November 7th, I set out for Buenos Aires, Argentina for 10 days. I had planned this trip a week in advance, probably spent more money on flights than I had too and ended up going alone because nobody had enough notice. Regardless, hands down the best 10 days of my time in South America.
The original idea was to go and meet my family living there. My mom has a hobby of tracing our ancestry as far back as it will go and reaching out to distant relatives. It has always been a great addition to our lives connecting with new family. My grandfather was raised in Canada by expatriated Slovaks. He lived most of his life disconnected from his family back in Europe until one day he decided to travel off on his own in search of them. He arrived in a small town in Slovakia, Dolny Kubin, sometime in the 60’s with only a last name to search for. He knocked on a door downtown asking around if anyone knew where the Shuster’s lived. One woman opened up the door confused, questioning the strange man until she told him plainly, “We’re the Shusters!”. Ever since then our families ties with our Slovak family has grown, much in thanks to my mom. When I was 16 I went to live in Slovakia for 6 weeks with my cousin, Kubok, and his family and in turn he would visit us on multiple occasions in the U.S. and Canada.
Canada wasn’t the only place Shusters emigrated to however, they can also be found in Florida, Argentina, and Australia. Never quite reaching out to family elsewhere, my being in South America prompted my mom to label me ambassador of the family and she sent me off to Buenos Aires in search of them. After talking back and forth with my cousin, Florencia, who is really cool and right around my age, we arranged to meet up at the airport and chat for a bit while she took me to my hostel. While we had originally hoped to meet up again, work and travel got the best of us and we were only able to talk over Facebook unfortunately. So this is where my family excursion turned into 10 days of eating lavish meals, meeting dozens of friends from around the world, and exploring the city as well as the largest falls in the world.
Within minutes of arriving at my hostel, around 11pm, I was dragged off by two girls to a party down the street. Having traveled all day and having no cash at a cash only bar, I wasn’t there long yet I had a very good first impression of what my time there was going to be like. I ended up back at the hostel before 1am and chatted up the guy working the front desk, Raul. We talked for a couple hours about politics, the history and condition of Argentina, and of course American foreign policy. I learned a good deal about the country I would be staying in, everything from Eva Perón to the former wealth of the country in the early 20th century.
Obviously I didn’t last long that night and passed out in my upstairs. It was big enough for 8 people but I was the only one in there, not bad for $15 a night. I woke up just in time for breakfast and ate with the girls from the night before. I had been a little worried about travelling alone but everyone in the hostel was so friendly that within a couple days I new just about everyone by name. I ended up spending most of my time with a few Aussies, and a Dutch girl. All of them were at least 5 years older than me, but my beard did the trick and I fit right in. I was convinced on a whim to book tickets to the nights big futbol match, Argentina vs Ecuador, a world cup qualifier. Way past my budget, I went for it figuring “when in Rome” applied to Buenos Aires as well. Besides, it was my first game and one of the best teams in the world was playing, hard to say no. Unfortunately, Messi didn’t get to play and Ecuador ended up winning 2-0, but the atmosphere and experience overall was amazing. It’s different than american football games, there was no commentator, no frequent intermissions. Everyone was focused on the game like nothing else mattered. The Ecuadorian section was going crazy the entire time, dressed in war paint, yelling screaming and blowing horns. I had even bought an Argentinian flag-cape to help me blend into the masses. This Friday I’m thinking about going to a U17 game, USA vs Chile, right here in Vina del Mar. Maybe not the exact same but at least I get to cheer for the U.S. 😛
Friday I hoped on a last minute walking tour of La Boca and learned about one of the richest cultural centers of the town. It’s a beautiful place if not a little touristic today. At night the hostel hosted a party and I stayed there and got second place in a beer pong tournament, in bed shortly after 4am. Saturday I explored Florida street, had an amazing steak at a small local restaurant (one among many) and really just chatted with friends. That night we all partied at another hostel down the road and went out to a club in Palermo, the “rich” district. It was fun and we stayed till sunrise, but it was a small space pretty much stuffed with rich old man and young girls. I managed to get into one woman’s bachelorette VIP section and was fed champagne by her friends, so I couldn’t complain 😛
Sunday night, I had my very first official dance lessons, Tango at that. The whole event included an hour of tango lessons, a 3 course meal with an open bar, and then a tango show right after. There was a shortage of males during the lessons so I definitely got my moneys worth of practice and was so good by the end of it, they gave me a diploma, nbd. The food was fantastic and I actually ended up dancing on stage during the show, showing off my skills to the crowd. Leaving rather tipsy, the night ended as all others had with a party at some hostel and going out afterwards. I probably averaged 4 hours of sleep a night, but being 19 it’s something I adjusted to rather quickly.
Monday I found a group of dutch girls and a couple Aussies who were heading to the cemetery downtown. Not exactly my cup of tea, roaming through the graves of the dead, but I’m glad I went. Expecting a grassy field of neatly organized gravestones, I was surprised to walk into a gated cemetery composed of large family tombs, almost like temples or small houses, organized in blocks. Some were matriculate rising almost 3 stories high with elegant pillars and epitaphs carved in marble. Others were derelict, windows broken, covered in dirt and leaves. In one the top half of a casket was visibly opened, perhaps by grave robbers. After peering into (and admittedly climbing in) one abandoned site and being hit by the foul smell of rotting flesh, we had enough of our time there and worked our way to the nearby McDonald were we found sanctuary in discount Big Macs.
