Flashbacks (or Something More)

15 04 2008

I think Argentina’s stalking me. Or haunting me. Or calling to me in some strange mental telepathy sort of way. Or perhaps I’m channeling Argentina and making it all up. Whatever the case, it’s been cropping up a lot.

It’s going to seem hokey, but while there I felt I had some sort of spirit/force/what-have-you watching out for me. I’m pretty sure it was Gaga, my maternal grandmother who passed away before I was born but who, I’ve always been told, had a strong adventurous spirit and was in all an amazing woman. I grew up jealous that my siblings have Gaga stories and I never got to know her. In my recent adventures, it only seemed right to speak to a strong female force in my life—who, incidentally, came to San Francisco from Hong Kong (by herself) at age 22, knowing no one (and my mom was worried about my move to NYC).

In my recent adventures, I got to know Gaga. Just when I was feeling exhausted or sick or lonely, I’d get pulled into a parade at Carnaval or stumble upon a beautiful Ash Wednesday ceremony. And it always seemed that I’d recently asked her for help. Call it what you will, I think my grandmother was looking out for me.

Then I came home, and during the job-hunting struggles of late I’ve had the distinct feeling that Gaga is giving me the silent treatment. Last week was especially rough (a separate post all to itself), and I went into the weekend feeling particularly frustrated and all around glum.

Then on Saturday I sat in Washington Square Park to enjoy beautiful weather and a band playing the greatest hits of Marvin Gaye. The man on the bench next to me was wearing a bracelet, a wooden saint bracelet that just about every male in Argentina sports. I happen to have one of these bracelets. It was given to me by Dario, who I met on a bus to Buenos Aires at the end of my trip. This experience warrants a separate post in itself, but for today’s purposes, it’s only necessary to say that in a particularly weak moment I called on Gaga and then met Dario (which happens, in addition to everything else, to be my nephew’s name). He gave me not only interesting conversation and perspective but a bracelet by which to remember him.

I wore the bracelet the rest of my trip and periodically put it on now that I’m home. It’s not fashionable, but it makes me happy. I wasn’t wearing it Saturday (I put it on when I got home), but the sight of another wearing it here in New York gave me that same sense of happiness, and a sense of peace that this is indeed a small world and a good one. I didn’t talk to said male because he seemed to have lost that Argentine friendliness, but I vowed to email Dario and tell him about it. (I have yet to do this, but I will. And then I’ll blog about it.)

Since then, Argentina’s been all over. This morning in DailyCandy there was a deal for a Pachamama massage at the Iguazu Day Spa, and while I didn’t make it to Iguazu I am definitely simpatica with Mother Earth (as the Pachamama is also known). I won’t be getting the Pachamama massage any time soon, but it seemed a weird coincidence since I keep hearing about things from Argentina.

Perhaps more bizarre was my experience yesterday. After an afternoon of struggling through the headache that is taxes (yes I’m one of those brilliant people who waited until the last possible minute) I heard a street band on my way to work. This is not uncommon (see above), and yet yesterday’s band was different: something about the horns and the rhythms was distinctive. Though I was surrounded by tall buildings and fast-walking people, for a second I turned the corner expecting a group of brightly colored diablos dancing around on a dusty street.

Perhaps it was my tax haze, but it seemed so real I was almost there, and I really did expect a parade. Is it all coincidence? Wishful thinking? Or am I simply going insane? Or could it be Gaga telling me to hang in there and remember my adventures (and her)? The jury is still out on all that. In the meantime, however, I will continue to wear Dario’s bracelet and to remember my parade.

And for fun, this video I took in Tilcara which captures my diablo abduction. You’ll see the girl next to me be pulled into the parade, then I laugh before my diablo grabs me and chaos ensues as I get pulled into the parade. It’s like the Blair Witch Project (except much less scary… and real).





How I Almost Became My Mother

28 03 2008

My mother is a worrier. She worries about everything, especially everything having to do with her children. And with five children she’s basically spent most of the last 42 years worrying. Being the youngest, and probably the most adventurous, I seem to give my mother the most to worry about these days. She nearly drove herself to insanity with worry when I chose to drive across the country with friends at age 20, and when I moved to New York by myself she almost took my siblings with her.

