Quilombo

29 Nov

Quilombo.

This has got to be my single favourite word that I have learned during my time in Argentina. It roughly translates to something along the lines of a mess. Something disorganized, not always said in a bad way, but usually. After many months trying to translate this word into English, my friends and I have come up with an English slang term that isn’t the most appropriate. I’ll just leave it by saying that it includes the word “cluster” in the phrase. More or less, it’s a word that explains what usually happens when you rely on the infrastructure in Latin America to actually work.

Its relevance for this story is that last weekend I took a trip to Salta, Argentina. Province and city, Salta refers to a lot. When you visit there, you usually stay in the city for a day or two and then travel all around the province and the neighbouring one, Jujuy, to see all the small towns up in the mountains. It’s located at the very northwestern point of Argentina, close to Bolivia and Chile, and in the Andes. These are the first parts of Argentina that were discovered and thus have a great deal of historical significance, as well as beautiful scenery and lovely Spanish inspired architecture. Also, it’s a lot of fun because you pronounce Jujuy kinda the same way you would imitate an excited owl (hoo-hoo-ey!). I literally can’t say the word without adding my own exclamation point to the end of it, no matter where it falls in my sentence.

Salta and Jujuy(!) were absolutely beautiful, and being at such a high altitude was great practice for my upcoming trip to Machu Picchu (paid for and everything, I’ll be trekking the Inca trail in a few weeks!). We got to see the famous Seven Colour Moutain (with seven different natural colours in one mountain, if you couldn’t have guessed that already) and the famous salt works, where there is pretty much just salta that covers the ground as far as the eye can see. It’s pretty epic.

It was not Salta that I want to use to demonstrate the meaning of the word quilombo, but rather the bus ride there. As unfortunate as it may be, the bus ride was the most memorable part of my vacation time last weekend, and boy will I remember it. First, the trip to Salta takes 20 hours by bus. Yes, just four short hours shy of a complete day, and that is assuming that nothing goes wrong. However, regretfully for everyone else on the bus, I happened to be joining them in this adventure, and I happen to be the single person in the world with the worst traveling luck ever. No joke here. I went to Germany last May and volcanic ash delayed me a day, thus making my trip 28 hours on 3 plans, 2 trains, and 1 taxi, on top of my day delay. As soon as I arrived here, I was emailed within two weeks and informed that my flight back home in December (this was the first week of August) was already canceled and thus I would have a nine hour layover in Miami (which does not have free wifi). And, if any of you have read it and happen to remember, my bus on the way back home from Puerto Madryn had the suspension fall out from under it in the middle of Patagonia at midnight, delaying us 2.5 hours. And this is all just since May.

So, I suppose I should have been ready for the disaster that was about to encounter us. We got on our bus like any other time, super excited to embark upon our adventure to the land of the cacti. Little did we know, the lovely land of the salenas wouldn’t be seen for another twenty-eight hours. Yes, that is right. What was already supposed to be a twenty hour long bus ride soon turned into a 28 (most like twenty-eight and three quarters, but who’s counting?) bus ride that included switching buses thrice and each of the new buses being in cheaper, less comfortable seat option. It was horrible. And, because we had an entire bus being added to another already half full bus, it was completely packed, loud, and the movies that they showed were dubbed and not subtitled, so it was impossible to hear/understand. Also, did I mention yet that they never fed us? Included in your fare for these buses are usually breakfast, a snack, lunch, and dinner, depending on exactly what times of the day you’re on the bus. We got fed a snack while on our original, broken bus two hours after originally getting on it. But not again for the rest of the 26 hours. They also are still waiting to get back to us on whether or not we can have a refund (of the 450 pesos we spent for this one way trip) or even the difference between the seat size we bought and the one they gave us. Qui-lom-bo.

However, as I told the lovely British couple sitting behind us, it was a truly authentic Argentine experience. I have now seen strikes of all kinds: student strikes, bus strikes, road worker strikes (part of the reason our trip was so long was because all of the road workers in one of the provinces were striking so we had to drive around that entire province), health industry strikes, etc; bureaucratic nightmares from all sides: IFSA itself has been a bit disorganized, the migraciones office, registering for classes, etc; and the failure of every form of transportation I have ever used in this country. This entire semester has seemed to be one headache after another, but at least I can say it was a truly authentic experience the entire time. I mean, who really can expect to visit Latin America for five months and actually have the infrastructure work?

P.S. I have to make a note in here because that last paragraph was the first time in my life I have ever spelled bureaucratic correctly the first time around! (And that was the second!)

Oh, and since I’m making additional comments, I’m in the middle of finals right now and then I have two trips left, one to Uruguay and one to Peru (Machu Picchu!), so I wouldn’t expect an update until after I’ve returned to the lovely US. However, I will surely be updating everyone on my last two trips, what it’s like to have returned, and a lovely guide to the future study abroader in Argentina.

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