Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Day 1: 6/5/11 ....Stray Dogs in the Goodwill Dumpster

Here I am in Buenos Aires. I only vaguely remember my decision making process in planning this trip, but I know that it started with not wanting to be sweaty.  I’m very glad to be here, though. And I’m not at all sweaty.
This is my first time visiting a nation in which English is not the first language. It is a very humbling experience. Being unable to communicate verbally is incredibly difficult and actually a little bit frightening - especially being alone with no other English speaker to help solve all the riddles with you. (Also I guess having another person with you who’s having as much trouble takes some of the heat off and makes it clear that you’re not the only idiot.) It’s the first experience of the trip that has really had an impact. It sounds so obvious and banal to say “It’s hard to not speak the language” but it’s different than I imagined. I feel like a child when speaking with anyone, trying not to exhaust their patience. I find myself constantly wanting to apologize yet don’t even know how to say “I’m sorry” in Spanish. Most of the people I’ve met have been kind about it. I’m frustrated because I don’t want to be the Ugly American, expecting accommodation and bumbling about with no apparent awareness. So I say “gracias” as much as possible. If I could remember the word for “sorry” on the fly then I’d say that a lot too.
My first destination was Retiro bus station to catch a bus to Iguazu Falls. I had quite a bit of time to hang around and just watch people. The plane had landed around 5am and my bus wouldn’t leave until 2. Another sad fact, which I was somewhat expecting to find: in my experience with speaking people in America, I’ve only seen, for the most part, people in low income service capacities or maybe day laborers or farm workers. So it was new to see people of Latin descent represent all the strata of society.  I keep trying to imagine parallels of my experiences with those of a Latin person visiting The US. I doubt it’s the same. Anyway, I enjoyed watching some young woman wailing at the top of her lungs, her voice echoing in the cavernous station: “puta” over and over. Some guy was slinking away from her screams with another woman
After a while of people watching, I got tired of constantly being paranoid about getting robbed. So I got a rental locker and went around exploring. My eyes were caught by some really colorful buildings and I went to the end of the station for a closer look. Then I saw it. Some people were walking below with a little dog. But the dog was off leash in a busy area and they didn’t seem to care about him at all. He was just doing his own thing. Gradually I saw more and more of them and it dawned on me that they were all strays.

             Stray dogs just walking around everywhere, with no one seeming to worry about it. Que? I kept wondering how they didn’t reproduce like crazy or get rounded up for causing damage. But pretty much the people treated them just like they treated pigeons. I kept wanting to pet them and play with them but I didn’t want to call attention to myself being a tourist.  So I just watched them from out of the corner of my eye.
The dogs were hanging around because of a big market going on. I decided to check it out myself. It was one of those things that I normally wouldn’t do because this was seriously borderline third-world territory. Luckily I hadn’t shaved in a couple days so I figured I could blend. It’s weird how I was paranoid about getting robbed in the station and yet put myself in an environment where it was even more likely.
The market was not exactly what I was hoping for. Pretty much all of it looked like stuff that Goodwill would turn down. There were also a bunch of kiosks offering haircuts. Mostly it was toys, clothes, and random hardware that looked unwanted overall. The American cultural stamp was everywhere. I had been hoping for some more authentic homemade stuff. The products were phony but the people were genuine as far as I could see.
One interesting thing about Argentina so far: There is a fairly clear difference between the American Indian and mixed population and the more European one. Just like America, but not like it seems to be with Mexican-Americans. My friend Jose Luis had spoken about this and mentioned that Argentines are considered “white”. All I know is that there are a lot of very beautiful women here! They wear high heels, though, so I need to find some that dress down.
So back at the bus station. I was at the right place, right time for the bus I was supposed to catch. But when I bought the ticket, the guy showed me that the bus I’d be taking would have a different company’s name on it. “Tigre Iguazu”. All the big double decker buses had gigantic colorful logos on them, and there were bunches of them constantly arriving and departing. Plus the ticket said it might arrive in any parking space from 31 to 50. This was also another situation where Spanish would help. So of course 15 minutes after my scheduled departure I figured I had blown it.
So I went back up in a panic to the ticket office upstairs, and the guy looked over my shoulder as he watched my bus pulling away. This guy was a champ, though. He broke into James Bond mode and started throwing out directions to his action squad, jumped out of his kiosk and said “follow!” to me. We ran full speed out the back door. The bus waited, halted by my hero’s quick decisive action, and revving its engine and hissing angrily at me with its air brakes. At one point the guy grabbed my suitcase handle from me because I was slowing him down. We got there finally and I’m all “gracias gracias gracias” to the ticket guy, the bus driver, anyone making eye contact with me. I wanted to hug the guy and I think he could tell.
                 Well, my neighbors on the overnight Iguazu bus just had to wake me up as I was typing screens full of “/”’s. They explained that they are doctors and worried I might be dead. I expect to dream of being a sneaky dog vainly trying to say “sorry” for barking wrong all the time.                  

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