“Destruction leads to a very rough road, but it also breeds creation”
Spot on Tony!
So with love in my heart and Pepito in my belly I departed Venezuela yet again to continue my journey… Destination: Buenos Aires, Argentina. The choice to head there and not to my previous heading of Colombia was determined a month before… another choice shaped and moulded by everybody’s favourite moustachioed overlord: Nicolas Maduro.
With the Venezuelan economy in ‘a state of flux’ (yet another contender for understatement of the year) it worked out cheaper to fly to the other end of the continent than it did to cross the border.
A few hours sleep in Lima airport (quite unremarkable) en route broke up the journey, and the free wine and 2 Clash of the Titans films passed the remainder without incident (for the record, the wine was much more impressive than the films).
Pleas from my brother-from-another-mother Moises led me to perform some basic pre-flight planning (worry not folks, I’ve not changed). I had the number of the bus I needed from the airport to the city (number 8, $3.50 for a 2 hour journey… bonza!), and I had a contact to hook up with… What could possibly go wrong?
Knowing my SIM (or chip as they call it here… so cute) wouldn’t work I was confident that there would be ample WiFi coverage at the airport, I’d just send a quick message via the magical creation of Whatsapp and all would be gravy…
Presumptions may very well be my downfall one day.
“WiFi!!! Here boy! Come out come out wherever you are!” DOH!!! No free WiFi.
The arrivals section itself was relatively small, but they’re fully geared up for tourism (Take note Maduro!), so before leaving I was armed with a huge map, a bus schedule and the name of a good steakhouse… Job done!
Near the bus stop (clearly labeled and with lots of helpful people queuing) was a little kiosk… With unprotected WiFi!!! Woohahaha! Swoop! I was able to fire out a few quick messages before the wily old kioskateer rumbled me and switched it off… but the battle had already been won: the world had been informed of my safe arrival… 1-0 to Fray!
My $50 peso note was not well received by the bus driver, and reluctantly I was waved on… Free ride! 2-0 to Fray! (it’s turning into a rout!)
(pride + gloating + great height = can anybody guess what’s coming next?)
The bus ride was awesome… People sunbathing by the side of the motorway, playing frisbee, flying kites. After the madness of Venezuela, the sterility of Costa Rica and the shock of Panama this was a slap in the face by domestic (European?) normality. Houses that could have been lifted straight from Manchester (with a lick of paint mid transport), Germany, France, Spain…. So many influences, so beautiful.
Staring at my map I soon realized that my instruction to the bus driver that I wanted to get off at ‘centro’ was ludicrously vague. Centro covers around 20 square blocks… A fair chunk of land!
Knowing the journey to take 2 hours I remained calm and composed… Until we hit 2hrs 1 minute!!! “WHERE ARE WE??? WHERE ARE YOU TAKING ME?!?!?”
With my eyes glued to the window I studied each road sign and tried to plot it on my map… not an easy feat considering the map is large enough to make even the most hardened Assassin’s Creed gamer wince!
But hats off to the city planner… A beer for that man! A massive grid system with distinct, memorable names (Chile, Montevideo, San Jose etc) made the task childsplay. Soon I had abandoned the map, aware now of the number of blocks until I hit Centro and was staring stupidly at all the amazing parks, squares and architecture that litter the city. 2-1… Nice comeback!
The bus driver chirped up as we pulled into Congress square and off I jumped. I remember it being quiet… A phenomenon I would later reflect upon being very unusual for this location.
My first task: find WiFi.
Cafes are always a surefire hotspot so off I trotted in a random direction until I found a coffee house. Upon receiving the menu I noticed that the beer menu was actually bigger than the coffee menu… Oh well… When in Rome! My order of a litre bottle whilst alone brought my first introduction to a cultural phenomena… Sharing is caring – more on that later.
With WiFi activated and beer on the table I sat back, studied the map whilst waiting for my giant meat sandwich and correspondence from my contact. The correspondence arrived first…
“Sorry, can’t make it today”
Excellent! (in my best Mr Burns voice)
They did however provide the name and location of a nearby hostel. I savored my frosty beverage, located my destination on the map and, as the staff were sweeping up and stacking chairs I determined that it was time to leave…
… But wait… There was something missing!
Where was my juicy slab-o-meat sandwich that I had an hour earlier ordered in good faith??? Was this a political statement? Were they punishing me for the memory of Thatcher? Were they imposing a meat embargo??? This outrage would not be tolerated! I stood to approach the manager who had just started cashing up.
During the few steps to the counter a realization appeared to hit her like a Prescott punch to the jelly jaw of Khan (if Groundhog Day ever came true I hope it would be that day!). She ran off to the kitchen before I had time to speak and returned with an incredibly sheepish look. After apologizing profusely she enquired if I still desired my forgotten meal. I begrudgingly accepted her apology and the offer of my meaty manwich. It was delivered a few minutes later, along with the best news I’d heard all day…
“We’re very sorry for the delay. The sandwich is free”!!!!!! A free slab of juicy, tender manwich??? Woooooohooooo!!!
3-1!!! It’s all over!
And with their generous apology diplomatic relations were restored, the embargo was lifted and I left to find my hostel.
The journey was just long enough for me to devour the succulent steak and wipe the abundant juices from my chops before I arrived at my destination… Km0 Rock Hostel… A location that would bear witness to my most tumultuous emotional state to date.