. It was great to connect a little with Max but we still managed to avoid any personal details about our lives like family and friends back home, girlfriends/boyfriends, and deeper philosophies. For me it is not very common to spend more than four or five hours talking with someone and somehow skirt around these topics, especially when we’re drinking, but Maxi and I talked and talked about everything but.
At some point in the conversation I curled up next to the campfire with just my stolen airplane blanket and fell asleep. I don’t know when exactly I dropped dead, but I know that we were mid conversation and I know exactly when I woke up.
I woke up and it was still dark, the flames had turned to embers and smoke and the stars were incredible. I didn’t see anything though. I could only feel. Cold. So, so COLD. I could barely move I was so cold. I wrapped myself like a burrito in my paper thin airplane blanket that didn’t even cover my toes and shook for what seemed like hours trying to fall back asleep. At last, I surrendered and made a break for my backpack tearing out every single shirt I owned and layering them on, changing into jeans and dawning as many pairs of socks as would fit into my shoes. I had no regard for where my articles of clothing flew in my freeze-fueled frenzy and I think it would’ve looked like a yard sale of my intimates on the beach if it weren’t so dark. My jacket barely fit over the layered clothing that did manage to make it onto my body. I returned to my poor excuse for a blanket none the warmer and shivered for another ten minutes before I started literally crying.
I wasn’t too quiet about it either, but I don’t remember ever being so miserably cold in my life. (Not before that moment anyways…there were other episodes like this during the trip. This is the most memorable though.) I finally caved and decided to wake up Maxi to see if he could spare part of his sleeping bag. I started out my attempts to wake him none too subtly by shaking his shoulders and crying in his face. He didn’t budge. The wine had apparently cut him off from this dimension and he lacked any sense of consciousness. I was desperate. I was half-yelling half-crying and probably sounded like a dying werewolf. As a last resort I hobbled to the fire and literally sat in the embers.
It was a short-lived relief, but it had the desired effect. I alternated putting different body parts in the remains of the fire and singing my clothing until I had melted all of the icicles down to my fingertips. I laid out my airplane blanket on the rocks next to the fire and stuck my face as close to the embers as possible without burning the skin off of my nose, still crying. Suddenly, I froze (pun intended.)
Even though I couldn’t wake Maxi, I had apparently waken somebody else up and froze in fear when I saw a flashlight and heard an, “Hola,” aimed in our direction. Maybe I was being overdramatic with the cold thing. Were we even allowed to camp on the beach? Did maybe one of the people who lived in the town worry and call the police? Why couldn’t I wake Maxi up?! What was I going to tell these people if they stumbled upon our camp and found two foreigners trying to explain themselves amidst the remains of wine bottles and my entire collection of underwear sprinkled across the sand??? I held my breath, but the “hola”’s kept coming.
After an enlightening night in the gas station in a town we didn’t know the name of and a breakfast of half a chocolate bar and grapefruit flavored gaseosa, Maxi and I gathered all of our fully charged electronics and trudged to the entrance waving chau to the night shift gas station attendant. Even though we didn’t speak I feel like we bonded.
I felt like a total vagrant slugging out from the gas station still wearing my pajama pants, my greasy hair jammed haphazardly into a sloppy bun behind me. I dragged my feet after Max. We crossed the street, walked a block to the turn pike and let our backpacks crash to the ground underneath a tree on the side of the road–ready to start the next leg of the journey! I made a sign from the only weathered looking piece of cardboard I could find. Trying to make it pretty and friendly, I drew a peace sign…but kind of mixed it up in my fatigue with a Mercedez-Benz logo. Hmmm capitalism vs. peace and love.
I didn’t know which was which and Maxi wasn’t sure either. If I accidentally put a Mercedes-Benz sign on my hitchhiking sign would that seem presumptuous? Like we were looking for a super sly ride or something? While my exhausted brain was pondering this, a man passed and told me that I had left my extra set of shoes at the gas station. Yep. I was officially beat. I ran to get my shoes; the employees had switched shifts but the night lady was still there and she wished us luck as she handed them to me with a smile. Everyone was so nice.
