Or, How I Got My Best Argentinean Meal on a Bus
Today, I believe I reach a new achievement in my travels by taking three buses in one day. I start the morning running around the Tres Cruces bus terminal in Montevideo. I arrive at the terminal at 6:20 to catch a 6:30 bus which, admittedly, is much too close for even me. During the six-hour trip, I practically have the last four rows to myself, and take the opportunity to rearrange my now-pungent backpack, as well as take in the pastoral Uruguayan countryside. I arrive in Salto, Uruguay at 1 pm, and discover that there is a 2 pm bus that goes from there to Concordia, Salto’s Argentine sister city across the Uruguay River. I buy a ticket for that bus, then stroll through the attached supermarket to try to find some lunch and, hopefully, use the last of my Uruguayan pesos. With the money I have left, I am able to buy a bag of cheap Polish cheese chips and an alfajor, a local multilayered cookie typically dipped in chocolate.
The border crossing from Salto to Concordia is smooth, and it is clear it is a rather routine procedure. The bus leaves precisely one minute after the scheduled departure time, like the trains at Grand Central, in order to accommodate those who wait until the last minute to buy a ticket and board without inconveniencing those who showed up on time. The attitude on the bus is rather playful, and friends are calling to each other from the front to the back like excited schoolchildren en route to a promising field trip.
The border crossing is simple, and our bags aren’t even checked. In these sister cities, it becomes clear that everyone knows everyone, as we take a couple of nice border patrol officers into town at the end of their shifts. As we drive from the border into Concordia, the bus driver waves and honks to a couple other border patrol agents walking in the opposite direction to begin their shifts, and the agents wave back with a warm smile. The trip to Concordia takes just over an hour, and when the locals disembark almost all rush to the ticket counters to purchase tickets for the next leg of the journey. I do the same, but am unable to find a bus company offering service to Puerto Iguazu that night who isn’t currently on siesta. I decide to find cheap lunch nearby and return in a couple of hours.
There is a 7:55 bus from Concordia to Puerto Iguazu, and my layover lunch in Concordia makes me eager to take it. I sit at El Barcito, a bar/soda fountain a block from the bus station that promises free wifi, and order the two cheapest things on the menu: a hot dog with french fries and a side salad. The wifi is the only thing I find to be suitable, substantial, and not outright disgusting at the restaurant.
I have never had, as the late travel-prophet Anthony Bourdain describes, a food-induced depression. I have, however, had meals that were so terrible that I considered not paying. This was one of those meals. The boiled hot dog was practically waterlogged, the fries were hardly cooked, and the salad was almost entirely large chunks of mostly-green tomatoes. Dressing was make-it-yourself, meaning I was given an open jar of vinegar and a gravy boat with oil. I couldn’t tell you for certain whether you could catch more flies with honey or vinegar. If you are wondering, however, whether you could catch more flies with oil or vinegar I could answer that. It turns out it’s oil. This is what I get for ordering a salad.
By the time I choke down the hot dog and a few of the better pieces of lettuce and tomato, the ticket stand has opened and I rushed across the street to buy a ticket out of this tragic hot dog wasteland. While I know there are two buses that leave around 8 pm for Puerto Iguazu, and it is my custom to take whichever is cheaper, this time I just buy a ticket at the first bus company I see, and to miraculous results. I choose “BusPlus,” a company I had not yet seen in my criss-crossing of South America. Tickets seem somewhat expensive, about $39 from Concordia to Iguazu, but I assume that since it is to be a 12+ hour ride that maybe it includes a meal or two, so it is probably a fair enough price for a last minute, totally-full cabin. At that point, I still have a couple of hours to kill in Concordia, so I stroll to the dirt roads by the river where men with old school horses and carts transport goods back and forth from the city among sedans and pickup trucks. I also see a train pass through town, and rather than automate the mechanical levers that prevent cars from driving into the train, the task is given to a person with a particularly heavy chain to keep the lever in place, and strong arms to lift the steel arms up and pull them down. I wonder what his salary is.
