Note: Despite only being posted now, this is a blog I had written up right after returning from Antarctica to Buenos Aires. For some unknown reason it hadn’t made its way into cyberspace yet.
I woke up several times in the night thinking I was still onboard the Akademik Ioffe. It even felt as though I was still rocking back and forth as a result of the waves. It’s a surreal experience getting off the ship from that kind of experience, in a world virtually no one has seen, and entering back into the real world. Even though I’m happy to be back in a warm climate and in the midst of a vibrant city, it was still somewhat bittersweet leaving behind Antarctica and all the friends I made there.
I spent the morning unpacking, tidying up and getting settled into my rented apartment. I’ve only been on the road for a month now, but it was still great to feel like I have a home, at least for the next month. No fumbling through a suitcase to figure out what I want to wear today, only to find that nothing is clean.
The rest of my day alternated between procrastinating on a massive work project I received yesterday and running errands. Last night after arriving I had gone out in search of some food, only to find that I was nearly out of the Argentine pesos I picked up before heading to Antarctica. The kind gentlemen at the Middle Eastern restaurant down the street offered to let me pay later for the food I was trying to order so that I wouldn’t have to wander around late at night trying to find an ATM, so today I needed to get cash and pay them back. A trip to the grocery store for a few basics was also in order. That turned out to be quite the chore.
I always talk about how travel challenges you in ways that ultimately make you a better person. Those challenges aren’t always glamorous, as my grocery store experience proved. After gathering all the milk, bread, eggs, fruit and yoghurt I could fit in my basket, I made my way to the checkout line. Before I left for Antarctica I was starting to get the hang of the grocery store routine – there was the “hola”, followed by the clerk asking me a question which I had figured out to be “would you like a bag?”. In this case, however, I was out of practice and stood there like a very confused deer in the headlights. “No entiendo” I said, right as he pointed to the bag and I realized I should have already known what he was saying. Next he grabbed the grapefruit, pears and bananas in my basket and mumbled what I immediately knew to be the Spanish equivalent of “you need to have these weighed and labeled”. Oops, rookie mistake. After having lived abroad for five years, I should have known better.
I rushed to the back to get my fruit labels, knowing that I was holding up the growing line at the check-out. Luckily I’m in a very laid-back, easygoing country. In the U.S. or Germany I would have received an impatient earful from just about everyone in the store. As I returned, paid and got ready to leave, I picked up my bag and felt a rush of cold liquid pour down my leg. I could smell the culprit immediately – it was the package of olives I had bought, in all their juicy glory. The grocery store clerk had placed them at the bottom of my bag, which inevitably crushed the container. Great.
Next I made my way to the Middle Eastern restaurant from the night before, money in hand. I should have known it wouldn’t be the same guys working, which meant that I would need to explain, in Spanish, why I would be giving them money and then walking out without food. I initially tried in English, but it became abundently clear that the kid behind the counter had no idea what I was talking about. So I tried in Spanish, which proved just how pathetic my skills in that language are.
Me: “yesterday, necessito comida, no tengo dinero, solo tarjeta. El hombre told me mañana, dinero.”
The kid looked at me in utter confusion.
I pointed to the menu – “Shawarma mixto con hummus”. I suspected he thought I was ordering. “No comida, nur dinero” I uttered, accidentally throwing in the German word for “only”. It’s funny how any time I try speaking Spanish, my brain knows it shouldn’t be using English and automatically switches to its other default language of German. I’ve often found myself saying things like “ja”, “ach so” and “genau” to Spanish speakers since arriving in South America.
Finally, another employee watching the entire mess chimed in. “I speak English”, he said. I was grateful for that, but at the same time wanted to slap him for not informing me of this sooner. I explained what was going on and he interpreted, resulting in an “ahhhhh, I see” type of look on his young colleague’s face.
It’s interesting how I regularly sign up for these kinds of awkward moments by voluntarily leaving the comfort of my own country. But they’re experiences I wouldn’t trade for the world. At the end of a day of travel I’m always amazed at how I manage to work my way through the bumps in the road. That said, though, I’m still looking forward to a few language barrier-free months later on this year in South Africa, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.
More to come on Buenos Aires soon!