Géisers for Geezers

Saturday we once again started late. This time, our tour started at 2:30pm and we headed to the salt flats about 30 minutes outside of San Pedro. Our first stop was Laguna Cejar, a saltwater pond. The name laguna translates to lagoon, which to me (and Merriam Webster), is “a shallow sound, channel, or pond near or communicating with a larger body of water.” This was a small body of water, not near or connecting to anything else and fed by underground springs. [Late update – I asked my Spanish teacher how you would say small lake (and showed her the picture). She said laguna. So, I am shocked to tell you that google translate, may be wrong!] We arrived at the laguna and changed into our bathing suits, because, like the Dead Sea, you when you get in the water, you float. The temperature was hovering in the low 30s Celsius (about 90˚F) and so the cool water felt wonderful. Sue and I both kept our hats (and sunglasses) on for the dip and we all (us, hats and sunglasses) came out encrusted with salt. The park had showers (no soap or shampoo allowed) so we had a quick rinse and got changed back into our clothes.

After Laguna Cejar, we visited Laguna Tebinquiche, a small, very salty lake with a very unique ecosystem. The hard environmental conditions including high solar irradiation, extreme temperature differences between day and night, high salt, and arsenic content (related to the volcanic activity nearby), make the lagoon a very difficult place to live. Some of the things that live in the lake are closely related to the earliest types of single and multicellular organisms that lived on Earth. Flamingos are often found at the lake feeding on brine shrimp, but when we were there where none. (Our guide said that most of the brine shrimp were gone and the flamingos had moved on in search of nourishment.)

Ignore us and look at the stars. That is the milky way on the top left with the southern cross at the bottom of the milky way

We returned to the hotel at about 7:30, had a quick meal and got ready for our “evening” activities.  The Atacama Desert is very high and the thin air, lack of light pollution and clear skies make it ideal for observing the sky. Overlooking Laguna Tebinquiche is the Atacama Large Millimeter Array observatory.  We did not go there. Instead, we booked a 10pm to midnight star gazing tour that was about 30 minutes outside of town. However, this tour, like so many other things in Chile work on Standard Chilean time. So, our scheduled 9:30 pick up was actually closer to 10:15 and our 10 p.m. start turned out to be just about 11 p.m. The “tour” consisted of three parts. First, a 30-minute introduction to stars, how they form, live and die. René, the “tour guide” described nebulas (nebulae?), various types of stars and some of the things we needed to look for in the night sky. It was quite interesting and tied in nicely to what we were going to see both with naked eyes and with the telescopes.  Next, he pointed out various stars, constellations, and described how the path of the sun is tracked against the arc of the planets across the sky. (He also talked about the difference between navigating in the northern and southern hemispheres and how it was done. PLUS, we got to see the best constellation: Gemini!) To me, this was the most beautiful part of the evening as we able to see the entirety of the sky. It was simply amazing, and I cannot adequately describe (how often do I say this or something like this) how awe inspiring it is. For the third part, they had two telescopes set up and we were able to see nebulae (I am pretty sure it is nebulae, but maybe not, in which case just pretend that I wrote nebulas), a binary star, stars from various constellations and Mars (Yes, I know it is a planet). (The nebula looked like a tarantula – if you used your imagination, which all sky gazing requires.) All in, it was an amazing evening that ended at just about 2 a.m.

Luckily for us, we had decided that we would take it easy on Sunday and hang out at the hotel pool.

Only kidding, if you don’t know us already, we don’t do lounging very well, so when we planned this weekend, we scheduled a morning tour of the El Tatio geysers. The pickup time for the tour was 5:30 a.m. Just about 3 hours after we put our heads down, the F#%$^@$# alarm told us to get our ancient carcasses out of bed and find the nearest coffee. Not our happiest moment. The geysers (which in Spanish is spelled géisers and pronounced geezers, which is an English term for old people), are about 90 minutes directly north of San Pedro on a series of small, mostly (well, at least somewhat) paved roads. They are also at about 4,320 meters (14,170 feet) above sea level. Have we mentioned that Sue gets altitude sickness? I attribute it to the fact that her brain, unlike mine, needs oxygen to function (mine simply bypasses the need to function). She wears a patch that contains scopolamine and it generally works really well. However at this altitude, it seemed be losing the battle even after augmenting it with chewed coca leaves and some coca tea (I think these helped, because I started to feel better afterwards). Like always she was a trooper, even when she turned many different shades of gray. The area is a field of geysers, some of which run continuously like a fountain and others are intermittent. Sorry, but once again, like I seem to say so often, nature is just unbelievable.

After wandering through the geyser fields for an hour or so, we piled back in the van and started the return trip. Along the way we saw various types of waterfowl, vicuña (which are related to guanacos, our favorite from Patagonia) and wild donkeys. We stopped at a small lake and saw lots of flamingos, which are actually animals, not just plastic lawn ornaments for Florida homeowners.  At one point I asked our tour guide about the weather and he mentioned that they were just about to enter the rainy season. The season lasted from the last week of January until mid-February and they might get rain. Wow.

We returned to the hotel just after 1 p.m. had some lunch (I tried cochayuyo, which we mentioned in an earlier blog and it was delicious! It tasted of the sea) and waited for transport back to the airport in Calama (about 75 minutes away), then after a couple of hours wait, our flight back to Santiago and onward to our AirBnB. We arrived home just after 11 p.m., the end of an amazing and wondrous weekend. We were, to put it kindly, just a bit tired. 😉

Before I finish: This is a naked and unabashed plug for Wikipedia. For those of you who regularly read our scrawls, you know that we often link to Wikipedia articles. It is a free, non-profit encyclopedia that is entirely funded by donations. There are no advertisements or paywalls and while it isn’t a research tool (yes, kids in high school and college, I am looking at you), it does have a massive amount of information for those of us who just like to learn stuff. If you can manage, please help them.

One last weekend in Santiago

This was our last weekend in Santiago, while we are here for nearly two more weeks, next weekend we are heading to the Atacama desert, and then we leave the following Saturday for Mexico City.

Friday night we joined two of Sue’s school friends, James and Rania (friends from where she is taking Spanish, not friends from when she taught school in the U.S.) for dinner at a nearby restaurant called Quital. We arrived at 7:30, and were, of course, the first people in the restaurant. The food was typically Chilean, which means, that there is a reasonable menu of fish and meat plus a few things that Sue would eat. Interestingly, both of them are dietitians in London, although they did not know each other there.  We had a very pleasant dinner and wandered out at around 11pm.

Saturday we rode the subway all the out to Los Domingos Park and Pueblito los Domínicos, an artisan market that is at the west end of the subway line that is right at the foot of the Andes. We grabbed our trusty Bip! Cards (so named because that is the sound that they make when you enter the subway) and walked over to the station. The 13-stop ride took about 30 minutes. The market is a former monastery and has about one hundred different shops selling everything from artisan crafts to fancy food. It was fun to walk around, but to be truthful all these places are beginning to look the same. Yes, here they sell Alpaca wool , in Brazil they sold hand-crafted knives, Buenos Aires has local leather goods, but all-in-all, the shopping experience is the same. We are not huge shoppers, so we wandered around for a while then headed to the Costanera Center (a short 6.2km walk – mostly downhill, but in 30˚C temperatures.

The Costanera Center has two attractions. First, at 300 meters, it is the tallest building in Latin America. They have a viewing deck at the top, the 62nd floor, that is glassed in, but open to the sky. As we all remember, heights are not my favorite thing, but I strapped on my big boy boots and we headed up the stairs – only kidding – we got into the elevator. The view is pretty astounding. There are very few buildings higher than 10 floors, and Santiago is surrounded by mountains. I will let the photos do the talking.

The second, very much less interesting, thing in the Costanera Center is a huge American-style mall that houses the nice grocery store that we talked about in our last post. We headed down to the first floor and did our grocery shopping. I know not very interesting, but the practical things need to get done. Loaded down with our groceries, we grabbed a cab and headed home.

On Sunday morning, we walked to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. The museum commemorates those who disappeared or were killed during the Pinochet dictatorship, which ran from 1973 until 1990. The museum is very well done and we joined an English language tour for most of it. It is terribly depressing to see what people will do to each other in the name of power. I would highly recommend visiting this museum for anyone who is in Santiago.  

We walked back home from the museum and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. I watched the American Football playoffs via a streaming service and Sue read a book that she has been slogging through for days. (Not really slogging, it’s just a long book — Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen — with only two formal chapters and that bugs me because I don’t like to stop between chapters.)

We had an early dinner with Ann, a woman from Spokane, Wash., who is at school with Sue and Ann’s husband, Kenn. We met at Le Bistrot Viet, a Vietnamese restaurant that Sue and I visited on our first night in Santiago. We sat down around 6 p.m., and didn’t move until after 10 p.m.. They are also digital nomads and we compared notes on places we have visited, plans for the next year and tips and tricks that we found. They are headed to Buenos Aires next and we are hoping to see them again when they pass through Mexico in late April.

I keep meaning to write a few things about Santiago that struck me.

First, the volume of graffiti is just staggering. It seems like all cities have their share of graffiti, but the amount and pervasiveness of it in Santiago is surprising. (While walking home the other day, Ann and I saw a man tagging just a few blocks from a demonstration that included police wearing riot gear.) It is everywhere, mostly tagging, rather than street art and there doesn’t seem to be any effort to remove it. It reminds me of New York in the early 1980s.

The second thing is how quiet the streets are. Most of the cities we have visited the streets are busy with people walking, but Santiago feels like a ghost town. We thought it might be because we arrived around the Christmas holiday, but it really hasn’t changed in all the time we have been here.

Third, nothing opens early. When we walk to Sue’s school in the morning at 9:30, almost nothing is open. There isn’t even any activity in most of the storefronts. Nothing seems to really get moving until the afternoon.

Fourth, many restaurants have a short dinner window. People don’t seem to arrive until between 8 and 9 p.m., but then many of the restaurants are closing up around 11.  At dinner last night we were virtually the first people to arrive and the last to leave. They do generally serve three meals: lunch, once (which means 11, and so is served at tea time) and dinner, so perhaps dinner is not the most popular meal to eat out.

Finally, small stores seem to open and close randomly. There is a little corner store next to our building that was open for a few days, then closed for a while and now it is open again. When we walk around, we see stores open one day, closed the next, I suspect there is some pattern, but we don’t seem to be able to figure it out.

It is an odd city.

Patagonia – part 2

On Sunday, we did a full day tour to La Leona Petrified Forest. It is about an hour and a half outside of El Calafate. Our driver and guide, Leon, picked us up at the hotel and drove us north through the scrub desert.  We stopped at roadside hotel/bar/restaurant/gift shop, and picked up another couple for the tour. The landscape is very similar to the desert in Arizona but without cacti, just low scrub plants and grasses.

We reached the petrified forest, which is much less of a forest and much more of a huge rock formation with eroded sandstone and basalt. It is very stark, beautiful, and extremely windy. We hiked along the ridges of several the rock outcrops and slowly headed down in the lower portion of the valley. Along the way, Leon explained the rock formations, how the different layers were formed, and how they are eroding at different speeds based on the type of rock that they are. We found dinosaur bones where you could clearly still see the marrow and he explained that one way to test if a rock is a dinosaur bone is to lick your finger and if the rock (only small ones obviously) stuck to your finger, it was likely to be a dinosaur bone. We also saw many petrified trees, some of which looked like they were just bleached wood. It is always incredible to see how well the organic material has been preserved by the minerals, the tree’s rings and features are clearly visible. As we circled down into the valley, I did notice that our van was significantly higher than we were, which gave me some minor cause for concern. Anyway, we hiked around the valley finding lots of petrified trees, interesting geological features and a few dinosaur fossils.  

As many of you know, I am terrified of heights. It is quite frustrating for me. The logic and reason portion of my brain knows that I am not in any real danger, that I have great balance and never stumble or fall when walking, and just because I am near an edge, should not in any way make it more likely I will fall. However, the old reptilian, flee or flight section of my brain cannot grasp these details and just keeps shouting into my head NO! DON’T DO THAT! MOVE AWAY, DON’T GO THERE. Oddly, I have terrible balance, but no fear of heights or the edge of cliffs. Hmmmm, maybe I need more reptilian brain. I work hard to keep my mind quiet and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Our hike out of the canyon was one of the times that I could keep my mind mostly quiet. We zigzagged across one of the walls (which to be truthful was not a sheer drop, but it was a pretty steep drop) and up to the van, rising perhaps 300 meters. Neither Sue nor Robin were the least bit bothered by the climb, I on the other hand, needed a few minutes to collect myself after we reached the top.  

We packed ourselves back into the van and Leon drove us back to El Calafate in time for dinner. Robin craved meat for dinner so she headed off to a parrilla (steak house) while Sue and I headed back to Pura Vida for another home-style dinner. We ordered a bottle of wine called Fabula, which sounded like fabulous to me, but actually means fable. Despite the disappointing name, the wine was great.

Monday morning, we checked out of Hotel Posada los Alamos in El Calafate and headed for Torres del Paine in Chile. It was about a five-hour drive, once again across the scrub desert.  After about three and a half hours we turned off the road and down gravel road, and at this point, I thought to myself, sheesh, we are in a van with a driver we don’t know, we have no cell phone coverage, on a dirt road and have no idea where we are going. Sometimes I wonder about our decision making. However, it turns out that down the dirt road leads to the border crossing into Chile. We waited in a tiny shack for about 10 minutes for the Argentine immigration guard to do something with our passports and then finally hand them back to us and we were able to exit Argentina. We drove about a half a mile down the road, there was a sign that said “Bienvenido a la Republica de Chile” and the road was paved. We went another half a mile and reached immigration and customs for Chile. Once again, we entered a tiny shack where a young woman reviewed our passports and gave us some sort of paper. It appears that she has ample free time as there was a hair straightener plugged in next to her computer. We walked to the next little building which housed the police and customs. The police reviewed our passports and the piece of paper that the passport woman gave us and then stamped our passports. At customs, we put our luggage through a scanner, but the customs official didn’t seem to look at the scans. Once we finished crossing the border, our driver put our luggage back in the van and drove us about 50 feet to the next little building and put our luggage into a van run by our hotel which took us the rest of the way.

A few scenes from the drive

We are staying at the Hotel Las Torres, which is inside the national park, but still private land. They offer an all inclusive package that includes all food and excursions. The location in unbelievable and it is a perfect place for a respite from the outside world. We have no cellphone coverage and only have single digit speed internet in the hotel itself. Once we checked in, we talked to the excursions team and booked some hikes.

The hike starts on the right at the green/black circle and moves left to the blue lake. The distance/altitude chart moves left to right.

Sue and I decided that on our first full day, we would do one of the most famous hikes, called Mirador Torres del Paine, on our own. It is a 17km hike with about a 1,000 meter vertical climb. We woke up, grabbed some breakfast and hit the trail by 8:30 a.m. The hike is broken into three sections. Section 1 is from the hotel to the Chilean refuge (green circle with a white triangle on the right). It is 4 km up through the scrub desert and across the face of the mountain gaining about 400 meters, not particularly difficult, but there were sections with a 20%+ grade.

At about the 2.5 km mark, the course turned and there was a 300-400 meter stretch of very exposed, relatively sheer cliff. It is called Windy Pass, because typically the wind is blowing right through making it extra scary. We were lucky and had a calm day. Also, Steven is very brave. The path was easily two-people wide and while I was very uncomfortable, we made it through. The rest of the way to the 4 km mark was reasonably steep downhill to a refuge and we arrived there after a couple of hours. At the refuge, there is camping, bathrooms, a small store and picnic tables to sit and relax.

