~ 2017 ~
Another Winter in Argentina's Summer!

December 27, 2016
     "Where to this year, Harry?", "Where are you headed now?" are the questions that seem to start many conversations with friends and acquaintances each year as my typical departure date approaches and the weather gets colder at the tail end of the calendar. It appears that again this year, I have been granted another opportunity to explore the world and study another culture. I consider myself one, fortunate, ex-geography teacher!
     Where shall the adventure take me this winter? The ideas for these trips creep slowly up on me as I read, sleep, daydream, or watch the Travel Channel, beginning almost as soon as I return from my previous winter's adventure and a concept begins to form in my aged gray matter. In recent years I seem to develop a homesickness for places I have visited and enjoyed in the past. When I read or watch Bourdain, Rick Steves, or Zimmer, a germ of an idea seems to take hold. This year, that germ has blossomed into a back-to-Argentina desire, along with a semi-formed scheme to meander home through Ecuador, Columbia, Panama, and Costa Rica.
     Written in stone, meaning the airline ticket has been purchased, is the trip to Buenos Aires and spending the bulk of the winter (their summer) headquartered in the city often times called the Paris of South America. Surprise of surprises, my wife will accompany me for the first three weeks of the adventure. Joan has spent only five hours in Argentina many years ago during a layover on a flight to Uruguay to visit our son. The second of our two sons was on a military assignment in Montevideo, the nation's capital, and we traveled to visit him. Joan wanted to stay in the airport during the layover but, since neither of us had ever been to Argentina, I insisted on taking a cab into downtown Buenos Aires where we had a delicious lunch and a brief view of the city from the taxi window. That visit piqued my curiosity enough to bring me back on two extended winter holidays: one with Lorenzo, whom I had met in La Paz, Mexico, the previous winter, and the other with my friend, Schim, who seems to find me wherever I travel. This year, my wife can assist with my search for an apartment where I can "hole-up" for a couple of months while the scheme for the circuitous trip home continues to ferment in my gray matter.
     I will continue to write a blog of my adventures every few days, since a dwindling few of my friends still find it entertaining as they stay bundled up with hot toddies to fend off the winter ice and snow. You're invited to travel vicariously with me to the land of gauchos and great beef, while I try to survive the sometimes hot temperatures of Argentine summertime. Once again, I'll try to endure. Hasta luego!



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~ Photos Uploaded 1/30/17 ~

January 8, 2017 - Buenos Aires, Argentina
      One could say that this year's adventure began with a BANG, if one were willing to make light of another of what seems like daily shooting tragedies in our crazy world. We left home the night before we'd planned to avoid the forecast snow and icy conditions of the morning rush hour for our 10:00 a.m. Southwest flight to Fort Lauderdale, where we would need to transfer to Miami International to connect with our 5:40 departure on an evening Aerolineas Argentinas flight to Buenos Aires.
     All went well, the snow and ice arrived on schedule, and we had only a one mile drive on our hotel's shuttle to BWI. It is a beautiful thing when a plan comes together. As we waited for the baggage carousel to deliver our luggage at Lauderdale, however, all hell broke loose on the street outside the glass doors about 20 yards from where we stood. Ambulances, squad cars, swat team vans, all with sirens screaming and lights flashing, careened past armed officers on the run toward terminal 2, directly across the narrow street from terminal 1, the one assigned to Southwest Airlines. A crazed gunman had opened fire at the luggage carousel in terminal 2, killing five innocents and wounding eight more. He had flown Delta from Alaska, through Minneapolis to Delta's assigned terminal. Had he flown Southwest, someone else may have had to write the first and final chapter of this year's adventure.
     We got our bags and headed toward the light rail that we'd hoped would carry us inexpensively to the Miami airport. Police vehicles and ambulances blocked the streets and sidewalks. Fortunately, we passed a limo stand that had one vehicle remaining parked along the curb. Worried about a delay causing us to miss our evening flight and unsure if other shooters were in the area, as were the police at that point, I booked what was probably the last vehicle that could get us out of the place. The airport was then closed for 18 hours. It may have been the best $80 I have ever spent.
