December 14, 2008

Alice becomes a "godthing"

Iguassu Falls (on the Argentine/Brazilian border) is the world's widest waterfall -- more than 270 km or 1/4 mile across, in contrast to Niagara, which has the most volume, and Victoria (Zimbabwe), which stakes its reputation on some other superlative.

It is amazing. Water, water everywhere, tumbling down steep rock cliffs.

Alice goes first to Brazil, a four-hour sojourn for which she has spent at least twice that time in New York getting her spite visa (the U.S. has a cover charge, so Brazil thinks it only fair to have one in return), where the falls are distant and panoramic. Then onto Argentina, where Ricardo, the tour guide, keeps a special eye on Alice, the only solo woman traveler.

A couple from San Francisco, Shelly and Jack, adopt Alice for the day. They are accustomed to adopting friends, usually only children who have become only adults, something Alice frequently feels despite the brother in Alabama. Originally from the East Coast, we share a sensibility.

Their adoptees are not their godchildren; they are their godthings, a title Alice wears for the day with love and pride.

Ricardo calls Alice's attention to several different views, calls to Alice and Alice alone. By the time he points out the bathroom, Shelly says, "oh, do I get to go too? Or is the bathroom just for Alice?" She and her husband are I are laughing hysterically.

He and I have bonded over scarring from the same prep school circuit; she and I have the crazy moms and non-linear career connections.

In the boat that took us into the falls, we shared a waterproof bag for all our belongings. We scrunched together in the same seat to be blasted with water, soaking us head to toe as the boat operator scudded us through the rapids, and the distant mist became a close-up, cold, soaking shower.

It is at that moment that I realize one of the best things about being a solo traveler is the people I meet and the serendipitous nature of my journey. Laurie Colwin's story "The Lone Pilgrim" comes to mind: "Single, you carry only the uncluttered luggage of your own personality, selected and packed by only one pair of hands."

I am a diversion; I am entertainment; a conversation with me is not tantamount to what I imagine the intimacy of marriage, not that I am sold on that institution.

(Shelly and Jack have it right: I could be married, too, if I had my own bedroom, my own space. All their friends, who once thought them insane, are now envious.)

Another joy for this trip is that other people have made all the decisions; for once, I does not have to be in charge. I can become a child again, having all the fun and lack of responsibility the title brings with it.

The Argentinians want to take care of me; the female tour guides want to hug me, cheek to cheek, as does the woman who later washes and braids my hair in Buenos Aires. It is a huge luxury not to have to braid my own hair.

The male guides watch my every move; George in Buenos Aires narrates the history of his city, wants to assure my comfort, explains such peculiarities as double-daylight savings time, brought to the country by its president, who may not have all her marbles.

George knows everyone at the airports, which pays off big time when I check in. I go straight to the front of every line, thankyouverymuch. It is bliss.

I share odd cultural references with the San Franciscans. For instance, the coffee stirrers in Argentina resemble the ones McDonald's retired when too many people were using the tiny spades to shovel coke up their noses. This too bonds me to my family for the day, the people with whom I later pad around the Sheraton pool, blissfully cool in the hot Iguassu sun.

The San Franciscans came from Puenta Arenas, Chile, nearly the most southernmost town in the hemisphere. They have traveled extensively, as have I. On my trip to Africa three years ago, I noticed that you did not get to safari in Botswana without having seen all of the Western world and a good portion of the rest; the same is true in Iguassu.

Later, I will develop a fierce sunburn, due to my confusion between when to apply apres sun spray and when to apply sun protection spray. Whoops. In the airplane returning to Buenos Aires, the flight attendant offers me a barf bag full of ice to cool my inflamed skin. Finally, a use for that item eternally riding in the seat back.

This is inadvertently my second stay in Buenos Aires. The first was prompted by a missed airplane connection. It astounded me that American Airlines came through with a night at the Intercontinental hotel, plus dinner and breakfast.

It is a fancy joint, and after my massage, I learn that the AA crew stays in the same hotel -- a far cry from the kinds of hotels I had imagined the crew frequented. Note to self: flight attendants have a much nicer gig than it may first appear. If this is any example, they stay at ritzier hotels than I do.

Airline finance mystery solved, for a week the brave new world does not obtain, and no news is both good news and all the news I will allow.

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Blogger The Misanthrope said...

Sounds like you had a wonderful vacation/adventure and made some new friends as well. Looks like your new year is going to be off to a nice start.

1:44 PM  

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