We rested for a little while then headed to section 2, the forest section. It is about 3.5 km, and as the name says, it is through a forest. It is a fairly easy walk, gaining only about 200 meters over the course of the entire section and it took us another hour or so. Section 3 is the tough part (starts at the green circle with a white triangle on the left). It is only 1.5 km long, but gains about 400 meters, with sections that are 40% grade and you are literally climbing over boulders. I hate boulders! The last 250 meters are once again across the face of the mountain, with a fairly steep falloff. This was one of those times that my inner voice could not be quieted. Yes, I know no one ever falls, that hundreds of people cross that rock field every day, that I should be more frightened crossing the road, but no matter what I was telling myself, I could go no further. I told Sue to carry on and I found a nice protected place and waited for her to return. I think she double timed it to the end of the trail, took a couple of pictures and double timed back to me. I am so grateful that she knows how to motivate me, when I need it, but also how to read the terror in my eyes and realize that I can go no further.

Once Sue had returned, we headed down. Now, my usual thinking is that down is always easy, but boy that last section was the hardest easy I have ever had. Climbing down rocks is nearly as hard as climbing up and I was especially glad we had our hiking poles.  Once we hit the start of the forest section, we stopped and ate our lunch as it was just about 3 pm.  The forest was relatively easy, although both of our quads had started to tell us that they were unhappy, we still had quite a long way to go and bunch of height to gain and lose. But mostly it was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other to get to the Chilean refuge.

We arrived at the Chilean refuge at 4 p.m. and decided to rest for a few minutes. The remainder of the hike would be a climb of about 75 meters over a 300 meter stretch, along the exposed rock face, then about 3.5 km of relatively slow downward slope all the way to the hotel. We trudged up first 300 meters, reminding ourselves that we did this for fun. Once we reached the top, we turned the corner and were on the final downward stretch to the hotel. We arrived back at the hotel by 5:30 p.m. and collapsed into our room for a little while. We showered, headed to bar, had a drink, some dinner and were both asleep by 9 p.m.. It was a very long hard, but rewarding day. Even if I didn’t reach the end of the trail.

For our second day, Sue and I decided to do a half day excursion with a guide. Robin headed off on a full day excursion to another part of the park to see a glacier. Sue and I, along with about half a dozen other people, hopped into one of the hotel’s vans and headed for a hike that they describe as “Patagonia flat.” The walk is across the Patagonian steppes and features lots of guanaco, some cave paintings, and the possibility of seeing a puma. The drive to the trailhead took about 40 minutes and since it was drizzling, we all pulled on our rain gear. “Patagonia lat” means rolling hills, lots of 30-40 meter ups and downs and one big climb upward to reach the cave paintings. The “caves” are actually covered rock overhangs and compared to the cave paintings in France, they are quite limited. We rested there for a little while, then hiked back down off the rock outcrop and across the steppes. We saw lots of guanaco, learned lots about the plants and wildlife of the area, and happily, at least in my mind, did not see a puma. The whole hike took about 2 hours, it was a perfect amount of effort for us following the very strenuous prior day.

One more day here, then we are off to Punta Arenas.

A traditional Thanksgiving?

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the U.S., so my work was closed. Sue and I decided that since we had been back in Buenos Aires for three whole days, it was important for us to leave again – no more accurately, we decided that since we had a free day, we would head to Uruguay. There is a little town called Colonia del Sacramento just across the river Uruguay from Buenos Aries and there are ferries that run back and forth every hour or so. Sue got us tickets for a 10:30 a.m. outward bound ferry and an 18:00 (6 p.m.) ferry back.

As many of you might remember, Sue gets terribly seasick, just looking at the water. She has scopolamine patches that really help her but have the side effect of making her terribly thirsty. She put on her patch the night before and in the morning we headed for the ferry. We sat out in the sunshine at the back of the boat and enjoyed the breeze and the rays. It has turned quite warm here and ride to Colonia took an hour and a half, and was very enjoyable.

We disembarked and walked around the town. We were expecting a cute little tourist town, with colorful buildings and a nice little central square. It was quite disappointing. First, the town is fairly run down, I guess the pandemic has taken its toll. Second, many of the places were closed, we suspect because Uruguay was playing in the world cup that morning. We made of the best of what was there, wandering through the town and walking along the river. Sometime around 2 o’clock we sat down and had lunch on the terrace of a little restaurant that overlooked the river.

After lunch we wandered some more, but by 4 p.m. we were done, and headed back to the ferry terminal to await our return trip. Once again we sat outside in the back of the ferry and enjoyed the breeze and sunshine. We both agreed that the best part of the trip was the boat ride. We cleared immigration in Argentina for the fourth and final time during this trip and headed back the AirBnB.

We had a quick change and headed out for dinner. We were meeting Marco at 9 p.m. at La Cabrera, one of Buenos Aires’ best steak restaurants. I believe the total count of vegetarian entrées on the menu was two. One was pasta, the other was grilled vegetables – and that may have been a side dish, not a real entrée. Not surprisingly, Marco and I each had a huge hunk of meat, while Sue had grilled vegetables. The food, wine and desserts were all great and finished up the meal right about on schedule – three hours after we sat down.

