I just realized that title could set people thinking in the wrong direction. No, we’re not adding another Andrus to the 6 (Tom and I might have to be committed if that were the case), but we’ve added a seventh traveler to our posse for the first leg of our South American adventure. Only a precious few have had an inside view into the workings of the Six on the road, and they might never be the same again. First it was Tom’s parents and now it’s my dear friend from Atlanta, Paula. A self-described Latina at heart, Paula lived in Peru for a few months after graduating from college and feels part of her heart dwells in South America. Her husband, Mike, also a dear friend, was gracious enough to man the fort at home so Paula could join us in Buenos Aires and we’re certainly glad he did. Though Dax and McKane have studied Spanish in school and Tom has taken a few Pimsleur lessons on the iPod, our Spanish simply isn’t up to snuff yet. From the second we met Paula in the airport, she’s taken the lead on communicating, fearlessly asking for directions, placing food orders, and getting the inside scoop from the locals. (We’ve also had a lot of help from our Argentinian friends we met in Zambia–I call them the “lovelies”–but that’s material for another post.) Normally we would have thought her level of language skills unnecessary, since we’ve traveled to 27 countries and always been able to make ourselves understood between a combination English, Japanese, Russian and German. Argentina, however, has surprised us, with its almost complete lack of English on signs, menus, guides, and from its nationals. This hasn’t deterred us though, since we have Paula to act as a temporary translator and buffer.
Paula showed up at the airport in Buenos Aires, an hour before we did, primed and ready for what she calls “an excellent adventure.” I don’t know whether we’ve delivered the most amazing of travel experiences (though we have gotten her to Uruguay), but as it turns out, every day has presented its own version of adventure. On our first day in the city, everyone was exhausted after their respective red eyes. We checked into our most awesome apartment in Buenos Aires’ Recoleta district and stormed the all-you-can-eat barbeque buffet across the street. Paula’s normally a healthy eater who drinks eight glasses of water per day and eats at least 5 generous servings of fruits and vegetables, but under our care she’s been temporarily converted to a steady diet of steak and ice cream, delicacies we sorely missed in Tunisia.
After our feast, Tom took three of the kids back to the apartment while Paula, McKane and I headed to the Recoleta Cemetery, site of Eva Peron’s grave and about 100,000 other crypts, mausoleums, urns, and coffins. Though the sun was shining, the atmosphere in the vast corpse repository was creepy, and McKane was thrilled to discover that Paula was easily spooked. He didn’t begin with the intent of scaring her, but found the temptation too difficult to resist after she shrieked at the sight of her own reflection in a glass-paned mausoleum door. “I thought someone was in there,” she explained when we turned to see what had happened.
From then on she was easy prey for the 12-year-old. “Paula, look at this! I see a leg,” he’d call as he peered into a crumbling crypt containing a cracked coffin. “Uuughh,” she shuddered as she pondered the image. “Quick. Over here. This one smells like rotting flesh.” Since Paula lost her sense of smell a few years back, she relied on his word and kept asking, “Does it smell bad in that one?” as we wandered the row after row of tombs.
She was intrigued by the spiderwebs that adorned the various crypts because they looked like delicately woven lace rather than the typical geometric configurations spun by Peter Parker or Charlotte at home. As she’d move in closer to examine a web, McKane would jump out of the shadows and say, “Boo,” causing her to jump and scream. Ever the good sport and one of McKane’s biggest fans, Paula joked with him and did her best to frighten him as well. She had little success and instead found herself in an unusual position. When he convinced her to look in a particularly creepy crypt, he elciited yet another shriek from her and she darted down the aisle toward me. A caretaker crossing our row promptly reprimanded her with a loud, “Ssssshhhhhhh.” Apparently we had come close to Evita’s resting place, a sacred spot for Argentinians, and he did not appreciate her lack of reverence. It’s not often that a mother (she’s got 5 kids at home) is the one who takes the heat for being too loud!
Paula survived her outing to the cemetery and every other odd excursion we’ve thrown her way, enjoying everyplace, everything, even everyone….and let me tell you, sometimes we’re hard to enjoy. The most caring and dedicated of friends, she told me on her first day in Argentina, “I’m here to make your life easier. I don’t care where we go or what we do, I’m just happy to be here.” And make my life easier she has. First she washed about 15 of our garments in the bathtub because she had to wash a single pair of pants of her own. The remainder we decided to take to a laundromat where she prevented a potential meltdown on my part. After calling and arranging in Spanish for the service to pick up the clothes from our apartment building, she accompanied me around the corner to retrieve them later that night. It had been over 2 months since our clothes had seen the inside of a washing machine (having been washed in many a hotel sink and bathtub), and I was excited to finally have fresh, fluffed clothing that I hadn’t stomped on with my own feet or wrung with my own hands.
