Monthly Archives: April 2006

How To Get To Uruguay

April 17, 2006
Day 201

My main mission for today was to get to Uruguay. I started out the day by looking around for cheaper tickets than the one I found yesterday. I found a company that would sell me a return ticket to Montevideo for one third of the other company's going price, but there was a problem: The ferry leaving today was sold out. I guess that means I'm stuck in Buenos Aires for another day. I was beginning to wonder whether it was even worthwhile going to such a small place as Uruguay. After all, everyone I've talked to who's been there has said that there's not much to see. However, I enjoyed the eight hours I spent in Montevideo during my cruise, so I felt that I needed to get back. I hope my instincts are correct because I've already had to waste two days just to get there.


April 16, 2006
Day 200

After Andrea left, I had a lot of work to do. My website seemed to be hopelessly behind, so I needed to spend a lot of time uploading pictures and writing blog entries. However, I also needed to squeeze in some relaxation, and visions of Uruguay were dancing through my head.

I started out today by walking to the docks where the ferries left for Uruguay. I was stoked to go there, but not after I learned how expensive the ferry would be. There had to be a cheaper way. I decided to stick around Buenos Aires for another day and search for cheaper options tomorrow. It is Easter, after all, so there's probably another company that isn't open today.

My next quest was to begin the arduous process of uploading all of my photos from Andrea's visit. This proved to be difficult, to say the least. I've found that while Internet cafes abound in Buenos Aires, it's nearly impossible to find a computer that suits my needs. Usually they run Windows 98 and have no USB ports, or the computer is locked so I can't fiddle with it. In one instance, the Internet cafe actually wanted five pesos (the same amount charged for over three hours of regular Internet usage) just to use the USB port for half an hour! I really hope this trend doesn't spread to the smaller cities. Anyway, I went to about ten different places before finally finding one that worked well for me. I stayed there most of the afternoon and got most of my photos taken care of.

Tonight I caught up on some much-needed sleep. The city seemed pretty dead, so I don't think missed out on much. Hopefully I'll be able to get out of here soon.

Farewell To Buenos Aires

April 15, 2006
Day 199
Andrea Visit Day 7

Picture of sewn yarn.

Shirts and stuff at the Recoleta market.

Today was my final day in Buenos Aires and dedicated entirely to shopping. We were on a fixed schedule today as we had to be out of our room by 11:00 and had to wrap up our shopping by 4:00 so I could catch my flight home. This seemed like plenty of time, but in the end it came right down to the wire.

We headed back to the market, which was still open since it was Saturday. I was just as impressed with it today. We both bought some original artwork and other various items for my to take home as gifts for my loved ones at home. I pretty much ran out of money in about 2 hours. I should have exchanged everything I had left, but I didn't think I'd need it. I should have known better. Dan even loosened the purse strings for once and bought some things for himself, that I would bring back home. (Dan Says: It made it easier knowing that I wouldn't have to carry whatever I bought around for months on end.) There were so many great items at the market I wanted to buy so much more, not just for myself, but for family too. I was hesitant to make any impulse purchases, but Dan encouraged me to decide quickly. This turned out to be good because we were on a schedule. (Dan Says: When you have to catch a flight in a few hours, it's definitely not the time to dilly-dally.)

After the market we grabbed a cab to finish our shopping on Florida. I almost immediately spotted a place to buy wine as well as a place to get helado (ice cream). In true fashion, the ice cream did get better each day; today was the best. This cafe was very nice,had excellent service, and a great bathroom. As I was out of money, Dan and I worked out a plan, so I could continue to buy, buy, buy. (Dan Says: Hmmm, details are definitely needed here. She gave me US cash and I gave her pesos. I can exchange the cash later when more money exchange places are open.) There were still a few things I felt I had to get and we need to find a place that would make a CD of all the pictures I had taken. I ended up finding the perfect things in just the nick of time. We had about 45 minutes left and luckily found a place that could make a CD. While we waited we grabbed lunch and met our alcohol requirement for the day with a Quilmes Chopp. I had milensa which was a breaded and fried thin slab of beef with ham and cheese sandwich. It was supposed to have egg on it, but I opted out of that. (Dan Says: Everything has an egg on it here. It's disgusting.) While we ate we had a great conversation with some locals who happened to speak English. One man in particular was very interested in learning more about us and practicing his English. I was overall surprised by how willing people were to speak English. Although I shouldn't have been surprised by that. I really don't know any Spanish, but I was starting to learn some. (Dan Says: I can tell just by reading this entry.) I wanted to speak, although in most cases I was afraid to, because I didn't want to mess it up. (Dan Says: Once you learn a few verbs, I think you'll be ready.) I would have liked to continue the conversation, but it was time to get back to the hostel to pack up and catch the bus. We picked up the picture CD and entered the hostel, for my last time.

