Epic four-day bus ride through Argentina: Day 4

Tuesday, December 30
4:30 – dawn. I look out woozily at the sunrise and take some pictures from inside my dream state before falling back asleep.

7:03 – another province crossing, which means another stop to check passports and documents. Yesterday we crossed two provinces – Chubut and Comodoro Rivadavia. Now we’re entering Santa Cruz. As far as I can tell, there’s still a possibility that I’ll get to Rio Gallegos in time for my next bus, but every time we stop I get a little anxious.

9:50 – against all my worries and expectations, we arrive at Rio Gallegos with an hour to spare before I have to catch my next bus. The bus drivers distribute migration forms for Chile, and I realize we’re going to pass through the southern tip of the country on the way to Ushuaia. I feel a little dumb for not realizing we would pass through Chile; they are strict about fruits and vegetables so my enormous supply of oranges will get me in trouble at the border. I trash them and now I’m down to half a bag of rice crackers to last me the next twelve hours.

11:10 – Chilean border crossing. A group of travelers on our bus must have gone grocery shopping in Rio Gallegos. They have a shopping bag full of cucumbers and carrots that they’re peeling and eating quickly outside the hut that houses the border officials and security line. On the other side of the arch displaying the Chilean crest, I can see guanacos grazing in the field.

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Chile is strict about food crossing its borders. There are piles of apples, a peach, and a jar of honey abandoned by other travelers in little corners of the border crossing hut.

12:16 – we cross the border and I’m in a new country. Under the arch a grey fox loiters waiting for scraps of food and looking elegant and sleek like all foxes do. Back on the bus, we pass rolling hills covered in the same low vegetation I’ve been seeing for the past few days. There are few trees. I see lots of guacanos in the fields (they are of the llama family but light brown in color). I also see a huge ostrich-like bird that I think is a Rhea, surrounded by fuzzy awkward looking chicks, and lots of sheep.

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12:56 – we arrive at a terminal where a ferry waits to take our bus across a narrow channel of water. Oscar, my seatmate on the bus, tells me that here the waters of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans mix together. We’ve reached the end of the continental landmass and are heading towards the islands of Tierra del Fuego.

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15:00 – I’m meditating when I feel the bus turn around. We’re probably 10 kilometers down a gravel road through picturesque farms and countryside, and now we’re heading back the way we came, back toward the direction of the ferry crossing. I ask Oscar, who used to live in Ushuaia and made this crossing many times, if he knows why we turned. He shrugs, not concerned. I relax a little too. Maybe it’s the mediation, or maybe I’m finally starting to get it through my head what it means to be outside the US, to be in a place where things don’t always happen on time down to the second, where sometimes the gravel road floods and you take a different route and arrive a few hours late. It happens and you shrug and don’t let it ruin your day. I guess I thought this was already my philosophy – don’t let a change of plans ruin your day – but it’s more challenging to apply to travel, when you have bought tickets in advance or made reservations or have to meet someone at a certain time.

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17:20 – border crossing back into Argentina. This one is weird. Instead of the usual desk with two border agents seated next to each other, this time I get my exit stamp from Chile and get told to get back on the bus. I assume I’ll get the Argentine entry stamp later and try not to fret about it – we drive for a few kilometers and stop at a different building for the Argentine migration. It’s raining now and the gently rolling green countryside reminds me of Ireland, especially with the rain.

19:15 – Rio Grande bus terminal. They have a bowling alley for some reason. I say goodbye to Oscar. He spent the last leg of the trip telling me about his life in Jujuy, where he lived on an Indian reservation for some time, and teaching me some words in Quechua, an indigenous language. My favorite is “uj”, the word for one, which sounds a little like “oof”.

220 kilometers to Ushuaia. I go back to reading Richard Harris’ biography of Che Guavara.

20:51 – we pass a large body of water surrounded by mountains. It’s beautiful, and reminds me of Tahoe. I think again for the thousandth time that Reno really is one of the most beautiful places I’ve lived.

22:15 – we arrive in Ushuaia and I hop a taxi to the house of some Couchsurfers where I’m staying for a few days. They’re three guys who work in tourist agencies around town, and from the second I step in the door they treat me more like a roommate than a guest. I’m sleeping on a big comfortable mattress on the floor of the living room and after we visit for an hour or so I curl up exhausted under the blankets and pass out.

