Murphy’s Law

Transmissions from South America, Numero Uno

It’s been almost a week since I landed in South America, and it simultaneously feels as though it’s been forever, and no time at all. In some respects, I’m still surprised we made it down here at all: the 9000km to Buenos Aires was so anxiety-ridden, I’m thinking I’ve used up all my bad luck for the year in one week. And that excludes that whole “breaking my wrists twice” period of the year.

Buenos Aires is utterly gorgeous. It looks like Mexico crossed with Italy, and culturally speaking, it draws equally from Western Europe and Latin America, which makes for an interesting mix.

I have no (Canadian) passport

I really meant to get one before leaving, if only to get into the U.S., and then back home, with less hassle. (I usually just travel on my British passport, which is generally more useful.) I’d been trying to find my Canadian citizenship card for a while, and was waiting until I moved into my friend Dan’s basement before I officially gave up and applied for a new one. (For those of you who were born in Canada, a Canadian citizenship card is proof of citizenship for those of us who weren’t.) I had an exciting series of phone calls and chats with the people at Immigration and the people at Passport Canada, who of course have no reasons to collaborate whatsoever. Their phone system actually at one point (twice!) led me through all the options, carefully informed me that it would not hang up on me, and to please stay on the line, then promptly hung up on me. You know, usually those automated systems are terrible, but I’ve never had one that outright lied to me. Anyway, the end result is that apparently there’s no “proof” that I’m Canadian without my citizenship card, because that card has a photo of me when I was nine (and an old surname) and thus qualifies as legitimate identification, and the twelve million other documents I have, plus the fact that I’ve been voting and paying taxes here for nearly ten years, is just my devious immigrant way of getting a fake passport, I guess. So I gave up, applied for the replacement card, and figured worst come to worst, I could always just return on a British visa.

My last day in town, the replacement card arrived.

How about one last trip to the E.R., for old times’ sake?

I was utterly convinced I was going to be the one who ended up in the emergency room. I went for an I’m-finally-cast-free! scooter ride with a friend before I started packing, and at one point I was very convinced something terrible would happen and I’d wind up breaking another of my bones, which are apparently made of glass and porcelain. As it turned out, it wasn’t me, but my traveling companion who broke himself. We were packing and getting ready to head off to their airport at 4am when he managed to slice his finger with a knife. Given that it was midnight, I actually vacillated for a bit (and called my dad’s wife, who very calmly talked me through the Steri-strip process) before hauling him down to the ER.

I’ve never been so impressed by a hospital visit: he was all stitched up and out of there within about two hours. (I was still making cupcakes and packing.)

Nevermind New York

I’d carefully planned our flight itinerary so that we’d have an all-day layover in NYC; I even left extra room in my carryon for shoes. This plan totally, utterly fell to hell when we missed our flight to JFK due to insanely long three-pronged security lines. It took two hours to get from the check-in to U.S. Customs, at which point we were told, along with several other people, that our plane had already left. After going back down to checkin, it turned out that the gate agents for American had totally disappeared, and it took me several phone calls, and about an hour, to get them back. The other passengers were busy screaming and kicking up a fit, which of course didn’t get them any help any faster—that “squeaky wheel” thing is something of a fallacy.

Eventually, we ended up booked onto a flight to Jersey, of all places. After going through the security lines again (twenty minutes this time!), we spent a few hours waiting for the plane in one of the most claustrophobia-inducing areas of the airport before landing in Newark, which is bar none the most depressing place I’ve ever been. (The emergency room, by comparison, was a cheerful and friendly place.) We then had to haul our twelve tons of luggage across town to JFK, which is a remarkably dull drive (at least if you go via Staten Island). By the time we got there, we’d lost our 16-hour layover and there was no time to explore the city.

The best I saw of NYC this time around was landing in Jersey, which is actually quite gorgeous—if you look over to Manhattan.

Buenos Aires, being a giant city, has a lot of graffiti. Some is gorgeous, and then some of it says "matrimony = man + woman".

Welcome to Buenos Aires! Let me steal your stuff.

Of course, if I’d known the plane would be four hours late in arriving at JFK, we may yet have been able to visit the city. However, JFK isn’t the world’s worst airport to be stuck in, and people kept telling me they liked my hair (which is pink & blue).

When we got to Argentina, that changed. I have never been stared at so openly in my life as I have been here. I think it’s mostly the haircolour, which would probably be remarkable even if it were its natural red again. It’s pretty much impossible to look like I belong here, which I sometimes find hard.

It also meant that my phone was stolen from my purse the first day I was here. I’m considering it my donation to the local economy, and am surviving without—phones here cost about double what they do at home. I do miss having music and a camera (I forgot to pack mine!), but I’m making do. I changed my passwords, disabled the phone, and have learned to be very careful with my bag. Cellphone pockets are a lovely idea in North America, but not so lovely south of the equator.

As with any travel experience, it’s been a challenge. It’s tough finding reliable internet (we won’t have a stable connection until we move into our permanent digs when we return from the Amazon at the end of the month), and fighting with phone companies about a mobile stick is harder when your Spanish is limited. I’ve found my Spanish is getting a little better—sometimes I can understand what people are saying to me!—but the Spanish here is utterly insane, and sounds almost Italian. The littlest things, like doing laundry, suddenly become hurdles. This is, however, something I’ve always enjoyed about traveling, and it does give some feeling of accomplishment once you’ve figured it all out.

San Telmo
The San Telmo barrio, where I'm living. Dirty, old, and full of gorgeous old art-deco style bars with wooden interiors. Everything has a sense of decaying grandeur to it.

And Buenos Aires? Well, it’s gorgeous. It’s chaotic and full of people, blazingly hot and lush. It’s accidentally green everywhere: vines growing through the crumbling walls of colonial buildings, trees sprouting hugely in the parks scattered throughout. I’ve had buckets of what I hope was water dumped on me by hordes of protesters (sorry dudes! I had places to go!), I’ve eaten more red meat in a week than I usually do in a year, and I’ve actually switched from heels to wedges so that I can handle eight hours of walking on the broken cobblestone sidewalks. (Oh, and there are shoe stores everywhere!)

The culture here is something else—it’s a lot of Latin America, obviously, but the heavy inclusion of Italian and Spanish culture was something I wasn’t quite expecting. People eat dinner at midnight, the streets are always full of people, and everyone says “ciao” instead of “adios”. It’s a vibrant, lively city, and one that I’m very much still in the process of discovering. Though I’ve done a good deal of walking and exploring, there’s so much more to see, and I’m so glad to be doing it slowly—the last time I traveled, I had no more than a week in a single city, and it became incredibly challenging to work while seeing everything I wanted to!

Every day is a new adventure. The wine is cheap ($4 seems like a lot for a bottle now), there’s perfectly ripened fruits and vegetables on sale down every street (I am constantly delighted by the quality of avocados), and bakeries sell incredible croissants and empanadas. I’m getting a suntan, learning new things constantly, and having a lovely time. All tragedies and challenges aside, I’m so lucky to be here.

Next week: the Amazon!

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