today we had to go across the border to the Bolivian side of town so we could buy train tickets for tomorrow. i was curious to find out what this border crossing was going to be like. in the book, it said that there was tons of smuggling that happens across the border, so i was expecting crazy strict security, searches, etc. it turned out to be the exact opposite. we just walked across. that’s it. no search, no showing our passports, no anything at all. there were all sorts of people just milling about and crossing the border in either direction with huge bundles on their backs.
on the other side, it was instantly obvious that i was in another country. the atmosphere totally changed from what it was on the Argentinian side. loud Spanish music blared from random storefronts. the streets seemed really lively and colorful. old ladies sat on the curbs trying to sell ice cream, candies, popcorn, or anything else. this is what the north of Argentina was slowly making a transition to.
it was really interesting seeing all the old Bolivian ladies walking around town. they all wear these really wide pleated skirts that are usually in a bright floral pattern, thick stockings, an apron, bowler hats, and their hair is always in two long braids going down their backs almost to their waist. even thought it’s really hot outside, they look like they are wearing a million layers and are all bundled up. they almost always will have a bundle of something on their backs whether it be clothes, food, or a child. even the really really old looking women, will be hauling a lot of weight.
the train station
we walked for what seemed like forever to get to the train station. despite following the tracks for a long time, we never saw an actual station. eventually, we decided we must have passed it and turned back. when we asked a local, he pointed us to an unmarked building. wow… is it really that hard to just put up a sign of some sort so people would know that this was the train station? of course, with our luck, the train station was closed. we sat down and waited. at 3:30, the doors opened, and we went in. the train station’s hours were conveniently printed *inside* the station. you had to actually go inside the building when it was open to find out what times it is open. nice.
we go up to the ticket window, where we get told to take a number and sit down since tickets don’t go on sale till 4pm. we sit and wait. more people arrive, take numbers, and sit. 4pm rolls around. 4:10 rolls around. at 4:15, the guy at the ticket window closes the window and leaves. what the hell?! so we wait. 4:30 passes, we’re still waiting. only then do we finally find out what is wrong. it turns out that Bolivia is actually one hour behind Argentina. so it wasn’t 4:30, it was actually 3:30. good thing we found out about this time change today, instead of tomorrow when we went to catch our train. finally, the guy comes back and opens the ticket window. everyone in the place rushes forward and presses up against the window talking loudly, but surprisingly, he actually makes everyone sit down and we get to buy our tickets in order by number.
it never fails to amaze me how when you are traveling, the smallest thing, like buying a train ticket, can become such a fiasco. sometimes it’s the locals’ fault, like when they don’t put a damn sign on the train station building. other times it’s our fault, like when we don’t know the correct time. yet regardless of who’s fault it is, these situations just happen over and over again, and it’s all part of the fun of being in a foreign place. it’s definitely one of the things i like best about being abroad… the confusion of it all. it’s such a change from the predictability of life back home.
during the train ticket fiasco, i went across the street to buy some water. i walked into a small shop and had this conversation with the woman:
“what would you like?”
“do you have mineral water?”
“yes, do you want a big one or a small one?”
“a big one please. how much does it cost?”
the crazy thing is that this whole conversation, from start to finish, was in Spanish. yeah, i know that the conversation was very basic, and we didn’t discuss any tough subjects, but still… i had walked into a store and talked to somebody in only Spanish. for the last couple of weeks, Caryn and i had been studying a bit of Spanish before we go to bed. we have some book “Spanish in 15 minutes” or whatnot. we’re slowly going through it, but just in a short amount of time, i already know quite a few words and phrases. it’s usually enough to at least catch the gist of what people are saying to me if they talk slowly.
it’s been a lot of fun learning it, and it really makes a big difference in what kind of interactions you can have with people around you. in most other countries, if i walked into a store and the shopkeeper said “what would you like” in their language, i would have no clue what the had just said. i would have to hope that they understand English, or try to mime my way through it. but now i understand. and i can respond. i still have some time here in south America, and plan to keep studying Spanish each night. who knows how much I’ll know when i get home!