„Tandil is known for its mountains and picknicks and is the perfect weekend destination for city dwellers. The sleepy town, standing out from the Argentinian plain Pampa, is only five hours away from Buenos Aires.“ Maybe that’s how a description of Tandil would look like in a travel magazine. However, the truth is: Tandil is not a soft touch of nothingness. Tandil is its whole fist in your face. It is exatctly the spot I needed to put a little distance between me and the pulsating sounds of Buenos Aires. Let’s go get lost.
Five hours by bus is nothing but a stone’s throw away – at least that’s what Argentinians would say. Travelling in such a vast country like Argentina is a great exercise in calmness and planning ahead, but meanwhile I am used to the shady streets of the bus station in Retiro, Buenos Aires. Everytime I go there I feel more confident and don’t run around like a maniac, just because the bus isn’t arriving in time. I got on the Bus at midnight, slept a bit and arrived in the town of „far and wide nothing to see“ at five in the morning. It was so quiet! What a relief. But what a madness at the same time. Why was I doing this again? Wandering across the empty streets, I missed my cosy pillow from home. And by home I mean Buenos Aires, as home is any place I feel welcome. In Tandil I din’t know yet if I was welcome for the simple reason that I didn’t see enybody. I reminded myself that I had been looking for an adventure. However I wasn’t sure if that place was the right one to collect new stories. I just started walking and kept going for seven hours. I didn’t really know yet if couchsurfing would work out, so there was nothing to do except meeting up with Alfredo, a nice pensioner, in the afternoon. Making my way through the streets, the adventure started right away.
After accidentally wandering up the wrong mountain, Picapedrero, I discovered a large protected area where I could stay to have breakfast (I always carry a bunch of fruits in my backpack). I saw everything I wanted before the rangers arrived and actually opened the park’s doors.
Hiking is hard for me, personally. But it is not the physical endeavor that demands my energies, but the free flow of thoughts. In Buenos Aires, all the thousand things are never thought through to the end because there is just too much destraction. However, in the mountains, you can’t escape from them until you worked your way through them. And the you reach an incredibly calm state of mind. It is the perfect mental training.
Action! What a coincidence that the day I visited Tandil the whole town came together! Usually you would not meet a single person in the afternoon bacause of the merienda (coffee break), still less on a Sunday. But this day, everyone put on their best clothes, in the brightest colours, celebrating the 60 years anniversary of local folklore dance groups.
After joining the traditional dances and seeing the show, I wanted to stock up with local cheese. I found this wonderful small “almacén“ in 14 de Julio and stayed there to read and relax. The owners are incredibly charming!
At the restaurant I experienced one of those moments I would have loved to share with good company. It was harder than I thought to meet people in Tandil, or at least have more to say than answering the routine question “de dónde sos?” (Where are you from?) It felt really weird, sitting alone at that huge table. The waiters all spoke very fast Spanish and I didn’t really understand the menu, which is why I ended up eating tons of cheese.
Sometimes weird scenarios of are flashing through my mind when I travel solo. In this particular moment, feeling a bit out of place, in my thoughts I imagined the waiter removing the candle from the table and blowing it out with an indifferent expression, telling me in his own way of expression that I am not welcome there. Is that how I cope with unfamiliar situations? Is that really how I come to terms with outlandishness? However, visualizing your fears (of being a stranger) always showed me that even the worst scenario is bearable, I guess. But suddenly the waiter came around. He took the candle and I looked at him, not being able to grasp what was happening there right now. As the seconds elapsed, the man killed the flame, and then, slowly, replaced the candle in the candlestick with a smile on his face. His smile vanished as, putting the candle back on my table, he saw me staring at him speechlessly. So I realized that maybe the whole world isn’t against me. It’s not even about me at all, I am much less important than I think, and people don’t want to do me harm. What an intense experience of my own insecurity while travelling on my own! When I hitchhiked my way through Tandil during the daytime, I never felt any kind of fear or uncertainty. There was no time for such a fuss, but in the restaurant there was, and I dove right into it. By this situation I learned about myself that not being able to share my meal is definitely something that bothers me travelling alone.
Exchanging ideas and getting lost in intense conversation was exactly what I had missed. My host, Alfredo, was definitely the right company for it. In the morning, he even prepared some breakfast for me and we chatted about politics for about two hours. In fact, it is almost impossible to avoid highly contentious discussions about Peronism or corruption in Argentina, as its population just loves to talk about it. Aflredo even gave me a book about Argentinian politics as a present. I was glad to get to know someone and return to Buenos Aires, having made a new friend.
The night I wanted to return to Buenos Aires was not the first time a damaged V-Belt changed my travel plans. However I somehow learned to always look on the bright side in bad situations. It was cold, dark and we were in the middle of the street. But there were people and there was time. So what else was there to do than starting a chat with a sociology professor from UBA? We tried to hitchhike for about two and a half hours until another bus came around to take us back to Buenos Aires. I enjoyed every single minute talking about Wittgenstein and Foucault (which is quite a challenge to me in Spanish) and I didn’t feel like I was travelling all alone. The guy even officialy apologized in the name of Argentina for all the difficulties and repeated his apologies in a really fun email (reference: intrépida): “Te vuelvo a pedir disculpas oficialmente en nombre de la República Argentina por el penoso viaje de ayer. No vayas a quejarte a la embajada, somos así, acá todo anda más o menos y en el fondo nos gusta.” Thanks, Javier!
I was very lucky that in the end I had an incredibly nice experience. Even though travelling alone sometimes really sucks, it is the best way to get to know people. However, being comfortable with your own company should be the first thing to learn when you are travelling alone. Figuring out what interests you, which direction to travel and what you can’t bear at all are key abilities of independent travellers, and I am just about to practice that. What is more, if something goes wrong during your journey, there is no one left to blame except yourself, which makes you extremely aware of your decisions, and maybe even a more responsible person. In only two days of travelling on my own, I felt lonelyness, outlandishness, and confusion, but also love, creativity and pure energy. With this in mind, coming home to the familiar streets of Buenos Aires feels even more rewarding.