Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Buenos Aires Airport

Wednesday morning,  8:00 a.m.

Here is another of those surreal experiences I have a particular knack for attracting.

I’m at the international airport terminal outside Buenos Aires, awaiting the arrival of American Airlines staff. After a bizarre night, I will look into shipping the bike home.

First I was told they’d be here at 7:00. Now I’m told 10:00 a.m.


THE PRECEDING NIGHT

After over 800 miles and a grueling night of riding amidst the truckers, I rolled into Buenos Aires around 11:00 p.m. and began the now-accustomed hotel search. Five hours later, at 4:00 in the morning, I was standing in an Esso* station, mind numb, simply staring at the streets around me.

For a long time, I just leaned on the bike. I felt homeless (though, of course, far from it; I obviously have many options the homeless don’t.) I was at a complete loss for where to go from here. ("Maybe it’s because there is nowhere to go from here?")

(*Somewhere on this trip I finally learned that Esso, a gasoline brand I've known since childhood, stands for S.O., Standard Oil!)

Earlier in the night, it had taken about an hour and numerous inquiries to finally locate the Buenos Aires "Holiday Inn Express". My vision of just rolling into this city and setting up camp for several days was dashed when they told me they were full, with nothing available until March. (Anyway, the price, $130 per night, was way too much.)

I then tried roughly a dozen other hotels, crisscrossing downtown Buenos Aires throughout the night. And repeatedly, that almost smug response to my inquiry: “lleno or completo (full)!” Not the slightest offer of further assistance, a suggestion, or even sympathy.

Finally, someone explained: "the Rolling Stones gave a concert tonight. People have come to Buenos Aires from the surrounding countries!" I tried to ascertain if there were another area, far from downtown, with hotels, but no one seemed aware of any. What about at the airport? "No."

Through the filter of this ordeal, I wasn’t enjoying Buenos Aires much. Even though there seemed interesting areas with nice shops and restaurants, it was not enough to overcome my aversion to yet another unfamiliar, giant city. During the night, what struck me most were the over-crowded, trash-filled streets, insane drivers and suicidal taxis. The boulevards appear to have no lanes. (Cars go everywhere, and have a tendency to pass very close to me, which several times had me shouting at the oblivious drivers.)


SORTING IT OUT

I stood by the motorcycle in this gas station, in the middle of the night, mentally going through all the arguments. I feel like I’ve gained what I was after from this experience. (Though I’m not quite sure what that is, there is a sense that I "have it"!) Right now, I can’t think of much else I really want to see. Is there anything remaining that’s justifies the continuing commitment?

  • The Salar de Uyuni, certainly; but is it worth all the effort to go to that isolated playa, and then commit to the entire ride back to the States?
  • Brazil? Bob has told me I would need to dedicate much more time to Brazil, a country larger than the United States. Besides, he said you can't really see  Brazil from a motorcycle. (From the highway, you can't see much at all in the tropical rainforests!) You need to fly into remote locations to fully appreciate the country.
  • Venezuela and Colombia's Caribbean coast? Yes, based upon all the stories I've heard, I was really looking forward to these exotic destinations and would have liked to meet Hugo Chavez!
  • El Salvador? Another gem that I regretted missing on the way south, but again, does it justify the return trek?
  • The highlands and west coast of Mexico and Baja California? That could easily be a separate trip after returning to California.
  • After yesterday's little taste of  heat and humidity, I don’t think I can face the tropical regions once again (and that’s what much of the remaining journey would be. There would be few mountainous landscapes like those I've so enjoyed in South America.)
  • The front brake discs need replacement, an expense of $1,000 or more. It would be difficult to shell out that money, knowing I have a nearly-new set buried in my storage unit back home.
  • And then there’s all those border crossings and bureaucrats. (Twelve countries between here and home!)
  • And, finally, I'm time-bound to be home for Jessica's graduation in May. (Of course, I could always store the bike in place and fly home for the occasion.)

Does it make any sense to throw more money at a venture when you feel you've finished? Money wasted now, riding "just because I said I would" comes at the expense of future opportunities.


***

The middle of the night brings out some strange characters. One such fellow came over to me at the gas station. Wearing a sport coat (clearly not a homeless person), he provided counsel in broken English: "you’re down! You need to have coffee and donuts, then think like it's tomorrow."

I looked at the map. Buenos Aires is surrounded by many suburbs and towns – a heavily-populated region which I already want to escape. I asked directions to the airport and soon had half a dozen Esso employees and customers trying to help me.

At 4:40 a.m., decision made, I was off to the airport to take action! After a twenty-mile ride, I found my way to the airport terminal's information kiosk. There I was told the only company who could carry the bike would be American Airlines and their service counter wouldn't be staffed for two hours.

Returning to the motorcycle, I found three airport security guards gathered around the bike. They wanted me to remove all my gear and put it on a cart to roll around with me. No way. I didn't care if they felt responsible. I just ignored them.


***

Argentineans appear to like French cars! Renault, Citroen and Peugeot appear to represent a high percentage of the market.

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