21 May 2007

Smelly Buses and Beautiful Sunsets – The Road To The North Is Paved With A Desire To Sleep

We were up at 3:30am to catch our bus to Humahuaca, 7 hours from Tucuman. Patricia had breakfast on the table (our hostess with the mostess). All I want to do is sleep. We haven’t been doing much of that lately – at least not in beds. 4 AM and we’re out the door, arriving a full 15 minutes early for our bus, scheduled to depart at 4:30am. 4:30am comes and goes. No bus. 5AM. No bus. It turns out our bus was delayed because of worker protests along the route. Apparently people block all traffic for hours upon end in opposition to something, but no one is quite sure what, exactly. I later learned that the men who distribute welfare are – shockingly – corrupt, and force recipients to do this by threatening to withhold their monthly allowance. Awesome.

Needless to say, we end up on another bus that is heading all the way to the Bolivian border (and get a full refund for the delayed bus tickets. United Airlines, pay attention). This bus is about 112 degrees and smells of eggs, sweat and Doritos. I spend the next seven hours getting the worst sleep of my life before arriving “refreshed” in Humahuaca, the quaintest most adorable UNESCO World Heritage Site I have ever seen. Let the games begin. We quickly drop our bags before meeting Ayelen & Florencia, the leaders of “Basura Verde Proyecto En Accion” (Green Trash Action Project). These girls could be out of Brooklyn, they’re so hip. Their first question is “Do you know Beyonce?” I of course lie and say “absolutely!”

The rest of the day wass a whirlwind. Marina, Gonzalo and I were so exhausted we did all we could to be gracious guests, which wasn’t difficult given their planning and hospitality. They took us on a tour of their school before hosting an enormous lunch in the “room where we sit if a teacher doesn’t show up.” Ayelen had informed the local government of my visit and they in turn supplied all the food to prepare our meal.

Following lunch the four of us, along with their team’s ally – a teacher – and a half-dozen friends or so hopped into a big van to “see the sites” of Humahuaca. We went first to the town’s independence statue, followed by a casual stroll through the street market. I asked them why they weren’t in school today. “Because we have a special guest, silly,” Florencia told me.

Then it was off the beaten path, to the city dump, where people literally throw piles and piles of garbage into the desert and light it on fire. This is what Florencia and Ayelen are trying to eradicate through their Venture – dumps like these across their province. They’ve launched education campaigns in their school and throughout the community, teaching people about recycling and garbage sorting. Still, the local government continues to put up road blocks. The woman were able to get an entire neighborhood to agree to sorting their garbage into organic and non-organic, only to discover that the trash collectors put everything in the same bin and take it all to the city dump. “There is nothing we can do, because the people in the town will always support the government. They are scared.” Still, the girls press on, recruiting more volunteers, launching new education initiatives and leading by example. Imagine not just understanding but taking action to fight environmental degradation in a small town 9000 feet up in the Argentinian frontier?

We finished the day with a trip to “Hippie Mountain” (there is an enormous foreigner hippie community in this part of Argentina) to get a panoramic view of the area, followed by a trip to the school’s farm, where they hope to open a recycling center as soon as they have the funding (um, amazed yet? I was). Once we got back to school the ladies said we had twenty minutes before the culture show started, so we raced to the hotel to put on some pants then zipped to the internet café with the hope of posting a blog. Sadly, the connection was slower than anything I have ever experienced in my entire life, EVER, so no blog that day.

Feeling inconsiderate, we were back at the school ten minutes late, me thinking we had ruined the whole evening. Luckily, this is Argentina, where twenty minutes means two hours. We had snacks, drank Mate (the traditional Argentinian tea-like concoction) and chit-chatted from 6:15pm to 8:10pm before the extravaganza began. Gonzalo looked like he was going to pass out. Marina had a migraine. I was, once again, the guest of honor.

I can’t even begin to tell you how charming and wonderful the show was. They combined the traditional “Mother Earth” ceremony with local dance routines (in which Marina and I were urged to participate) before the big finish, which included dumping a bucket of confetti on my head. Hurray? Now closing in on 10PM, the ladies wanted us to go out for a nice dinner with them. We graciously declined, agreeing to meet them for breakfast instead. At this point I don’t think Gonzalo was actually conscious. Marina and I both had pounding migraines. Sleep was the only thing on my mind. In fact, I slept NINE HOURS. I honestly don’t remember the last time I slept nine hours all in a row. It was worth every minute, I tell you that much!

After another day of bus rides and team visits, we’ve just boarded our last and final bus back to Buenos Aires. This one is 22 hours. Thank god for Shania Twain remixes in Spanish!

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