We headed back to the hostel and rested up, played some pool and once more, partied the night away. Tuesday came and I was tired and sick from the combination of drinking and lack of sleep from the days prior so I stayed in and counted the money spent. The next day I had booked a ticket to fly to Iguazu Falls so I worked at convincing people to join me. I got one guy I had been hanging out with, Alex, to tag along after some minor convincing so we stayed in for the night and left the following morning. His flight was a couple hours before mine but we took a cab together to save $ in an attempt to be thrifty. Well, after getting in a cab we hailed off the street, pointing to our tickets which had the airport labeled on them, and getting an affirmative response from our taxi driver, we were off. Maybe my Spanish should have been better, but I failed to recognize the difference between aeropuerto and aeroparque. After all, their is only one word for airport in English, no? Well after spending 20 minutes in the cab, I notice we are leaving the city center. Confused, as our airport was right downtown, I had the cab driver pull over and asked him where he was going. El Aeropuerto, he responded. I whipped out my phone and showed him we were headed in the wrong direction, and that’s when I realized that the domestic airport was called aeroparqu. So. We spent another $20 to drive all the way back across town to get to the right airport, Alex missed his flight, and the cab driver would not accept a cent less than the meter even though I HAD shown him the name of the airport I wanted to go. Frustrated and rushed, I paid and we went to see what Alex could do about his flight. Luckily, the airlines here are much more relaxed than back in the states and Alex was switched onto my flight free of charge.
The flight to Iguazu after that was painless enough, we got a meal and both fell asleep for the duration of the flight. When we got off and onto the shuttle that would take us to our hostel, however, my $400 GoPro was snatched out of my back pack with all the footage of my trip. Definitely a bummer, especially since Iguazu was were I wanted to use it most. I didn’t actually notice until the next day, but after retracing my steps it wasn’t hard to find out what happened to it. I contacted the shuttle service and of course they claimed to know nothing about what had happened. I refused to let that get to me and still had a great time at the falls though. My first night I went out for dinner with a group from my hostel and had my first Asian cuisine in the country, came back and chatted with some people from Whales and Ireland and got my ass kicked in Ping Pong (we couldn’t find any solo cups, we tried). I was in bed early that night, Alex and I had a trip planned in the morning that would take us on a Jeep ride through the jungle to the river to a dock where we would hop on a boat and head upstream through the choppy water towards the falls.
It’s hard to put into words how remarkable the falls are, and that’s coming from someone who’s been to Niagra Falls at least a dozen times. They’re deep in a national park kept safe from tacky touristic themes that Niagra boasts. Further, there are hundreds of individual falls arched in a horseshoe which give it a much more immense feel. Some areas, water falls into mist before hitting the river below, others it collects into gigantic raging rapids, with so much water flowing at once it seems impossible. Definitely something I can cross off my bucket list and, though I struggle to say it, worth the missing GoPro. After hiking the falls we settled along a view point to make some sandwiches on a bench. We had been warned about Coati’s, Iguazu’s raccoons, but hadn’t had any trouble yet and paid no mind. Within seconds of setting down, I felt a claw grabbing at me through the cracks of the bench and I shot up. The scheming coati lurched at my bag and dug its claws in while I swung it around trying to shake it loose. The damn things have no fear of humans and pretty much kamikaze peoples picnics on the regular I later found out, leading us to eat our meals on the floor of a convenience store, the idea prompting many other tourists to follow suite.
Anyways, we wrapped up our lunch and went on to the Devils Throat, what is commonly viewed as the pinnacle of the falls. While it was breath taking to see the massive amounts of water flow over the edge at incredible heights, it was more like Niagra Falls in that regard and I wasn’t quite as impressed as most. I completely attribute this opinion to my many visits in the past however, as it was certainly a spectacle.
We made our way back to the hostel during the late afternoon and met up with some friends at the hostel who had visited the Brazilian side themselves. We made it just in time to walk towards to river and watch the sun set over the border of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. We spent the night back at the hostel and talked, but it was another early night. The following morning I ran into a guy named Hugo who had just arrived to the hostel by motorcycle. We walked downtown so he could buy some insurance for him and his travel partner and we discussed what it’s like to live on the road. He is an expat from Australia and has been riding motorcycles across the world for what seemed like closed to a decade. He’s been in South America for the last 3 years, always on the move. I got lots of advice from the guy on how to stay safe on the road and added him on FB in case I ever had any questions, it was really nice to meet someone else face to face doing what I am about to set out on.
I got back to the hostel just as the taxi pulled up and I left for the airport, back to Buenos Aires for the night and then home the following morning. Not much of note happened in the next 24 hours, but I’d like to thank everyone I met for being such sincere people and showing me a good time. The backpacker community is an amazing one and really restores my faith in the good of people. I have exactly one month left before I leave on my own motorcycle trip and I couldn’t be more excited!
Will update with photos soon,