It took a bit of work, but I was able to repack everything I had bought, plus the things Dan wanted to send back with me. I didn't need to buy an additional bag, but my load was much heavier. We opted to take the bus to the airport as it was cheaper even though it would take two hours to get there. (Dan Says: A taxi takes 30 minutes and costs $18, the bus takes 2 hours and costs 43 cents each.) The only potential problem was there is no bus schedule, but we always could take the taxi. We hefted my stuff several blocks to the bus stop. I made my last purchase by getting some peanuts from a street vendor. We only had to wait 10 minutes. Luckily the bus wasn't very full. We settled into our seats for the 2 hour ride. I ended up nodding off a couple of times as Dan read my Oprah magazine. To be fair I read part of it too. (Dan Says: Hey, she gives great insight on such diverse issues as weight loss, clothing, and proper makeup application.) It was a long ride. The bus got very full, but then empty again as we got closer the airport.

Only international flights connected to this airport, so it was fairly easy to find where I had to go. I began to worry when I saw long lines, but it didn't take long to get my boarding pass and on my way. As I made my way to security I asked Dan about these signs I kept seeing saying airport tax. Dan had no idea so I thought nothing of it. We said our good byes and I got in line to go through security. This very official looking guy checked my passport and boarding pass and rambled something off in Spanish. Some guy behind me told be I had to pay an $18 airport tax. (Dan Says: Whoops. I made sure from lots of people that Andrea wouldn't have to pay when entering the country, but I had no idea they would make her pay to leave it. I probably should have known better though.) I began to panic. I did not have $18. I stood in line to pay, unsure of what amount I had to pay or what to do. When I got to the window I realized I most certainly did not have enough cash, even with U.S. plus pesos. I didn't have my credit card. I had left it at home because Dan told me most places wouldn't take. Lesson learned: take my credit card with me!!! (Dan Says: It's good to have in an emergency, but not very useful in everyday life here. You can't just pay for a stick of bubblegum with a credit card here like you can in the US.) I was completely panicked. I didn't have enough money to pay this stupid airport tax. How was I going to get home??? I quickly looked to see if I could find Dan to borrow some money but he was long gone. I then remembered that I did have my ATM card. I had used it twice before, once with success, once without. I hoped it would work. The first machine I tried wouldn't give me cash. I was getting pretty frantic at this point. I was starting to think I was going to have to ask someone for money. I tried the other ATM at least 10 times, with no luck. My last resort was to get cash in pesos and it finally worked. Relief. I paid the tax, got through security with no problems, had enough time to make a stop at the restroom, and calm myself before boarding the plane. Nothing like a bit of excitement to end the trip. Needless to say I was glad to be on my way home. (Dan Says: I couldn't let you get out of there without having some kind of panicky moment.)

Final thoughts:
Now that my trip is over here are a few random thoughts I have about my trip. I was glad that I was able to meet up with Dan. He was a great tour guide and help to me as I experienced Argentina. I could have managed on my own, without speaking Spanish, but it was really nice to be able to rely on Dan to translate and explain things.