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Epic four-day bus ride through Argentina: Day 3

Sunday, December 28

17:01 – I’m sitting in soft sand, just finishing my dulce de leche ice cream and looking across the bay to the peninsula Valdez where I can just make out steep white cliffs plunging hundreds of meters down into the blue sea. The beach here is flatter, wide and muddy, and almost completely full of people sunbathing, playing soccer, and swimming. I walk along the sand until I get tired of the crowd, then make my way up to the sidewalk which is much quieter, even just a few meters from a packed beach. I listen to Neil Young as I stroll in and out of the shadows of low trees lining the street.

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I spend a quiet afternoon in Puerto Madryn. The town seems nice and quiet but unremarkable – what I saw of it – and I think the main attraction is the nature preserve on the nearby peninsula. I didn’t have time or energy to take an excursion there today, so I contented myself today with a walk along the shore to an ecological museum. Afterwards I meet Caroline, a friendly French girl from my hostel, to swim in the ocean. The water is chilly and a little murky, but nice enough. It’s good to swim in the ocean and taste a little saltwater.

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23:45 – I paint a little medallion given to me by the hostel owner. They’re making a mural here out of painted cards and using them to cover one of the walls in the stairwell. While I paint, an overly friendly Argentine guy tries every trick in the book to get me to kiss him, and I try every trick in my book to deflect his advances. Eventually he gets the message and goes off, sulking. I paint a little while longer before I crawl exhausted into bed to sleep off the rest of yesterday’s bus journey.

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Monday December 29
9:49 – just a few more minutes to let my tablet charge, then I’m headed for the bus terminal. This is the big one: Puerto Madryn to Rio Gallegos, a trip of 19 hours, followed almost immediately by another trip of 12 hours from Rio Gallegos to Ushuaia. I get the feeling that long bus journeys are a kind of rite of passage for backpackers. If that’s true, I’ll be more than qualified to join the ranks of the initiated by the time I reach Ushuaia.

I shop and pack my food carefully. Traveling as a gluten-sensitive person isn’t such a challenge if you have access to a kitchen or a choice of restaurants, but bus journeys can be tricky. The food provided on buses is almost never gluten free (it’s usually sandwiches) and this isn’t the kind of place where you can make a fuss because some bus company didn’t take your obscure dietary restriction into account. I can pack my own food, but that comes with its own set of problems – there aren’t a lot of foods available here that are compact, filling, cheap, don’t need to be refrigerated or cooked, and are also gluten free. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on gluten free bread were my staple when I was road tripping around the west. Power bars are a good option too, but hard to find here in Argentina. So for this journey I settled on enormous quantity of oranges (they fill half my small bag); my favorite brand of gluten free rice crackers; boiled eggs; dulce de leche; and a stoic resolve to meditate and think about philosophy if I run out of food before we get to Ushuaia.

11:19 – I spot what looks like sagebrush in the scrubby vegetation covering the flat plain we’re traversing. My brain almost tricks me into thinking I can smell it. The scenery here reminds me so much of parts of Nevada, and it makes me remember trips with friends or alone, smells of sagebrush, dust covering my car… Good memories, but they also make me a little sad. Will I ever live there again?

I secretly hope the bus will have to stop soon so I can hop out and smell the sage.

11:40 – I get my wish. We make an unplanned stop at Trelew, apparently to change buses. I don’t smell any sage, but I do meet a girl from California and a pair of twins from Italy named Elisa and Elena who are dressed exactly alike – same leggings, shoes, shirts, scarves, fanny packs, same haircut, same ponytail… After careful study, I see that Elisa’s earrings are little orange dice while Elena’s are silver beads. I wonder if they coordinated earrings too for their trip and just forgot to match today.

