Sometimes, leaving isn’t easy. I loved the hotel room we had in Rosario, it was comfortable and clean. The city felt relaxing, homey, safe. But it was pouring that morning, and escaping bad weather made me pack faster than expected. I didn’t look back as we jumped into a taxi—a literal jump since the streets were flooded.
The bus to Paraná was coming straight from Patagonia and it showed. We were the only three people picked up in Rosario. Upstairs, it was stinky and most passengers were asleep, barefoot, their belonging spread over several seats as if they had spent days in the bus. Actually, coming from Patagonia, they probably had. It must have been a long ride.
Three hours later, we reached Santa Fe. Then we took the tunnel across Rio Paraná and arrived in—you guessed it—Paraná.
I took a quick look at the bus station—dark, dirty, muddy with a few plastic chairs in the waiting area and tube TV sets mounted on the wall. Buenos Aires’s modern Retiro was a distant memory. We had just stepped into another world, another Argentina, off the beaten track.
It wasn’t raining but dark clouds hang low in the sky and the pavement was wet. The taxi dropped us off on Calle Villaguay. We had booked through a different website since Paraná isn’t exactly on the usual tourist path and there were few hotels available. I had put a veto over the only one listed for two arbitrary reasons: one, it had the word “gran” in its name and every “gran” hotel we stayed in was falling apart; two it had carpet on the floor and again, it brought back memories of dingy hotel rooms.
Eventually, Feng found an apart-hotel through a different website. We didn’t have to pre-pay so we just printed out the confirmation and hoped for the best.
During the taxi ride from the bus station to the hotel, I noticed the city seemed completely dead and all the stores were closed. We were kind of expecting it for a Sunday but I sighed. Not another “todo cerrado” day! We needed food, drinks!
No one answered the door at the address on the booking confirmation. We asked a neighbour, who sent us to the landlord’s place a block away. She wasn’t expecting us so early. I shrugged. “The bus was fast, I guess.”
The lady gave us the key to a small apartment and left without asking for money or a deposit. Safe city, trusting people? Maybe. That, or the fact that the apartment was right in front of the police station.
We dropped off the bags and went out with a double mission: exploring the city and finding something open—anything, really.
The pedestrian street was empty and so was the central plaza. It felt like being the only three survivors of a zombie attack. The city reminded me of a frontier town with a jungle feel. We were miles from Buenos Aires and its tango dancers or European restaurants.
“A gas station!”
We wowed it as if it was the most amazing place on earth even though it only sold drinks and a few basic snacks. “We can come back later!” “It’s open 24/7!” “Hey, they have chips and chocolate bars, worst case scenario!”
Don’t judge. We were desperate.
We walked around the city centre and really, everything was closed. So, we decided to go back to the bus station, the one place where businesses usually remain open because they cater to travellers. We found a bakery that didn’t have much but sent us to the supermarket. Did I hear that right?
Just as we were about to cross the street, it started pouring. We took shelter and waited as the water level was going up in the street.
“Okay, let me check if the supermarket is actually around here…”
I found it, fifty metres from our temporary shelter. We ran, fast. We shopped slowly, hoping for the rain to stop. Amazing. A supermarket opened on Sunday.
When the rain stopped in the evening, I took another long walk around the city. The streets were still empty but there was a police officer at every corner. Since I was the only person around and I probably stuck out on this quiet Sunday, they were all greeting me “buenas tardes, ¿Qué tal?” as I was walking by. I think I’ve never greeted as many police officers ever.
Our first day in Paraná ended at McDonald’s after I checked the opening hours—7 p.m. to midnight on Sundays, yes, you read this right, the “day” starts at 7 p.m.
Sometimes, you need ups and downs to appreciate what you have or will have. We wanted an adventure, well, there it is!