The Argentine bus that I rode had come to a sudden and complete stop, but my sojourn had not. No, I was sure that there were still surprises to come. I strained my neck to look to the front of the bus. Ahead lay fire and a group of men creating a roadblock. Pirates! Well, the men blocking the road weren't as much as pirates as they were radical political activists. But I'll continue to address them as pirates to add to the dramatic elements of my story.
The pirates boarded our bus and I slid my camera under the seat in front of me: "Attention, ladies and gentlemen, we represent Seu Andseu running for office here in Tucuman Provence."
'Wait', I thought, 'why on God's great big ball of mass were we still in Tucuman?' That was still ten hours from Buenos Aires.
"We demand a donation from every passenger to support his campaign," the men began walking down the aisle collecting coins from all the passengers. This was nuts! I was a little excited because I had never been held for ransom by pirates before. Now I can't say that. (Not only because of this bus ride, but also because of my weekend in Somaliland. (Which, of extreme importance to note, is NOT a family-friendly theme park but rather an autonomous region of Somalia with a literal ton of pirates*)) . On the bus, I wasn't nearly as fearful as I was satisfied that, again, more turmoil was added to my journey.
It appeared that God's plan lay right before me in the wrinkled countenance and bad breath of a Tucumani Pirate. I reached into my wallet, 'Oh crap!', I realized, "I don't have any money"[insert the incarnation of a frown-face emoticon here].
Enrique handed them another peso. "No," demanded a pirate who was scowling at me, "what have you got?"
"An empty wallet?" I tried to escape my quandary with humor. No, he didn't like that answer. Damn pirates never laugh at jokes about money, politics or Rabbis I would later find out.
"Fear?" I tried again. No, no empathy towards my situation. The tension rose like mercury on Mercury. In a sly movement, I shifted my seat and kicked my camera further hidden under the seat affront. I searched for anything else to give them. How about an action figure? No, he knew that it was dead. Notes from a friend back home? No, I left those behind. I wish I had brought my chest of golden medallions. I always seemed to forget that when I needed it the most (see: Somaliland mistake).
Finally, providently weighing consequences, I chose not to play with fire. I mean, these were pirates that I was interacting with, and I am no ninja. I unfortunately had to resort to my inference skills rather than my Ninjatō or Shuriken skills. This was a real shame because I can think of no better situation for the use of a ninja star. Notwithstanding this dilemma, I descried** from across the aisle that one of the most brute of pirates was not wearing socks with his alpargatas. A pirate without socks? What gives? Boat decks can get rather damp and slimy, especially to the wavefaring marauder. After an instant's pause, I looked up, shrugged and then carefully rose my foot to offer an unspoken barter: my socks for the toll.
A head nod closed the deal, and Seu Andseu's campaign had a new pair of white Reebok ankle-length gym socks that had been embrowned by the Altiplano dust. I had my life, a ten hour trip ahead of me, slight hunger and the newfound opportunity for athlete's foot. But this was the worst that it could get, right?
[[Right??? Come right back for part 7 of this emotional 3-part Argentine odyssey.]]
*After a mild case of Stockholm Syndrome, I joined my captors in a rather short lived game of "Biggest Somali Pirate Loser" where we measured our collective weight to be exactly 2,002lbs.
**Do not attempt to use the word "descry" in a pickup line at a bar (or in a pickup line at a whale-watching conference***).
***Do not attempt pick up girls at whale-watching conferences (do not attempt to pick up the whales either, it usually takes a crew and a crane. Mere quixotism and the 'I can!' attitude will not suffice).