12:33 – after about an hour, we all realize that this wasn’t a quick stop to change to a different bus – we’re going to be sitting here for a while. Rumors fly – some people say the next bus is coming in 10 minutes, others talk to ticket agents who say nonchalantly that they lost contact with the bus hours ago and have no idea where it is. I think about the 3 hours’ time I have to make a connection in Rio Gallegos and feel the buffer zone of transit time slowly slipping away. All the other passengers on our original bus are stuck at the terminal too. It’s interesting to observe that no one is queuing at the bus counters to complain, yell at the employees, or demand upgrades or refunds. I think that sort of behavior is more common in the US, perhaps even the norm, but from what I’ve seen here, this sort of inconvenience is borne more with resignation than outrage. Sometimes the bus is late. Sometimes it doesn’t come. Sometimes the driver just forgets to turn on the radio. In many aspects of life here, there is less of a sense of entitlement to special treatment as regards customer service than in the US, where the slightest delay or abnormality can be met with disproportionate indignation and outrage. I think I like it better here, even if it means no one is plying me with free bus passes or seat upgrades for my trouble.

14:36 – the transfer bus finally arrives. I see the driver buying DVDs for the long bus ride from a street vendor, which I think is a good sign that this bus is the real thing – no more random stops to switch vehicles. Within a couple of hours we’re rolling past more low scrubby plains stretching out as far as I can see.

16:30 – one of the bus drivers distributes sandwiches packaged the way you get them on airplanes. I peel the bread apart and take as much as I can off the ham and cheese and fold them onto the rice crackers I brought. It’s not as filling as bread, but it’s enough.

18:07 – we pass a little gorge and I see that we’ve been traveling over a large plateau that rises maybe 400 meters above the surrounding countryside. This explains why it’s been hard to see the horizon, and why I kept feeling that we were passing through hills though the landscape is flat. As we pass the gorge I can see far, far into the distance, out to where the landscape fades into a grey blue before it meets the sky.

19:30 – we descend from the plateau into a country of low sandy hills covered in the eternal dusky green scrubby vegetation. Trees are scarce except where there’s groundwater in a low ditch. Ranch fences border the road and there are a few sheep here and there.

19:53 – the ocean?! I thought we were headed due west out into the plains! After we pass a few signs I see that we’re picking up passengers in a coastal town called Comodoro Rivadavia, surrounded by sculpted sandy cliffs that come down to meet the sea.

21:43 – I change seats to join the American girl and group of Italian travelers headed for Calafate. We talk and look out the window as the bus heads down the coast. This seaside road is beautiful, still dry and dusty like the plains we crossed before, but here with patches of sand and bunches of ocean grasses meeting the sapphire sea. The wind blows so strongly we can see it push the waves back as they roll in and kick up clouds of spray into the evening air. The sun begins to set and the clouds start glowing fluorescent orange and red as we make another stop in a coastal oil town.

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Epic four-day bus ride through Argentina: Day 2

Saturday, December 27
18:40 – I’m standing alongside the road out of town, holding my thumb out with one hand and a paper sign reading “Tornquist” in the other, wondering if this will work. Although I’ve always said I would never hitchhike alone, especially not in a foreign country, I’m bending my rules now. I had two women from the town tell me to try it, and I’m feeling confident enough in both my instincts about people and my willingness to speak up if I don’t feel comfortable riding with someone to give it a shot. I’ve never hitchhiked before. You only live once, right?

Flash back to an hour ago – I mosey over to the bus stop a little early, not having the energy for anything else after the sweltering afternoon, and hear my new least favorite Spanish phrase a second time – “el micro se rompio”. My language skills start to crumble as I panic, realizing that a later bus won’t get me to Bahia Blanca in time to make my connection. I need to work out an alternate plan entirely through conversation in a language I barely speak. I’m overwhelmed for a few minutes and at a loss for what to do, but the woman at the bus company is patient and talks slowly and finally finds me a connection in a neighboring town that will get me there with an hour to spare. The only problem? There are no buses going to this neighboring town and a taxi will cost me $300 pesos. “No, esta demasiado caro, tenga que ir con dedo,” she instructs me, sticking her thumb out to demonstrate. I consider paying the extra cash for the taxi – I’m a woman, traveling alone, white, with limited Spanish… but then I think, you know what, you came here for a challenge, you came here to grow more confident and think creatively and not just throw money at your problems, so go on. Give it a try. If anything feels wrong you can go back to the bus office and have them call you a taxi.