     The limo driver, a young Venezuelan pharmacist and father of two, now a limo driver, whisked us to Miami International just in time to see heavily-armed and vested officers jumping out of arriving police vehicles to secure the second airport, unsure of the extent of the threat. Exciting stuff, albeit a tad unnerving! One gives thanks that the gunman booked Delta, else we could easily have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, like the other innocents. What a cowardly act!
     A long, nine-hour flight, complete with the expected bumps over the Andes Mountains, carried the new Airbus to the center of the runway at Ezeiza Airport, a mere fifteen minutes late at 4:45 a.m. (2:45 EST). The trip by cab to avoid the nightmare of two exhausted travelers battling ground transportation hassles while dragging awkward suitcases, brought us to the hotel where, for an extra $20, I had booked an early arrival, completely unaware of what that meant. Our room was ready, we climbed into the sack (I had slept only 20 minutes during the flight) and I was sound asleep by 7:00 a.m.  Welcome to Argentina!

January 9, 2017 - Buenos Aires, Argentina
     There is only a two-hour time difference between EST and Argentina, so I felt no jet lag from the flight. This old soldier is a morning person, however, so flying through the night to a 3:30 a.m. arrival (5:30 here), while catching only two, 10-minute naps, wore me out. Joan, the night owl, slept several hours aloft across two seats, but was still exhausted from the long day and the excitement of our travels. We both collapsed on the giant, super-king-sized bed and slept four or five hours. We lunched at a favorite restaurant of mine, then began the process of looking for realtors and checking less expensive hotels to reduce expenses. We located a classy hotel on the giant, 16-lane, 9 de Julio Avenue and reserved a room for two nights beginning today. A king-sized bed, much marble, less square footage, but the price is just less than a third of what we're paying at our current location. It pays to shop and negotiate for hotel rooms!
     Rested from a second, afternoon nap and after dark, we strolled the Puerto Madero area along the canal adjacent to the muddy Plata River where we stopped for a drink in a Mexican restaurant/bar. Not that we were looking for margaritas, it was simply the spot where these old bodies ran out of gas in the sizzling, humid air. From the 18-degree temperature in Baltimore at take-off, we had plunged into Buenos Aires' very humid 95-degree mid-day in a matter of hours. The TV reported that the humidity made the temperature feel like 103 degrees and we agreed with that assessment. After a less-than-spectacular dinner and tango show at famous Cafe Tortoni, a four-block taxi ride in a tropical downpour that flooded our hotel entrance with knee-deep water which we skirted in water over our shoe tops, we had no trouble sleeping the night away, feeling fully recovered after our first, full day in Argentina.
     Sunday brought a visit to the Sunday art and craft market which surrounds the Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo and stretches tens of blocks in several directions. "We" shopped for gifts for what seemed like hours in air that was made much cooler by the previous night's downpour and overcast skies. After several purchases and intense comparison shopping, we taxied to the Recoleta neighborhood where we had a light lunch. A short walk across the street brought us to the famous cemetery that contains the much-visited grave of Eva Duarte Peron. I know personally that it is much visited since I have visited her tomb four times myself - first alone, then with Lorenzo, then with Schim, and now with Joan. By the time we found her in the maze of huge tombs, a 10-person line of tourists waited reverently to take their photos of the site.
     Another afternoon nap, which seems to be the ticket here to avoid hot, mid-day temps, and we dined at another favorite restaurant of mine, Rio Alba, near the American embassy where the mixed grill for two, served on a charcoal grill is mounded high with enough beef to literally feed five, starving gauchos. After returning to the hotel in yet another, inexpensive taxi, we completed a walk that stretched to six blocks to help burn the calories accumulated from the beef and nice bottle of Malbec that we had consumed. The crepe-filled, dulce de leche dessert hadn't helped reduce the calorie intake and the walk did little to help. We rolled into bed and I was out in a minute. Now, time to pack and roll to a different hotel. Hasta luego!

January 12, 2017 - Buenos Aires, Argentina
     I know; I know. It's been a few days since my last update, but things they are a popping south of the equator. We changed hotels on Monday, moving to a smaller, but adequate spot that saved us $100/day. We stayed two more nights in the center of the city, this time directly on 9 de Julio Avenida, the huge thoroughfare that I estimated in my last update as having 16 lanes. Actually, what has to be the widest street in the world has 20 lanes for traffic. Humongous! Our corner room overlooked an intersection that made an accurate count possible; it also helped to walk across the thoroughfare a couple of times (10 lanes at a time, then a red light). Young folks dash across and can barely reach the far side without a stop.
