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.