We waited while the attendant, an older woman, folded the last load. She asked in Spanish if I wanted her to spray the clothes with a perfume spray, Paula interpreted, and I quickly replied, “Yes!” “These clothes need all the help they can get,” I explained. The attendant sprayed the clothes and began to load them into a plastic bag. I noticed that a few of the gray socks were now covered in orange splotches and gasped when I saw that Asher’s black church shirt now had pink streaks running up the side. “She’s sprayed them with bleach,” I screamed. Paula translated while I saw that Tom’s best shirt, an REI button-up travel deal, the only shirt he has that doesn’t look like it needs to be burned, had big bleach-induced streaks running across the front. “Oh no!” I shouted. “Paula, that’s Tom’s only good shirt. What am I going to do?”
All the while the attendant kept insisting, “No bleach….perfume.” I kept screaming, “It’s bleach!” Paula kept translating. To prove her point the attendant took her bottle and sprayed someone else’s clothing. The effect was not immediate though I could smell the bleach and see a once pastel green shirt turning yellow. After about 10 seconds and more fervent spraying on her part, another client’s black shirt was ruined as was the green shirt. The attendant almost collapsed when she realized what she had done. She handed back our 20 pesos and apologized profusely explaining this was the first time anything like this had ever happened. She showed us the bottle that she had taken the supposed fragrance from, a generic container that had clearly been marked “perfume” by the company that supplied it.
Now we had to figure out what to do. The value of the items she had ruined totaled about $100, but I didn’t want her money. I wanted the shirts. I needed the shirts. I knew I couldn’t replace either without days of searching and even then, I probably wouldn’t be able to find garments that dried as quickly, wrinkled as little, and coordinated as well with Tom and Asher’s paltry wardrobes. As Paula tried to calm first me and then the poor, distraught attendant, an idea came to me. “Let’s just bleach them all the way.” Tom’s shirt would become a brown/tan version of its original blue/grey and Asher’s would be hot pink rather than black. We tried to convince her of what we wanted to do, but she couldn’t believe we really wanted her to douse the garments in bleach. She took the insufficiently aggressive approach of throwing them in a bleach/water mixture in the washing machine, but the result was a tie dye effect. Paula begged the laundress again to try to fix the shirts, by taking one more pass with Tom’s and dying Asher’s black. Two days later she retrieved them…looking worse than before, but the laundress was smiling as if she had worked miracles. (We figured after the fact that she’s not all there.) Paula and I rushed out to buy bleach…first a box of powder, then a bottle of liquid…but all I succeeded in doing was disintegrating both shirts. Now Tom and Asher are each down a shirt and I better understand the dangers of bleach. At least I had Paula and Tom to assure me the world is still right even if my family is shabbily clad.
In addition to fighting my battle at the laundromat, Paula has sought to give Tom and I a break from the kids. As when Tom’s parents joined us in Turkey, we haven’t felt right about leaving her with them while we take a date. She came all this way to see us and we want to spend the time with her. I have, however, allowed her to pitch in in ways only a true blue friend can. She’s brushed Asher’s hair, a dreaded, daily battle for me, reguarly swept the apartment floor, tutored Dax in Spanish, coached him with recordings he had to submit, and accompanied me on multiple painful tasks. Lest I question the depths of her devotion, she made the ultimate sacrifice yesterday evening. We had taken Kieran and Asher to the hands-on science museum (Paula’s idea) and ended up at a mall food court to buy them a treat. They had just finished devouring their lemon sorbet when they both exclaimed, “I need to poop.” “Do you want to do it here or back at the apartment?” I asked. “Here,” they exclaimed in unison. I groaned and Paula piped up, “I’ll take them.” “I can’t let you do that,” I replied. “Why not? I can’t smell anything anyway.” She laughed and marched them off to the bathroom. I marveled at my good fortune, wondered what I could have possibly done to deserve such a selfless friend, and pulled the Economist that I still had from the airplane out of my backpack. I must have had 10 minutes alone with my magazine and my thoughts before they returned…a luxury neither Tom nor I often comes by on the road.
We’re so tardy in posting that Paula has already returned to Atlanta and her own family, who no doubt missed her greatly. Who wouldn’t? She’s an absolute gem. Words simply cannot express how grateful I am to have her in my life.
If you’re inspired by Paula’s example and want to sign up for a stint with the Six, just drop us an email. We’ve got a mere 6 more weeks on the road, which means about 30-40 more poops each for Kieran and Asher and probably at least one or two more service-related ordeals. We’d love to share them with you!