June 21, 2013
Getting lost can be quite fun. I’ve always rather enjoyed wandering around, finding surprises down small streets, relishing the discovery of a new place for a tasty treat. When the weather is right, the shoes comfortable and the destination undefined (yet physically encompassed in an area easily explored within an hour), I am perfectly content to drift along — provided, of course, that my time is my own and my location of no concern to anyone but myself.
However, I recently got lost in Buenos Aires, a city so large it would take several years to explore it all, at a time when I could least afford it, during a bitterly cold day. (Of course.)
Well, at least my shoes were comfortable.
The story goes like this: Every week I meet up with a language buddy at the same cafe. Normally, getting there is no big deal; in fact, it’s ridiculously easy. I live across the street from the subway line that I need to take; six stations later I jump out and the cafe is located right beside a station exit. It takes about 20-30 minutes.
I was to meet my language buddy at 1 p.m. I left our apartment at 12:40 p.m. (cutting it close, I know.) Away I rushed down into the subway station, only to find a sign that Line E (the one I needed) was not open. OK, fine. Line E connected with Line C at this particular station, Independencia. I figured I could take Line C to Line A, then transfer to Line H and get out at the Jujuy station, which happened to connect with Line E. It was only two stops away from the Boedo station (the one I needed) so I figured it was close enough to walk it.
The connection from Line C to Line A happened smoothly. I got out at the Plaza Miserere station and followed the signs to Line H — or at least I thought I did. The connecting path was a confusing scramble of metal catwalks and escalators. I found myself in an airy, spacious and modern area that had exits, turnstiles and a ticket counter — but nary a train.
“What the!” I said in disbelief.
Apparently, these words also translate into Spanish (or perhaps my stress was a little too evident) because almost immediately a fatherly-looking man asked me in Spanish what I was looking for. I told him the station, Jujuy, but his face wrinkled into a mass of confusion. I repeated it again, but he still had no clue.
“Something something policia,” he said in Spanish. “Ask the police,” I think it was, as he waved toward two officers standing by some turnstiles. Matters became very clear, though, when he gave me a none-too-gentle shove in their direction. I gave him a somewhat startled, “Gracias” and he stood and nodded his head encouragingly until he was sure that I could make it all the way to the plainly visible, neon-yellow-vest-wearing policemen.
“Donde esta la estacion Jujuy?” I asked.
Their foreheads wrinkled. Uh-oh. “Que estacion??”
(What a cute station name, I had thought previously. It sounds just like a candy.)
They still looked perplexed. They even hunched over a little to think about it. Then —
“AH!” said one of the officers. “HOO-hwee. Hoo-hwee!”
(Personally, I still think Joo-jee is a better pronunciation.)
Enlightened and a little embarrassed, I followed their directions and made it onto the train platform. I glanced at the time. It was 1:10 p.m. With any luck, I could make it to the cafe by 1:30 p.m., still terribly late but not horrible according to Argentine standards. I looked out the train windows with a stare of such concentrated power that other passengers who happened to get in my line of sight subconsciously swayed or bent around it. I was burning holes into the walls looking for the station name.
So it was somewhat of a shock when the train came to a complete halt at the end of the line.
I was flabbergasted. How had I missed the station? I glanced wildly around until I saw the subway line map above the door. The station on Line E was indeed named Jujuy — but the connecting station on Line H was called Humberto.
I groaned inwardly, but I all I could do was wait for the train to start up in the opposite direction. I tore out of the Humberto station as fast as I could onto Avenida San Juan. The cafe sits on the corner of San Juan and Boedo avenues, so technically, I just had to walk on San Juan in the right direction and I would hit it. I asked a lady at a newspaper stand and she waved her hand in the direction I was currently walking. So far so good. I walked farther on and saw the General Urquiza station for Line E. Even better. I must be on the right track!
But it was taking a long time. Surely it couldn’t be this far. I stopped to ask another policemen where Boedo was and he just waved me on. I was freezing, yet strangely sweaty at the same time. My left sock had somehow crawled down my leg and was now an uncomfortable lump that was halfway off my foot. San Juan was a one-way street with traffic going in the opposite direction of what I wanted, so a bus was out of the question. I feared for my fate (and wallet) at the hands of a taxi driver when I was so obviously lost.
I stumped on but at Maza decided to turn around. (Ironically, if I had walked one block past that I would have been at Boedo. Sigh.) I decided to walk back to the General Urquiza station and look at a map again. Once inside, I could not believe my eyes.
The trains were running. I overheard a station agent tell another person that the only station the train wouldn’t be stopping at was Independencia. I wanted to cry tears of bitterness but opted for joy, because at least this meant that I could take the subway to the Boedo station.
I finally made it to the cafe at 2:11 p.m. My language buddy was gone. However, he was very kind and understanding about my plight when I explained what happened later. And I have to admit, the walk was not entirely unpleasant; the area around those final subway stations looked nice, almost suburban — a clear sign that a good panaderia must be nearby. It’s the kind of place where I can imagine wandering around, finding surprises down its small streets, maybe relishing a tasty treat.
But not any time soon.