Today, we took a bit of time and made reservations for a weekend trip to the Atacama desert in Chile. It looks amazing and is the driest non-polar desert in the world. We will write more about that once it gets closer.

This coming weekend is our last in Buenos Aries before we head to Patagonia so we are going to pack a lot in.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our friends in the U.S.

Family, Friends, Food and Football

This weekend was all about family. When I was in college, my parents hosted an exchange student from Porto Alegre, Brazil, named Vitor. Our families have been close ever since and we think of Vitor and his family as our family. My mother decided that for her 85th birthday she wanted to visit Vitor and his family. Sue and I had already planned to be in Buenos Aires and so we quickly agreed to hop a flight and join her and her traveling partner, my sister, Judie. 

Tonight’s cast of characters:

  • My mother: Turned 85 on Saturday and is still walking 3 miles a day
  • Judie: My much younger sister (she and Sue are the same age – currently 39 and holding) Judie is MUCH older than I am. She was born in April; I, in June.
  • Vitor: Our brother from another mother and chief host of the insanity that is to follow
  • Alexia: Vitor’s fabulous wife who is smarter, better looking and in every way better than Vitor
  • Alice: Alexia aad Vitor’s daughter; she has recently passed the Brazilian equivalent of the bar and is beyond wonderful. She speaks fluent English and is happy to help everyone with everything.
  • Lucas: Alexia and Vitor’s son; He always has a smile and is just starting at college. As a teenage boy, he has an appetite that doesn’t end.
  • Bruno: Alice’s boyfriend who is also a lawyer, speaks immaculate English but has two strikes against him in my book because 1) he drinks Budweiser and 2) is a fan of the Dallas Cowboys.

…and now back to our story…

Mom and Judie arrived on Thursday morning. For reasons we cannot recall, Sue and I decided to book our flight on Friday at 5:30 AM (IN THE MORNING). We figured that we would get to the airport at about 4, as we didn’t expect that it would be crowded. Boy were we wrong! Luckily Aerolineas Argentina has a “great” system. Everyone waits on huge lines until your flight is about to depart and they call up your flight and you bypass the line. At about 4:45 they called our flight; we bypassed the rest of our our line, checked in and were on our way. Boarding started at 5:10 and amazingly we left on time for the 90-minute trip to Brazil.

4 a.m. at Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, a smaller Buenos Aires airport. Boy, do I look sleepy!

Vitor picked us up at the airport, whisked us to our AirBnB and then to his place. We met up with everyone and then piled into two cars for a trip to a winery called Casa Valduga, about 90 minutes away. We arrived at lunchtime and headed for their restaurant. The food is served continuously, by which I mean the waiters carry trays of food from table to table and you can take or not as you choose. I was not aware of this when the service started, so by the time we reached the seventh or eight dish, all of it either meat or pasta, I was struggling. The food was fabulous, and I was very full. Luckily, after lunch, we headed to a winery named Casa Miolo for a tour and some tasting. It was nice to walk around and stretch our legs. The tour was in Portuguese, but come on, it is a winery, so we all know what they do and how they do it. After the tour and tasting were done, we headed back to Vitor and Alexia’s house and relaxed for the evening.

Saturday was my mother’s birthday party, so preparations needed to be made. Vitor ran here there and everywhere getting meat, meat and more meat. Alexia made salads, vegetables, tabouleh and potato salad. The rest of the cast tried to help or just stay out of the way. The party was held in a party room at Bruno’s parents’ apartment building. Many of Vitor’s family and friends showed up and quite a few spoke enough English to have conversations, which is really great because my Portuguese is even worse than my Spanish, which is nearly non-existent. The “boys” (Vitor, Bruno, and Bruno’s dad and brother) fired up the indoor BBQ (what a great invention!)  and promptly roasted approximately one full herd of cattle.  The challenge tonight was to try each different cut of beef without bursting – it was a tough challenge, but I rose to the occasion. Sue was of no help whatsoever as she is a vegetarian. The party lasted until after midnight and everyone was exhausted by the time we got back. I would like to take a quick moment to say how welcoming everyone was. Many had never met us nor my mother, but that didn’t seem to make a bit of difference to them. In their minds, we are friends of Vitor and Alexia and therefore we are friends of theirs. It is so nice to make new friends.

Luckily for us, Vitor planned a quiet day of football on Sunday. In the morning, we watched American football on TV (there was a game being played in Germany, so it was on early in the day). We had a “light” meal of about 30 pounds of pasta and Alice’s wonderful homemade sauce. Then we hopped into the cars and headed for the nearest 50,000-person stadium to see the last game of the season of SC Inter. We sat in some box seats behind the goal and what we in the U.S. would call the bleacher bums. The area by the goals is all standing room only and the crowd sings and chants the entire game. Inter scored their first goal after 11 minutes and then piled on, winning 3-0. I hope the videos give you some idea of the electricity in the stadium.

Goal #3
The bleacher bums sing and chant the entire game

After the match we retired back to Vitor’s and watched more American football and had beer, wings and pizza – because we hadn’t eaten enough the previous few hours/days. Somewhere around midnight, we called it a weekend.

For those of you trying to keep track of where are/will be here is our schedule for the next few months:

11/15 – 11/21 (or 15/11 – 21/11 depending on how you read dates) – Porto Alegre Brazil

11/21-12/3 (21/11 – 3/12) – Buenos Aires

12/3 – 12/17 (3/12-17/12) – various stops in Patagonia

12/17 – 1/26/23 (17/12 – 1/26/23) Santiago Chile.

