Hard Landing in Santiago

Today it’s time for some lessons from the road:

  1. Keep track of the compromises you made
  2. Remember where the hip neighborhood is (and that you were a few minutes walk from it)
  3. Wide-angle lenses lie (which we knew but …)

Perhaps it was partly because Patagonia was so magical, but even before we got to Santiago, we deflated. I looked back at our AirBnB listing only to find that the WiFi was inadequate. To be fair, the host had told us that, but we have no recollection about why we thought that was OK. Steven is very diligent about work and I could feel his anxiety ramping up.

Our view 😦

We got there without any trouble, headed up to the ninth floor, opened the door and … the apartment was smaller and a bit more, how shall we say it — basic — than we remembered. The view is of some rundown buildings and a patch of dry grass. Certainly no snow-capped volcano. After the host’s very nice niece departed, we realized there was only one small AC unit in the living room and the place was hot. Late afternoon is the hottest time of day, so that didn’t do much for our spirits.

Then, Steven took a shower. Well, he tried to take a shower, but water merely dribbled out of the shower head. Sigh. I tried the shower in the other bathroom, but I could barely turn around to get my back wet. It was not shaping up well.

We did have a very delicious dinner at Le Bistrot Viet (yay! Asian food with many vegan options!!) a 10-minute walk away, but on the way there, the city seemed desolate. Lots of metal grates covering closed shops. Plus, we were one of three couples eating (of course it was VERY early, 7:30). We were not feeling hopeful. Also, the streets seem to be lined with people selling what our Spanish tutor, Marcela, calls tanteria, or crap.

It didn’t really improve when, after a 25-minute walk with the host’s other niece, who speaks no English, and 2-hour wait at the Entel store, I returned with a hot spot that did not really improve the WiFi speed. Oy!

We had high hopes for the grocery store because we went to one in Puerto Varas and it was large and had a selection of the food we like, but the one near us here is smaller and not as well stocked.

Finally, there’s a state of emergency in Lima and we are understandably reluctant to go there, sooooo we were searching for alternatives. The AirBnB market is getting tight (more on that in another blog) and our options were limited. We thought we would just move up Medellin and hope that Lima would clear up, but we came to the conclusion that we want to stay somewhere for more than six weeks. Because, by the time we settle in, we have four weeks of routine and exploration and one week of getting ready to leave before we move on. Just not enough time. We are hoping, instead, to spend three months in Mexico City. Fingers crossed that our AirBnB comes through.

We did enjoy the party after Argentina won the World Cup, but I wish we had been in Buenos Aires for that.

And now for the good news …

Steven’s life philosophy is: It’ll work out. Sometimes, when he says it, it’s calming, but other times, I want to strangle him (or put a pillow over my head when I am sleeping – luckily I sleep with one eye open). THINGS DON’T JUST WORK OUT. But, actually, they do!

  • We have settled into the apartment and it’s just fine, if not luxurious.
  • I fiddled with the shower head and now the water pressure is adequate (again, not luxurious, but fine).
  • There’s no humidity, so while temperatures get into the 80s around 4ish, it’s in the 60s at night and heats slowly during the day, so the one AC unit is fine.
  • If we go to the supermarket in the morning, they have a better selection and we found a semi-bare Chinese market that had a few of our staples.
  • Best of all, we decided to go for a walk yesterday (the coffee we bought at the market is yucky and I saw a hipstery-looking cafe that I hoped would sell bulk coffee) and found a great neighborhood! The streets were still lined with people selling things, but it was art fair not cheap socks. I even found Frida! Plus, the streets were also lined with cafes full of people.

But wait, it gets better! We wandered up and down the street and decided to sit at a wine bar, BocaNariz. I mostly did it because I thought it would help up acclimate and feel better about Santiago. Boy, did it work!

Not only did we try flights of Chilean wine, but we made new friends who I hope will be lasting ones (Hi Ken and Natacha!!!). They were sitting next to us and we struck up a conversation. They are writers who live in San Francisco, although Natacha is French (and speaks great Spanish!). She was meeting up with colleagues, so we sat and bent Ken’s ear for a few more hours while we shared a bottle of wine.

The street was lively and full of performers. A group (see video) danced in the street and cars (mostly) good-naturedly waited them out.

Oh, and I haven’t mentioned that Chileans are warm, friendly, helpful people who will talk to you in the grocery store, give you guidance, and speak English if you ask or Spanish if you want to try.

We walked home feeling much, much better about Santiago.

Later today, we are headed to the Colchagua Valley wine country. Nothing is open here or there on Christmas, but we figured it would be nicer to be in the hills and go for a nice death march (nice death march? Isn’t that a tautology?) than to be in the city. Stay tuned.

Patagonia Flat

We said ciao to the end of the earth and headed to Puerto Varas, where we started with a short tour of two towns on the lake that were settled by German immigrants – Frutillar and Puerto Octay. Puerto Varas is a pretty big tourist destination and the “gateway to the lakes region of Patagonia.” If you need outdoor gear, this is the town for you. But it is on Lake Llanquihue (pronounced Yankee Way – just like the road in the Bronx to the greatest baseball stadium in the world)(it’s a very deep glacial lake – a great place to put the team), a glacial lake with beautiful scenery everywhere you look.

The first night, we went to Santo Fuego, a parrilla (of course), so Robin and Steven could eat meat for dinner. We left satisfied and tired after a long day. We were grateful because the pick-up time for our excursions for the next two days was a luxurious 9 a.m.!

Promptly at 9, Manuela and the driver arrived. Steven and I had been trying to figure out how to get laundry done, but in a harbinger of good things to come, Manuela said she would have the driver take us to the laundry service the hotel recommended. Hmmm, closed, but Manuela to the rescue! She knew a woman who did laundry and would bring it back to us at the hotel before we left the next morning. We dropped off the dirty clothes and started on the 1.5 hour drive to Parque Nacional Alerce Andino to hike through the temperate rain forest to a 3,000-year-old Patagonian cypress or Fitzroya cupressoides,  named after Robert Fitzroy of the HMS Beagle and Tierra del Fuego expedition fame. He got a mountain named after him, too (seems like a worthy reward for the effort he put in to schlep Darwin far enough so he could change our entire thinking on the way the natural world works).

