"Sailed not as a seaman, but as a traveler..."

"Sailed not as a seaman, but as a traveler..."- Sir Thomas More's Utopia

Monday, April 29, 2013

Bahía Blanca

Enjoying the sun in Plaza Rivadavia, Bahía Blanca, Argentina

We got off the train and stepped onto Bahía Blanca soil, dazed, confused, and with back pain. We had no idea where we were. There was an incredible lack of signage to orient oneself. We weren't even sure we were in Bahía Blanca, we just knew that it was the last station and everyone seemed to be getting off the train so we did as well. We stood there, suspended, squinted into the overcast sky and wondered in which direction to wander. I think it was around 9AM.

"We should probably go to a café or something for wi-fi," Lyndon said, directing words in my direction without turning.

"Probably," I replied without looking at him. I understood his concern was to somehow get a hold of the couchsurfer we had contacted while still in Buenos Aires to inform her that we'd arrived. But how do you say that without so many words? I tried to come up with an answer and ended up lost in my thoughts.

"So, in which direction do we go?"

I shrugged my shoulders, not looking to see if he saw the gesture, thus rendering it meaningless. After a bit of a pause, he crossed the street and veered toward the left, and so we started walking. I felt like I'd slept, but hadn't rested, if that makes any sense. Lyndon said a few things but they reached my ear in nothing more than the form of garbled sounds. Completely meaningless. I didn't feel like deciphering his Aussie accent so early in the morning. I felt like a zombie.

So, we walked. Aimlessly it seemed, and I was completely fine with it. Still trying to fully awaken myself while still trying to acclimate to the borrowed backpacker knapsack, my biggest concern was how to not topple over. I was used to traveling with a messenger bag. These past few years, I'd been running around South East Asia and you don't need much for jungle weather. But we were heading towards Antarctica. You need a lot more for colder climates, apparently. Like, you know, sweaters and socks and stuff.

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, this girl leapt between Lyndon and I, and I nearly fell over. Never creep up behind a backpacker, balance is tricky with so much mass on your back. It was Ayelen, the couchsurfer we had contacted before arriving to Bahía Blanca. Apparently, she was on a bus heading for the train station to meet us when she saw us hobbling down the street. Recognizing us from our profile photos, she quicky got off the bus and ran over to us, in true couchsurfer spirit, panting but smiling.

Couchsurfing is fun because you never know what to expect. You sort of arrive and play by ear. This particular time, Ayelen, lived with her family. So we were pretty much adopted into her cozy home in Bahía Blanca. She had two sisters who were both lovely and emitted such infectious laughter. Her parents were also a lot of fun, the mother always worried we weren't eating enough and the father always cracking jokes with a straight face.

Our first night at the Estanga household, we made dinner. I made some chicken adobo and rice, of course. They all loved it. Of course. It was their first taste of Filipino food and I was glad to be a fat kid from Pampanga who grew up in the kitchen so I could proudly represent my country in food. After dinner we went to a bar across from the Universidad Nacional del Sur with one of Ayelen's sisters, Aymara. We drank a lot of beer, talked about traveling, some stuff about Brazil (Aymara had recently returned from a trip to Brazil), and some local dog breeder started talking to us. Every so often he would disappear to the restroom and reappear with pupils even more dilated. Yeah. Do with that piece of information as you will. On our way back to the house, Lyndon fell in love with a black cat with orange eyes. I wanted to play with it too so I picked it up but ended up scaring it and it ran away. Lyndon was very sad.

Our second night, Lyndon made some goulash, standard Hungarian fare. He also made some ANZAC biscuits, some sort of Aussie cookie with some interesting back-history as told by Lyndon, later corroborated by Wikipedia. They loved it all as well, and it was fun watching Lyndon try to explain himself in his limited Spanish. A lot of pantomiming.

Hitch-hiking is difficult when inside a big city. So the plan was to get as far south on a train as possible and to start hitching from wherever the train tracks ended. That was Bahía Blanca. We were planning to stay for a night or two, take a hot shower, then hit the road, thumbs pointing south. But on our second night, the Estanga family invited us to an asado, a typical argentine grill with delicious Argentine meats. And Norberto, the patriarch of the family offered to be the asador (griller and master of ceremonies), so who could say no? We sure as hell couldn't.

