The Sea Calls To Me

Men go back to the mountains, as they go back to sailing ships at sea, because in the mountains and on the sea they must face up. ~ Henry David Thoreau

My neighbors and dear friends, Larkin, Sommer, and Simon Jones, invited me to join them for the weekend to Catalina island aboard The Indigenous, a sea worthy vessel of 30′ and 1985 vintage.  They moor the craft in Marina Del Rey (next adjacent neighborhood to me in Venice, both of which make up greater Los Angeles).

Thursday afternoon was spent grocery shopping and gear stowing. Talk about bringing out the kid in me..Simon and I hit the grocery store with skipping and general rough housing. You know the mischief that would have most certainly raised the voice of your mom when you were a kid and it was the night before going on vacation. Tripping your friend in front of strangers, throwing rolls of paper towels at each other from one end of the isle to the next, tapping the opposite shoulder of a stranger and blaming it on a your buddy and they can’t keep a straight face to save their life. It made it even more fun that we were creating those shenanigans in the rather straight up and down, if ya know what I mean, Marina Del Rey supermarket on a Friday afternoon. We got snarels from cougar and silver fox alike, whereas we promptly laughed at them often times with a pointed finger. You see, Simon is an Aussie and his fair complexion, teenage boy like build and soft accent is completely disarming. He’ll argue about all these facts, but of course he loves nothing more than a good argue and an opportunity to take the piss out of someone who doesn’t have the cannons to take the heat.  So, back to the store..we bought my cronchy food (it tends to be a bit bland, given I don’t cook to often), Simon and Sommers fabulous steaks and accoutrement (they’ve done this before), and lest not forget Larkin’s treats (cookies, yogurts, fruits, juices, etc.).    Sommer, Simon’s wife, is a 5th generation Californian (the only one I know) and loves a glass of white wine and a big laugh. Larkin wasn’t 6 months old when I moved into my place in Venice beach nearly 5 years ago. Immediately upon meeting him I started calling him the Lady’s Man. Blond straight hair, big blue eyes, and a self proclaimed pirate, Larkin Spike Jones is/will be the quintessential lady’s man. It was all cool until he started to introduced himself as that.  Sommer was thrilled with me ;)..

After the store run we packed the boat. Food and gear got stowed in every conceivable cranny. The boat is plenty big at 30′ but we still played one hell of a game of tetris to get it all to fit. We stowed the sail covers, installed the auto-pilot, secured The Indy (the dinghy), checked all systems, fueled and watered up, and drank one celebratory beer before heading home. The Indigenous was ready to set sail.

Morning couldn’t come fast enough.

We were at the coffee shop at 5:30 and leaving the harbor at 7am.

It was a bit grey. 55 degrees and a 10-15 knot wind from the west with 3-5′ seas. A small craft advisory stood for the late afternoon. We had a 6-7 hour sail ahead of us. If everything went right, we’d be moored in Twin Harbors , the leeward side of Catalina island right at 30 miles from Marina Del Rey, before the heavy winds picked up. After some light breakfast and about an hour to sea I found a nap, curled up in the stern cabin. The tossing of the vessel helped. I was a little concerned as to whether I’d be able to sleep or not but quickly realized I would not have any trouble at all. As I drifted in and out of consciousness, my mind raced between work and family and a woman and health and sailing and rugby and swimming and habits…essentially it, my mind, would not shut up. Then I checked my phone. I was surprised that I had signal and smiled. I thought ‘I’ll be able to work on the sailboat!’ Then I switched my thinking..I was a little embarrassed with myself for even wanting to do so. I’d just spent the last 20 days getting ducks in a row so that I could leave for a couple days without having to grind. Right then, I vowed not to turn on the phone for the weekend. I never don’t turn on my phone. So this was going to be good.

I recalled some recent yoga classes with Erich Schiffmann where he described one’s mind as an etch a sketch. “When a thought enters the mind, swooosh, wipe it clean. Having a still mind does not mean you’re left with nothing. Try it. Still mind.” So there I wiped my mind and thus my positive energy level spiked. I dazed into a sleep that was amazing. Not only did I feel great when I dozed off, I was due a bit of rest, having gotten to sleep around 3am the night before. 3 hours later I woke to the sun dancing on the galley walls. The stainless steel oven unit was reflecting a different sky than that of hours prior. I brushed my teeth and threw some water on face emerging from the cockpit to clear skys and a thrilled Simon at the helm. Off to the port side of the ship, due east, was  Palos Verdes and to the starboard side was pacific blue for nearly 2500 miles to Hawaii. Beyond that is another 6000 miles, minus a couple minute specks of land, to Asia. I thought to myself, “I want to make this sail.”  Back to the present.  Simon at the helm, Sommer reading a novel, and Larkin sort of roaming about the salon looking for things to be told not to mess with.  We would be moored by 3pm.  The evening was easy.  Sandwiches, cold beer, big laughs, early to bed..

I woke at day break.  The orange of the sun reflecting and refracting off a still sea was breath taking.  There were quite a few ships moored nearby, however no one else was up.  I made myself a cup of coffee and sat in silence for nearly an hour before deciding it was completely ok to go back to sleep, which I did for another couple hours.

It had been some time since I last slept in like that and I needed it.  When I finally did wake, the cove was buzzing.  I took Larkin for a short ride in the “Larkin Dinghy”, an inflatable raft that was most exciting.  I splashed the cold salt water onto my body and breathed deep.  Upon getting back on the boat, Simon started to give me the lay of the land.  That over there is so and so.  Over here you can see this and that.  On the windward side of the isthmus is another cove that takes this long to reach, but is oh so nice.  I like to call him Falcor (from Never Ending Story fame) because he likes to spin a good yarn.  I like the stories he has to tell.  So the miscellaneous tasks of the boat began to take shape.  Sommer was starting to prepare an early lunch, Simon was fiddling with all sorts of fasteners and lines and pulleys and cleats, pieces foreign to me, as my boating experience has nearly exclusively been on power boats. Larkin was watching the fish frolic underneath us throw clear cold water.