Iguazu Falls – the video

The enormity of Iguazu Falls is mind boggling and our “expedition” was broken into four parts, the lower trail, the boat ride, the upper trail and the Brazilian side. I have attempted to capture a taste of what it was like on video. I was using my GoPro, which I had not picked up in about 4 years, so to say my camera skills are rusty would be assume I had any skills at all.  Add to that my editing skills are significantly worse than my camera skills, so please don’t expect too much, but enjoy.

A map of the Argentine side for reference. The yellow is the lower trail; the orange is the upper trail; the blue is the boat ride; the red, which the Devil’s Throat bridge, was washed away by the flood.

The lower trail

The boat ride

The upper trail

The Brazilian side

Un nuevo continente, país y ciudad

Today we arrived in Buenos Aires. It is the first time either of us has been to South America and the first day of about seven months away.

We flew from Miami on Saturday night – our flight left at 11:15 p.m. and arrived in Buenos Aires at 9 a.m. The flight was really easy, in part because American Airlines offered a last-minute cheap upgrade to business class. We have never flown business class before, and for an overnight flight, the lay flat seats were really useful. We both slept quite a bit and arrived reasonably rested. I decided I love business class, but Steven told me not to get used to it. Spoil sport.

A colleague of a former colleague of mine is a native of Buenos Aires and was kind enough to pick us up from the airport and take us to our apartment.  He and his wife found us as we wandered into the international terminal lobby and whisked us to our new digs. They both speak excellent English and one of us (the other one) speaks passable Spanish. It never ceases to amaze me how kind strangers are. This is a young couple with whom we have only a passing connection, but they went of their way to pick us up at the airport, sent us a ton of material on what to do in the city and would not leave until we were safely in the apartment. Our new friends are Marco and Barbara.

We quickly unpacked our stuff, checked the internet speed (100mb!), had a little nap to recharge our batteries and then headed out to get the lay of the land. Martin, the manager from the apartment agency gave us some ideas about where to find things and we headed out to find a grocery store. We wandered a few blocks, found a few small stores, picked up some staples for dinner and, more importantly, coffee for the morning. It was surprisingly difficult to find coffee here as everyone here drink a type of tea called Yerba Mate. We haven’t tried it yet, but when we do, we will include a review. I am pretty sure I had some bad American version of it and did not like it, but I am game to try again.

One of the interesting (at least for me, being a money guy) is that there are two exchange rates for the Argentine peso. The official rate is about 150 Argentine pesos to 1 U.S. dollar. The unofficial, or blue, rate is roughly double that and it is so common that the rates are published in the newspaper. The way it works is that if you are accessing the banking system either through an ATM or through a credit card you receive the official rate. If you have U.S. dollars you can exchange them at a cambio (imagine the currency exchanges you see at an international airport) or on the street for the blue rate. If we exchange our dollars for pesos at the blue rate, the prices fall by half for us. Western Union will send dollars at the blue rate and so on Monday we are going to try that and see how it works. I will update this later and let you know how it goes.

Later in the afternoon, we headed out for a walk. There are a series of large parks in our neighborhood, so we took a walk around them. To give you some idea of distance on the map, from our place to the Museo Nacional de Belles Artes is about one kilometer. We walked all around the parks and in the park across from the Cementerio de la Recoleta (where Eva Peron is buried, but we have saved Dead Person Bingo for another day) there was a large arts and crafts fair that we walked through, but of course did not buy anything.

Monday is also a national holiday in Argentina. It is the Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity. The link is to a Wikipedia article which is in Spanish, but given my brilliant understanding of español (and chrome’s auto translate feature), I have found that that it commemorates when people from Western Europe first arrived on the continent. I got all excited about the respect for cultural diversity thing until I realized they just meant white Europeans. Oh well.

Monday

So here is the update on using Western Union….I transferred $300 and received 91,080 Argentine pesos. The Western Union office is quite conveniently inside a Carrefour grocery store. Carrefour is a large French-based grocery chain, and we often shopped in them when we were in France and Italy. We even found one in Morocco when we were there in 2017, but that was before we were blogging. The process is very easy. Western Union gave me a code number when I sent the funds. I presented that and my passport to the agent, confirmed my phone number and gave him my address in Buenos Aires and he handed me the pesos.  

On confusing thing is that the symbol for the peso is the same as the one for the dollar, so when we look at prices, we naturally think of dollars, but the price is actually 1/300 of that price. Since we were there, we also did some shopping at the Carrefour and bought some wine that was $1,092 – in my head – in reality US$3.64. It was one of the most expensive wines on the shelf…and it was US$3. Our wine from last night was about 400 pesos, about US$1.30. Overall, the prices in the grocery store seemed reasonable at the official exchange rate, but at the blue rate, it was all very inexpensive.

London – the second weekend

We were lucky enough to have two weekends in London and we packed the second one as full as we could. On Friday night, Abi, Laurens, Sue & I went to London’s Chinatown for a relatively early dinner at Joy King Lau. We ordered about 10 different dishes all of which were yummy and managed to finish all of them. After dinner we had reservations at the Comedy Store for an evening of stand up. They had seven comedians, an MC, the other four shown on the poster and then two more who did short sets of about 10 minutes each. They were all very good and we had a great time. After the show, Sue and I grabbed a cab back to the AirBnB driven by a very funny and talkative cab driver name Josie. 

