A Day in the Desert

In The Art of Travel Spring 2017, 7. Travel 2.0, Buenos Aires by Matthew G

If you know me personally, you know I have an addiction to my cell phone.  It is my best friend, my constant companion, always there for me when I need it.  Except for those rare moments where it completely and utterly fails me.

I was traveling with some friends recently for the Argentina national holiday Carnival.  Together, we took a 16 hour bus to the desert city, Mendoza, prized for its proximity to the Andes mountain range and the most famous wine in all of Argentina–Malbec.  For three days, my friends and I enjoyed riding horses through the mountains at sunset, serenading one another through a tempestuous storm, and savoring fine wine while pretending we knew what it meant to be a “oaky.”  For the most part, our trip was running smoothly, until the last day.  For our final day in Mendoza, the rest of my group had planned a trip to the spa but I decided to spend the day exploring on my own.  I was hardly familiar with the city, but as in most aspects of my life, I trusted that with my own intuition and my trusty cellphone I could find interesting ways to pass the time.  Until my phone broke.  On the morning of the last day, I watched my friends leave for their day at the spa, and I quietly contemplated what the hell I was going to do.

If I have learned anything about travel, it is that no matter what, you must always keep moving forward.  Devoid of my safety blanket, I picked myself up and did things the old-fashioned way.  I asked our hostel owner for a recommendation.  His pick?  A bike tour through the famous vineyards interspersed with wine tastings along the way.  Done.  But how to get there?  With a map in hand and a string of directions that were already disintegrating in my mind, I embarked.  In all, I needed to purchase a bus pass, find the right bus station, get off at the right stop, find the right bike company, and complete the return journey successfully.  Without my phone as a map showing me my exact location, I was hesitant, but like always, I kept moving forward.

-Purchase bus pass.  Check.

-Find bus stop.  Check.

-Prepare to board bus.  Check.

-Realize you have lost your bus pass along the way.  Check?

-Retrace steps to find bus pass.  Check.

-Keep moving forward.  Check.

The ride was uneventful, but pleasant with clear views of the blue sky with fluffy clouds hanging over the mountains rising in the distance.  I managed to let go of my anxiety for a short time until I had to decide when I needed to get off.  Taking my best guess, I pulled the cord to alert the driver, and stepped off the bus directly in front of a bike rental shop!  But looking around, I realized this wasn’t an official bus stop, leaving me to wonder if the driver, assuming I was like every other white tourist who thought it was a good idea to ride bikes while wine drunk, had taken mercy on me and delivered me safely.

Finally at my destination, I hopped on my bike and took off through the dusty streets.  I had never visited a vineyard before and I found them quite beautiful both in their very orderly rows of grape vines that are shown to guests during wine tastings, as well as the unruly masses of growth extending far off in the distance where the real magic happens.  The smell was what I enjoyed most, it simultaneously carried a sense of oaky smoke and fresh fruit.  And although the day was hot and the sun beating down in the arid climate, riding the bike created a pleasant breeze that was perfect to enjoy the day.

Aside from the comfort of knowing physically exactly where I was, the absence of my phone meant I had no awareness of what time it was, and that ended up being a very beautiful experience.  Foregoing the concept of time allowed me to relax and accept my situation, and in turn I was comfortable trusting myself and the goodwill of others.

I still love my cellphone, and I forgive it for taking a vacation during my vacation.  But that day in the vineyards, I know I was really better off without it.

Image source

  • Mendoza: Matthew G