Learning Spanish in Bariloche

Today was my first day of Spanish School. The first lesson of Spanish School was how to get there and back again. The place I am staying, though beautiful, is 20 kilometers out of town, and the bus stop is at the end of a maze of dirt roads that even a trained lab rat would have trouble navigating.

Yesterday, my host Walter told me that his 11-year-old daughter Camina (Carmina?) would be walking to the nearest bus stop to catch the 7h30 bus this morning. So I was up and about much earlier than my lazy 36-year-old body was completely happy with, determined not to miss my guide or my ride.

But, when I went downstairs, the house was completely silent. I made coffee. I played fetch with Sasha the soppy St Bernard. I took photographs of mist rising off the lake. Eventually, at 7h25, Walter appeared.

I asked whether I could still catch the bus, but I’d already missed it. (Camina had spent the night at a friend.) Also, the bus card Walter lent me needed to be recharged, as the buses here don’t accept cash at all. So Walter drove me about 4km to the second-nearest bus stop (buses only come to the nearest stop five times daily) and waited with me to see whether I’d be allowed on.

Sure enough, the card had no credit on it, but a kind fellow passenger used her card to pay my fare and I gave her the cash. Then all I had to do was sit and enjoy the scenic ride while hoping that 1. the bus would get to Bariloche in the promised 30 minutes and 2. I’d be able to find the Spanish school within the remaining five.

Amazingly, both circumstances came to pass and just after 9am I was ushered into a small room with my teacher, Gaby, and a single fellow student, whose name I instantly forgot. I’m going to call him Russo, because he is Russian. He’s a strapping 6’6  23-year-old who looks like he should be playing center forward for the Springboks. Instead, he’s spending eight weeks struggling with Spanish verbs. (And I have to say, he doesn’t look all that thrilled about it, especially when Gaby and I speak French or English, which he doesn’t.)

I won’t tire you with a description of the class, mainly because it makes my head hurt to remember. It’s been 15 years since I last had any formal education and I now remember why I decided not to study any more. We were even given homework. This may prove to be a problem, because I never did my homework when I actually was at school. Even now, as I write this, I am procrastinating.

At 1pm, we were released. My brain had been used up for the day, but I had three further challenges remaining.

1. Recharge the bus card.

2. Find the bus stop and catch the correct bus.

3. Figure out how to get back to the house after getting off the bus.

Challenge 1 was accomplished after only two failed attempts, and I bought myself an enormous portion of dulce de leche ice-cream as a reward. (And also as lunch, as I detest sitting at restaurants on my own and refused to go to McDonalds, even if they did sponsor the town’s street name signs.)

The bus came eventually, and, unlike in Buenos Aires, I had no problem working out where to get off it. But then I had to navigate the dirt road warren. At first it was all fun and cherry blossoms. I remembered I could simply follow the signs to somewhere called Aldebaran. But then I passed Aldebaran and the signs ran out. Nothing looked familiar. Even the dogs were different.

I retraced my steps for about a kilometer. I put my backpack down to see if I could find a map but found an ants nest instead. Fortunately they weren’t the killer, biting, leave-nothing-but-bones-behind kind as I feared, but they were very large and active, and extremely interested in the contents of my bag. Much jumping around in the road and flinging my belongings into the dust ensued. Semi-ant-free once more, I hailed a passing car and asked them for directions. They told me it was back the way I’d come, then left and left again. They left, I turned back.

After I’d turned left twice, I realized I was still lost. Worse, I really needed to pee. Fortunately an entire family was hanging out chatting in front of their gate and gave me better directions. Again, it was back the way I’d come, but straight instead of right. As I walked down the road indicated, Walter drove past in the opposite direction with a cheery wave.

I got home at last and dashed to the loo after having a polite, though somewhat strained Spanglish conversation with my lovely hostess Miriam. I have resolved not to leave the house again until I absolutely have to. Which is, unfortunately, tomorrow morning, for Spanish School Part 2. I hope tomorrow’s lesson is easier.

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