Back in Buenos Aires my friend Jennifer from California came to visit and travel with me for about ten days. We decided to meet in Buenos Aires and make a trip to Iguazú Falls, which would be her first time out of the United States; we were both pretty stoked about the trip.
Having traveled alone for nearly ten months, I was interested to see what it would be like traveling with a companion.
When you are traveling alone, it all comes down to you. The good, the bad and the ugly, the triumphs and successes and the bitter defeats; the booking and reserving and debating and deciding; the considering and weighing of options, calculating costs and estimating budgets, managing the finances and evaluating alternatives; every decision comes down to you.
Perhaps you can imagine, there are advantages and disadvantages to this model. On one hand, there is no compromising. There is no being considerate of the others. There is no watching out for your travel partner. There is only #1, and total freedom.
On the other hand, you have to do everything, and you are responsible for the results. There is no one to share the workload or help make decisions. It’s on you.
Throughout the year I’ve come across lots of people traveling together in different combinations: two bros, two gals, lots of bfs and gfs and fiancés and married couples, and groups of friends from three to five or occasionally more. Sometimes traveling for a bit or just spending a day with such groups, I’ve keenly observed the dynamic of these partnerships: their communications, their little ways and behaviors, their preferences and pet peeves, their silent compromises and irritabilities, the occasional subtle stingers and darts, “well, if you had decided earlier we could have booked the tour in time;” the synergy, the division of labor, the travel compatibility and the group morale.
How do they communicate? Are they getting on each other’s nerves? Are they a little annoyed? Where is the compromise? What is the separation of labor, and who does what? Is this a democracy or a dictatorship? Who is the odd-man out? How does it all work?
How does it affect our accommodation? Do we always stay in the same room, do we stay in hostel dorms or private rooms, and does that make it harder to find availability? Is it harder to couchsurf?
How does the food work? Do we all have the same eating habits and nutritional requirements? Do we like to cook or eat out? Do we have a vegetarian, a food allergy, a fussy eater?
Surely these aren’t all the questions, but you can understand, reader, how very different things are traveling alone versus traveling with others.
And I’ve been alone for ten months, so this should be great.
Such were the circumstances when I arrived at the Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires at 0840 via two hour journey on my beloved Linea Ocho. It had been a long trip for Jennifer, including an eight hour layover in Dallas and a 10 hour overnight flight into BA. The return journey on Linea Ocho was crowded, hot, stuffy and uncomfortable, so we finally bailed out and caught a taxi the rest of the way.
We stayed at the Garden House Hostel, a nice and friendly little place in a slightly questionable neighborhood, where we met some cool people and made good friends. Hanging out with Joe and Hannah from Britain, recently moved to Argentina to work and live for a year, teaching English and eating “tin fish” from the can (thanks Boa for pointing out that this was disgusting). Listening to Cliff from Chattanooga strumming Willie Nelson, and Boa from Atlanta discuss the breeding of domesticated toucanettes, and both of them chit-chatting like it’s the monthly sewing circle walking through Palermo. And the really nice staff at the Garden House, Pam and Eugenia and Noah and the others.
We spent a few days in BA, doing a walking tour, eating empañadas, going to the horse races with Cliff and Boa – where Jennifer won on her first ever race – and BBQing yummy and ridiculously cheap steaks. Seriously, for two huge, thick, tender, perfectly marbled steaks it costs 30 pesos, about $6. Things aren’t generally cheap in Argentina, but steak is. And wine.
“Cambio cambio dolares cambio,” echoes the endless refrain on Calle Florida.
After debating for a couple of days on how and if we could pull it off, calling airlines and checking bus schedules, we finally decided we just couldn’t not go to Iguazú Falls. We booked our bus tickets and got ready for the journey.
The day of our journey we left with boatloads of time to make it to the bus terminal, in fact the same day that Cliff was pulling out of shop for Rio.
After connecting to Linea C we were a straight shot to the bus terminal. Two stops away the train grinded to a halt as it does at every station, only this time something was different. We stayed stopped. Are you kidding me? We waited, nervously glancing down at the time. Hmmm, so are we gonna get this baby rolling again? After over 10 minutes and the travel meter upgrading from no concern to mild concern, we abandoned the subte. We can’t be that far away and we have at least 30 minutes before wheels up.
Only once we hit the surface, we didn’t know what direction to go or how to get there. We thought. Checked maps and compasses. Looked around. Thought more. Chose a direction, and moved. Mild concern to strong concern.
I’ll spare you all the drama, but tell you that the last ten minutes were spent at a dead run, weaving through booths and handicrafts and dogs and Argentines, reaching the terminal at the moment of departure, sweating, and making for a less comfortable ride.
The subte breaking down? Are you serious?!? Here it is in writing: this one was not my fault. But it didn’t matter. We were on the bus to Iguazú.