Funny side note: On a rainy day when we were in Venice together I left breakfast to use the restroom and decided to retrieve my rain jacket from its holding place with the rest of my backpacking gear under the bus. When I stayed on the bus while it drove around to pick up the rest of our tour group, my mother (of course) noted my absence and jumped to the logical conclusion that her healthy 22-year-old daughter had fallen in the bathroom and couldn’t get up to call anyone.

Needless to say, Mom’s worrying has given her children a lot to laugh at over the years. And by the time I was heading Argentina on my own I was used to it. I, it seems, am not a worrier. Not usually at least…

I am typically of the “no plan is a good plan” travel mentality, and have accordingly experienced much hilarity from simply going with the flow. But every once in a while the planner in me comes out, and it did just that in Northwest Argentina. In San Salvador de Jujuy I met another girl, Da, and we decided to head up to Humahuaca for Carnaval together. Given the festival weekend, there was a lot of talk about the inevitable scarcity of beds there. This hasn’t stopped me in the past, but for some reason it made me nervous. Da, however, was ready to go.

I determined that I couldn’t miss out on experiencing Carnaval and next thing I knew I was on a bus to Uquía, which we thought would be a better bet since it is outside town. We arrived around 7 p.m. and knocked on the door of their ONE hostel. The man didn’t even open the door all the way before telling us they were too full. Much to my chagrin I soon found myself following Da around while she asked people if we might sleep on their couches. Then we clambered across the river, where we’d heard a woman had cabins. After wandering a while in no man’s land we came upon two houses, and a man outside the first pointed us even further up the road to the woman.

When we reached her house a young girl came out and asked us to wait, which seemed a good sign. But the proprietor’s face said all. We tried to make ourselves as pathetic as possible, and pointed at the vast empty room behind her, begging for even a tiny space on the floor there just so long as it was sheltered, but to no avail. The thought of two young women without a place to sleep didn’t bother this woman one bit. Clearly she is not my mother, who not only worries about her own children but everyone else’s too. I, on the other hand, found myself becoming increasingly more like my mother as the situation became more dire. I started hearing her worry voice in my head, and kicking myself for not following my initial instincts. My “fearless female traveler” self was waning, and fast.

I kept repeating to myself my former travel adventures: arriving in Bacharach, Germany and hiking half an hour uphill in my heavy pack to the castle hostel that had told me over the phone he had no rooms and then convincing him to lay out mattresses in his conference room (and we got a discount), driving around Bordeaux, France unable to find accommodations and ultimately sleeping in our rental cars (only to find out the next morning that our “safe” hospital parking lot” was right under the helicopter landing pad)… But my previous adventures did nothing to ease the gnawing feeling in my gut that something was going terribly wrong.

All this worry snowballed into yet another strain of worry: worry about my worry. Unlike my mother, I’m not usually a worrier. Or at least not in the same way. I often make myself crazy with thought, but that (I always tell myself) is not the same as worry. And especially in travel adventures I’m not the one to worry, so what was wrong? Am I getting old? Am I turning into my mother? Am I losing my sense of adventure?

Luckily, I never found out, because my planless plan (however worrisome) turned out to be one of the most rewarding adventures of my trip. Da and I went back to the “cabins” on the lady’s property to ask the man who had last directed us to her house if we might stay with him. He gestured to the five children playing in his yard and suggested the cabin next door. Again we were pathetic and pleaded with the man who answered the door for a sliver of his floor. He hesitated but was definitely considering.

Finally he left to ask his wife, and after ten agonizing minutes returned and invited us inside. The cabin (which they were renting from the lady who is definitely not like my mom) afforded barely enough space for the family of four, but Patricio and his family welcomed us in, offering us mate and chatting with us about our respective countries (Da is from China). When the time came they drove us into Humahuaca for the evening’s Carnaval celebrations. The whole way their eight-year-old twins, Octavio and Julia chattered away about their vacation and asked us question after question about America and China.

Upon arrival in Humahuaca we split up (it was at this time that I split my toe), and as we left them for a delicious meal and revelry I laughed at myself for ever having worried. In the course of our wanderings that night Da and I found a woman with two beds for let in her house, and promptly paid her for them, not out of want to escape our family but in hope of making their last night of vacation a little easier.

When we found the family again Octavio instantly took my hand and began chattering away about his night, firing questions about mine in rapid Spanish. (I was smitten.) After Da and I had retrieved our things there were hugs all around and Eugenia, the mother, made us each promise to call her when we were back in Buenos Aires. She would cook for us. And so I reluctantly left my new family with the realization that the very adventure that made me “become my mother” for those few short moments actually allowed me to find her (in Argentina).

