Buenos Aires–travel to and first thoughts

Hola desde Buenos Aires!!

I’ve got a story to tell. Travel here was notable.

On the train ride from Roma Tiburtina to Fuimicini Airport, someone was having serious gastro-intestinal issues. This was not any normal fart, in fact it was one of the most awful smells that has ever been registered in my brain. That’s saying something after spending the past four years with a bunch of dingos on my college rugby team, where a lot of off-putting smells were produced from a whole lot of off-putting activities. This smell was so potently rank that it sent the whole 60 seat train carriage spasming in their seats. I’d imagine that this would work better than tear gas. My fellow sufferers were grasping at their arm rests with looks of desperation. At one point I played would you rather…have a broken arm from jumping out of the train buckling through Rome at least at a 90kmh tick or deal with this stench produced just about on cue every 4 and a half minutes for another half hour. It was like opening the drawer of the fridge where you keep wet spinach that’s been soaking there for over a year. Or quiche. Disgusting, messed up quiche.

I’ve never seen a more chaotic plane boarding process than watching the Italians and Argentinians mob their way onto the Boeing 777. Woah nelly. The plane is right outside and the pilot is hanging out in the corner back there. Lets all cool down a second. People were so frantic to get on board that they were trying to sneak in through the first class ‘sky lounge priority boarding’ entrance. The whole scenario reminded me of the part in Titanic when everyone was fighting for survival and trying to get one of the last spots on a safety boat. I just sat back and watched this hollywood quality entertainment unveil before me.

I’d relate to the commotion if everyone was rushing to get to their first class seat where they were served champagne and strawberries from the vine. But, the 99% of us were not heading into la la land. People are pushing and shoving to sit in a sardine can for 14 hours? Shit. Their vacation must have really been a downer. Maybe these plane-boarders were just trying to get as far as possible from the man with the seriously diseased GI tract. I understand now.

I was sitting directly over the wing of the Alitalia 777 on the window next to a Argentinian couple. I tested my spanish to set a benchmark. I determined it couldn’t get any worse. Which is good. There’s room to improve. My spanglish though, I was very proud of my spanglish. I understood about half of the words that they were saying to me, and I was able to convey about a quarter of my thoughts to them, so all in all we had about an eighth of a conversation. And that’s pushing it.

The flight was bumpy. The whole way. I was like baby trying to sleep in a cradle that was being rocked by a gorilla. I got some good sleep, although patchy, and the 14 hour flight went by quicker than I had imagined.

At one point, I just stared out at the stars from the cloud-top perch of the airplane. Up above the clouds, the universe was bright and crystal clear. The galaxies were illuminated. Below me was an abyss. A vacuum of darkness. The Sahara desert.  I was in the midst of peace and quiet of the sleepy plane cabin yet I felt so rampantly and completely alive. It was one of those moments. Then the gorilla came back and rocked me back to sleep.

The sun caught up with us once again and rose over the horizon after an extended period of night. I looked down below the massive wing into South America. Mountains, lakes, large features, and unpopulated terrain. I got a glimpse of Montevideo and the plane braked and descended quickly into EZE airport. I got a flyby past Buenos Aires and landed safe and sound. The cabin erupted in applause when we landed. Is that an Italian thing to do? Or just an elderly person thing to do? Or was it because it was such a long flight. But a computer mostly did it anyways, right? Anyways, I was surprised by the applause. I didn’t clap. But thanks Mr. Pilot for taking me across the pond safely.

I got in line in passport control. Waited in line for ten minutes, sort of sleep walking. I got to the booth. Hola, como estas? I said with a big grin, proud of myself for sparking off a conversation…correctly. Nailed it. We went through the regular passport control conversation. Then he said, Have you paid your reciprocity tax? All of a sudden I got this flashback to reading about Visa requirements for Argentina. You don’t need to register for a Visa, you just need to pay your way into the country. $150 bucks. Oh man. No, silly little David forgot. Follow me, he said as he got out of his official booth and escorted me through a long corridor and into a holding cell.

The holding cell was a blank room with three chairs, one already occupied. The room was just big enough to fit a mini-cooper snugly, the plaster on the walls was chipping and revealing concrete behind. There were 9,312 grayish tiles in the room. Yes, that’s how long I waited.

When I first came into the room, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing there. My passport is a little sketchy. My picture is from when I was 15 and I have an Indian, a Chinese, and a Kenyan visa in my passport (even though I have never been to Kenya nor do I have any plans to head in that direction) so I’m sure I seem slightly odd to immigration officers. Was I going back here to get interrogated? Bring it on. But when I got into the room, there was already a guy there. He was a Brit, built like a rugby player–a tight-head prop (lineman for the football analogy)–who looked as mean as a gator. He looked like a trouble-maker so maybe in fact I was being detained for something.

But it all came clear when I sat down next to him and he said to me in a cheery british accent, mate, I’m guessing you forgot to pay the visa too ha ha he. He was all clad up in a nice suit, and he started laughing about how he got to miss out on the boring business meeting he was supposed to be present for in the city center. He got sorted out in the first five minutes I was there, but he told me that it takes a while.