When I return to the station, I wait for about a half-hour after the bus is supposed to arrive, and ask one of the other drivers if he knows anything about my bus. He does, and explains that it is coming from Buenos Aires, so it probably won’t be on time. The sun has long set and the cool air is refreshing. For another half-hour, old, decrepit buses keep pulling into the station, each closer to death than the last. One doesn’t even have a company name or a sign in the window to show its destination. The locals know, however, which one they were to take and I seem to be the only one asking around.
Finally, over an hour after our scheduled departure, a beautiful, spotless green bus pulls into the station, and the man pacing the terminal, selling sandwiches, calls to me “hey gringo, this is your bus” in Spanish. I thank him and hop on, apologizing that I used up the last of my Argentine pesos and can’t purchase a regional milanesa, or schnitzel on a white roll with lettuce and tomato.
When my ticket is ripped and I step into the lower level of the bus, I am more than impressed by the setup. Instead of a dirty movie-theater seat, this bus has a small, reclining armchair with its own armrest, garnished with a pillow and blanket folded neatly on the cushion. Seats are in rows of two, each seat separated by a small curtain to lend a bit of privacy to each passenger, and there are actual working power outlets. I take my place front and center, and begin lounging almost immediately, charging my phone and cracking open a book. After an hour all the passengers have boarded prompting the dapper bus attendant—nay, steward of road—to begin the evening’s meal service. I am given a 9-ounce bottle of Argentine Malbec, ham, crackers, and a cold risotto to start, and mashed potatoes and a Malvinas beef roast (that’s a Falkland Island roast for you British sympathizers) for the main course. ‘So this was why the tickets were more than 25 bucks,’ I realize, ‘I’m not on a backpacker bus.’
It figures that the most Argentinian meal I would have on the trip would not only be directly after the worst meal imaginable, but would also be on a bus. I sleep easy and when I awake the soil has turned a deep, rich red and a dawn jungle fog clouds the windows. I stand up to stretch my legs and find that the bus’ entire lower level has vacated entirely, save for one other person. Everyone else has disembarked at Posadas, a large city just south of Puerto Iguazu. I check my phone and see that we were only forty-five minutes from my destination and the steward, noticing I’m awake, hands me my breakfast. In my cardboard lunchbox are enclosed some sort of dry seed cookies, a small pastry, and some sugar for the cup of Yerba Maté he was pouring to help wake me up from my impossibly comfortable slumber. Needless to say, I could have spent the rest of the trip taking that bus from place to place, but indeed all good things must come to an end. Like Master Don Quixote de La Mancha, I feel it is my duty as a travel writer-errant to not grow too accustomed to the finer things in life. My sufferings and discomforts are all to serve you, your High Readerliness, and the moment I check into a four-star hotel or purchase a meal more extravagant than those daily breads eaten by the common folk of the lands I traverse, I fail you and those people from those lands about whom I’ve sworn to learn. Huzzah.
It has been said that Buenos Aires is the Paris of South America. As someone who hadn’t been to either until recently, it seems more like Paris is the Buenos Aires of Europe. I arrived to the South American metropolis early on Sunday afternoon. Naturally, the bus terminal itself is something to behold. The boleterias of various bus companies that traverse practically everywhere in the southern half of the continent span for what seems like half a mile. I make sure I purchase my bus ticket to Montevideo before I leave to explore Buenos Aires, a bus I am to take the following night. I have roughly 30 hours in the Argentine capital and am eager to be on solid ground again after a night of stops and drug inspections.
On the walk from the bus terminal alone, one is struck by the city’s cleanliness and wide open spaces. Arriving on a Sunday affords me an ability to see the city in its infinite coolness. No businessmen strutting around in a rush, and next to no taxis honking their horns in workweek aggression. Just families strolling on sidewalks, couples embracing on benches, and the festivities and shopping of San Telmo.