6:55 – I assume the biggest problem will be finding a ride, but I’ve only been waiting 15 minutes when a big red pickup truck pulls over and an old man in a faded tshirt and worn jeans opens the door. He looks like the kind of guy you would call to fix your furnace or help landscape your garden. I generally trust my instincts about people, and I don’t sense any danger from this guy, so I sling my bag down in the floor of the truck and hop in.

It turns out my driver repairs roofs for a living – like his grandfather, father, and three sons. His name is Roberto (I think) and he tells me the names of all his children and his niece and nephew, though I’ve forgotten them now. His grandparents are from Germany. He asks if I speak any German – “nein” – so we make do with Spanish, and I think I mis-conjugate all my verbs but we get by.

We drive through stunningly beautiful hill country that reminds me again of northern Nevada and parts of southern Wyoming. I’m astonished at how lovely the countryside is here – I remember my friend Camilo and his bicycle trip through this part of South America and feel a little jealous. Roberto must be used to taking passengers along, because he narrates the drive: here you can see trees blackened by a fire last year and already covered by new growth. There’s the famous ventana (window) rock formation – he stops so I can take pictures. In this unassuming little building he knows a guy with a well who bottles mineral water. We pass a cyclist chugging along against the wind – he knows him, too. He tells me the names of the counties as we pass them and shows me where they’re building a new walking path into town. He tells me he’s 77, though he looks to be in his 50s. “Que es el secreto? Agua mineral?” I ask. “Cerveza!” he chortles.

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By 19:45 I’m at the bus terminal in time for my new connection, giving Roberto a handshake goodbye and feeling giddy for having done something new and scary and probably a little dangerous and to have had it go so well.

20:28 – and just like that, I’m on the bus headed for my connection in Bahia Blanca. This had better work.

21:04 – a spectacular lightning storm flickers in the west. The bus is almost empty so I move to a window seat where I can watch the storm. I look up the Spanish word for lightning – rel├ímpago. My previous fantasies about how much fun it would be to travel by bike start to fade as the wind picks up and starts to sway the bus back and forth across the road. The rain splatters the windshield and roof.

21:45 – despite the rain, it’s a suspiciously easy and on time arrival. After all the other adventures today, I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Sunday, December 28
00:30 – the bus departs 45 minutes late – no big deal – and finally, I’m on a bus and the bus is going to puerto madryn and if we are lucky the bus will keep running all the way to where it’s going. God, I’m tired.

7:11 – I open my eyes to low, scrubby vegetation, thin yellow grass, and sandy-looking soil. I don’t see the ocean but it looks like we’re close. “Donde estamos?” I ask my seatmate. “San Antonio”.

7:30 – next stop is Las Grutas. I almost stayed here too, but it was going to be too difficult to time the bus journeys. As we leave I listen to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco. It’s supposed to be a good album for bus rides, according to a forum I found on Reddit. I watch stray dogs lope along sandy paths between painted sculptures of cartoon characters. I can see the ocean now in glimpses as the dunes rise and fall to my left.

8:00 – one of the bus attendants hands me a packet of instant coffee and an alfajor. I forgot I got a “semi cama con servicio” ticket for this journey – I guess this is the “con servicio” part. I eat the alfajor even though it isn’t gluten free. I forgot to pack enough gluten free snacks for this bus journey and I’m already starving. It shouldn’t cause any problems, or in any case my stomach is already so disrupted from lack of sleep that it probably won’t notice a little gluten thrown in the mix.

10:52 – I’ve been reading a book about Che Guavara when the bus turns slightly and rounds a corner and there is the ocean spread out in front of us with the brown and yellow landscape coming down to meet it. There’s a large town here that must be puerto madryn – I can see large ships in the harbor and highrise buildings clustered together. This is my stop for the day.

Epic four-day bus ride through Argentina: Day 1

So far on my trip I’ve managed to avoid any truly lengthy bus rides – often a hallmark of friends’ travels in South America – but that all changes over the next four days, as I take a series of buses from Buenos Aires all the way to Ushuaia in the far south.

