Getting stranded in San JuanBuenos Aires, Spring 2009

I’m sitting on a tree stump next to a dirt road surrounded by acres of lush grapevines. We’re only about half an hour from the city bustle of San Juan, but this area is so tranquil you’d never know it. The lazy evening light that photographers call “magic hour” casts a golden sheen on everything from the stray dog poking his nose in the dirt under the grapevines, scrounging for fallen fruit, to the rocky foothills of the Andes rising up in the distance. Every ten minutes or so a family or group of friends pedals leisurely by on bikes, soaking in a perfect Sunday. It’s warm but not hot, breezy but not windy; a tree by the road is bursting with ripe pomegranates. This place is feeding a hunger in me that I didn’t quite know I had, one that crowded city sidewalks and clouds of car fumes were slowly sapping away. In an hour and a half my friend and I have to catch an overnight bus back to Buenos Aires, but I wish we could stay longer.

Actually, it appears we may be doing just that. It’s almost 6:00 and neither the 4:30 nor the 5:30 bus back to the city has arrived, despite the confident assurance of both a previous bus driver and a tourism office employee that it runs every hour. Even a man who lives in a house by the bus stop has emerged to tell us “Paciencia, paciencia,” that surely a bus will arrive soon. First he says there will be one in five minutes. Then he says half an hour. Finally he says that well, since it’s Sunday, there might not actually be a schedule at all, grinning as if to say “You silly Americans need to relax.” But we have to pack and check out of our hostel before heading to the bus station, and missing that bus would mean losing an expensive ticket and missing classes the next day. Taxis don’t come out this far, so the bus is our only option. I knew time was more fluid here than in the U.S., but I didn’t know it was this fluid. I’ll never place all my trust in a bus schedule again.

We’re getting desperate, so my friend calls the overnight bus company to ask if they can hold the bus for us (no more than five minutes, they say), and I do something that my parents, IES staff, various horror stories, and plain common sense have all told me I should never do: start flagging down passing cars to ask if they’ll take two naïve American hitchhikers. I already know how not to do it, since earlier in the day we’d made a weak attempt to ask people for directions to the ranch where we went horseback riding. That time we’d simply waved, and the people in the cars had smiled and waved back: lovely day, isn’t it! This time I stick out my thumb, feeling like some sort of youthful bohemian cliché, and start asking people if they’re going to the city. An older couple in the second car look sympathetic, but they aren’t going in the right direction, so I thank them anyway and back away. But then our “paciencia” friend tells them something too rapidly for me to understand, and they take pity on us. And like everyone I’ve met in Argentina, they are incredibly friendly, chatting with us about our travels and the basics of Argentine history, even driving by the house of Jose Sarmiento so we can see the historical building from the car. They drop us off right at the hostel—we thank them with a bag of fresh grapes that a farmer had given us—and we make the Buenos Aires bus with a few minutes to spare, having learned an important lesson (though one I hope not to repeat) about back-up plans and the kindness of strangers.

Here are a couple photos - the first is the road where we were stuck (not a bad spot to spend a few hours waiting, really), and the second of my friend Carina and I in Valle de la Luna, an amazing canyon in San Juan Province.
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