Old Memories, New Explorations
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Reflecting on the 26th of December, the small choices in life, and a visit to La Boca.
The 26th of December, Boxing Day as the Aussies tell me, but a day of different significance for me. Today is the 2nd anniversary of the 2004 tsunami that left about 230,000 people dead or missing along the shores of the Indian Ocean.
I was in Thailand at the time, and could have easily been one of the 5,395 that died in the country that day (half of whom were tourists). The decision to visit the island of Ko Phangan and attend the famous (or infamous) Full Moon Party probably saved my life (as both events occurred on the same day that year).
Earlier this year I met a young couple in Ecuador who also happened to be in Thailand at the time, except they were on the coast that got hit (unlike me, safe in the Gulf of Thailand). They were in the lobby of their hotel, in the middle of checking out, when the water rushed into the complex. They described a scene of death, destruction, and survival that none should have to experience.
The event was one of the biggest reasons that I decided then and there that I was going to need a better way to communicate with people (other than e-mail) if I was going to travel perpetually. Maintaining e-mail addresses can be a bother and mass mailings would eventually get out of hand.
I needed a way for friends and family to be able to check in on me without me forcing another e-mail into their inbox. People should be able to pull information at their convenience, instead of relying on me to push it to them. This was the founding idea behind what would eventually become this Web site.
I returned to the United States and stopped watching, reading, and listening to the news. At first it was because I didn't want to hear anything more about the tsunami, but then it was because of the content. I use to watch CNN all the time, but in 2005 I think I saw maybe 10 minutes of news. Every time I turned on the television something was blowing up, or someone had done this or that to a child—I had enough. I cut the news out, and my life was better tasting and less filling because of it. I figured if it was really important, someone else would eventually tell me about it.
Two years later I find myself reflecting on the small choices that are made every day that can completely change the course of a life. The decision to approach a boy or girl and start talking could lead to marriage, the random taxi you get into could be the one that drives you down an alley to be relieved of your belongings—the permutations of a single day are limitless.
I'm suddenly thinking of the movie Groundhog Day.
Like Flies To Honey
I went to a district of Buenos Aires today called La Boca, and can't remember the last time I felt so uncomfortable.
Tourists are drawn to the colorfully painted structures, tango, artwork, food, and souvenir shops. I was drawn to the idea of buildings of Caribbean color, and the description that the area surrounding the tourist bubble was dangerous and poverty-stricken.
Tours are offered in hostels and travel agencies that claim to show you the rougher side while keeping you safe. The place sounded like Venus Flytrap—tourists drawn to sweetness in the middle of impending danger. I was interested.
For me, the most dangerous (and annoying) part of La Boca was the tourist bubble—what I often refer to as Zona Gringo. I jump off the local bus and start walking around the bubble. Instantly I'm turned off by the men on the street hustling to try and get me into their store, restaurant, or whatever. No, I don't want a photo with a tango dancer.
I darted straight out of the colorful streets lined with tables and vendors, with a police presence on most every corner, and into the surrounding neighborhood. Stray dogs and dilapidated two-story homes with exteriors of worn, grey wood or rusted corrugated steel (a personal displeasure of mine) were around me. I'm told water and sewer access in this district is still sporadic, but I'm not sure I entirely believe it.
I could see why folks would be intimidated walking around this place, but after five minutes of acclimated I was infinitely more comfortable in the area than back where the tourists were. I walked, chatted with a few locals, and enjoyed the absence of tour buses and people running around with cameras in hand.
You know, if anything can be learned from La Boca, it's the remarkable improvement a couple of buckets of paint can have on your living environment. Seriously, if I could get folks to paint rusting aluminum a vibrant shade of purple or blue, I think it would have a tremendously positive physiological impact on everyone. Just a little paint can turn slum—and I would never go as far as to call the area around the bubble in La Boca a slum, as I have seen and walked around in 10 times worse—into something that folks actually might enjoy looking at.
I'm curious about how this little section of La Boca got started, and how it became the tourist attraction that it is today. I'll have to look into that.
Christmas dinner and conversation with the Italians from the Caribbean yesterday evening was fantastic. They loved the Spanish I was speaking, and I enjoyed how much Italian I could pick up with my limited Spanish vocab (a lot of similarities). It feels like such a small world sometimes, and was truly one of the highlights of Argentina.