Friday, December 26
21:15 – I hug and kiss goodbye friends from puerto limon one by one, already feeling low and wishing I had a few more days with them. Secretly I also wish for the bus to break or get delayed so I can squeeze one more night in, even though that would wreak havoc on my planned trips. But it’s not meant to be, and I get to the bus station with plenty of time to spare and the bus is where it’s supposed to be and we leave exactly at the time printed on my ticket and before I have time to think about it Buenos Aires is passing sedately by my window seat on the upper floor. I put on some Regina Spektor as we drive through the city and cry a little. I’m sad, but it also feels good to cry… Like a tribute to the depth of my feelings for the people I met and the time I spent in the city. It feels like a fitting conclusion to these seven weeks, and even though I would like to stay, I feel a sense of closure and readiness to move again.

22:57 – I realize that this isn’t a direct bus from buenos aires to Sierra de la ventana – we’re going to be stopping at a number of stations along the way. I sleep well on buses, but tend to wake up every time we stop. Okay, I think, so that’s how this night is going to go.

Saturday, December 27
1:07 – I drift in and out and realize after a while that we’ve been stopped too long for a normal pause to pick up passengers. I see we’re on the side of a road, the bus idling. I join a few passengers milling around outside. “El micro se rompio?” “Si”. Yes, the bus broke down. Maybe I’m not leaving buenos aires tonight after all. I try to sleep but feel nervous that I might miss an announcement or instructions, as I assume the company is going to send a replacement bus later.

2:04 – I fall asleep anyway but wake up when the relief bus arrives. On the way to the new bus I double check with the drivers that our luggage will get transferred over to the new bus. They give me a bored nod, but I don’t actually see my big bag get loaded on to the new bus. It’s probably fine, but I also make a quick mental action plan in case it’s forgotten, and thank myself again for packing all the really important stuff in the daybag I carry with me.

6:00 – alarm. I set it last night when our arrival time was still projected for 6:45. It’s fog and rosy dawn all around us. After a few minutes we’re at a terminal. Is it mine? How do I tell? There are no signs. The other passengers are just as confused as I am, but eventually we work out that Sierra de la ventana is still a couple of hours away. I realize now that I had no way of knowing where to get off since the drivers don’t seem to be announcing the names of the stops. This worries me, but several other passengers are headed the same way, so I figure between all of us we’ll figure it out. I sleep again.

8:30 – I wake up and meditate. Listen to music. Look out the window. This could be northwestern Nevada, near the border with Oregon – rolling, yellow grassy fields with low scrubby bushes and bare rocky hills in the distance. It makes me miss Nevada, and feel grateful that I lived there, and wonder if maybe I want to go back and stay some day.

I think, well this is it! I’m exploring Argentina!

And just as I think this, the bus slows down and pulls off onto the side of the road, stopping to idle. The drivers get out and walk around to the engine. Did they really manage to break a second bus?

8:45. The bus starts up again. Please, I think, no more two hour delays…

8:50 – we pull into a service station. The drivers get out and I see them fill a pathetically small watering can and walk to the back of the engine with it. Lord have mercy.

9:00 – the bus pulls back on to the road.

9:05 – the bus pulls off the side of the road again and we turn around in a dirt driveway, heading back toward the service station. Crap.

9:11 – back at the service station, I see a man who I think was on the bus before. Did we leave without someone and have to go back??

9:15 – apparently, yes. We start down the road to Sierra de la ventana again. 57 kilometers to go. Fingers crossed.

9:25 – the bus pulls off the road again. Emotional roller coaster. Will we ever get there? While we’re stopped I look at the landscape. It reminds me of Lamar valley in Yellowstone. I remember the word for landscape, paisaje, and how I keep confusing it with pasaje, the word for bus ticket, and amuse myself by wondering what they might think if I walked into the bus office and asked to buy the countryside.

9:30 – a door slams somewhere in the bus and we start again.

10:00 – finally, unbelievably, we arrive at Sierra de la ventana. I didn’t need to worry about knowing if it’s the right stop – there are signs everywhere. I’m even able to leave my big bag at the bus office for the day and walk to the tourist office to locate the essentials – coffee, internet, and a bike rental company.

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12:45 – much-needed lunch by a river. Families have their cars parked along the banks in the shade and kids are diving off trees. I chat with a few families in Spanish as they pass my seat and feel grateful for the time I put in practicing in buenos aires. I wouldn’t have been able to strike up a conversation with anyone here two months ago.