If you haven’t heard of the neighborhood of San Telmo, and what happens there on Sunday afternoons, there is little I can do to prepare you. From Brooklyn to Berkeley, as you likely know, there exists in the intersection of the Western world and the Western Hemisphere an idea that it is civilized to sell things out in the street, to eat things in the street, and to generally have a good time in the street. The street is a common ground, a shared space, where a community interacts, communicates, and thrives, and so even in suburban America you will find your farmers markets, your block parties, and your festivals—more often than not—in the street.
Buenos Aires is no different, and when they do it, they do it big. After checking into my hostel, I wander south to see the charming neighborhood “El Caminito,” and accidentally stumble across the Sunday afternoon San Telmo market. At first, I just see a few stalls hawking rather interesting products. I had entered the part of street festival operated by El Aldoquin, an artist collective. This was not a place for 10-dollar “Niike” shirts, but rather a place for people with unique and interesting talents to display their work and hopefully sell some. As I walked, for what seemed like at least three miles, I saw no two stalls selling a similar item, and nobody selling anything I had seen before. I have intentionally refrained from posting photos of the street fair because the feeling of how overwhelming, how incredible, an how absolutely massive the festival is can hardly be captured in a word or a photo. For souvenir shoppers, you will likely find dozens of perfect trinkets, paintings, accessories, or clothes to remind you of your stay in Argentina. For non-souvenir shoppers, good luck making it out without buying something. As for those avid shoppers, good luck making it out alive. In the midst of buying and selling, all of which is done very personally and with sophistication, in the urban artist collective tradition, performers are giving puppet shows with marionettes on hand-painted stages, while bands play on acoustic guitars and washboards in ways that somehow don’t come off as “being ironic.”
Near the end of the tables selling hand-knit dog clothing, or hand-painted keychains that look like baby shoes, you come to a shop selling only dulce de leche in large jars, several of which are open for customers and non-customers alike to sample. Beyond that, there is an indigenous peoples’ district, a books and media district, and an assemblage of food trucks. And that’s not even the end. Parque Lezama, home to the city’s national history museum, punctuates the festivities like the dot at the end of an exclamation point. Here are your popcorn stands, food stalls, and countless tents where you can find all the aforementioned “Niike” T-shirts along with essentials like underwear, bras, hoodies and so on. It is as if a WalMart opened up an open-air market on Canal Street and, no matter what your opinions are of those two places, you cannot help but be impressed by the sheer scale of it all. As one of my favorite and most underappreciated quotes from Kevin Smith movies goes: “I love the smell of commerce in the morning” (Mallrats, 1995).
After being sufficiently overwhelmed, I continued south to see what I had come for in the first place: El Caminito. Once a neighborhood for artists, poets, and the like, El Caminito, or “the little road,” has always had a certain charm. Many of the buildings are painted in bright pink and yellows, and restaurants hire dancers to tango out front to attract customers. Meanwhile, sculptures and murals pepper the little road with even more charm, and the overwhelming feeling comes back. As I walked north, into the residential areas in the shadow of soccer stadium La Bombonera, I am able to recover my senses. I spent 30 hours in Buenos Aires. This does not mean someone should spend 30 hours in Buenos Aires. While I was visiting, the rapid inflation of the Argentine peso meant that necessities like food, water, and transport were all surprisingly cheap for a city as clean and gentrified as Boston or New York. In fact, most of the items I bought with my credit card went down in price by $0.10-$0.30 just in the time it took for the transactions to be posted to my account. For those of you who like to stay in decidedly more lavish places than $5 hostels, the savings will likely be even more substantial for you if the current trend persists.
Despite being able to treat myself in Buenos Aires, I largely abstained in the pursuit of prolonging my backpacking adventure as much as possible. Besides, since the city generally is an expensive one, I thought it would be much more interesting to see the inexpensive underbelly of the city. In Manhattan, for instance, the culture we often see on the surface is those of the incredibly wealthy. However, at the Starbuckses and independent coffee shops where Manhattanites happily drop upwards of $5 dollars on a coffee, there are workers who take the train into Manhattan every day to work in those overpriced coffee institutions. That is the culture that I seek to explore when I travel. Not the glamour and touristic allure of certain places, at least not entirely, but the way everyday people live and how.
