Monthly Archives: February 2011

Like I need more encouragement

The New York Times Travel Show was held this past weekend at the Javits Center. I went on Sunday and now the wheels in my head are spinning to decide where to visit next!

Iceland has been at the top of the list for some time – plus their economy tanked so it’s a bargain destination. If you eliminate the Galapagos, Ecuador is also a good bargain against the dollar. Nicaragua is up and coming. Spain and Portugal weren’t in attendance but a return to Spain has been on the list for a while. Egypt had a booth and it will be a great bargain when they stop being in the news.

And if I decide to stay in the country, Maine, Oregon, the Gulf Coast and the Carolinas all seem like good places to visit.

I could go on and on and on…there’s really no where I wouldn’t consider.


Dinnertime or bedtime?

While I loved Argentina, the hardest thing to get used to was dinner time. 9pm seemed like the early bird special.

One night we were ordering dessert just before  11pm and a family with two young children had just been seated. By the time we left, they had already ordered, and received their proper meals. And by the sound of their conversation, they were definitely locals.

I’m sure as a foreigner if you lived there, or were traveling longer, the late hour of dinner would be easier to get used to, but that was the hardest adjustment we had to make on our trip. I’m not complaining but as we did not do much sleeping in, it was definitely the hardest thing to get used to.

So much so that we ate bigger lunches when we could, and something light, like ice cream, or a cheese plate, for dinner!

I purposely scheduled this post for 9pm EST…which is 11pm local Argentina time…and the Argentines usual dinner time hour.


A Family History

I had traveled to Argentina with a copy of my great grandma’s birth certificate from 1908 as she was born in BsAs. I had hopes that I would be able to trace some of my family history as there was a number imprinted on the barely legible birth certificate. I was hoping that number would be the key to getting information.
I had told one of the guys at our B&B what I was hoping to find out and he directed us to the national office of registering people. Once in line at that government office, I was able to tell the worker in Spanish what I was looking for but I didn’t understand his response. He asked his office if anyone spoke English and a girl hesitated but came over, and in nearly perfect English, she told me where we needed to go…to another government office just a few blocks away.

This second office was a much bigger office than the last. It was a mix of City Hall, the DMV and any government office you dread going to. Crowds of people in the waiting area were waiting for their numbers to be flashed on the electronic board to determine which counter they needed to go to. Happy couples were outside taking pictures as they had just gotten married.

I explained in Spanish what I was looking for. After five minutes, he told me to talk in English. First, he told me that he could only get me a copy of the birth certificate – which I would have to come back for in two weeks. Which was great, because the original is tattered and taped together. I mean it IS over 100 years old. But I was determined, and I had the number on the birth certificate, which had to mean SOMETHING to SOMEONE and just getting a copy of the original was just not going to be good enough for me.

So he talked to another woman and they told me to go see Mercedes on the fourth floor. I was concerned about getting past security since we have no other documentation other than being told to go to the fourth floor. This was not a problem because there was NO security. We walked right to the elevator that held only three people at a time – literally. We had four and someone had to get off.

There were no nameplates on the doors so we had to knock on a few doors to find Mercedes. She spoke ZERO english, except for the word happy because thats what she made me….BECAUSE…

After 20 minutes of explaining what I wanted and her giving me a little history of immigration — NO paperwork for those that came to Argentina. NONE. There are no Ellis Island-like records, no boat they came on, country they came from, NOTHING. The only records were for babies born there, and even that has a loop hole. They only kept records in the early 1900s and only for men. Once Evita came into play and what she did for women, only then did they start keeping records for women. That was in the 1950s.

After this very informative history lesson, in Spanish, Mercedes took the birth certificate and told us to come back in one hour, at 2pm – her siesta time. We werent sure what she was going to show us but I was hopeful, boyfriend was doubtful. We went for a coffee (yes, I even drank coffee on this trip!) and we had no idea what we were going to get.

We went back to her office at 2pm. She gave us a copy of the hand written document of a verbal recount from my great grandma’s dad that must have been pulled from a book of records. He had to to come to that same government building and tell his story with two witnesses. It tells us that my great grandma was born the day before. It tells us she was born in the house, with the address, and the time of birth. It tells us my great grandma’s parents names and ages. It tells us their parents names and it tells us where they came from. And it is signed by my great grandma’s dad and the two witnesses.