Dan has mentioned the need to have money in perfect condition before in his blog, but I had the joy of experiencing it first hand. It wasn't the worst thing in the world, but it was an inconvenience. One time I got change back that included a ten that had tore in half and been taped back together. I tried using it, but was denied. I can't even remember how I was able to get rid of it. (Dan Says: Probably the same way it was delivered to you: Mix it in with a bunch of good bills when you pay for something and hope the vendor doesn't notice. I've done it several times myself.) Another time I got the edge of a bill caught in the inside zipper of my purse and tore a tiny piece off. I thought it was the end of the world. Dan's like save that little piece so we can tape it, then you can still use it. It ended up being fine, but who wants to worry about that? Every time I used more than a 10 the salesperson would hold the bill up to the light and totally check it over before taking it. (Dan Says: There's lots of counterfeit money here.) That was if they would even take a big bill. Nobody ever has any change, so you have to pay with the smallest possible amount. I knew this ahead of time, so every time I paid and they said something to me, I knew they were asking for a smaller amount, even though I couldn't understand Spanish. Too funny. (Dan Says: Funny for you, but they were usually because they had to give away all of their smaller bills as change to a stupid tourist who didn't know any better. It's still very much a cash-based society here. Most people never use big bills, but tourists don't have much of a choice. ATM's only dispense big bills if you take out a lot of money, and taking out smaller amounts would mean visiting the ATM every day and getting charged huge fees by banks back home. So, you just have to try and break those big bills whenever possible. My record so far is paying for 3 pesos worth of food with a 100 peso bill at a fruit stand.)

Overall it didn't feel like I was in a different country. I'm not sure why. Buenos Aires is a major city and very modern, so that may have been part of it. One major difference is the whole concept of time. There basically is none. You rarely get your bill or pay for a drink unless you ask for the bill. That drove me nuts. I prefer to pay then relax. (Dan Says: But how can you relax when you're parting with your money?) In Argentina it's relax and relax some more. No worries about paying for the bill. Lunch takes way over an hour and dinner can last two or three. (Dan Says: You can never be in a hurry here. If you are, you'll just get way too frustrated.) As may have been mentioned before people do things much later than in the U.S. Lunch is around 2pm, Supper doesn't start before 10pm, and people don't go out to party until 3am. Dan sent me an article that said people usually have drinks after dinner before they go out to a club. One morning at the hostel a guy sat down next to me, who had just gotten in. It was 10am and I could tell he by his odor and appearance he had just got back from the bar. It was fun talking with him. (Dan Says: I love Argentina for its late culture. It fits perfectly with my desired lifestyle.)

Okay last random observations about moms in Argentina. One they don't seem to go out of their way to hide their pregnancies. I thought I had seen a store that sold maternity clothes, but I'm not sure. (Dan Says: They exist in Buenos Aires, but not in smaller cities.) I noticed many very pregnant women though wearing regular clothes. Women also openly nursed their babies in public. This one women was just walking down the street, baby at her breast. I thought it was cool. (Dan Says: Me too, but for different reasons.)

Overall, Buenos Aires was awesome. I hate to be such a, but I think the highlight may have been the market. I've just never seen anything quite like it. (Dan Says: My next book should be "Shopping experiences around the world.") Several people have asked me since I got back if I felt safe. I felt completely safe. You have to be smart and take precautions, but you would have to do that in any big city I would think. Although the plane ticket was pricey, it was relatively inexpensive once I got there. I would love to go back. I would highly recommend that people travel to South America!! (Dan Says: How's that for a generalization?) People were friendly, there was lots to do, and it was a unique experience.

In case you haven't figured it out yet, the photos from Andrea's trip (from both our cameras) can be found here.

Kitty Heaven

April 14, 2006
Day 198
Andrea Visit Day 6

Picture of cat.

A black and white cat crosses our path.

The only thing we had to do today was go back to the Recoleta Cemetery. We didn't leave the hostel until noon, because we were waiting to see if we could stay in our same room. The people ended up not showing for their reservation so we were able to keep it. (Dan Says: And I was so looking forward to showing you what dorm life was all about.) Dan found out that we did have our own bathroom, it just wasn't connected to our room. We did need a key to get in it, but we had our own bathroom for two whole days and didn't even know it. I'm not sure if it's worth it though. The keys you use to open doors are as old as dirt so it takes five minutes just to get in. (Dan Says: Keys here are the kind you would give your kids to play with. It's an even worse experience when you really gotta go and you can't even open the door.) We also wondered around for awhile trying to find a place to exchange my money and get a good rate, but were unsuccessful. (Dan Says: I think most of the usual venues were closed because it was Good Friday.).

