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Mike's Around-The-World Trip Update #21 - 12.8.2005
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two critical quotes to know for this update:

1. "argentina is the promised land."

2. "fucking argentina," he said. "yeah, argentina is kicking my ass," i said.

the first quote was dreamily whispered by the receptionist of la casa roja hostel in santiago, chile when we were discussing my next destination.

the second was an exchange between the receptionist at the ostinatto hostel in buenos aires and i the day after i was given counterfeit money as change at a nightclub.

so, which is it?

at the moment argentina is kicking my ass again. i am supposed to be in bolivia but instead i am stuck in this shitty hostel in salta with severe food poisoning; i can't get on a bus in this condition. hell, i can barely get up to use the bathroom, something i frequently need to do at the moment.

i've been here for four, sometimes amazing, sometimes tragic, months - and this is the story of the last two. is it the promised land? is it trying to destroy me? read and decide for yourself.

i spent the first of my last two months in argentina in buenos aires after a couple weeks in uruguay. i attended three concerts (the strokes, the kings of leon, and megadeth) and an amazing football (soccer) match between argentina's two most popular teams, river plate and boca juniors (i'm a river plate man.)

in regards to those events i offer you my conclusion on argentines as fans: they are insane. one cannot buy alcohol at concerts or sporting events in argentina because lots of people would die. the football match was at river plate's stadium so 90% in attendance cheered for the home team. actually they didn't cheer for their team but rather screamed digusting, vulgar, obscene, taunts at the boca junior fans who hollered back from their own section which was enclosed by a three meter (10 foot) high barbed-wire fence. the section to either side of the boca junior fans was empty, except for the dozens of heavily armed police officers. red and white banners, flags, and streamers ran from the top of the stadium to the field and thunderous singing shook the seats. bombs exploded ocassionally. i heard little children sing a song translated as "watch your ass boca fans because we are going to fuck you in it." i'm not sure what happened with the game because the whole field was covered in litter. at the end of the match we had to stay in our seats for 25 minutes while they let the boca junior fans out first. we were locked in. why? because if the fans interact they will kill each other.

literally.

last year, when the annual match was at boca stadium, someone opened fire at a van full of river plate fans, killing two people. now the boca fans have a song about it, "we killed two of yours" or something like that.

what would it be like if they let them drink? i wouldn't know because i wouldn't go. it was frightening enough with everyone sober.

i have made more local friends in argentina than anywhere else in my travels mostly because they are such warm, loving, inviting people - what happens to these people at a football match? same thing as when you put them in the driver's seat of a car i guess.

two quick facts about argentina
1. every argentine behind the wheel of a car is an assassin.

2. PDA, does not mean "public displays of affection", but rather "perfectly damn acceptable." if you walk through a park in argentina without seeing at least five couples in lip-lock you wonder what is wrong.

so we have two contradictory facts here. what conclusion can we come to? are they affectionate assassins? loving killers? heart-warming murderers?

let's pick two argentines that i know and look more closely at them: diego and fabian, both citizens of buenos aires.

diego
i first met him while he was vacationing in mendoza. diego taught me how to swear properly in spanish, took me to the football match (and protected me there), recommended certain tasty foods, showed me around to some great clubs in buenos aires, drove me all over the place, and invited me to his home for a birthday party and an asado (argentine bbq.) i laughed every second i was with him. he is such a great friend that i want to move to buenos aires just so i can hang out with him some more.

fabian
i first met him in the ostinatto hostel in buenos aires. he was my roommate. one night fabian, two girls from the hostel, and i went out to a club for drum and bass night. fabian is a bouncer there so he got me in for free. since he did me a favor i offered to buy him a drink. "speed con bodka," he said. speed (argentine red bull) and vodka, no problem. ordered it, gave it to him, thanked him for getting me in, and threw my arm around him (it's a very loving country as i said - lots of affection.)

the next day fabian waited until i left our room for lunch and then stole my laptop.

