Homeless, In Search of Dinosaurs
Sniffing my plugged nose, readjusting the burdensome 70 liter bag on my back, I look at my watch in the glowing
amber street light: 12:15am. I stop walking for a moment, breathing deep the cold air of Neuquen through my mouth. The cold walks its slow fingers through my thin clothing...it penetrates. This in turn spurs movement out of me, and I walk on in search of my 11th or 12th hostel or hotel this night. I cant really remember how many I have visited. What I do remember are the words I heard over and over from those dozen or so: "Lo seinto, no tengo habataciones," or sorry we dont have rooms, or sorry, your ass is screwed. Their words seem to echo with a snide reverb inside my head, their cold faces staring out from with in their heated and cozy corners.
My harsh reality is this: there isn't a single available bed in the city, vacancy being is foreign as I am. As if to ease the plight of my situation, late night hotel receptionists tell me that there is an oil delegation in town, and that business types from all over the country are here filling hotels and hostels alike to capacity. Quickly coming to grips with my reality, my reality of being without heat, shelter, let alone a bed in a frigidly cold urban city...I am moved to asking about the option of churches, or shelters, or anything besides sitting on a concrete bench in the elements for 7 hours. I ask this question with a smirk, almost
laughing at the sheer desperation of my situation. The repetitive shaking heads offer no help and I move on, mentally preparing myself to sleep outside in a plaza which I can only hope gets the occasional patrol by police. And then there comes my solution. It is issued from the mouth of a taxi driver, and it is in the form of directions and an address: a 24 hour Internet cafe, to which I collapse onto the ripped upholstery of his back seat amidst a sea of my own baggage and say "vamos" in an exhausted and mentally spent voice.
So there I was, embarking on my luxurious 7 hour night stay in a dingy Internet cafe, filled with archaic and rickety seats, and ancient computers somehow still functioning. Sitting down to a liter of 7UP and potato chip dinner, entertainment for my meal of course provided by the bells and whistles of the Information Super Highway, I actually felt relief. Even though I had been on a bus for the last 18 hours or so, being confined to the same change of clothing for over 48 hours, my body reeling from a cold....I was content. Sinking into my old chair I exhaled a sigh rich with appreciation for a roof and four walls. Seven hours until morning light, seven hours until I would be able to realize the actual reason of my trip to this dead end town. Cramming some Spanish named potato chips into my mouth with one hand and logging onto Internet explorer with the other, my night drifted away into a haze of cigarette smoke, fluorescent lighting and indistinguishable background conversation.
I arrived in ruddy petroleum supported Neuquen at 11pm. It was April the 25th, and the night was cold, loathsome, and unfriendly....reminding me how poorly prepared I was for cold weather. The bus station was the finest and cleanest that I have seen in Argentina, however as I got off my local buss and started walking, I realized the modern and sanitary feeling of the station did not extend to the city. Soft lighting and decorative architecture which attracts tourists and their thick wallets were absent, and in their place urban, rough and unpolished infrastructure sprawled. As I walked the lonely sidewalks which shadows stretched
across, another interesting thing jumped out at me in passing tienda after tienda; and that was a 30-40% price drop in almost everything, but more notably in food and clothing.
The city of Neuquen, (I never once pronounced it correctly) was put on the map because of two things: its wealth in the black gold, and because it is the hottest paleontological site in Argentina. The latter was in fact what drew me to this booming yet seemingly forgotten city. Deep with in my soul lives an undying passion, fascination and respect for dinosaurs (amongst a few other things, namely Sasquatch and flame throwers). Part II of this entry will tell on about my experiences in Neuquen with those prolific and long dead beasts of epochs past.