Wednesday, March 11, 2009
I had to slap myself again for being upset with silly travel woes. I had to catch an earlier bus than I planned on to leave El Bolson, which ruined my lunch plans with Rogelio. I planned on making Rogelio and Nora cinnamon French toast, one of my favorite meals and something I believed would be a monumental contribution to the El Bolson society.
I also planned on hanging out with this cute hippie vendor who works at the El Bolson artisan market. It's probably for the better that I didn't hang out with her because I would have forgotten all about Paul McPherson and most likely abandoned any semblance of a North American lifestyle after 20 minutes with her.
It was also tough to abandon my original plans to make it to the end of the world, hike Torre del Peña and see the massive glacier in El Calafate, but this blog was not created to find a big glacier.
Then I reminded myself that I was going to Bahía Blanca to meet Paul McPherson and I finally got to ride the second-level shotgun on the bus, so I got this view as we rode through Argentina’s lake district.
If I thought I was excited the night I found out about P-Mac's location, I was absurdly excited now. I just sat there staring out the window, scribbling down notes every few minutes, grinning with excitement.
I hadn't talked to anybody on the bus for the first eight hours of the trip. But when the bus stopped 20 minutes outside of Neuquén, which is a middle-of-nowhere landmark town, I decided to start talking to this women who looked about 60 years old with scraggly grey hair because she was one of the few people who had been on the bus since we started in El Bolson. I asked her where she was going and she told me Monte Hermosa, a small town outside of Bahía Blanca, that happened to be the hometown of P-Mac's current club, El Nacional de Monte Hermosa.
I told her that's where I was going to be in a few days because of a really long story which essentially boils down to their basketball team. Her eyes lit up and she told me she was a “fanatico.” I went out on a limb and asked her if she knew of Paul McPherson. Of course she did and she told me he has not played well in his first few games.
Things were already getting out of control. It was 11:45 at night, I was at a bus stop 20 minutes further removed from the official middle of nowhere and I was talking about Paul McPherson with a 60-year-old Argentine woman named Nené.
For the next half hour of the bus ride I sat next to Nené and asked her a million questions about her team, her town and anything else my tired, El-Bolson-ed brain could translate into Castellano. I got her phone number and told her I would call her when I got into town.
Ten hours later we arrived in Bahía Blanca, I gave Nené a hug and kiss and told her I would see her soon. Then I walked the bus terminal, trying to find a map so I could try to find the town's only hostel. Then a young guy with a thin beard and dark brown hair looked at me and said “Justin?”
Even though I had no idea he would be there, Marquitos, who I had only spoken to in e-mail, was waiting at the terminal for my bus to arrive nine in the morning. He gave me a ride to my hostel because he didn't have any room for me at his place. He made sure I was set up alright and then dipped off to his university.
I dropped my bags off and began to explore Bahía Blanca (which translates to White Bay) and quickly learn that the bay was not close and the town did not have much to offer. Even the people who worked at the hostel told me there was nothing to see in the town. On the way to my hostel Marquitos pointed out the old stadium of El Nacional. El Nacional used to play in Bahía Blanca, but three years ago the town of Monte Hermosa bought the squad, so they now travel the 45-minute bus ride to Monte Hermosa to play one game a week. The team still practices and lives in Bahía Blanca.
I walked two blocks from my hostel to the stadium, which was located in the middle of the city block and did not look like much of a stadium from the outside. A janitor let me in the building and I walked through the dark, decrepit building before reaching the basketball court. At first I passed a room full of antique looking gymnastics equipment. Then I entered a dark empty café with plaid red round tables, four blank walls with the exception of a mural which showed the head of a woman who looked like an 1980s pop star popping out of a Boca Juniors shield. Finally I walked through a narrow hallway into the basketball court. Much of the wood was warped and all of the painted lines were faded. Cracked concrete surrounded the immediate perimeter of the court and the locker rooms resembled prison cells. There were enough wooden bleachers to seat maybe 100 tightly packed people.
“This is no place for a hero like Paul McPherson,” I thought. Then I talked to a secretary who worked in the office above the gymnastics room and learned that El Nacional does not actually play any games there any more. I felt very relieved for P-Mac.