When I got back to Maxi I had hardly torn off the peace sign/Mercedes-Benz cardboard creation and taken out the guitar to practice my new skills when a car pulled up offering us a ride. The man was wearing a blue uniform that looked like it would be miserable when the midday heat inevitably arrived. He told us his name was Adrian and that he worked in factory in a suburb close to Carlos Paz. He had to be to work at 8 AM so he didn’t have time to bring us all the way but he’d take us as far as another turn pike where everyone would be destined for Carlos Paz. We talked about his job, his family (three daughters and a wife), his dog (a big fluffy Golden Retriever named Guver), and the co-op residencias that lined the highway. They looked surreal—so many of these plain-colored cement walls with tiny windows strategically placed to fit the most possible into the space they occupied. It reminded me of a game of Rush Hour but with houses instead of cars. To be honest, I wasn’t even quite sure what a co-op was until I asked Adrian. He explained to us that it was very hard to make a living working in the many factories that surrounded Cordoba, so families built their houses attached to each other and shared utility bills.
^^This is not my picture, it’s a google image search result for co-op housing but is really similar to the type of buildings we saw outside Cordoba Capital. The ones I saw were the colors from an Easter palette and looked like a giant cement labyrinth they were so tightly arranged.
Adrian had luckily been able to move his family outside Cordoba capital to a much nicer suburb with their own house and even a yard for Guver. The family would pass their vacation times in Cuesta Blanca (Maxi and I’s destination) in a couple of weeks and he assured us that it was hermoso (beautiful.)
As we got caught up talking I realized twenty minutes had passed and it was ten till eight! I told him this and offered to have him drop us off on the side of the road so he could get to work on time. He politely declined and said he had decided to take us all the way to Carlos Paz, a total of 30 more km out of his way!!! Maxi and I were incredibly grateful and it only doubled my consternation as to how much luck with hitchhiking we were having. Although Max had told me time and time again that hitchhiking was always this way because the people who pick you up have either done the same thing at some point in their lives or were genuinely interested to talk to and help you, I still struggled to believe it. I had the hardest time seeing why people would do something so…nice without anything in return (or at least that was how my Statian brain analyzed it.)
The factory Adrian worked in transformed raw materials into parts for cement and metal bridges and I’m sure he wasn’t too eager to arrive to work on time, but it still boggled my mind that he would arrive nearly 30 minutes late to work to bring two dirty, stinky, foreigners with tacky accents that far out of his way. As we said goodbye, Adrian gave us his phone number and email address in case we ever needed anything or just wanted to keep him posted as to our whereabouts.
My first priority when we got out of the car on the outskirts of Carlos Paz was a bathroom; second was food. Both were urgent matters and we set off. It felt like we had walked 30 blocks before I finally found a place to go, and Maxi was more preoccupied with food so by the time we found a supermarket we were both exhausted and cranky. That’s putting it lightly. We asked around for which bus would take us to Cuesta Blanca and we never got a clear answer. There were fifteen different kinds of “white ones” so how were we supposed to know which ones to flag down??? The only fail-safe solution was all of them. Luckily the drivers who had to pull over didn’t mind too much, but between their Cordobes accent and the street noise we didn’t get much more of a detailed description of the right bus out of them. After three or four busses passed I was officially in a grumpy mood and the closest available scapegoat was Maxi. I slumped onto the bus bench with my scowl for company. Commence making sure Max knew how unhappy I was. Looking back, he was really surprisingly tolerant of my random tantrums throughout our time traveling together.
Sometimes hitchhiking is not the most comfortable method of traveling. It is rewarding in that you get an inside look into the culture, have interesting conversations with even more interesting people, and it’s generally much more comfortable (and warmer!) than the big double decker busses. Long, hot hours waiting in the sun, lack of sleep, and being on someone else’s time clock can often abrade nerves and fuel conflicts though. Maxi and I did a pretty excellent job considering he was used to traveling alone and I’m a bit of a diva sometimes (cough cough.) But all jest aside, thanks for putting up with me Max, and sorry I was a drag to travel with on occasion…
When the right bus finally passed and we managed to cram all of our things into one seat (an admirable feat) we settled in for the hour bus ride to Cuesta Blanca. The paved roads turned to dirt, the houses to trees, and my state of consciousness to OFF. When Maxi woke me up I dizzily stumbled off the bus with all my things–disoriented and craving sleep but in a much better mood. Ah, I remembered this place. I took a deep breath of clean, crisp, sierra air. The landscape and the climate reminded me so much of my Colorado home ❤
We walked up a hill and crossed a bridge to “town.” A boy who looked about eight years old passed us on an ATV with three other kids on the back in a tangle of limbs kicking up a cloud of dust in his wake.
^^This is not a picture of the 8-year-old boy but one I took my first time around in Cuesta Blanca in August last semester. It is not an uncommon scene.