     Working frantically to find an apartment for a more permanent location, but running into a weekend and a changing real estate market made the job more complicated. In years past I simply walked into a realtor's office, described what I was looking for, and was driven to view potential rentals. Enter Airbnb.com, HomeAway.com, VRBO.com, and other online realtors and the game has changed. I'm picturing today's vacation realtors sitting in their pj's in their homes in air-conditioned splendor, an empanada or two on a plate on their desk, a cold cerveza in hand, and responding to those shoppers looking at photos they have provided on their website . After getting assistance from the sweet desk clerk at our first hotel, she put me in touch with Aloja Buenos Aires.com and I finally got to speak to a human being. She couldn't leave the office on Saturday morning to show apartments, however, because she was alone (Ha, I could hear the pajamas rustling and could almost smell the empanadas). I started once again, like I had done quite a few nights at home, to research apartments on the 'net.
     Finally, finally, I found a place we both found attractive at a reasonable price. Owned by an American banker from Utah, the small studio apartment fit the bill. A little small for the two of us, it will be perfect for me when Joan returns home and is much larger than the second hotel from which we taxied on Wednesday. A quaint, very safe (like I find most in this city) neighborhood called Las Canitas, it is a little far from the city's center, but the neighborhood (barrio) is full of restaurants and cafes providing varying menus within a couple minute's walk. No washer and dryer this year, but we just returned from the laundry one block away. Handy grocery stores, a produce shop around the corner, and only a few blocks from the subway, should make this a great location. The only shortcoming so far appears to be a paucity of banking options nearby. Getting cash has been something of a challenge. The ATMs will only allow a $133/day withdrawal, which didn't initially appear to be a problem. In the city's center, most restaurants accepted credit cards; in this barrio, however, the restaurants we have tried so far (one breakfast, one lunch, and dinner) accepted cash only. With taxis for transportation, cash only for today's city tour ($30/ea), laundry, beef and wine, and stocking up on incidentals, it has been tough to keep sufficient cash on hand to escape the anxiety of being broke at the wrong time. At lunch today, for instance, when the tango dancers (drop-dead gorgeous, she was) and the guitar players passed the hat in La Boca, I was uncertain if I tipped too much that I could afford to reclaim our laundry or pay the cabbie for the short ride home. Ahh, the stress of it all!
     By now, Joan has paid her respects to Evita, shopped the Sunday art and craft market of San Telmo, and toured the city, just today reaching the colorful La Boca barrio, an old port with bright, multi-hued houses, many with metal siding. Sitting on the uncovered second level of the bright yellow tourist bus without sun block was ill-advised, however. Joan appears burnt on her neck and shoulders and I am suffering a fool's forehead and arm scalding. I brought a golf hat for just this purpose and expected to return to the hotel after breakfast to retrieve the sombrero. Joan had other plans and we left right after breakfast with the brilliant thought crossing my mind, "ah, I'll be OK; I'll just stay in the shade." NOT!  Hasta luego!

January 15, 2017 - Buenos Aires, Argentina
     I have a beef with these Argentinians!! No, not a complaint, but I have, no doubt, eaten an entire side of beef in the mere week that I have been in this country. After last night's meal, where the steaks looked the size of a full rib roast, I need to find another kind of animal to eat. The wife of an American couple from Idaho sitting at the table next to us in the tiny parrilla (wood-fired grill) commented, "I was raised on a cattle ranch and never saw a steak cut this big!"  All the steaks served were four to six inches thick, I swear. Fortunately, I had done some research on this restaurant that included a warning on portion size and that, combined with a full Italian meal at lunch, enabled me to insist on splitting a steak with my wife. She ordered only a side ramekin of au gratin cabbage that also contained a few peas and some broccoli. Vegetables are not commonly served with entrees, so the presence of cabbage on the menu excited her. Our lone, rib-eye steak was a slab of meat that filled us both, but Paula and her fellow-Idahoan, Rotarian husband, Drew, did a rather remarkable job cleaning up most of the huge chunk of cow that was placed ceremoniously in front of them. Suffice it to say, despite the great flavor and perfectly-cooked muscle that we consumed last night, I am beefed out! I now wholeheartedly agree with the Holstein from the Chick-fil-A commercial that exhorts us to, "Eat Mor Chikin!!”