We lucked out with Manuela, because in addition to finding us laundry service, she was an excellent guide to the trees and flowers in the park. We had great timing because everything was blooming so the forest was a deep green, punctuated by tiny red, purple, yellow, pink, and white blossoms. The hike itself is what we have learned is “Patagonia flat,” meaning you won’t be climbing a mountain, but don’t imagine the Midwest either. Rolling hills are a polite way of putting it.

Both on the way in and out of the park, we passed waterfalls on Rio Chaicas. I know I’m starting to sound redundant, but everything we saw was on a grand scale and beautiful. I think part of it was that we didn’t really have any expectations, so we were just amazed at every turn.

Our excursions came with a lunch, so we sat at the base of the giant tree and ate. The whole hike was about 8 km or 5 miles. Perfect for enjoying the environment without overdoing it on our step count.

Back in town, we wandered a bit and then ended up eating at the Hotel Puelche (where we were staying) restaurant – a burger place that had veggie burgers, too.

Steven here – we have done some much in these last few days that we decided to split up the blog – I am taking day two.

The next morning, first the laundry showed up on time – whew! We had clean clothes. Manuela and Ronaldo (our driver, but no not the futbol player) showed up promptly at 9 again. This time we loaded all our luggage into the van because we were checking out. The plan for today was to do shortish (6km) hike along the base of a volcano. According to Wikipedia (which will tell you not to use Wikipedia as a source), there are 105 volcanos in Chile that have been active during the Holocene – which is the current geologic period and has lasted about 11,000 years. We were hiking around the base of Volcán Osorno, which is in the Vincente Pérez Rosales National Park. It is the oldest national park, established in 1926 after Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt visited the area and allegedly suggested that a park be established because it was the most beautiful place that he had ever seen. At least that is what they tell the Americans. The area is a temperate rainforest, so the forests are very green and lush. The hike took us through part of the forest and then across a lava field (the lava was no longer hot as the last eruption was in 1869, so it was safe to walk across) and then back through lower and more scrub-like vegetation. The entire hike was on black sand. We considered climbing up to the top (2,600 meters) of the volcano and sacrificing our cousin Robin to ensure that volcano didn’t erupt, but Manuela recommended against it, and we are afraid of Aunt Es.

After we finished the hike, we took the van to another part of the park (which is huge, something like 250,000 hectares or 1,000 square miles) and stopped to eat our box lunches at the Petrohué waterfalls. The falls are formed from the runoff of glacier water from the volcano so the water is a turquoise blue. As always, my words cannot express the beauty and power of nature, but hopefully these photos and videos will.

The cold tree

We walked a couple of trails near the waterfalls, one of which was full of a tree called Arrayan or Luma (Luma apiculate). The interesting thing about this tree is that it is always cold to the touch. We wandered the trails for another couple of hours and then called it a day.

Ronaldo drove us to the Petróhue Lodge, where were staying for the night. The lodge is on Todos los Santos Lake just on the outskirts of Parque Nacional Vicente Pérez Rosales and is rustic and beautiful. The owner is the great grandson of a Swiss archeologist and explorer who mapped the area and then settled here. He (the great grandson) has established a little museum next to the hotel about the history of the area and gave us a really nice tour of it.

Back to me (Sue, that is) – Yesterday was Robin’s last day with us, but we had time for one more hike with her. We couldn’t do the 7-hour Desolation Pass (oh boy were we sad we couldn’t do another death march), so we settled for a 3-hour loop which included the beginning of that hike and then headed back along the beach.

We were a little confused about where the trailhead was so we tried asking a park ranger. Apparently, my Spanish is very bad and I didn’t get across the point that we just needed directions to the trailhead, but he was very nice and used Google translate voice to give us a whole history of the park before pointing us in the right direction.

Wow! We had another perfect weather day in which the clouds lifted to reveal the Osorno volcano (among others). The hike took us from the lakefront, through the forest, across alluvial fields, and along the volcanic sand shores of the lake. We got back in plenty of time for Robin to get ready for her travel back to Atlanta and have a last lunch with us.

Steven and I had booked a hot tub for 4 p.m., so we relaxed for a couple of hours and puzzled over where to go instead of Peru, where there is a state of emergency. We are crazy, but not stupid. The hot tub is heated by a wood fire, so the staff tended it for four hours before it was the right temperature. The water was perfect and we sat in the wooden vats amid the trees feeling very lucky. The pisco sour and beer didn’t hurt either. Tomorrow, we go back to Puerto Varas for one last day of vacation before heading to Santiago and reality.

Today was the last day of our vacation. We spent the morning getting our last looks at Petrohue before we transferred back to Puerto Varas. We wandered around the town, admiring the cloudless view of the lake and volcanos and treated ourselves to T-shirts and ice cream. It is vacation after all. I had lemon with mint and ginger, which has become my favorite soft drink and Steven had something called harina tostada, which is toasted wheat. It doesn’t sound like a great ice cream flavor, but it was. Special shout out to our tour guide Manuela, who went out of her way to find us a special pepper made from leaves she pointed out on one of our walks. Can’t wait to see you again, Manuela!

This has been an amazing vacation. Tomorrow we fly to Santiago to begin the next phase of our adventure.

Onward and upward (plus a bit of downward)

Friday was our last day at the Hotel Las Torres in Torres de Paine. Steven decided to take it easy, but as you know, I never decide to take it easy and so I didn’t. We had a part-horseback, part-trekking all-day trip up Cerro Paine to get a different view of the Towers and because I wanted to do a horseback trip. We thought it would be mellower than the hike up to the base since it was 4 km on the horse and 4 km straight up the hill.

No problem. Robin and I met another couple who were on the excursion and we headed to the stables with our guide, Valentina, to get our horses and a short lesson in how to hold the reins. (An aside: There were five women guides and four of them were named Valentina.)

First off, my pin head didn’t fit in the adult size helmets, so I go a child’s size and I believe my beige one looked way more professional than the bulky black ones everyone else had. Then we put on gaiters to protect our pants from sweaty horses. Finally, we were introduced to our horses and hopped on for the ride.

Everything was going great. The view from the horse was spectacular and we were just walking, so I wasn’t worried about how I would walk when we got off the horse. Only one problem: It had rained the night before and the ground was muddy and semi-impassable at one point. The baqueano (horse guy) found a spot that seemed OK and rode his horse across. Then it was my turn. Well, Blondie my horse had a different route in mind. A route that sucked her legs into the muck like quicksand causing her to fall and me to fall off into the mud. At this point, I am going to turn it over to Robin to describe what happened since I was in the middle of it. And, no, no one got video and I will not be a YouTube fail star.

