San Juan, Argentina

I woke up in Pagancillo that morning, said my goodbyes to my hosts Maricel and Dario, and with my French friends Silvia and Michele we headed off to the main entrance of Parque Talamaya.

I had a tough decision to make this morning. Silvia and Michele had invited me to tag along with them on their journey driving to Bariloche over the next few weeks. They planned to take their time, go off the beaten path, and stop to see wonders of nature along the way, staying in cute, small towns. I loved their company and that was an ideal way of traveling.

However, I really wanted to try to make it to Tierra del Fuego in the southern tip of Argentina – “el fin del mundo”, before winter hit (usually around April), so I could enjoy some hiking and camping there. And winter was coming. (In more ways than I knew at the time.)

So as much as I wanted to take my time and see everything I could along the way, I also had a sense of urgency to move a little faster towards the south. But that would mean leaving my new friends (and a secure ride) and looking for another ride south to San Juan.

It was bittersweet saying our goodbyes to Silvia and Michele because we had had such a great time together, but we were also excited for the adventures that each of us had lying ahead and we knew we’d be able to live vicariously through each other.

As I continued that character-building search for someone to give me a ride to San Juan, I came across a family with adult children my age camping in the park. They told me they were headed to San Juan in the afternoon and in the meantime I could hang out in their campsite, make myself at home, even nap in their tent if I wanted to. Months into Argentina, and I am still amazed by the friendliness and hospitality of people!

I made myself comfortable at a nearby picnic table, listening to the silence of the desert, watching the sun creep up into the sky, seeing a few birds and rodents scurry through the bushes every now and then, taking in the beauty of the colors and landscapes of the desert.

After a revitalizing session of reflection and meditation, I saw my friends with the white van from Texas, Danika and Brady, appear in the campsite. We chatted for a while about our adventures and then debated if it would be worth the risk for me ride with them to San Juan. The van didn’t have a third seat and the police really like to pull people over for not wearing a seatbelt, (usually to try to get a bribe out of them). Since they have Texas plates they said they had been stopped almost every day of their trip, but since they had everything in order they had avoided any real trouble and certainly hadn’t paid any bribes.

In the end, we decided to take the risk, and we enjoyed a wonderful few hours together as we shared travel stories, life experiences, listened to podcasts, and enjoyed the beauty of the landscapes of central Argentina.

I was lucky enough to live vicariously through them as they told me a little about their journeys through Mexico, Central America (even my beloved El Salvador!), and down through many parts of South America that I had also traversed (and some I hadn’t!)

Arriving in San Juan, we parted ways hoping to meet up again soon since we were headed in the same direction.

I headed off to meet up with my couch-surfing friend Franco, who was a rugby coach, a chef, and a fanatic for his local fútbol (soccer) club.* Franco and his family welcomed me into their lovely home, even preparing me a delicious dinner.

As Franco headed off to a work meeting that evening, I chatted with his family, who made me feel right at home.

In the morning, we did yoga in his patio, practiced English, and exchanged life stories. In every conversation with every person I’ve met along the way, I’ve learned something and I always seem to pick up some little pearl of wisdom.** One thing that really stood out in my conversation with Franco was his experience with the power of being honest with oneself about one’s feelings or desires, no matter how unacceptable it seems to society. (It kind of reminded me of the RAIN method.) He had witnessed how being truly honest with and accepting oneself had helped people escape horrible cycles of addiction and violence, whereas not being able to be honest had kept people trapped in those harmful cycles.

After a mix of light-hearted and deep conversation, he kindly drove me to the bus stop and helped me find my way downtown.

San Juan was an important Argentina destination for me, mostly because I wanted to meet up with a wonderful friend from college that I hadn’t seen for almost 15 years! Alyson had been living in San Juan since graduation and we had just recently reconnected.

She moved to Argentina to teach English and found that it made more sense for her to complete a teaching degree in the university here than go through all the bureaucracy she’d need to do to transfer her US degree – especially since it was free to attend university here.*** She found the college degree here to be more challenging in many ways compared to her studies in the US, especially because it was based more on oral presentations and oral exams rather than the written exams characteristic of most US universities.

Alyson took me to a restaurant that was one of the only restaurants that had been around since she arrived (most businesses didn’t last very long), and I tried sorrentinos for the first time.

sorrentinos

Later she took me to an ice cream shop that won a national competition for the best ice cream in all of Argentina.

As we shared experiences living in Latin America, we compiled a list of questions (observations) about Argentina:

-Why are there so many white people? (Yes, this question also applies to the US and some of the answers may be surprisingly similar.)

-Why does everyone drink mate (“mah-tay”) from a spherical-shaped mug with a metal straw “bombilla”?

-Why do so many people eat ham and cheese with everything?

-Why is everyone so freaking nice?

 

It was so nice to be able to connect with an old friend before heading off into the great unknown towards my destination, “el fin del mundo”.****

 

Famous Footnotes:

*It’s not uncommon for an Argentine to be crazy about a certain fútbol team here, much like Americans that are crazy about “their team” – be it football, basketball, hockey, baseball, etc. During the world cup, I saw a video where an Argentine was complaining that it was ridiculous that someone would plan their wedding to be during the month of the world cup tournament, because HE certainly wasn’t going to miss a world cup game for a wedding. (Obviously, I have met plenty of Argentines that don’t even care about fútbol, or don’t like it; a stereotype is always just a stereotype, describing and often exaggerating some characteristic of someone.)

**With some people I have gathered entire treasure chests of pearls of wisdom, maybe too much to share here, some stories to personal to share with the world and still respect the confidence between two people, but I will share little bits and pieces as it seems appropriate.

***One can get a university education for free here. There are also private universities that aren’t free as another option.

****The city of Ushuaia, Argentina is commonly known as “fin del mundo” or “the end of the world” because it is the southern-most city in the world.

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