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13:45 – ride my rented bike along the river and climb a hill on the other side. If my mind wanders I can easily believe I’m walking up the hill behind the Customink office in Reno. Even the rocks look the same. The only thing missing is sagebrush. I scan the hills for points of pure white and flickers of motion that can indicate the presence of an animal. As I crest a rise in the landscape I see a herd of wild horses grazing about 500 meters away.

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14:25 – realize I’m horribly dehydrated after the hike and bike ride. Drag myself to an ice cream shop run by surly teenagers. Inhale a milkshake. The surly teenagers don’t sell water so I stumble to another heladeria to find some. I begin to feel quite ill so I sit and breathe deeply, guzzling cold water and reading to distract myself. The shop is empty except for me, the quiet tattooed young woman behind the counter, and a Doors greatest hits album filling the silence. I read my copy of the Little Prince in Spanish.

16:49 – it’s too hot to do anything and the shops are closed for siesta, so I lie in the grass of a park called Eva Peron and finish reading The Sun Also Rises. It turns out to be a slightly depressing choice for someone already feeling a little lonely, but Hemingway writes so damn well I can’t stay mad at him. The afternoon is dragging a bit and I have my next bus to catch just before 7. Time for one last wander down to the water before my next bus to Bahia Blanca and on to Puerto Madryn.

La Catedral

High on the list of Famous Things You Are Supposed To Do in buenos aires is to go to a tango show or to a milonga (a dance hall where locals can meet and tango). Last time I was here, in march of this year, we went to a tango show at Cafe Tortoni, a famous old cafe with a stage downstairs. The dancing was impressive and beautiful, but to me felt a little flat – the dances were choreographed and rote, and the the performers seemed a bit bored – it wasn’t the passionate tango scene I was expecting. I ran out of time on that trip and never made it to a milonga where I hoped to see people dance without being on display, so on this visit I wanted to make sure I went. As I understand it, tango, while being quintessentially Argentinian, isn’t necessarily something that everyone you meet in Argentina dances regularly; but it is an important subculture that’s an integral part of the character and history of buenos aires, and I wanted to investigate a bit more, so I went along with friends to a famous milonga called La Catedral.

La Catedral being so famous, I expected it to feel a bit touristy – nice, perhaps, but also a bit superficial, with waiters dressed in 1920s style tuxes trying to pressure us into buying expensive cocktails and lots of extra costs hidden under the 60-peso entry fee. I was completely surprised and delighted by the space that we found instead – a high-ceilinged, dim, creaky beautiful dance hall, dingy and bohemian and decorated haphazardly with old, strange paintings, odd sculptures, drapes of fabric, half-broken chairs, and threadbare faded low couches lining the dance floor. It reminded me more of the set for a performance of Rent than a touristy tango hall. I was in love immediately.

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We took a tango lesson with a group of mainly foreigners, some of whom already had some experience with tango. In general I am terrible at partnered dancing; I am independent and hate feeling that I’m not in control, which makes me a difficult dance partner – but I was matched with strong leaders and fell in love with the intimate, melancholic dance at once. After the lesson our teachers danced for us together, effortlessly, passionately, beautifully.

We relaxed with drinks after the lesson, trying to decide how long to stay – the proper milonga didn’t start until midnight, and it was only 8:30 – and eventually found out way to a side room where our teachers were relaxing and dancing a bit and we got in some more practice away from the main dance floor.

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At midnight, a live band began to play, violins and ostinatto and a strange small guitar that reminded me of a dulcimer, beautiful and sad. A man came out to dance the gaucho flamenco-like stomping dance – I don’t know the name – proud and flamboyant and violent. Then the milonga began and the floor was full of pacing couples. I don’t know where Catedral figures in the true tango scene, whether it’s a serious dance hall or not, but it was absolutely not a tourist show – there were pairs from every age group, from dignified gentlemen whirling pretty and graceful young women in high heels, next to casually dressed young men in sneakers, to girls in sandals and leggings; even one couple dressed a bit goth, with the woman holding herself gracefully in a laced corset. Even sporting my travel stained flip-flops, I was asked to dance several times and did my best, though my skill level is still so basic that my patient partners all politely escorted me back to my seat after one or two rounds.