It was probably about 1pm when we finally made it to the cemetery. It reminded my of the cemetery in New Orleans, but it was different too. This was obviously a place for very wealthy people to be laid to rest. As soon as we walked through the gates I noticed cats. There was one that looked exactly like my sister's cat, Isabelle. Now I've seen plenty of stray dogs all around the city, with plenty of dog doo on the street to go with it. So it was odd to all of a sudden see stray cats. There were more as we walked around the cemetery. There was even one tomb that had a dish of water and food in front of it. Each tomb was different. Some were taken care of better, some were more ornate, some had three stories, and some had statues/monuments. Our goal was to find Evita's tomb, so after wandering around for awhile we walked back to the main entrance to consult the map. I was thinking that her tomb wouldn't stand out among the others. I was correct. There were many people standing at the site, but it was fairly average. Even though I don't know much about her I had the feeling of serenity. There were many people there, but everyone was even more respectful and solemn than anywhere else in the cemetery. Even though Evita's tomb was not visually impressive, it was an impressive experience.

Almost immediately outside of the cemetery was the market that Kathleen had told us about. There were many stalls that were not filled with vendors. I figured this was as good a place as any to buy some gifts to take home. The reminds me a bit of the farmer's market in Madison, but this was more crafts, than produce. Everything was hand made. There was jewelery, mates, leather goods, all sorts of scarves, purses, artwork, knives, and so much more. What was incredible is that nothing was the same. Even if many people had jewelery, I could clearly see that it was made in a different way. So even if things seemed similar, they were really different. I'm really glad that the market was set up. This was definitely a highlight and I hope we go back tomorrow to do some more shopping. (Dan Says: Buying decorations for your home is so much fun.).

As we walked throughout the market we found our way to the museum. Since we had time, I wanted to go see the Argentine artwork. Being a holiday though it was closed. We were close to the Gardens so we just kept walking. The Japanese gardens were somewhat similar to the Rotary Gardens in Janesville, that I liked so much. (Dan Says: Does everything you see remind you of something else back home?) Since it was fall there weren't too many flowers, but it was still nice to enjoy the peacefulness of greenery around me in contrast to all the smoke of the city.

The only thing that captured our attention was all the carp. Dan paused for several minutes taking pictures of the ugly creatures coming up for air. There was also this black cat that kept trying to cross my path, but I wouldn't let it. I didn't want to take any chances with bad luck seeing as how I was in a foreign country and all. We also saw a couple sitting around and drinking mate with their baby. I have seen lots of mate consumption since my arrival, but this was the first time Dan took a picture of it.

It still seemed early although it was probably after 3pm. (Dan Says: What do you mean? That IS early!). Even though we had done a lot of walking we decided to keep on trucking to the Botanical gardens. I would guess it was about 1/2 mile walk that took us past the zoo we had been to yesterday. I think we walked through at least two different neighborhoods which were very nice, but this street seemed to have dog poop about every other step. This was by far the worst I've seen it and it still wasn't that bad, because Dan didn't seem to think it was a big deal. (Dan Says: The definition of "ubiquitous" is dog poop on the sidewalks of Latin America.) I observed more storm damage. Apparently last night it was rather stormy. I didn't notice anything as I was sleeping, but when we headed out today I notices trees branches and leaves strewn everywhere. The cab driver from this morning informed us of the storm. There was even a tornado that apparently destroyed a good part of a nearby town.

