My friend who hiked the Pacific Coast Trail, made this lovely short video about her experience and it fits right into the conversation I’ve been having with myself about trips versus vacations. In the video, J_ talks about how people think of a long hike as “an extended vacation in the mountains surrounded by the awesome vistas and beauty. But she says that while there are moments of this, that
“… really it is filled with long dusty miles and sore muscles, and truly, the greatest gifts from taking a long walk are not the landscape, but the lessons learns while oscillating between despair and joy.”
I doubt I’ll ever be brave enough to set out on a months-long hike, but my recent journey did offer up moments of “despair and joy.”
For example, a Friday in Buenos Aires:
Because our original plans to visit another city hadn’t been workable in the end, we’d decided to stay extra days in the Buenos Aires neighborhood we’d begun in, Palermo. Because our first AirB&B apartment wasn’t available for the weekend, it had seemed easiest to moved across the street to another apartment, owned by the same people. Despite choosing this for convenience, the move was stressful and rushed. We’d stayed up late with our Argentinian friend, M_, who was staying with us for a few days. We woke late, disorganized, and up against an early checkout time. A_felt sick, and M_ and I had to navigate our substantial language barriers on our own as we worked out our plans.
While the apartments on both sides of the street were fine in terms of actual space, they shared one flaw which was becoming more apparent by the moment: Each came with only only one key — which was also necessary not only for the apartment, but also to get both in and out of the building itself. So if one person wanted to leave the building—to take a suitcase or even to take out some trash —another person had to take them downstairs to the lobby and let them out if they wanted to keep the key, or had to be trapped inside. This necessity made the move more chaotic than it needed to be, and throughout the trip made normal things, like running to the store, more difficult.
By early Friday afternoon, A_ was sick in bed, and M_ was out shopping. I was home, in charge of the key, banging away on the old, dodgy laptop I had brought and battling the spotty internet and my spottier Spanish to figure out how to comply with the new Covid travel rule that had just gone into effect. We needed to show proof of negative tests taken one day before our departure. Our flight was on Sunday, in the evening. Did one day mean 24 hours or one calendar day? If it was a calendar day, I could find a place open on Saturday. But if it was 24 hours, I needed to find a place on a Sunday morning that would get the results back in time. The internet sputtered and stalled as I attempted to compare lab locations on maps and to navigate vague online appointment systems. I dialed phone numbers but no one answered.
Then, directly below our window a jack-hammer began to hammer, and in a nearby apartment, a dog began barking and didn’t stop, no doubt feeling as trapped and anxious as I was.
As my anxiety mounted, I decided to give up on technology and physically go find one of the labs. Every place said they didn’t take walk-in appointments, but surely I could just talk to someone, face-to-face, who could answer my questions and reassure me that we’d be able to leave the country, after which I knew I’d feel much better. Choosing what seemed to be the closest lab, I set out on foot. The street was busier, dirtier and much longer than I’d anticipated, but I finally arrived at the address.
The lab was nowhere to be found. No one I asked seemed to know about it, and of course when I called, no one answered. I hailed a cab and directed it to a second lab address, but traffic was bad and I was running out of time to meet M_ and let him in, so I returned to the apartment, defeated. The jackhammer was still hammering, the dog was still barking, A_ was still sleeping, and I had failed to make us a Covid test plan that would allow us to board our plane in two days. And also, I had no real career, was a failure as a writer, there was a new pandemic variant descending and, oh yeah… I had cancer! What had I been thinking taking this trip at all?!
But then M_ returned. He was so sweet and supportive, offering to delay taking a bus with a five-hour ride back to his city in order to take a cab with me to a lab and work it out. This pushed me to look at my research one last time, and finally I found a web-article that gave me enough confidence to book a Saturday test, which I did, figuring If it’s wrong, we’ll figure it out tomorrow. M_ left to catch his bus. The despair started to dissipate.
I had an arranged friend-date in the evening, and turned my attention to preparing. I took a shower, put on my one kind-of-dressy outfit. At some point, the hammers finally stop hammering and the dog stops barking. A_ woke up, feeling better.
When A_ , let me out of the building and I stepped onto the street, the air felt airier — the way it sometimes does on summer evenings. I met V_ , a friend of a mutual friend, at a seafood restaurant called La Pescadorita. It had good sidewalk eating areas with some tenting between the tables and the traffic on the road, and hanging out with V_ was a true pleasure. She was so honest and open about her life, I felt like I was hanging out with a friend. After dinner, we walked along the brick sidewalks and cobble roads to La Viruta Tango, a club where people go to dance. V_ says they although they don’t publicize, that pre-pandemic, there would be lines of tourists there to watch the dancers, just from word of mouth.
La Viruta reminded me of the masonic lodges and social halls where I used to go swing-dancing back in the day. But whereas those places could feel temporary and rented for an event, La Viruta felt a true place for dancers. It was dark, with a bar at the back and a stage in the front and tables with table clothes around the dance area.
We arrived around 10pm, when the less experienced dancers were still practicing after a lesson and the more advanced dancers were just beginning to arrive. Having been a dancer in the past, the ritual was familiar to me, but the dance itself was complex and unfamiliar.
Around 11, there was the unexpected surprise of a live band! Called Otros Aires, they played tango, but the singer had a laptop and the tango was fused with other beats, like cumbia, maybe salsa — I loved it. Watching the dancers and the band, I felt my heart swell. I was struck with a sense of wonder and gratitude at being alive. Joy.
Around round midnight, the band ended, and the DJ unexpectedly took a break from Tango to play some salsa. A young man invited some of the dancers at the next table to dance. When they refused, V_ pushed me to volunteer. O_ was very happy to be asked, and we danced a couple of salsas, and then a 50s era East Coast swing and had a lot of fun. An older gentleman named M_ then invited me to dance just as they started playing a song that was unfamiliar.
I found myself in a group dance comprised of multiple sets of partners. I did my best to copy the steps of my partner and another woman in the group. Everyone was patient and laughing. After the dance, V_ told me it was a form of Argentine folklorico. It was similar to, but not exactly like this:
Then the tango music resumed, and a rejoined V_ at our table. Sitting at the table, a little sweaty and out of breath, with a new friend, watching the dancers whose lives might be hard or easy, coming together and celebrating with music and movement, I felt a surge of happiness—of gratitude that I get to be part of this, that I get to be a human living on earth, that I get a life with moments like this.
I felt joy.
More crappy pictures: