December 9

December 9, 2008

There were no conventional beginnings today, no comfortable beds. My first vague memory is of standing in line at some place called Carmelo on the banks of Rio de Plata. Outside the brightly-lit transit building, quiet cobbled streets extended away delineating a dim grid of closed shops and markets. Having taken the bus from Montevideo, we were now waiting upon the Uruguayan immigration and customs formalities at a narrower neck of the river than the more direct Colonia – Buenos Aires route.

It felt like a ridiculously long delay at three o’clock in the morning, and we were forced to stand in zombie-like torpor as a whole crew of customs officials sat around and seemed to do precisely nothing for about half an hour. At moments like these, our travel-weary minds now wander to somewhat bitter places, and I was thankful when the ferry for Argentina turned out to be comfortable and spacious, although I didn’t have much time to ponder my gratitude before passing out again – just enough to observe the inky waters out the lower deck window begin to glide past at the brisk pace of a high-class passenger coach. Sleep, thick and thorough, followed.

When we awoke again, we were arriving at the moneyed canals of Tigre in the dawn, a delta settlement to the west of Buenos Aires. These frequently interrupted night transits bring to mind the practice of sleep deprivation as torture – waking the subject each moment the eyes close. We’d considered Tigre as a possible travel destination, but as we passed the private mooring points of several yachting and country clubs, well-tended and shrouded by old, deciduous green European trees, and ineffably boring-looking, I was glad we were just passing through.

After more immigration shenanigans carried out by the Argentinian authorities, we transferred to a bus towards the centre of the teeming city, and fell once more asleep. We were able to jump from this second bus with surprising nimbleness on Nueve de julio, and from there walked back to “our” hostel, BA Stop, where we were pleasantly surprised to be allowed to participate in the breakfast service, medialunas, dinner rolls, marmalade, and lots and lots of coffee.

On our last proper day in Buenos Aires, a little more than lazing around was called for, so we walked down in San Telmo, an elegant district near the north shore replete with antique fairs, as many shops selling junk as designer homewares (and sometimes little distinction between the two), and plenty of cafes. The curtains shrouding two other worlds, one of unaffordable luxury and another of undesirable knick-knacks, were swept aside for a brief two hours. In amongst the dross we also saw many affordable desirables, but my single effort to bargain with an antique salesman over a teacup I thought rather overpriced met with thorough-going failure. It is “part of a collection”, he repeatedly exclaimed as if I were an idiot – oh well, it was a bit ugly anyway. Outside, the streets were quiet and unpopulated, much as they had been in Montevideo on Sunday, and the sky was overcast.

Heading further north from San Telmo, we past a canal boulevard lined with cheap ‘n’ nasty parrillas at least of the type frequented by locals, but the mood had taken us to eat something fancier. We crossed this harbour waterway, then, to Puerto Madero, where an overturned hulk lay mostly submerged in the murky water, its exposed expanse providing a landing for three or four turtles. Along the water’s edge the ground floor of a long, banal office-type building hosted a string of practically deserted restaurants each of which advertised a different lunch special. Having more time than we needed and no idea what to do with it, we spent ages deciding where to eat, finally settling on a modish place called “Chuega”, with cushy white leather couches for dining.

The trip home proper is about to begin, and this lent a slightly elegiac air to the meal. We ordered the menu del dia, a mini-Caesar salad followed by a decent, if unexceptional churrasco-style minute steak, accompanied by two massive glases of cabernet sauvignon, and concluded by some excellent dulce de leche ice cream and an espresso. This mundane restaurant fare, which would hardly have set our palates alight in the days before we came away, felt like a wonderful, civilised indulgence after recent weeks dominated by self-catered pasta, packet soups, and junk food. I savoured each morsel.

We were tired now, and more or less gave up on the day. It was a surprisingly long walk back to the hostel, and there we hung about watching TV, and on the internet, for hours. The place had emptied out a little – the depressing pair of backpackers who’d been watching cable non-stop at the hostel during our entire Uruguayan sojourn had finally cleared off. Admittedly we haven’t been getting much done lately, but I’ve never sat in a hotel and just watched TV for a whole week! Dinner heralded a return to packet pasta, ravioli with tomato sauce, and there was no drinking. Later in the evening, I posted applications for a couple of interesting-sounding jobs back in Perth, and followed up with a recruiter. The invasive tentacles of bills, insurance, employment, council rates, pet registration, taxation, rental income, furniture delivery and so forth are beginning to reattach their sucker-electrodes to my reluctant cranium. It took such an effort to make the needed calls that it was very late before I fell into bed.


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