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martes 31 de diciembre
Objetivo: Correr y Bailar Modo: Omnibus, Taxi y Pies Distancia: 620 kilómetros
Buenos Aires, Argentina When the Panamiercano lumbered up the ramp behind Buenos Aires’ Estación Terminal de Omnibus at 8:00, I was wide awake. Three days spent cooped up in unventilated motor coaches was not my idea of a good time. Buried beneath my sorry excuse for a beard was an impressive layer of road film. Thinking back, I could not remember ever feeling this grungy out on the trails of the Patagonia. At least then we had those coconut camp suds at our disposal. Unfortunately for me, they had run out somewhere back in Chile’s Atacama Desert. Above all, the two things that I was most looking forward to were a long shower and an even longer run through the beautiful Parque Rosedal. Stepping out of the bus station onto Avenida Ramos Mejía, I had the calming sensation that I was back home. After four weeks exploring the Southern Cone and the Peruvian highlands, it was reassuring to walk the quarter mile in front of the Retiro train station and see the same faces engaged in the same activities that I had seen for months: street vendors manning card tables offering everyday necessities like phone cards and butane lighters, groups of Armani-draped empresarios talking and walking to lunch carrying cell phones in both hands, kioskeros standing behind stacks of that day’s La Nación, Clarín and Pagina 12 and estudiantes laughing and sneaking Marlboros and Lucky Strikes between classes. I boarded the #152 colectivo, dropped sixty centavos in the automated ticket dispenser and found a window seat next to the back door. As the bus wound through the downtown city streets, I was reminded of the sharp contrast in lifestyle between the carefree residents of the Patagonia and the appointment-saddled residents of a South American urban jungle like Buenos Aires. The colectivo weaved through the streets of Recoleta and Palermo stopping at every third or fourth block. The street names were now so familiar: Juncal, Suipacha, Charcas, Gallo, Güemes. At Güemes, I grabbed my pack and stepped out on the city street. After a short walk down Avenida Colonel Díaz, I was standing once again on the 180
stairs of La Casa Rocca. There, Señor Nelson was holding court on the sidewalk with three of the señoras that cleaned the various apartments. Hola, Nelson. I just trekked around Argentina, Chile and Perú for a month. I knew what was coming, so I just kept on walking...Bueno. After four days sans quality conversations, I was halfway hoping for a small welcoming committee inside Dolores’ apartment, but the only items waiting to greet me were a note and a pot of hot coffee. Apparently, Dolores had risen early, made the café and gone back to bed. Being New Year’s Eve, she probably wanted to be well-rested for whatever festivities the night would bring. Before unpacking and showering, I enjoyed a light breakfast and got caught up by watching the morning news on Canal 13. Back in my adopted room, things were exactly as I had left them in the closet and on my desk. The photographs of friends and family in the States were ready to be packed up along with the items purchased in Argentina...items that would soon leave their home country and assume souvenir status. How best to spend my last twenty-four hours in Palermo, Buenos Aires, Argentina, South America and the Southern Hemisphere did not require much deliberation. I pulled my Asics out of the closet and got ready for a morning run. The seven-block stretch up Avenida Libertador to the Plaza Alemania is home to foreign embassies, five star steakhouses and luxury car dealerships. Besides being one of the priciest strips of real estate in the entire country, Libertador is also the gateway to a thousand acre paradise of trees, lakes and fields known as Parque 3 de Febrero. On a holiday such as this, every inch of the park is teeming with families, rollerbalders, tourists, film crews, fútbol players, and young couples. Running through the heart of the park is a mile-long stretch of railroad that connects downtown with the surrounding neighborhoods. The actual tracks lie on top of a twenty-foot brick trestle that divides the park into two halves. Some of the brick archways beneath the tracks, known as Los Arcos, serve as pedestrian thoroughfares. The rest have been converted into popular restaurants and nightclubs.
