We have been kept busy over the last week or so meeting Realgap's partner in Buenos Aires. It was excellent fun to spend time with them as they are very professional, efficient and hospitable. They showed us around very worthwhile and challenging volunteer projects, their fantastic Spanish school and some of the extra activities they organise for the participants. They paid for literally EVERYTHING, which of course means that they received a very favourable write up in my report. The moral of the story – bribery is not dead! My highlight was playing in a mini football tournament and the partner paying for my participation – in my eyes it doesn't get better than that!! Oh and they took us to a vegetarian restaurant where the food was delicious – 'bags of flavour'!
It was a welcome change to be busy and have an itinerary again – I feel lost, slightly panicky and clammy when I don't have a schedule of activities much like when you remove routine from an old granny. Gaston's was great as he is incredibly hospitable and generous and organised lot of fun things to do, but in the last few days it felt to me like a majority of our time was just spent sleeping in late and eating – I almost felt suffocated at times and just wanted to run around and scream!
Something I've been very happy with is at least 95% of the people we've encountered on our trip have been very friendly and we've collected some new friends along the way. I find it really pleasing and refreshing that I can spend only a couple of days with a person and already feel a friendship forming. It reminds me that the vast majority of human beings are nice and do want to be friendly with each other, and it's only when bullshit like politics, money and religion get in the way that things start to go pear-shaped. Stick it to the man!
In a way I will also be glad to see the back of Argentina. I think you have to come here to know what I mean when I say that even buying a bottle of water is an arduous task at times. There exists a level of inefficiency, stupidity, apathy and bureaucracy in their business operations that would be hard to replicate anywhere, even if a new country was started whose sole inhabitants were from O2's customer service call centre.
Exhibit A: Cressy and I planned to meet Gaston at his house in San Miguel, which is about 50 mins from the centre of BA. We walked from our hostel to the correct bus stop and waited half an hour. The bus arrived, I tried to pay, but was informed that the ticket machine on board only accepts coins. So we duly ran off the bus, tried to buy something from the kiosk next to the bus stop, to be greeted with the response from the belligerent shop owner, 'no moneda!', which means 'no coins'! So of course, the bus pulled away and left without us. I was subsequently informed from several reliable sources that there is a national shortage of coins and some businesses have to pay 5% above their face value to obtain them. SO WHY BLOODY MAKE BUSES ONLY ACCEPT COINS?! The answer from most locals is, 'this is Argentina'.
Exhibit B: Cressy and I wished to be efficient and save a journey to the bus station so decided to buy our bus tickets from Buenos Aires to Salta online. We discovered what a foolhardy decision this was in time! We duly turned up to the bus station half an hour before it was due to leave as advised, and I went straight to the desk to inform them that we are both vegetarian hence would like our dinners to be meat free. It is guaranteed that I will then have to answer, “no, we don't eat chicken or ham”, to an attendant showing a bemused and amused expression. We waited, stood vigilantly in front of the screens displaying the bus departure information, and started to become a little bit worried when it was 5 mins before the departure time and still there was no sign of our bus. I reminded myself, “this is Argentina” and had faith that it would still be on time, which roughly equates to half an hour late when translated into English. When it was 30 mins late, I went to the desk to check on whereabouts of our trusty steed, to be told, “oh, it left 15 minutes ago”. “Fantastic” I thought! But it got even better. The bus company that was running the service was changed as was the departure time on the same day it was due to leave, but there was no information anywhere to reflect this on the screens. When I asked how I was supposed to know about the changes the response I was met with approximately 20 times was, “you should have checked” and “it's not my problem”, accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders and a “please stop talking to me” look on their faces. So the good news was that we missed our bus and lost our money! Bastards (said in the voice of Rab C Nesbitt).
However, on the plus side, a lovely Argentinian family who witnessed our demise donated two hours of their time to try to help us get our money back from the waste-of-space and oxygen employees of the bus company (Andesmar, in case anyone needs a recommendation of who NOT to travel with in Argentina). It was an unsuccessful and thankless task but it was incredibly generous of the family (Sonja and Miguel with two children, in case anyone needs a recommendation of an Argentinian family to help you in a bus station).
Now we approach Salta with a cruising altitude of 15 feet (upstairs of the bus) and south westerly wind with approximate time of arrival of 'whenever they feel like it'. Bungee jumping, wine tasting (again), horse riding and general folly awaits.