It’s a new day, it’s a new start

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Saturday, January 1, 2011

As I woke I immediately asked the French couple who were up, what time it was. This is because my phone (doubling up as an alarm clock), was still not working. The response was 9 a.m. and with two hours to check out, I could take my time. A concern was my right ankle as it was swollen more than yesterday.

After undertaking breakfast I returned to my room to pack up my belongings. This took all of a minute. The manager was true to his word regarding my stay being free and I found this out when I returned my sheets. (For clarification: I was charged ten per cent of my free nights by the website booking. As this was a relatively small amount, I did not ask to be reimbursed).

Briefly checking emails and emails, I figured I would 'kill' four hours by just reading and gazing at the sky. The latter turned out to be a bad idea as rain made an appearance. So, outside under a garden umbrella, I took my seat, watched the rain drop and read my travel guide.

Daydreaming away I wondered what had gone through the thief’s mind and how bad my luck had been. This plane of thought was only broken with the sight of Tano. I asked him how his night had gone as his last appearance was kissing a chick. Smiling he said it had been a good night. With that response I did not pry. He was a good guy and I was pleased for him. As we chatted, exchanged farewells, I wondered would I see him again?

Back to being alone I looked at maps and routes until I was joined by the Welsh traveller and David. With the first, we debated the day before on seeing Paraguay. She got ‘cold feet’ and decided against it a time later. As she was in her late thirties/ early forties (assuming); did she think I was too young looking to hang out with her? My intentions were honourable as I wanted to buy a replacement camera at a market and to briefly see Paraguay. (Not seeing the market was a good thing in hindsight. I would be condoning stolen goods if a purchase was made).

On this occasion David was more talkative and we conversed about travel routes. As Marieke and Mike joined us, the conversation switched into what actions occurred during last night’s pool escapades. With that I took a back seat and merely listened. As everyone exchanged details for picture swapping, I followed suit, even though I was not in anyone’s pictures.

Not soon after they left the Australian girl from the bus/ party sat down near me. She too was more talkative. Her issue was that she needed to stay an extra day as she was waiting on the Visa point to open, to travel to Brazil. When I had to leave she made me wish her by a cheek to cheek embrace and was disappointed. A question: why can’t people be more open? With the exceptions of Tano and Martin with his family, everyone was cold. They only ‘thawed’ when it was almost time to depart; it was a nuisance.

My ankle had swollen so much I had to loosen the shoe laces almost entirely. It was so much so, that I contemplated sandals but figured covering up would be a better option.

As I boarded my bus and looked for my seat at the back, a child of eight to ten years old was in it. The bus was very empty but I wanted the corner seat to be out of ‘harm’s way’ and not to be disturbed. Slowly I managed to coax him out of it even though we shared no common language. It felt like an act of a snake charmer. As he sat in the seat next to me, I wondered would I get enough sleep?

A rude awakening was to follow in the form of an Army Officer. He was standing and peering over me. Not knowing what he was saying I gathered it was to produce identification. As I surrendered my passport, most of the carriage looked in my direction. I looked towards the front of the bus and saw three other heavily armed men. My worry was of whether I was going to be ‘held up’. Relief appeared when he returned my passport and my sleep commenced.

My next awakening was being presented with a choice of food and drink. Once again it was steak and a soft drink for me. I looked over at the youngster seated next to me and he looked happy too.

With the lights switched off and a movie on I briefly watched. However, with it being in Spanish my mind wandered. The youngster said something alone the lines of that he would move to another seat for me to have more room. Kind of understanding him I gave him a ‘thumbs up’. I stretched out a bit as I slept for the night.

Having a destination, which is the final stop, gave me no worry of missing it. All that was on my mind was finding out what time it was. It comes from always being anxious to count down the time on journeys. No one was near me to catch a glimpse at a wristwatch, so I continued to look out the window.

With coffee, a cheese and ham bun and a dolche de leche ‘bon bon’ presented for breakfast, the youngster returned to the seat next to me. After finishing his breakfast he tried to talk to me. As before, I could not understand but tried to converse anyway. After a few minutes we both gave up. His father came over a little later. Again it was hard to understand but I gathered he was apologising that his son was loud. I told him his son was well behaved and I hoped he understood me.

When we reached Buenos Aires it was mid morning. I collected my belongings still in carrier bags and left the bus. Throughout the journey, my ankle had itched. Only when sleeping, was the intention to scratch not evident. Pain gripped me mind and made me grimace while walking.

More stubborn than non decisive I walked from Retiro bus station to Aveinda de Mayo. The thought of saving a cab fare was also in my mind due to the last few days. With every step my right ankle trembled in pain. Mosquito bites: could they cause all this pain? Being unshaven, unwashed and having a limp made me stand out a bit. Although this thought was the furthest from my mind.

Limping through the shopping district of Florida, the notion to rest was present but thoughts of becoming immobile came to mind. The urge was repressed and the walking continued.