We looked around at where we were. It really was beautiful. It was really quiet (once the underage driver was gone.) It was really rural. It was perfect. 🙂
There were two one-aisle grocery stores on opposite sides of the only street. We conquered this tough decision in a matter of hunger-fueled seconds and bought bread, tomato, mayonnaise and palta (avocado.) Little did we know that this (sans the luxury of the mayo) would become a staple diet for us throughout Cordoba, Tucuman, Salta, and Jujuy. We enjoyed every bite though. It was picture perfect as the sun caressed our toes lounging on the beach listening to the calm river water wandering away from us.
This is making me hungry…I’m going to go eat something. Thanks for reading!
If my first hitchhiking experience was lacking one thing it would be the conversation with the drivers. Although Max and I talked a little bit during the voyage in the Fiat, we were both drained and didn’t have all that much to say that we hadn’t already. We were running off gas station coffee and honey roasted peanuts…certainly not the most effective forms of alimentation. Maxi also uses words much more sparingly than I do. Most people do, but he saves them exceptionally well for extra power when it really matters. I envy people like that. It takes vassal amounts of energy for me to stay quiet for even a half hour—it has been done, but it’s very unlikely you’ve witnessed the feat. For me, the conversations and people were by far the most rewarding aspects of hitchhiking.
Mariano and the family from Cordoba said their goodbyes to us in a tiny town outside of Cordoba that was named something like Oliva (I don’t remember the exact name.) It wouldn’t be acceptable for him to drive us all the way to the center where he worked so he dropped us off as close as he could.
We walked through town, which consisted of one main street, with all of our things and finally parked at a gas station in the center. I made a sign and we attempted to hitchhike…well Maxi attempted. I was still being super shy and kind of set my sign on the street corner and stood by it. Don’t worry, I got much better; but the first few weeks for me were spent climbing the learning curve.
At about 5 PM, after giving up at the gas station and two hours of walking down the road at a lazy pace, we got a ride from Hernan about 30 km (18.6 miles) to the next town over.
This ride was definitely unique from the first one that we’d experienced. Maxi was shoved into the back seat with ALL of his effects…his nose nearly plucking the guitar strings smushed against his resilient grin. I sat in the front, only slightly more comfortable, with all of my things in my lap piled snuggly up under my chin. The car was on its last miles. I watched the asphalt race by through the holes in the floor by the stick shift as I tried desperately and unsuccessfully to understand Hernan over the rattling of the rusty metal. How come I couldn’t understand him?! I had been communicating quite smoothly thus far, to my ample pride and surprise. But Hernan was speaking half Spanish and half gobbledygook. The jangling and jolting of the ancient car didn’t help. From the 75% that I was able to understand though, he seemed interesting enough. He dropped us off at the bus station in the next town over and wished us the best of luck. It was getting dark and cold by the time we’d agreed that tickets to Villa Carlos Paz (connection through Cordoba) were too expensive for us ratas (about $10.50 USD.) We decided to keep trying at hitching anyways. The little bus station was open 24 hours so…if worse came to worse….
Luckily, just as I had changed into jeans and pep talked myself for a rough night of cuddling street dogs in the bus station, a truck driver stopped at the stop light and offered us a lift. The truck driver who’d picked us up was indeed from Cordoba and, of course, not headed there. In fact, when I told Maxi we should just take the ride I was still only half sure that he was headed in the same direction. Did they speak a different language in Cordoba? And then I remembered…oh…they have a completely different accent. I flash-backed to a memory of my host brother smacking his fingers to his lips saying, “Uuuuyyy mmmmm, el accento Cordobés. Me muero.” I think it would be the equivalent of learning Colorado’s English and then taking an excursion to Texas—even I would have to focus a bit more to understand. The fact that Spanish was my second language and I was still a fledgling Argentine made Cordoba’s accent all that much more difficult, but I quickly got used to it after a couple of days. Good prep for Brazilian Portuguese.
He was at least going in the same direction and for Maxi and I it was “Cordoba or Bust!” so we’d take what we could get. We had lots of room in the front of his truck and we settled in for the ride quite nicely. Diego, the truck driver, was transporting a truck full of Quilmes to Jesús María, a town outside of Cordoba Capital but would drop us off at the turn point to Villa Carlos Paz, which would be even better for hitchhiking than attempting to do so from the capital.
^^See how the turnpike is kind of far out of the city?
