I was still in the airport, having been on the ground for less than an hour, and was already looking for flights back home. How had I gotten myself into this mess?

Latin America had been a life-long interest of mine, a bit strange for someone growing up in Cape Breton. In the pre-internet days of my youth, I would lurk every Thursday waiting for our TIME subscription and the few grudging paragraphs published about that distant region. Later, at university, I took the few courses offered on Latin America.

Ultimately, however, I became a lawyer and in 2001, having gone vacation-less for years decided to finally visit the place which had been calling me all my life: Argentina. I booked my flight not knowing a soul. I had not a single contact there. I knew no Spanish. Once off the plane I couldn’t even ask how to get to my hotel.

This was my unforgettable moment. I wanted to go home, and for a half hour reviewed my options. But returning home embarrassed and defeated… plus the fact that I am Scottish and had paid…made me reconsider. In my unforgettable moment I chose to persevere.

Somehow I reached my hotel and began the eight short days that changed my life.

It is less the specific moments and more the people you meet that make places interesting. This is not about meeting the love of my life, but of the warmth of Argentines and having made friends for life.

Once, it was a waiter in a restaurant who saw me struggling through a newspaper and spontaneously loaned me his electronic translator. We became friends and he made it his project to show me the Buenos Aires nightlife.

Another day, I decided to see Recoleta Cemetery and Eva Peron’s tomb. In a fast food restaurant I asked directions. Some university students overheard and invited me to their table. We talked for hours about their city and their country.

Upon reaching Recoleta I again needed directions and spoke to, as I discovered, a graduating medical student. He showed me to Evita’s tomb, and later proudly guided me through the Fine Arts Museum. The next day, he and his girlfriend took me on a driving tour of the Pampas and treated me to an Argentine “asado” (barbeque).

I could talk about the dinner date with the lovely young Argentine psychologist, drinking mate, enjoying a cold beer on a hot day at Puerto Madero, or seeing both Boca Juniors and River Plate play at home. I could discuss the climate, the food, the music, or a wonderful Sunday afternoon in San Telmo. In the end, however, it’s all about the people. All made possible by that moment at the airport.

Argentina made me feel at home. I departed Buenos Aires reluctantly but would return. Later, I left law, went into education and now live my dream, teaching University in Colombia. How fortunate that I did not flee home at that moment in February 2001.

B MacLean

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