Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Bienvenido a Argentina...sos yanqui, no?"

I approach the customs and immigration desk nervously, hoping they don't ask me how long I plan to stay in Argentina.  What will I say?  Not the best time for a crisis of conscience, but knowing that I'm entering on a tourist visa with plans to find a job there and work illegally, I can't help but wonder.

Feigning nonchalance I step up, hold my breath...and blink, surprised, as the official stamps my passport and utters an entirely unconvincing "Bienvenido."  I'm through!  Following some wrangling in my rusty Spanish with a bus driver outside the terminal, I'm on my way to the downtown.  My guidebook gives me a rough idea of where I need to get off to find a hostel, and I ask the driver to please let me know when we get there.

Highways and fields give way to suburban sprawl, which in turn yields to the more compact, taller--and noticeably older--buildings of the city center.  Rose and beige-coloured stone buildings cram together, jostling for space on narrow sidewalks and the traffic follows suit, the free-flowing autopistas becoming avenidas becoming calles chockablock with the sounds, smells, and sights of city life.  The long road leading into the city of Buenos Aires is known as Rivadavia--it's reputed by porteños (the capital's residents) to be the longest street in the world.  Of course, I'll come to learn during my year in Argentina that Argentina also boasts the widest avenue in the world, not to mention being the nation to invent the ballpoint pen and the bus.

Despite hearing from various sources that Buenos Aires is the "Paris of South America", I can't help but note more similarities in architecture with Madrid as the bus groans and hisses through barrio after barrio.  Finally the bus driver shouts a hoarse "Che!" in my direction, and signals that it's my stop.

As I step off the bus on the corner of Avenida 9 de Julio and Rivadavia my senses are overwhelmed by surroundings at once completely unfamiliar--it is my first time in South America, my only unvisited continent to date except for Antarctica--and vaguely reassuring.  October 23, 2008: not quite yet the sweltering humidity of a Buenos Aires summer but all vestiges of winter long gone.  The tiles on the pavement, the warmth and sunshine, sidewalk cafes--all remind me of the Middle East, especially Morocco; while the language swirling around me and the architecture echo Europe--Madrid especially comes to mind.  I think I'm going to like it here.

I readjust my gargantuan hiking backpack (a hand-me-down, light green, sporting a conspicuous tag reading "WOMEN") and try to get my bearings, when I hear the heavy beat of a bass drum, followed by the trrrrrrrrr! of a snare drum.  A mass of people with blue banners that mirror the cloudless sky overhead is advancing up the avenue towards me, the percussionists in the vanguard.  It's not going fast enough to be a "wave of humanity"--more like a sluggish river flowing inexorably towards its destination, but in no hurry to get there.  Ah, the famed South American demonstration, or 'manifestacion'!  I'm aware of a goofy smile on my face at this first 'cultural experience' and quickly try to muster an appropriately solemn and commiserative face for this unknown cause, as I weave between the stragglers towards the hostel implied by Lonely Planet to be the best bang for my buck.

An unassuming building on Calle Hipolito Yrigoyen, it's not hard to find, and without much ado I book in.  My Argentine adventure has begun.


Pattybutterflies said...

I like your blog... thanks for breathing new life into it! :) Please keep it up! I know it's hard to do, but I'm trying with mine too...

Miss you!

Pattybutterflies said...

Waiting for any new posts and new emails, new anything... :p :p Where are you??!!