Lost in the Subte
During the first week or so of my trip, there were people hanging around from the conference, and I mostly got from here to there by finding somebody who was going somewhere interesting and following along. Scott was the sort of person who could get off a train somewhere in Italy and turn the right direction. I'm not.
The first day I ventured out by myself, I decided to make my way across town to the MALBA, a modern art museum well to the northwest of where I was staying. Following my trusty, little street map (purchased at a bookstore in California), I hopped on a train, and headed for a dotted line. The line was labeled 'H', and there is a subway line named that, so I thought that was where I was going.
I got off at the station to transfer to H, and wandered around reading signs for a good, long time. It's possible to get from any one Subte station to any other on a single $1.10 ticket, so I was taking care not to exit any turnstiles, but some of the tunnels between stations run for a block or two underground.
There was a subway official standing there, monitoring the turnstiles I was not exiting, and he must have seen me looking exceedingly lost. He asked me where I was going. This was one of the times when my Spanish wasn't quite working at full speed, but I explained which station I thought I was going to, and he assured me I could not go that way. I showed him my street map. It turns out the planned H line only runs south from A, not north. My street map had the entire planned route as a dotted line.
In the process of explaining all this to me, the subway official decided he did not like my map. It is, he explained, a street map, and what I needed was a subway map. He fished around for awhile in the little pouch he was carrying and pulled out a pocket-sized copy of the official Subte* map. I had seen this map advertised in several of the Subte stations, but others from the conference who had asked about getting one were told that they were unavailable. Apparently, the trick is to find the right official at the wrong station and be hopelessly lost.
He explained where I should go, which was most of the way back to where I had begun and then onto another train, and I wandered off down the ramp. It turned out to be the wrong ramp, leading to some other train. He actually followed me down the ramp, turned me around, and walked me to the correct ramp. I'm pleased to report that I made it to the museum successfully (if later than planned) on my own, and didn't get lost on the Subte again at all after that. The new map served me well for several more trips out.
Now, for some reason, when I was out on my own, people came up to me to ask directions. It happened at least half a dozen times. I'm sure that if the words to explain that I wasn't from there didn't get the point across, the accent surely did. But the very last time I took the Subte in Buenos Aires, somebody getting on the train asked as I was getting off where the train went. I showed them my street map (not the one the official had given me; it was quite usable once I knew how to read it), and I in fact pointed them to the right train. They asked where I had gotten the map, and all I could tell them was, "from a bookstore in California."
There's one more postscript to this story. The wiki community includes various train aficionados, several of whom expressed jealousy (or at least interest) regarding my copy of the unavailable Subte map they had seen advertised. So I attempted to scan it. It is a little too large for the bed of my scanner, so I fiddled around scanning it in sections. I had only started to fiddle with the possibility of sticking the sections back together when I discovered the inscription about the Subte website. If you'd like to see a very nice, complete copy of the official map, you need only look here.
*Subte is short for "subterráneo".