10,000 pictures and 450 videos from my two year trip around-the-world, gone.

i was upset.

the police came and did nothing, although they did mention that fabian took it. thanks guys. i appreciate that, and thanks for doing nothing about it.

so the next five days went something like this: give it back fabian. i don't have it. yes you do, give it back. i don't have it. yes you do, give it back. i don't have it.

it went nowhere.

so then i offered him money. he wouldn't take it. why would he anyway? he got a $1500 computer, $500 in cash, my two credit cards and my passport. a good haul. not worth the risk that i was setting him up. it made me physically ill to look at this guy everyday, with his big, flat, ugly frog-face, and soulless, consciousless stare.

so i turned elsewhere. i learned that the police in south america are corrupt and only want money so i began discussions with them about intimidating my laptop out of fabian for a big wad of cash. i told fabian about my plan one night. he disappeared for good the next day.

and took with him all my photos and videos. the most prized possession i have ever owned...gone, into the hands of a human piece of garbage.

so the conclusion we can draw about argentines is the same we should draw about each citizen of every country, each member of every race, each worshipper of every religion: there are great people and there are assholes - group membership does not determine the character of each member. most argentines, like most people in the world, are great folks (despite the temporary mentally-ill effect football and automobiles might have on them.)

probably the two most worrisome fears i had on this trip were breaking my back and losing my laptop. i, of course, experienced the first in mendoza a couple months earlier so why not face 'em both? i was greatly upset about the laptop but i did what i always do: keep on keepin' on. i got by with a little help from my friends, from emails, phone calls, and hugs and kisses from friends in buenos aires. they reminded me that i still had the memories, and that they could never be stolen (except by a rogue brain-surgeon.)

absolutely true. the most important things we have - health, love, friends, family - can never disappear into a thief's hands, and that is an empowering fact. fabian has my laptop but i am damn sure he doesn't have friends, family, and love like i have. he never will.

some wonderful women came into or back into my life during this time too. for the first time i met nicole from brasil. we hung out for six days, dancing, drinking, laughing, and exploring the dark, mystical squares and ragged tango bars of buenos aires together. she spoke in portuguese and i in spanish but we somehow understood each other. marianela, a great girl from buenos aires whom i had met in mendoza, took me to some great locals' places in the city and helped me sharpen my spanish skills. she bought me a pen for my birthday that says "mike in argentina" on it. i also had visits from tina from austria, whom i had met in santiago, chile and from fellow american kelsey whom i had met during my previous visit to buenos aires. some great girls who helped restore my wavering faith in argentina, the world, and humanity. i felt great again.

but then i started pissing blood. arrrrrggggggggentina! what now? i had to go to the hospital for the second time in argentina and speak to a doctor (again) about my cherished health in a second language that i am not that skilled in. i was terrified while looking up my symptoms on the internet. i determined that i had one of four types of cancer, but it turned out just to be a bladder infection that anti-biotics cleared up in a few days. whew!

understandably, i am sure, i was ready to leave buenos aires. i said goodbye to my pals, hoping to see them again, and headed for patagonia to clear my mind in the mountains. a day after arriving in puerto madryn, i was joined by lauren from australia, a friend of a mutual friend, and we set off to explore the region together.

(take a deep, deep breath): in about one month of traveling patagonia, we saw elephant seals, sea lions, sonright whales, armadillos, alpacas, wild hares, condors, wild horses, and penguins. we went white water rafting (twice), trekking, glacier trekking, ice climbing, zip-lining, mountain biking, and bird-watching. we ate huge steaks, cordero patagonia (delicious lamb), and drank malbec, borgona, pinot noir, syrah, and merlot wine for dirt cheap - we even drank water right from a glacier - and we celebrated my 34th birthday with another great meal and plenty of tasty beverages, doing all of the above in the wonderfully undeveloped spectacular mountainous/oceanic/glacial scenery of southern argentina. the spanish settlers who first came to the area noticed the indians there had large feet and so called the area "patagonia" - loose spanish for "land of people with big feet."

go ahead and catch your breath. ok. ready? vamos! (let's go!)

we finished our tour back in mendoza. i had made plenty of friends on my previous visit, so i spent my days meeting up with them. i felt like i had returned home. the welcome was typical of the loving argentines, with arms wide open. the first thing nico - a night receptionist at the damajuana hostel - did when i arrived was grab two guitars and made me play and sing the crowded house song "better be home soon" - that made me feel wonderful, i cannot tell you.

