The eclipse was meant to be the end of my trip. And it was. It seems I was waiting around for a bit; worried weather or mountains would be in the way. The wait was worth it as not only did I get to see the stunning silhouette of the moon with the diamond-like ring around it, suspended in front of the second largest mountain range in the world near sunset. I got to experience it with new friends. Yep. Pretty incredible. I also got to witness a celebration for many first time eclipse watchers. And it IS the most incredible thing I have ever witnessed. Disney World? Take your kids to see the next total eclipse in December of 2020 down here and enjoy the show.
In my last blog you met David, a friend of Txaber’s, as a new travel buddy. Since we instantly bonded, he invited me up to the old farm house of his “abuelo” to witness the Totality. The town of Tudcum was smack dab in the center of the path of totality, in the rain shadow of the towering Andes.
Nearby, in Bella Vista, was a big event to watch it. Since my Spanish always misses something during the conversation, I was not aware of the plan. Exactly.
After sending my van home, I went to visit the beautiful Iguazu Falls, sneaking into Brazil to view them from both sides. Quite the spectacle. I then flew to Cordoba to spend some city time. Since I am leaving today, on the 4th, via a mileage ticket, there was gonna have to be some creative traveling to take in the eclipse 700 miles from where my flight home was leaving two days later.
Renting a car in advance, I drove the 400 miles from Cordoba to San Juan (where David’s family lives), taking in the beautiful Sierras enroute and practicing Spanish with hitchhikers. I arrived around 9 PM, and after meeting his family, David took me out for a few beers with his old friends; some of whom would be joining us for the eclipse. Lots of laughs and bad Spanish. But I could hang.
Spending the next day buying meat for an Asado and other supplies, we finally rolled into tiny Tudcum, Argentina around 3 PM. It was just David and I and I was pretty wrecked at that point. Of course, we prepared the house for everyone and while preparing David asked me if I wanted to get high. I haven’t smoked pot much on this trip so what the heck? He then asked me if I wanted to have some wine. Over the next 5 hours we chatted with the local kids, cleaned the rooms, built a fire in the fireplace, and I played some guitar. In between guitar sessions, David turned me on to even more of the Argentine music I have come to love. It was such a nice chill time. David speaks almost no English and we just sat and laughed and played music and he taught me some expressions in Spanish.
At one point he said, “Bob, estoy como quiero.” The exact translation is I am how I want. But what it really means is I am in this moment. I am here. I see it. I’m conscious of it. I feel it. It is not lost on me. I WANT to be here and am happy I am. Nowhere else. As I pondered this expression, we talked at length about the significance of the present moment and how life is easier when living there. Philosophizing in bad Spanish we continued our preparation (and more smoking and drinking) til some of his friends arrived. At like 10 PM. Fire, asado, more drinking, more smoking. 2:30 AM was Bob’s bedtime. For others? Somewhere between 4 and 8 am.
We rose late, ate, cleaned the house and made our way to Bella Vista. We spent the afternoon having beers and wine and fernet (and yes, my umpteenth Asado. Or as I called it, mi Asado diario. My daily Asado. A strange name for a special occasion that does NOT happen daily) and waiting for the eclipse.
For those that don’t know or have never seen a total solar eclipse, the moon starts biting into the sun a little over an hour before totality. And the path of totality is only about 100 miles wide. Trust me. The difference between 99.9% and 100% is a massive .1%. Having seen many lunar eclipses (and one solar), it is easy to say “yeah, yeah no big deal.” In fact, until it gets to about 90%, you don’t see too much color change or temperature change. Then, the shadows get weird, the light plays with your mind and twilight appears along the horizon. Still, up to the last minute, people tease fate and look under their glasses thinking they must do that. But it is still too bright. I tell them to wait, exercising my authority as the only repeat viewer in the crowd.
I chose to video my new friends witnessing it as I remember my expression two years ago. “Are you f @$#! ng kidding me!?” As the gap between moon and sun closes, in what seems life forever, finally we hit totality. At that moment, the whole world changes. We are in nearly instant complete darkness, and you have a 360 degree sunset with the light spreading and touching each area equally based on distance. The moon hangs there. The sun hangs there. Illuminated only by the stunning diamond-like ring that encircles the moon and twinkles brightly. The now dark Andes in the background. There is this moment in time you know won’t last. Or will it? You must drink it up. Make decisions on watching or filming. Knowing you have a little more than two minutes. Do you watch people or the horizon or the eclipse? The hourlong foreplay brings you to this surreal ecstasy of our smallness and how nature continues to show it is the greatest show on earth. The view is truly not believable. It is indescribable, though I try. There is this pause, the yelling and heavy breathing stops, and there is this pause. A short breath. Will it last forever? I am sure in ancient times that question was asked.
