It was no difficult feat convincing one of my best friends to join me in South America. In high school, we were obsessed with the idea of going to Paris together—the language (we took Spanish), the wine (didn’t drink), sexy French men with accents (again, all-girls’ school), and naturally, the food.
Ah yes, the French culinary tradition. The nascence of gastronomy. We knew close to nothing about French food but the gaps in our knowledge were filled with fantasies of cobblestone streets lined with patisseries, like Blair & Serena from Gossip Girl (my flawed choice in idols as a teen), Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, we’d each day roam the streets before selecting a new one, choosing a table outside, determining the best creme brûlée, pain au chocolat, fruit meringue tartelettes, and chocolate mousse the city had to offer. I was sure that by time we did go, our tastes would have evolved. Maybe this older, Parisian-version of myself would enjoy snails and white wine. Caroline already loved steak and only drank black coffee—a hop and skip away from the bitter dryness of red wine.
As I’d predicted, over the course of our friendship, her tastes did evolve and the teen-fantasy of a Parisian vacation and had settled into rational reality: she was an aficionado of red wine (though usually relegated by budget to the $2 TJs bottles), still loved quality steak dinners (especially if someone else paid for them), and, in general, preferred dark-featured men (Fifteen-year old self, I take your Frenchmen and raise you one: Latin men.)—all in addition to the lasting love for good pastries and bakeries. Now financially independent and gainfully employed, it wasn’t before long Caroline was to join me in what’s widely hailed as the “Paris of South America”: Buenos Aires, Argentina.
THE FIRST OF MANY MISHAPS
To say the least, our time time in Buenos Aires began anything but smoothly. In a fit of nostalgic procrastination, I nearly missed my flight from Salvador (SSA) to Belo Horizonte (CNF) after allotting 20 minutes for what turned out to be an 1-hour-and-20-minute ride to the airport. And I then learned the fate-tax for just making your flight, is not being able to buy an acai smoothie to eat on said flight. Little did I know, while I lamented my bygone-acai smoothie, Caroline, at the Boston (BOS) airport, had missed her flight, and was arguing with the flight attendant from LATAM trying to figure out when/if she could board the next flight. In the slim margin of time I had to pass through security and customs at CNF before boarding the 2-hour-35-minute international flight to Buenos Aires (EZE), I hardly had time to help with the logistical nightmare happening stateside.
Luckily for me, the day before I had last-minute ditched my plan to sleep in the airport from 1:30AM until 10AM when her flight arrived, so had reserved a room in a guest house in a neighborhood around <6 km from the airport. When I finally got WiFi (thanks to Argentina's nationwide effort to update the infrastructure for all their remodeled airports) it was confirmed that Caroline would be arriving a day later than expected, after being effectively forced to cancel and repurchase a ticket with a different airline .
The following morning (technically a few hours after my 3AM arrival), I headed in a pricey cab down to the neighborhood of Recoleta where we were staying in a two-floor walk-up French-style apartment building. It had a terrace rooftop overlooking the neighborhood with two wings that contained dorm rooms, 4-person suites and private rooms. If you follow me on Instagram, you'll know how this story ends...but after settling in, as I'm walking out the room to go find an ATM and a thrift shop (I had one pair of jeans, 2 sweaters but other than that exclusively tropical Brazil-wear), my phone FLIES out of my hand, sailing over the rail, crashing to the CEMENT floor two stories below. I rush down to get it, as if its a living organism, and the quicker I get there, the more likely it will be I am able to revive it... but when I pick it up the already-shattered screen is further destroyed, the phone bottom curled upward, the LED screen bleeding internally, visible through the glass, every revolution of the phone to asses the damage it loses a different piece of plastic, silicon or glass. I consider my few options: use the emergency Samsung phone I purchased for $130 USD before leaving for this purpose exactly (impossible, this was stolen on Day 1 in Bogota, Colombia) , get phone fixed (possible, but impractical - the charging port is broken so with a repaired screen/body I couldn't use it anyway), buy a cheap smartphone (Argentina is one of the more expensive countries in South America, and smartphones aren't cheap). In my absolute desperation (plus not being able to contact anyone else otherwise), I spent so much time with the guy at QuixFix store in Recoleta that he was able to sell me his boss' personal iPhone 5s, which I've been using since then.
Before breaking my phone, I had some grand plans to hit the North of Chile and Bolivia after Caroline departed. Both had well-known tourist attractions that I had been encouraged to visit: the San Pedro Atacama desert and the Salar de Uyuni salt flats (respectively). Additionally, I had been "recruited" (really, invited) to work at a small language school for a few weeks in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, a city popular for Spanish language learning schools due to the neutral Bolivian accent. Because my plans for returning to the US were still not solidified, this seemed like a reasonable alternative to allow me to stay in South America, at the very least, to Thanksgiving. For weeks I had been doing mental gymnastics to justify expense of extending my stay weeks past Caroline's departure. More language practice. I'm already here, I might as well see as much as possible! YOLO! Going on to Northern Chile, Bolivia, at this point would be about posting pictures, doing things to write blog posts and fumbling in a language that, at this point, would best be elevated by learning proper grammar through reading and writing. Without a phone to capture and share the images, the trips would be otherwise meaningless to me. With the swiftness of switching on of a light bulb, breaking my phone forced me to confront the truth: I really didn't want to do any of those things.
A consequence of Instagram-culture, specifically Instagram-travel-culture, is that rather than seeing something and viscerally reacting to it, we are so preoccupied with mediating and screening it to others (or planning to do so) that we fail to focus on the way that it makes us feel. Because of this, rather than being agents, or simple objects to be bombarded with awe and wonder, we become outside observers of our own experiences. If we let it, this tendency can even distort our perception of events in hindsight. I've allowed memories of a good day to be destroyed by a string of failed images in my camera roll. An awful experience might be salvaged by a well-liked photo. Social media has created a fucked-up system of validation, that if we're not careful, can change our reality.
So the day after I had my new phone, my old phone packed in bubble wrap in my bag, I paid the USD 50 late fee to cancel my flight and booked a "mystery itinerary" back to the US for the following week.
With the anxiety of fabricating future plans, hoping to meet up with friends that had equally unpredictable schedules, and for the first time since my departure in September, a definite itinerary for my trip home, I could really enjoy being in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Though it was much colder and less colorful than Brazil (yes, this is a double entendre that you should read into), we had a great time. From the moment Caroline touched down in Buenos Aires, we didn't simply eat good, we fine dined. It was much like the European holiday our fifteen-year-old selves had long-imagined but better, cheaper, drunker.
As I've said, I'm not particularly in the business of "travel blogging" but we were able to see some sites like Recoleta cemetery and visit super-cool Sunday street fair Feria de Mataderos, where we both bought some beautiful handmade knives, a handwoven gaucho poncho and a (you guessed it) handmade leather cowboy hat.
I loved this experience so much I'll devote this mini-gallery to it, below:
In the spirit of keeping BLACK COWGIRL, SOUTH AMERICA alive, the two of us will be catching a LATAM flight west to the northern interior of Argentina, to a city called Mendoza famed for its wine country and the cowboys that tend to it.
There will, of course, be a blog about that too. (Allegedly). Until then...
Hasta pronto, divinas!!!