Thursday, May 20, 2010

It`s Not All Fun and Games, Kids

Do you ever have bad days?  Days when every single little thing seems to go wrong?  And you walk down the sidewalk behind people moving with seemingly delibrate slowness and aimlessness, and you just keep muttering under your breath, "Would you get the F%$?!&% out of my way and pick a direction already?"  And the universe appears to be conspiring with everybody else in it just to PISS YOU OFF?  Oh, please, you know you have, I'm not the only neurotic one around here.

I've had a couple of days like this recently.  Easter Island was a lovely little break from reality and I did manage to chill out quite nicely; when I got back to the mainland, though, I came crashing back to the grind that can be long-term travel.

I left you last on Easter Island; I spent three full days on the island, and flew back after my fourth night there; I crashed in Santiago for a night (since my flight landed about 8 pm) and then caught a bus the next afternoon for Cordoba. My inner island peace had evaporated by the time I got there, as my promised "directo" bus wasn't direct at all (I had to switch in Mendoza about 10:00 at night), the food was terrible, the movie played very loudly until about 2 a.m. and I didn't get a blanket or pillow.

Oh, and this was after some panic-inducing moments at the border crossing -- the immigration officer insisted that I needed an entry card with a stamp from when I arrived in Chile, in order to exit the country. I didn't have any such thing; thinking furiously back, I thought I probably had received one but wasn't sure, and after searching all through my pockets, money belt, and neck pouch I didn't turn up anything resembling an official piece of paper from Chile.  And I figured that if I had actually received an entry card like I was supposed to, it had probably fallen out of my passport unnoticed, either when I checked in at the airport going to or returning from Easter Island, or when I handed over my passport to buy a bus ticket (required in Chile and Argentina).

At any rate, I didn't have the all-important entry card ... but I couldn't begin to explain in Spanish what might have happened to it.  My Spanish has gotten pretty good for basic transactions, and I can even manage conversations once in a while (although nothing deep and philosophical), but it's nowhere near good enough to argue my case with an immigration officer hell-bent on keeping me at the border until I can magick up the piece of paper he wants from me. 

In the end, I played the often-useful "dumb tourist" card and insisted stubbornly that I'd never received one when I crossed into Chile, and didn't know I needed one (so obviously, I implied, I couldn't have realized the border guard's mistake at that time and didn't know I should ask for one).   This was simple enough to communicate in my halting Spanish, so I just kept repeating it.  Finally, the immigration guy just shrugged and rolled his eyes, stamping my passport with a resounding THUD and shoving it back through the grill at me.  I think I caught him near the end of his shift (I saw him putting on his jacket and heading out as our bus was finally pulling out), so I guess he had better things to do than keep me in Chile.

So I got back into Argentina in the end, with another piece of paper that I'll be sure to hang out to this time.  Could've been worse, I suppose, but it still made me cranky.  Then I got to the terminal in Mendoza, and realized the original ticket guy in Santiago had flat-out LIED to me when he said the bus went straight from Santiago to Cordoba; I didn't just get to sleep all the way to Cordoba, I had to haul myself and my backpack off that first bus in Mendoza and wait around more than an hour for another one. 
Which arrived half an hour late, which meant I got dinner late and was ravenous and very bitchy; I'm not a nice person when I'm hungry (just ask anyone in my office who's ever interrupted me before I had breakfast at my desk, or worse still, before I had my coffee).  Dinner arrived about 11:30 at night, and it was ham and cheese in 3 different forms for dinner (none of them good), so I got crankier still.  The movie started playing about midnight, very loudly, and the bus was freezing cold and they didn't give out blankets, so I dozed fitfully when I managed to sleep at all. 
Somewhere in the middle of the night, the bus broke down and the driver and attendant made a tremendous racket as they did whatever it is that people do under the hood of a vehicle; it started up again, finally, and we got on our way again.  The heating appeared to be working again, too, and I was soon roasting uncomfortably (note to self:  always dress in layers for any form of travel).
Tired and monumentally out of sorts by then, I arrived in Cordoba finally about an hour after the scheduled time.  Trudged to the hostel, which was a much longer walk than it looked on the map and up two steep flights of narrow stairs.  Threw my bag in my room and headed back out the door again, bound for the sleepy little hamlet of Jesus Maria and its Jesuit estancia which was the whole reason I'd bothered to stop in Cordoba.  Got to Jesus Maria easily enough, in about an hour on a little local minibus, and then wandered around growling to myself when I got lost and couldn't figure out where the estancia was, anyway,  (The obvious step of, oh, ASKING someone didn't cross my mind in my foul humour.) 
I got found, eventually, and it was actually pretty cool; the Jesuits arrived in this part of Argentina in the early 1600's and (among other things) founded the University of Cordoba in 1622.  They ran the operation in Jesus Maria as a wine-making centre, in order to pay the operating costs of their university; their original operating capital had been hijacked by pirates on its way over from Europe so those resourceful priests turned their hands to the making and selling of alcohol instead.  Did a roaring trade, too, by all accounts, with their fancifully-named first wine "Lagrimilla del Oro" (little tear of gold). 

