Across the Sierras, into the unknown

Thoughts from Seat 42

Pulling out of Buenos Aires on the night bus to San Luis province, I’m struck by a sudden creative urge. Doesn’t happen often, so my policy of not getting my iPad out on public transport has to be shelved for a while. To be fair though, my fellow passengers seem an alright bunch, and we’ve all paid the extra £2 for the posh bus, so I think it’s safe enough. I’m also in my favourite seat, downstairs and at the back of the bus. Luxury travelling…

I’m in a contemplative mood tonight. This is one of those moments when I feel like I’m at a real crossroads in life. It’s been over 8 months now since I left the UK, and I’m slightly sad to report that I don’t miss it very much, overall. People definitely, but life? Nah. Job? Certainly not, except for the brief delusional moments when I remember a time before now that we actually had the resources to do it properly.

Behind me lie a string of great new travel friends, future beer stops from Vietnam to Argentina, and strong connections along the way that constantly divert my mind.

Leaving Buenos Aires now feels like leaving a bit of home behind, particularly so having stayed for my last night with a dear Argentine friend. I’ve been in Argentina for over 4 months now, a long time when I look back on it. I know how things work in the country, and if I were to get a decently paid job here, I’d be able to return. I probably would too, albeit once the new President has settled down and the current terrifying price rises have abated a bit. One day perhaps…

At the moment I’m sitting on my hands, waiting for e-mails from Ecuador and Korea that have the potential to change the future course of my life.  

The truth was, when I applied for it, I never remotely expected to get the University job in the Galápagos Islands, it was a complete whim knowing full well that I didn’t really meet their experience specifications, but now that I’ve had 2 really promising interviews and urgent e-mails probing my theoretical ability to start in a fortnight or so, it seems like a real possibility. Great, but bloody terrifying. 

I desperately want to get to Korea to see the fantastic woman whom I miss immensely, but on the other hand, not taking up a dream job in somewhere I’ve always wanted to go would definitely rank as one of life’s great missed opportunities. I’m going for the middle way of trying to negotiate down the 6-month contract length.

The thought of a harsh Korean winter doesn’t fill me with joy. This is not remotely within my new life policy of avoiding winter at all costs. But the fact remains that it’s a fantastic starter TEFL job, and that the greatest connection I’ve ever made in life is there. So, the application went in a couple of weeks ago, and I’m waiting to hear if I have an interview, as well as starting to assemble the raft of paperwork that they require, not to mention having to notarise it, apostille it (An obscure process which costs £30 PER DOCUMENT and happens at the Foreign Office). I’ve already failed at the Police Check acquisition stage, having paid £45 for the wrong sort of certificate rather than £25 for an infinitely more simple Basic Disclosure (Note to self… READ THE BLOODY FORM!)

So, I’m on my way to Merlo, a small town in the mountains near to San Luis. It’s one of the few areas in Argentina I haven’t been, and it’s hopefully a fulfilling stop-off on the way to Chile. I’ve replied to a Workaway ad seeking help in the garden, learning English and also helping out teaching at a private school in the afternoons. As it stands I’ve committed to two weeks, although if I get “the call” from Ecuador I’m going to need to cut that short.

On the upside, this has turned out to be a fabulously well-catered bus journey. Eerily similar to my 2014 jaunt from Iguazu, this time I am seated next to a gorgeous but mute Argentine and dinner has featured both copious wine and a rather large Cognac to finish. 

Merlo Musings

Arriving in Merlo was a pleasant surprise. A small Argentine town in the foothills, it’s evolved beyond dirt roads and Parrilla joints. I don’t think it’s remotely on the gringo map but does apparently attract loads of Argentine tourists. Nothing spectacular, just pleasant countryside and some good restaurants in town. That’ll do.

My host Valeria runs The Hills, an English school on the edge of town catering for all ages from Kindergarten to adult. She and Madeleine the beagle are a formidable double act.


I’m staying in the school itself, upstairs in an unused classroom. It’s pretty comfy although I need to be up and about before the horde of Kindergarteners hit the floor at 9am. Or indeed the cleaner arrives at 8. But hey, it’s a free roof over my head! Merlo itself is a very livable, if somewhat expensive town, with a number of decent food shops, supermarkets and hey, some craft beer emporiums.

Sampling a brew… And some hilariously pricey chips.

Teaching is scary

No, it really is. The CELTA course teaches you about adult learning, but nothing can quite prepare you for the moment that you’re standing in front of a completely mute class of children just trying…to…get…them…to…talk. 

My first day of classes was fairly mellow, just an adult student who comes in for mainly speaking. It’s still a bit of a challenge being off piste from a textbook, and trying to plan a stimulating lesson with minimal resources. However, my somewhat flakey plan (Sorry tutors…) actually worked very well and generated loads of good talking. Success!