One way Porteños (or people from Buenos Aires) get by is by finding cheap, creative ways of reinventing international favorites. It is no secret Argentina is known for its beef. However, this doesn’t mean beef is cheap in the country. If anything, I noticed that Argentinians loved beef, but most people could not afford to put meat on the table regularly. What appears to result are strange carb-heavy foods that someone, such as myself who originally believed Argentina to be a meat Mecca, would not associate with the country. A variation of bagels, for instance, can be found all over the city where lower-income people try to make ends meet by selling food. They appear to come in gigantic bags of perhaps hundred, and differ from bagels in that they are strictly baked and thus do not have the shiny outer crust.
Perhaps a more interesting (and some might say blasphemous) culinary tradition in Buenos Aires is faina on pizza. Faina is made of oil, water, and chickpea flour pressed into a heavy dough and pounded into the bottom of a pizza. Once baked in a pizza oven until cooked, the heavy disk is taken out of the oven, cut into slices like a pizza, and put on top of actual pieces of pizza to make it more filling. The kicker is that the most famous establishment selling this God-forsaken dish is called “Kentucky Pizza,” which begs the question: “Was there actually someone in Kentucky who made pizza this way, or did the pizza restaurant only take this name to sound more American, and thus more authentic (to obviously disastrous results, as there is no way there is good pizza in Kentucky)? Just as with the question of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, this is another food mystery that the world may never know the answer to. Though quite obviously an abomination under all that is holy, I stepped right up to the cashier under the neon Kentucky Pizza to place my order of a slice of pepperoni, a beer, and a faina to top it all off.
Interestingly, in much of South America, a draught beer is called a “Schopp,” after a now-archaic German word for measuring liquids. This comes from decades of German colonization of South America dating back to the 19th century. When I finish mine, after my faina and pizza, I hardly need to say how heavy I felt. The whole meal, which undoubtedly was almost 1000 calories of just carbs, ran me less than $4 USD, so I happily considered it a success in terms of eating a quintessentially Argentinian layman food for a good price, though I admit it is not something I will ever order again.
In the morning, my hostel was happy to stow my bag while I walked around Buenos Aires before my night bus to Montevideo. I awoke fifteen minutes before check-out after an 11-hour coma. I realized that the only other person who was supposed to sleep in my hostel room, which I got upgraded to for free after another room was overbooked, never showed. This hostel, based on the upgrade to what ended up being a single room with a private bathroom, had to be the best deal of the trip as it ran me barely more than $5. Here, I took two showers, one upon check-in and again after my afternoon of schlepping all over the city, just to enjoy the idea of a private shower. This is one of the simple luxuries one most misses when they mostly live in hostels.
After check-out, I decided I wanted to take part in one of the more popular culinary trends of Buenos Aires. A nation facing rapid inflation, it can be difficult to eat out at restaurants for cheap. That’s how the rising trend of “comida por peso,” or “food by weight” got started. The concept also has an added meaning of “food for little money,” the peso being the national currency of Argentina. Many of these pop-up take-away bars, which can be found practically every other block during the lunch hour, offer lavish buffets for people on budgets. Typically, they charge 150-300 pesos per kilogram (or $1.50 to $3 per pound), then extra for chips, drinks, and so on. I was able to get a large tray of food and a juice for less than 4.50, which beats just about any restaurant meal in the area, and certainly beats the Whole Foods hot bar at home. Not to mention, if you’ve been gorging yourself on meat and potatoes in your South American travels, as I have, this is a great way to finally get something green in your stomach and not have to worry about it’s safety, as much of the vegetarian options are cooked. Generally, “comida por peso” establishments offer plastic forks and indoor seating. However, for tourists looking to enjoy the city with the food, you can get the added benefit of eating your meal in any of the city’s quiet and pristine parks, provided the weather is nice.