The apartment building was not far from where we were so we took a walk over. It is a main street, and near the water. The building looked old. Probably refinished but it easily could have been a building from back then. The McDonald’s next door, probably was not there then 😉 From the plaques on the building it looked like a lot of law firms are in the building now. My new best friend Mercedes told me a lot of immigrants settled there because of commerce and it was near the water. Later, immigrants moved to other parts of the city, but it’s not likely there is any paperwork to know where.

So the only info they have on women before the 50s was the birth certificate and this verbal recount at the office where her dad had to explain his past and that he had a new baby in the house. Literally.

Awesome find. I told her that we didn’t have much information and I was so excited to share with my grandma, so she said the information would be ‘un regalo por su abuela’ (a gift for my grandmother). Then, I couldn’t think of the word so I said in ‘bad grammar Spanish’ that she made me very, and then I smiled and pointed to my mouth, and she uttered the only English word I think she knew – happy.


Vendors venden en el subte

People sell stuff on the subway everywhere. Here in New York, I’ve been asked to buy movies, batteries and chocolate. On the subte (subway) in Buenos Aires, we were asked to buy children’s books, flashlights, coffee, pens and pencils. I think they are more trusting there.

The children’s book seller actually handed out the childrens books to everyone in the subway car, and then came back to collect money, or take back the book. Everyone on the train that was handed a book actually thumbed through it and it looked like they had some sort of interest. The stops between stations were not long distances but people who did not make a purchase were very honest about returning the goods before disembarking the train. The seller did well in the train car we were on.

In all the time I have been in New York, I have never seen a seller hand anything out, unless money had already exchanged hands.

The pen and pencil guy did not hand anything out in advance of a sale. And yes he was selling them individually.

The coffee guy was hilarious. Literally he was walking around with a shoulder bag with cups – taped together with duct tape and he had this ‘tool belt’ contraption that held a few canisters. Some canisters were full of coffee, others held milk and sugar. It was hot, the guy next to us ordered one and you could see the steam. The coffee guy moved fast and people were buying.

In case you were wondering, the coffee guy sold a whole lot more than the pen and pencil guy.


Size 1, 2 or 3

Something I noticed in Argentina was body shape. Young or old, we saw very few heavy people.

Shopping in the stores we found out that clothes came in three sizes – 1, 2 and 3 for small, medium and large. Funny how in the States, we have several sizes for each.

It’s interesting because Argentina has by far the highest consumption of beef. And mayonnaise. Every time we sat down for a meal, something we ordered was accompanied by a side of flavored mayo. It tasted REALLY good, so I am sure it’s not healthy mayo.

Mayo

We were served breakfast in each place we stayed, which was typically, croissants, toast, yogurt and a selection of meats and cheeses. In the last place we stayed we were offered omelettes. I was nervous because I wasn’t starving as I had grown accustomed to the Argentine breakfast. I was expecting something you’d get from Denny’s so I said please make mine small, with only one egg.

He must have thought I was crazy because when they all came out, they were all made with one egg, maybe two. It was simply a scrambled egg folded over. Which was fine. Funny what we expect coming from the States.

This is why sizes 1, 2 and 3 work just fine outside of the United States.


Step away from the desk

There’s SO more to life than a desk job and 9 to 5. 

While traveling you get the chance to meet so many people who make a living doing what they love. Their offices are boats, glacier, the street and their homes.

There are guides who spend 4 days a week trekking on glaciers in El Calafate, there is a lovely couple who takes up to 6 people out on their boat on the Tigre Delta, just outside of BsAs, 5 days a week. There’s a guy who started his own walking tour business on the streets of Buenos Aires – he runs 2 tours a day, every day. Ushuaia is the world’s southern most city and it’s the embarkation point for people to leave on Antarctic cruises. Tour guides there took us on boat tours, hiking trips, and penguin tours. 

And let’s not forget the hospitality of the people who run bed and breakfasts – inviting perfect strangers into their home.

The other thing about working and living in the US of A is that we are the laughing stock of everyone due to our vacation days. Two weeks. Pathetic. One man from Italy told me it’s our own fault. He’s right. He told me we, as a country, should stand up and demand an increase in vacation days. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have any pull until the economy shapes up. Isn’t it ironic that the people charged with fixing it have the most vacation days? I digress. That’s a rant for another day.