The botanical gardens really just seemed like another plaza. (Dan Says: Except there was a fence around it.) There were lots of trees obviously (Dan Says: I was surprised to see trees there.), with many paths and gardens. Just as with the Japanese gardens, what I witnessed in the garden was more interesting than the garden itself. At the botanical gardens it was all cats and kissing. I thought it was crazy to see 5 or 6 cats all looking for some good ear scratching, but I was greeted by 10, maybe 20 when I walked through the main entrance. I noticed that containers were sitting out for water. These cats were clearly being taken care of by somebody. I was surprised by how tame they were. If I crouched down, many of them would run up to me, wanting to be petted. I spotted cats throughout the garden, but what was even more visible were all the couples making out on park benches. Dan had warned me that people just make out anywhere in public and it was no big deal. However, it was never as clearly noticeable as it was here. I think I would have been shocked to see this in the U.S., but it just seems normal here, which it is. I don't think it will phase me if I ever witness this in the U.S.. (Dan Says: Don't you see that all the time in your school?) Our walk in the park ended with the sighting of a mob of cats. As we walked closer Dan pointed out that all those cats were in one place because someone had put cat food out for them. I'm not sure if it was because we were tired from a long day of walking or a true fascination of all the cats, but we sat there for quite awhile watching them. (Dan Says: This place was an absolute kitty heaven. They had all the food and water they needed, people constantly gave them attention, and there were no dogs to be seen, so they were free to roam around, eat, and make new kitties nonstop.) While sitting there we also noticed a large group of men playing chess and enjoying mate. This is something I've always seen on TV or movies, except for the mate part, but never seen in real life. It was kind of neat to witness.

We tried looking for a place to get ice cream, to fulfill our requirement for the day. After not finding one and being thoroughly sick of walking we grabbed a cab back to the hostel. I started working on the blog while Dan went out to buy groceries. We had the whole night ahead of us, but nothing planned. Dan decided to make spaghetti, instead of going out to eat. I was very much looking forward to this, both for the fresh food and having someone else cook for me. I worked on the blog and enjoyed some wine as Dan slaved away in the kitchen. Finally, it was ready! I made some suggestions for how to continue working on the recipe, but it was sooo good. I did the dishes when we were done eating and then we headed out to get cream, what else? We were also in search of a corkscrew to open our second bottle of wine. We didn't find one, (Dan Says: We opened the first bottle by pushing the cork down, but the second bottle had some kind of synthetic cork, and pushing it didn't work. Normally, I would borrow a corkscrew, but this particular hostel has a stupid rule that you can only drink the expensive alcohol that they sell you, so I couldn't go to the common area to ask for a corkscrew to open the $2 bottle I bought in the grocery store. Finally I got desperate and asked to borrow the hostel employee's corkscrew to "do something" and he bought it! I subsequently spilled half the wine on the bed and the carpet. The scene looked straight out of the set of Hostel, the movie.) but found Kathleen when we got back. She needed to get some drugs from Dan, so they made the deal and we chatted for awhile. (Dan Says: Maybe this one is best left unexplained.) It was nice to see her again. It was rather late (Dan Says: What? It was only 1 AM!) and we briefly contemplated going out to a club. I had been really excited about checking out the true nightlife of Buenos Aires. However, most people don't even go out until 3 in the morning and I didn't really want to be out late. Yes, I'm an old, boring, square. (Dan Says: No comment.) In any event I bid my final farewell to Kathleen as she headed out. I finally finished working on my blog and that was it. My last night in Buenos Aires.

Tres Friends

April 13, 2006
Day 197
Andrea Visit Day 5

Picture of cat.

A random tangoing couple.

On the agenda for today was the zoo, art museum, and a tango show. Dan called up his friend Kathleen, who he met on the Antarctica cruise, to see if she wanted to hang out with us for the day. She did and we made plans to meet her at the zoo at 11am. This was one of the earlier starts for us. (Dan Says: 11am might as well still be the middle of the night.)

We grabbed a taxi and had one of the more enjoyable and safe rides I've had here or anywhere. (Dan Says: I would call it a slow-and-boring Grandpa ride, not a fun one like we normally get.) Although the weather has been very nice here it's is fall. Which is strange because back home it is spring. (Dan Says: For some strange, unknown reason, the seasons are backwards in this crazy land. Hopefully, scientists will figure out the reason why someday.) Using Dan as a translator, I found out from the cab driver that the leaves on the trees would turn various shades of yellow and most trees would drop there leaves. The driver also pointed out a lot of the sites along the way. One thing we hadn't heard about was the Japanese and Botanical gardens, which we might check out tomorrow. The funniest thing was that the driver thought I was Dan's wife. I was rather horrified at the thought. (Dan Says: Hey, you could do a lot worse.)

