I had just reentered the world of solo travel. I spent a week with Matt and Anna exploring Buenos Aires and the Cordoba region and my parents’ 10-day trip had come and gone. I should have taken the first mishap as a sign. Matt and I said our goodbyes to Anna and we headed to the Retiro bus terminal to get my last-minute ticket to Mendoza. It was around 7:30 p.m. and I knew there were enough options left that night not to be worried. We found an option at 9ish and I bought the ticket—receiving a $17 discount with a cama upgrade. A pleasant surprise and a happy start to the 13-hour bus ride. But it was too good to be true, as I completely and utterly missed its departure. Matt and I were right on time, but our conversation deemed more prominent than our attention to detail. A few laughs, sighs and thoughts of disbelief later, we headed back inside and found another company with two more options for that night. One leaving in two minutes and another an hour and a half later. Pay the extra $250 ARS to leave now or wait? They swiped my card and we ran downstairs, we gave each other a quick hug and I caught the bus as it was pulling away.
13 hours later I arrived in Mendoza. Luckily, I slept the majority of the way and enjoying the lack of co-riders beside, in front or behind me—sprawling out with all my might to get comfortable. Outside the terminal, I attempted to find the appropriate city bus to take to my pre-booked hostel, Hostel Emparanda, but couldn’t figure it out with the language barrier, so I copped-out and jumped into a taxi. The rest of the day wasn’t too thrilling—a few hours freelancing, a walk exploring the city’s five plazas and a short jog along the Parque de San Martin. The hostel was full of couples, which made socializing a bit hard, but I met a few fellow travelers and enjoyed getting back into the meeting-new-people-doing-the-same-thing-as-me scene.
The next morning I was determined to go to Maipu. It’s a common day trip from Mendoza: a short 30-minute bus ride to rent a bike and tour the surrounding wineries and sample a few of the world-renowned grapes. The 100% chance of thunderstorms should have been another signal, but of course I didn’t listen. I headed out to find the city bus. Six locals gave me six different sets of directions and I was about to give up before I found a group of similar looking people speaking English. My heart beamed. I walked over, asked if they were trying to do the same thing and spent the next two days with a Kiwi, a German and a couple of Dutch. Some things just happen right when you need them to and this was one of those moments.
Fast forward 48 hours after lots of wine and a visit to the thermal springs (total disappointment). I took a walk to the bus station to buy another bus ticket to start my journey south. It was time for Patagonia and I was thrilled to move on from Mendoza, despite my excitement a few days prior. The combination of bad weather and nervousness from being on my own again made leaving wine country easy. I researched my options and wanted to stop in one of the smaller towns near Bariloche. The plans weren’t really nailed down and some transportation details weren’t clear online, so I was a bit anxious about the journey but had to start somewhere. I bought a ticket to Neuquen to leave at 8 p.m. that night and started heading toward a park for some relaxation.
The rest is history. I crossed a street and felt something wet hit my shoulder and head. Immediate thought: bird poop. I looked backward and up, trying to figure out what exactly it was when a man pointed to the tree. He walked across the street with me and pulled out a napkin to help me get it off my bag and shoulder. Immediate thought: How nice! He asked me where I was from and I asked him the same. He replied with Ecuador and I told him I had just been there. Mid-conversation, he told me I had it in my hair, and to turn around so he could get it off for me. At this point, I had swung my small pack around and set it on the ground. Something I will never do again. A woman immediately grabbed my arm: “Tu bolsa, tu bolsa.” I looked down and my lifeline was gone. Everything drained from my body. She pointed toward the street to the right and I took off sprinting, my heart sinking to the bottom of my stomach each step along the way. I was screaming and crying and made it two blocks before realizing there was no point. I looked back and the Ecuadorian who helped me was gone too. I was scammed and distracted. Everything was gone: passport, wallet with four credit cards, phone, computer, money.
I’ve never felt more alone or afraid. I was distraught and certainly looked it. Tears streaming down my face, hands on the sides of my head, I caught the attention of a couple of passerbys at the corner where it all happened. First was a man from the nearby pharmacy, who said he saw some commotion and ran off to call the cops after I told him what happened. Soon after, a couple stopped and asked if everything was okay. No. They asked me questions, but I could hardly get the little Spanish I knew out. Another couple stopped, this time with an eight-month old. All five individuals stayed with me until the police came and helped relay the information. The first couple gave me $100 ARS and the second couple stayed with me for the next four hours, following me back and forth between tourism office and police station and back again. They offered a place to stay, dinner and a laptop to use. In the midst of it all, they bought me a tostada. I will forever be grateful to these people and their comfort, hospitality and kindness. Every time (four or five instances at least) I told them they could leave, that I was okay and that they should take care of the baby first, their response was “It’s human nature to stay.”
Everything worked out in the end. I got the police report to send to the insurance companies, called my mom from the police station, used Western Union in the police officer’s name for immediate cash and got enough money to stay at the hostel that night and get a bus back to Buenos Aires. Not only did I need a new passport ASAP—it just didn’t make sense to go down to Patagonia without it—but I needed some comfort and safety. This is where Matt came in. He was still in Buenos Aires with his family and I had my mom message him immediately to tell him I was coming back. In hindsight, I should have probably asked if it was okay to stay at his aunt and uncle’s house, crash his soon-to-be family reunion and rely on him for emotional support. But part of me knew that I was a lucky girl with an incredible friend at the right place at the right time. He picked me up at the Retiro bus station at an early 7 a.m. the next day, fed me a feast at Wendy’s (because greasy hamburgers and a taste of home always helps in these circumstances) and accompanied me to the U.S. Embassy soon after.
This is pretty high on the worst-case-scenario list. Those assholes may have gotten my MacBook, iPhone and Michael Kors wallet, but I have something much greater. I received an overwhelming amount of love, care and comfort from pure strangers. And I have never been more grateful to have the support system that I do—family and friends surrounding me, guiding me and calming me in a time of need. I think I won that round.