     Activities have been a little sparse the past few days as we recuperate from moves, packing and unpacking each time, from home to two hotels and then to this apartment where we could finally fully unpack. We received an email from my friend, Lorenzo, and his lovely, Argentinian wife, Graci, apologizing for being incommunicado for a couple weeks. They had been having computer woes and were also busy renovating an apartment they hope to rent to tourists to help with cash flow. We're hoping to get to see them before my wife heads home, but everybody's lives are busy these days and it may not happen, but we can hope.
     The weekend was spent eating beef, of course, and also tiptoeing into the city's transportation system. We took the subway downtown on Saturday but, with the escalator and elevator not working, the three sets of stairs to enter and exit the tube make subway travel a distant third choice for moving around the city. Buses take no cash, so one needs to buy a ticket from corner stores or tobacco shops. That requirement complicates travel on Sundays when almost all of those shops are closed. So, on Sunday the only place to buy a bus ticket is down three flights in the subway. Perhaps, you can see the problem with that system, although the locals had no problem, having figured out that idiosyncrasy years ago. Since we were already below ground on Sunday, we purchased a ticket good for buses or the subway (we thought) and headed back to Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo for another round of shopping the art and craft fair. Suffice it to say, this was not my first choice of a Sunday activity, but I endured.
     When returning home we learned that neither of the tickets we had purchased at the subway ticket window had cash remaining, though I was clearly informed that the tickets could be used round-trip and on the bus or subway. Drat! Embarrassing, but a local Good Samaritan stepped up and used his pass to get us safely aboard. Another male passenger inquired about our destination, conferred with the driver, suggested the right stop for us, and asked the driver to inform us when to exit the bus. That passenger, like several cabbies before him, when he learned we were Americans, inquired about our view of Donald Trump. Our less than enthusiastic response seemed to concur with his and their perceptions. The Portenos, the name residents call themselves since Buenos Aires began as a port city, are friendly, helpful to tourists, and pretty knowledgeable about world affairs. Let's hope that they, too, are wrong and our next president surprises us. Adios!

January 18, 2017 - Buenos Aires, Argentina
     Bummer!! Two days before leaving on this year's trip, I completed a test at the hospital for my gastroenterologist who did not receive the results until after I had departed. Expecting a normal outcome, I told the doctor's nurse of my plans and that it would be difficult to reach me by phone, so I would call. I finally got to talk with the doctor yesterday afternoon and, apparently, I flunked the test. I guess I should have studied for it a little harder. The doctor recommended that I return home when my wife returns at the end of this month and undergo abdominal surgery to examine and remove the "suspicious spot" found on my innards.
     To say I'm disappointed would be putting it mildly, as far as this year's trip is concerned. Having never had surgery other than one laparoscopic, meniscus knee repair and cataract surgery so simple that I hardly missed a beat, I must say that abdominal surgery ranks way above any frightening experiences I have ever faced in my travels. The rigors of getting old are not for the faint of heart, so I've got to "suck it up" and have at it. That I'll do. In the meantime, I'll still try to update occasionally as my wife and I try to enjoy what is left of our time in Argentina.
     I have talked to the landlord of this lovely studio apartment and he was most understanding. Yesterday, I managed to get a ticket on the same flight to Miami as my wife, albeit at an exorbitant price. We will need to fly from there to Harrisburg on different flights, but arrive in PA within 15 minutes of one another. The arrangements have been made, now to get my mind wrapped around the whole process. Hasta luego.

January 21, 2017 - Buenos Aires, Argentina
     We have been on a busy schedule since I last updated, except for the past couple of days when we both battled the annual visit from Montezuma and didn't stray far from home. The battle continues into day three and I finally weakened and decided to try the medication route this morning. We went on a couple day trips, one before Montezuma made his appearance, that to El Tigre where the Parana River enters the Rio de la Plata in a huge delta. That visit required bus, train, and boat transportation to see the homes built on stilts, resorts, beaches, and sporting activities that make the area a water-centered destination reminiscent of Venice, Italy. We had lunch at a lovely restaurant, Gato Blanco, on the water where Schim, then Lorenzo and I had dined before. The trip to the restaurant took an hour by boat with various stops along the way to drop and pick up locals and tourists headed for their vacation on the muddy water. The locals were going and coming to the town of Tigre for business, shopping, or recreation. Getting to Tigre and back on the bus, then coastal train was a challenging experience made much easier by the friendly locals eager to assist these sometimes, obviously-confused touristas.