(What is it with Catholic priests and the wine business?  Dom Perignon -- the original guy the champagne is named after -- was a monk and used to pre-sell his entire inventory before it was ready, knowing that about a third of the bottles were likely to explode from the built-up pressure before they ever left his hands; he'd keep all the money anyway and blame the buyers for handling the bottles too roughly.)
Their profitable little endeavour -- and their side efforts to Christianize the locals and "teach the natives how to live like civilized men" (direct quote from a placard at the museum) -- didn't last all that long, historically speaking.  They were turfed out in 1767, having fallen out of favour with the powers that be; among other things, they were accused of pride, greed, ignoring the dictates of the pope and of "pelagianism" (that last one I'll have to look up -- I have a vague memory from high school religion, something about the doctrine of original sin).
I got back on the bus to Cordoba, a little more cheerful after a good historical wallow and a wander around the countryside.  But I quickly got back to cranky again, after my bus didn't go back to the same terminal it departed from, but took a long, roundabout tour of the entire city of Cordoba before going to the long-distance bus station on the far side of town.  Two and a half hours after leaving Jesus Maria ( almost three times as long as it took me to get there) I was back in Cordoba, not quite where I wanted to be, but thought I could salvage the situation by buying my onward bus ticket for Salta for tomorrow while I was there.  
But I tried a couple of counters and neither company had seats left for tomorrow.  So I grumbled again, threw up my hands and stalked back to the hostel, figuring I'd just worry about it tomorrow.  At least, I thought, I'll get a good dinner tonight without having to go buy food and cook; the hostel was planning to have an asado, a traditional Argentine barbecue.
Well, I got back to the hostel and the asado was cancelled.   So I have eaten the remains of my crackers and fruit, and am still hungry and grumpy but can't be bothered to go out and find anything else.  Add to that how much I'm stressing out about Bolivia, and I'm a thoroughly unhappy traveller tonight -- I do not, do NOT want to go to La Paz (it scares the hell out of me from the stories I've heard), but I can't figure out how to get around it by bus, and flying over doesn't seem to be an option unless I backtrack to Argentina or Chile.  And I don't want to skip Bolivia altogether, because I want to see the Salar de Uyuni (salt flats), so I have to figure this out somehow, or just bite the bullet and pass through La Paz as quickly as humanly possible and hope like hell the stories are exaggerated.

You see, boys and girls, that travel is not always glamourous and exciting; sometimes it just annoys you, frustrates you and leaves you bad-tempered and sulking.  I'm doing my best not to inflict my bad mood on anyone here -- it hardly seems fair to bitch at them when I've only just met them all -- so I've decided to rant at you, dear reader, instead.  You can always get up and walk away from the screen if you don't want to put up with me.
I promise to be in a better mood next time.  A few days of doing nothing in Salta or Cafayate might just do the trick ... as long as I can get a bus, that is.   If I get stuck in Cordoba, I'm not promising anything.


  1. This is awesome. Yeah, we all have bad days. But you had one in South America. That's just cool. And you still manage to entertain your readers and make us feel like we're on the road with you. That's just damn good writing.

  2. Ditto Robin!!!!