Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of reports from Jim DuFresne, the main contributor at MichiganTrailMaps.com, who is traveling in Argentina. Due to technical problems in South America this entry of Trail Talk is a week late getting posted.
I was on a roll on my journey halfway around the world to catch a trout.
I arrived at O´Hara Airport in Chicago in snow and freezing rain but my plane still departed, on time no less, for New York. We landed at JFK Airport ahead of schedule under blue skies and dry conditions. In Buenos Aires, my duffle bag was the first piece of luggage to appear on the carousel and at customs they just waved me through.
Thirty two hours after leaving Chicago, I was sitting down with my daughter at a small outdoor cafe in the northwest neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, waiting for our dinner of milanesa, basically a piece of beef that has been pounded thin and then cooked with cheese, mushrooms, bacon and other toppings. It’s the ultimate meat lover´s pizza in a land known for its fine beef.
At the sidewalk café, in the cool of the evening, we were mapping the next leg of my journey to Junin de los Andes, a small town in the heart of the Patagonia´s Lakes District, in the foothills of the Andes Mountains and only 30 miles from the Chile border. It is the self proclaimed “fly fishing capital” of Argentina, a place where all the street signs are adorned with leaping trout. It is almost 1,000 miles southwest of Buenos Aires and I was going to reach it by a combination of planes, taxis and an all-night bus ride.
My daughter lives and works in Buenos Aires and is fluent in Spanish. But she wasn´t going to be at my side like she was at the restaurant ordering milanesa. So in my notebook I asked her to write “where is the bus station?”
Donde esta el terminal de omnibus?
“You realize they are going to give you the answer in Spanish,” she said after translating the phrase.
“And I won’t be able to understand a word of it.”
So Jessica wrote Necesito ir al terminal de omnibus?
It translates into “I need to go to the bus station” and I practiced it with a slight accent of desperation.
I really wished I had paid more attention to Mrs. Gonzales, my high school Spanish teacher, because it’s always better to know the language for the place you’re trying to reach. But still it’s amazing how far you can traveled armed with only the Lonely Planet Latin America Spanish Phrase Book and a determination to get there.
Flagging a taxi and then getting him to take me to Buenos Aires’ domestic airport, as opposed to the international one. Following the other passengers when they changed our gate and then again when they changed our planes, not knowing why I was boarding a bus and being driven across two runways. Asking somebody where the banos was.
In the next 15 hours, all my conversations began with hola and ended with mucho gracias. In between, there was a lot of sign language, pointing and an occasional word of English or Spanish. Argentina is not like Mexico where, due to its relationship and proximity to the U.S., everybody in the travel industry seems to know a few key words of English.
Here I was on my own.
After arriving in Neuquen, I had to find my way to the bus station in the middle of this mid-size city. I walked out to the line of taxis and to the first one said “bus station.” He looked confused. So I opened my notebook and butchered the phrase Jessica wrote down. Now he was even more confused.
So I showed him the notebook, hoping that all those nights I spent harping on my daughter when she was in third grade about the importance of good penmanship would pay off 20 years later. It did.
“Ah! Si, al terminal de omnibus!”
Off we went. When he kept asking me the same question during the ride and it included donde, I gave him the only thing I could think of, Junin de los Andes. It was obviously the right answer and later I realized he just wanted to know which platform of the bus station to drop me off.
But at the time I thought we were actually having a conversation so I said “Going fishing.” He didn’t understand the English but he clearly understood the wave of my arm as if I was casting a fly rod.
“Ah, ir de pesca.”
“Going to catch peces.”
“Si, si,” he said with a big smile.
I was on a roll so I topped off the conversation with Peces Grandes!, saying it as if I was super-sizing my burrito at Taco Bell.
At that he laughed and was still smiling when he pulled into the bus station. He dropped me off where the buses for Junin de los Andes depart and when handing me my duffle bag said something I’m pretty sure meant good luck catching that big fish.
Early the next morning, after a seven-hour bus ride that stopped at a dozen small towns throughout the night, I arrived at a beautiful log lodge on the outskirts of Junin de los Andes with mountains on the horizon taking on a pink glow of the sunrise. Above the door was a large carving of a rainbow trout.
When an older gentleman answered the doorbell and in broken English said “welcome to Rio Dorado Lodge,” I almost hugged him, realizing, once again, the journey is always half the adventure.