I arrived back in Buenos Aires late on Wednesday night. As the plane approached the city, the usual sodium twinkles that one sees over any city, looked a little bit different. It was hazy. On the ground, it was like the city was covered in mist. And there was a smell of something having been burnt. It was still there in the morning and seemed to get a bit worse yesterday afternoon and evening. If the bad English and terrible Spanish conversation I had with the guy in the hotel reception is to be believed, there’s been some sort of fires in Buenos Aires state (not sure if it was forest fires or crop fires; arson or not) and the wind has brought it over the city. As a smoker, one can’t really complain about there being smoke in the air, but it is slightly unpleasant and at times has made me feel a bit queasy. Still, it does help make the sunset quite pretty.
Considering I’d been feeling a bit flat and out-of-sorts the last time I was here, I’ve been determined to enjoy the city this time. That managed to last all of a few minutes though. I got in a cab at the airport to bring me to the hotel. As most advice dictates, I took a radio taxi. But, I guess, you never know when you’re gonna get ripped off or not. It could happen in London, but it’s more galling when it happens to you when you know that you’re being taken advantage of just because you decided to visit a foreign city. The driver looked quite mean, but on my travels so far, I’ve learnt that that means nothing really. Some of the best, nicest, most helpful cab drivers I’ve had have looked like escaped murderers, so I try not to take any notice of how they appear. I made one mistake, though: while I was looking for something in my bag, I failed to notice that he hadn’t turned the meter on. I really should have done that, especially considering I asked him how much it would be and his reply was “meter.” So I knew fairly soon that I would be getting stiffed. For the rest of the journey, I braced myself to be paying double what it should cost. (Last time I paid 85 pesos, approx. 17 euros.) When we stop in front of the hotel, he tells me it’s 190 pesos. Cheeky motherfucker. But it gets worse. I hand him a 100 peso note and two 50 peso notes. As I gather my stuff together, I’m also aware that he’s moved, done something. I soon found out what it was. He looked back at me and showed me two 50 notes and a ten peso note. The cunt had switched the hundred for a ten, and now, with no small amount of menace was demanding the the 80 that I still “owed” him. Needless to say, I coughed up, tried to accept that I’d been had, and decided not to give him a tip.
Still, I wasn’t as calm as I’d hoped I would be; that post-Santo Daime calmness seems to have drifted away now, anyway. It put me in a bad mood. And at the moment, my emotional state is a bit touch-and-go anyway, so very slight things like this do make it easier to slip back into feeling blue. Which lasted for most of the morning and early afternoon. I went to a museum, Museo Xul Solar, which was an interesting building full of art that was so not my cup of tea; had a nice salad with bacon and blue cheese, and set off on a bit of a hike to find a cinema. As I cross one of the big avenues, I notice a guy crossing in the other direction. As he passes me, I slow down, turn my head, and find my mouth saying, “John!?”
“Wh-wha-what the fuck?”
I reversed my course, walked to the pavement and was stood there talking to a friend from London who I’ve not seen for over seven years. And, quite frankly, if there was anything at that point in my day that I could’ve done with, it was seeing a friendly face. We sat in a park for the afternoon, had a few beers in the evening. And just as that was coming to an end, a man and woman walked by and it was Brendan and Mel, the couple I’d had a beer with in San Salvador airport back in February. They were on their way somewhere, but we exchanged pleasantries and made plans to make plans to meet up after the weekend. And then I got a taxi back, and the driver was thoroughly pleasant, and smiled at me heartily when he saw I’d given him a tip. Things even out, don’t they?
But, anyway, rewinding a bit. After visiting the glacier on Tuesday, I had a day to kill in El Calafate before my late flight. I’d spoken to a lovely Czech couple on the hostel on Tuesday evening who’d had to do exactly the same thing: do something for a whole day in a town with not much to do. They told me about a small ecological reserve called Laguna Nimez, on the edge of the town next to Lago Argentino. So I went for a saunter. There was no-one in the cabin at the entrance and the gate was chained shut. But I could see something pink in the distance. [Insert whimper-y noise here.] They were flamingos. So close, but behind a locked gate. A guy came out of a half-built house nearby and shouted at me. His hand gesture lead me to believe that I could just jump the gate, it was okay. Woo. Thirty seconds later, he came back out, and shouted lots of Spanish that made me realise I should walk the other way. It was quite swampy where I did walk, so probably a good job he told me. It was quite lovely there. A few geese here and there, and a group of about ten or so flamingos just over the way. It was wonderful to see the occasional fella flying in to join his mates at the edge of the lagoon. I was soon joined by a dog on my walk. She came out of nowhere and tagged along. Now and then she’d put on a little display for me by running towards some geese so I could see then flying, but mostly, she just tagged along. She ate some cow shit, though, which I assume was to show me that she was a maverick. I jumped over the gate, she slipped through a gap in the fence, and we left the reserve and did what we both wanted to do more than anything: play with a stick on the dusty, empty road.