Robin’s play-by-play

From 8 feet above:

There was some confusion as to which way we should take the horses across the mud flats. The baqueano thought he found the best way, and proceeded to cross. Sue went next and I was behind her. before we knew what happened the front legs of her horse sank 3 feet and down to its knees.

The horse fell forward and floundered and attempted to get up, but then fell again launching Sue 10 feet to the right, and planting her face first in the mud. She was already fairly close to the ground at that point, so it was more of the side launch and the mud plant which made things so damn funny. It was hysterical.

But the grown-up part of me said repeatedly, do not laugh!! This can be a dangerous situation.

Sue struggled to all fours, and began to turn around in the mud in an attempt to stand up. Unfortunately the horse, who was also attempting to regain her footing fell backwards onto SUE launching her face first into the mud again, and this time, pinning her leg under its torso. 

While the mud bath continued, I repeated my mantra, Do NOT laugh! Do NOT laugh!!  I strove to be a bigger person.  I mean, can you imagine if something terrible had happened to her and I had been seen sitting on my horse laughing my ass off and shooting a video. That would’ve been bad. I never would’ve been invited on another trip with them again.

Once she and the horse were out of danger I snapped a few shots which don’t even begin to do the story justice. Look at the ground, it’s the beginning clue to her state of her mud-caked self.

All that said she was a true champ, and incredibly gracious about the entire thing. She changed into some rain pants she had packed and a few extra clothes from the guide and carried on with a smile and a laugh and a great attitude, something that many people would not have been able to pull off!

You go girl!!!

I was not hurt at all. Mud is pretty soft, but hard to get out of once you’ve been sucked down to mid-calf. Valentina gave me a hand and Blondie and I stood and carefully made our way out the mud. Luckily, I had rain pants in my backpack, so I removed the mud- packed gaiters and my muddy pants and put on the rain gear. Don’t worry, I didn’t subject the group to my bare butt –I had another layer underneath. After I cleaned up a bit, I got right back on the horse and off we went.

(Steven’s comment – I am so disappointed that there is no video! Where is a 15 year old with normal TikTok skills when you need them? I am so sure our blog would go viral with video of my wife face planting off a horse into mud.)

The trail stayed pretty slick in spots, so we left the horses a few feet earlier than they typically would and set off on foot. My socks were a little squishy, but other than that I was fine. The trail was a steady uphill and started to look like a moonscape with lots of rock and scree. I never felt out of breath or like it was too difficult, but it was no stroll in the park. Of course, when we got to the top, it was well worth the trek. We ate lunch, took pics, and headed back down.

The way was a little slippery because of the scree, but I only slipped a few times and we were able to make it back down to the horses in about an hour. The way back down was uneventful since Valentina and Robin decided to take a less watery route. The view got even better when the clouds parted and we were able to see all three towers clearly.

I loved the trip, but couldn’t wait to get the mud off me and my clothes. That shower was one of the best of my life!

To end on an extra high note, Steven and I were sitting in the lounge area when a waiter yelled, “Puma!” We all ran to the window and saw the big cat strolling down the path at the hotel. It had just eaten a couple of baby birds and was happily wandering back into the wild.

Saturday morning we said goodbye to Torres del Paine and all three of us agreed that we wished we could have stayed longer. The scale and beauty can’t be conveyed in pictures. We took a four-hour van trip to Punta Arenas because I wanted to see penguins. We didn’t realize that there’s not much else to do here and that it is mainly a staging area for trips to Antarctica, but so be it. It really does feel like you’re almost at the end of the Earth. We are staying in a cute boutique hotel, La Yegua Loca, with a view of the Strait of Magellan.

Sunday we got up at what would normally be before dawn, but here is already full sun, 5:30 a.m., to make a 6:15 a.m. van pickup and head off to the penguin boat. Transportation seems to be the main issue we have with our tour. We really didn’t need the van transfer — we could have walked to the office and gotten and extra 30 minutes of sleep, but we didn’t know that. The boat trip is about 40 minutes and then you walk around Los Pingüinos Natural Monument taking pictures of Magellanic penguins, cormorants and other birds. Penguins can be loud! Just watch the video below.

It was fun and with the patch, I didn’t get sick at all on the boat. Plus, we were very lucky and had sunny skies and calm seas. yay!

After the penguins, we stopped at the only other attraction we were interested in, Museo Nao Victoria, which has replicas of one of Magellan’s ships and the Beagle. It was worth about 45 minutes.

Knowing what I know now, I would not have come down here just to see the penguins since there isn’t much else to do. An extra day in Torres del Paine would have been amazing, but I am not going to complain since I am the one who wanted to see penguins. We even got the timing right since the penguins were nursing their chicks. Overall, a great experience, but I’m just not sure the trade off of two days was worthwhile.

Tomorrow morning we fly to Puerto Montt and drive over to Puerto Varas for the last leg of our Patagonia adventure.

A Final Weekend in Buenos Aires

Yes, We’re Moving On Again

We’ve arrived at the part of the journey where we begin to say, “We still haven’t done …” At this point, we typically make a list of sites, restaurants and other attractions we have seen in our wanderings and said, “We need to go there,” but haven’t yet done so. Since we leave Saturday morning, we took advantage of the weekend to go on two death marches (one scheduled and one accidental).

But first, I want to mention that Tamar and I went to Teatro Colón to see Tosca. By the time we bought our tickets, there was only standing room only left. I was a little worried about standing up for that long, but I figured we could always leave early since there are three acts. I was worried about nothing. The first act, which was about 45 minutes, flew by so fast, I didn’t even think about being uncomfortable. We could see the whole stage from where we were and the theater is known for excellent acoustics so that wasn’t a problem either. I know nothing about opera, but it was magical. For me it was the combination of the singing, sets, acting and costumes. I don’t know if I will ever listen to opera, but I would definitely go again.

