With an alpaca wool poncho covering the tan on my shoulders, I waited at the airport of Frankfurt, Germany, for my last plane to Vienna. Due to what I have been through recently, I was lost in thoughts about luck. It is a sensation people only seem to notice when it’s either completely missing or when life rewards us so abundantly with it that we don’t believe that we deserve it. During my last days of my grand journey, I couldn’t decide which of the two applied to my experience.
During the four months I spent working and travelling in South America, I was blessed by so many great experiences. I went snowboarding to Bariloche in August, going there by an incredibly long and beautiful busride. The internship at the Austrian Embassy taught me more I could have ever asked for. An amazing friend joined me during a 25-day trip around Brazil. I talked to hundreds of people and made true friends. I experienced kindness, hospitality and pure, hilarious fun. What’s more I visited Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia and finally reached the goal of doing some scientific work.
In December, I experienced the greatest happiness of travelling solo again. After the stunning roundtrip in Brazil with Anna Maria Scherfler, I decided to head to Bolivia, enjoying both its people and environment. In order to reach either of them, they have to be discovered and approached with patience. Look closely and you will be granted a beautiful view. After several bus rides and encounters with lovely people, I visited the aboriginal Wichí tribes on the Argentinian border to Bolivia and Paraguay, doing some research on territorial issues. I had written my Bachelor thesis about the Aboriginal Association Lhaka Honhat earlier this year, and seized the chance to chat with them personally. I was lucky to see the great north of Argentina, then got a little sick of the altitude and took some nice shots of the Salinas Grandes, a salt desert. Spending all the remaining money in Buenos Aires, I experienced Argentina’s capital from totally free perspective, as I wasn’t caught up in a full-time job these days. I am truly convinced that the odds were with me during this odyssey which had not come to an end yet. Although there are so many more things to mention, this time I am telling you the story of my return that just did not want to happen.
A few days before my departure, I did not feel ready yet to go back to Austria. Thinking about that awful word culture shock (I am almost refusing to use it as I consider human beings capable of blending in if they are willing to do so), I knew that this sensation is going to hit me hard. Usually that shock is observed when people travel to destinations which are stranger to them. However, I discover that I feel overwhelmed every time I come home. Then I feel deeply amazed, offended and welcomed (all at the same time!) by my hometown and its people. Usually my solution is to prepare myself mentally for the culture shock by writing about it. Before sitting down to reflect my feelings, I spontaneously decided to check my emails first. It was only a few hours before my plane was to depart. “Dear Mrs. Schuller. Due to strikes, your flight has been cancelled.”
Feliz Navidad, y Que No Nos Matemos Todos!
I was so angry, and then sad when I found out about violent confrontations on the Plaza de Congreso in Buenos Aires and extensive strikes on both airports. December is always complicated for Argentinians. Prices for food and all kinds of goods changed recently. Every December, people are reminded of December 20th of 2001, when the government declared an emergency state during its worst economic crisis in history and the angry ones took over the streets. Like every year, but especially this one, the inhabitants of Buenos Aires (Porteños) are enchanted by the spirit of protest during the Christmas holidays. Instead of love and glitter, there is teargas in the air. Masses of peaceful protesters trying to fight the new pension law, are screwed over by the few who don’t know to behave well. Conflicts like these take days to calm down and months to be solved. In endless confusion I unpacked my backpack and went to buy some fruit. “Merry Christmas and a prosperous new year – and may we not kill each other!” I heard an old lady say with a worried smile on her face. She raised her eyebrows when the cashier replied with embarrassed mumbles.
Blessing in Disguise
It seemed like the city of Buenos Aires just didn’t want me to go until I got into politics and culture once again, and said good-bye properly. As a Christmas present, Argentina gave me three additional days to think about my return. First of all, it felt important to inform myself about what was going on politically. After having educated myself through talking to the people. I had anothert a farewell party at a different location every night. After I REALLY spent the last pesos in my pockets, I felt totally irresponsible but so right. Maybe I also got inked but due to my blood-related elderly readership that’s just a maybe.
What’s more, I managed to fill up the last pages of my travel journey with some drawings and the kindest and funniest notes from my Argentinian fellows. The very last night I enjoyed in Argentina, I went to a milonga, which is an Argentinian Tango club with the best dancers performing after midnight. Arriving at around 02:00 at La Catedral, it immediately reminded me of Clärchens Tanzhaus in Berlin. Back then the down-and-out dancing hall graced by dancing men and men, women and women, engaged in that constant battle of facial expressions, with a cat muddling around their feet, astonished all the spectators. La cathedral, located in a huge warehouse, provides a similar atmosphere. Sitting there and having a drink that captured the dancer in me, I was asked for a baile. This was the first and final Tango dance I ever had in Argentina, and I would have never had experienced it without the flight cancelation. What I considered as a misfortune beforehand turned out to be my real good-bye to my beloved Buenos Aires. “Now I’ve seen everything” I thought and let go.
Almost Coming Home for Christmas
On Thursday, still with a headache (I kept on dancing until the sun tore the night apart) I was about to go to the airport. In the plane, I felt ready to go home. We waited 30 minutes in the plane for missing passengers. 60 minutes. 90 minutes. I got nervous, but was confident to be in São Paulo right on time to catch the connecting flight. When we approached São Paulo, the pilot decided to soar up again and orbit the city for another 30 minutes. “I’m gonna lose my flight.” was my only thought, with a kind of numbness in my actions and words. Next to a nice Argentinian couple who felt pity for my misery, I couldn’t decide between laughing and crying. I tried both at some point, and despite begging the stewardess to contact the other planes to wait those f****** 10 minutes for me and the other ones, the plane took off. Next connecting flight: 24 hours later.
Welcome to São Paulo!
After hanging out in the airport and watching others freak out and getting all the attention from the security guys because of a ridiculous 4-hous-delay they had, me and a group of Argentinians decided to stay calm. Feliz natal! We chatted, shared the water we had left and read in our books until we were provided with new tickets. At least the company brought us to a hotel, and as a proper farewell to Brazil, I stuffed myself with loads of fresh pineapple. In my room, I could do the essential yoga I would have missed out on my (second) actual schedule. This way I got through the long-haul flight totally relaxed and without any back issues. What is more, I took the time to recapitulate the last 4 months I spent in South America, and thought of some extraordinary New Year’s resolutions. And, of course, I made new friends!
Take a Step Back and Look Again
In Austria, friends and family were sharing the thrills with me. With every kilometre I approached I got closer to Christmas. The last week was filled with a broad stroke of emotions, reaching from hopeless despair to a mentally floating state of “whatever happens, it will be fine”. To sum up, I was fortunate, because there was a lesson to learn: How much bad luck would ever try to track me down, I’m strong enough to see the bright side. What would I say if I looked at those so-called problems from a different angle and discovered the big picture?
Through all the delays I have learned an important lesson. Not only the nice, adventurous travels are a great gift, but also the challenges along the way. Finally, South America provided me with a great gift: Joining four more days with its amazing people. Being thankful for every experience, the right attitude was the key to staying happy. I am very lucky to realize this during Christmas time. Have a Merry one, folks!