Saturday, Sue and I went on a nice little stroll from Hackney to Highgate (circa 4 miles). Our destination, was, of course, Highgate Cemetery. We stopped on the way at the Lord Palmerston pub for a real British pub lunch. Sue had fish and chips and a cider while I had a Caesar salad (ok, not really British pub lunch, but I was still full from dinner the night before) and a pint of beer. We sat outside in the sunshine (yes really, there was sunshine) and watched the world go by. 

After lunch we headed for the cemetery to play our favorite game – Dead Person Bingo. The cemetery has two sections, East and West. We started with the west section and found Michael Faraday, Alexander Litvinenko and George Michael (real name Georgios Panayioto). Unfortunately we missed Beryl Bainbridge and Bob Hoskins, but oh well, you can’t see them all. In the East section we found Karl Marx (really impossible to miss), Malcolm McLaren and Douglas Adams (Don’t Panic!). All in all a very successful dead person’s bingo day.

We left the Highgate via the overground trains (which Sue has dubbed the overtube) on our way to meet up with Abi & Laurens to celebrate Laurens’ birthday. We met them and a bunch of their friends at a canalside bar called Crate Brewery. A good time was had by all. When the sun started to go down, Sue & I decided to have Indian food for dinner at Bengal Village on Brick Lane. The food was delicious a great end to a really enjoyable day.

Sunday, Sue and I walked down to Borough Market just to see what was there. Broadway Market, which we visited last weekend, was all prepared and ready to eat food, Borough Market had a much greater mix of prepared and grocery foods. The walk there took us past a few of the buildings that worked in when I lived in London, back during the 1980s, which made me a bit nostalgic. After walking through the market we decided to have lunch at the Anchor Pub, which has been open since 1615. I used to work around the corner from it, and when I lived in London, I would often go there for lunch. After a nice lunch, we had some time to kill until me were meeting Abi & Laurens, so we continued down the south side of the Thames to Tate Modern Museum. We wandered around looking at the installations for about an hour, and to be truthful, I just don’t get it. I think I am going to give up on modern art museums, I just don’t understand why the pieces that they are showing are good art. Some are interesting to look at, but what makes them great art? After being thoroughly bewildered by the Tate, we walked back to meet Abi and Laurens for a drink and then headed back to our AirBnB. Back to back 10 mile days, my legs were tired.

Monday was a bank holiday in Great Britain, called August Bank Holiday (pretty clever huh?).  Unfortunately, we had to work, because none of our clients are British. Sue and I did yoga in the morning (as if my legs didn’t hurt enough) and we met Abi & Laurens for dinner our last dinner in the UK at a Jamaican place called Ma Petite Jamaica. The food was good and we had a nice, if a little melancholy time, knowing that this was our last night together for a while.

Steven neglects to mention that Sue went on a 4-mile walk on the Regents Canal to Camden Market. The walk was the goal, not the market. In fact, the market, which is pretty famous, has every type of food you could want and plenty of knickknacks, leather goods, souvenir junk, and jewelry. If you don’t mind crowds, it’s a fun visit. That’s where I found Amy Winehouse. It used to be a haven for punks and goths, but like everywhere else, it just seemed touristy and hipstery.

Just some random photos of London courtesy of Sue:

Tuesday morning, we took the Chunnel to Paris and Wednesday morning we flew back to Chicago.

The Chicago skyline from the window of our plane – the color is due to the tinting on the window:

Ground Control to Major Tom

This was our last weekend for this trip to Paris as we are heading to London next Saturday. Friday night we decided to try a Mexican restaurant near Montmarte cemetery in the 18th arrondissement.  The place had good reviews on Google but we are quite disappointed. The food was at best mediocre, the drinks were watery and the service was poor. Oh well, sometimes these things don’t work out. We decided on a whim to walk the 3 miles home. It was quite warm but the walk west into the setting sun was wonderful.

Saturday the temperatures were in the 90s Fahrenheit (about 34˚ C). We started the day by meeting a classmate from Sue’s time at Alliance Française and her partner for brunch. They chose the Maison Sauvage, which happens to be our local watering hole. We sat in the sunshine and had an enjoyable brunch.I really enjoyed seeing Lin again and meeting Jean Baptiste. They are very sweet. They recommended a museum called Musee Jacquemart Andre. After a short(ish) relax after brunch we put our walking shoes back on and walked over the museum. It is in a private mansion built by Edouard André and his wife Nélie. Mssr. André  was the only child of a very wealthy banking family during the Second Empire period (1852–70) and he and his wife spent their entire adult lives collecting art. The house and the art was amazing. One of the interesting things was that the reception rooms were quite grand, but the private chambers were relatively modest.

After we done wandering in the museum, we headed over the Parc Monceau and just sat on a bench and watched the world go by. The park was full of people enjoying the warm weather and hanging out in the park. Or perhaps they were sitting in the park because it cooler than sitting in their un-air conditioned apartments. Either way, it was very enjoyable. I like Parc Monceau because it’s not a tourist attraction. For the most part, it’s just Parisians hanging out. When the sun started to set we walked back to our apartment.