After lunch I took a ride with Simon to the harbor on the Dinghy to take a hike alone.  I needed a couple hours sans 5 year old.  I walked due west across the isthmus toward Cats harbor and took the trail to the south toward the mouth of the inlet.  I found myself on the last point of navigable land where I sat down to breath deep.  Across the inlet was a cragged piece of rock jutting up from the sea and narrowly connected to the greater island.  I realized that this was the edge of the world.  There was nothing between that piece of rock and Hawaii, nearly 2,500 miles due west.  The thought of that fascinates me.  What is it about the adventure, danger, and unknown that calls to me so about even attempting an adventure like that.  Even the thought of sailing that distance excites me, never mind the actual note taking of what it would take to make the journey in my note book.  Telling myself that, “Yes,  I could do that.” Who the hell do I think I am..hahaha.  Kinda makes me chuckle.  So I’m sitting there just staring at this rock and the vastness of the blue that stretches beyond the horizon when I see a bird circling.  Granted, this particular rock is about 250 meters away, meaning that in order for me to see this bird, it would have to be big.  Real big.  So I am watching it closely and then I thought about the camera my oldest and dearest friend, Nick Greenway, gave me only a month earlier.I was able to borrow a pretty sick lens from another pal, Andrew Whitelaw, so I was all set.  As I drew the monster camera from its bag, I began to get excited.  This wasn’t just any bird.  I could make out its white head and tail feathers from 250 meters.  I was fortunate enough to spot and photograph a Bald Eagle for the first time in my life, on Memorial Day no less.  So freaking cool!

A few conversations with hikers as they passed by and a few hours later I hiked back across the island to meet Simon and Larkin to ride back to the boat.  Larkin was all smiles with an ice cream in hand.  Happy boy 🙂  We easily cruised back to the Indigenous to find Sommer preparing some eats.  We boarded the vessel and relaxed.   I mean, nothing is more important that putting one’s feet up and enjoying a good book and just taking it easy while on a sail boat.  I witnessed my surroundings and wrote this poem

Im floating in the water 🙂

Salt on my lips and its good.
Face hot from the sun and the strong part is now coming from the sea.
I can hear the cannons with my chest.
The Lady’s man is a whirling dervish and Si is up first and down last.
Our matriarch has patience like the cliff’s aft our vessel.
My life is good.

Again, I dosed off early after a solid meal.  Again, I woke with the sun, alone and in peace.  My mind began to explore the possibility of sailing around the world.  What would I need to do in order to make it happen?  What would I need to learn, before embarking on such a journey to insure I would not perish, at least at the start?  How would I finance it?  These questions quickly left my mind as the day started and the routine started.  Coffee, cereal, eggs, sausage, OJ, fresh cold water, more coffee.  It was all so good.  The day passed easily and we discussed our trip back home.  Simon liked to discuss the weather and Sommer and I enjoyed picking on him for doing so, over and over again.  In the afternoon, Sommer and Simon took a ride alone leaving Larkin and I to fish.  They chastised me for wanting to fish, but really, what was I to do?  The fish underneath the boat seemed to tease me as they circled to and fro.  Schools of sardines and small mackerel teamed together to swoosh one way only to swoosh back the other way.  I had bought some frozen squid earlier to test the water and was happy to share the time with Larkin.  It wasn’t long before he pulled in his first fish ever.  I was proud to be a part of it.

The only trouble was the fact that Sommer wanted nothing to do with any sort of fish, which we learned upon her return.  So, upon her instruction, dumped the bag full of fish back into the sea, which created the only melt down of the weekend.  Larkin was crushed.  Why, on earth, did we have to throw them back!, he exclaimed.  Never mind the fact he didn’t/doesn’t/won’t eat fish..they were his and he was pissed.  It didn’t last long and before long, he and his dad were pulling them back out of the water for sport.  It was fun indeed!

The sail home was easy peasy and we did it under sails for most of the trck.  It was awesome in the sense that we were like a huge regatta, with boats of all shapes and sizes, traveling back to Los Angeles from the long weekend.  Cutters, schooners, sail boat, the Catalina Flyer (the municipal ferry), power boats, cigarette boats, and massive yachts all cruised back toward the shore.  Even from the sea, one was able to make out crowds of people that lined the shores on a beautiful weekend.  We were back in Marina Del Rey by 5 and had the boat washed and packed away by 7.  I would be asleep by 8:30, thoroughly exhausted and thankful.

I believe I have found a new passion..

 

Buenos Aires – An ‘It’s A Beautiful Life’ Guide

I visited Buenos Aires for the first time over December and January, 2010.  In a word – Amazing!

How I got there and how I made my moves:

I booked my trip with Azzurro Travel 800-835-8234.  My agent, who is also the owner of the agency, did me solid!  Great service and was able to answer all of my questions with a smile, even when I was being a “I’m about to get on a plane for 13 hours” pain in the ass.  Flight path – Raleigh, NC -(2hrs)-  Maimi, FL -(3hrs)-  Mexico City, MX -(13hrs)- Buenos Aires, AR  (Same path on the way home) $659.24 Tickets + $202.16 Tax/Fees = $861.40 Total

**As of January 1st, 2010 Argentina has installed a reciprocal entrance fee for US citizens – Cost $131 Click here for embassy information.

A weekend trip to Mar Del Plata was lovely and just the right distance.  Many reviews suggested that the train was subject to frequent theft, so I opted for the bus.  I bought tickets the day before at the Retiro Terminal during the peak of high beach season with no troubles.  The 5.5 hour ride took place in a great big EZ chair style seat that reclined to sleeping position (I could even stretch out and I’m tall) and they gave out snacks and water at the start.  Sweet! Cost – $46 round trip

Getting around was easy in taxi’s and the fare was almost never more than $5.  The only time I really got burned was on the ride from the airport, as it should have been about $30 and I paid closer to $70.  Read the guides here and here on how not to be Mr. Magoo.  The Subte (Subway) was good for the places I was visiting, but may have proved to be a bit inadequate had I been traveling to other parts of the city -$.80/ride.

