Explorer by day, dance champ by night

By David Mccoy

BATON ROUGE, La. – This past weekend was the first one I’ve spent without any friends from the United States. I can’t quite say I was alone. While living in a hostel in downtown Buenos Aires, it takes some effort to be alone.

Because of the language barriers when I was alone in the hostel and some jungle exploration in the river delta town of Tigre, this week reminded me just how different Louisiana and Argentina can be.

I must have angered the travel gods at some point in my travels, because not only was I the sole native English speaker in the hostel I booked for this weekend, but the majority of the people staying there were Brazilian and spoke Portuguese, not Spanish.

The first night in the hostel, after being frustrated by the communication barrier with the other guests, I tried going out alone to a little bar called Gibralter that mimicked an English pub. I incorrectly assumed that the English aspects would attract more English speakers.

I sat alone for a while in the crowded pub eavesdropping what I could understand and occasionally eeking out in Spanish what must have seemed like some weak conversation starters to the locals.

I finally made friends with a 28-year-old theater actress, who took advantage of my desperation for conversation by telling me the story of her failed marriage. I was there for her.

By the end of the night, I had switched bars and was making riskier attempts at conversation. In an effort to be funny, I pointed out to one girl that she had dragged some toilet paper from the bathroom with her shoe. The humor must have been mixed up in the translation.

The night out on my own wasn’t a complete failure, but I wasn’t hoping for a repeat. For the second night, I knew my only other option was getting to know the group of seven Brazilians who were planning to go out dancing.

As the most experienced Porte¤o (slang for Buenos Aires resident), I convinced the Brazilians to go to club called Maluco Beleza, which is one of my favorites.

As the self-proclaimed dance champion of the late LSU Argentina group, I can declare that Brazilians are better dancers than Estadounidenses (the politically correct term for U.S. citizens in South America).

Over the night, I got to know the group through observation and pieced together conversations consisting of mixtures of Spanish and English. The two Brazilian guys in the group were overtly masculine. In order for them to come to the club, I had to promise them that there were tons of women there.

Late in the night, professional dancers took the stage and put on a show for the crowd. The Brazilian guys cheered with the crowd when the sexy female dancers were alone on the stage, but each time the sexy male dancers returned to share the stage, the Brazilian guys would turn their backs and role their eyes or go for a fresh drink, obviously disgusted.

They were still really nice to me, giving high-fives every time they saw me dancing with someone.

The five Brazilian girls danced almost the entire time we were there. They barely drank any alcohol and only stopped dancing when the DJ played a song they didn’t like. They always knew instantly and unanimously if a song was no good, while I was never able to distinguish any major difference among the quality of the songs.

They were party animals, and I was a little surprised to hear that four of the girls study law, one girl studies environmental engineering, one of the guys studies finance and, from what I gathered from our conversations, the other guy spends all day having sex with Brazilian women.

They were all characters and are probably the only reason I had a good time this past weekend.

Last week, before I began my weekend alone in Buenos Aires, my friend Bryant Boyd and I visited a strange place near Buenos aires called Tigre.

Tigre is just a 90-centavo (30 cent) train ride from downtown Buenos Aires that lasts about 30 minutes. This small town, which is smeared across the many jungle islands in the delta of Rio de la Plata, feels like it comes from another time period.

Except for the part of the town connected to the mainland, the inhabitants of Tigre use only boats for transportation between and within the many islands of the delta.

For under $7 each, my friend and I took a boat to a small island-neighborhood called Tres Bocas, ate lunch, walked around the jungle terrain for a few hours and returned by boat, which made that day a candidate for my most fun day per capita in Argentina.

In Tres Bocas, we snaked through a narrow jungle path that often zig-zagged over swamps or streams with shaky bridges made of sticks and rope. Throughout the entire excursion, a collection of pet dogs from around the island faithfully followed us and waited on us when we stopped to climb trees or take pictures.

The contrast between Tigre and Buenos Aires is extreme, and it takes a special place like Argentina to be able to explore the jungle all day then, a few hours later, travel under skyscrapers and city blocks on the subway.

It’s great but reminds me just how far away I am from home.