     On another stay-close-to-home trip we visited MALBA, the Latin America Museum of Modern Art which was featuring a collection of Brazilian art. It was interesting, but I must say I enjoyed the works of Andy Warhol that were being displayed on my last visit there with Lorenzo. Schim has never visited MALBA because I had learned of his severe allergy to museums in Mexico City and feared his intellectual exposure.
     We have also shopped at the Jumbo grocery store and Easy, a store similar to our Lowes. The trips to those stores that are larger than their counterparts in our country (yes, larger) demonstrated some significant differences in the way people do business here in Argentina. No free plastic bags, for example. If you want a bag, plastic or re-usable, there is a fee. It seems pretty effective, since I have observed many fewer bags blowing around on the streets. On a return trip, Joan went almost ballistic as the seated, check-out clerk attempted to charge her for the re-usable bag we had purchased on our prior visit. I mention the clerks being seated because Joan was astounded that was common here. Seems they are not permitted to do that at home (who knew?).
     The last, stay-close trip to the grocery brought an adventure attempting to purchase chicken broth. That'll fix Montezuma, a little chicken broth! Not so fast; even with the help of a customer service rep, we could find no cans of broth. This after what seemed to me to be hours of searching the shelves. I may have a shopping allergy similar to Schim's museum malady. We ended up with an instant, reduced-sodium, foul-tasting, chicken, ramen noodle soup and a box of chicken bullion cubes. I sense no fear in Montezuma at this point. With apologies to the descendants of the great Aztec king, Montezuma, Hasta luego!

January 25, 2017 - Colonia Del Sacramento (commonly called Colonia), Uruguay
     A three-day, two night trip to Montevideo and Colonia, Uruguay, provided a mini-adventure to this year's Argentinian getaway. A huge, luxurious, almost-new, catamaran ferry carried us diagonally across the mouth of the always-muddy Mar del Plata River to the capital of Uruguay in just over two hours. The propane-powered ship with more classes of seating and much more comfort than any of today's airliners had a large duty-free shopping area in which to browse, a salon with cafe tables and chairs in which to enjoy a drink from one of the bars, snack bars, huge, spotless bathrooms (heads), plush, wide, reclinable seats, at least thirty across in our cabin, and large windows through which to watch the freighter traffic lined up and waiting their turn to enter Argentina's largest port. It was a smooth, delightful trip.
     So smooth and delightful was it that I never saw the very obvious money exchange (cambio) offices near the duty-free shopping area where I could have acquired some Uruguayan pesos to ease our entry into the new nation. Call it nationalistic jealousy or pride, Uruguay businesses, like taxis, restaurants, and hotels do not accept Argentinian currency. We had stopped on the way to the port to stock up on accessible cash, thinking we could use it to buy Uruguayan pesos or use the Argentinian money instead. We disembarked the ship with nary a dime of Uruguayan legal tender and jumped into a cab for a longer ride to our hotel than I anticipated. When paying the fare and having my Argentinian pesos rejected, I had to scramble to recover the $40 of American cash I had hidden in my under-the-pants wallet where, for safety reasons, I also carry the bulk of my local cash and my credit cards. Fortunately, Uruguay businesses do accept our greenbacks.
     Eight bucks, including tip, but who knew what rate the cabbie gave me, and I was down to $32. It wasn't life or death, since I always keep a cache of big bills in the money belt that holds up my pants, but what cabbie or restaurant was going to break a hundred? The desk clerk told me not to worry, that there were banks only three blocks away. We walked to three banks and none of their ATM's would spit out a peso of my money. I finally assume after a long walk and much frustration that I exceeded my daily limit when I stocked up on the Argentinian pesos on the other side of the river and I was stuck with $32 and a few un-cashable Franklins until the next day.