I like to ride bikes, but it was like pulling teeth to find a decent used one for under $100.  I found ‘Blue Thunder’ for $60 on Craigslist, but it needed a couple wheels ($20) and the bike shops were a thorn.  I found it fun to ride the town, but a lot of the side streets are cobble stone and the drivers could care less that you exist.  All in all, pretty dangerous and exciting just the same.

Miscellaneous musings:

I brought cash (US Dollars), but also a few American Express Travelers Cheques.  They are good measure when traveling abroad, but ultimately unnecessary this go round.  The only place to cash them that I am aware of is the American Express office.  They close at 3pm and it was crowded.  Don’t forget your passport.  ATMs proved to be the best resource for getting money.  The bank charged me $1.50 and my bank (Bank of America) charged me $5.00 “International Fee”.

Couchsurfing.org was an incredible resource for finding other travelers to do things with.  The Buenos Aires ‘group’ within the site is the most active of all the city groups globally.  Free or $25 Donation to be verified..bonafied 😉

I bought a simple Nokia phone and went with a Personal pre-paid option to stay connected.  I found a local gal to record a voice mail message on my phone instructing callers to text instead of leave voice mail, as I had trouble understanding the dialect and texts were unlimited and free.  Phone – $40 Pre pay SIM Card – $5

**Note for future travels – It would make more sense to travel with a wifi equipped phone and use public wifi than to purchase and deal with a local cell phone.

I spent almost my entire trip in Palermo, Recoleta, and San Telmo.  It was safe, friendly, and easy to get around.

Where I hung my hat:

El Sol Hostel – Beautiful old building with dorm, shared, and private rooms in central Recoleta. $12/night

Rented a room with a local couple via Craigslist on the cusp of Palermo and Recoleta on Avenida Santa Fe for 3 weeks – This proved to be a wonderful choice over living alone, as they were connected to the city and wonderful company. $500

Urban Suites – New, modern boutique hotel beside Recoletta Cemetary. $120/night via priceline.com

Hotel Peninsular – Remodeled, chic, and family owned boutique hotel + restaurant about 4 blocks from the beach in Mar Del Plata. $50/night

Ostinatto Hostel – Redone, modern hostel with dorm, shared, and private suites. $21/night

Where my boots went a walking:

Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA) – Incredible modern art museum. $3 – 3 hours

El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (MNBA) – This place was great for a lazy day.  BIG open galleries for the permanent collections and a wonderful visiting exhibit. Free – 3 hours

Recoleta Cemetary – Unreal.  They say that is cheaper to live an extravagant life than be buried here. Free – 1.5 hours (could spend 3 hours)

Club Champagnat – A wonderful rugby club with beautiful grounds and club members that are superb.  Priceless – 1 full day

Parana & Tigre Delta – Sailing and relthing galore. Priceless – 1 full day

Reserva Ecológica – Huge, vast nature preserve on the edge of the city.  To big to walk, I put a tons of miles on my bicycle getting around this baby. Great for picnics and reading. Free – 1/2 day

Puerto Madero – A bit commercial for my tastes, but worth visiting..it’s right beside the Reserva Ecologica and a stroll on the water front is delightful. Free 1/2 day

Jardín Botánico – Public botanical gardens. Great for reading/writing and watching lovers of all ages convey their passion.  The PDA police would’ve had their shorts in a tight.  Free – 1/2 day

El Ateneo Grand Splendid – The book store to end all book stores.  What was an amazing theater in the 1920′s is now the most beautiful book store i’ve ever visited.  The old stage is now a cafe, with wifi 😉 Free to browse/Coffee – $2 – 6 hours

San Telmo Market – Every possible curiosity you can imagine is sold here.  From Spanish yoga books to brass boat lanterns to feather dusters.  Great street performers. Free – 6 hours

Sivananda Yoga – Spanish taught classes in a small, but comfortable studio. Free on Saturday’s @ 5pm – 90 minutes

El Fango Taller de Alfareria – Small, intimate clay sculpting studio.  Totally hands on.  $12 – 4 hours x 3 (to paint and kiln)

Additional Resources:

U.S. Department of State – Argentina Country Specific Information

Wikipedia – Buenos Aires, Argentina

WikiTravel – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Turisimo Buenos Aires – Official Tourism Site of the city of Buenos Aires

“…I enjoy BA not just because of its beauty, affordability, food, wine, carino, dancing, music, night life, intelligent conversation, ease of transportation, and the excellent relationship with family.  I very much also love the City because it’s like getting two days for the length of one.  It’s a lifetime-extender. …” – Bernie Dworski Alexandria, VA

Buenos Aires – The rest of the story

Months before my trip, my mother told me she thought we had family in Argentina, but that she would have to dig to find them.  No one had been in touch with them for as long as she could remember.  Phone calls, emails, and letters would follow..no response, until the night before my departure.  Through channels unbeknown to me, the phone rang from a cousin I had never met.  Bernie Dworski was in his 70′s, lived in Alexandria, Virginia, and visits Buenos Aires several times a year.  He was a treasure trove of ideas and suggestions and so very excited to tell me all he knew about the place.  Just a great man..super cool.  You know those older men that you talk to and you say to yourself, “I wanna have his energy and enthusiasm for life when I’m his age..”.  He also connected me with Valeria Dworski, a cousin my age, that lived there and whom he thought I would get along with well.  I thanked him and was also thankful to reconnect with family I didn’t know existed.  Kinda cool.  So I emailed Valeria, went to sleep and was off on my adventure the following morning..

No reply.

A couple weeks into my stay, Bernie wrote to see if I’d connected with Valeria and to see how my trip was going.

I told him “No”.  I also pointed him toward my blog as it contained what I thought was a good representation of my experience thus far.

His reply startled me.

“I started to read your blog, but, frankly, I did not get very far because I have no patience for diaries or blogs…

…My daughter is into Jewish genealogy and has bugged me to get as much family history as I can from BA cousins.  The cousins’ attitude has been one with which I agree. After we have been dead for 50 years, or less, no one will remember us or few will give a darn about what we did every day of our lives.  My cousins there believe you must live for today.

I enjoy BA not just because of its beauty, affordability, food, wine, carino, dancing, music, night life, intelligent conversation, ease of transportation, and the excellent relationship with family.  I very much also love the City because it’s like getting two days for the length of one.  It’s a lifetime-extender.