Somewhere Sue found an article about a place called Ground Control, which is sort of like an indoor/outdoor food court with some boutique shops in the 11th arrondissement right near Gare du Lyon. One of the food stands is run by refugees and they focus on food from their particular homeland. It sounded interesting when Sue described it, so we decided to walk the 5 miles (8Km or so) along the river to it on Sunday. Once again the weather was in the 90s (about 34˚ C), but there was a nice breeze blowing and it was somewhat overcast. The walk was great and we were certainly hungry when we arrived. Sue had a gazpacho that was a thick green soup and reminded me of pureed avocado (at least it looked like that) and a deep fried vegetable dish. I had Caribbean bbq chicken with coconut rice. Once again, we sat in the sunshine and enjoyed the atmosphere. We decided to take the Metro either because it was a really long tiring walk there and I … I mean we…couldn’t face a walk back, or it was supposed to rain soon. You decide the more likely reason.

Another fabulous weekend in Paris.

Re-bonjour Paris

Wow, it has been over a month since our last post. Sorry dear readers. We spent July in Chicago visiting our friends and family and so there didn’t seem to be much to write. We have a love/hate relationship with that city. What we love: our friends and family, the food, the food, the food, the parks are plentiful and beautiful, the lake front, the vibrant night life and of course, the food. What we hate…That winter is 9 months long. I used to say that Chicago in the summer is a Siren calling us to crash into the rocks. It is so beautiful, the weather is so nice, the food so good, the entertainment so plentiful for 2 months of the year. The rest of the year it is like living in a very large freezer.

Once the calendar page turned to August, it was time to hit the road again and return to Paris. We landed at De Gaulle on Monday morning and after a relatively short wait at immigration (the sign said less than 30 minutes, and it took us about 90) we hopped a cab and headed toward the apartment. We are once again cat sitting the fabulous, but ancient Seuss. Our friend sent us a video reminding us of the front door code, how the Dutch appliances work (Extra Drugge!), the alarm system codes and where to find the keys. We said hello to Seuss, unpacked and settled in.

It is amazing how quickly we fall back into a rhythm when we return somewhere. We headed to the Casino grocery store, the home of the infamous “We can’t get out” incident and picked up some necessities. We grabbed our favorite grocery cart (see pic) and walked over. It was as if we never left. Muscle memory knew where to go, the shop was familiar, yet still fun to wander through.

The cart we long for

A quick side note to let you know that France is suffering from a mustard shortage. Yes, as horrific as the rest of the world’s news is, it pales in comparison to the dreaded mustard shortage in France. When I read the article, I assumed it was overblown and while there might be a shortage, I wouldn’t have any trouble finding mustard. I was wrong. The Casino had no mustard!!!! It was terrible. I even screwed up my courage to ask someone in the store where the mustard was (où est la moutarde?). She kindly took me to the spot and pointed to an empty shelf. Hmm…This could be an issue, I thought to myself.

We only bought the absolute necessities today – milk for my coffee, salad fixings, cheese, some easy to make pasta for lunch, bread and of course a bottle of wine – we headed back to the apartment and had lunch.

After lunch we had our required jet lag nap and then got down to work. One of the nice things about being six hours ahead of New York is that we have the entire morning to do as we wish, and then just work in the afternoon and evening. I really like this schedule.

We had a simple dinner of salad, bread, cheese and wine. Afterwards we settled into the evening trying to stay awake until a reasonable hour. I tapped out at 10:30, Sue made it to about midnight.

Le Piston

Last year, we did not have any luck with the espresso maker, so we bought what we in the US call a French press, but which the French call a piston (say it in French, accent on the first syllable and more or less just hint at that last letter). However, this year, Sue quickly remembered how to work the giver of the sacred caffeine and on Tuesday morning we had great coffee in the morning. Thank you, Sue. (You’re welcome, although it really was mostly self-preservation.)

We ventured back to the grocery store during the day to pick up more necessities and then worked all day. Not exciting and I would have stopped the blog before it, but I wanted to get to Wednesday morning – so fast forward to Wednesday morning. We woke up late and headed down to the local farmers market. There are many of the them in Paris, and ours runs from the Musée national des arts asiatiques Guimet down a few blocks towards the Palais de Tokyo on the avenue du Président Wilson – Charles, I included this in case you wanted to look it up on Google Maps 😉.  At the very end of the market, is a Lebanese stand that has great falafel. So we wandered over there and bought a bunch of stuff (falafel, kibbeh, vegetarian kibbeh, Jerusalem salad, hummus, garlic sauce, pita) for a lunch. Well, actually lunches because I am not very good at portion control and we bought way too much. Oh well, we will eat it up. We also stopped at one of the vegetable stands and bought more fruit and veg.

The weather here is unseasonably hot. Today will reach 36˚C (96˚F), which is about 11˚C (19˚F) higher than normal. Our apartment has no air conditioning, but the high ceilings and a few fans keep the temperature reasonable. It gets cool at night – 18˚C (64˚F), so we sleep with the windows open. Lucky for us we are on the second floor (in the US this would be the third floor).

The rest of the week will likely be the same, out for a walk and errands in the morning, followed by work in the afternoon. We haven’t made any plans yet for the weekend, but I am sure we will do some fun things.

And finally – Just some random photos of Paris until we get out and get some of our own: