Andrea Dunlop is on a quest to accomplish a bucket list of items in this, her 29th year. You can read more about Andrea’s adventures at her personal blog, thirty-things.
Buenos Aires had been the city of my dreams long before I visited for a long weekend when I was twenty-five. Years ago I’d had a close encounter with it from just across the river.
I took two years of Spanish in college from a wild-tempered, rotund professor called Hector Brazil. During the January term my sophomore year, he took a group of students to his home country of Uruguay to take Spanish classes in a tiny town called Colonia del Sacramento, a place best known for its proximity to Buenos Aires, which is right on the other side of the wide, murky Rio de la Plata.
When I was there as a student I had the unbelievable good fortune of living with the Acosta family: Yamandu and Susana and their young children Juan and Maca, ages 6 and 4. They were warm and worldly and having spent time in the states when they were younger, they blessedly spoke English. I had an instant, easy bond with the family and the children were energetic and adorable. We ate dinner together many nights and afterwards we’d put on cumbia music and dance together in the living room, the three adults sharing an after dinner amaretto.
My fellow students and I took classes each day and then lolled away the afternoons on the long stretch of beach by the river drinking mate. At night we went dancing at the one nightclub in the town. Susana insisted that I call her to come and get me when I was out with my friends in the evening. She told me she was up late with the kids anyway. When I got home in the wee hours, we’d often sit up in the kitchen for another couple of hours drinking tea and talking about the deep, abstract things you find yourself discussing in the middle of the night.
On Tuesday nights everyone danced candomble out in the streets and Susana took me up to the poorer neighborhood where she took Juan to learn to play the tamboril, it was more authentic here, she said. Some teenage girls who lived there taught me how to do the dance and I followed them through the streets dancing under the moonlight to the beat of the giant drums that followed behind us. It was then I became acquainted with the best feeling a traveler can ever have: the simultaneous sensation of being somewhere you aren’t supposed to be and being welcome there.
When you’re as young as I was then, it seems that a deep connection with someone means they will always be in your life but years go by and prove that this is not the case. I’ve lived in many different places and keeping in touch with all the people you’ve connected with along the way is a battle you inevitably lose.
It’s easier to get back in touch with people than ever, what once took serious reconnaissance efforts now takes five minutes on Facebook, and yet the reticence to contact people remains; what if they’re upset with you that you didn’t call them all of those years? What if it’s awkward and it tarnishes the memory of the time you spent with them?
From my apartment in Palermo, I could see the shadow of Colonia’s shoreline just as I had once gazed out from the Acostas’ house onto the light of Buenos Aires at night. Of course I had to see them.
On my last day in Buenos Aires before leaving for Ushuaia, I skipped my final Spanish class and took the Buque Bus (the huge fast-moving ferry that travels back forth across the river) to Colonia to spend the afternoon with them. You’re never quite prepared for how different children will look when you haven’t seen them in a decade, you know they won’t look the same and yet the sight of someone you remember as a toddler standing several inches taller than you as my host brother Juan now does is still a shock. Yamandu and Susana looked just the same, as did Colonia itself with its beautiful crooked cobblestone avenues.
As we walked around in the sweltering sunlight I remembered the idyllic month I’d spent there. The nights sitting up in the kitchen talking to Susana, the cheap dinners at the sidewalk cafés with friends, riding along the river with that one beautiful boy; Juan and Maca as children, happily clinging to my legs. All at once it felt like a million years since I’d been here and as though it had been just yesterday. That’s how it is with the ones you love, no matter how much time goes by.