One of the more intriguing free outdoor destinations you may want to visit, though not one you would likely want to have lunch, is the Recoleta: a veritable city of the dead packed with mausoleums of the important people and families of Buenos Aires. Eva Perón, the late First Lady, actress, and feminist, is interred here, though she may be hard to find (Hint: her maiden name is Duarte). The Indiana Jones in you may come out wandering through the old structures, many of which look as though they haven’t been touched in centuries.
After eating my comida in a park and visiting the recoleta, I strolled along the large park that separates Buenos Aires from the ocean. This area has many office building and, aside from the park and a couple of museums, is more of a photo opportunity. There, I was able to exchange some of my Argentine pesos into Uruguayan pesos, but the rate was far from fair. I assume that the falling Argentine peso has led many Argentinians to exchange some of their money into other currencies to soften their losses, as the office was fairly busy.
I went back to my hostel, unchecked my bags, and loitered there to charge my laptop and use their WiFi until around 5:30. My new mission was to get dinner, using all of my Argentine pesos, and get to my bus to Montevideo. I had enjoyed my comida por peso meal, and figured that the variability of the prices could work in my favor, as I only had about 250 pesos. I struggled to find one that was open at that time, however, and eventually caved, walking into a McDonald’s as I realized it was silly to try to find anything better than convenient fast food with two hours to spare before my bus. Nothing I wanted to order was under 250 pesos, so I decided to get something over 250 pesos and put the rest on my card, fearing more that I would have change leftover than that I would spend more than my peso allotment. This did not go as planned. Card after card got declined, and the girl behind the counter explained it was a problem they had exclusively with international Visa cards. Go figure. For some reason, that is all I have and I knew, long ago when I was applying for my travel rewards card, that it would come back to haunt me to not have a Mastercard and a Visa.
The rest of the night before my bus I spent buying completely random things with the now 52 pesos ($1.16 USD) I had left after a cheeseburger and soda. By the bus terminal, I bought a slice of pizza, which the restaurant owner gave me a discount on as it was the end of the day, which only infuriated me because it meant I had more pesos to spend. When I reached the gateway to the bus terminal, I found dozens of vendors selling those weird Argentine bagels, cookies, and kebabs. I tried to bargain with a man selling cookies at 1 for 10 pesos or 3 for 25 pesos, to let me have 1 for 9. Oddly, in this this flea market of cheap snack food, bargaining was not an option. In the pizza restaurant, and in many other places in town, vendors were happy to give me a discount or a special price because I was a tourist. From what I could gather, locals in Argentina pay a certain tax on certain goods and services that tourists don’t have to pay. As a result, all the menus and signs print the Argentine-price, and so when someone comes in speaking funny or else looking like a foreigner, they will often ask for a passport number in order to give them the foreigner price. Hotel rooms, the most significant of these taxed items, are 21% more expensive for Argentinians, and so tourists like myself are able to arrange incredibly cheap accommodation by simply showing a passport.
With these hidden discounts, and the inflation economy, Argentina is an incredibly tough place to be a citizen now. Almost daily, everything is getting more expensive and wages cannot keep up. This, I assume, is why it was difficult for me to get the guy to budge a single peso so that I could by a cookie for the road. Today, 10 pesos is $0.20 USD. Tomorrow, if it creeps down just a little lower, that could destroy the profitability of the man’s entire stock of cookies, and he might have to sell them for more. This becomes increasingly difficult when people are used to paying 10 pesos a cookie, and when everyone else’s life savings just crept down in value with the peso. This is why places like ‘comida por peso’ establishments are integral. They allow for people to eat for barely more than a home-cooked dinner would cost without having to invest the time into cooking. While I could have eaten steak dinners every night, I am glad I tried to experience Argentina in a way that more mimicked the everyday lives of current Argentines, rather than our perception of what Argentine life should be.
