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Perils of Polly: On the road to Buenos Aires with Polly

Posted: March 2, 2012 - 9:33am
Polly and her sister stand next to their rented vehicle.
Polly and her sister stand next to their rented vehicle.

Editor's note: Polly Crawford was a reporter and associate editor of The Peninsula Clarion from 1985-1988, when she wrote "Perils of Polly." She also has written a series of "Peril" columns about Australia, Asia, and Central America. Her perils continue in Argentina and Chile.

Before my sister and I ever got to Buenos Aires, we had spent the night with her daughter in L.A. where my sister showed us a photo of the Kangoo van we had rented. I mentioned that it could come with a tent that extends out the back doors but my sister didn't want it.

Her daughter's eyes got wide, "You're going to spend 30 days together in that?" she said incredulously looking at the tiny van, noting that the only way the mattress fit in the back was if the front seats were pushed all the way up and leaned forward. "Mom! You want the tent!"

I jumped at the chance. "See! We need the tent! There's no way to get dressed or relax or do anything. It's just a three-foot-high place to sleep."

My sister capitulated. She emailed the rental company and got the OK, for $3 a day more. The rental would be half the cost of the entire tent, but that didn't matter to me. I knew I would need space. That would prove to be one of the best decisions we made.

Andean Roads owner Cris picked us up at our hostel and drove us to his home about an hour away and began the process of teaching us about the van. He showed us all the little cubby holes and I immediately saw there would be no room for my carry-on suitcase. I dumped everything I had brought into the little cubby holes and left the suitcase behind. While it saved space, it was a little inconvenient since my clothes were always under the mattress and the cubby proved to be a dust collector. My sister decided her backpack would just have to occupy a place on the bed during the day and be crammed in the front seat at night.

Then Cris got down to the important stuff: tire changing tools, the "refrigerator," and the fact the van has only one battery. We plugged the cooler into the cigarette lighter to get it ready for food. Then he told us that the law in Argentina requires the headlights to be on at all times, and that the van had no reminder if the lights were left on, so I got a little nervous. I mentioned it would be good to have jumper cables, and my sister mentioned that a spinner would be good in addition to the jack tool for changing tires. As we prepared to drive off, he threw them in. Providence was protecting us.

He gave us a map to get to the nearest shopping center so we could stock up for the trip. I got behind the wheel, turned on my lights, and off we went on our adventure. Within a couple miles we were lost. We studied the map and looked at our location, and decided that the map could not have been drawn to proportion. We wandered and backtracked and wandered some more, up paved roads, down dirt roads, around trucks and through warehouses. Suddenly we stumbled into the huge mall.

Relieved, I parked, dutifully turned off the lights, and we went shopping and ate lunch. About an hour and a half later, we headed back to our Kangoo. I turned the key. Click. I gasped. "The battery's dead!" We glared at the cooler...the culprit. I yanked the cord out of the cigarette lighter.

I had gotten a chance to use my flawed Spanish in the grocery store unsuccessfully looking for manteca de mani (peanut butter -- a virtual unknown in Latin America), so now here was my second chance. I pulled out the jumper cables and flagged down a security guard. I began my sentence with one of the words that was going to be a mainstay throughout the trip -- "Necesito..."

He didn't seem to understand. He jabbered a bit, then left. He came back with his boss. They looked at the car and jabbered with each other until they finally seemed to agree they could help us. I still have no idea why they just didn't pull up to the front and jump our car, but they seemed to need a long conversation about it. When they finally did make that decision, the Kangoo started right up. We thanked them profusely and asked them how to get onto the highway.

Of course I didn't understand a word, so finally one of them got in his car and said "Sigue." I knew that word. I followed him to the freeway exit, he pointed, and I drove on joining the other cars zooming at 120 kph (74 mph) on the autopista.

My sister and I chuckled at ourselves. This didn't bode well for the beginning of our trip. Within the first two hours we get lost and our car dies! At least we had jumper cables.

Getting lost was going to be part of our M.O.

Look for the next installment of "Perils of Polly" in next week's Clarion Recreation section.

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