Hello, I’ve missed you.
I haven’t posted for a few days because a) I was traveling, and b) as some of you on Facebook know, I was sick as a dog. My parents adorably, dutifully read this blog and also are on high-swine-flu-alert, and so I didn’t want to worry them. (I won’t lie, though, having the flu—any kind of flu—while seeing people walk around in facemasks is disconcerting). So, this will be a bit on the long side, but it was an eventful week.
So, early last week I started feeling less than stellar, and after a fever-filled Wednesday night that continued into Thursday, I decided to skip class and go to the pharmacy to get some medicine.
Argentinean farmacias—and maybe all South American pharmacies?—are completely different than those in America. They still sell shampoo and toothpaste and everything, but all of the medicine, from the hard stuff down to the children’s cold medicine, is behind the counter. Apparently, you’re supposed to tell the pharmacist what ails ya, and he will grab you the correct pills (skipping the middle-man of the doctor, really).
This is, obviously, a bit of a challenge when you don’t speak Spanish. Contributing to the problem is also my fading, albeit still present fear of very specific medicinal combinations, instilled by my mother when I was a child. (“You’re drinking a coke after taking that Advil?!”) There’s also the simple fact that, for whatever reason, I absolutely hate taking medicine.
I don’t know the word for sore throat, or for “achy,” and I was terrified that they’d quarantine me if I made it sound as though I were really sick, so the conversation was halted, to put it mildly. An approximate translation follows:
Me: Hi. I’m sick—a little sick. Just a little, but I need some medicine.
Pharmacist: What do you need?
Me: I don’t know. I’m sorry.
Pharmacist: Do you need antibiotics?
Me: I don’t know. How would I . . . I . . . I don’t know.
Pharmacist: Do you have a fever?
Me: Yes! Fever. I have a fever. A little fever. And, umm, this, I have this
(pointing rapidly and dramatically to my neck). It’s not terrible, but, it’s not good.
Pharmacist: What is your temperature?
Me: I don’t know, I don’t have a thermometer, but I’m hot and then . . . not hot? And then hot and then (shaking myself like a lunatic, miming “chills”).
Pharmacist: It’s very important to know what your temperature is.
Me: Yes. Yes. Is it? Oh.
Pharmacist: Yes, but here is something for you .
Me: What is it?
Pharmacist: It’s similar to Tylenol.
Me: Wonderful! Okay. And I need a thermometer, right?
Pharmacist: Yes .
Me: Excellent. And vitamin C?
I felt pretty successful when I left, and assumed I would be raring to go in a few hours.
Five hours later, it became clear that I was mistaken. I had been alternating juice and soup for about 24 hours by this point, and taking cool showers (It turns out that taking a bath in the bathtub was the flood culprit, and so that was out.) By late afternoon, it was all I could do to sit up. I lost the remote control and watched two episodes of the Fresh Prince in Spanish before falling asleep (and waking to find the remote lodged in my hip).
At the risk of being repetitive, I felt like absolute crap. I slept with a light on because I couldn’t make myself get up to turn it off. There was moaning. At one point, in the middle of the night, under three blankets, I woke up to find my flannel pajama pants had ridden up, exposing a few inches of skin above my right sock. It felt like someone was holding an ice cube to my leg, but the rest of my body was so achy that I couldn’t bring myself to even reach down and fix it.
Oh God, I kept thinking, my dad was right—I do have swine flu. I have swine flu and I don’t even have a phone to call an ambulance and it’s so hot in here and I’m going to die in this really cute apartment alone and when they find me they’re going to see my dirty clothes in that big pile with the underwear on top and I paid for Spanish lessons through next week and I won’t get to go and they’ll have to ship my body back and it’s so cold in here and how is it possible that my eyes hurt? My eyes actually hurt. I’m coughing up mucus and I wish I had a tissue—but, wait, didn’t they say that with swine flu it’s a dry cough? Yes, yes, they said it was a dry cough. Hooray, mucus! I love mucus! Maybe not, maybe they said the regular flu was a dry cough and swine flu was heavy on the mucus. I should have read more carefully and I should have bought more juice because I need more juice and it’s So. F-ing. Hot in here.
It was a rough night, and made even more so by the fact that I was planning to fly up to Iguazu Falls for the weekend, and my plane left on Friday. It seemed ludicrous to get on a plane, but it seemed even more so to miss the chance to go when I had no idea when I would ever get back again—and I had booked the hotel over email in Spanish, which had made me wildly proud of myself.
My Imaginary Boyfriend
So, Friday morning came and I was still a sweaty, shaking, feverish mess, but now I had the added pleasantness of feeling as though someone was rubbing my throat with a Brillo Pad. For the reasons mentioned above, though, I really just had to go. So first I went back to the pharmacy and very willingly bought antibiotics after explaining that my necklace hurt very much. I was over pretending. Only good things could come of being quarantined at this point. My necklace is in pain, I said, and my head and my fever, also, is in much pain.
