The plane descended with surprising alacrity and the wheels finally touched down at Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza airport. From inside the cabin, thousands of feet above the earth, the countryside of Buenos Aires province looked a lot like my home state of Wisconsin. Farm fields quilted the land in regular and irregular shapes. As we taxied to the gate, I inhaled a deep breath. After 24 hours of travel, from Sarah driving me to the bus stop in Madison to riding to Chicago’s O’Hare airport to the flight to Houston to the long flight to Buenos Aires, a new leg of the journey was about to begin.
Marcello, of Wandering Trader, had kindly agreed to host me for the couple of days I’d be in Buenos Aires. We chatted before I left and he had arranged for a cab driver to meet me in arrivals with a sign that said “Keith Traveling Savage.” Secretly, I was really looking forward to taking a picture of that. After spending an hour in line for immigration and the $140USD reciprocity fee, I quickly managed to weave my way through baggage claim and customs.
A pair of doors retracted to reveal a chaotic arrivals foyer. Approximately 40 men and women held signs up looking for travelers. I cruised through the crowd and scanned the placards. After one pass, I hadn’t seen my name. Two, then three passes. Nothing. My mouth had gone slightly dry. Perhaps the cabbie left – I had landed over an hour ago. I waited nervously for a few minutes hoping my guide would show up. With no cell service or WiFi, I couldn’t contact Marcello.
This ride was not going to materialize, so I went to the Taxi Remis stand to book a ride down to San Telmo. By some miracle, I had remembered Marcello’s address (or at least I thought I had…). One hundred and thirty pesos lighter, I was soon in a taxi and leaving the bucolic fields surrounding Ezeiza airport.
Any tiredness from my trip evaporated in the sudden stress of ruined plans. My mind raced as we crawled through ridiculously heavy traffic and frequent tolls, which the cab driver paid in cash. Cities are rarely beautiful from major roadways, and Buenos Aires was no different. The city was vaguely European, like how your reflection in a glass bowl only kind of looks like you, the spacing, angles, and proportions a bit off. We penetrated the gridlock and entered into the heart of San Telmo. My own heart was seizing in culture shock.
The cab driver dumped me on the corner of Plaza Dorrego and zoomed off. Was this Marcello’s place? The door had buzzers for 20 different apartments. The cabbie who was supposed to pick me up was also supposed to press the right button. I laughed at the flimsiness of the plan and buzzed the doorman. We gestured back and forth like a couple of monkeys, he didn’t speak English and I, apparently, didn’t speak Spanish, but he didn’t know of Marcello. It availed me little, and at one point I heard him call me “loco.” He wasn’t about to let me in without an escort, so I fell back on finding an internet cafe where I could contact Marcello. The doorman and another random man from the street provided detailed directions to a locutorio (que es eso?) in Spanish and, bewildered, I wandered off down the cobbled street, not sure if I was even in the right neighborhood.
A block later, as I scanned shambled store fronts and loaded with my bags, someone behind me yelled “Are you looking for Marcello?” I spun around, hope leaping into my throat. A pale man with longish blond hair walked toward. His name was Jeff and he was Marcello’s uncle. And he was my savior. Moments later, we were inside Marcello’s apartment (I did have the correct address!) and the adrenaline of the journey was receding.
Travel is full of hurdles. Within moments of landing my small plans were in the scrap heap and I had to rely on my instincts and action. The key is to figure out a new way, to act, and to not freeze up. In the thick of the moment, we might be wrung out with stress, dry-mouthed, and sweating, but it is these moments that we often look back on with pride and a new sense of confidence.