Saturday, we headed to Tigre, a small town just north of the city that sits at the mouth of the Paraná Delta. After a bit of confusion about getting tickets, including waiting on the wrong line with an equally confused Canadian couple, we found out that our Subte cards were already loaded and ready to go. There are two different trains to take: One is just a commuter line and the other travels along the river and into Buenos Aires’ fanciest neighborhoods. We thought we would take the coastal train out and the commuter train back, but we ended up at the wrong station, so we cheerfully took the commuter train.

About an hour later, we disembarked at the station, walked out and saw a McDonald’s. Sigh. We had decided to take a boat ride (thank you scopalamine) so after getting tourist information from the town employees who hang around for that very purpose, we went over to the docks and chose a tour. It’s very casual and there’s no need to book ahead, so we wandered over to a kiosk and bought tickets for a boat leaving shortly. For about 75-minutes we cruised around various canals and rivers looking at the houses and trees. We enjoyed it, although it was difficult to hear the taped narration.

Everyone’s a futbol fan during World Cup

For lunch, we sat by the river and enjoyed burgers. Tigre has a couple of museums, an amusement park and a crafts market that was once the fruit market. Many people use it as a jumping off point for more water sports adventure. We walked around a bit more, but didn’t have a lot of interest in the museums, so we decided to check out the crafts market and then head back on the coastal train. We’re not good shoppers, so we walked by some of the booths an shops and decided to head back. By this time, Argentina’s World Cup match had begun so it was eerily quiet, except around the restaurants that had the match on.

Here’s where the accidental death march comes into play: The coast train doesn’t go all the way back to BA. You have to switch to another line. No problem. We saw the river beaches and expensive houses along the way and were able to find the train platform easily and get a score update — 0-0. We saw a train pulling out as we arrived. Really? It couldn’t wait 2 minutes to allow for the connection? No, the trains in Argentina run on time. We waited about 40 minutes, got on the train and then realized it wasn’t going all the way back to the closest stop to us. Can you guess what happened? You are right. We decided to walk the rest of the way, which was about 6.4 km or just shy of 4 miles. All along the route, people were cheering. I think we were the only ones who weren’t wearing futbol gear.

There was no big Saturday night out after that. We didn’t even eat dinner. Just popcorn and some peanuts. Futbol snacks in honor of the face-saving win.

We had a reservation for a nice all-you-can eat restaurant, Gourmet Porteño, on Sunday. Of course, we decided to walk even though it was a bit more than 4 miles. The restaurant is at the south end of the restaurant row in Puerto Madero. We had been there once before, but it was rainy and chilly and the Puente de la Mujer was closed. This time we lucked out. Not only was it a beautiful late spring day, but the bridge was open, so I got to walk across it. It’s just a bridge, but the views were pretty.

We arrived at the restaurant hungry and a bit warm, but there was AC and plenty of food. I thought it was going to be brunch, but it was lunch, so no omelets or waffles, but plenty of … you guessed it: Meat! There was also pizza, pasta, sushi, salads, sandwiches and, of course, desserts! We had a leisurely meal and then headed over to San Telmo, which is a giant, crazy street market full of my new favorite Spanish word: tanteria, or crap. Among the flea markety items were also nice art, plenty of mate gear, leather goods, jewelry … anyway, you get the idea. Of course, we bought nothing (23 kilos is our rallying cry). If I were on a two-week vacation and heading home, I might have bought a couple of things, but the storage locker and our suitcases are full enough. We walked the full length of the market, which extended for what seemed like miles but was probably 6 blocks, and then resumed our death march back to the apartment. (total distance for this weekend’s death marches – 20.8miles)

Today, cousin Robin arrives in preparation for our very exciting actual vacation in Patagonia! We fly out Saturday morning.

Family Fun Time

Boy, they really know how to eat meat in Porto Alegre (Yes they do!! YUM)! Aside from that, Vitor and family went all out entertaining us and making sure there was never a dull moment.

Vitor wanted to show us how beautiful the sunset is over the river Jacuí, so we went to Cais Embarcadero, which is a park along the river with restaurants and bars (and an Insta sign, of course). We got there with perfect timing and the sunset was gorgeous. One thing we have learned is that a sense of time is not a Brazilian strong suit. We decided to eat dinner there and were given an estimate of one hour to get a table … more than two hours later, with me and Alexia in desperate need of food (they were talking about eating the barstools) , we were seated. Phew. Meat (and a veggie burger) did the trick. At least it was worth the wait and the company was excellent, as usual.

Friday night, we went to Sargent Peppers, where the house band — yes, you guessed it, the Lonely Heart’s Club Band — plays covers of ’80s and ’90s music include a few Brazilian pop tunes. There were 10 of us and we sang, danced and ate (mostly meat). The band was a lot of fun, but for me, the highlights were the man who sells roses on the street who showed up at the beginning of the second set and sang three classic Brazilian tunes and the fact that all the waiters get on stage and sing Hey Jude with the band.

The Rose Man Singeth

In case you were wondering about the playlist, here is pretty much the first set:

  • Betty Davis Eyes
  • Stand by Me
  • Every Breath You Take
  • I Will Survive (sung by a very large Brazilian man; it was a little discordant)
  • Sultans of Swing
  • Swept Away
  • Sugar
  • I Saw Her Standing There
  • Pride (In the Name of Love)
  • Don’t Look Back in Anger
  • Don’t Stop Me Now
  • Don’t You (Forget About Me)
  • I Shot the Sheriff
  • With or Without You
  • Watermelon Sugar
  • Memories
  • Believe
Na na na nananana nananana Hey Jude

The second set had more Brazilian tunes, but here are the songs you will know. (Admit it, you know all these songs.)

  • Hey Jude
  • Under Pressure
  • Let’s Dance
  • Dancing with Myself
  • Psycho Killer
  • Titanium
  • Suspicious Minds
  • Dancing Queen

They were still playing when we called it a night at around 1:30 .

Saturday, we headed back to the beach. Well, back to the beach for me, but for Steven it was the first trip since someone around here has to support our crazy lifestyle. It was supposed to be very hot and it may well have been in Porto Alegre, but the gale-force winds were blowing at the beach so it was a little chilly, but very relaxing, especially when there’s a hammock. Steven loves a good hammock. They are nap-inducing.

Vitor’s friend Marcelo invited us for coffee after he joined us for lunch (guess what Vitor made (the steaks he BBQ’d at the beach were amazing!) so we could see his beach house. In case he forgets, he said, “Mi casa es su casa,” so if we ever want to go back, we can stay in one of the six bedroom suites and maybe even invite all our friends. Thanks, Marcelo 😉 Marcelo also told us that the beach, Praia do Cassino, is the world’s longest at 254 km (about 150 miles).

