I couldn’t sleep in that hostel bed bunk. I read this was supposed to be one of the wildest hostels in Buenos Aires, but there were three empty beds in my room. Not that that was preventing me from sleeping. It was more the high hundred plus ceiling that was reminding me of the history and things to see outside. Then, a blond haired man opened the door to step in to the room.
“How are you mate?” I greeted.
“I forgot my map,” he replied, walking to his bag frantically.
“Where is everybody?”
“What do you mean?” He paused from his search.
“There’s nobody in here.”
“There are two hostels going by the same name,” he replied.
“But, this is the Millhouse?”
“It’s one of them,” he said.
“Is the other one as shitty as this place?”
“It could be a bit better,” he said, recommencing his bag search.
“I’ve been given a bum steer, have I?”
“Welcome to Argentina,” he laughed. “I’m John by the way.”
I told him my name then broke a little more water, “You been travelling for long?”
“About five years,” he replied.
“Is that still considered travel? You must know a few tricks about this place?”
“There’s not a great deal in El Centro.” He retrieved a map from his bag.
“There must be something, the traffic’s raging out there.”
“It’s for business stuff. You’re a tourist,” he replied, “So be in Palermo.”
“Cafes, restaurants, shops, modern apartments. First World things. It’s about seven kilometres away. My visa time’s up, so I needed to get to Uruguay and back,” he said.
“What’s it like there?”
“It’s a smaller, duller version of Buenos Aires. Once you reach your visa’s limit, you can cross the border then get a stamped passport and come back.”
“What passport have you got?”
“I’m from England,” John replied. “You can get a ten-minute taxi ride to the boat ramp, there you’ve got a boat ride for three hours a forty-five minutes to Montevideo. Forget about the plane, it’ll run you a penny.”
John put his map in his pocket then walked out the door, leaving me to lay in that decrepit bunk. The footpaths of the city called me as it was too quiet to sit in that room alone so was listening to car horns blaring on Avenida 9 de Julio within no time. Cars rubbed bumpers, European buildings loomed above footpaths, one of them catching my eye, an Argentinean café lodged below with an Italian family run feel. A browned haired waiter took me to a table where I sat. As I settled he said, “Algo para comer?”
I looked confused then a patron yelled from a nearby table, “He asked if you would like something to eat?”
Turning to the call, “Do you speak English? I said.
“A little,” replied the man.
“Could you tell him I’d like bacon and eggs and a coffee?” I said, observing his smart pants and button up shirt.
“Are you American?”
“Ahhh, Kang-a-roo?” he laughed, hands limp at the wrists imitating a wallaby.
“Yeh mate, they’ve got those there.”
“Breakfast in Argentina is generally a coffee and biscuit,” he refined.
“There’s nothing with eggs?”
“Then just a coffee.”
“Un café con leche,” he said as he looked at the waiter. The waiter walked away. “I’m Ramiro,” said the man.
“How long have you been in my city?”
“I couple of hours.”
“You’re fresh!” He sat higher in his chair.
“You could say that. Have you got any local secrets?”
“We could go on all day.”
“Give me something. If I get something from a local every day for the period of my trip, I’ll have a bit of info to spread around world.”
“This street outside here is Avenida del Libertador.” He sipped his coffee then went on, “It honours Argentina’s independence that took place in 1816,” he commenced. “Many streets in Argentina honour events, notable people and places.”
“What was the independence from?”
“Jose de San Martin was an Argentinean general, a key leader fighting for many South American countries, and their struggle for independence from Spain. There’s an Avenida del libertador in most of the countries he helped. Not far from this block there’s a street called Paraguay, one called Uruguay and another called Bolivia and plenty of other significant names including Avenida 25 de Mayo about a kilometre from here.”
“What happened on that day?”
“There was a revolution that happened in 1810. It was in response to the Spanish war, known as La Guerra de la Independencia Española, or the Peninsula War to the English. It started May 18th and finished 25th,” he replied.
The waiter walked out of the kitchen with my flat white coffee. I knocked a sip of it back then stared out the window to a mixture of Latin faces that reminded me Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil were nearby countries.
Ramiro changed train of thought, “Be careful in this city. When things go bad, they go really bad. It’s not as bad as Brazil, but I’ve heard Brazilians say Brazil’s not as bad as Argentina, too.”
“Are you trying to send me back home?”
“I’m not saying to not enjoy your time here, just get to a barrio outside of central. Centro’s a place you visit for business. I’d say you’ll be back in here when you’re looking to get yourself up to Brazil.”
“What makes you say that?”
“A few blocks down this street you’ll find the green and yellow flag of Brazil to get you ready for when you’re there.”
“How did you know I was heading there?” I followed his eyes outside the window to the pedestrian’s footpath.
“Most gringos do.” He grinned, then focused his retinas like he was kicking a penalty goal for Argentina in the Soccer World Cup. “The women there … wow … they will make your heart jump out of your pants.”
I looked down at my coffee.
“You’ll need your Brazilian visa organized from down the road at the Brazilian Consulate.” Ramiro stood up from his table. “Enough about my fantasies. I’m late for work.” To Be continued.
Gaston Cavalleri is an Australian travel writer, screenwriter and author.