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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Before I go any further with this post, I want to emphasize that we feel that we are about the luckiest people on Earth. We are living our best life and no matter what the challenges, it’s really all just part of the fun.
So, when I tell you that we went to four different stores to buy aluminum foil, you will know that while it was a bit frustrating (especially since it was getting on lunchtime and Steven had a meeting coming up), it is also a funny story that gets added to our repertoire. Why is aluminum foil only found at the Carrefour? Not even the Carrefour Express? Maybe because North Americans and Europeans use foil, but not Argentinians? Who knows? Anyway, we bought two rolls, so there!
Today’s adventure involved Steven sending me out to buy meat. Ummm, soy vegetariana! I couldn’t find the place we originally went to, so I chose a different carnicería. The problem with that was, the meat didn’t look exactly the same and my limited Spanish really didn’t allow me to explain what I wanted the meat for (Sue! all you need to say is….Yo quiero el carne para mi esposo!). So, I pointed at something that looked like what Steven had already bought. This time, however, the meat was still in a giant hunk the butcher wanted to know how thick I wanted it. OK, yucky. I tried once again to match the slab Steven had at home so they would cook evenly. We still don’t know what the cut of meat is, but after Steven eats it, he’ll report.
I did fine at the farmacia y frutería, but at the wine shop, I had NO IDEA what the woman was saying. I just ended up telling her that I think I can speak Spanish, but I really can’t. Maybe if she had told me a story about Peppa la Cerda, I would have understood.
The issue with learning a language (aside from the plain difficulty) is that I always push myself into trying to speak in situations that are above my ability and then I feel incompetent. Yes, I know I am not, but I want to be fluent NOW!
And, speaking of learning Spanish: No me creo muy muy. Learn what that means with my friend Kenta!
Una otra cosa
Laundry! Ayayay. Here’s a word of advice: If the directions on the machine say, “Don’t put in more than 10 kilos,” you should listen. Nothing terrible happened, but 10 kilos is not a lot of laundry especially compared to the size of the tub. Also, jeans are heavy. And “air dry” means the machine is just going to spin some more. Maybe you want to stay close to a new washing machine just in case. Finally, ask the very lovely cleaner to leave you a drying rack from the secret, locked “limpiadoras solo” closet in the apartment.
Yes, friends, this is what our daily life is like. Going to the store and not understanding what we are buying and how much it costs, not being able to figure out the appliances (at least the stove is straight forward), and generally getting lost trying to do the simple things in life. This weekend, we are off to Iguazu Falls.
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.
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.
I have a new spreadsheet, I am so excited! We are now planning our next trip; seven months in South and Central America. We will be leaving in early October and expect to be back in early May. Our plan is to stay for six plus weeks in each place as that seems to give us time to settle in, get used to the place and find a routine. If we had more time (or fewer places we want to see) we would probably stay longer. Even at seven months, we are finding we do not have enough time to visit everywhere we want to go.
Our plan is actually starting at the end of June, when we decamp from Baltimore. It looks like this:
July – We are heading back to Chicago for one of the two months when you can reasonably hope that there won’t be snow to visit Sue’s family and all our Midwest-based friends. We are driving the (hopefully?) trusty 2006 Saab.
August – Our friend, Paul, from Paris, has asked us to cat sit for three weeks. Poor Seuss needs us, and we are not the kind of people to leave a cat without his favorite cat sitters. 😉. After Paul returns, we are going to take the train through the Chunnel and visit my daughter Abi, and perhaps (if we are deemed worthy) meet her boyfriend. We expect to spend about a week there, and I am sure we will be playing Dead Person Bingo at all the cool cemeteries and, of course, at Westminster Abbey. We are thinking we might visit Winnie the Pooh’s head and a few other odd museums if we have time. But mostly we are there to see Abi.
September – Our return flight is back to Chicago where we will pick up the (hopefully still working) Saab and drive to Washington, DC where we will be staying for the month. We will spend more time visiting with my son, our daughter-in-law and, of course, the grandbaby. We are also trying to decide if we like DC or the environs to settle there once we are done with our travels.
October and November we will be in Buenos Aires. We are once again hoping that the (perhaps still running) Saab will get us down to Florida, where we are storing the car for the duration of our trip. During our time in Argentina, we are planning to head to Brazil and meet my very intrepid mother who has decided that she is going to visit my Brazilian brother (short version of a long story is that Vitor was an exchange student in high school and lived with us, so he qualifies as family) and his family. It is her 85th birthday and I am just amazed at her bravery at making this trip. A special thanks to my sister, Judie, and Vitor’s daughter, Alice, who have agreed to play Passepartout to her Phineas Fogg. We also intend to visit Iguazu Falls, the wine region around Mendoza and perhaps cross over into Uruguay for a visit to Montevideo.
December and January – We plan to take a couple of weeks and go wandering in Patagonia. We will update with an itinerary once we have figured that out. The remainder of December and all of January we expect to spend in Santiago, Chile. That too is far enough out that we haven’t really wrapped our brains around what we will do with our time there, although I am pretty sure that we are going to spend a moment or two (or even more?) in the Chilean wine country.
February and most of March we will be in Peru. Once again it is pretty far out to have a firm plan in place, although we are in the process of booking a trip to Machu Picchu. Sue would prefer the four-day hike on the Inca trail. I would prefer to stay alive. So we have compromised and have found a trip that does a one-day hike and then you go on a train for the rest of the way. We are also thinking about going to Lake Titicaca, but have heard mixed reviews. If anyone has any thoughts on it, please let us know.
For our final stop, which will be for part of March and then all of April, we will return to Mexico City. We haven’t even thought about our plans for that yet. But we do have just a little bit of time.
I am hoping all my Spanish lessons will lead to my ability to have at least a first-grade level conversation with someone, somewhere on our travels!