     We now needed to be certain that we selected a restaurant that accepted credit cards; many of the smaller, less-expensive ones do not. We headed with the desk clerk's guarantee that the finest Italian restaurant in town accepted Visa cards. What he didn't say was how interminably long the cab ride would be to get there, though the cabbie readily accepted my two, five dollar bills as payment of my fare. If you're counting with me, I'm now down to $22 and this is starting to get stressful.
     They did accept Visa, but here, as in Buenos Aires, the tip is never put on the card; it is always left in cash. The $22 would have been a generous, though not exorbitant tip, but then, how to get home?? The restaurant would not change the $20 bill, so I could have left a little tip and had enough cash to pay the cab fare, so it was obvious they couldn't have changed a Franklin ($100) either. Now what? I called the head waiter to the table explaining my plight and he, of the starched underwear and stiff, upper lip, told me not to worry about it. A tip was not required and, though I knew that wait staff in most Latin countries are paid a living wage before tips (propinas), I still felt awful. I apologized profusely and they were most gracious. I had them call for a cab, comfortable that the cash remaining could cover the fare. Somehow, with currency fluctuations and cabbie integrity variations, the midnight, more-rapid trip back to the hotel was $12. After a three dollar bottle of water for the room at the hotel bar when we got back, I went to bed with seven bucks in my pocket and a few Franklins in my belt.
     My morning trip back to the ATM was equally unsuccessful and I was, and still am bewildered as to why I could get no cash. I had deduced that my withdrawal of Argentinian currency before boarding the ferry had exceeded my bank's limit for the day, but this was a different 24-hour period. Hmmm. Being flexible, I undid my belt, extracted a C-note, and sold the $100 for Uruguayan pesos at the corner Cambio (money exhange). Note that my pants did not fall down and I have used the proceeds to pay the cabbie for the ride to the bus terminal, purchase two bus tickets from Montevideo to Colonia, a couple of sodas to pass the time awaiting bus departure, a sandwich and a couple bottles of water for the trip, and the short taxi ride from the bus terminal to this hotel. There are still a pocketful of pesos left. $100 worth of Uruguayan pesos goes a long way in this country.  Adios.

January 28, 2017 - Buenos Aires, Argentina
     Vacation days are winding down and it is soon time to pack the bags, suck it up, board the silver bird, and head home to face the music of frigid temperatures and medical appointments. We have adapted to the Portenos lifestyle, riding buses more often than taxis, napping in the heat of the afternoon, eating beef on alternate days, sleeping later than usual (7:00 a.m. for me, 9:00 or so for Joan), and delaying our departure for dinner until almost 9:00 p.m. Last night, our entrees were served at 10:00 p.m., but the night of the cash confusion on our first night in Uruguay, the entrees finally arrived in front of us at 11:00 p.m. and people were still arriving at the restaurant, some with young children. Yep, we've pretty much assimilated into the Latin culture of Argentina and Uruguay.
     Joan has really enjoyed the relief from her duties at Woman's Club, church, the Condo Association, caring for her aging mother and household chores, but she did admit that she would have preferred to avoid the initial apartment search, the early language acquisition skills, and the transportation bugaboos, which she claimed caused the stress I exhibited when we first arrived. I expect that, should there be future adventures, she will delay her arrival until I am completely familiar with my surroundings. That, I guess, would be called a really soft adventure. She is doing remarkably well in language acquisition herself, now ordering from the menu in restaurants, and laughing at my jokes in Spanish at the expense of cabbies and restaurant wait staff.
     Speaking of food - well, you were thinking about it, I'm certain - the beef has been spectacular, the Italian restaurants, owned and some manned by Italian immigrants, like dining in Rome, and surprise, surprise, the pizza has been great. I'm not a big pizza fan, but a quality, thin-crusted, Margarita pizza can get my attention. The Morelia restaurant, literally across the narrow street from our apartment, gives you a choice of two crusts: one so thin (called parrilla which, from its name, they must cook on the grill) that you could read the New York Times crossword puzzle through it. Scrumptious! Wait, I forgot the wine! We have had some wonderful wines, Malbec, Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Torrontes. Because of the late hour of dinner, we have been drinking more white wine which seems to be more agreeable to our gastro-intestinal tracts.