In the meantime I will be dreaming about my non-traditional office. Half vineyard, half boat perhaps?


Ding

Isn’t it funny that when the plane lands, the little ‘ding’ goes off, and everyone stands up. I mean, where are they going? Even in the first row, the doors still take a few minutes to open.

It’s like a Pavlov’s reaction to the ding. Standing up right after the ding doesn’t serve the purpose to stretch your legs, because you are still in your row. Standing isn’t comfortable at that point because of the electronics overhead. And it’s not like you can run down the aisle to get off the plane because everyone is stuck in the same place. 

So the ding goes off, and everyone stands up.

It happens without fail on every flight I have ever been on. Watch for it on your next flight.


Welcome Home

Arrived into JFK this morning. I always feel sad once I am off the plane and in the (always long) lines for customs and immigration but it’s always nice to have the agent tell you, ‘welcome home’ — though that’s my cue to start planning the next one – if I haven’t already been daydreaming while on the plane.

As promised, I will post at least one photo for each day I was away, accompanied by a story. Playing catch up may take a few days, and I need to figure out which photos make it onto the blog but I assure you that you can check back for Feb 9 – Feb 20 for some travel writing. In the meantime, I will continue writing…perhaps with some teaser stories from the trip.


Last day in BA

As soon as I woke up, I checked on the computer in our B&B what the weather in New York looked like…just to see if there was a chance that our flight home that night would be delayed, or cancelled, due to weather. Let it be known that I only wanted it to be delayed or cancelled if we had enough time to enjoy the country, not to hang around waiting at the airport.

Clear skies. Damn. Cold weather. Damn. It would be snowing when we landed but the weather was just not bad enough to delay or cancel our flight.

So our last day it would be.

We had about 7 hours and we we working from a last minute list of things we hadn’t yet seen or done!

I collect magnets from my travels and I still hadn’t bought  a BsAs magnet so that was one of the goals for the day. We had actually brought two bags, and checked one on the way down. This is unheard of for me, as I believe checked luggage is potentially lost luggage. But I planned on shopping so we had only filled the checked bag halfway to start the trip. I am proud to report I did a really good job of filling that suitcase with purchases along the way!

Back to our day, and our to do list. Because taxis are very inexpensive, we agreed that would be our mode of transport around town for the day – aside from one subway ride…we’ll get to that.

First stop – Recoleta Cemetery. Evita, and other notable Argentines, are laid to rest here.

It is unbelievable how elaborate this cemetery was.

Something that was weird to me was seeing people take photos WITH themselves in and around the cemetery. Yes, we took photos in the cemetery too, but not posing with the tombs and mausoleums. I don’t know, for some reason it seemed sacrilegious to me. Not surprisingly there were tons of stalls with people selling their wares outside the cemetery. Also a little weird, but at least the shops weren’t inside the cemetery.

Next stop – La Boca. I had read and heard that this, and the next hood, are must sees on Sundays. I also heard not so good things about this area. There’s one main street, Caminito and all the locals we had met throughout our trip told us not to stray from this main area.

I had also read stories about tourists getting robbed in broad daylight. Knowing that anything can happen anywhere, but armed with the information that this area could be sketchy, we had our guard up. With only a backpack (no pocketbooks, fanny packs, cameras around our necks or fancy jewelry) we didn’t stick out (too much) as a target. With the exception of people selling goods, nearly everyone on the street was a tourist. We were aware of our surroundings but did not want to be deterred from exploring.

This photo is the very start of Caminito where the taxis drop off the tourists, as the street is pedestrian only. The colored buildings continue all through the area. Men and women dressed in their fancy tango attire and ask for money. Once they make enough, they would start to tango on the street. It was a very loud, very bright and bustling place. Oh, and very touristy.

Spent about an hour strolling the brightly colored and popular neighborhood stepping in and out of shops. One thing on our to do list was to buy stamps. Because I wasn’t going to be in BsAs to pick up the copy of the birth certificate on the specified date, one of the guys from our B&B was going to do it for me. I wanted to make this as easy as possible for him so I needed to get an envelope, marker and stamps. At the start of our day, we popped into a stationery store getting the envelope and marker which was easy. It was finding stamps that was going to prove to be difficult, because it was Sunday!