The asado was delicious. I had always seen matambre, a typical cut of meat, but I had never tried it. Holy baby Jesus in the manger surrounded by the twelve apostles or whatever it was, I fucking love matambre! Imagine a thin layer of meat topped by an equally thin layer of fat. Grilled. Crispy. Fat. Yes. Yes. Yes.

I asked why the funny name for such a delicious creation. Matambre sounds like a portmanteau of matar and hambre, Spanish words meaning "to kill" and "hunger," respectively. Norberto explained that due to it being so thin, it's usually the first cut of meat to be ready to eat. Thus, matambre kills your hunger while you're standing in front of a grill listening to the sweet symphony of sizzling meats and inhaling all that delicious goodness, patiently waiting for the meat-gasms to begin. Thank you University of Life for that lovely little lesson. Again, I love matambre.

Then there was the night we went to the university party. First we went to a previa, AKA a pre-game. We went to one of Aymará's friend's apartment on the other side of town. We played some sort of drinking game. I don't remember the name, but it gets you drunk very fast. My favorite rule was before drawing a card, you have to say, "Tomá por ser puta!" Which translates to, "Drink for being a whore!" Whores are designated by drawing a certain card. Fun, no?? Needless to say, by the time we got to the actual party in one of the local clubs, we were fairly inebriated. Long story short, Lyndon got lost and ended up sleeping on the front door step of the Estanga house, cuddling their dog for warmth.

Believe it or not, we did end up finally getting our act together and were able to continue on our journey.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The beginning of the trip.

Lyndon and Carlos discussing strategies to conquer Patagonia

As per last blog entry, I have embarked on a journey to Antarctica. Maybe. Thusly inasmuch heretofore my blog entries will be about hitch-hiking (read, trying to survive) Patagonia. Mostly. Maybe.

Author's note: I apologize for the weak photo-to-word ratio but I am blogging from a mobile app that confuses the bananas out of me. I promise to try to add photos when I get my act together and figure out this fancy technology.

Anywho, without much further ado, I present to you, The Beginning Of The Trip:

"What do you even want to do with that?" Carlos asked. Even in the thick darkness of the abandoned building, I could feel his right eyebrow raise as his right hand lifted to rub his left forearm, one of his ticks. Something he does as an attempt to make silence more tactile, less threatening.

We were standing in a room that Jorge Luis Borges himself had frequented, the office of the President of a printing press. I was holding acetate pages of a book, or a "pre-book" - the negatives of pages once printed here. I felt like I was holding ghosts, or at least, something truer to haunting phantoms that I'd ever come into contact with.

"I don't know," I replied. "Borges..." I trailed off. I wanted to say something profound. Somewhere along the lines of these being artifacts of a past suspended only within the vaults delineated by these abandoned walls. Something profound. But, I kept quiet instead, letting the heavy silence speak for itself. I've been doing that a lot lately. Letting the silence speak.

It's like the night sky. I imagined all that space getting jealous of the stars and all the songs that get sung about them. I imagined my silence was like the blackness of space, allowing the stars to standout. Either that, or switching between so many languages was beginning to render me mute.

"Well, here," Carlos picked up another book, it's plastic pages plastered together from the hot humidity of Porteño summers stacked one on top of the other. "You can take this and no one will probably notice." He pulled out a few pages from a nearly solidified block of plastic pages. I took the treasure into my hands, trying to wipe off what looked like dust, but must have been dried ink.

We climbed onto a back terrace and there, in between two buildings crumbling brick by brick, on cracked terra-cotta tiles next to some vines of ivy creeping across rusty railed windows, we lit up. Bellies full of wine and lungs full of smoke, we spoke about our insanity. A trip through Patagonia with winter quickly coming. We discussed hypothermia and frost bite and sunburn. I asked to borrow Carlos' identification documents, maybe it would allow for easier passage through the south. He said no.

"Thanks, Carlitos. I thought we were friends."