So, go enjoy yourself.  I am worried that you are missing so much by recording so much of your activities…”

What, you don’t want to know what I am doing every minute of every day?  What do you mean you aren’t interested?

At first I was put off.

But then I thought about it and I wrote him back.

“ha! thanks for the note..I disagree with you regarding what folks will/will not be interested in 50 years from now..and i journal for me much more so than any one else..I do appreciate your candor, though.  Ive caught a bit of a cold the last couple days so im stuck inside anyway..Hope you’re doing well and look forward to connecting with our cousins at some point.  Best, AD”

So, right then and there I told myself, “I am going to record what I do, but perhaps in a different way.  Maybe pictures and through short notes..bullet points.  After all, I could just as easily be sitting at a desk in Tulsa writing as I could be in Buenos Aires.”

Get busy living, or get busy dying – Andy Dufresne

It became the mantra and living I did, however the detailed reports will remain in photographs, with those I shared those good times with, and in my mind.  In short, this is the way things panned out:

December 24th: Christmas party at the flat for 30. Huuuge BBQ (as Nico likes to say :))  Reminded me of New Years with the fireworks across the city at midnight

December 25th: Christmas Orphan Party with 15 or so strangers that I met through couchsurfing.org, hosted by the wonderful Jenna.  Everyone was traveling from all over the world and we had a great time!

December 26th: Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA), saw a wonderful Andy Warhol exhibit, where all of the piece descriptions were written in Spanish, of course.  Kind of a nice twist to seeing an American painter.

December 27th: Dorrego Flea Market, San Telmo.  Unreal!  Curiousities of every imaginable kind, flavor, and price could be found!  I ran into two gals I’d met at the orphan party, Louise and Julia and we then went to the Recoleta Market and to the Recoleta Cemetary.  At the market, I bought a really nice leather shoulder bag (yes, a man bag): Cost – 130 pesos or $33 USD.  Stoked!

December 28th: On the way to purchasing a bike I found on Craigslist, I saw an elderly man fall in the street.   I was the first one there, assessed his need to get advanced life support, checked his vitals to make sure they were within normal bounds and made sure he didn’t want to go to the hospital.  I knew what I was doing!  I was an EMT and as my first encounter, I did pretty good.  I bought a bike from a fellow that was originally from Los Angeles and we shared a laugh.  The bike needed a tune up, so I found a small shop that had a nice old man running the show and dropped it off to be picked up the following day.  On my walk to a get some food I witnessed a man in his 50′s, who was walking, get hit by a car.  The car didn’t stop.  Two police officers and I ran to his aid, along with about a dozen or so bystanders.  I immediately asked if anyone could translate to begin assessment and was then stopped by the police.  They asked for my paperwork as a medic and of course I didn’t have any.  They then responded with much angst explaining that I’d not be able to touch him.  Fine with me.  I explained that I could direct them as to what to do, while watching as this man began going into shock.  Via translation from a bystander I was trying to tell them to secure c-spine, remove his shirt to inspect for trauma, ask if he had any alergies, etc. etc., but the police seemed to be more interested in telling me to get the fuck away than helping the poor guy.  I mean, they were really upset and finally I surrendered to saying that he needed to go to the hospital right away and began slowly walking away.  I back peddled down the street with the weirdest sensation.  One that I’d not ever experienced before.  The feeling was that of knowing I was able to help a person and not being able to help them, all at the same time.  For the first time, I realized what the my EMT trainers were talking about when they said, “You’ll not save everyone.” and I things went grey for a few hours..

December 29th: In picking up my bike, the guy had only done about half the work.  I asked to use the tools to do the rest myself and he said “No”.  A near melt down ensued.  I realized that he begin to curse me under his breath and I let him have one of the best red neck/LA street slang/straight up verbal onslaughts I’ve ever delivered.  I road, with no direction or care, the streets and came across a cool shop with funky shoes in the window.  Of course, none were my size, but the shop purveyor, Franco, was choice and we hung out for an hour.  I then met Marianna, the best childhood friend of my Argentine ex-girlfriend, for a coffee and a laugh and she helped me with my phone, as I couldn’t understand the on-demand direction in Spanish.  Such a cool woman!  I then returned to Franco’s  shop for dinner and few of his friend’s stopped by.  We drank beers, listened to Bob Marley, and it was all good.

December 30th: The front tire of my bike turned into a taco while traveling at about 15 mph over the cobble stone streets.  Its a miracle I didn’t face plant in the street.  I found another shop, which turned out to be great, and had lunch at a place that did not have one single thing they advertised on the menu.  I wondered how a place does business like that, but they seemed to have a relatively full house.  Pandora’s box.

December 31st: Road probably 30 miles on my refurbished bike, visiting Puerto Madero and the Reserva Ecológica and caused general mischief of all kinds in as much frequency as I could.  I went back to Jenna’s house for a party that lasted until at least 4 am, when the strong left in search for a bar.  An explanation of the party is only replete by describing my Mr. Magoo move, that changed everything.  In trying to be a good guest, I was ramdomly trying to clean up bits and pieces around the flat, dodging around 30 or so party goers and eyed the grill as my next task.  The grill, which is standard equipment in nearly every  flat I visited, had a drip pan for the grease hanging along the entire front of it.  So, there I was, 11:56pm on New Years eve trying to clean up when, oops, because of my fiddling, the fucking grease pan fell with about 2 quarts of warm sludge onto the terrace.  Idiot!!  While this nastiness did get tracked everywhere, despite our best efforts to clean it up, the terrace turned into Valdez, and ultimately provided for seemless slip and slide dancing the entire night.  I suppose there is a bright spot in every rain storm.  Jenna, being the incredible host that she was, did not even flinch and encouraged more smiles.  Bed and I did not meet until around 10 am. That was a fun night 😉

January 1st:  I woke in a bit of a stupor at around 1pm and biked to see the kick off of the Dakar Rally, an off-road endurance race that would ultimately circumvent Argentina and Chile.  I’d not seen my flat mates in a few days, which was cool, as I don’t think I could have been more of a zombie and wasn’t up for much conversating.  I retired back to my flat and proceeded to watch 3 or 4 movies, napping between.