Besides giving my limbs the long-awaited opportunity to stretch, the run was a good chance for me to clear my head and think about what needed to be accomplished in the hours remaining before LanChile flight 154 to Miami. Three laps around the lake in the Parque Rosedal left me feeling invigorated and ready to enjoy this New Year’s Eve to the fullest. When I returned home at 11:00, I was sorry to see that Dolores had still not ventured out of her bedroom. Sleeping in was not an activity that Dodo was particularly fond of. However, considering the inevitable emotional impact of the holidays, I imagined that the señora probably wanted to be alone. Alone with memories of her husband of forty-seven years who was taken from her only sixteen short months ago. After his losing bout with cancer, Dolores could have easily chosen to spend the rest of her days holed up inside her apartment surrounded by photos of her loving Eduardo, an attorney, writer and former associate of Perón. But to her credit, she never even considered locking the door, pulling the persianas or feeling sorry for herself. Instead, she viewed Eduardo’s passing as the chance to start an exciting new chapter in her life. A chapter that would require as much human contact and immersion in new experiences as possible. Phoning the director of Estudio Buenos Aires, a reputable language school that hosted foreign students, had been one of those important first steps. She explained to the program director: I have an extra guest room and would like to host students every semester going forward. Now that my daughter has moved away, I miss being around young people. The next step was enrolling in beginning English classes three times a week. I want to take a trip to the United States for my next birthday, but I need to learn the language first! An annual membership at a local health club was next. My neck has been hurting, and I want to feel my best. On occasion, the five-foot widow even kicked around the idea of plastic surgery. Why should I have lines around my eyes when I am still so young! I had to agree. She confronted life head on with all of the energy of an XGames participant, yet without any of the brooding or piercings. Today, however, was not one of those days, and I had to be understanding. The phone rang shortly after noon, and I was pleased to hear the voice of my good friend, Francisco who invited me to come spend the day with his friends at a quinta on the outskirts of town. It was a gorgeous final day of the year and spending it outdoors was the only sensible thing to do. Francisco was going to pick me up in an hour, which would give 182
me enough time to shower and start packing my bags for the long flight home in the morning. When Francisco arrived two hours later, I was not surprised. Getting across town was a herculean task on a holiday like this, with motorists packing the freeways in search of a little peace and time off. Many were traveling to coastal resort towns like Mar quinta: a country house. Many families in Buenos Aires own a del Plata and Pinamar, but most were just vacation home in one of the trying to get beyond the limits of the surrounding counties. country: common nickname for Capital Federal and into their “country.” a country house. The family of our friend, Geral, owned máte: the container in which máte is served and shared. such a place in the beautiful Partido de San Martín, and twenty friends gathered there for a very relaxing afternoon. To pass the time, the guys played fútbol for hours, while the girls watched, feigned interest and occasionally cheered. By late afternoon, energy levels were tapering off. We sat around a giant picnic table just talking and passing around the máte for over an hour before it was finally time to go home. Before leaving, evening plans were made and a night spent dancing at a club in Los Arcos was the game plan of choice for ringing in the new year. Showered, rested and dressed, twelve of us reconvened at a Palermo confitería around 22:00. From there it was a short, ten-minute walk through my neighborhood to the rising tide of twentypicos swimming from club to club underneath Los Arcos. With only two hours remaining in the old year, everyone was jockeying for position in hopes of being in the perfect spot watching, doing or drinking something so wonderful that this New Year’s might somehow, upon reflection, rise above all of the rest. Personally, I was content just spending time with friends, so it made little difference to me which club we chose. Eventually, a female promoter handing out flyers on the street convinced us that Puente Mitre would offer us the most bang for our hard-earned peso. Inside, the spectacle that unfolded in the giant boliche beneath the railroad tracks did not disappoint. The first two hours featured a live performance by a Brazilian samba troupe. And when the clock struck midnight, 183
the house deejays took over. Instead of going straight for the jugular with a techno assault, they opted to tease the crowd with a mix of 70’s disco and 80’s retro. I’m Your Boogie Man, Groove Is In The Heart, I Will Survive, The Safety Dance, Knock On Wood, Pump Up the Jam, and Do Ya Think I’m Sexy were big crowd pleasers. One hour into the new year was when the beats went decidedly up tempo and la marcha commenced. Normally, I would have joined in the all-night celebration without hesitation; however, that idea just wasn’t appealing. I now found myself more concerned with the well-being of my Argentine house mother than whether or not I could once again stay out until sunrise. The atmosphere was more jovial and nostalgic than I could handle, so I said “hasta luego” to those friends that were meeting me at the airport and “adios” to others that I would possibly never see again. While walking a mile under the glow of the streetlights lining Avenida Libertador, I felt like a different person. Different from the person that moved here five months ago. The same person who was still unaware of the people he would meet, the conversations he would have and the natural wonders that he would see during a month’s journey in the Patagonia. What was it about that trip that had changed me? Altered my personality. Broadened my horizons. Boosted my self-confidence. Changed my perceptions. In The Alchemist, Coelho tells of one night when Santiago’s heart begins speaking to him in the desert. With pride, it told the story of a shepherd who had left his flock to follow a dream he had on two different occasions. It told of Personal Legend, and of the many men who had wandered in search of distant lands or beautiful women, confronting the people of their times with their preconceived notions. It spoke of journeys, discoveries, books and change. Changed was the only word that I could use to describe La única gente que me interesa es la que está how I felt walking alone loca, la gente que está loca por vivir, loca down Avenida Libertador on por hablar, loca por salvarse, con ganas New Year’s Day. And for the de todo al mismo tiempo. first time in five months, I was -jack kerouac ready to go home. 184
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