Recalling it now it feels like we must have spent hours talking about family, travel and life but when I look at Google Maps I see that it wasn’t a very long journey—only about 90 km (55 miles.) That means that we only spent an hour or so with Diego. Diego’s 30th birthday was coming up on New Year’s Eve and he was going to have to spend it alone because of his job. Here is what I wrote about Diego on my napkin-journal in my state of zombified chocolate high at the gas station we slept in (aka excuse my uninteresting/stream-of-consciousness writing):
“Diego spends his life on the road as a truck driver because he needs the money to support his family—his wife of twenty-six and five-year-old son, Thiago. I am in love with the name Thiago (Tee-Aww-Go). Like when I heard the name I seriously just felt some of the wires in my brain spark. I am going to name my future son Thiago. Posta. I don’t care if he’s not even like anything at all Spanish or Argentine or ***************. That’s gonna be his name. So there. Anyways, Diego’s story just moved me. He talked about how much he missed his family and showed us photos on his phone. He told us that for Christmas he did get to go home, but he literally arrived at 6 PM Christmas Eve and left at 6 PM the next day to work a straight 18-hour shift, leaving him trying to balance between rest and celebrating (reuniting) with his family. I think Maxi understood some of the conversation but it would have been hard to talk much even if he did so I spoke the whole time and tried to understand Diego’s Cordobes accent. This trip he was headed to Jesús María and then up through Argentina all the way to the border with Bolivia. His wife and son would meet him in Jesús María because it was relatively close to Cordoba to pass the day driving with him the upcoming day and he was really excited to see them. Then, they’d take a bus back home—it was one of the only ways they got to spend time with him. He mentioned that he and his wife had been considering getting jobs at Musimundo in Cordoba so that they would be able to go home together and be a family, but being a truck driver paid the bills and it would be a big risk to give that up for a day job. I mean, he even told us that when he got to the border of Bolivia he’d have about eight hours to rest but planned on instead spending many of them on Bolivian soil shopping for gifts and clothing for his family because it was so much cheaper and they just couldn’t afford it here in Argentina.
“He said both his dad and his uncle drove trucks too. He had a sister and a brother. His sister was in her early twenties and studied theater and acting in Cordoba because it was what she loved. His brother was six years old and had died six months before. Yes. Died. At first I didn’t think I understood the Spanish but I knew by the look on Diego’s face as he talked about him. A muted and resigned sorrow in his eyes. I didn’t know how to say sorry in Spanish and I just…really didn’t know what to say at all. His story was tragic to me. He told me that both he and his father were working at the time and not allowed to leave their jobs for 2 days despite hearing the news and, even then, they had had to drive home from wherever it was they were at. I was speechless. Sometimes with Spanish I feel like it’s rude to have serious conversations. I know that this is ridiculous and because I’m living my life in Spanish now it’s unavoidable. I just sometimes feel like the nerdy kid in class who everyone rolls their eyes at who speaks in an Argentine accent. Like ok, kid, you’re cool, now shut up. This time I was not only afraid to speak because it seemed less genuine in my heavy yankee accent, but also because I’ve yet to truly learn what to say in these types of situations. It’s already tremendously difficult to be a friend to someone who’s been through a hardship but I didn’t even know Diego for 30 minutes and felt the need to comfort him. The best thing I could do was keep him talking and listen. He said that it was very hard at first because his trucking job only gave him about a week off, and driving by yourself gives you a lot of time for thinking. Too much time. It’s easy to get lost in reverie. But through the last couple of months he’d been coming to terms with it. The hardest thing was that his child and his brother were so close in age and…now they don’t have each other, nor does his son really understand what happened. As he left us at a gas station by the turn pike (he insisted on buying us candy bars and orange juice despite our assuring him that this was utterly unnecessary), I was left thinking about the kindness he’d shown us despite all of the adversity he’d faced. So much has happened in the last three days and I’ve learned so much that sleeping is out of the question…” I think that, although long-winded and written by an exhausted, clearly brain-dead individual, this explanation does a little more justice to Diego than any I could’ve written right now.
We got to the gas station at 11 PM and spent the night at a table inside where we could plug in our electronics and try to tune out the TV and get some rest. Little did I know how much I’d begun to change and think…and how much I should’ve tried to rest because it would be a bit more comfortable than other future choices we’d make. I slept a grand total of 12 minutes and ended up asking the cashier for napkins in the morning to write the above at 6:34 AM. I spent the night boludeando on Maxi’s computer and learning a song on his guitar from tabs I found online. I knew literally nothing about the guitar (now I own one 😉 ) so it was a lengthy process involving many YouTube videos and second-rate tablature websites.
^^Maxi getting some Z’s 😛
^^And then the morning!
Well look at that guys! I made it through another day of my trip. You can only imagine by these accounts of my first few days how much I learned and grew through the rest of the adventure. It sincerely was a journey.