We arrived at the zoo a bit early. This gave Dan some time to try and figure out what our ticket options were. Kathleen arrived on time and it was very nice to again meet someone new. Kathleen is originally from somewhere in the Boston area I believe. She is also a teacher and applied to graduate school in Madison, which I where I am currently attending. I had a great time talking with her throughout the day and it was especially fun for us to gang up on Dan. (Dan Says: I knew it was a bad idea to go walking around with two s all day.)

The zoo here is very nice. Dan said it was the nicest zoo he's been to in South America. We saw the basics of every zoo: lions, elephants, apes, giraffes, etc. There were some I hadn't ever seen, but since all the signs were in Spanish it was almost impossible for me to get much out of it. They did have 2 Andean Condors, which are endangered I believe. They even had a few Holsteins! (Dan Says: Are those endangered too?)

It was about 2pm when we finished at the zoo which meant it was time for lunch. We went to a little cafe to get pasta. Mealtime has probably been the most frustrating part of the trip. I can't read the menu and I'm not going to have Dan read the whole thing. Even if he did I wouldn't remember it anyway. I just never know what I'm going to get. (Dan Says: What you call "frustrating" I call "exciting.") I've never really ended up with anything that bad though. Lunch probably took about an hour and a half so it was a nice to take a bit of a break.

Kathleen continued on with us to the museum of modern art. It took us almost two hours to view the whole first floor. We were quite tired towards the end. We had done a lot of walking that day and weren't done yet. Most of what we saw was European art. I saw pieces by Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, and Picasso. When we got to the end of the first floor we realized they had a whole other floor of art from Argentina. We were pretty tired though and still wanted to go to the cemetery where Eva Peron was buried. Besides you can only look at so much art in one day, so we decided to move on.

On the way to the cemetery we went to take pictures of this flower monument we had seen several times driving around the city. It is a rather large metal flower that opens in the morning with the sun and closes in the evening. I think it might be one of my favorite things I have seen in the city. As we made our way towards the cemetery someone was setting up metal frameworks for the market. Kathleen said that there is a craft market on Saturdays, but since tomorrow is Good Friday they must be setting up for tomorrow as well. She said it's very good, so it might be worth checking out. At this point it was decided we were due for another break, so ice cream it was. About two days into trip Dan and I realized we had either beer or wine and ice cream or something close to it everyday. We thought it might be good if we kept up the tradition. We stopped at a place called Freddo, which was pretty posh for an ice cream shop. We were in the Recolota neighborhood which is very nice. I like all the shops and parks. It has a very upscale atmosphere. We had to wait awhile, but it was worth it. The ice cream was excellent. We have gone to different places and tried different flavor each day and it just gets better and better.

Kathleen had already gone to the cemetery so we said our goodbyes and she headed back to where she was staying. It was about 6pm now and we quickly realized we were out of luck as the cemetery was closed. This is a must see attraction so we will have to go back tomorrow. We had spent all day walking so we grabbed a taxi back to our hostel. However, we were not done yet. We still had to see a tango show. Two different tango shows were recommended and we went with the cheaper of the two. We had just enough time to clean up a bit and it was time to go again.

The show was at a restaurant only 5 blocks away so we walked. There was a short line outside and only certain people were being let in. I'm not really sure what was going on, but I guess it was just a free for all. Whoever was more aggressive in talking to the door guy, got in. (Dan Says: The concept of standing in line doesn't really exist here, which sucks for me as a tourist. If I push my way to the front, I'm just a rude tourist who thinks he's better than everyone else. If I wait patiently, I never get to the front.) We didn't have to wait long though before we were let in. We were led through a rather fancy dinning room, downstairs were the show was. Dan and I were seated at a small table with another couple, in front next to the right side of the stage. We took a brief look at the menu, but drinks were way overpriced, so we decided to skip it. I figured that the whole show couldn't just be dancing as that might get a little boring. In the end, I wasn't overly impressed with the show. There was very little tango and the rest was signing and dialog, which I couldn't understand a word of. Although from what Dan explained there wasn't much of a plot. It was a bit of a disappointment, but I'm still glad to have experienced it. Although the city is known for tango, not that many people dance it. Tango is only popular in one or two neighborhoods. La Boca has several well know tango bars or clubs. We might have been better off just going there to watch everyday people dancing the tango for their own fun.

