Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lost in Translation

We got ourselves marooned in Bariloche, Argentina and I was annoyed. Granted, Bariloche is considered to be many to be first-class place to spent a few days. It's next to a nice lake and a national park. There are lots of places that sell ice cream and chocolate and beer. You get the idea.

However, I wanted to be in Chile. We had passed it bien flojo in El Bolsón, which was great. But after reading the guidebook, we realized that there was rafting to be had, and maybe a nice, symmetric volcano to climb, and some hiking in Puerto Varas, Chile. I didn't want to waste 16 hours waiting for the next bus across the border.

Nonetheless, it was not to be. Even though it was only 3PM, and even though Osorno isn't more than 6 or 7 hours away, the last bus had left a couple of hours ago. With foul humor I waited in line and bought two tickets mañana por la mañana--tomorrow morning--then stormed off to inflict myself on poor, long-suffering Erin.

We shuffled a couple kilometers to the city center. It required our most agile car-dodging skills to cross the murderous traffic careening through uncontrolled intersections, which did nothing to sooth my annoyance with Bariloche. Our hostel was occupied with pushy ___'s in the kitchen who elbowed their way to the sink and grabbed the colander out of our hands without so much as a permiso.

The next day dawned fair and clear. We found our bus and got on our assigned seats, 19 and 20. The bus leaves on time and we are off! I bid Bariloche adieu with an obscene gesture and lay back in my seat. The conductor starts down the aisle, checking people's tickets. I get the tickets out and Erin gazes at them idly. Erin gives me a funny look and asks me if it's not the 17th, pointing at the ticket. It says it's for 3/18. I look at my watch, which duly informs me that it is, indeed, the 17th! I stare at Erin, mute with horror.

In nearly every ticket office in the country hangs a sign asking--nay--demanding that the buyer doublecheck his tickets before leaving the window to verify that the date, time and destination are correct. There is no reclaim otherwise. It's entirely my fault.

But here we are, in seats 19 and 20 on the departed bus and no one has accosted us for being in the wrong seats. I hand the tickets to the conductor, who sees nothing amiss with them, but is confused that we aren't on his manifest. No matter, he'll come back in a few minutes and add us he says. I begin to wonder if we might no escape unscathed. We are underway and there's basically nothing between Bariloche and the Puerto Varas. Until I remember about Villa la Angostura.

Villa la Angostura is a tiny little town on the north end of the lake. My stomach tightens as I begin to see signs of civilization; cabins for rent; trucha alhumada for sale. I attempt to quiet my growing panic as the bus stops in the tiny station. There's hardly anyone waiting. Yet, a couple boards the bus and walks slowly next to our seats. We're screwed. We get up and walk forward to confess our sins to the conductor.

I am awarded a kindness undeserved. The conductor shrugs and says, ok, there are a couple of seats in back still. We shuffle to the back, heads to the floor. I am mortified by the scene I've caused, and when we find that there's only one seat open in the back, despite the conductor's offer to move people around so that we can seat together, I refuse and joke with him that Erin is probably sick of me anyway since this way all my fault.

I slump down into my bumpy and stinky seat at the very back of the bus, next to the bathroom and stare out the window. The scenery is not half bad. The are clean faces of granite splitting hillsides of what looks to be temperate rainforest. Now and again the snowy apparition of Monte Tronador peeks out. And hey, my seat is actually roomier than the rest of the seats. I am making small talk with the Argentinian next to me when the conductor comes back to get a cup of coffee. While he's back there he asks me if she--Erin--hit me much for my error. I said no, well, maybe a little, but suave--softly. He smiles and walks to the front of the bus.

Erin is at the very front of the bus. Normally this is a kingly seat, with the prettiest views, easiest egress and, uh, smoothiest ride. Erin is getting none of it. The seat is half-broken, there's little leg room, and to make matters worse the conductor and drivers are talking excitedly in thick Chilean spanish, glancing back at her from time to time, and laughing uproariously.

I am oblivious in my comfortable, albeit malodorous seat and drift off to sleep for a while. We stop in Osorno and the conductor and driver switch places. The ex-driver wanders to the back of the bus. He obviously wants to talk to me. After getting formalities out of the way (de dónde eres), he asks me if Erin hits me often. I say no, not often, and wonder to myself what the conductor told him. He excuses himself to attend to something at the front of the bus, only to return a few minutes later to ask me again about my abusive girlfriend.

I am beginning to get alarmed by how far out of hand this story has gotten and tell him that no, Erin didn't hit me for screwing up the dates of the tickets and that's she a very nice lady who even buys me dinner often. This seems to satisfy him and we turn to more cheerful subjects, like how much we both hate President Bush. He starts to ask me about my family. It starts innocuously enough: how many siblings I have, how old I am, what my parents do. He asks if my parents are still together. I say yes, and begin to wonder what exactly he's getting at. He then asks if my dad was very strict with me. I am confused and tell him no, I was lucky to have a stable childhood with loving parents, aside from some unpleasantness in junior high. He smiles a knowing smile and says, ah, that must be why you are so humilde--humble/shy.

Our arrival in Puerto Varas interrupts the therapy session. We get off the bus and bid the smiling driver and conductor chao. I recount my strange story to Erin who shoots me an annoyed look and tells me about animated and unintelligible conversation the conductor and driver had about her. I still do not understand how it progressed to the point of a psychoanalysis of my childhood. I guess some things just get lost in translation.


  1. Andrew - Another not very pleasant bus experience. I am relieved that you told the driver that you had a stable childhood and loving parents. Erin seems to have been subjected to the worst of this experience.

  2. The buses aren't as bad as they sound. In general, they are more comfortable than just about any airplane ride I've had in the States of an equivalent duration, save for getting a whoopin' from Erin afterwards. ;-)