January 2nd:  Slept in.  I looked at work, but my dendrites were still at war with each other, thus promptly shut my computer again.  Tatianna, the roommate of my ex-girlfriend when we dated years prior, was in Buenos Aires vising family and came to see me.  We shared a coffee at my flat, had lunch at a lovely outdoor cafe, and then went to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Art).  It was cool to hang out with a local, whom I’d met in Los Angeles.  I bid her farewell and biked across town to participate in a yoga class that was taught in Spanish (a first).  Of course I knew the positions, but was otherwise absent for the verbal instruction.  It was a bit like a “make-up-your-own-story” book, that had pictures but one was entitled to create their own captions.  Afterward, I found an organic deli and brought my awareness back to reality, which usually takes me an hour or so after a yoga class.  I reconnected with Louise, Naila, Carol, and Jenna, to plan what I thought was going to be a night of learning to Tango.  How lucky was I?  Me and 4 beautiful women, all learning to Tango, where two can learn more about each other, given the nature of the dance, in 3 minutes than one might in a 2 hour dinner.  I shaved, washed my booty, and donned my black suit.  Upon arrival at their flat though, I learned they had no plans what so ever to Tango and were instead going to a club, or discotheque as they say.  Who was I to argue?  I’d still be rolling with 4 stunners, to the monster club, the Museum.  Originally designed by G. Eiffel, of Eiffel Tower fame, this place was crazy and hot.  I’m talking like 100 degrees hot.  I felt a bit dapper in my suit but admittedly, was sweating like a whore in church.  I’ve had worse nights.

January 3rd: Met Jenna again to trek to the San Telmo market to try to find another handbag for my mom.  We hung out on that side of town and met Naila and Louise again to have dinner.  We feasted on about 50 oz of steak for around 80 pesos and I kissed them all goodbye.  Louise and Naila were on month 10 of a world circling adventure and were off to Brazil the next day, while Jenna had to get back to work and I wouldn’t see her again either.  They were all such wonderful people and I hope I’m able to share a laugh with them again soon.  I took my time heading home and was happily surprised to be met by Nico and half a dozen of his friend’s, including a couple rugby boys, upon my return.  Meat and more meat followed, of course.  Nico insisted they take me out and they did.  That night will have to stay in Argentina..

January 4th: Cup filled up from good food and great friends, I jammed hard with work all day.  At quiting time I excitedly went to a sculpting studio and spent 3 hours moulding clay under the tutelage of a most gracious and beautiful Carolina.  She spoke nearly no English and my Spanish was still about as useful as a toenail on my forehead, but we got on just fine, as she used her hands to show me how to form the clay.  I left her studio skipping like a school boy.  I could not have been prepared for the next stop.  The Konex is hosted every Monday night at the cultural center of Buenos Aires.   Sold out. Hot. Loud.  Ridiculous beats  and sounds filled the air with cigarette smoke and encouragement from the young exuberant crowd.  It was like a street party, a drum circle, and a revolt, all wrapped up together.  I’d never seen such a thing!  I accidentaly took the wrong train on my way home, but it turned out ok, as I met Mai Mai and we just sat on the street talking until around 4am.  I thought it would be a good idea to have her cut my hair, too.  She was happy to oblige and proceeded to craft a wonderful fro-hawk using my swiss army knife.  It has since gotten rave reviews 🙂

January 5th: Work all day.  Another BBQ with more new friend’s of Nico and Vicky.  Stay’d up late to pack up and get ready to roll.

January 6th: My dear friend and rugby partner in crime, Chris Kelley, arrived from Los Angeles and we stayed at the Urban Suites.  Solid! Over empanadas I introduced him to Nico and we did a bit a shopping.

January 7th:  Chris was a bit weary from the trip and we took it easy for most of the day.  We eventually ventured out to purchase bus tickets to Mal del Plata.  We enjoyed a great dinner and caught up on life.  I’d not realized how much I’d missed him until I got an opportunity to hang out again.  It was good to be back!  I also took him with me to meet my cousin, whom I did finally catch up with, and we shared drinks and  abbreviated stories of our lives.

January 8th:  Naila, my new friend, turned us on to a family friend of her’s that owned a hotel at the beach and it was great.  Hotel Peninsular and its owners took great care of us!  Went to Mr. Jones for drinks.

January 9th: Day at the beach – Caliente. Crowded. Crazy! Night in the club – Caliente. Crowded. Crazy!

January 10th: Back to Buenos Aires.  Rented a room at Hostel Ostinatto, visited the market again, and took it easy.

January 11th: Visited the Recoleta Cemetary again, as Chris hadn’t seen it yet, and then on to the Konex in the evening.

January 12th:  I was off!  On the ride to the airport, I recalled my previous month..I felt humbled and thankful and a bit delirious all at the same time.  I had the bug, the travel bug.  I had just been on the trip of a life time.  I had just met some of the most amazing people.  I had just seen some of the most amazing sights I ever had.  How could I insure that my obligations and debts and schedules be met and still be able to travel like this again??  The wheels were turning..I would not ever be the same………

January 13th:  36 hours later, I would arrive in Raleigh, NC…so many worlds away from where I had been, literally and figuratively.  I got my bags off the turnstile and went outside.  As I exitted, a tall fellow with a bright red hoodie on passed by.  It had “NC State” proudly written across it.  Our eyes met and he nodded and said “How ya doin’”.  I was home. I waited for my mom to round the bend to pick me up.  I was so excited to see her!  I love that woman.

Buenos Aires, Argentina – El día siete: Sailing

I could feel the years of forgone training as my consciousness left the haze of sleep.  My body was sore.  Much like it was every other Sunday after Saturday rugby.  It is a good hurt.

Proudly, I walked on the terrace with my engraved mug to display to Nico and Vicky.  Ha!

“What are you doing today, Aaron?”, asked Vicky.

“I think I’m going to do a Google certification course online.  Why, what are you guys doing?”, I replied.

“No, it’s Sunday.  Do you want to come sailing to the delta?”