In Caminito we found a shop but no one spoke English so it took a few times to tell them it wasn’t for a postcard. I think I bought about $10USD worth of stamps and called it a day. I hope the letter arrives because it’s literally going to be a sheet of paper. $10USD worth of stamps should be enough to ensure it gets to the States!

With stamps in our hand, jumped back in a cab and headed to our next stop – San Telmo! This is another must do on a Sunday because of its famous flea market. By now it’s the heat of the day, there are a tremendous number of people, stalls and music. It’s overwhelming every single one of my senses. Here’s a snapshot where the crowds lessened. At it’s most crowded you couldn’t even take out a camera you were jam packed against people and stalls.

It was a little hectic for me, and my fear of bed bugs, but for the boyfriend, who hates crowds, heat and shopping, it was probably close to hell. Around now we agreed we were hungry and let’s just get to a restaurant. Should be easy. There were people sitting outside at cafes that we literally had to climb over. This is not how I imagine eating lunch – anywhere. Ever.

So we go off the beaten path by a few blocks and find a small restaurant. It’s packed but there’s an open table and we were in no way going to have people climbing over us while we ate. Worst service we experienced on our entire trip. It was like we put the waiter out for even being there. Maybe he was just as frustrated as us because of the crowds outside. The pizza was good but this stop served the purpose of us both refueling and getting some air conditioning before facing the crowds again. After we ate we both agreed to go directly to our next stop.

This was a pedestrian only area and en route to get back, we were on a mission to find this gift my sister had asked for. On the way to get to the stall that had the item, there was a homeless and/or drunk and/or hoodlum causing trouble. Before the cops came we were only a few feet from him. So I ducked into a hat store and waited until the cops got him out of there. The hat store was adorable. I was hot, confused and distracted and passed on the hat. Note to self: when we got in the cab, I did the math, and though it would have been a little pricy, I should have gotten it. Super cute. Damn. There’s one of the reasons to go back!

Did get my sister the gift she wanted and stopped in another store where I bought a super cute dress. While the boyfriend probably didn’t like the shopping factor, I know for certain he liked that the store was empty (we were two of the four customers) along with the air conditioning.

Hopped in yet another cab and headed to the A line. We had taken the subte (subway) earlier on the trip but the A train is the oldest line in Argentina…and in the Southern Hemisphere. Was told to make sure we rode this by several people. Really cool. You actually had to open the train doors yourself! They have restored this train so incredibly. In fact, when the line was built, not too many people knew how to read, so each station has colored tiles, marking stops with colors instead of words. There were even little chandeliers inside the cars and windows that opened and closed properly as opposed to little air vents in the NYC subway.

Missed our stop because we were enjoying the details of the old train. When we decided to get off we just had to walk a few blocks back to our next destination – Cafe Tortoni, a notable and very touristy cafe, for our last coffee in Argentina. Yep, even I, a coffee hater, drank coffee in Argentina, for the caffeine more than anything! Though I should mention, at Cafe Tortoni, and the hot summer day, I enjoyed a lovely glass of chocolate milk. Boyfriend had coffee.

Before heading back to the B&B to grab our stuff, I had read about this metal flower. So we got in a cab and I asked the driver to take us there. Boyfriend was stressed because this was an unscheduled stop but I knew he was giving us so much time to get to the airport and then at the airport that I took it upon myself to squeeze in one more thing. There is a huge metal flower structure that opens and closes at the start and end of each day.

 

Once in this park, I really didn’t want to leave because there were beach chairs and everyone was laying out in the grass.

 

Knowing that winter awaited us at home, I was in absolutely no rush to leave. And for the minute or so he didn’t check his watch, I think the boyfriend didn’t want to leave either.

Back to reality a minute or so later, I was traveling with someone who is anal about getting to the airport on time, so we hoofed it back to the B&B, grabbed our stuff and got in the taxi that had been booked for us, and sadly, headed to the airport.

Like I do every time we leave a place I love, I had tears in my eyes yet hope that our flight could be cancelled.

Once we arrived at the airport it was time to put plan B into action. I asked the agent about any cancellations or the chance we could get bumped. When both of those questions were answered with “I can pretty much guarantee you will not get bumped” I asked about an upgrade. For $500 more, we could have gotten upgraded. Needless to say, we rode it out in coach.

