Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sitting on the stairs, outside the apartment, this is the only place where I can properly “steal” the neighbor’s wireless internet signal, I am getting ready for a 3 o’clock asado (BBQ)…

Bus 86 to downtown, Rividavia 3789, Apt 1A
(Thur25-Fri 26 Sep – Day 2)
(Where am I now: sitting on a cushion on the floor of my host’s apartment, Rividavia 3789 Apt 1A)
(What is the time now:09:24 am on my first Saturday, What am I listening to: The traffic outside the window)

It will be tough to catch up and write all the things I want to write, even if it is been only a day more– I admit it. This place hits you with ferocious activity and unstoppable force, busy, lively, full of people and traffic. It will be a challenge as there are three moments in time: the one I describe, the one I actually write this post and the one I connect & upload it…

I arrived at the airport terminal and just after passport control and a 20minute wait to get my bag I slowly inched my way out of the terminal. My bag… Every time I wait in front of that conveyer belt, staring at the entrance, that mouth that is constantly open, tongues of plastic moving peoples’ baggage towards their rightful owners, I get these butterflies: “Is it here, is it opened, did it make the trip/connection?” I am wondering whether the choice to have about 16 flights in the next few months will ultimately help me get rid of this feeling.

Bag on my shoulders, I move out of the customs area in search for transport, the time is 21:30. Now before you go take a taxi/shuttle/normal bus you need to pay a ticket and for that you need local currency. Not only that but you need change.
Argentina, after being hit by the peso devaluation in 2001 has been a very cheap place to go on holiday – all in relative Euro terms. What are extremely difficult though to get are coins. Buses do not give change. ATM have a cap on Maestro withdrawals to the extreme amount of 300 Pesos (100USD) daily. Hmm, this will take some managing. So after withdrawing money from an ATM, going to the bank to get change (yes no one changes bills to coins, coins are rare) I was ready to get moving. Method of transport: Right. I am on a budget but at the end even the taxi ride to downtown, +20km away is about 20 USD. I decided to take the normal bus for 0.5 USD or 1.5 Pesos. You know why? Because I am not in a hurry! I won’t before the next 3 months, I just need to take the time needed for everything, besides seeing a bit of what it is really like to move around in Argentina.

So it’s bus 86 for me all the way – It took some time. About an hour and a half that is since it stopped practically everywhere. The buses are noisy and old, nothing to do with modern EU buses, they reminded me of the the first buses I used to take in Athens in the late 80’s, early 90’s, those with the extremely high step, bare metal floors, and big sliding windows on the side.

I am happy to be able speak Spanish. It’s such a gift because people are really friendly and helpful and not all of them speak English. Although the pick me out as a tourist on the first sentence, since my Castellano accent has little to do with Latin American variety.
“Pues que?” “Griego.”
”Ah, Griego!”, and that’s how it’s been going for the past day and a half now.

So Pablo, the driver on bus 86 to downtown, was helpful enough to tell me where to get off and my host Menelaos was nice enough to give me directions to get to his place… 4 blocks away from the stop, I am generally weary of walking alone with a 23kg pack on my back, looking as much tourist as I could be. The place is not everywhere perfectly lit but at least the main roads I crossed were busy with people on a late Thursday night.

Cultural shock hits me when I enter the apartment. After entering a really fabulous, nicely lit, marble covered lobby, with a key thrown to me (or actually, stringed down to me in a plastic supermarket bag, from the 1st floor balcony) I entered the apartment. This is Couchsurfing central or at least it is one of the places that has probably hosted many people in the past months. Menelaos shares this big flat with another 2 people: Anna from Poland and Paco from Spain. And then it’s the people that come and visit them to sleep over, for a day to a month…
Forget hotels, clean sheets, room service or even basic amenities (yes ok of course they have 2 bathrooms) but we are talking here really basic. And I think I like it. A lot. It could be cleaner for sure and that is a different point – the people are not dirty – the place is the one that needs a good paintjob and some repairs.

What the place lacks in comfort, the people make up with their openness and hospitality. I didn’t see any of you with your great apartments and flat screen TV to actually host someone (even in your living room) you’ve never seen before. And believe me, I am not passing judgment about who’s hospitable, kind or well mannered. These are simply a different type of people – as I will slowly get to realize. And I am loving every minute of it. I don’t think I would ever leave my apartment at this state but I would sure like to be as laid back and open minded about some other things. That’s probably the part that excites me the most about this trip; it’s getting to know different people with different attitudes. I’ve been here 48 hours, slept on a mattress on the floor, ate home-made pumpkin/vegetable soup, washed dishes in a cracked sink under a faucet that you can’t actually completely turn off, and already see this. Menelaos is like this, just different. Remind me to tell you a bit more about his story – and the story of the 3 pairs of trousers…

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