One hopes, when he books a sixteen-hour bus that is to traverse an entire country, that stops will be few, and comfort will be suitable. Thankfully, the lowest-rated and cheapest option for buses taking this route from Salta to Buenos Aires, Argentina was actually comfortable enough for me to fall asleep for a few hours, curled across two seats and my legs jutting out like a homeless Olympic diver. What I did not expect was that this trip would take so many stops, and the bus driver would turn on the light at each one.
In the north of Argentina, to combat drug trafficking from the coca-states of Peru and Bolivia, the Gendarmeria Nacional of Argentina have set up several stops from Salta to Buenos Aires to check vehicles and passengers for cocaine. Over the course of the night, we were stopped three times in total. The first time we were checked, I handed over my passport and we went on our way. The second time, a Chinese family was taken off the bus, and all of their luggage was fully inspected before they were let back on the bus. This interested me greatly, as I wondered if Chinese families were being used to smuggle cocaine across international borders. Stranger things have been known to happen. As a tourist with a conspicuous array of visas and stamps in my passport, I expected to be one of the more suspicious passengers on board. However, I pass through the first two checkpoints unscathed, the first guard making flirtatious banter with me about how cool the Cyrillic letters looked in my Russian visa. At the third and final checkpoint, my bag is checked and the guard inquires at the four strips of beef jerky I have left in my backpack. I am starting to think that no one in South America has heard of the stuff, and I think they are better off. Maybe because fresh beef is so ubiquitous they have no desire for overly-processed tubes of what is almost certainly just cow innards and not actually “beef.” The guard also asks about my 90-day supply of pills, and laughs at the pill bottle I have filled with various Euro coins and bills to spend when I arrive in Portugal. While she checks the other riders’ bags, the second guard harasses the Chinese family by shaking their seats until one of them wake up and gives him her passport, and inspects my copy of Don Quixote. The only thing that falls from between its pages is the receipt for the City of Copacabana tax shakedown I had been using as a bookmark. Thankfully, from then on we only make stops at bus stations, and I slip into and out of unconsciousness. As the Argentine countryside transforms into the metropolis of Buenos Aires.
In the early morning, I reluctantly roll out of my bed in my luxuriously private room with Pepto-Bismol-Pink walls and a Bowling-Alley-Galaxy-Carpet comforter and start dressing. Fifteen minutes later, I am back in the early morning cold, and as I pass the cathedral I pray to my laissez-faire Presbyterian God that this bus shows up on time. I arrive at the location I am to get on the bus, and I am blessed that there is a heated waiting room with a check-in attendant to whom I can inquire about my bus’ status. My bus to Salta arrives on time, and the bus driver makes the same joke that I’ve heard from two bus drivers before, and leaves only a few minutes after scheduled departure.
“Now boarding: the bus to Buenos Aires.” He looks quizzically at the line.
“Rosario?” The line is in good humor, and smiles.
“Cordoba???” The faces in the crowd show they are about to roll their eyes, but don’t want to give away that they think the driver’s overdoing the joke.
“Salta!” The group finally chuckles out of courtesy, and steps forward with their tickets to board the bus. I laugh out of more than courtesy for the international bus driver who still has a sense of humor, and perhaps a touch of ambivalence, about his job. He could be driving to Shanghai, it makes no difference to him.
We zigzag through more of the Atacama, and I actually get to see some roadside salt flats from my window. They are intriguing, but not worth a $100+ tour. I made a good decision in spending my Uyuni day among the Uyunians.
Border crossing into Argentina does not take too much time, but only because they have an X-Ray machine to scan the innards of my backpack. They see my meat sticks, they question them, then I explain what they are and walk free. To celebrate, I crack one open on the bus, and eat it with some now-crushed pretzels. After a whole day on the road, we pull into Salta’s bus terminal around 9. There, I buy a ticket for Buenos Aires the next afternoon, which is also at a discount. For those backpackers who are risk-takers like I am, or else have some flexibility in when they travel, I recommend buying tickets in-person as opposed to online. Not only do you often get discounts (at least in South America), but you also get to talk to the cashier and get critical info about your bus. Often, you can even choose your seat, which might not be an option online.
