“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
― Alice in Wonderland
The subway system in Buenos Aires, known to locals as the subte, is like an underground sauna–packed, steamy, and stiflingly hot–but emerging from the station–a slow ascent up the escalator into the rush of cool air above–is like being birthed anew. I would ride the subte for that feeling alone.
I find myself slipping in quite easily into the way things work here: the way the porteños pronounce the “yuh” sound as “sh,” the way they inch closer and closer to the street as they impatiently wait to cross, the way they greet you with a quick kiss on the check, the way they place their arms over their bags while out in public to deter any thieves, the way they eat dinner at 8 p.m. and sit around talking for two hours before asking for the check. I could live here–but I don’t know if I will.
The only thing more terrifying than not knowing where I’m going next is the nagging feeling that it doesn’t even matter. Perhaps if I had some reason to be somewhere. Perhaps if I were in Pensacola, my sister would text me saying she needed me to pick up milk at the store, or if I were in the SF Bay Area, Krissa might come over and say we should go out for boba tea. Perhaps then I would be expected somewhere, and there would be a reason to be at a certain location at a certain time. But as it is, my work is remote and no one in Buenos Aires knows me. I could be anywhere, anytime, whenever I want.
There is a tyranny in freedom. It is a great and terrible thing. Where Commitment takes me by the hand and says, “Come, stay with me, this is where you belong.” I run up to Freedom and ask, “What should I do?” and she whispers coolly, “Anything you want.” Give me too much freedom and I will spin, spin, spin, until I’m tangled up in choices.
I sometimes walk the streets of Buenos Aires, passed the faces I don’t know, watching their mouths form words I don’t understand, and I imagine myself here one month from now–what if no one knows me then? What if I stay? What if I don’t? If no one knew I was here to begin with, what does it matter?
I miss Peru so much I ate dinner at Chan Chan, one of few Peruvian restaurants here in Buenos Aires. I savored a dish of ceviche and a pisco sour and pretended I was back in Cusco. I am seriously looking into ways to get back there. I emailed Manuel (my host in Peru) and asked him if he knew anyone renting out places, just in case. He emailed me back quickly saying he knew many people and that he’d look into it and get back to me tomorrow, but if it didn’t work out, I could always stay with him and his family again. I felt my heart quicken and my throat tighten up again; the idea of being able to return was exhilarating.
But to be honest, there are things that I don’t like about Cusco. Call me spoiled (because I am), but I don’t like how cold it gets there, how no one has a heater, how hard it is to find hot water, how hard it is to find fast Wi-Fi, how hard it is to acclimate to the high altitude, how you have to throw toilet paper into the trash bin–not the toilet–because the plumbing system can’t handle it. Here in Buenos Aires I have all the comforts of the States since it is very modern.
Buenos Aires is beautiful–but, as with any pretty face, I dig a little deeper and then wonder, “Is that all?” I could live here quite happily and comfortably. It has all the luxuries I could want, shopping malls, safe water, hot showers, Wi-Fi in every cafe, even an entire community of American expats who plan get-togethers. Sometimes while I’m walking the busy streets of the financial district, I feel like I’m in San Francisco; other times while I’m sitting in a cafe, I could swear I’m in Italy. Why would I stay in a place that simply mimics other places I’ve been?
Cusco’s got rough edges, and I like that. It has character. Here in Buenos Aires I watch women walk by with shiny boots, designer handbags, and perfectly coiffed hair, and I scoff. Andean women are hearty, and the only bags they tote are the 40-pound ones on their backs carrying the wheat they harvested with their bare hands. In Cusco, I ran through the dirt streets playing with the countless stray dogs gathered there; here in Buenos Aires, the only dogs I ever see are well-groomed ones being walked on leashes by their owners. Cusco and Buenos Aires are worlds apart.
So on the one hand I have a very modern, European-ized city with all the luxuries and conveniences I could want, and on the other I have a very traditional South American city with many inconveniences, but with a welcoming and rich culture.
“Just follow your heart,” Marko the Estonian told me when I emailed him about my dilemma. Ha. My heart is the last thing I consult, because it screams so loudly and tries so hard to win my attention that I always suspect it has ulterior motives.
So here I am in a bustling port city in South America, puzzling over which way I ought to go from here. My deadline to decide is tomorrow.
I have a flight already booked from Buenos Aires to Lima to Miami to Pensacola on May 3rd. I could easily take the flight to Lima. Then skip the flight to Miami and instead fly to Cusco. Alternatively, I could just as easily stay put and forgo all flights on the 3rd.
I could stay here in Buenos Aires.
I could go back to Cusco.
All I know is I am not ready to go back to the U.S.
I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”
― Alice in Wonderland