Some days are just harder than they need to be. Today started as a very relaxing, sunny and warm day. I messaged my new best friends and told them we should go on an adventure to Tigre, a small town outside of Buenos Aires. Casually I suggested that I research hotels and since the trains run every 10 minutes, we could take our time. They came over for lunch, I booked the hotel and we headed out to the train stop in my neighborhood – Chacarita.
This is where our adventure begins. Obstacle #1: We weren’t sure how to buy a train ticket. When you’re in a country you’ve never been to, and you’re in a neighborhood where no one speaks English, any obstacle could be enough to paralyze you and send you back home. But instead, I found a man traveling with his son and proceeded, in my strange mix of Spanish/Italian, to ask if this was the train to Tigre. He told me kindly that no, this train went to Retiro and we would have to change trains there. I caught every three words or so and then I heard, “peligroso”. Obstacle #2: When someone in Latin America uses the word dangerous, you second guess your gringo plans. I asked if there was another way we should go, to avoid the area “peligroso”. He said no, it’s ok, just stay with me and keep your eyes open.
Let me back up. My new best friends are not single, mobile, travelers. They are a family from Atlanta, Georgia with 3 kids: 9, 4 and 14 months, and they just moved here. Going to Tigre required luggage and a stroller, and little Wesley is the only person whiter than I am. If we were about to go into a Villa (the worst kind of barrio), we were going to be targets.
Also, let’s remember, the last time I took a Spanish class was my first year of college, and also, I don’t know this guy from Adam, and also, according to statistics, it’s very likely he’s going to rob us. But instead, I choose to trust him and my Spanish, I choose to risk the lives of this kind and generous family who is now trusting me to bring them safely to a hotel outside of the city.
This is Nestor, and his 11-year old son, who is not only exceptionally polite and kindly trying to help translate our conversation, but he is also very street smart. The little boy was whispering to me not to look at the guy with the white hat, sitting across from us, in the face. He told me he has a scar which means he’s someone not to trust. Nestor let us know that the only reason he was on the train was because their car was having issues. He didn’t want us to associate him with the rest of the people on the train. He told us only poor people take the train.
When the train arrived, like any good dad would, Nestor started driving the stroller onto the train. He ushered us into the seats quickly, and reminded us not to speak English. While on the train he told us that he was a professional body builder and that it was his biggest “sueño” to go to Estados Unidos. He told me he wanted to go to Florida and California and open a training gym like Golds Gym. He seemed happy to talk with us and not at all inconvenienced to usher a bunch of white gringos around like a tour guide.
When we got off of the train, it felt like we had just entered a war zone. We walked silently as a group, me holding tightly onto the four-year-old’s hand. As we rounded a corner and a man came close to me, Nestor pushed me to the side and put his arm around me. His son looked concerned but not worried, his dad told me that was a close call, that the man was trying to grab my bag. Nestor saved me.
Once we got into the second train station, we stood in line to get tickets. He and his son were going to a Rugby game in San Isidro so they’d be getting off a few stops before us. I offered to buy Nestor’s train ticket. He looked moved that I would offer. But instead, he ordered us our tickets and then bought them for us. He looked at me and said “we in Argentina are good.” Not just good, Nestor was our guardian angel. And I couldn’t be more proud of the Georgians and their amazing kids for getting through that moment.
Relief came once we were on the train to Tigre. Until the moment I looked up the address to our hotel on my phone. Somehow I had booked a hotel not in Tigre, but in a neighborhood at the edge of the city. It had come up as Tigre on the hotels list but the exact address was not even close to Tigre. And now, this wonderful family, who trusted me enough to follow a stranger into a Villa and onto an unknown train, was forced into another state of mind as we found ourselves facing Obstacle #3. Where would we go once we got off of the train with three kids, luggage and a stroller?
The answer: helados. We went to get ice cream, we poured a milkshake into Wesley’s bottle and we reboarded the train back to Buenos Aires before dark.
It was a day.