Domestic flights here fly in and out of a different airport than the international one I was familiar with, so I caught a taxi fairly early, armed with all of my medicines and my thermometer (along with my notes on Celsius to Fahrenheit conversions). And, because that’s the way the world works sometimes, I had my first creepy taxi driver experience as I sat, debilitated in the back seat.
Oscar wanted to know where I was from, and whether I was married—no?—and then what was this boyfriend’s name? (Michael?) And Michael was in the U.S., yes? What good is he there? (It’s true, really.) Oscar wanted me to understand that Jessica was his favorite name in the whole world, and that I was pretty and that what I really needed was an Argentine boyfriend because they were better—much better, eh?—and that if I wanted he could just drive me the 19 hours to Iguazu so that we could talk. You can practice your Spanish, he said, with complete earnestness. Oscar coughed every eight seconds the entire way to the airport. If anyone has swine flu, I was thinking, it’s this a$$hole.
At the airport, I got some more juice and sat with my head on a table until it was time to board. I inadvertently went through security with a corkscrew, a bottle of juice, and mace. No one said a word. Yeah.
I’ll Just Eat this Ketchup, Thanks
I arrived at the Iguazu airport around 5:30 and caught a taxi to my little hotel, Hosteleria Los Heleches, which ended up being adorable and rustic and really convenient. Dinner started at the hotel restaurant at 8:00 (outrageously early by Argentinean standards) and so I struggled to stay awake until then. I ordered chicken of some kind and—please know that this is not an exaggeration—it was the worst meal of my entire life. What came out (into the dining room that was surprisingly empty except for me) was, I believe, a burnt, fried, newspaper. On the plate sat half of a moldy nectarine. Seriously. What the hell was it there for? To squeeze over the “chicken”? As a garnish? After one bite I asked for some kind of sauce of condiment to mask the taste, and the waitress brought me one individual packet of ketchup. Even alone, even sick as hell, I could not stop laughing. I spotted some bread behind the counter and asked for some, thus eventually eating two rolls for dinner, with ketchup.
After “dinner” I went back to my room, but couldn’t get the key to open the door. I am very pleased to announce that at the front desk I said (in Spanish): “I cannot open my door with this key. I need help. Can you please help me?” When the kid eventually got it to unlock, I took my medicine (Tylenol-like pills and unknown antibiotic), took my temperature (101 F) and passed out.
I’d Rather be Deaf
And, because this is also sometimes how the world works, I woke up feeling like a champion the next morning. Like an animal. A goddamned tiger. I was so happy. I had what I would probably call, on a normal day, a pretty bad head cold, but the fever was gone and my throat felt about 90% better, so I was thrilled. After my complimentary breakfast at the hotel of leftover dinner rolls with marmalade, I headed down to Iguazu Parque.
It’s not that fun reading about how pretty someone thinks something is that you’ve never seen, so I’ll be brief here, but I just have to say, Iguazu was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. Hands down. At the risk of stating the obvious, there’s just so much water. It’s overwhelming. When I got to the top at the Paseo Garganta del Diablo (one of about a billion look- out points), and looked down, I actually started laughing. It was so huge and surreal, it just seemed like a joke. Yesterday (the day I spent there) was one of the best days of my life.
You know that game that pops up every once in a while (at least in my circle of friends) where you’re asked if you’d rather be deaf or blind? A lot of my friends are either musicians or just really, really into music, and so practically all of them answer that they’d rather be blind than deaf, lest they not be able to listen to bands. I like music and all, but I’ve always gone—hesitantly—the other route. “Being blind would just be so inconvenient,” I say, “and you couldn’t really be independent if you were blind, not the way I am now. I think I’d rather be deaf.” As of this weekend, I am no longer hesitant: I’d rather be deaf, for sure, because the idea of never seeing something like Iguazu Falls again is terrifying.
I walked around the falls all day and finally headed home around 5:30. My cab driver asked if I wanted to go to Brazil (you can literally see it both from the falls and over the trees from my hotel). In theory, you need a visa as an American to enter Brazil, but word on the street is that often, coming from Argentina, you can just go through. Apparently lots of taxi drivers make extra money that way. His rationale was pretty much the same as in my guide book: The good restaurants are there, and you can say you’ve been into another country . . . And I thought about it, I really did, but in the end my sinus pressure and the prevailing image of being locked up in a foreign prison (thanks, Locked Up Abroad) kept me from acting. I’m all about knowing my traveling-alone limits.
So, I went back to the hotel and found an enormous, rockin’ children’s birthday party taking place in the courtyard. Balloons, clowns, parakeets, et all. It was adorable. I showered the hiking filth off of me and then walked a block “into town,” the town being the three square blocks that make up Puerto Iguazu. Because it was almost 70 degrees (way north of Buenos Aires), I was able to sit outside while I ate and had a glass of wine for the first time (gasp) in a week.
In other, last news, flying with a cold sucks, and my right ear still hasn’t opened back up. In other words, I may get my wish to be deaf. Totally worth it. So it goes.
Note: My internet is against me performing any online act more substantial than clicking “Me gusta” underneath Facebook photos, so I can’t seem to get my pictures of the falls onto Flickr (or anything else) right now, but I will force you to look at them some day.