And even better than that? We discovered that my new littler brother and I had the same sweater:

“Siblings” in their Sweaters





More With the Shoes

12 03 2008

Not long ago, when I announced the change in title that my blog underwent (psst…speaking of changes, check out my newly updated About page. It now goes with the shoe theme too!), I mentioned that I had more shoe posts in the works. And then I never wrote them. I’m trying to spread out the shoe love, but I think it’s time for another.

To recap: when we last left off with the saga of Suzanne’s shoes, she had sent home a pair of unruly strappy sandals that refused to let her salsa dance, and then quarreled with a pair of brand new hiking boots that broke three days into wearing them (the mud is another story, but that she was actually proud of).

Ok, strange third person voiceover finished. So after the hiking boots fiasco I decided that the only shoes a traveling girl can depend on are her flip flops.

I arrived in San Salvador de Jujuy on a Thursday afternoon, excited to explore Argentina’s northwest and more excited to experience their Carnaval. I was informed that I would be hard-pressed to find a bed in any of the Carnaval towns I wanted to visit. On a last minute whim, the girl I was traveling with at the time, Da, and I packed small backpacks with a few days worth of clothes, left our big packs at the hostel in San Salvador and headed up to Uquia, with the brilliant idea of sleeping near Humahuaca, going to Carnaval the next day, and staying up with the festival all night before catching a morning bus back to San Salvador. The short of a much longer story (that I will one day figure out how to tell in a short blog post) is that we finally made it to Humahuaca on Friday night.

In Humahuaca, it was cold (this is where I bought the famous llama sweater, which despite my offers no one seems to want), and I had only my flip flops. There were sneakers in my pack, but that was back in San Salvador, so it seemed I was destined to have cold feet in Humahuaca. But, true California girl that I am, I was still devoted to my beloved flip flops, which had yet to fail me…

Until, that is, while strolling the fair on the edge of town, I walked right into a giant metal post that was sticking up from the ground. Plowed into is more like it. My toe, not protected by shoe was massively hurt for the space of about 10 seconds, but then pain gave over to the blissful re-realization that I was still at Carnaval, and I continued walking. A few moments later, however, my foot felt a little wet and sticky and to my horror I looked down to discover that my no longer hurting toe was gushing blood. I had busted the skin on the end of it.

Da and I raced through the fair asking where there was a pharmacy, but given that it was now late and festival time I decided it wouldn’t be open and settled for dousing my toe in hand sanitizer, wrapping it in toilet paper, and buying a pair of socks (oh the things you’re willing to do when you travel). Then we went to enjoy some Carnaval grub. But when my toe started throbbing halfway through dinner I decided perhaps a pharmacy wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. To my relief, they were still open (probably for idiots just like me who only bring flip flops to a crowded festival on dirt roads) and I purchased some sort of ointment that I hoped was anti-bacterial.

I spent the next two nights wearing socks with my flip flops and limping slightly, but ultimately I didn’t wind up losing my toe, so all was good. My relationship with my flip flops, however, has not been the same since. I blame myself really.

Lesson learned: Think before you pack. Period.





Meanwhile in Tilcara…

4 02 2008

There’s a party going on.

Yesterday on my way back to my hotel to relax before heading down to the Carnaval festivities, I stopped to watch a parade pass. Along about 30 diablos (men and boys in vibrant, jesterish costumes that are meant to represent the devil) picking off female bystanders of their own size as they went.

The girl next to me went, and next thing I knew my hand too was seized by a diablo, and I entered the fray as well. My diablo gave brief instructions where necessary, in the high pitched voice that goes with the costume. The parade alternated from dancing (he used his tail to whirl me through the streets), to sprinting through the street, and then ducking under the bridges made by other devils and their partners.

We proceeded this way throughout the entire town, and let me just say that what seemed like a small town in the morning didn’t not seem so small after my half hour jog through it. By the end I was sweaty, laughing hysterically, and covered in talco (talcom powder) and nieve (spray snow), which are thrown and squirted by the watching crowd.

But no time to catch your breath. My diablo had scarcely left when the the crowd of bystanders surged into the street, attacking with talco and thrusting jugs (otherwise known as the cut halves of two liter bottles) of homemade sangria my hands.

The rest of the evening was spent dancing in the streets with the rest of the crew, while buses patiently waited for the crowds to clear, which never happens. Until the next parade…