Tough decision..

We picked up Loli, Vicky’s friend on the way.  She is an artist and clearly a free spirit.  Pretty and short and had spent quite a bit of time in the states.  We listened to reggaeton, loud and Nico sped through the traffic.  There was a marathon going on and the streets were cut off in many places.  The hints at the presence of Pandora’s Box were frequent, as he would throw his arms in the air, exclaim in spanish and speed off in another direction.

We arrived at the Buenos Aires Yacht Club, after stopping to buy meat pies and empanadas and juice and water.

The gate to one of the oldest and most exclusive Yacht Clubs in all of Argentina was small and non descript.  It was seemingly in the midst of a neighborhood..we passed between 2 homes were waved past by armed guards and into a sprawling maze of thin archipelagos granting access to beautiful boats of every shape and size and style.

Pache, Vicky’s sister would be waiting on the floating dock for us, as her power boat was being loaded into the water by one of the Club staff.  The 5 of us sped through the choppy water, passing many a craft, to reach her parent’s sail boat.

“La mama”, as I would call her, and George were great.  We ate.  We drank. We swam.  We ate some more.

He gave me a tour of his pride..56 feet.  2 masts. Polished brass all over the cabin.

Hours slipped away as Pache and I talked.  I liked her.  She was cool and soft spoken.  She had an easy way about her that was comforting.  It made it easy to talk with her.

To return to the club, we tied the power boat to the sail boat and motored back to port.  La mama and George left the five of us on the sail boat and we ate again.  We took some photos and off we went to the river side for a beer.

I road with Pache and the good conversation continued.  We were both a bit tired, but it didn’t matter.  I think we both were a pleasant change from what we had been accustomed to in recent months.  Those are my thoughts though..

I enjoyed a coffee and a smoke at the cafe.  It was cooling off and the wind was picking up.  The pauses between the group’s sentences grew longer, as they do, at that time of day…and it was all good.

3 blocks from the riverside, we parked again and entered a small club, that was built with music in mind.

3 or 4 more friends showed up and  music would start an hour later.

African drums and reggae and  jazz and collective horns and percussion filled the dark, red, open space.

It so carefree and normal.  Everyone was so warm and non-judgmental.  It was so wonderful!

When Vicky and Nico motioned that someone else might be able to take me home, I asked to ride along.  I was exhausted, pleasantly enough, and could use the sleep.

The ride home got my brain thinking about what I had..what I needed..

Buenos Aires – El día cinco

Nico was sipping mate when I woke.  He was watching the news and juggling his blackberry, home phone, computer, and tv remote.  I told him about the past couple of days and we shared laughs.  He then hinted that perhaps I would want to join his brother, Edu, for a bit of rugby on Saturday.  I was reluctant.  I didn’t have cleats, or shorts, or mouth piece…anything really, besides a hankering inside me that wanted to be with the boys for the day.  It was supposed to rain and it was hot as hell…it would’ve been fun.  In the morning I wrote and worked online and went out for a bit in the afternoon to pick up some vegetables from the market.  I put $5 on my phone and spoke with my mom on skype.  I was settleing in a bit and then I got an email from a guy that was renting bikes..

He had a bike that he’d rent me for 100 pesos or about $30 for the month..perfect!  I walked to his place the long way stopping into some very cool shops.  I found this one shoe store where I loved every pair they had..then I meakishly asked if they had my size, and you would’ve thought I asked to borrow this guy’s liver..he was beside himself that my feet were as long as they were.  He paced and snorted and huffed about the store and then became so fustrated that I believe he simply gave up.  He applied a bit of a plastic smile and then bid me farewell, before I ever began to leave.  I found all of this peacocking very funny, which made matters worse for him…i left skipping down the street.  I had an hour to burn in waiting to meet this fella for the bike so I sat a little store and bought a coke.  There were 2 plastic tables outside with plastic chairs on the sidewalk across the street from a relatively large church/school.  The old man who was running the store was warm and cordial to me and gave me a glass with 2 cubes of ice to sip on.  I read and wrote and enjoyed a smoke while watching the people walk and talk and live.

Javiar showed up around 7:30pm and invited me into his home to see the bike.  His mother, I believe, and younger brother were there and we worked together to go over a contract written in spanish to cover all parties involved.  I agreed and paid them their desired fee.  Then, in grabbing the bike, I notice its got a flat tire.  Hmmm.  ”Oh, don’t worry about it.  We will go to the gas station and get air now.”  ”Ok” I reply.  The station had no air.  10 more blocks would be another.  It had no air either.  The next one, 15 blocks aweay, would have air, but not for bikes.  Javiar was scared to ask anyone at a car repair shop so we continued to push.  2 hours had passed and the cordial nature of our friendship was wearing thin.  I explained that if the next station did not have air, I wanted my money back and we’d call it a day.  Of course the next station did not, and he said ok, and turned to walk back toward the direction in which we’d came.  Oh, hell no!  ”No, Javiar, I will not walk back 40 blocks with you.  You’ll go to the ATM and give me my money. Thank you.” He did and we shaked hands.  We were both frustrated in that neither of us got what we want, but what does one expect…to rent bikes with out a wrench or pump on hand.  Duhhh.

I trodded back to my flat without much dinner and went to my room.  I watched a movie and went to sleep.

Would I play rugby tomorrow?  If I did, would I still have it?

Buenos Aires – El dia dos

I woke to bright, hard light coming through metal shutters, separating me from a small circular balcony over looking the street.  The city was alive.  At 10am, almost everyone was up and moving around, except me.  I wasn’t bothered one bit.

I went to the kitchen of the hostel, passing a few people that I didn’t know, saying “un dia” (short for good day) along the way.  I grabbed a cup of coffee and filled my water bottle and returned to my room to sit on the balcony to have a smoke.  It was absolutely perfect.   The sun wasn’t soft like it is in NC, it was direct and glaring.  I almost had to keep moving to keep from letting it get me.  I sipped my coffee and watched the bodies from the 3rd floor move to and fro on the street.

