Every now and then it’s best to travel off the beaten path if you really want discover the heart of a city. My weekend adventure included an Italian night of culture and a visit to an Estancia(ranch) and I’m confident someone somewhere is sending me signs from above but I’m still alive after facing down a truckload of pigs so I’ll take that as a positive. Oh where to begin…
Landra and I joined her two friends from the States at an Italian restaurant in San Telmo. The changing neighborhood is a mix of yuppies, immigrants, lower to middle class and more recently upper class families. There are cobble-stoned streets, cultural centers, restaurants, antique shops and the tango is commonplace. At night, San Telmo fringes on unsafe but that’s more or less because it’s not as populated as other neighborhoods. You get the sense you are in a Charles Dickens plot with old street lanterns and dark walkways. When we arrived at the family-owned restaurant around 9 pm, we had no idea what to expect. Moments later a series of events unfolded. We were treated to a dynamic opera and accordion performance, a painter creating depictions of Rome and Venice, and traditional Italian dances performed by a family dressed in what reminded me of 1700 European dress (very Heidiesque). As I’ve mentioned in the past, many Argentineans descended from Italian roots and it’s apparent in their clothing, music and food. Our night of culture proved to be one of my favorite nights in Argentina. We met the owner Martino who shared family stories with us. (Thankfully, Landra and her friends Kat and Zack translated a bit for me. Natives speak too fast.) After all the performances, Kat and Zack tried to bargain with the artist for one of his paintings but the negotiations led to an auction where Kat successfully picked her own number anyway. It’s not often a traveler can say I spent the night with locals enjoying delicious homemade pasta and authentic music.
My trip to the Estancia or ranch was quite a different story. When I booked the trip, it took me several attempts to spell my name for the booking agent. I tried in English and in Spanish but decided the woman had my credit card number so what did I care. Landra and I were to meet at the Marriott at 9:30 am for pick up and transport to the Estancia. A young woman arrived and called out two names. A group of US college students answered and began walking with the woman who barely waited 5 seconds for anyone else to respond. As I was rethinking the spelling of my name, it dawned on me that the name she shouted could be it so I got up and ran after her. I asked to see the listing on her roster. There it was in bold print for pick up at the Marriott Keory Gweoyn (2) USA. It didn’t take much for me to put two and two together that KG and USA was probably me. After all, this bus was the only one in the city going to the Estancia I booked. Landra and I boarded the bus and sort of half thought shit this might not even be right place but let’s wing it anyway. Hours later we enjoyed horses, empanadas, gauchos(real life cowboys), meat, more meat, and even more meat and then later a folkloric performance where the highlight proved to be a barely walking 2-year-old darling girl mimicking the real life performers.
Our group sat at one long table and Landra and I were sandwiched between four American college students and a delightful Chinese-American couple, Agnes and George, who have lived in Texas for 40 years. When I realized we weren’t going to drink our bottle of wine, I gave it to the Columbians, who traveled with us on our bus to the Estancia. They were visiting Buenos Aires because of the World Cup qualifying match between Argentina and Columbia. (Argentina won). Of course, I thought nothing of my kind gesture at the time (hint, hint), since they were the only people at the table drinking. Landra and I spent the afternoon chatting with our new friends Agnes and George about their children and travels and we shared stories of our own. We meandered around the grounds taking photos and enjoying the beautiful fall day. It was a relaxing break from the crowded city.
When we boarded the bus for our return trip to Buenos Aires, the Columbians seemed a bit liquored up and already quite loud and obnoxious. They came armed with even more bottles of wine and Landra said to me I guess we won’t be getting a nap on the way home. Little did we know a sleepless ride was the least of our problems.
About a mile outside of the Estancia, the bus driver pulled over and went ballistic on the Columbians telling them they could not drink and they needed to put away their wine bottles. Keep in mind we are talking about 15-20 Columbians probably ages 35-45+. These were not kids. What ensued is a bit of a blur but basically we had a bus driver watching the passengers more than the road, drunk Columbians singing songs, drinking wine (despite the driver’s rants) and standing up on the bus, a 20-year-old tour director with no control and about eight Americans wishing they boarded another bus. The very distracted driver pulled over a few times to scream and carrying on about the noise and wine and each time five or so Columbians would get off the bus to use nature’s bathroom.
The last straw for me and for Landra occurred when the bus driver nearly crashed into a truckload of pigs. We literally saw it happening. Landra said ahhh. I screamed DESPACIO (slow) and then the driver slammed on the breaks and halted the bus. When the Columbians realized what happened, they started yelling, “peligroso,” which means dangerous and they jumped into the driver’s face. It was a bad scene and I thought for sure I was about to witness a brawl. Instead, the very drunk Columbians started hugging the bus driver saying, “tranquilo,” while a few slightly more sober folks tore him a part. Tranquilo means calm and at this point Landra and I were anything but calm. In our frantic state, we didn’t know what to say in Spanish or whether or not we should risk our lives on this bus or get off and be stuck in the middle of nowhere an hour and a half away from Buenos Aires. Our Chinese American friends were in the front row and looked terrified. Landra somehow bonded with one of the Columbians and told him someone needed to take control. There were several women who accompanied their husbands/boyfriends but none of them did a thing. We were wondering if it had something to do with Latino culture. We even pleaded with the young tour director but she was hopeless. The situation didn’t get any better and between the Columbians hugging and talking to the driver and the passengers acting completely unruly it proved to be a miracle we arrived home safely. Once we landed on solid ground in Buenos Aires, Landra and I headed to a café for dessert and dulce de leche to calm our nerves. We were both pretty fired up and in disbelief of what occurred. It was then that Landra reminded me I gave the Columbians our bottle of wine during lunch. Nothing like aiding and abetting but in my defense I would like to point out of the 14 or so bottles the Columbians consumed I highly doubt our bottle was the one that pushed them over the edge.
One last update…My Canadian friend returned my credit card after Landra stalked him all weekend via Facebook and text. We even tracked him down last night after our nightmare excursion but to no avail. Today, we happened to be at the same restaurant at the same time and my card is a go. YEAH!!!!! First time for everything right?