June 1, 2012
Dear Family and Friends,
My high school classmate, Barbara Nadler, publishes a bi-monthly eNewsletter that contains our classmates’ special announcements and recent activities.
Barbara was aware of my travels in South America, so in a recent edition of the newsletter she included this brief review of my month-long trip:
“In May, Jan Polatschek traveled in Uruguay and Argentina. He visited his cousins in Montevideo, drove with them to the trendy resort of Punta del Este, took a bus to the charming Spanish colonial town of Colonia del Sacramento, rode the ferry on the Río de la Plata, drove across the plains of Patagonia, took a cruise on the Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego, climbed a glacier in El Calafate, explored the geological formations in the Humahuaca Region, discovered two synagogues in Salta, ogled at the Iguazu Falls, and made a pilgrimage to Moisés Ville. In Buenos Aires, Jan slept!”
Barbara was quite correct. At my hotel in Buenos Aires, in between watching television reruns of CSI: Miami, Law & Order and House, I slept. All day.
The next day I looked at the calendar. (I know you might not believe this, but it is quite common for travelers like me, in the midst of our journey, to not know the current date or even the day of the week.) The calendar said May 31.
May 31 is my mother’s birthday. Ruth Polatschek would have been 100 years old.
I have mentioned this to you before, but it is worth repeating: my mother’s advice to her young son was always, “Jan, get out of the house!”
So, to honor my mother’s memory and to acknowledge her wisdom, I dragged my tired ass out of bed and set out to see Buenos Aires.
Now Buenos Aires is a big city and since I am a “Big City Boy” from New York who now lives in an equally big city Bangkok (I have also lived in Philadelphia, Boston and Miami) a visit to Buenos Aires should be a “piece of cake.” Easy. Right? Wrong!
For me, “a piece of cake” is to travel alone and to visit small market towns that don’t appear on any map or to drive through rugged mountain passes or across a desert, or to sit on a dirt floor with new friends, whose language is a mystery to me, and enjoy a meal they prepared over an open fire. The “unfamiliar” is now the “familiar.”
But to navigate congested city streets? (I played ball and rode my bicycle in the city.) Or to decipher a subway map? (I rode the New York City Transit System when I was ten years old.) For some inexplicable reason, I am intimidated by the tumult.
Despite my reluctance, armed with maps and detailed instructions from the hotel staff, I headed out the door … on to the streets … and down the stairs into the “tube” …. to see some sights on my final days in Argentina.
No, I didn’t see a Tango Show or visit any museum.
But, OMG! I took the Yellow Bus … the “on and off” tourist city tour!
I also explored a residential-commercial area in search of the old Jewish Quarter. (One of the merchants cautioned me about being too conspicuous with my camera.)
And I am proud to report that I succeeded to return to my hotel with only two missed connections on the subway!
“Porteños” is the nickname adopted by folks from Buenos Aires. (The Spanish word describes anyone living in a port city.) Some South Americas observe that the “Porteños” in Buenos Aires have an undeservedly high opinion of themselves. A superior “attitude” we might say. In fact, my cousins in Montevideo describe “Our friends, the Porteños” with just a hint of sarcasm or derision in their voice.
The only Porteños I know are Hernan and his wife Florencia who I met by chance in Bangkok. We had dinner together in Buenos Aires and they are a lovely, unpretentious young couple. The other Porteños I met were uniformly friendly and helpful. The shopkeepers and merchants were welcoming. An optician repaired my sunglasses and refused to accept any payment.
The owners and the staff at my small hotel were both professional and kind. In addition to the typical Argentina breakfast of bread, cheese and sliced meats, they prepared an American style breakfast for me with orange juice and eggs. I felt quite at home there.
Finally, after more than one month on the road including one ferry, three car rentals, four long distance buses, and eight domestic flights, I am delighted to report the ultimate transportation event of my South American journey:
As taxi drivers around the world are wont to do (is it genetic?), my charming, sweet, lady driver “ripped me off” on the fare to the Buenos Aires Airport!
I was smiling then and I am smiling now.
No hay problema. … No problem.
¡Hasta la próxima! ... See you next time!