August 4th, 2004

beach bum

Gustavo en el parque

After spending an hour behind a screen last evening, I walked back to my hotel. It was getting dark, not really dark yet, so when I crossed Parque España, just before my hotel I decided to try and take a picture of the trees anyway. It´ll probably not be a good one, but I had to try. Two trees on the edge were so great, I just had to try. They seemed very old, the branches were so long and low, that they needed support not to reach the ground. Typically a tree to guarantee shade from the sun in winter, but also privacy for young couples who don´t want everyone to see them.

To take that picture I get up on some sort of platform that in better days could have had a statue on top of it, but now seemed to be there for no other reason than to give me the chance to take a better shot at the trees. After shooting I walked back down the steps, past a beer bottle that seemed empty, but wasn´t as someone appeared and picked it up. I joke that I wasn´t going to steal his beer and turn left to my hotel.

But somehow we started talking. At first I was a bit cautious. I am an experienced traveller, yet when I am in a city with a lot of poor and homeless, it is getting dark and someone who drinks beer in a park is getting close, I am not completely at ease I have to admit. The general appearance of nearly all Argentine (and Uruguyan for that matter) men doesn´t really help in that respect either. They always seem a month late for a haircut and three days due for a good shave. So was he.

Soon it turned out that my suspicions weren´t correct though. He turned out to be a very nice chap indeed. Obviously within one remark he noticed that my accent was´t one he recognized. So our conversation was mainly about the differences between the Netherlands and Argentina. Interesting enough to keep me there for quite a while.

He is working in Santa Fe, though he is originally from Rosario, my next destination. He is proudly praising his city. This is quite funny, as it doesn´t sound very promising at all. Already after two attractions (the river and a monument) he is stuck and the third attraction he cites is the terminal, where I´ll arrive tomorrow. But I´m not laughing, I don´t want to offend him or his city. In Santa Fe he does some job in construction, though my Castellano is not good enough to understand what exactly he is doing. Something with ceilings if I got it right. It doesn´t pay well, but it´s better than no job at all at home. Friday he goes home again, he will then see his girlfriend again, who has taken the opposite route: she is from Santa Fe, but studies in Rosario. She will be a doctor when she´s finished, so I make a joke, thinking of the Latino machismo, and tell him that she will provide the income and he will have to stay at home looking after the kids. He laughs and says that she will make more than he does, but still not be rich. The economy has had some serious hits in Argentina.

For a while we compare prizes. I make 7 times his salary, though when we compare what I pay for rent, food and a lot of other things, that does make sense as well. He wants to know if I have a car, I tell him about my 11 year old cause for problems, but can´t tell what a new car cost back home. I guestimate and find out he likes a car with big booming bass speakers.

He asks me a lot of questions about travelling, about the costs (only my flight here would cost him 5 months salary), where to stay, where to eat. He recommends a 7 peso (about 2 and a half dollar) all you can eat (new expression for me: tenedor libre) a few streets up. If he were some street bummer I would take this as a hint, but now I´m just tired and want to get back to my hotel. I have been standing here for at least half an hour, it is dark, I have been walking the streets for hours, my backpack is getting heavier.

I greet him and introduce myself. This is something I learned while travelling. One could just leave, knowing that we will never meet again anyway, but it is somehow quite nice to end a conversation like that. His name is Gustavo and he wishes me nice travels. I thank him and tell him that I will enjoy myself in his hometown tomorrow.

Back in the hotel I have to decide where to eat what, feel that I should go back to the park and invite him to come along, but something in me stops me from doing so. It is easier to just get a burger across the road and get an early night.
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