I arrived to Buenos Aires late at night December 30th. The air was thick and my backpack weighed heavy on my shoulders as I waited for a cab.
On the way to my apartment, illuminated European-like buildings and monuments decorated my view. Teenagers dressed in skinny jeans paraded through the streets. An old couple shared a pizza at an outdoor cafe. At a stoplight, I nervously smiled as my eyes met those of a handsome man in the taxi next door. He was singing “Isn’t She Lovely.”
It was all so magical–like something out of a movie. And everything I was hoping for after spending the last couple of weeks in Patagonia.
Sure, Patagonia had been nice. I had pedaled through national parks in the Lake District, traveled two days on Argentina’s famous Ruta 40, and even hiked a glacier. But something had been missing.
I knew there was a chance I’d get homesick over the holidays, but I reassured myself that I’d make friends. I apologized to my family for missing yet another Christmas at home. They understood my need for adventure.
I ended up spending Christmas in the small town of El Chaltén with a couple from Australia. They had just gotten engaged and were doing a little stint around the world before tying the knot. We spent the day hiking to the Fitz Roy Mountain, then joined a British couple, a German girl, a French guy and a Dutch woman for dinner at a local parilla. Over Patagonian lamb and liters of wine, we told stories of our travels and offered advice for future excursions. Everyone spoke in different accents, but we all shared the same love of travel.
Normally, this would’ve been just the sort of holiday experience I would’ve hoped for. But even after countless glasses of wine and lots of laughter, I crawled into my bunk bed that night and dreamt of my friends and family in Florida.
I’d wanted to visit Buenos Aires ever since my parents went in 2004. They had come back from their trip with beautiful pictures of crumbling buildings, cobblestone streets and couples dancing tango. They had described the beef and wine in such detail that my mouth still waters nearly 10 years later just thinking about it.
I had a similar experience (although for about twice as much as they spent, due to inflation). I was charmed by the sidewalk cafes, the grandiose cemeteries, San Telmo’s Sunday antique market. The live music playing on street corners begged me to spend afternoons dancing and drinking beer instead of sightseeing. Even catcalls from men, usually vulgar and offensive, seemed endearing.
But it wasn’t just being in the city that turned me from a lonely woman in Patagonia to a thriving romantic in Buenos Aires. The day after I arrived was New Years Eve, and I had been invited to spend it with an Argentinean family.
I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t actually know any member of the family, and had met the organizer of the event, Laura, over email. But since we shared a mutual friend, Laura said I was already a friend. She said she would pick me up at my apartment at 10 pm and we would have dinner at her uncle’s house.
When we met in person, Laura threw her arms around me and kissed me on the cheek. She introduced me to her brother Sergio, who was driving, then started firing questions. “How was Patagonia? Did you love it? Did you see the Perito Moreno Glacier? Do you speak any Spanish?” She was like a little Energizer bunny—so energetic and full of life. I loved her immediately.
When we got to Laura’s uncle’s house, I was greeted with kisses from about 20 family members. They all introduced themselves and told me how beautiful I was in Spanish. They were happy I could join them for such an important holiday.
The night was spent eating, dancing, drinking and singing karaoke. I watched Laura’s grandparents dance tango, and her brother Sergio belt out tunes by Swedish pop band ABBA. When the clock struck twelve, we rushed outside to watch fireworks. Everyone hugged, kissed, and toasted to a great new year.
At 5am, when it was finally time to say goodbye, I did my best to convey, in Spanish, how lucky I felt to be a part of the family celebration. Each of them took turns embracing me before Laura said, on behalf of everyone, “Don’t thank us. You’re family now.”
When I arrived back to my apartment in San Telmo, I emailed my parents. I told them about my night and about the new friendships I made. I also told them that, at 30, I finally got it: I can travel the world and see amazing things, but it doesn’t mean anything if I’m not sharing it with people I love.