     Since our return from Uruguay, we have visited the Japanese Garden, a tranquil respite from the bustle of this cosmopolitan city, visited different barrios of the city for lunch, rested, read, written, and prepared for Sunday's all day visit to a working estancia (cattle ranch) with live gaucho demonstrations and, what else?, a huge, mixed-beef grill lunch. We have not watched TV since unsuccessfully surfing for programs in English on our first day or two in the apartment. After disembarking from the ferry and for the full day in Colonia, we have enjoyed four full days of San Diego-like temperatures that have made the air-conditioner unnecessary. We have slept with the sliding glass door open from our small balcony, the screen in place to ward off the Zika monsters we have not seen, and a beautiful breeze wafting periodically over our single-sheet, covered bodies. Hasta Pronto.

January 30, 2017 - Buenos Aires, Argentina
     Yesterday (Sunday): The Day of the Gaucho!! I booked a tour on the internet several days ago using Viator, a company with which I was completely unfamiliar, so I was a bit apprehensive as Joan and I waited outside our apartment at 8:30 a.m. I need not have worried. At 8:45, a white, almost-new, air-conditioned, 15-passenger van pulled down our narrow street in Las Canitas with a bi-lingual tour guide, Pablo, looking out the windshield in search of his clients. I had completed the on-line form with the address (direccion) in Spanish where I thought it would be better understood and, by golly, it had worked! There we were climbing on board, the first step almost caused nose bleed, to meet the other two passengers, Miriam and Renee, Cuban-Americans now from Miami, but recently re-located there from Washington, DC. Miriam spent her career at the International Monetary Fund and Renee was a tax accountant who walked with a cane after a recent, second, lengthy hip surgery. What a trooper he was, climbing in and out of the van, an even-higher, horse-drawn carriage, and walking across the uneven ground of the Estancia (ranch) El Ombu de Areco! No medical condition was going to keep him from sightseeing in Argentina and continuing with a cruise with a group of friends around Cape Horn. They had arrived in Buenos Aires only the evening before.
     It took us an hour and a half, with one rest stop, to reach the town of San Antonio de Areco, in the pampas (flat land) northwest of the nation's capital. A 15-minute stroll around the town I had visited with my California buddy, Lorenzo on another visit to this country, the one where he met his gorgeous Argentinian wife, Graciela, and we headed out of town. Four miles down a dusty, dirt road led us to the Estancia, a working cattle ranch and the reason I selected this tour, more expensive than several other similar tours to "fake" estancias where the gauchos were probably movie extras. These gauchos were the real deal and their work on horseback and with the other horses at the ranch was awesomely authentic.
     Upon disembarking the van, we sat in the shade of a tree on the lawn of the large, beautiful, columned, main home, had a cold drink of our choice (Cokes for us), and were served fresh, lightly-fried (the country way) empanadas filled with savory, ground beef. Never have I tasted a better empanada!! Four of us consumed eight or ten of these spectacular pastries and I, for one, could have made a meal of the scrumptious appetizers. Then, we toured the parrilla room, where the grilling of the meal had begun and the wood-fired grill blasted us with heat. An entire lamb carcass was sprawled on one side of the grill, chicken had just been placed on the other side, and strips of beef hung from the front of the waist-high pit. We hurried away from the delicious odors because of the intensity of the heat, and climbed aboard a carriage drawn by two, large, white horses for a ride around the ranch on other dusty roads. Sheep and cattle, mostly a hairy breed of Angus, grazed in fields of grass, but crops of soy beans and corn, grown to feed the animals, were also prominent. On almost every other fence post, a raptor (a brown and white hawk of some kind) perched, waiting for a meal to be exposed by the feet of the grazing animals. Castro, our tough-as-nails gaucho, drove the large carriage that could have held six more people on the plank seats that stretched front to back in the wagon. He described in enthusiastic Spanish and great detail the activities of the estancia. I understood about 20 percent of what he explained, Joan understood nothing, but Renee and Miriam understood everything they could hear on the noisy ride. We laughed often and had a great time, thanks to the warm personality of the slight, handsome gaucho. Pictures to follow.
