The Eruption of Mount Daniel

To begin with, I’d like to dedicate this blog post to the woman sitting in row 09, seat C on the KLM flight from Athens to Amsterdam last week. Without her sharing her lovely germs with me, I’d be at work doing my CLO thing, rather than curled up in my pajamas, under a blanket, on my couch, coughing up a lung. I’d suggest raising a toast to her, but considering this is the same woman who waited all of five minutes after takeoff before opening her purse and hauling out multiple travel-size shampoo bottles filled with alcohol and lined them up on her lap tray, I’d say less drinking in her name would be for the best.


I like Argentinians. My brother spent two years in Argentina, and for the most part, they treated him well. When we went to visit, we enjoyed dinner with a lovely Argentinian family in their humble abode and felt welcomed by all of his friends. (I’m serious when I say humble. This home was made of construction site quality plastic wrap. As we sat on benches eating our meal with the family, a litter of adorable puppies crawled in and out of the house, between the plastic and the dirt ground.) I hadn’t yet met an Argentinian I didn’t like…until Daniel.

From the time I was in middle school, I’ve loved tales of Pompeii and have always been fascinated by what it must have been like to see Mount Vesuvius erupt, so needless to say, I was especially excited for our daytrip out of Rome to see the mountain and visit the ruins. Nothing could dampen my giddiness at walking through history that morning. Or so I thought. Then, I met the chaos that is Daniel from Argentina.

Thad and I were part of a three-person tour group. Daniel was our third. Daniel spoke very little English, but it was no problem, as our tour guide spoke both English and Spanish, but I should have known it was going to be a long day when the van hadn’t even pulled away from the hotel before Daniel was complaining. His first (of many!) complaints for the day was about the headrest of the seat in front of him. Apparently, it was too high and he couldn’t see out the front window well, but then when Roberta, our tour guide, tried to take it off, he hollered at her to stop because she was going to break it.

But whatever…it was early. I figured this odd duck of a companion was just not an early bird.

Things did not get better. Throughout the morning, whenever Roberta would turn to give us some information about an area we were passing or just to make a passing comment, Daniel would immediately demand that she translate everything she just said into Spanish. Which, to her credit, she was doing with the cultural and historical facts, but if I asked about a restroom, that hardly needed translated for everyone! Daniel was terrified of missing out on something, even something as mundane as asking about a road sign we passed.

Once we reached Pompeii, Roberta handed us off to Hector at the site of the ruins. Hector was this amazing older man who spoke a handful of languages and had served as a guide to Pompeii for twenty years. We quickly bought our tickets and headed up the steep stone path to the entrance of the ancient city. Before we had even made it to the top, Daniel stopped Hector to complain about the language issue. We had not been at the site for more than ten minute and Daniel was yelling (not an exaggeration!) at Hector, saying he had paid for this tour and expected it to be in Spanish. He went off about how Hector was talking to us for four minutes in English and him for only two in Spanish, so he thought he was being ripped off. I felt a bit like we were watching the eruption of the volcano that lurked just a few miles from where we stood.  It got awkward!

Finally, Thad had me tell Hector to just do the tour in Spanish and then I translated the gist for Thad. (I must admit, I learned some great new Spanish vocabulary about volcanoes and Pompeii!) Hector would still jump back and forth between languages, but with me helping to translate, it took a lot of pressure of him because Daniel was just a jerk.

The, as Hector was doing his best to make Daniel happy, Daniel spent the bulk of his morning hitting on our main guide, Roberta. He kept regaling her with stories of other places he had been and forcing her to scan through hundreds of pictures on his iPad- all while we wandered the remains of Pompeii! Several times, Hector had to holler at Daniel to get his attention, like a parent would do to a misbehaving child. Again, awkward!

The day didn’t end there though. Daniel continued to be a first rate ass the entire day. A few of his other shining moments include:

*Forcing the driver to stop multiple times along the narrow road that runs along the Amalfi Coast. Daniel insisted on getting the perfect iPad photo, regardless of the safety of the driver, guide or himself. Several astoundingly beautiful photo-ops were declared “ugly” and we would have to wind up the mountain a few more curves and try again. Ridiculous.

*Constantly hitting on Roberta, our guide, who was a good twenty years younger than him. The woman was as graceful as possible in the situation, but Daniel was just not getting a clue. At one point, he expressed interest in not returning to Rome for the night, but rather staying in Pompeii to hike Mount Vesuvius the following day. Roberta and I jumped on board with that one right away, telling him what a great idea it would be. I was doing it to get a quiet ride home. She was doing it to avoid another date proposal.

*Wanting to have a long conversation with Thad about Syria and chemical weapons, but only knowing about eight words of English, which made me the translator of this very awkward discussion, as he wanted to know why America didn’t just take care of the problem, why Britain didn’t like America anymore and what were WE going to do about it? (It was at this point in the trip that I was really wishing I had some FSI Spanish! While FSI may leave you totally unprepared to order lunch from a street vendor or ask for directions to a dry cleaner, it prepares you well for discussions on 8-party trade talks and nuclear disarmament options. Armas quimicas would definitely have come up in a xiao baogao, I’m sure!)

*And my favorite of the day: Daniel announcing that the worst part of Argentina is the Argentinians. At this point, I thought I must have totally misunderstood our conversation earlier about where we each were from, because he went off on how Dominicans are so much better than Argentinians. I finally leaned over and asked, “But, aren’t you from Argentina?” And yup, sure enough, he’s from Buenos Aires.

Our day with Daniel was more than a little annoying, as he really was a terrible human being, but it looked up when he finally decided he *would* stay in Pompeii to hike the mountain the next day. With no efforts to change his mind, Roberta quickly found him a hotel for the night and we dropped him off before he could questions the decision, making our three hour trip back to Rome much more pleasant than it would have been otherwise.

So no, Daniel, Argentinians are not the worst part of Argentina. You are. Go back there. Stay there. Your behavior is an embarrassment to your beautiful country.

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*Photo credit: Most photos are courtesy of Thad Ross