Then, in a burst of light, the sun peaks out from behind the moon, exploding back into our lives as though it had never left. Light is restored, and that moment of magic (and it truly looks and feels like magic) is only a memory. You feel reborn, magical, hopeful. Did that just happen? And you realize we are all insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Breathtaking, exhausting, exhilarating. Wow. Tears are shed. By just about everyone. I won’t miss another if I can help it.
I’m leaving today. I love Argentina. I have enjoyed Bolivia and Chile. But I love Argentina. The people I have met here seem like family. My Spanish is a constant frustration but it has now rocketed to the top of my priorities. Never again will I travel to Latin America only proficient. Fluency is next.
I feel safe here. I feel human here. The people are regular folks that really seem to want to just live and enjoy life. And it seems that everyone I meet, if not immediately then a few minutes after, greets me as a brother. Like I am coming home and we haven’t chatted in a while. “Como estas or como estamos?” The government or the weather. And never once did someone give me shit about being from the US. They loved my effort. At Spanish. At seeing their country. At pausing to chat. And none of that was lost on me.
Argentina seems much more like a collective country. It feels as though everyone is connected in some way. Like they assume you will be a good person or not selfish, yet have an interest in everyone’s wellbeing. I don’t know. Maybe I have just romanticized it because I can’t understand the language well enough to see the sniping, sibling rivalry or jealous words.
My trip is over. It was just a bit more than nine months. It started with Jenny and Joe and Elena and Thea in Milwaukee and ends at a computer in the Buenos Aires airport. In between, I traveled Spain and Portugal with my brother Dave (which seems like forever ago) and good friends Derek and Laura. I wandered through the Iberian Peninsula searching for I don’t know what.
I got to finally see South Africa and experience some of the history and animals there while spending quality time with old friends Andy and Jo. Then I dropped into America del Sur. I spent time with old friends Chris and Michael. And of course, I now have new ones. Too many to count. Antarctica never was a dream of mine (because I thought it was not possible) yet was otherworldly in its beauty. Nice to be spontaneous and be surprised, huh? My two new favorite animals are elephants and penguins.
Patagonia is a vast and stunning area that was surprisingly accessible. Of course, the van was a gamechanger. And a funny conversational topic. And I want to return with it someday.
Pascalle was one my longest travel companions ever. She is an amazing gal that I will be close with forever. How she put up with “Bob the traveler knows all and it is HIS van and he kinda speaks Spanish and oh yeah the van might strand us not one but three times?!?!” Confined to a tiny mobile box for several weeks taught me things about myself and others that I didn’t realize. It also taught me that the mix of a van and a house (with a bed) is really the best option. Home for a shower once in awhile then back out into the wild. We had tons of laughs, a few tears and several “Holy shit are we gonna get out of this?” She is now battle tested. She was a champ. And I miss her.
I do have some regrets. Logistically, I would have liked to have the van earlier. But then I wouldn’t have met some of my friends in the hostels. I certainly would have liked to have had my tent earlier.
I wanted more time. But I know where I will go now when I return. I also wanted to be better at Spanish. No matter what anyone says, you can’t LEARN Spanish while traveling; especially in a van. You can improve and get more comfortable, but I think you need a really good base first. One must stay put for a bit. In my opinion.
My guitar got worse. I played, but rarely practiced. And the reality is that with few exceptions, Dylan, Young and Springsteen are not showstoppers here. Again, in a van, with people, hiking. Something has gotta give. And I certainly can’t play their traditional music. Although, there WERE moments….
I did finish my first draft of a book I am writing. The skeleton is built. Now more meat is needed.
I was really really sad today when I started writing this as i knew I was leaving a dreamland to go home to a country that in my opinion has completely lost its way. And it does not seem to be getting any better. Facts and reality are competing with whatever someone thinks they think. It is now okay to just say shit that isn’t true. And believe it.
But now I am feeling better. I get to see friends and family, I get to enjoy my awesome house and garden, do tons of yoga, kayak and crab, and get ready for Bhutan in September! And I just relived an amazing nine months.
To be continued…….