     We returned to the ranch house and, following the arrival of a bus with 25 or so American and German tourists, walked to a two-seat high, makeshift grandstand overlooking a pasture with knee-high grass for a demonstration of gaucho horsemanship. Managing a herd of seven horses, one for each day of the week, needed in years gone by when they traveled great distances while working, a single gaucho controlled his herd by leading one (a female) while the others, all geldings, followed closely without lines, but herded by an unnecessary, over-eager, Australian, herding dog that nipped at their heels. Displays of gaucho games - musical chairs, an aggressive game of polo with a rope-handled, soccer ball, and an awesome, "catch the ring on a stick while at full gallop" - entertained everybody. All the events were explained by our guide Pablo, who spent a couple years working at Disney World in Orlando to polish his English.
     From the pasture, we adjourned to the front porch of the main house, where a meal for the ages was served us, accompanied by any drink you desired, including unlimited bottles of a delicious Malbec (though that may be redundant). Led by Miriam and Renee, we acquitted ourselves very well with the Malbec, finishing three bottles among us. Seems a lot, but the libations were necessary to wash down the three salads - greens, tomato and cucumber, and a tasty rice salad with carrots - that preceded the serving of the MEAT. Served by the gauchos themselves, four men and two women, the meat course began with spectacular chorizo and the morcilla (blood sausage) that I love so much. That was followed by chicken (I passed), lamb, scrumptiously tasting of the wood on which it was grilled, and as much as you could eat and, finally, the beef for which this country is so famous. Several cuts were served before the "piece de resistance," the lomo or filet mignon. I won't even try to describe the quality of the meat we were served. It was that good and that tender! We were full to the brim, but managed to force the small, three-flavored ice cream dessert we were then served.
     Back down the three steps to the front lawn, no easy feat after that large a meal and that much wine, we took seats while the staff (gauchos and kitchen help) presented the folk music and dance enjoyed by gauchos for many, many years. They encouraged, no, almost demanded, participation and, because the large tour bus had departed early, we were the participants. Yes, Joan, Miriam, and I all danced while Renee used his hip as an excuse. All that food, all that wine, and there I was, tripping the light fantastic with a gorgeous, smiling, brown-skinned wife (and new mother) of one of the gauchos smiling nearby, but carrying the huge gaucho skinning and butchering knife in his belt at the small of his back. I smiled, too, and danced the gaucho dance!
     We drove straight home, but laughed and talked politics all the way back. We'll certainly try to reconnect with Miriam and Renee in the future, especially since they have a granddaughter who is a TV reporter in York, PA, just across the river from us at home. What a day! I highly recommend a visit to Estancia El Ombu de Areco! The visit was worth every penny and generated memories that will last a lifetime! Adios!

~ Photos Uploaded 1/30/17 ~

February 3, 2017 - Lancaster, PA
     Home Sweet Home! It took 24 hours from apartment door in Buenos Aires to the condo door at home to make the move, but home we are, only a little worse for the wear. A little more than 12 hours aloft in conditions tighter than those in which we would permit people to house animals, but the flights were smooth, the take-offs and landings professionally managed, and we are home safe and sound. It was a great vacation, though significantly abbreviated for me, and we thank the Argentinian and Uruguayan people for their hospitality.
     It was exciting to see the countries through the eyes of my wife who was really visiting Argentina for the first time. Highlights of the trip, discerned from the light in her eyes and the smiles on her face, were fivefold, not in ranked order:
    1. The day trip to El Tigre, the cruise and lunch on the Parana River that created the huge delta where it enters the Rio de la Plata.
    2. Shopping the endless booths (three times) of the Sunday flea and craft market, spreading tentacle-like down the narrow streets near Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo.
    3. A day in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, where we rented a golf cart to tour the quaint, riverside, World Heritage Site with its many stone walls, cobble-stoned streets, and old buildings.
    4. The day of the gaucho where we traveled to visit the Estancia El Ombu de Areco, a working cattle ranch, and got up close and personal with the skilled, personable gauchos and their steeds.
    5. The food and wine, notably the world famous beef, the Malbec, and the sweet, dulce de leche. We knew we had adopted the lifestyle and the diet when, on the day following the humongous meal with the gauchos, we went to a parrilla (grill) for lunch and both ordered, what else, another great steak!
     I apologize for abandoning those of you who planned to follow along all winter but, trust me, I can get a doctor's excuse. I hope you learned a little about South America from my trip and that you get the opportunity to visit Argentina and Uruguay on your own. Who knows, after some medical attention, perhaps I'll be granted another winter to travel and explore.  Adios!

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