Had some interesting issues in duty-free with $50USD of alfajores (cookie cakes). Once we made the purchase and realized our signals got majorly crossed, we returned $25 of the alfajores and exchanged it for a nice $25USD bottle of Argentine Malbec. Much better.

In the airport we grabbed a few more bags of tomato basil and ham flavored potato chips. (We realized when we got home, the ham was actually steak and I can say for certain, those were gross.)

At the last minute we were confirmed in two seats (a window and an aisle) rather than in two of the five seats in the middle of the plane. I am no claustrophobic but that could make me one.

Boarded the plane and shortly after we were back in the air headed home. Both ways I slept as we crossed the equator, which I was bummed about. Sure nothing feels differently but it would have been cool, especially since this was my first time crossing it. And it won’t be my last.

Argentina, don’t cry for me. I fell in love with you and I will be back!


Tigre: No Lions, Tigers and Bears – Just a Pup

Tigre was an hour train ride from the Retiro Terminal in Buenos Aires. Once we arrived at the train station in Tigre, we had to take a taxi boat to the couple’s home that we had planned to hang out with for the day. This area is a summer getaway for the people of BsAs, but for the people we were going to spend the day with, this is their permanent home.

Tigre is a town situated on a lot of water. There are many streams and rivers connecting to the Delta. And everyone has a boat…in fact, if you didn’t have one, you’d be kayaking, canoeing or taking water taxis to get around.

It reminded me a bit of the bayous in New Orleans.

The Delta’s water looks brown, and dirty, but it is not. It’s the constant mixing of the sediment. In fact, people who live out there do their best to keep the water clean with systems in their homes, and how they dispose of garbage.

We took a tour of their home, and had a nice breakfast on land. Then, we boarded their boat and set sail for the day!

The boat trip around the Delta was the highlight, along with our hosts, Ana and Ralph. Ralph was a former chef on various sailing vessels, and he brings his skills to this one! Once we docked, he made a makeshift kitchen complete with a grill. The center of the boat turned into a beautiful countertop to display all the food we ate — and this isn’t even the hot stuff!

Along the streams and rivers leading into the Delta we saw supermarket boats (see one below), house boats and taxi boats. In the main part of the Delta where the water leads to Paraguay, we saw many shipping boats.

During our travels on the Delta, Ana and Ralph pointed out their friends homes and we did loads of waving from the boat to all the people enjoying the summer sun!

At one point, Ana heard some whimpering in the plants behind some trees along the Delta. Ralph pulled the boat up close because Ana was pretty certain it was a dog who was stuck.

Ana and Ralph had such good hearts, and a love of animals — there were already two dogs and several cats back at their home — that she was determined to rescue the dog.

Ana,coaxed the dog on board and here he is. This was taken by one of the other people on our trip as I was the farthest away from where the pup would board the boat.

The boat capacity is eight people, and we were already seven, so while we were comfortable, bringing a puppy on board greatly limited where I could move about because…yes, I was terrified. I have an aversion to some dogs, but especially to one found in the wild – in another country, with no record of shots and one that no one knew. And, once aboard it was definitely excited to be saved, and especially to eat, once Ana took some of the leftover steak and chicken that was part of our lunch, for the pup to eat.

Ana and Ralph created a makeshift leash and collar to keep the pup at one end of the boat (the end that I wasn’t going to be on!). The collar was made from Ralph’s belt and the leash was made from a loose rope from the boat because I was the only one not pleased with our addition.

Once back at the house, where the pup met his fellow canines, we were able to sample mate, the local tea prevalent in Argentina. It is meant to be drunk and shared with friends, and before this trip, I had been warned that it’s not something you can easily find in a restaurant, and the warning was right! So here it was, our last full day in Argentina, and finally, get to taste true mate!

Headed back to BsAs with our new friends from Provence, France. Trust me, my head is already spinning to go visit!! Once we returned to BsAs, showered and changed, we headed out for our last night! We were still stuffed from Ralph’s food, so we managed to get down an entire cheese plate for dinner (there was enough cheese to feed a small army).

After ‘dinner’ we walked around Plaza Serrano and then found an outdoor cafe to have some beers and people watch. We received an invite to a party that wasn’t scheduled to start until 3am. Since we had a full day and were pretty exhausted we headed back to the B&B around 1.30am which sounds late, but it was around the time that everything was just getting started!