The next day turned out more challenging. Again with a fairly limited plan and a class of 6 11 year olds. Right, just introduce yourself and they can then ask some questions about where you’re from…. OK. Yep, nobody’s talking. Aargh. Still, after a shaky start the class finally starts to actually issue forth words. Phew.  

My final class was a joy. 2 15 year olds, with a decent level of English. Bright and communicative. Hey, I can do this!

So, over the week the teaching got a bit less scary. Hell, we even had fun with a class Jeopardy game. Although I’m not sure how I’m going to cope remembering whole classes full of names after struggling with just 6. Eek.

I was also tutoring Valerie in the mornings to prepare for her higher-level English exams. As someone who’s lived in the States, she speaks great English but the real challenge for her was preparation for the writing papers- Lots of complaint letters, essays and reports. Great for me too, to put into practice some of the grammar input from CELTA and to try to make my explanations of obscure rules which just ‘are’ a bit clearer. Even with a dog on the lap.

The call comes

As predicted, soon after my final e-mails with Indira from the University of Quito, I received a message on the Monday after I arrived in Merlo offering me the job. Whilst an intensely hard decision to think about, it wasn’t really a hard one to make, when it came to it. A no brainer, had to be done kind of thing. Whether I will end up there for the full 6 months, I don’t know. I’m not getting paid, after all, and my mind is set on Korea. But we’ll see.

Valeria wasn’t happy that I wasn’t going to be staying for the full 2 weeks, and in a much deeper way Sarah wasn’t happy that we probably weren’t going to see each other in the UK in August. I really wasn’t happy because she wasn’t happy. Gutted in fact. Difficult decisions don’t get easier even when you’ve made them! Nobody’s happy, even the one with the job in paradise!

But hey, things sometimes have to be done and que sera, sera. I’ve trusted in fate so many times in my life, and I hope this time it works too. Really hope so. 

So, bidding farewell to Valerie at the end of the week, we just had time for a bit of sightseeing on our free Friday afternoon. Well, after the dog’s birthday party with the Kindergarten lot, obviously. As you do.

Out into the local villages for a nose around. Very pretty place, but the Siesta here is strongly observed and our afternoon drive was a little bit like 28 Days Later, if it were set in rural Argentina.


Stupid boy


Church in San Javier

“Beach” at the local reservoir

Afterwards we went to her cousins’ holiday house way out in the back of beyond for drinks and a bite to eat, grander than it sounds, just a little cottage in the middle of fields. But a lovely peaceful place. With a river nearby where I desperately tried to persuade Maddy the Beagle that she was actually a dog and should enjoy water. She was having none of it. We got up to about dog knees before she bailed. Wuss.

Road trippin’. I’ll discuss Val’s flagrant disregard for Argentine seatbelt law with her later.

Kitten stop at Val’s friend’s shop. LOOKATTHEM!

So then, the weekend dawned and it was clear that I wasn’t going to escape without a late night. Eeek. The Argentines do stuff seriously late here. Like, “Let’s meet up at midnight and then go to the bar” late. After a tactical late lunch, goat stew from an ace but windy place, and then ANOTHER meal with Val and her lovely friend who is also an English teacher (Whom I scared with tales of CELTA course requirements, I don’t think she’s quite so keen on it any more), it was party time!

Lunch in the hills

Om nom nom nom

I couldn’t really escape since we all met up in the school where I was staying. Still, nice to have some beers and chat (Although my Spanish skills were really tested by the three pillars of being knackered, trying to understand drunken Spanish and then trying to understand multiple streams of drunken Spanish). Everyone was very nice and at times made drunken decrees that only English would be spoken, but I hate being the muppet who forces everyone else not to speak their own language!

After spirited persuasion, (Almost to the point where I wanted to scream and run off whining ‘I’m TIREEEED’)  some time after 3 we headed out to a nearby bar, which definitely isn’t a club. No, it’s not a club Sam. Not a club. Well, I’m not going to a club. Is it a club? Yeah, it pretty much was a club. But hey, vive la difference. I was trying to take a comedy glum video in the CLUB when I was accosted by Paloma from our group again. Dammit! You can’t do a glum video when there’s a 9/10 Argentine beauty pressing into the frame. And my chest. Down boy.

I don’t like clubs. And need to iron my shirt.

Luckily, I was saved by Valeria not feeling on top form, and so “reluctantly” I accepted her offer to drop me back at the school, whilst internally punching the air and doing a childish “yessssss!” that I’d finally get to sleep. At 0500.

So, Sunday dawned and there was nothing left to do, but to have my final Argentine steak and hit the bus station for the 2.40pm to Mendoza. Onwards and upwards.

Carne. Hasta luego Valeria!



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