We walked back to Chanta's apartment in Balvanera. The Buenos Aires air was chilly. I pictured a world map in my head. Buenos Aires is by Brazil. Brazil is hot. Patagonia is the last stop before Antarctica. If I'm cold now, how will I survive this trip with hot island blood in my veins?

Back at Chanta's we drank more wine and filled up on the left-over chicken biryani she had cooked up earlier for our despedida. We played music from two different phones, listening to see where two completely different songs would briefly intertwine, causing chaos into harmony. We made music from music and fell asleep on couches.

It was early afternoon by the time we woke up. Chanta was brewing coffee and packing us cookies she had hidden the night before from Carlos' grubby hands. Carlos complained of a stomach ache and Chanta yelled at him for turning into a two-year old around freshly baked cookies. We sipped on the leftover wine as Chanta and Carlos continued to wonder if Lyndon and I actually understood the concept of how cold grows colder as you near Antarctica. Sipping on warm wine and cold coffee, we lingered in this close-knit friendship that had somehow formed for as long as we could. We checked our bags one more time and we headed out.

Chanta had to go to work so she hugged and kissed us goodbye at the door. "Don't leave me," she whined, slightly hunched over and hugging herself as we started to walk away.

"See you later, Chanta!" I replied, waving off the gravity of goodbyes.

We waited at the stop for a bus to Estación Constitución. Carlos laughed and said something along the lines of, "The train station at Constitución is probably the most dangerous part of your trip." We waited and waited. Buses passed but not the one we needed. Carlos laughed again, "You can't even get to the train station to start your trip!"

"You're just full of jokes today, aren't you, buddy?"

The bus finally came. A few more hugs exchanged. A little gift from Carlos, "To make the horrible train ride a little less horrible," he smiled. We awkwardly boarded the bus, obviously still acclimating to the weight of our packs, and we were off.

"We're actually doing it," Lyndon said as we sat on the train platform, waiting to board. "No turning back now."

"It hasn't hit me yet," I replied, trying to decipher his grin. Where does one journey end and another begin?

We boarded the train, Pullman Class, the most expensive. Not exactly a luxury sleeper cabin, but neither was it a cargo car. I didn't want to imagine how the more "economic" stagecoaches looked like. I've been in worse, I thought, as we heaved our backpacks onto the railings above the seats meant to store luggage, thinking back to that 18 hour train ride from Bangkok to Chiangmai.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Another anniversary. Almost.

When I first began this journey almost three years ago, I didn't really know what I was doing nor what to expect. All I could feel was this overwhelming need to be somewhere else, to be everywhere else. I had a lot of ideas but no particular direction. So I sold my car to a friend and hit the road. East, I said. From San Francisco to New York. Hit as far east as I could in the United States. More east, I said. Explored Asia and South East Asia. Now what? West, maybe? Arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina with a knapsack of random Spanish words and an inkling of grammar and syntax.

Ok, now what? Maybe actually learn Spanish properly?

Who knows, pantyhose. Who motherfuckin' knowsen, lederhosen.

When I first arrived, I tried to work on a polo ranch, but that failed. So I continued writing my 12 cent articles and picked up random gigs at hostels to avoid paying rent. Couchsurfed. Couchsurfed a lot. Taught some yoga, worked in bars, worked in a restaurant, tried to start my own restaurant. And somewhere along the way, I made a little family of friends. Random misfits from all over the globe, for some cosmic reason, coming to Buenos Aires, fitting perfectly into the nooks and crannies of my heart. And I learned to smile from the inside.

For the first time in a long time I thought, I could stay here. I can stop moving.

But, in a few weeks shy of a year, I find myself hitch hiking to the southernmost tip of the world, scheming free passage into Antarctica. And why, I ask myself. All I can answer (to myself, because I'm a little insane) is... Why the fuck not?

I don't know where I am going with this, but that's not to say I don't have a point. Everything has a point, a reason. I imagine the universe as an infinite body of water, calm and turbulent at the same time. Every action, every thought, every held breath sends outward ripples. Ripples colliding with other ripples, syncopating sine and cosine waves, making beautiful tapestries of patterns on a surface that is constantly undulating, forever transforming.

So, here's a ripple. Maybe someday it will meet another ripple, and in the pattern they make together, some sort of meaning will be born.