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The milonga started at midnight and I expect would have continued until four or five in the morning, in true buenos aires fashion. We left at two, all of us wishing we had the evergy to stay longer while the milonga pulsed on, and vowing to come back within the week to dance again.

A walk in Buenos Aires

One day late in November, just after thanksgiving, the weather was clear and warm and the sun blazed out of a sapphire spring sky, and the jacaranda trees were heavy with purple flowers (I can’t get over those trees, reader, I’m crazy about them), and the breeze was nice and I needed some exercise – so I decided to walk from my hostel in San Telmo to the famous cemetery in Recoleta, about 35 city blocks.

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Huge portraits of Evita (Eva Peron, former first lady, actress, champion of the working class, and universally beloved “patron saint” of Buenos Aires) flank the sides of this building, the ministry of social services.

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The obelisk in the center of the huge avenue 9 de Julio (supposedly the widest street in south America, though apparently that title comes with some qualifiers, like it’s not technically all one road since its split into pieces with different names). Apparently this intersection is where you go to find public celebrations after football wins, the start of the massive group bicycle ride called masa critica, and pretty much every other public party.

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Sculpture on 9 de Julio

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After about an hour of walking I came to the edge of Recoleta, which is the posh neighborhood of the city. The parks here are beautiful and well-manicured. You especially notice enormous sprawling trees with gigantic roots heaving themselves out of the earth and long, meandering tree limbs that are sometimes held up by posts installed by the city to keep them from splitting.

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I entered the famous cemetery, where the rich and prominent citizens of Buenos Aires are buried in huge mausoleums arranged in a grid like city blocks. There are beautiful sculptures and old gothic-style architecture. Some of the mausoleums tower five or six meters high.

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I didn’t include a picture of Eva Peron’s grave, but it’s the most famous in the cemetery, because of her hugely important status in Argentine culture (I would venture to say she is as highly regarded and loved here as Simon Bolivar is in Colombia). Apparently when Evita died there were a number of problems getting her buried in Argentine soil, and her body was actually stolen by political enemies for years before it could be recovered and entombed. Her mausoleum is modest, befitting her status as an illegitimate child and a champion of the working class, but it’s easy to spot given the crowds of tourists who throng to take pictures.

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I think some people get creeped out by cemeteries, but I find them peaceful. As a Christian I don’t have so many negative associations with death, and anyway apart from religious connotations, cemeteries tend to be quiet, beautiful spaces that inspire contemplation. Although its character is different, Recoleta reminds me a little of Cimitaire Pere Lachaise in Paris, another cemetery that’s wonderful to visit and wander in. Recoleta in particular is nice for this because it’s like a little city – you can turn a corner and find yourself on another “street” completely empty of people, silent and peaceful.

Travel Blues

It’s finally happened, friends and readers. I’ve just passed the three-month mark on my long trip and the travel blues are starting to hit me hard.

It’s been rough this week especially. While I’ve been having fantastic experiences in Buenos Aires, making new friends, practicing Spanish, and getting to know the city, I’m also beginning to deeply miss familiar things like my car and my cat and my friends in the States. Lack of sleep and proper exercise are taking a toll on my endorphin levels. And traveling is exhausting, readers. There’s seldom a daily routine to provide structure for things like eating well, exercise, writing, and reflection, so you have to take them where you can get them. Experiences are intense and the emotions are all magnified – loneliness, joy, wonder, and isolation.

And, though I haven’t written much about this here, I’ve known for years that I have problems with depression and anxiety. For the past couple of weeks – probably due to some of the bad habits I wrote about above – I’ve felt really low emotionally despite the presence of friends and fun experiences. That’s one of the tough things about depression, for me. Sometimes I feel sad, anxious, and deeply self-critical regardless of how many objectivity good things are going on around me. It’s a terrible feeling to be so sad, and even worse to feel that you have no right to be, and to blame yourself for your own sad feelings. It’s in these cases that I especially miss my good friends at home. It’s very difficult to talk about sadness with people you don’t know very well, and perhaps aren’t interested in hearing about a stranger’s problems. This is one of the very hard things about traveling alone, readers.

I’ve had plenty of blog-worthy experiences the past couple of weeks that I will try to share with you, unseen readers, when I’m able to write more again. In the meantime, please think well of me. I’ll be all right in the end, but right now I need your good thoughts.