(fuck you and the laptop fabian!!!!!!!!!! you don't have friends like this!!!!!!!!!!)

what else happened in mendoza? well, since argentina is in the southern hemisphere, it was late spring/early summer, so the atmosphere was lively: asados, parties, meals on the couches of sidewalk cafes, cooling off in the hostel pool, jogging through the beautiful parks, playing guitar for the hostel crowd, playing and singing at a nightclub also, and making plans for my possible move there...i love mendoza.

and that's not all. i also got to see my name in print for the first time - as an author. i wrote an article for the grapevine, a local wine magazine, and it was published while i was away. as soon as i arrived in mendoza i sprinted for a copy of the magazine. seeing my name and article there was a huge thrill.

officially a writer now, i happily mumbled to myself.

and that's still not all. the editor was impressed with my writing enough to send me on a high-end wine tour of the vineyards of mendoza, in exchange for another article. i went on the tour, drank amazing wine, ate an incredible meal, and wrote an article about it which will be published next month.

published twice in two attempts. in a wine magazine. in argentina. how cool is that? here's hoping it continues to go so well for me with writing because i don't want to do anything else for a living.

after a week, i said a sad goodbye to mendoza and headed to salta, in the far northwest of argentina. my long, hot bus ride was halted temporarily when we got in an accident. a bus accident! more shit for me, eh argentina!?!? traveling for 21 months on countless buses without incident but in argentina...ugh.

it wasn't a bad accident though really; we just clipped another car. and in the two hour delay i met sophie from quebec, canada. upon our (eventual) arrival in salta, we checked into a hostel and then hung out for six days, enjoying the awesome nightlife each night and renting a car one day to drive the spectacular road to cachi, an old, small village tucked into the feet of the andes.

she left on tuesday and then food poisoning took her place. for the second time on my trip i am bedridden from eating some rancid food, but that's not so bad really. two times in 21 months? with all the crazy stuff i have been eating? nah, not too bad.

when it clears up (hopefully tomorrow) i will head into bolivia, the next stop on my long overland trek home, back to the united states of america, to my friends, to my family, to my beloved homeland.

but will my second homeland, argentina, let me go? i have already spent more time here than any country outside the united states but she is holding onto me tightly. i'm not sure i want to leave her either, but i need to keep trucking - before i stay for good.

so, what do you think? is argentina the promised land? or is it an ass-kicking evil bully?

have the ones you love ever upset you? have your friends made you cry? have your brothers and sisters made you want to scream? of course. the love you have for them drives you nuts but also makes you so happy and complete at the same time.

just like your love for life; if you love life you are out there living it and celebrating it everday, but are willing to accept the ocassional smack in the head - it's the cost of love.

i can see the pattern in all of this - i have not gone blind on this trip. and so, when i am on that bus tomorrow, crossing into the 39th country of my life, i will look out the window as argentina disappears behind me, maybe jotting down my thoughts with my pen that says "mike in argentina" on it, thinking of how nice it was to "live" that phrase for four months. i'll wave goodbye to argentina and thank her for being herself, for giving me all her good and all her bad, and, as i blow her a kiss, i will whisper "te quiero, argentina, te quiero, nunca cambie. nos vemos pronto."

keep on keepin' on,
mike

the photos for this update start here

p.s. translation: "i love you argentina, i love you, don't ever change. see you soon."

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