La Despedida de Fernando (Or, a Day of Beer and Ice Cream)

Remember when I sid how full I was after Marcelo´s barbecue? We didn´t eat dinner that night other than a few bites of leftovers from what we´d cooked at the hostel the night before. When we woke up the next morning (Monday, Dec 3rd) around six, the hostel breakfast of bread and jam and horrible coffee wasn´t out yet, so we packed up and walked to the bus, still fueled by the prior day´s steak.

We had an early morning bus to Santa Fe, a town we had chosen more for its geography than much else. It seemed like the most interesting place on the way to our farm. I was afraid to tell Danny that I was having second thoughts bout our route. I didn´t want to throw a wrench in our plans, but I was harboring a feeling that we were speeding by some parts of Argentina I most wnted to see in order to reach the farm in time to then reach our next stop on time. You can see how that might be a slippery slope. I had already brought up a plot to radically change plans once though, and it had just stressed us both out, so we boarded  the bus to Santa Fe.

After five hours we arrived to hot heavy air. We hadn´t booked  hostel ahead of time because our guidebook is four years old and we figured there might be some new options. Instead we wrote down some addreses so that we could inspect them in person. We treked with our backpacks through hot empty streets arriving at one fancy expensive hotel after another.  Finally we crossed town to find the one place with the word hostel in the name.

Arriving at the address we found a house. No sign, shuttered windows, no doorbell. We stared at ech other, sweaty and exhausted after two hours of searching. Okay, I said, knowing that we both knew the hanger (hunger anger) was coming, let´s go get some ice cream and reassess. If there is one thing you can depend on in Argentina its artesanal ice cream on every block. Reminds me of Cambridge.

Armed with sugar, we took out Lonely Planet (sidenote: Lou and Lewis and an Australian woman named Robin all confirmed that they have yet to see anyone carrying a guidebook that is not Lonely Planet, which begs the question, how do they others stay in business?). It was starting to rain and Santa Fe had yet to offer us anything interesting. You know, I ventured, we don´t have to stay here. I held my breath. Yeah, said Danny, I was kind of thinking that too.

And the sea parted! A plan arose. We ate our ice cream and found a locutorio to do some online research. We contacted a different farm, one that was closer to places we actually wanted to see. Not knowing whether we´d get a repsonse, we bought bus tickets for tht night to a town from which we could esily access either farm. Having done all that we could and seeing that it was now pouring and we had two huge packs and six hours, we did the only logical thing. We bought a liter of beer, got a table, and took out some reading.

At the next table three guys greeted each other heartily and sat down with their own liters of beer. When Danny left to go to the bathroom one of them asked me in accented English, where I was from. Estados Unidos, I answered. He switched to Spanish. What are you doing in Santa Fe? He seemed puzzled by our presence there. I laughed, we don´t know! I explained that we´d arrived, our plans had changed, and we were leaving tonight. He seemed to feel like that made sense, and told me that the only thing to do in Santa Fe was drink beer. I held up my glass.

After Danny´s return and a few more stops and starts to our conversation, Fernando told us to pull our table over so we could talk more easily over the pounding rain. He refilled our glasses and introduced his friends. They were having  goodbye party for him. He was moving to Mendoza for  job.

We bought the next round. Over the next 5 hours the table expanded two more times until we were tispy and surrounded by an entire soccer team. I sy that both figuratively to give you an idea of how many men were there, and literally, because when I asked how they all knew each other they said mostly from fútbol. Each new arrival bought a liter or two of beer, shook every man´s hand, and kissed me on the cheek. Ellos son amigos de los Estados Unidos Fernando introduced us each time, they´re friends from the US. Most seemed surprised and amused to learn that Fernando had only met these new amigos hours earlier at this very table.

Despite the fact that the party was in his honor, Fernando stayed by our side the whole time, interpreting occassionally and at other times engaging us about our own interests. When he and Enzo, one of the original three, saw some of Danny´s sketches, they begged him to graffiti one of the styrafom koozies that covered the liter bottles from top to bottom to keep them cool in the stifling heat. After Danny turned the bottle into a rocket ship, Enzo kep eying it. Finally, when the owner of the establishment joined the table, Enzo straight up asked if he could have it. His friend didn´t really seem to understand why he wanted the koozie, but nodded with a shrug. Puedes escribir ´para Enzo´? Enzo looked like a kid about to receive an autographed baseball card, or whatever a kid would want autographed today. He made Danny write ´for Enzo´in Spanish, and sign it. I can imagine it on his mantel now.

At nine we gathered our things to head back to the bus, just as the guys were ordering dinner. We hugged our original friends goodbye, took a picture, and wrote down our names for Facebook searching (as of today, no friend request received). We exited to a round of applause, cheering, and whistling from a banquet length table of 15 Argentine men.

As we stumbled through the still driving rain towards the bus, we high fived. We won Santa Fe, I said. Yeah, said Danny, that couldn´t have gone better.

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