The one downside of the brisk wind was that we were a bit too chilly to hang out to stargaze. We still haven’t seen the southern cross, but we have time.

We decided on sushi for dinner (we being Alexia and I), but the boys wanted burgers because they hadn’t had enough meat at lunch (while the steaks were delicious, according to Vitor, if it doesn’t have bacon, then it is a light meal – and there was no bacon). The hamburgers they got were only slightly smaller than an LP in diameter. They typically come with cheese, an egg, peas, corn, onion, lettuce, and tomato. If that’s not enough, feel free to add bacon. It’s hardly a surprise that there was a bit of meat left over.

Meat, left; meat, center; Steven eats meat, right.

Vitor cooks meat (well, lamb meat) for our last night in Porto Alegre.

Sunday, we went to an art fair in Parque Farroupilha. It’s a huge park that houses an small amusement park, trails, the weekly art fair, and a Saturday farm market among other attractions. There, Steven bought a meat knife. He is very proud of it, so don’t be surprised if he cooks you meat the next time he sees you just so he can show off his knife (OMG! it is a fabulous knife! Vitor explained the knife rules: 1. Never use the knife to cut vegetables especially onions- that is a sacrilege. 2. Never use the knife to cut raw meat -use a stainless steel knife for that. 3. (This one was for Sue) – you can’t use the knife on the owner to cut their throat when they are sleeping, even if they are snoring, just use the pillow.

Our fabulous host, Vitor, bought me a mate cup that is really beautiful. I really enjoy mate, but not just for the drink, but because of the ritual that goes with it. I hope I find some other mate drinkers when we settle down. The mate in Brazil is different from the Argentine mate. It’s got a lighter flavor and greener color. I’m not going to play favorites, though. I like them both.

You’re never going to guess what happened after the art fair. Try not to faint. … We went to a vegetarian restaurant! It was an all-you-can-eat buffet and it was delicious! It’s a good thing everyone ate a light lunch because our last dinner was another meatfest. While the giant leg of lamb and rack of lamb ribs were cooking, everyone “snacked” on sausage that contained cheese.

We got to say goodbye to everyone, including Vitor’s brother, sister-in-law and one of their kids while we shared good food and wine. It was a fitting ending to a very family-oriented week. We had a blast and are thinking maybe we should learn Portuguese next. (That is the imperial we meaning Sue. I am unlikely to manage to learn enough Spanish to order in a restaurant, let alone actually hold a conversation).

Thanks to Vitor, Alexia, Alice, and Lucas for opening their homes, showing us around their city and state, and putting up with our TERRIBLE attempts to pronounce Portuguese words.

Ciao for now, Porto Alegre.

Un blog especial para los profesores de ingles

This blog is mostly in Spanish, but you can use Google translate 🙂 It’s for English teachers because it’s that nameless exercise where someone writes a sentence, covers it up and passes it down the line. Here’s the version TJ, another student and I created yesterday:

Una noche oscura

“Los adolescentes caminaban por la ciudad y estaba muy oscuro. 

Ellos buscaban una fiesta donde su amigo Baba estaba tocando música pero no lo encontraba. 

De repente hubo un sonido muy raro. Parecía venir desde una casa abandonada en la calle. Un minuto después, el sonido vino de nuevo, más fuerte e intenso. 

Pronto, una chicago corrió por la calle y gritó, “Ayudenme, ayudenme!” 

Y después de esto todos tenían mucha hambre y caminaron a un restaurante que conocían pero este restaurante está cerrado … por muchos meses … pero había abierto ayer! 

Por quererte, acababa de llorar y con la vuelta del sol, hacía calor y había mucha luz, los problemas del pasado desaparecieron y todos siguieron con el día con calma. Así es un día típico en Buenos Aires.”

Espero que lo disfruten. That’s subjunctive because I don’t know if you will or you won’t. If I knew that you would, I would use the indicative.

Marco … Polo!

Since our friends Marco and Barbara graciously took us to the peña, we decided to respond in kind with a trip to a polo (one l – two ll’s would make it pollo -which is chicken!) match since the Argentine Open (Campeonato Argentino Abierto de Polo) was starting. The polo grounds are smack in the middle of Buenos Aires and about a 30-minutes walk from our apartment. Because we have such a deep knowledge of the sport, which is very popular in Argentina, we decided we should definitely invite our Argentinian friends. They also had extensive polo knowledge (equal to our, which was zero).

A few days before the match, I looked up the rules, which seemed to be: There are four players on horses and they try to hit the ball between the sticks using a mallet (called a taco here). Wow, we were so confused. That’s it???? As baseball fans, we knew it had to be way more complicated. The rest of the rules were thus:

  • You can’t ride the same horse for too long (Yay!)
  • There are four or six or eight chukkers of 6 1/2 minutes and then the bell rings and they play 30 seconds more.
  • The pitch is 300 yards long and 200 yards wide unless it is boarded (which these were) and then it is 160 yards wide.
  • You can’t put the mallet in your left hand (although you can hit from the left side using your right hand)
  • You can nudge a horse and rider away from the ball if you are parallel
  • Every time a team scores they switch sides of the pitch.

Most of the penalties involve actions that would endanger horse and rider, so the angle of approach to another horse is very important. You cannot intersect the imaginary line of the ball unless you’re so far away that it doesn’t really matter. The worse infractions are basically a free goal for the offended team because they put the ball right in front of the sticks and no one can defend. Other penalties may mean a free pass at various field positions. It’s also forbidden to hit another player’s taco above the horse’s height or underneath the horse.

Two referees ride on the pitch, and a third acts as the final word.

Simple! We figured we would absolutely know what was going on.

We didn’t realize that there were two matches, so we arrived in time for the first, which was played on the smaller of the two pitches. We were very confused, because we were told we could sit anywhere except a special middle section (which was mostly empty and stayed that way) and we had numbered seats. OK, it’s Argentina, said Marco and Barbara.

I chose a side, which immediately was down by a goal. We could see well enough, but it took a little time to acclimate. By then, Las Esquinas, my guys (yes, they were all guys), were down by several goals. The basics were simple to follow, but penalties or play setup — not so much. We cheered with the crowd and decided that we definitely loved polo AND that our tickets allowed us to watch the second match on the nicer pitch (we got a polo twofer).

La Esquina lost to Cria la Dolfina, 9-5 (this is why we don’t let Sue bet on sports).

Lunchtime! The polo stadium (arena, whatever?) was really nice. I guess the rich folks who enjoy polo also enjoy decent food (including veggie options), pleasant seating and clean surroundings. I couldn’t resist the pepas, which are shortbread cookies with a jelly center, except Marco said these were gourmet style. The jelly was fresh, not congealed like you would get if you bought packaged pepas. Well worth it. (Marco, Tamar and I all had the traditional choripan – a sandwich made from chopped sirloin steak – Yum!)

After eating, it was off to the second match (but be warned that if you want to take your beer to your seat, you will have to hide it somewhere). This time, our seats were up high (sorry Steven, although you were a great sport)(for those of you who are familiar with the stadium that White Sox play in – this grandstand was steeper than the third deck) and we could really see the plays developing — or maybe the teams were better. We let Marco pick who to root for, and he chose Ellerstina over La Irenita. If I were you, I would follow Marco’s picks.

We were totally into it and even were able to pick up on why penalties were happened. Score one for us! Perhaps the best part of the second match was that Marco and Barbara broke out the mate(a traditional Argentine warm drink – a little like herbal tea). I was a little afraid it was going to taste like dirt because I have had it before and it tasted like dirt, but there’s was very good and we learned all about the ritual of mate. (If you say “gracias” you’re not getting any more. That’s the signal that you are done.) I’ll save the full mate lecture for another blog.

As we sat, the shadows from the apartment building next door grew diagonally across the pitch and the wind kicked up. By the time the seventh chukker came around, we were chilly, but we knew we could last another 15 minutes, so we stuck it out to the end of this incredibly close match. Marco’s Ellerstina won by the slim margin of 16-8. At one point, we were trying to describe the slaughter rule in Spanish to Marco and Barbara.

We think since it was the beginning of the tourney, we were watching low seeds against high seeds, but what do we know. Maybe the scores are always lopsided. At any rate, we had a blast! If you’re so inclined, there’s an Argentina Polo Channel on YouTube.

(The finals are on December 2nd – so maybe we will see another round.)

Dance Party! (and there’s more)

Cacio e pepe in the making!

Wow, did we have a busy weekend. Our friend Tamar arrived Wednesday so now we have another partner in this adventure. But even before I get to the dance party, I have to tell you about the very best dessert, which I had following fabulous cacio e pepe (yes, I had extreme dog belly, but it was worth it) on Thursday night. I love chocolate. I really love chocolate mousse. When I heard that I could have the special chocolate mousse at La Locanda, I leapt at the chance. I thought it sounded odd because they add salt, pepper, and olive oil to the already delicious treat BUT, porque no? So I ordered it. First, the waiter had us try the standard chocolate mousse before he put in the extra ingredients and it was really yummy. Then, he salted, peppered, oiled, and stirred. OMG! It was creamy and amazing. Try it!

OK, on to the weekend. Our friends Marco and Barbara invited us to a peña. We had no idea what it was, but we said yes and we are very glad we did. It’s a community dance party (think the kind of dance party they had during the 1940s big band era) where everyone dances traditional Argentine dances to live music. This being Argentina, it doesn’t even start until after 10 p.m., so we wisely had an afternoon siesta. Marco and Barbara picked us up and after learning that open 24 hours does not mean the parking lot is really open 24 hours, we found a parking lot and walked over. The room has a big dance floor against a stage. There’s a small bar where you can get water, beer, wine and, of course, empanadas and pizza. Folding with tables and chairs frame the edges of the dance floor. During the week, dance lessons are offered.

We arrived in time to take the dance lesson before the peña even officially starts (and remember we arrived at 10!), so we were total experts after one hour of learning five or six difference dances. Sure thing. At the end of the class, we snaked around the room hand-in-hand in that classic of all cultures where you try to whip the end of the line by moving faster and faster and making tighter turns until everyone is just laughing. There was also a hora-ish circle dance — another staple of party dancing.

During the class, we learned (to say I learned would be a very large overstatement) the chacarera, gato, chacarera doble, escondido, and a few others. Most involved dancing facing a partner and then dancing to and around them in various steps. Apparently, we were dancing stories, but we were happy to sort of get our feet going in the right direction. In one of the dances (I don’t remember it’s name), we were lined up with women facing the men and when we met and crossed the lines over, we held our fists up. Barbara said the dance originated as a show of strength between tribes.

One dance we could manage was a couple’s dance — take two steps one way and one step the other (umm…we mostly managed, but I kept losing the count when my mind would wander). Excellent! Even simpler than a box step. We were pretty good at that one. But let’s just say that Marco is a great teacher and we enjoyed ourselves even if we ended up the wrong way round many times.

The first band had 10 members who played several different horns, piano, guitar, bandoneón (like a small accordion), and drums. If you could stop yourself from dancing, more power to you. After a break, a second band with a singer who had a fabulous voice played. We danced and talked and had a great time. We also got to see excellent dancers doing the samba, the zamba, and other dances that even Marcos wouldn’t do without more lessons. We learned that the samba has very specific moves and the partners signal each other with handkerchiefs. (the video below is Sue and Tamar doing the chacarera)

What made it so amazing was not the music or the dancing, it was the community atmosphere and joy. The crowd ranged from 20-somethings to oldies (even older than us) and everyone was on their feet. Sometimes the dance floor was so crowded, bumping one another was inevitable, but everyone was laughing about it.

The second band finished up at about 3 a.m., but we could have kept on dancing. (At least I could have, I’ll let Steven tell you how he felt. (Old, but not particularly tired. ) We did sleep well that night, but that didn’t mean we lounged about on Saturday. No way. Too much to do.

Every weekend, artisans set up shop in a pedestrian area right outside Cementeria de la Recoleta where Eva Peron is buried. We walked over and perused the arts and crafts at a local outdoor market before heading into the cemetery. When we got to the gate, an attendant asked us if we were Argentinian. When we said no, she said, Ooooh and ducked her head as if she were so sorry that we were unfortunate enough to have been born elsewhere.

The cemetery is all paved and originally we thought it was all above ground. It is full of grand mausoleums, but some of the graves are underground (some you can look in and see the coffins, others you see stairs going down). Anyway, being unfortunate enough not to be Argentinian (we must have done something bad in a previous life), we didn’t really know anyone else to visit besides Evita, but we wandered around anyway because there were many cool photos to be taken (Apparently before she was interred in her family’s crypt, her body had a unusual time — including being displayed in her husband’s dining room for a while — read about it here).

We grabbed some empanadas for lunch at a deli and ate in the glorious sunshine, did some errands, and Steven and Tamar had plates of meat for dinner. I had pasta.

I’m going to leave Sunday’s adventure for the next blog, since Tamar and I are starting Spanish classes tomorrow at the ridiculous hour of 8:30 a.m.

Bridging Valhalla, Italy, China and Argentina

Another weekend, another 30 or so miles in what Steven affectionately calls our death marches (affectionately??? they are pleas for help!). We don’t necessarily do it on purpose, but we want to see everything. Typically we intend to walk somewhere and then take public transit (here it is the Subte) back. But then, we think to ourselves, “Selves, we may as well just walk back!” and so we do.

I wanted to do something touristic (as they say here), so we got tickets to a tango show. Once that plan was in place, we looked in the area for a restaurant since the show started at 10:15 p.m. and we opted out of their meal option. Always a good choice. You can get a much better meal for less if you don’t eat at the show and you don’t mind being a bit farther from the stage. We decided to walk and wanted to do so in the light since we didn’t know if walking there after dark would be safe.

Of course, Steven happened to find a Viking bar, Valhalla, nearby and we love a stupid theme, so that was first on our hit parade (where else would you want to go to a Viking bar – only a place that is literally on the other side of the world!). As you would expect, they had drinks with Norse names. Steven had a Thor and I, a Wessex. They were fine, but the real excitement was the fur-covered throne and props for picture-taking. The Thor comes in a plastic horn, what else? Since we got there well before Argentinians begin to head out (ie before 9 pm), they were still setting up the kegs, etc. so we drank up and headed for a classic Argentine meal: Italian food.

We went to D’Oro, mostly because it was a short walk from there to the tango theater, but yum! If you’re looking for good Italian and happen to be in Miami, they have an outpost there. I’m not sure why Italian restaurants in Buenos Aires also open in Miami (see our last Italian food adventure) unless it’s the nonstop flights, but we enjoyed a hearty meal of appetizers and pasta, plus a delicious glass of wine each. The waiter was so kind as to explain the difficult stuff in English, too, although I think my restaurant Spanish is doing well. By the way, in case you are wondering, the service is not included in the bill, which every waiter in BA will tell you.

I’m glad we went to El Querandi tango show, but as Steven put it, an hour and 15 minutes was plenty. At this show, they cycled through the different eras of tango with video vignettes to introduce them. A band consisting of piano, bass, accordion and violin played while the dancers changed costumes, sometimes accompanied by singers. We got a bottle of wine with the ticket, but, to put it nicely, it was not nearly as good as the wine from D’Oro, so we let it sit and drank agua con gas. The only hiccup in our night was that we had a bit of trouble finding a cab. We thought that was odd, but we also aren’t really sure of the best spots to grab one and we can’t get Cabify (the most used ride app here) to work with our US credit card. Uber is not as popular, but after 10 or so minutes, we did get a driver.


We meant to go for a (relatively) short walk to Barrio Chino, but after being puzzled by the lack of an entertainment center, we decided to take a detour. I had read that Palermo Soho (we are in Palermo, but it is a huge area split into many neighborhoods) was the happening area, so off we went. I can confirm that, yes, Palermo Soho is hipstery. We ran into a big festival. I’m not sure if it was a gay pride theme, but there was a huge gay pride component. Good to see. Everywhere here there are artisans selling their goods and this was no exception. Restaurants and bars lined the streets and people were out enjoying the spring sunshine. We will definitely head back there, but this time we kept walking to our real destination — only an hour away.

Wherever we are, we like the food comforts of home and that means Asian food! We figured we would hit a Chinese restaurant and then the Asian grocery for supplies. Of course, once we were loaded down with groceries, we would take the Subte or a taxi back. (You know where this is going.)

We arrived after 3 p.m. hungry and thirsty (it was sunny and in the mid-80’s) and Barrio Chino was crowded! We found a place, ordered noodles and lots of water and walked out with enough leftovers for two more meals each. Then we hit Supermercado Asiático. We were so excited. We love a good Asian market. It was a little bit like a small H Mart (we do miss H Mart) but it also had a few Mexican items. We were very proud of ourselves, because we bought with restraint, which meant that we could walk home laden with tofu, noodles, and sesame oil!

On the walk back (yup – no subte or taxi for us), we passed by Chorifest, which we thought would be a fun Sunday activity. Choripan is a combination of chorizo and pan (bread) and Steven was excited to try out one (or more?) of these sandwiches. I looked and allegedly there would be veggie options, so we invited our new friends Marco and Barbara and were looking forward to a truly local event.

By the time we returned from our second long walking day, we were tired, so we spent the night in.


As we were getting ready to walk (yes, we hadn’t had enough walking) over to the festival, Marco emailed to say it might be cancelled because it was raining. We weren’t really looking forward to standing around eating in 60-degree drizzle, so we changed the plan. It was supposed to stop raining a little after noon but … well, you know how that goes. We put on our raincoats and started walking toward Puente de la Mujer, the Woman’s Bridge. This walk wasn’t too long — about an hour or 5 km. Well, it didn’t stop raining and the bridge was closed for renovation and has been for some time, but whatever, we were there. The neighborhood, Puerto Madero, reminds me of all the revitalized waterfronts we’ve seen around the world. Chain restaurants, glass buildings, newly made to look old walkways.

We looked around and then decided it was lunchtime. Argentina has a very meaty reputation, but everywhere we have been there have been veggie options. We went to a brewpubish place, where Steven got a pickle burger (a burger with pickles, not a burger made from pickles) and I, predictably, had a veggie burger. It didn’t really stop raining until we were on the way home. We stopped at Costumbres Criolles, an empanada spot Steven’s friend said was the best in BA, but we got the food “para llevar — pronounced here as para shevar — or to go. We’ll let you know how delicious they are as soon as we try them. One extra nice touch is the roadmap we got with the food that is similar to the ones you get in the box of chocolates so you don’t accidentally bite into coconut.