Finally the destination of Estoril was reached. In a fortunate turn, the elevator worked and saved me more pain from climbing the stairs. Estoban greeted me when I pressed the bell and immediately looked concerned. It is true as a picture can tell a thousand words. Still today I could not tell you about my appearance that day. Speculation could indicate bloodshot eyes, an unhappy demeanour but not much else.

Recalling my predicament to Estoban; he was very apologetic and asked of the thief’s description. After describing the facial features, he told me that the same person had been here too! It was a few weeks back but the staff had produced a drawing of her description. I was startled to discover it had been distributed to hostels nationwide. What shocked me was the Iguazu hostel not recognising the perpetrator.

The day’s details pass me by. I have very few memories. Showering and shaving to feel somewhat normal again, is one I remember. As my electric shaver was long gone, it was back to using a razor and a scissor to remove a four day beard. At this moment I was reunited with my suitcase. At long last I had a change of clothers! Maybe an over statement as it has only been three days but it felt a lifetime. Additionally, I had packed a spare camera and now this was essential. I ‘thank my lucky stars’ I thought of this idea.

During early afternoon I decided to check the San Telmo market as it was on and due to being unable to keep still. (In all my months of travelling, I have had very few rest days).

Walking, I was quick to notice that there was no one around. (I had seen a few people earlier but figured it would not be so deserted now). Even nearby San Telmo it was still very quiet. Whilst it was strange I liked the quiet contrast. It made me think would London ever be as quiet as this?

As my photographs from previous visits were gone, I captured their replacements. All corners were covered as well as Basilica de San Francisco. I made my exit towards Plaza de Mayo and when taking a picture from the side of the building, I saw a familiar face. That face was Otavio’s. Both startled to see each other, we talked for a while. As we did not have any firm plans, we headed to Puerto Madero.

On the harbour, crossing the Puente de la Mujer (Woman bridge), my ankle felt worse. The idea to wear sandals rather than sneakers was not wise. It was a little worse as my arches were not supported in sandals. Even though the constant conversation, my mind could not be distracted. However, never a quitter, I carried on. After a while we reached a point on the harbour where there was a casino. We posed with a ‘fistful of pesos’ in front of its sign. Ingeniously, the casino was on a yacht. A ramp way connected it to land. Upon seeing this, I gathered it was legal to gamble as it was not on land. (To my recollection, there were no gambling shops anywhere in Argentina. Looking at my home country, they are very common and also through television and web advertisements. This is very bad).

Once inside I noted how out of place we were based on appearance. Most patrons were in casual / smart attire and we were in a t-shirt/vest and shorts. The crowd were mainly over fifty years of age. We spent a mere twenty minutes going from room to room over three floors. The place was beautifully designed and maintained. With my recent luck and hating gambling, my money was kept in my wallet. It was very relieving as Otavio done the same.

Tired, hungry and thirsty, we grabbed a bite at a fast food store facing the Puerto Madero harbour. A set of soft drinks and hot dogs (panchos), were ordered. Finally I could rest my feet! We grabbed a table outside as the sun lowered to a cool temperature. Otavio shocked me by talking of his martial arts training. This training was in the form of an MMA/UFC fighter and was pretty brutal. I would not have thought he was interested in that, let alone be proficient in it. It may explain his stance and confidence to our ‘non’ room mate last week and telling him to leave. One story: his mother had told him to stop training, worrying of an injury and he agreed. Unbeknown to her, he carried on but during one fight, his nose was broken! Other stories we talked about were of our Dutch room mates at Milhouse. Otavio said that they had hung out after I left. The ‘one’ in question felt so guilty about the ‘towel incident’, that she cooked and cared for him when he was ill with a cold.

The evening settled with a good sunset. Watching people from the docks, jog, skate or just stroll by, felt very good. When we decided to make a move we headed back to Plaza de Mayo. There, we both took pictures of a windy Argentinian flag above Casa Rosada. Otavio had said to keep in touch and to meet up in the following days. (Sadly this was our last interaction as my injury would worsen).

Back at the hostel, I went to the rooftop and watched the sky darken. Here I met Grace and Carly (English), amongst a few other travellers. I only left the rooftop to go downstairs for empanadas. Thereafter I returned to both, the rooftop and cordial conversations. Jeffrey and Dean (American), appeared later, both shocked at my return and what had happened. Tom and Kevin (American), later joined the group. They were travelling with Dean and offered me a slice of their oversized pizza. Back to eating heavily, I duly accepted.

The group told me that New Year’s Eve at Estoril was pretty epic. Regret reigned in my mind at going to the wrong destination. An argument against that could be I had spent far too long in Buenos Aires. This is valid when most travellers move on from two to four days on average. If hindsight was readily available, I thought. Still Buenos Aires is a great city to be in. (In all my journeys, this city is very high in my list of favourites).
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