Highlights: Argentina and Uruguay

November 2011

“Tell me about your trip,” our friend Allison says. “How did it go?”

The scene is a second-floor sushi restaurant near downtown Orlando, looking out across the road at a block building shared by a bridal store and a mixed martial arts dojo. It is our usual place, Karimé and mine, where we began to plot this adventure. Now three days later, she and I sit with Allison, just in town from Oakland on business. Allison peppers us with questions: “Where did you go? How did the two of you get along?”

In Around the World in Eighty Days, Phileas Fogg tells tales over bitters at his private London club. “What adventures did you have, old boy?” his listeners would ask. “What marvels did you see?”

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Karimé

Argentina
November 2011

When I announced last December that I was going to Argentina on my next trip, Karimé insisted on coming along. “If you go to Argentina without me, I will disown you,” she told me. “You’ll be dead to me.”

For nearly one year, we prepared and plotted. I bought her a book she barely read. We consulted friends who had been there. “Tres Fronteras Iguazú,” her Puerto Rican friends told her. Our friend Dorcas recommended Uruguay. Raquel said Mendoza definitely, for the wine. We held meetings, bought very expensive plane tickets, consulted travel agents who were no help at all.

It’s been the hardest trip I’ve taken thus far. I don’t tell her that.Karimé is one of my closest friends. If our friendship survives this trip, it will be great. She is four-foot-ten and Puerto Rican, permanently twenty-seven — well, when we met several years ago, she was twenty-five. She’s carrying the biggest, fire-engine-red, rolling suitcase I can imagine to store all her hair products. She has to lug that thing up several flights of stairs at every hotel. I keep waiting for her to snap, but so far, she’s been a trooper. She survived the shared room in Montevideo. The soaking rain at Iguazú. The overnight bus.

It’s been the hardest trip I’ve taken thus far. I don’t tell her that. She’s sunk every penny she has into this trip. I wanted something better for her.

Argentina Is My Waterloo

Puerto Iguazú, Argentina
November 2011

“Can’t touch this,” Karimé says. “When did parachute pants come back?”

She’s pointing at a young, blonde, German woman who is wearing the billowy, patterned pants young, artsy girls have brought back from places like Madras. “It would make sense if it was a skirt,” Karimé says. “But this? Not even MC Hammer would touch this.”

We are standing in an absurd crowd that is bum-rushing the boarding gate at the Puerto Iguazú bus station. It is a crowd of people we’ve been seeing all day. This afternoon at the airport waiting for the flight that ultimately was cancelled, same as all the flights that were cancelled today, that were cancelled yesterday.

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Lo de Juan

Puerto Iguazú, Argentina
November 2011

The bald man at Lo de Juan approaches us at our usual table in the corner, looking out on the street at the top of the hill descending into the center of town. He takes our drink order: wine for Karimé, a short beer for me. “Empanadas,” Karimé tells him. “I just want empanadas.”

It’s early evening, our second night in Puerto Iguazú. Our skins still feel waterlogged from sloshing around in the day-long monsoon at the falls, culminating in our dowsing in a boat underneath the torrential cascades. Only a long, hot shower — okay, a relatively long, mostly lukewarm shower — is giving me any life. My rain-soaked clothes and shoes are in a soggy pile in the back corner of the bathroom at the hotel. I’m in my last dry shirt and pair of pants, wearing dress shoes with no socks. Across the table, Karimé’s eyes are bleary, her hair tied up, her expression sort of bewildered when I expected dead-dog tired or pissed-off.

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A Note to Murphy Ailara About How My Camera Died

Iguazú Falls, Argentina and Brazil
November 2011

It rained, heavy monsoon-like rain that lasted all day. Karimé and I took the little train to the farthest and greatest of the massive double-decker falls where Argentina meets Brazil. She wore a long, blue poncho that covered her body from head to toe, and for once in her life she was glad she was as short as she is. I once again cursed the limitations of my flimsy rain jacket, which was less than useless.

We began at the top of the swirling maelstrom of Garganta del Diablo, a nearly circular funnel of rushing water that crashed more than 200 feet to the bottom like a constant explosion. Rain from above, a watery backlash from below, the air so filled with mist that you could hardly see beyond the great hole.

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Border Crossings

Puerto Iguazú, Argentina
November 2011

The visa officials at the Brazilian consulate in Puerto Iguazú turn us away with instructions, forms to fill out, photos and bank statements to obtain. At best, our visas will take 24 hours to process. For this we were unprepared, despite the call to the Miami consulate before our departure. There’s a note taped to the desk in English, “It is not our fault if you did not plan your trip better.”

The one official who speaks English says it’s harder for Brazilians to enter the U.S. For one, the U.S. requires fingerprints. I’d sympathize, but what transpires from this point on sets off a three-hour odyssey through torrential rain — photos in one place, a frantic hunt for a cyber cafe with functional printers that’s actually open (signs saying open at 8:30 a.m. mean nothing here). The only one that’s open has a faulty internet connection that keeps knocking us offline just as we are submitting the forms. Karimé felt the urge to stab someone until calmed by a beer at 10:15.

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