10 April 2019

Dearest you,

I’m just going to start by saying, if I ever, ever, ever, reveal to you that I have a romantic interest and it’s going to take the form of an LDR, just stop me right there. Because, yeah, it didn’t work out, again.

Did I mention in my first letter how the person I fell in love with is actually my ex and this was our second attempt at the whole long-distance thing? The first time was years ago when I went to California. I guess I thought we’d handle it better now that we’re older and wiser.

Our conversations were on the daily, always open and honest, with lots of laughter. Yet in the past week, I felt my heart getting heavier. There was this brewing of sadness, a whispering intuition to prepare me for letting him go. Sunday night, I brought it up.

It was easy when it was all good fun back in KL, but right now, reality check… Do either of us have the strength to sustain this? But it had to be said. “It’s not going to work out, is it?” he finally uttered. And I broke down.

I really want a hug right now, but I’m just going to go to bed. I’ll also be leaving Punta del Diablo in a few days. Got to move on, right? Anyway, I know I’ll be okay. I guess I wouldn’t have brought it up if I didn’t think I was ready to handle and hear the truth.

Alrighty then, good night for now.

Where I spent most of my time in Cordoba

Want to read more about Petrina’s adventures in Uruguay?
Letters From Latin America: Punta Del Diablo, Uruguay

18 April 2019

I have foolishly underestimated the size of Argentina and ended up spending way more hours and money than necessary because I did not budget sufficient travel time in between locations. Did you know that Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world? Well, I only found out on the day I intended on leaving Uruguay.

It all started with my brilliant plan to come here, to Córdoba, north of Argentina. I got so pumped thinking about being in civilisation for a bit and doing all the city things. I was going to treat myself to some alone time in an Airbnb, dine at a proper restaurant, and experience the supposed “best beef in the world, you could slice it with a spoon” steaks of Argentina, before going shopping for a winter jacket from thrift stores. But when it came time for someone to drop me off at the highway to start my 1,220+ kilometre hitchhiking journey, I panicked and backed out, and took a bus instead.

I left the following morning thinking, with the buses, 24 hours would be enough to get me there. Too bad, so sad, luck was not on my side. It’s Easter Week and everyone’s on holiday. Over the phone, companies claimed to have available seats, but at the terminal, I could not get a single ride out of Uruguay. This was on Sunday; the Airbnb booking was for Monday. I began pacing up and down the bustling terminal, reading and re-reading all the destinations listed out on every counter, hoping I missed something somewhere, double-checking triple-checking with the attendants. Sold out. Sold out. Sold out.

So, baby steps then. One bus at a time.

My route ended up looking like this:

Expectation: (2 buses)

Reality: (5 buses, 2 hitchhiked rides. Total cost = USD82)

After the third bus, there were no rides available unless I was willing to wait another eight hours. No thank you. Hanging around would only agitate my nervousness. My brain already wouldn’t quit going on and on about how I’m not going to arrive on time, I’m spending too much money, I should’ve left a day earlier… just the usual scruple. So I walked out to the main road and jumped into a car while it was stopped at a traffic light. Not unannounced, of course. The car braked, I looked over, waved, motioned with my thumb, the driver nodded, opened the back door. After he dropped me off at the next highway junction, it started raining heavily. I managed to get one more truck ride to Gualeguay before conceding and choosing to pay for transportation again. Only after being out there and getting soaked, I finally fully appreciated my comfy bus rides.

By the time I arrived, it was Tuesday morning. I was sound asleep but woke up with a jolt at 6am sharp and saw people already descending. Took a taxi to my Airbnb because, hey, I was already spending so much, what’s a few dollars more. I know, terrible logic. Then the driver got pissed at me because I didn’t have small change. It was 85 Argentine Pesos, I only had a 500 bill. This was the one and only time I took money out from the ATM (RM25 per withdrawal is too much!).

Cut to the present. It is now already Thursday and I’ll be checking out in a couple of hours. Yet I never made it to a thrift store or a restaurant, nor do I have any proper updates on the city’s points of interests. I don’t know, man. I somehow completely lost the plot. It also just hit me that I didn’t take any photos.

The very first thing I did, after taking a shower, was to get some fresh produce from the morning market, then I was mad excited to go grocery shopping and ended up buying way too much food. After a full day of walking, all I wanted to do was cook for myself, lie in bed, eat my food, and watch a movie. Which is what I did for most of the past three days. On that same day, I marked down three second-hand stores on my Maps.me app. My unfailing bad sense of direction made sure I did not find any of them and ended up kilometres away from intended streets. I went to over 10 normal stores instead, saw one that I really liked, but refused to pay USD70 for it. In the end, I bought a large kid one on sale for USD25. I was pleased, but only until I got back, then started worrying again if this was thick enough.

Not great weather for hitchhiking

This morning, I tried to look for one of the second-hand stores again. I found it, but it was closed. I entered another store, probably shouldn’t have walked in, because a green coat caught my eye. Half an hour later, I walked out having spent the USD70 I did not want to part with in the first place. And it’s not even as warm as that first choice. I feel like a real amateur backpacker. Rather than have one main heavy-duty winter jacket, I have multiple pullovers and jackets, making my bag unnecessarily heavy. Up until now, it never occurred to me to buy a fleece, or some other warm, lighter, internal wear. Looks like I lost the plot and all my logic.

Anyway, I’ve got to scoot off. Next stop is San Martín de los Andes, Patagonia. It’ll be another 26 hours of buses, costing me around USD100. I need to be smarter about my routes. I just went over 1,300 kilometres north, only to go 1,500 kilometres south. How silly.

The good thing is though, I’ve had time to properly process my emotions and I am mostly back to normal. The first few days after the call to call it quits were expectedly tender. But then I started spending more time hanging out and staying up late with these three lovely silly-billies – Pato, Alba, and Sara – for whom I am very thankful. They’re funny, caring, ridiculous, and always included me into their conversations, making sure I understood if they spoke in Spanish. I don’t think they knew it, but being around them helped me get over my funk. We even got to witness the luminescent plankton phenomena on the beach shores one of those nights. The skies and seas were mirroring each other which was pretty magnificent. When nature shows herself off, it’s hard to feel anything else besides awe and gratitude.

The bus food

Okay, I really need to leave. My bus is in an hour’s time. Take care now. Chao chao!

Con amor,

PS: For long-distance buses in Argentina (based on minimal experience, not facts):

1. They could easily cost more than an AirAsia flight would, but at least it’s a comfortable, spacious ride. The toilet is clean; there’s a drinking-water dispenser; you’re given snacks, sandwiches, and a cup of Sprite. If you’re lucky, Wi-Fi.

2. Have some small change ready. The luggage-attendant often expects a tip. Doesn’t really matter how much.

3. Go early. Keep a lookout for your bus. Stick to your assigned seat number. Don’t run off to use the loo nearing departure time. They get everyone on board and depart very quickly.

4. Check if it’s the holiday season. If it is, you may need to book weeks in advance.

5. Have payment options. Some places did not accept Visa transactions. Also, note that the Argentinian currency exchange rate is extremely volatile and no neighbouring country wants it. So don’t change more than necessary cause you’ll have to use it all up before leaving.

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