We’d taken the cama bus (meaning bed, and an upgrade from semi-cama), which was pretty comfortable with chairs that reclined past 45 degrees, as well as decent meals, wine and whisky. That was good because it was a 17-hour trip.
We made it to Puerto Iguazú around noontime the next day and found El Guembe, our cute little hostel only two blocks from the bus terminal. That day we relaxed for a while before taking a walk through town and then down to Tres Fronteras, where one can stand and see the borders of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, each with its own obelisk painted in its respective national colors. Steak and wine night again!
The next day we made trip we were there for, into the National Park to see the falls. You can’t really say much about Iguazú except that it’s truly spectacular. We could only stay on the Argentine side (there is a Brazilian side as well) because Jennifer didn’t have a Brazilian visa, but the Argentine side is supposedly where all the action is anyway so we weren’t too bothered.
The park is really well set up, with walkways and balconies extending all around the falls. We hiked the low trail, high trail, and eventually up to Garganta de Diablo, the Devil’s Throat – aptly named, the spot were the water begins falling. Incredible. We saw lots of animals including raccoon-like coatis, three-foot lizards, giant ants, and hundreds of butterflies and birds. The only thing we missed was the jungle trail which had closed by the time we got there, but got a pretty good look at everything else. A particularly bold coati also tried to eat my salami sandwich.
We made it back to BA on a Sunday, and quickly made our way out to an antique fair that we’d hear about. There must have been 20 blocks in San Telmo of antiques, crafts, arts, food, people dressed in the most ridiculous costumes, games and all sorts of weird shit. We also met a young fellow who invited us to a big jazz show later that night in Palermo. We finally got there only 20 minutes before it was over, which was actually great because we got in for free and still got to see three or four songs. KDT!
Another day brought us upon a surprise tango show over a steak and wine lunch in San Telmo, rental bicycles and a cruise through colorful and lively La Boca – which took us into the hood after a wrong turn, prompting some anxiety and discomfort, and for good reason – and a tour of the fabulous Palacio Barolo.
And for our last day we stopped in for coffee at the famous Cafe Tortoni, strolled along Calle Florida, and had one more steak and wine night, with an excellent fresh salad.
Taking Jennifer back to EZE, this time we took the subte as far as we could in hopes of limiting the amount of time we’d be sitting on Linea Ocho. This was a success, but it was short-lived as it still took another 30 minutes to catch a bus, as each passing Linea Ocho was absolutely crammed with people. On top of that we hadn’t quite calculated that we were making our journey during rush hour.
Despite the travel meter approaching mild manic, we did make it to the airport on time to send Jennifer back to the United States of America. Another sad goodbye, as so many have been this year.
As I was waiting for my fifth journey on Linea Ocho, and while chatting with a few fellows just arriving in BA, we were fortuitously approached by a taxi driver offering a ride into central for only 100 pesos. Split three ways it was absolutely worth saving two-plus hours, especially since I was coming right back here first thing in the morning. Worth noting also – while I’d been planning on Linea Ocho one last time at 0400 the next morning, I was strongly discouraged by the fellow at my hostel, telling me that the bus may only run once an hour at that time and I could be standing out on the street, alone, at 0400 and very vulnerable. Imploring me that there would be an extremely high chance of getting robbed, and that 180 pesos might be expensive but far better than risking the worst, I finally decided to bite the bullet and take a taxi. Though reluctant to part with the cheese, it was a relief to get an extra hour and a half of sleep and not get on the dreaded Linea Ocho ever again.
And so, the verdict? How was it, traveling with a companion, and after so many months on the lonely heath?
First of all, it was only nine or ten days, so a small sample size. That said, it was just fantastic having Jennifer there. Not only did we have a great time together and an outstanding trip, but the teamwork was exceptional. It felt so freakin great to not be responsible for everything all the time.
I’ll do the dishes while you book the travel plans. You take care of dinner and I’ll research our next destination. You get this, I’ll get that, for god’s sake you make the decision, I’m not fielding decisions today. Not having to pack up everything to carry your backpack into the bathroom at the bus station. There are so many little things that make it great to have a travel partner.
And of course, it may or may not have been a long enough time to start feeling the little annoyances of being with one person for extended time, but Jennifer and I get along and travel well together anyway.
I think having her come and visit was perfect – and good timing; if you couldn’t tell from my last post I’d been getting a bit frustrated. I got to relax a bit more, enjoy a bit more, and not have to worry about everything all the time. I got to share some of the awesome things I’ve been doing with someone else. And it was great to see Jennifer and spend the week together.
All of that being said, and I’ve said it before: there is nothing like traveling alone.
With Jennifer gone I was abruptly back on my own, alone again, looking on toward the next country, and the remaining weeks of my journey around the world.
Gee, ain’t it funny, how time slips away.
Have you traveled alone, or with companions? What do you prefer? .