Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Alone at the beach
It rained here on the Argentine coast most of the night and into the morning. The weather is still gray and wet. There’s not a lot going on in a beach town when it rains. I guess there’s not a lot going on in a beach town ever, but that’s because everyone is at the beach.
Well, I’ve been in South America for a full week now. Today is my eighth day. I can’t say I’ve done a whole lot. And I can’t say that bothers me either. But I am getting restless. It’s hard to adjust to being a traveler again. I got so accustomed to being busy when I was in Colorado. There was constantly something happening and I always felt like I was going to be late.
Now, here I am, with all the time in the world. I’m not exaggerating. All I have is time. I couldn’t imagine, just a few weeks ago, not knowing what to do with myself. But every morning the time stretches out in front of me like the longest road through a flat stretch of farm land. The days are long here because it’s summer. They seem so very much longer coming straight from 4:30 p.m. sunsets in Colorado.
The vastness of my time comes mostly from a lack of people to fill it with. In Colorado, I felt so rushed and pressed because I had so many people to see and spend time with. I complained that I was never alone except when I was driving or in the bathroom. Here, I am alone.
I spent my first three nights on the beach at an old inn along the shore called the Hotel Hispania. There was a very nice man running the place, Hugo Rodriguez. He rented me a room to myself with two twin beds and a shower head in the private bathroom for 80 pesos a night. My budget for a day is 100 pesos.
I ate fruit for lunch and empanadas, like tiny calzones, for dinner. I still demolished my budget. But I enjoyed the time to myself for a bit. I fell asleep at 8:30 one night. The sun was still setting.
Hugo spent some time chatting with me one afternoon. He had read in a 1961 Reader’s Digest that General Lee had had to think on whether or not to lead the Confederate Army. Hugo asked me where General Lee was born. I said I thought it was Virginia, but we could check. I looked it up on Google for him and he was so grateful, he transcribed a famous poem about a woman in a green dress for me. I was wearing a green dress. All of this was in Spanish and I have decided I only genuinely understand about 45 percent of what people say to me. In context, I understand about 80 percent and the other 20 is just lost. The numbers go down the longer I’m speaking and the more tired I become.
I thought I would have to leave my quaint little beach town in order to find a hostel where I could spend less money and where I could meet other young people. But then, wandering around aimlessly one afternoon, I found a hostel. It’s 40 pesos a night, plus 5 more if I want breakfast and get up in time. Much better.
I had a nice coffee that same day and the waiter was so intrigued to meet a foreigner that he invited me out the next day. I met Daniel at 11 a.m. and he took me to the forest along the beach on his scooter. I told him about my boyfriend over lunch and he still paid. We walked around a bit and decided to meet up the next morning to ride bikes. I waited for him about 20 minutes. I kinda think all the time I spent telling him about my boyfriend may have dissuaded him from showing.
But I have made a new friend in the hostel. His name is Peng and he’s from China. I’m afraid to say his name. I’m afraid I’ll say it wrong and it will be offensive. I don’t know why. He's told me a lot about Chinese culture though and now I am thinking about taking a trip there one day. We rented bikes yesterday and rode all day. We went into the Bosque Energetico. It’s an amazing cluster of pine trees, growing so tightly together that the sun can’t come through and nothing grows on the ground below them. The trees themselves seem to be dying from the bottom up, though they are very much alive and green at the top. The branches rub together as if the trees are talking to each other and whispering secrets.
It’s so strange how lonely the forest looks with nothing growing on its floor and how decidedly not lonely the forest seems for the closeness of its trees.
People believe there’s an energy in the forest. And certainly there has to be, because the forest has survived this long in strangling closeness. Apparently NASA conducted a study here some years ago. Some people believe the forest is a center for extraterrestrials. Deep in the forest, they say it’s as dark as night and the tangles are so tight, no one can get through. Daniel told me there aren’t even any animals living in the forest.
Peng and I didn’t go that deep into the woods because we had our bikes. We rode through tall willow bushes and pushed the bikes up sand dunes to the beach, where an eerie fog covered the water.
It was an awesome day. We planned to finish it off with Parilla – as much Argentine meat as we could eat. We rode out to the suggested place. But it’s closed now that the off-season has started. We went to another spot in the heart of the city. It was 40 pesos a person and we decided to splurge. But they don’t even open until 8:30 p.m.
The people who eat at 8:30 in Argentina are the same ones who eat at 5 p.m. in the U.S. They are senior citizens and families with young children and the occasional people who missed lunch. The crowds don’t start showing up until 10 p.m.
The Parilla restaurant was basically a buffet. But it was a buffet where all of the vegetable dishes seemed freshly prepared with fresh produce and where the meat came straight off the grill and onto your plate and the fish was cooked in small sauce pans moments before being served. It was delicious and absolutely worth the $12 it cost.
Oh, I bought strawberries at a fruit stand yesterday that were the size of berries—the way they were in the US before we “improved” them. They were delicious.
Tomorrow I will take an overnight bus to Bariloche, where I will stay with the same family I stayed with four years ago and will go to the same language school where I first learned Spanish. I look forward to having a built-in purpose and a built-in social network. I also hope that I can get up to 60 percent or so of genuine understanding and maybe lose less than 20 percent.
There’s little talk here about the earthquake in Chile. I wonder if they will need help. I may see about going over there in a month or so. I feel, right now, that I would be getting in the way. That, and I want to speak better Spanish before I insert myself into what I imagine is such a fragile environment.
That’s it for now. Forgive the length of this entry. It’s a rainy day.