Thursday, 7 December 2017

San Telmo Diary

He looks over his glasses and directs a thumb to a screen. Fingermarks register our return visit. He smiles. Without words his eyes say ‘Welcome to Argentina’. Through the ‘nothing to declare’ channel, from the kiosk we buy a Manuel Tienda Leon coach ride from Ezeiza to Buenos Aires, and walk towards the electric doors. 

I look at Stephanie and our eyes meet. We had pictured this moment as one we would recognise: the point of transition between two worlds: leaving Europe and returning to Latin America.

There is something about the moment that is singular. Flight side is busy in a workmanlike way. It is a last refuge, where you may check your luggage, retrieve a purse of pesos or find an address. The doors slide and we pass through to the city side - a new, vibrant, pulsating Latin world of humanity. Tiers of drivers hold placards, some hastily drawn in felt-tip, others boldly announcing corporations; porters rush around with trolleys and cases; families holding flasks of mate are meeting and hugging; police stand in small clusters; voices call; a shrill whistle blows and a surge of taxis and coaches jockey for position on the grid.

Outside the terminal its hot, yet fresh. A light breeze stirs tall palms and blows fallen blooms of purple Jacaranda across the paving. We have arrived.

All vehicles arriving at Ezeiza at some stage must leave. Like other airports around the world, it is after all just a point of transition, its currency being ‘the journey’. But whilst arrival here is simple and seamless, departure is typically Argentine. 

Our coach bustles onto the exit lane. Already horns are sounding, the coach driver shouts at a taxi. Vehicles rush for the exit, each space a small war-zone. Our bulk and the telling dents to the rear off-side carry the day as queues of small cars and taxis snarl behind us. Now the breeze ruffles stretched curtains at the windows and there is a rhythmical chink from the limp workings of the speed limiter as it hangs uselessly against the bulkhead.

On the autopista and through two sets of tolls, we are now heading into the city. Alongside is our strangely familiar Buenos Aires, a city in constant flux with half-built blocks and roofs covered with water tanks and satellite discs. From the raised sections of the carriageway the city stretches interminably, dense, sprawling and compact. Millions of lives are buzzing like small electrical currents and with them, the hustle of city life. We descend from the elevated Autopista 25 de Mayo, turn east in Avenida San Juan onto Paseo Colon. Working our way through the crisis bus-lane road works, we arrive at Retiro. The coach squeezes into the narrow dog's-leg entrance to Manuel Tienda Leon coach stop where we transfer to a little grey taxi, and start our return journey to San Telmo. 

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