I picked this hostel because of the name, El Sol.  Of course Buenos Aires has 14 million people and there are obviously more than one to choose from, so picking it in lieu of the name is about as good as any way, as long the location is right, which it was.  The El Sol Hostel – Recoleta is an old French styled building with skinny stair cases of marble and tall doors, breaking one partition from the next.  The bathroom, which was common for my my room and another was wet, meaning it contained a toilet, bidet, sink, and shower over head and drain in the floor, where every got wet when you turned the shower on.

After using the bathroom for the first time since I’d been at the hostel I became confused on how to flush it..No knob, pull string, not even a reservoir to hold the water.  How did this thing work??  I scanned the walls and decided to take a break long enough to use a bidet for the first time in my life….Ooohhhh…That’s kinda weird…and nice.  Ok, now that I had a clean ass, I set back to figuring out to make this thing flush.  Aha!  The reservoir is located almost at the ceiling and was clearly installed much later than the building was built.  A small silver chain hung from its right side and upon a slight tug, all was good in toilet time.  Quickly I showered and headed out.

I had received an email back from the couple whose apartment I visited the night prior saying they’d take me and I returned a few work emails to make sure things were headed in the right direction on that front.  I wanted to see one more flat before laying my cash down and I also wanted to find a gym.

Turned out the 2nd apartment was only 2 blocks from the first one I’d seen so I knew the hood, some what.  The older lady who owned it was sweet and we spoke of my travels and her business as a landlord.  God only knows how many apartments that lady owned.  She was probably in her 70′s, pretty, tan, and petite.  Her hands rivaled Mr. T’s chest, given the mounds of gold and jewels that she crammed upon them.  I thanked her and explained that I’d be touch, grabbed some lunch consisting of rolls, salad, steak, pumpkin & mashed potatoes (which is quite common), agua con gas (sparkling water), and a diet Coke – 29 pesos or $7.62USD.  Across the street, I saw a pilates studio and figured that’d be as good as a place as any to start in my hunt for a gym..I was right, but the recommendation was for that of a bit richer blood than I.  They wanted 480 pesos for the month…whatever?!? I wanted some steel weights and maybe an old pool to do some laps in…I didn’t need or want a trainer and I didn’t care about how the place looked or smelled.

Continuing on, I went to the park to read.

The past months had been challenging for me.  I have been on a constant watch to insure my mind stays true to positivity and even if not with, at least in the direction of enlightenment.  I understand that no matter where I go and what I do, I take one thing with me…Me.  So, I understand that unless I am able to endure peace within my own mind, it really doesn’t make a hill of beans what I surround myself with.  I was nudged toward the work of Seneca, greek philospher, and his “Letters from a Stoic”.  This book would be one of 4 that I’d bring along for this journey.

On my way to the park I bought a 1.5 liter bottle of water, a couple bananas, and some sweet crackers.  Walking into the park was calming and easy.  The small roads that entertwined through the grass and flowers and trees were dirt but maintained well, better I would say, than the airport I had visited yesterday.  There were cats.  Cats were everywhere.  In the trees and on the ground and in the bushes.  Sleeping, playing, hunting, flirting..so very cool. They would see me and dash away and then creep back in my direction, as if to tease.  I like cats.

I found a bench in the shade and began to browse the new text.  It was easy to read.  His words were profound and surprising applicable to my life some 2000 years after his.  I highlighted the important notes and I made an index of the lessons I took away from it in the inside jacket or the paperback.  I took breaks often to drink water and to nibble on crackers.  Not far, maybe 20 meters, was a young girl drawing on a sketch pad in the grass and 20 meters in the other direction was an older man, with a thin face and big curly hair writing words and singing to himself.  Everywhere, round every bend it seemed, were couples embraced in each others arms, not saying a lot, but feeling each other.  Not in a perverted way, but in a nice way.  They held hands and played with each others hair and kissed and hugged.  It made me think of the lovers I’ve had in my life.  It made me think of how the way of life, the things in which these people held dear, seemed very different than that which I have grown accustomed to.  This land was romantic, not in a plastic sickening Venice, Italy kinda way, but in a real “one can actually have a life here and be romantic” kinda way.  Opera is piped into the subways, old men sit at sidewalk cafes and drink coffee at 9pm laughing and sharing and gawking (with endearment, of course), together, at pretty girls as they walk by, and to sit for 3-4 hours over a meal is just…well…normal. Amazing!

I read for another hour and began home trying to decide between the two flats and decided it would be better to be with a couple locals, even if I didn’t know them, than to be alone.  I’ve preferred to live alone for a number of years at this point, mainly because I work from home and use the spare bedroom at my Los Angeles apartment as my office, but being here would be better if I had some folks to chat with.  I’m slowly learning, that despite my desire to remain alone a lot, its not to good for me.  I am a social person and need interaction with people in order to remain happy.

I ate some good food and chatted up a couple from Sweden from the hostel and then ventured out to get a drink.  It was 11pm.  The bar, Milion, was only 2 blocks from my pad and provided to be a good idea.  There, I met John, from Norway and we shared our brief life synopsis.  He worked for Adecco and was in BsAs for 6 weeks studying spanish.  Nice guy, about my same age.  On his way to the bar, he ran into 2 Columbian girls that had been smiling at us and they invited us back to their seat upon his return.  Who were we to argue 😉  They were here for a week and would then continue on to Punta Del Este, Uruguay for new years.  The gal I connecting with apologized for her english and I explained it was so much better than my spanish.  We smoked a couple cigs and had another round of drinks and made plans to meet up the next night for dinner, as I had to take my apartment at 8:30am and it was now 2am.

I strolled back to the hostel in the middle of the street, repeating new Spanish words through my head.  The air was hot and while the city was asleep, it was only barely..

Buenos Aires – Day 1

It was 5am December 13th, 2009 in Raleigh, NC.

I could see my breath in the crisp air as my mom kissed me and dropped me off, saying “Be sure to call or write as soon as you arrive..”  (I love that woman!)  I puffed a Marlboro Light and smiled at another fellow that was standing in the smoking section and asked if he was coming or going..I don’t remember the reply.  I didn’t care.  I was trying to be cordial and could not sit still.  I couldn’t stop smiling and I could stop pacing.