Because we are a little goofy, we went out again in the evening to see a movie. We definitely want to see a movie with Spanish subtitles, but each of us thought the other wanted to see “Amsterdam.” When we were almost at the theater, I asked, “What’s this movie about anyway?” Steven said, “I don’t know. I thought you wanted to see it.” We looked up the reviews, decided we were too tired to see a movie neither of us was that interested in, turned around, and went home to watch the Giants lose.

Another walk-filled weekend of exploring!

Iguazu Falls

We took a weekend jaunt to Iguazu Falls, about an hour and a half plane trip from Buenos Aires. For some reason we can no longer remember, we took at 7:30 a.m. flight. Not knowing how long it would take to get an Uber or what security would be like at the airport (not the big international airport of Ezeiza, but Aeroparque Jorge Newbery), so we got up at 4:30. We were sitting at the gate before 6 a.m. Better early than late! (Susan is being kind. It is my time-based insanity that gets us everywhere early, and I am so grateful that she is willing to go along) At least the coffee was already flowing.

The only hiccup came when our tour guide had us coming in an hour later on a different flight. We finally managed to track down an emergency number and Marcela arrived soon thereafter. I highly recommend getting emergency contact info if you book through an agency. It was Saturday morning, so our regular contact wasn’t working.

We went straight to Iguazu National Park in Argentina. We knew that because of extreme flooding the week before, the bridge to Devil’s Throat washed away. Bummer! However, because the river was so high, the falls were spectacular. Notice how brownish red the water is. The soil is full of iron and the water was carrying a lot of soil.

We also got lucky in that the boat, which had not been operating the previous week, was powering down the river again. We couldn’t go behind the falls, which were flowing with almost 10 times their normal water volume, but we did get a truly fun ride. We opted out of wearing our rain jackets and got plenty soaked! But the other aspect of our luck was the weather. Not a drop of rain fell, and the temperature was about 80, so we certainly did not mind wearing a bit of the Iguazu River.

The park contains several different paths that lead to points overlooking the falls. There’s also a train for those who don’t want to or can’t walk. It wasn’t very strenuous, but there are steps since there is an upper trail and a lower trail. We did the lower trail first; Marcela thought it would be less crowded. Apparently, word got out that lots of water makes for spectacular falls. We liked doing it that way because when we got a wide-angle view, we really understood what we were seeing.

Here are some interesting facts about the falls:

  • Iguazu means big water
  • Eighty percent of the falls are in Argentina
  • There are more than 275 waterfalls, making it the largest waterfall system in the world
  • Heights range from 200-270 feet (Victoria Falls is 354 feet) and they span 1.7 miles
  • When the water level is typical, water falls from Devil’s Throat at 1 million liters per second
  • Iguazu River connects to the Panama River
  • The area has been home to the Guarani tribe for thousands of years

The park contains wildlife such as jaguars and pumas (which we did not see(other than people’s sneakers) ), capybara, monkeys and coatis (which we did see because they love human food), and tons of lizards, birds, and butterflies. The river is home to more than 100 species of fish.

Aside for Shannon (and others who like natural disaster/human stupidity stories): Don’t climb guard rails to take selfies (also lots of signs in Argentina saying don’t put your kids on your shoulders).

The Argentine government, to encourage tourism, has set aside land for eco-friendly hotels. It seemed as though that mostly meant that they cleared a minimum of the jungle and used paper straws. We stayed at La Cantera Lodge, which was perfectly serviceable. The downside to the eco-friendly hotels is that unless you have a car, you’re stuck. We were tired from our long day anyway, so we opted to eat at the restaurant in the hotel. Surprisingly, Steven ordered a slab of meat. Vegetarian options were slim (how much pasta can one eat?), so I tried the river fish, a local delicacy. It tasted like white fish, but the sauce was delicious and it was tender.

Sunday, Marcela picked us up after the breakfast buffet (which reminded us of the ones at U.S. motels minus the waffle maker) and we headed to Brazil. The trick here was to have the Argentine driver get us close to the border where we met the Brazilian driver, who gets treated better in Brazil. The amount of time it takes to cross the border is unpredictable, but tour cars have a special line and the border agents in both countries were amenable. I’m not sure why it takes so long to leave Argentina, but they have their reasons. On the Brazilian side, we had to get out of the car and enter the immigration building to show our passports and proof of Covid vaccination. That took maybe 5 minutes.

Most of the reason to go to Brazil (aside from the fact that Vitor says it is much better than Argentina (Vitor says everything in Brazil is better than Argentina)) is the panoramic view. All but two of the 275 falls (or more because of the flooding) are in Argentina, but especially since we could not see Devil’s Throat from Argentina, it was well worth the short trip to the other side. Plus, we got to get drenched again!

The waiter treated our Quilmes beer like it was a fine champagne.

After we finished at the falls, we had a couple of hours to kill, so we decided to go into the town of Puerto Iguazu in Argentina for lunch and a wander (our two favorite things). Marcela dropped us off and we had a tasty lunch. Steven had another huge hunk of meat and I had a salad. The “downtown” consists of a few restaurants and a shops, some of which were closed because it was A) Sunday and B) siesta time with a temperature of 87 degrees. About a mile from the restaurant, there’s a lookout point over the river from which you can see three countries. Do you know what they are? We’ve already talked about the first two: Argentina and Brazil. The third is Paraguay. Needless to say, if there is a walk, we take it. I was excited to find that Iguazu has also adopted the Insta sign, everyone’s favorite place to pose.

While we waited at the border crossing, Marcela explained to us that depending on politics and economics, the people of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay trade off shopping in duty-free border stores. When we were waiting to enter Brazil, the line of cars waiting to go the other way was long, but when we headed back into Argentina, there was hardly a wait at all. Marcela was very surprised, but you just never know. For those of you who have crossed into or out of Tijuana from California — the Argentina-Brazil border would be a breeze.

Our last stop was back at the hotel, where we changed into warmer and dryer clothes for the trip back south. Our plane arrived back in Buenos Aires pretty much on time, we hopped a cab and were back at our apartment by 10 p.m., just in time for Argentine dinner.

Later in the week if we remember how to edit our GoPro video (where is a 12-year-old tech genius when you need one???), we will post some of the videos..