I had to wait a long time to wait and get it all figured out. The whole time I was really worried that someone was going to pick up my bag and run off with it. The saving grace was that nothing in my checked bag was more valuable than the bag itself. In Italy, I put it down on the street outside of a car mechanic’s garage so half of the bag is stained a different color and reeks of gasoline. That was likely a deterrent. Good move Davie!

Into the holding pen strolls another character, Rory. Rory is a tan and long haired surfer bro who just landed from Hawaii. He pulled the smart move. Rory admitted right away to the border guards that he hadn’t paid the Visa, so he was ushered past the 10 minute line (great move) and right into the holding pen.  He had a Dakine backpack with a miniature skateboard attached to it. For his whole trip he’d packed up in two small backpacks. A leather jacket hung around the straps of one of them. This guy was very clearly a boy in a man’s body. Awesome. We got to talking. He was especially free-spirited and care-free. His aura led me to believe that he was used to a certain type of lifestyle. Even the biggest ski-bums and surfers I’ve met aren’t this chilled out. Maybe he’s a celebrity, I thought. It turned out that I was, in fact, sitting next to Rory Bushfield!

Rory Bushfield is a Canadian professional skier, filmmaker, and reality star. Bushfield is a former member of Canada’s World Cup team, skiing moguls. He has also competed in slopestyle skiing before focusing on backcountry skiing and filmmaking. (wikipedia).

The detainment cell was sort of like hanging outside the principals office, waiting to get told off for pouring chocolate pudding on the blonde girl we had a crush on, hoping that this would make her fall madly in love with me.

I later found out that Rory Bushfield was the husband of Sarah Burke, the skier who tragically died last year after a half-pipe accident. He is traveling around the world, living his life to the fullest, the way he knows Burke would have wanted him to live and the way he would have wanted her to go on if he had a tragic accident himself. I have a profound respect for Rory. It was really pretty cool to get to spend time with him.

In the rush after they finally released me, I was so flabbergasted that I forgot to realize that the Argentinian border control never gave me my credit card back. It’s stuck at the Alitalia office in Ezeiza Airport.

One of the border guards, who seemed earlier like he was getting off on giving me a hard time, turned out to be my number one fan after he released me from the cell. He had read the letter from the Watson HQ explaining who I am and why I was doing so much concentrated traveling. The guard started asking me questions about how my trip was going and what I was excited about later. He helped me find my bag, which at this point was in the unclaimed baggage department, he walked with me through customs, and even waited for me when I went to the bathroom. The whole time we just chatted. It was pretty strange. He was just about my age so I didn’t think he was asking the questions in a suspicious, border guard kind of way. But I was considering whether this was some sort of cross-examination.  After I got through customs he said, okay, I have to go back to work now. Nice talking to you. Buenos dias. That sealed it. I think this guy was genuinely interested.

A slew of conversations ensued after and set a great, positive first impression of Argentinians as friendly and talkative. This was extremely refreshing after the ‘mind your own business’ attitude of southern Europe. After I left the terminal to find the shuttle, there were two middle aged women who were asking me questions in Spanish. They didn’t speak any English and knew I didn’t speak much Spanish, but they were determined to have a conversation with me. With sign language, and a little bit of acting, we got somewhere. It made waiting in line for the shuttle quite pleasant. One of them told me that I looked like Prince William. Thanks. I get hit on my older women much more than girls my age. Why?!?

Yesterday, my first day, was great. I found a spanish school, took the placement test, and passed into a intermediary-beginner course. I get to start tomorrow, jumping mid-week into a course rather than needing to wait until Monday. In the afternoon, I went to a free trial of a cross-fit class. It was entirely in Spanish. I misunderstood the work-out. I thought we had to do 5 rounds of 15 push-ups, 10 pull-ups, 5 box jumps within 17 minutes, but it was really just as many rounds as possible in the 17 minutes. Oops. I went really hard at the beginning and was gassed by about the 12th minute and got pulled out. Embarrassing. First time doing cross-fit is rumored to be tough. Tougher doing in a foreign language.

My roommates are awesome. Two are from Buenos Aires, Paddy and Maria. Maria is going to be a great spanish coach. We sat down for a bit in the living room and she refused to speak or let me speak English, which really is great. Paddy and Maria are both in their early 30s but they are welcoming hosts. The living situation here is great so far.

Like many people in my generation, I’ve been playing a lot more Lou Reed and really digging in after his death. What is that about being an artist? Your recognition takes off once you hit the grave.

Here are my thoughts so far.

The most amazing this about this fellowship is that it throws you into situations you are entirely unprepared for and the challenge is to make some sort of structure for yourself out of the madness. It happens so many times in a concentrated period and allows for education, growth, self-reflection, and just awareness.

You’re thrown out onto slippery, uneven ground and look for your footing. I walked out onto the streets of Buenos Aires yesterday. The language barrier is intimidating. Toilets are whirlpooling the other way The whole place had this crazy flare. Very much a different world. I look forward to seeing how I grasp ahold of life here.

Bienvenido a Buenos Aires!

2 thoughts on “Buenos Aires–travel to and first thoughts”

  1. David, I am loving reading this! It’s fantastic. Thanks so much for sharing. We had a nice time with your folks in Washington two weeks ago. Keep having such an interesting time! Ellen

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