The last few days had been hell!  I had my finals to become an EMT, tried to sleep a bit, prepared my home on the river for my absence and saw a few friends before my departure.  Talk about a rat race..

I’d been dreaming about this trip for over almost 5 years..and now I was 2 hours from departure.    I smoked another ciggy and dashed inside.

I got to Miami and as soon as the doors opened…whoosh! The hot (85ish) humid Miami air swept inside the Boeing. Now we’re talking 🙂  I now had to find the concourse for international departures.  Between hubs I would check my Blackberry one more time, for the next month.  I wanted to see if perhaps any of the owners of apartments in Buenos Aires I had solicited had replied and if the gal I had contacted through couchsurfing.org had unvaporized..nothing..”Who cares”, I said.  I’ll figure it out..

The flight from Miami to Mexico City was uneventful, but the Mexico City airport was a gong show.  I think I went up and down 4 levels and walked at least 2 miles to navigate customs, borders patrol, and imigration.  Nothing was in english but folks were quite nice to help me along..Did I forget to mention?  I paid attention in Spanish class during high school and college just long enough to squeak by..I wish things had been different..no point in crying over spilled milk now..I was going to have to wing it..

So they asked me “Mr. Davis, what is you business is Mexico?”  My reply “I am just here for a layover.  I will be continuing on to Buenos Aires at 11pm tonight.”  You see, I was trying to say it the way it should be said..Buenos Aires is phonetically said like Bwaynose Ardayse..So they heard buenos tardes..and I got that “stupid american” look from the mustache donning cap-i-tan.  After volleying this dialog a few times I finally would toss in the “Argentina” and they would reply in relief that this stupid american would soon be leaving their country.  ”Thank you Mr. Davis.  Take Care.”  I was bashful that they wouldn’t even give me a break for trying.  The Portenos (Argentine locals) would be much different..

I found a cool restaurant, actually it found me in the way of a cute mexican girl in a santa outfit hawking travelers into the establishment (i’m such a sucker for a hottie in a santa hat). It had wifi and I had a late lunch, of course it was only 3pm and my flight out of the circus was at 11pm.  I checked my email again, not caring to much about the apartment, but where I was going to go when my plane landed in the southern hemisphere.  I had spent the last month online conversing with a girl that said she would host me for a couple days while I found a flat to rent and 2 days before i was set to leave she vanished.  I was to busy dealing with everything to really find some other people so I held on to hope..riiiight.  I finally surrendered to renting a couple nights at a hostel in Recoleta for $12 per night.  Not bad, all things considered, but I knew I’d basically be running solo, which would be tough, especially given the language.  I would need to buy a phone, a bike, and negotiate an apartment..in spanish.

A couple hours before my flight I made my way to the gate and shortly there after a cute argentine girl sat beside me.  She was a pilates instructor that had been working in Cancun, I believe, for the past 9 months and was good conversation.  I told her about my most recent exploits in school, et al, and we shared a laugh.  A couple on their honey moon came over, as she was their instructor back in BsAs and they shared some laughs as well.  Time was moving rapidly and I was fading fast.

The flight was called and folks started to get up to board through the gate.  This wasn’t the boarding I was used to. No order or lines.  No calling groups based upon position in the plane.  No, this was more like trying to get into a club in Los Angeles at 12:30am on a saturday night.  No rhyme or reason at all.  People pushing and shoving, edging their way in front of the next person to get a better chance at creeping toward the gate that was blocked by only one person, a rather heavy set woman with an expression on her face that said “I mean business. Don’t fuck with me or my ‘line.’”  Didn’t these people realize that we all had assigned seats and that the plane wouldn’t leave until at least the posted time of departure.  I was bewildered but laughed it off and joked about it with my new friend, Denise.  Turned out we wouldn’t sit near each other but we did exchange emails to possibly meet up once in Argentina.

I reached my seat and introduced myself to Eduardo, my neighbor, and to Sara, a gal across the aisle.  Edu, as he preferred to be called worked for HP Latin America and headed to BsAs for a conference and Sara was from Uruguay, even though she lived in Vancouver, and was visiting her mom.

I ate an ambien, downed 2 vodka tonics and enjoyed the soft little socks that Mexicana Airlines gave me when I boarded.  I made small talk with Edu and Sara and fell into to some of the happiest sleep I’ve had in recent memory.

I woke to perhaps Bolivia or Paraguay or Uruguay or Brazil rushing underneath me.  Vast spans of land reached out to the horizon.  We were 2 hours from Buenos Aires.  Breakfast was served, I read a bit, and exchanged contact info with both my new friends.  Lovely, they both were.

We landed. I smiled.

Customs was easy and friendly.  The walk past immigration was a breeze.  The airport showed signs of many years use and thoughtful, yet depleted maintenance.  I walked through the doors of arrivals to a sea of taxi drivers, passengers, and people that just seemed to be hanging out.  I was thrilled and got in the first taxi that I saw.  Mistake number 1.

I had been traveling for close to 30 hours at that point and that was on about 3 hours sleep after my finals.  To say I wasn’t thinking as clearly as I could’ve been is an understatement.  The trip from the airport to my hostel took approxiamtely 50 minutes and he charged me 180 peso’s for my ride, whereas it should’ve been closer to 100.  Then the fucker asked if he could keep the change as a tip.  I knew I was being overcharged and said no. Firmly.  It wasn’t until about an hour later that I realized that he had done the cool hand luke with the first 100 peso note I handed him.  All told, he got me for 280 peso or about $75USD.  In LA a 1 hour cab ride might be that much but I was in South America.  I asured myself that he need the extra 50 bucks more than me and made the commitment to myself to keep my head on a smoother swivel.

I stuck out like a unicorn here and would need to make sure I didn’t present like such a retard. Lesson learned and a cheap one, all things considered.

I arrived at my hostel, bought a cell phone for $40, and visited a flat that I would later take.  I ate a grilled chicken sandwich at the cafe underneath my hostel and drank a Qulimes Beer.  I wrote my mom and dozed to sleep.

I was thoroughly exhausted and I was alone…but I had made it and I had a plan.