I stumbled into a tourism office and rang the bell on the front desk. A clock on the wall read 5 p.m. A look out the window, however, seemed to say otherwise, as the sun already seemed to be drifting off behind the mountains in the little town of Purmamarca.
“Hola que tal?”
I spun around towards the counter. A woman in her mid 30s, long black hair and dark brown eyes, stared at me waiting for a response. Even after being in Argentina for almost a month, my Spanish was barely conversational. I fumbled for the words.
“Ummm, donde es hostels?”
Suddenly she went off into a rant of Spanish that left me staring like an idiot.
“Lo siento, uhh habla espanol, es poquito,” I replied, not knowing what to do next. I figured there was nothing more I could reap from this conversation other than embarrassment. Just as I was ready to end the conversation, a map of the town with two hostels circled in black ink landed on the counter in front of me. The woman smiled at me.
“De nada,” she replied, turning back to her desk.
“Ciao,” I called back as I walked out the door.
Wild dogs scurried along, bumping into me along the dirt road. The air was crisp at 7,625 feet up, each breath expanding my lungs with a rush of oxygen. Vendors filled the town’s square, selling everything from blankets and hats to empanadas and cerveza. A look up in any direction revealed endless stretches of the Andes mountains surrounding the entire town, seemingly blocking it off from the rest of the world. I looked down at my map. I had arrived at the first hostel. A sign hung on the door: “Hostel Full.”
I looked through the window and all was dark inside. It seemed nobody was there. “Never mind,” I thought as I walked along to the second hostel. Crossing through the square I noticed a man in his 20s who seemed to stand out from the rest of the indigenous residents of the town. His hair was brown, rather short, with a scruffy beard and white skin. He was purchasing a chess board. I continued across the square to the second hostel. A sign hung on the door: “Hostel Full.” I knocked on the door. No response. It looked dark inside, same as the last.
It was 5:30 by this point and I still had nowhere to stay. I started to get a little nervous. I looked down at the map and noticed a hotel up the hill. It was worth a shot. As I neared the top the hotel came into view. It was a quaint looking place, seemingly made from adobe. A wooden fence surrounded the front lawn. Statues of horses and gauchos were scattered about. A large board on a post was in front of the fence, the prices of rooms in bold red paint. 800 pesos for one night in a single room, my cheapest option. I didn’t have that kind of money, so I turned away and headed back to the town square. I began scouting out an area to sleep for the night. Behind the church? A park bench?
Just as I began down the main road into town, I saw someone familiar walking up towards me. It was the man from before who was buying the chess board. I figured from his looks that he might know English and could maybe help me out with finding somewhere to stay.
“Habla inglés?” My fingers were crossed.
“Yeah, how can I help you?” He spoke in perfect English. I detected an accent that I couldn’t seem to place.
“Oh thank god man. I’m trying to find someplace to stay here for the night, but all the hostels are full. Though I looked in through the windows and they are all dark, doesn’t even look like anyone is there. No answer when I knocked either.”
“Yeah, I don’t have a place to stay either. I was able to get one of the hostel owners to come out and talk to me. He said they are closed because the whole province is having a power outage. Downed lines somewhere I guess.”
I dropped my head in disbelief. The entire province with no electricity. I had no idea what to do. I looked back up at him and shook my head.
“Listen,” he said. “One of them told me there is a town two hours north of here, on the border of Bolivia, called Humahuaca. They said it’s just like here, but cheaper and less touristy. There is a bus leaving at 7:45. If you want you can come with me. I know how to speak Spanish so we’ll be able to ask around for someplace to stay.”
“Are you serious? Dude yeah, I’m down. Thank you so much man. I was freaking out. My name’s Matt by the way.”
“Max,” he replied. “Where are you from Matt?”
“San Diego, California. Yourself?”
“Well very cool, Matt and Max, the Frenchman and the Yankee.”
We both laughed and headed down towards the bus stop to buy our tickets. Two hours later, our bus arrived. All the seats were full so we stood in the aisle for the two-hour trip. A group of French students happened to be in the back of the bus where we stood. Max went off for an hour in French, periodically stopping to fill me in on the conversation. They got off before our stop. Max and I took their seats for the final hour of our trip, conversing over what France and the U.S. were like. By the time the bus reached Humahuaca, it was almost 10:00 p.m. It was pitch black, and the power outage didn’t help. Every street light was out, every building looked dead. Every single star was visible, shining just as brilliantly as the full moon overhead. Max walked up to the information window at the bus station and asked for directions to the nearest hostel.
“Right down that street over there apparently,” he said as he returned with a map.
“Hopefully we can see it. Ahhh wait I got a flashlight, hold on.”
I began shining it on the building numbers as we walked down the street.
“There it is, right there. Hostel Humahuaca.”
We pushed open the door and walked up to the front desk. Every light was out; the only source of light was a slow-burning candle. I rang the bell on the counter and a woman appeared from a side door. A headlamp was secured around her forehead. Max walked up to the counter. The two began speaking back in forth in Spanish. My eyes whipped back and forth, trying to follow the conversation by watching their facial expressions. The woman gave Max a look of disbelief, shook her head, muttered something in Spanish, and pointed down at our map.
“Claro. Gracias,” Max nodded.
“De nada. Buenas noches,” the woman said sternly as she turned her back.
We walked back out into the dark, cold night.
“So I’m assuming there were no rooms?”
“Yeah, completely full. She said she couldn’t believe we didn’t have rooms reserved.”
“So now what?” I looked around in the dark, trying to make out the shapes moving all around the dark streets. It seemed to be getting colder.
What do you think? Will Matt and Max find a place to sleep for the night? Let us know in the comments and look for the second installment of this story next week!