• Thu, Mar 31 2011

Chasing Thirty: Alone In Argentina

Andrea Dunlop is on a quest to check off a bucket list of adventures in her 29th year. You can read more about her adventures here

From the day I arrived in Argentina, there was a line of questioning I came to expect. I blend in pretty seamlessly in down there because of my dark hair and olive skin, but the moment I opened my mouth it was clear I wasn’t a native. So people asked where I was from, followed by wondering if I was I traveling alone, followed by wondering why was I traveling alone. I got this from everyone: taxis drivers, waiters, baristas. A woman alone in a foreign country provokes a variety of reactions from curiosity to concern to suspicion. I learned that the simplest way to answer this question, given my bad Spanish was to say “for an adventure” and leave it at that.

To be alone on the trip was part of the point. I think part of the reason people don’t like being single is because they feel like they need a partner to go do the things they want to do. Travel is a big one. I can’t even count the number of times I pledged to move abroad with friends over cocktails when the going got tough in New York and the reasonable solution seemed to be “eff this, let’s move to Paris where people will appreciate us.” But in the end, if I was going to do this, I couldn’t wait for someone to come with me.

Before I left for my trip I worried a little bit about getting lonely while I was traveling. But being alone has lots of advantages, one of which is how easy it is to meet people; add even one other person to the mix and you somehow become infinitely less approachable. I had the great fortune of meeting Julianna and Ninna on my second day of Spanish class in Buenos Aires.

Julianna is Brazilian and has so much quirky wisdom that I wanted to start scribbling down notes every time she told me something. She explained why South Americans are always late – “if you show up right at the meeting time the person might not be ready for you yet!”, the ways of love – “some guys are just the rice. Like with Brazilian food, the rice is always there but it’s never the main dish” and on life ‘‘life is beautiful, even when it’s terrible. You have to appreciate your sadness as well; it’s how you know you are alive. And it is always better to be really alive.”

Ninna is a blonde haired, blue-eyed Dutch girl who speaks seven languages and is the only person I know who can get away with using the word ‘lover’. Ninna had come to Argentina primarily to learn the tango; she said the hardest part about dancing for her was letting the man lead. I told her I could relate. Ninna’s and my bond was forever cemented when we spent a rather unforgettable night together in a Buenos Aires emergency room after someone slipped something in her drink and she passed out cold in the middle of the street.

Both girls were exactly the kind of women I would be friends with back home: smart, adventurous, ambitious. We were all around thirty and though we were from very different countries we had a lot in common: we were all well-travelled, unmarried, passionate about our work and excited to be on an adventure abroad. We spent long nights drinking, dancing and talking about what we wanted to do in the next year, before we were married, before we died.

Near the end of my trip, when I was in Ushuaia (the southernmost city in the world), I had one of my worst moments when I missed out on my planned penguin excursion because of weather. I ended up on another shorter boat tour feeling miserable. If you’ve been on a long trip abroad, you know there usually comes a moment when combination of the stress, the slight alienation of being abroad and the jetlag will catch up with you and make you totally overreact to something. This was that moment for me.

But the day turned around! I found out that our tour guide Julia, despite her perfect Spanish, was from a town about an hour away from where I grew up; it seemed like one of those beautiful moments of travel serendipity that couldn’t be ignored. I had dinner at her house that night and she told me all about her fascinating life in the strange, beautiful place and how she had come to live there after meeting her Argentine husband in Mexico.

I think a lot of people are nervous to travel alone, especially abroad, but looking back on my trip, with so many new fascinating people to meet, I almost never felt lonely. I didn’t even feel alone.

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  • K

    What a nice post. Very inspiring and relieving to read about another woman’s travels to South America, alone. I am planning a trip to Buenos Aires in December of this year, and I’ll be staying with a friend and her family for the first month, but the rest of the summer I’ll be on my own. Hope that I’ll meet some great people!