When I exit the terminal, I am hit by the most welcoming smell of sausages, and I am immediately hungry. I walk through a park, which is a gauntlet of grills and vendors selling snacks, and I lament not changing some of my money into Argentine pesos while in the bus terminal. As I walk I finally realize how much it makes sense that young Germans pepper all of these South American tourist cities, despite not knowing much Spanish. If you come from a sausage culture, South America is an incredible land where chorizo seems to fall from trees like pine cones, and beer flows freely and for pennies on the Euro. I get some cash from an ATM then head to my hostel to put my backpack down. I expect my hostel to be German as well, as its name is “Ferienhaus,” but when I arrive the clerk is a pleasant Salteña who speaks to me in quick Argentine Spanish. As I expected, I can pass as a Latino in Argentina much better than, say, Peru.
I walk through the beautifully lit city plaza, and come across locals dancing the tango and peddling their wares. Between the dancers and the beauty of the buildings I am surprised, to say the least, at how quiet this town is. In Bolivia and Peru, there were hundreds of tourists and backpackers in all the town squares, taking their Instagram photos late at night, which they will post at a later date when life gets boring. Here, I saw mostly Argentines and people on dates, walking about on a friday night stroll. I eventually grew hungry enough to walk into a restaurant and order my first South American steak. I order the top-billed classic dish “lomo caseros,” which can either mean “house cut of meat” or “loins of the landlords.” What I receive more closely resembles the former translation, and for a steal at only 10 bucks, accompanied with a very German-sized beer that I do not finish. I am not much of a steak person, and this whole meal is a perfect example why, though to the fault of no one but myself. The lomo, served in a delicious wine sauce, was accompanied with boiled potatoes a la crema. With the beer, eating the entire meal would likely either burst my stomach lining, or at least bruise my self-esteem in the process. When I finish, the meat has gone but the beer and potatoes sit tempting me like some carbo-siren on a far-off rock. This is something I feel badly about when food waste and global hunger are two ever-present realities we face as a species, but alas I cannot take the food to go, as the hostel has no community fridge, and no way to heat up the potatoes, and the now-opened beer is destined to go flat no matter what I do.
I come back to the hostel and pass out from the meat and potatoes that I did eat, waking only after everyone in my room has left and checked out of Ferienhaus (German-speakers, your translation would be greatly appreciated below). Breakfast is still open for another fifteen minutes, so I down half a pitcher of orange Tang, which I haven’t seen at a hotel breakfast buffet since Southeast Asia. In college, the mantra “C’s get degrees” was an offhand comment one would make to welcome calm into his life. When backpacking, “Vitamin C’s Prevent Disease” is my mantra for staying (or at least feeling) healthy when in dirty places, eating terrible food, and exposing myself to who-knows-how-many exotic pathogens the likes of which the folks back home have never even heard of.
I spend the morning engaged in writing, reading, and studying my languages. The hostel allows me to stay and use their wifi and electrical outlets even after checking out, so I charge all my wireless connections to the world outside South America before I leave around 1 pm. I stop by the park near the bus station, where the, shall we say, sausage fest was happening the night before. In the light of day, however, the only people selling food are the established and registered brick-and-mortar vendors. I find one place that sells burgers and fries, and has South American-y toppings like chimichurri, so I order a burger with everything on the menu that looks interesting. Roquefort cheese, which is pronounced hilariously in Spanish, was on the menu so I ordered that, along with chimichurri, lettuce and tomato. This was a mistake, one that only someone with no practical knowledge of chimichurri or roquefort cheese would make. The two things, far from what galavant their names in the United States, are very pungent, and not entirely appetizing if together. I still ate my burger and fries, but made sure to brush my teeth after. Following my long lunch, I hopped on my overnight bus to Buenos Aires with a cone of Dulce de Leche ice cream, and settled in for another bus night.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.