There are moments when I travel where I think to myself, “What the hell am I doing?” I’m on a gap year and I booked a spur-of-the-moment trip to South America. What the hell? Such a realisation came to mind as I queued to have my bag examined at Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza Airport (EZE). I had arranged a transfer to my hotel, but the words “If your arrival transfer does not arrive within 30 minutes after you have exited the arrivals area please take a taxi to your start point hotel” were haunting me. “What if nobody is waiting for me?” Well, if that were the case, I’d be in for an adventure.
I stepped out into the arrivals hall. People with signs waiting to collect arriving passengers waved their signs in my face. I weaved in and out of the crowds looking for someone holding a sign with my name for what felt like ages. It was hitting me that I was in Argentina. Just as I was about to try and arrange a cab with the airport, I saw the shortest man out of this sea of people holding a sign with my name. He didn’t have it waving above his head; he had it practically in his lap. Like I’m going to see that?
I acknowledged the man and he guided me to the car. I was already feeling a million times better knowing that I had a ride to the hotel. He knew no English and I knew hardly any Spanish. I did manage to tell him that I wasn’t cold, which surprised him as for him, as the 12*C weather was like a death sentence for Buenos Aires. I later learnt that there was a cold front coming in from Patagonia.
The driver was a good, cautious driver. He was nothing like the driver I had in Panama. Watching the people weave in and out of traffic was daunting. People were driving right on the line and swerving. Welcome to Argentina.
At the hotel I met my lovely roommate, Katy. She was smart; she had opted to take the day to rest, but as for me, I had booked a ferry to Uruguay. I thought I was clever for doing so. I still don’t know how I feel about it. I certainly got a lesson in parenting, that’s for sure.
The Buequebus terminal was a short walk from the hotel. I arrived just as check-in had started and proceeded to immigration. This was where it got tricky. There were queues for Argentinians and queues for Mercosur nationalities- no queue for foreigners. I had to pick one, so I chose the “Mercosur” queue. Immediately, I was sent away. “You are not from Mercosur,” the man said to me. “I know, but I’m not Argentinian, so where do I go?” I asked the man. He sat there with a confused look on his face. I had guessed this doesn’t happen very often. “I cannot stamp your passport” he told me. So, I decided to be Argentinian. The Argentinian officer didn’t mind, nor did the Uruguayan official sitting next to her.
The departure hall was pretty modern with a coffee shop, a news agent and comfy settees (if you could get one). Despite me being a fool for not bringing my Kindle to entertain me and the lack of wifi, I sat there reading what I had: my departure card and Spanish dictionary. Fun times.
It was time to board, so I joined the queue. I noticed that not everyone was in a rush to get on the ferry. I had read that if you want a window seat, get ahead of the queue. Interestingly enough, those in the queue were all speaking either Italian or French- no Spanish speakers. Then, we all proceeded to the ferry. Still, nobody else had joined us. It was quite a large group of us, and so I thought maybe since I was at “Puerta 1” that it was like a boarding group. Nope. There we all were being told by a nice lady in English that the ferry for Montevideo was boarding, not Colonia. Awkwardly, we all headed back into the departure hall. I really wanted my friend Brittany to be there with me. I knew she’d find humour in it. It was embarrassing.
Then an announcement was made (in Spanish): “The ferry to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay has been delayed for one hour,” and the some other stuff I didn’t quite catch. Nobody was happy. Why the ferry was delayed remains a mystery to me. But finally, the hour had lapsed and I was on board. I had scored a window seat and watched us edge further from Argentina and closer to Uruguay.
Finally in Uruguay, I bolted off the ferry and was ready to explore a new country! Yeah, that didn’t happen. I did get to step foot on Uruguayan soil and breathe the fresh, sea breeze, but that was it. The sights I had planned to see would have to wait until next time (Rio to BA, anyone?) Soon, I was needed to return to the departure hall. I checked-in, got berated by the Argentina officer regarding my reciprocity fee (I had it, but apparently it hadn’t been “recorded” when I arrived that morning. In fact, at EZE the officer didn’t even look at it). Off I went to the departure lounge and waited to board the ferry. Once seated I looked at the fresh new stamps in my passport. This is when I realised that 1) The Argentinian officer stamped the wrong date (by a month) and 2) According to the stamps, I had spent over a year in South Africa. Hmm, oh well. Better than having someone else’s face for my Brazil visa.
(The date is a bit off in this photo)
The terminal had wifi, so I made use of that to tell people I wasn’t dead. I had people stare at me; it was a bizarre stare I received from them. I thought at first I was sitting in a section reserved for the elderly (like what you have on the Underground) and I wasn’t, then I thought I had something on me and finally I gave up. Was it maybe my greasy hair? Or the fact I hadn’t showered and smelled like a plane? If I smelled bad, then surely they wouldn’t have hung around for so long? I even moved to see if these people wanted my seats (they didn’t). They just stood there still staring. Anyway, moving on.
This ferry had demon children on it. It was truly an afternoon of how not to be a parent. There was a school group of children whose hormones were raging, children who were amazed that their legs were long enough to kick the seat in front of them (i.e.:mine and the guy’s next mine), and children who didn’t want to sit and preferred to play “climb on the other passengers.” All of these children had parents who were too busy talking to other parents to notice what terrorists their children were. The man next to me told a woman off for her son constantly kicking his seat after he had asked her to tell him to stop. “He’s just a little boy” she told him. Uh huh.
Finally, we were back in Buenos Aires. As I waited by the gangway they announced this, and the girl next to me squealed with joy that we were back in Argentina. She seemed relieved. Maybe children were climbing on her, too?
Realising the time, I needed to be back at my hotel for my group’s welcome meeting. An autumn breeze blew dust any other bits of matter into my eyes just as I had turned down the street towards my hotel, making it hard to really see anything. This autumn breeze would have been welcomed had it not been rush hour and I was in the midst of crossing the street.
I finally made it back in time. Katy had spent a relaxing day in our room while I had traversed the seas, experienced horrible children and nearly boarded a ferry for Montevideo. I spent the evening trying to get the bits of Buenos Aires out of my eyes. I really envied her decision to stay behind.
At the group meeting we all introduced ourselves. Like on most of my travels, I’m the only American (I have some theories for this, but I shall discuss those another time). This group was young, fun and just open to anything. Our guide, Sole, was from Bolivia and she is a walking encyclopaedia. She was amazing. There were a few Britons and the rest were Aussies. All I have to say is this: If you get the chance to travel with Aussies, take it. They are the most easy-going travellers and are certainly the friendliest (British people are great, too! My other-half is British, so I think I’d know!).
After what started off as a day that could have been awful and scary, it ended with the confidence of knowing that I was going to be travelling with a great group of people. While many of them knew each other prior to the trip, they were open to welcoming others into their group, and we all quickly became one group of friends. Everyone looked after for one another, and nobody was left behind except for the watermelon. It was a great adventure and I’m excited to share my stories from this trip!