An Icey Welcome Home

13 02 2008

Nothing like a (freezing) cold shower to knock the dreams of tango dancing, sunny days, and wrought-iron balconies from one’s system…

I spent my last day in Buenos Aires doing a little shopping (shocking, I know), checking out the seal show at the zoo, and writing a few final postcards (which I happened, in my end of travel stupor, to have misplaced somewhere between the closed post office and the airport). When I checked in for my flight that evening, it was still about 70 degrees outside.

A mere 11 hours later I stepped off the plane in rainy 40 degree (but feels like 28) New York. At least I missed the blizzard of the day before. Upon waiting for my shuttle home I found myself writing my final travel journal entry, and at a bit of a loss for what to feel. It was a relief to be home, but at the same time felt rather strange. On the one hand I was coming home to a city I love, friends I’ve missed, and a life that doesn’t involve trying to pick out the least dirty thing to wear every day; on the other I had to leave a beautiful (warm) place—and so much there I’ve yet to see—and returning to the daunting task of job hunting. I was excited to return to my apartment, but unsure of what I’d do once there: finally at home, all seemed foreign.

The confused journal entry ended with a list of things that excited me about being home, including, but not limited to following (thrilling) items: the pile of mail that would inevitably be waiting for me, my full closet of (clean!) clothes, and most importantly, a hot shower.

After a somewhat confused shuttle ride, which involved my driver skipping one drop-off and then offering to drop me off at Second Ave. and 34th St., when I live at First Ave. and 10th St. (all for the low, low price of $21.95), I finally stepped into my apartment. I first said hello to some of my belongings, thumbed through the large stack of (mostly junk) mail on my desk, and put in a call to my waiting anxiously for the “I’m-home-call” mother, then headed happily to my bathroom and turned on the shower. Which never got hot.

A call to the super yielded the hasty answer that I would have hot water in an hour. I spent two hours sitting at the kitchen table, because I felt too dirty to sit anywhere else, and watching “Grey’s Anatomy” reruns on Then I tried the water again. Another call to the super ended in his annoyed statement that I was not the only one waiting on the hot water. A very comforting thought.

It is now 2:00 p.m. and the number one item on my “things I’m looking forward to about getting home list” has turned out to be a sponge bath with boiled water. So much for my closet full of clean clothes. I think I need to go back to Argentina; I left some unsent postcards there…

Olfactory Overload

29 01 2008

Some things that smell worse than the lady on the plane from Buenos Aires to Lima…

1) Me, on days 2-5 (ok, day 1 too) of the Salkantay trek. There is just something about mud and sweat (and possibly horse excrement) caked on your body that smells just lovely. Did I mention there were no showers?

2) The “ladies” on the plane from Cusco back to Lima. Yes, we did spend day 5 (after showers at the hostel, please be impressed) hiking at Machu Picchu, and arrived back in Cusco at 10 p.m. to throw on clean clothes and hasty makeup jobs (no showers here folks) and meet the rest of the backpacking gang for a night on the town. And yes, the next morning saw us rolling out of bed after two hours of sleep to make our way to the airport. Please don’t ask if I was able to locate my toothbrush before the cab picked us up.

3) The lady on the plane from Lima back to Buenos Aires. This time, not me. The woman next to me looked like she might be addicted to any number of drugs, had the nervous habit of picking at her very dirty nails, and radiated an un-defineable stench that seemed to be a mixture of dirtiness and gasoline. (Payback?)

4) My fleece, which I had to put on this morning for the bus ride to my hostel. Somehow the mud/sweat mixture, combined with having been thrust in a bag with the cigarette-smoke-ridden jeans from the night out in Cusco meant I felt a little ill on the bus.

Laundry time?

The Lady on the Plane Has Bad, Bad Breath

18 01 2008

I’m quickly discovering that the problem with travel as work is time. I have so many great stories but no time to write them.

Tonight, as I roll into hour four of the Lima airport and brace myself for the next five (yes, that’s a total of nine hours—which otherwise would be spent happily asleep in a warm bed—but who’s counting?), what’s fresh on my mind is the plane ride from Buenos Aires to Lima.

When I sat down, in my middle seat, my olfactory senses went into overdrive. What was that putrid smell? Then the lady in the aisle seat coughed and it became overpowering.

When the movie came on and she asked me what channel, me holding my breath must have looked like, “I don’t understand you” because she responded to my “no sè” with “do you understand Spanish?” I held my breath, nodded weakly, and used my fingers to make the universal sign for “a little”: I know I want to practice my Spanish, but I have to have my limits…

I pretended to be engrossed in the film, a Bruce Willis action movie with the worst car chase in history. Finally the movie ended (Bruce—in case you couldn’t guess—survived an entire overpass falling on him, among other things). It was a this point that I realized I had gotten used to the breath. Or was it possible it got better after she ate?

So when she spoke to me again I was fine with it. She wanted to know when we would land. When I couldn’t tell her, she decided to ask where I was from and we got into my travel story, then her visit to her daughter, and soon we had discovered that we’d both studied literature.

The next thing I knew I was writing her author recommendations in my notebook. Then my new friend Consuela was writing her email address (making sure I understood that there was a punta before the “com”), in case I ever made it to Columbia and wanted to visit her.

And all this time I never even noticed the breath.

Lesson learned: Never judge by first scent. You never know when you may need to practice your Spanish, or make a friend.

And now I go back to guidebook writing. Stay tuned for amazing alfaores, the best cheese platter ever (can anyone guess a theme in my trip?), the poet/tour guide of Lujàn, and the bizarre holy shrine in Tandil.