Lost And Found In Buenos Aires
Sometimes we travel for our soul’s journey, to discover something about a place and something about ourselves. Time and again, people believe that those that travel are “running away from something,” and I keep saying, “perhaps we are running towards it.”
Round one, Buenos Aires: a surreal, old-world cultural experience. A time to learn tango and how to properly share mate. Stepping off the plane into a humid heat with cab drivers vying for fares somehow made me think of Cambodia. I remembered that tense feeling of culture shock and really experiencing what “the hustle” meant.
Arriving downtown and walking the streets, the men would wolf-whistle and cat-call. It was another shock and often times offensive. My immediate reaction was to take alternate walking routes around our San Telmo neighborhood, unsure of what small hollers could lead to. I was, after all, in the “Latin America” that is often portrayed in our media as rife with illicit sex, drugs and violence. I even found going to the corner cafe nearly impossible to stomach, unsure of whether I should hold keys between my fingers and get my big person voice on. This was my first time in another country to live and I was living in a state of anxiety. In the moment I thought, wow, I have to do this for six months. I ached for my comforts of home.
After the six months, I returned to real life in North America, but things had changed. Life had to be reset in order. Yet, I was still on the Latin American adrenaline high. The intensity motivated me to get myself a new apartment and a new part-time job. I owned barely any furniture, but had the chance to attend a few beautiful weddings. Looking back, I can remember certain moments, but I was in a dark haze of not feeling a thing. By the end of a summer blitz (early-morning coffees and afternoon beers in parks with bicycles), I remember looking around my room and falling into that vortex of, well, why not? Why not go back to Buenos Aires? I was still on a roll, but could feel the comedown of my ideal lifestyle fading.
Round two, Buenos Aires was different. It began with a one-bedroom apartment in the neighborhood, Tribunales. It was close to everything: the beautiful architecture of the judicial district, the high-end shopping (albeit, window) of Avenida Santa Fe, in Recoleta, the inexpensive shopping in the Once neighborhood. I had my grocery store (a Coto), my fruits and veggies man down the street, the doorman (Rodrigo) who would say hello to me everyday (Como andas, Bretana?). I remember watching him interact with the people walking the streets with a warm smile. Everyone knew and loved Rodrigo.
Inside the apartment there were some issues (a leaky faucet, a running toilet, a sky light that poured gallons of water into the kitchen on a typical stormy summer night). Trying to get anything fixed became a three-part challenge (address Rodrigo about the problem, he would tell me solutions, and I would have to hassle the plumber or Internet service people day after day). There was a language barrier as some of the people would not translate Spanish, preferring to talk in their dialect, castellano. So, by night, I would venture into the city bars to brush up.
Nights out alone, just wanting to talk and the people wanted to talk.
“Where you from? How old are you?”
“Does it matter? I just want to talk.”
I felt the tension creeping back in. I just wanted to talk about how to fix leaky faucets.
As two months leapt by, my castellano was improving. I felt more confident to find a job. I applied to hostels and bars. However, the reality that I could only work for another two and a half months was not what a business was looking for. I was getting desperate, and all I could do was lay down about it: Life as a pendulum, as a wave, as a spiralling circle. Revolutionary. It was a slap of reality in my foreign fantasy.
I needed to clear my head and I needed to do it on a budget. So, I walked and decided to take my camera with me to capture the beauty that is the essence of why people go to Buenos Aires. Even with all the beautiful architecture, the unique people to capture, I could not release the fear that I had no idea how I was going to survive the next couple of months.
I have a friend who lives in Buenos Aires, and her niece (who became a very good friend of mine) was visiting. At night, we would take visitors to bars in the San Telmo area. Some nights, I would stay at my friend’s place and wake up to beautiful music with a killer hangover. One morning, while having cookies and coffee for breakfast, my cellphone rang and it was for a job interview at a hostel, Kilca.
I was able to work for two and a half months in exchange for a bed. Suddenly, I felt lighter. One less thing to worry about. As I walked back to the apartment to pack my things, I decided to sit on a bench in a park. It was all happening so fast and I was feeling a bit dizzy. It made me nervous to try a new job and to meet new people I knew I would have to leave in the not-so-far future. I did not know how I was going to cope with the process. For the first time since re-arriving, I felt the intense fear creeping back in. I wondered whether I should just pack up my things and go home, instead.
Back at the apartment, I Skyped my family to express my concern. They told me it would be ludicrous to travel as it was cold and snowing back home. Just enjoy yourself, they told me.
What if, what if, what if . . . what if I couldn`t do it?
The body does not know good stress from bad.
I packed up my transient life into my one suitcase that I brought with me: a few pieces of clothing, a couple of books, some toiletries that I had picked up from my local Coto. I asked Rodrigo to hail me a cab which took me down the street to the hostel, my new home. Despite my calm exterior, my nerves were still a little shaken: I was broke and in an existential crisis, bare necessities in tow.
The “what if” of worse possible things that could happen never happened and swiftly, a calm had settled over me. Through the incongruousness of routine (waking and sleeping at varying hours), the experience of getting to know the locals, sipping coffee while others sipped mate, learning new mulit-meal cooking techniques in order to ensure dinner over the span of a week, I discovered a patience for time.
My last two and a half months living at Kilca, the backpackers hostel, were undefinable. I had the opportunity to meet some of the most interesting and adventurous travelers, and to forget about my worries and my strife. I often reminisce of the times I spent late hours of the night into the early hours of the morning listening to people’s thoughts and stories about travel.
Because of the large interior patio, we received many motorcyclists touring the world. We also accommodated people who had decided to start mountain climbing, families that were taking a six-month excursion to show their children different cultures of the world, and dancers who wanted to find the spark of tango. All sojourners who were not lost, but looking for their treasure buried within.
Our home became the harbor to sailors venturing the vast sea. I feel fortunate that for a couple of months, we lived on the ship that never sailed.
This was the life I had chosen, to wander and wonder and learn that, at times, I may be lost, but even in the darkest hours of night, you can find a lightness.
By Brit Weaver
About the Author
Toronto born and based, Brit is an avid leisurely cyclist, coffee drinker and under-a-tree park-ist. She often finds herself meandering foreign cities looking for street eats to nibble, trees to climb, a patch of grass to sit on, or a small bookstore to sift through. You can find her musing life on her personal blog TheBubblesAreDead.wordpress.com.