"Sailed not as a seaman, but as a traveler..."

"Sailed not as a seaman, but as a traveler..."- Sir Thomas More's Utopia

Monday, April 29, 2013

Bahía Blanca


Enjoying the sun in Plaza Rivadavia, Bahía Blanca, Argentina


We got off the train and stepped onto Bahía Blanca soil, dazed, confused, and with back pain. We had no idea where we were. There was an incredible lack of signage to orient oneself. We weren't even sure we were in Bahía Blanca, we just knew that it was the last station and everyone seemed to be getting off the train so we did as well. We stood there, suspended, squinted into the overcast sky and wondered in which direction to wander. I think it was around 9AM.

"We should probably go to a café or something for wi-fi," Lyndon said, directing words in my direction without turning.

"Probably," I replied without looking at him. I understood his concern was to somehow get a hold of the couchsurfer we had contacted while still in Buenos Aires to inform her that we'd arrived. But how do you say that without so many words? I tried to come up with an answer and ended up lost in my thoughts.

"So, in which direction do we go?"

I shrugged my shoulders, not looking to see if he saw the gesture, thus rendering it meaningless. After a bit of a pause, he crossed the street and veered toward the left, and so we started walking. I felt like I'd slept, but hadn't rested, if that makes any sense. Lyndon said a few things but they reached my ear in nothing more than the form of garbled sounds. Completely meaningless. I didn't feel like deciphering his Aussie accent so early in the morning. I felt like a zombie.

So, we walked. Aimlessly it seemed, and I was completely fine with it. Still trying to fully awaken myself while still trying to acclimate to the borrowed backpacker knapsack, my biggest concern was how to not topple over. I was used to traveling with a messenger bag. These past few years, I'd been running around South East Asia and you don't need much for jungle weather. But we were heading towards Antarctica. You need a lot more for colder climates, apparently. Like, you know, sweaters and socks and stuff.

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, this girl leapt between Lyndon and I, and I nearly fell over. Never creep up behind a backpacker, balance is tricky with so much mass on your back. It was Ayelen, the couchsurfer we had contacted before arriving to Bahía Blanca. Apparently, she was on a bus heading for the train station to meet us when she saw us hobbling down the street. Recognizing us from our profile photos, she quicky got off the bus and ran over to us, in true couchsurfer spirit, panting but smiling.

Couchsurfing is fun because you never know what to expect. You sort of arrive and play by ear. This particular time, Ayelen, lived with her family. So we were pretty much adopted into her cozy home in Bahía Blanca. She had two sisters who were both lovely and emitted such infectious laughter. Her parents were also a lot of fun, the mother always worried we weren't eating enough and the father always cracking jokes with a straight face.

Our first night at the Estanga household, we made dinner. I made some chicken adobo and rice, of course. They all loved it. Of course. It was their first taste of Filipino food and I was glad to be a fat kid from Pampanga who grew up in the kitchen so I could proudly represent my country in food. After dinner we went to a bar across from the Universidad Nacional del Sur with one of Ayelen's sisters, Aymara. We drank a lot of beer, talked about traveling, some stuff about Brazil (Aymara had recently returned from a trip to Brazil), and some local dog breeder started talking to us. Every so often he would disappear to the restroom and reappear with pupils even more dilated. Yeah. Do with that piece of information as you will. On our way back to the house, Lyndon fell in love with a black cat with orange eyes. I wanted to play with it too so I picked it up but ended up scaring it and it ran away. Lyndon was very sad.

Our second night, Lyndon made some goulash, standard Hungarian fare. He also made some ANZAC biscuits, some sort of Aussie cookie with some interesting back-history as told by Lyndon, later corroborated by Wikipedia. They loved it all as well, and it was fun watching Lyndon try to explain himself in his limited Spanish. A lot of pantomiming.

Hitch-hiking is difficult when inside a big city. So the plan was to get as far south on a train as possible and to start hitching from wherever the train tracks ended. That was Bahía Blanca. We were planning to stay for a night or two, take a hot shower, then hit the road, thumbs pointing south. But on our second night, the Estanga family invited us to an asado, a typical argentine grill with delicious Argentine meats. And Norberto, the patriarch of the family offered to be the asador (griller and master of ceremonies), so who could say no? We sure as hell couldn't.

The asado was delicious. I had always seen matambre, a typical cut of meat, but I had never tried it. Holy baby Jesus in the manger surrounded by the twelve apostles or whatever it was, I fucking love matambre! Imagine a thin layer of meat topped by an equally thin layer of fat. Grilled. Crispy. Fat. Yes. Yes. Yes.

I asked why the funny name for such a delicious creation. Matambre sounds like a portmanteau of matar and hambre, Spanish words meaning "to kill" and "hunger," respectively. Norberto explained that due to it being so thin, it's usually the first cut of meat to be ready to eat. Thus, matambre kills your hunger while you're standing in front of a grill listening to the sweet symphony of sizzling meats and inhaling all that delicious goodness, patiently waiting for the meat-gasms to begin. Thank you University of Life for that lovely little lesson. Again, I love matambre.

Then there was the night we went to the university party. First we went to a previa, AKA a pre-game. We went to one of Aymará's friend's apartment on the other side of town. We played some sort of drinking game. I don't remember the name, but it gets you drunk very fast. My favorite rule was before drawing a card, you have to say, "Tomá por ser puta!" Which translates to, "Drink for being a whore!" Whores are designated by drawing a certain card. Fun, no?? Needless to say, by the time we got to the actual party in one of the local clubs, we were fairly inebriated. Long story short, Lyndon got lost and ended up sleeping on the front door step of the Estanga house, cuddling their dog for warmth.

Believe it or not, we did end up finally getting our act together and were able to continue on our journey.