While living in Hong Kong from 2010-2012, I caught the travel bug visiting 11 different countries, most of which were in Southeast Asia, except for my trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina during summer break. I wrote about a few of my experiences in my then-blog, Ashley’s HK Experience. As a new travel piece to this blog, I’m reposting my piece on a trip to Buenos Aires where I went to visit my friend Steven in August 2011.
Granted, I live in a country where English is not the (only) official language and I am sufficiently able to survive, but Buenos Aires is not quite the same as Hong Kong. With its signs in letters and characters, Hong Kong is easy on the eyes and brains of travelers and expats alike. Buenos Aires, on the other hand, has signs only in Spanish. Now if you donned a Spanish name, learned to count to 100 starting with uno and how to order a cheeseburger in high school Spanish class, you could easily survive the capital streets of Argentina. But for those of us who sported berets, listened to stories about Pierre et Fifi and watched movies with Gerard Depardieu, Buenos Aires can be a tricky location to find your way around. It’s not that I can’t match street signs to the Spanish words on a map, but asking for directions, ordering lunch or shopping for a pair of new boots can seem to be on the verge of impossible.
Since I’ve arrived in BA, Steve has been a great help being my communicator and under-his-breath Spanish hint-giver (“la quenta, por favor” in a whisper so that I can order the bill…and maybe pay for it while I’m at it). With and without his language help, we’ve visited an awesome cemetery, gone on a city bus tour (in Spanish and Spanglish), eaten many good meals and drank hot chocolate (I even ordered a chocolate caliente on my own after a quick lesson on pronunciation from my tour guide, Steven), met his Spanish speaking friends (of whom, all speak English very well, and thankfully, for my purposes, have included me in the conversations and translate as much as I need) and taken plenty of naps.
But today was my day; it was the day I had to visit Buenos Aires on my own, no translator, no guide book in my hand so as to not attract too much attention and plenty of warm layers (it’s probably only 50 degrees F here now, yikes!!). After another visit to the cemetery, this time guided by an actual tour guide who spoke English, a shopping spree where I bought a pair boots with as little communication as possible, a visit to the bakery where I ordered my very own empanada jamon y queso (hello 4 words I know in Spanish!!), had an Argentinian beer by myself in a bar and took a tour of a theater and historic building, I was feeling quite good about myself. Not in the “I’m so amazing” way, but in the “I just walked around a city where I don’t know the language, bought things, found my way around and even met a new friend” kind of way. At the end of the day, on my walk home with my new Swiss friend, I felt invigorated, totally and 100% proud of myself for doing it on my own.
I can truly thank Hong Kong for making me such an independent and savvy traveler. You don’t speak Spanish in South America? No biggie! Just use your wits and you can literally have a wonderful day. Yes, the tours were all in English and I read the words for my lunch straight from the tag, but the power that I felt being alone and surviving in a foreign country was amazing.
Bonus, I even sat in a bar by myself with a beer! I’m pretty sure I said that I would never do that, but when you have 50 minutes to kill before the next tour starts, you have to do something, so it might as well be drinking local ale in an “Irish pub”. I honestly think that so many people get caught up in the stigma of doing things alone that they’d rather be at home than travel by themselves. I began my twenties that way and am so glad that I’m ending this decade of my life on an empowering note: if I can travel to Hong Kong, the Philippines and around Buenos Aires by myself, what can’t I do? Sure, it’s nice to have a travel companion, but it’s liberating to know that I no longer need someone to make my travels complete, just give me a guide book, a few key phrases in the native language and enough money to get around and I can do it!