The walk back to the hostel was rainy and windy. By the time we got back I was cold and soaked. We stayed at the hostel hoping the rain would stop. It wasn't long before it was safe to venture out again. Green olives are found on pizza all the time here so we got that for supper. There were only five whole olives on the pizza with stones in yet and it was too greasy for Dan to eat. (Dan Says: That's the type of pizza I usually get here, which is why I don't like it.) It was even a bit greasy for me, but it was still good. While we were eating we kept hearing the sound of either a dying cat or a screaming baby. We couldn't quite tell which. After the first few times I heard it I started looking around to see what the heck was going on. Dan seemed unbothered by it, but eventually the noise got to him as well. We could see that the sound was coming from this guy would occasionally pound on a box on the ground with a stick. Every time he did that you would hear the terrible cat scream. No one seemed to even notice, so we were curious as to what was going on. Dan asked the waitress what was going on. The guy was selling a device for your mouth that would make the dying cat noise. Who would want to buy that? I do not know. (Dan Says: It's always been a dream of mine to pretend I'm beating a cat to death in a box. Now, thanks to this miracle device, my dream is a reality.) Mystery solved anyway. We had to leave soon after because two different hungry bums wanted our left over pizza.

We decided to go out to an actual bar as we hadn't done that yet. The first place we went into was crowded, very loud, and smoky. Typical bar, I know, but not quite what I was in the mood for. Besides we had been waiting at the bar for five minutes and still hadn't gotten served. We ended up going into an Irish pub, that wasn't very Irish. It was Irish in decor and that's about it. They didn't have any Guinness or any other Irish beer for that matter. They did have a small Miller Lite sign up, but none for sale. :( (Dan Says: The drinks were way too expensive, and we were exhausted after a long day of sight-seeing, so we made the extremely long walk back to the hostel after one beer.)

Cowabunga, dude!

April 12, 2006
Day 196
Andrea Visit Day 4

A three-eyed cow.

Andrea in front of a nice street in Tigre.

Considering I went to bed late last night, I slept in this morning. I did not get carried away by bed bugs last night as I thought I might. I did wear as much clothes as possible last night; I even put the hood up on my windbreaker so my head wouldn't come into direct contact with the pillow. During the night I did have to get under a blanket, because I was cold, but I survived.

It was about 11am when Dan and I finally got all our stuff together so we could leave. The two guys we met last night were having breakfast and we decided to make our way back to Buenos Aires together. So Dan and I got something to eat and waited for them to get all their stuff together. We had coffee, which was good, medialunas, and juice, which tasted like tang. It was all good though. It seemed to take forever to settle up with the owners and arrange for a boat ride back to the mainland. Supposedly the hostel owners had called a cab for us to get to the train station and told us not to walk around that area because we would get robbed. Nice huh? (Dan Says: A weird guy drove up and started staring at us for several minutes, so we figured it was time to get out of there. The cab never showed up.) After waiting for about five minutes, we spotted some buses that we thought would get us to the train station. We walked about a block and found out that the bus would stop at the train station. By this time it was almost 1pm and the streets and the bus were filled with people. Many of them were kids in school uniforms going home for siesta. (Dan Says: Everyone takes off work/school for around three hours to eat lunch with the family and rest.) I was so intent on looking out the window watching the kids that I was shocked to see Dan stepping off the bus onto the sidewalk. I quick jumped up and got off the bus. Good thing I wasn't totally off in la la land or who know where I would have ended up. When I 'thanked' Dan for telling me that was our stop, he seemed completely unphased. (Dan Says: Should I have been phased? I thought I caught everyone's attention at our stop, but I guess not. The bus driver clearly indicated that this was our stop.)

The train ride took about 40 minutes. We parted ways with the Kiwis and headed to Puerto Madero, the more modern neighborhood that we had dinner at Monday night. We wanted to find more of the fiber glass cows that were part of the Cow Parade. Apparently there are 115 cows scattered throughout the neighborhood. We took pictures of each one that we came across. Eventually we hit the jackpot of cows, an area where the majority of them were located. There was a small gift shop there. We stopped in, got a few postcards, and picked up a map that showed the location of all the cows. We walked a few more blocks, but decided it was time to end the quest for the cows. (Dan Says: I think we fulfilled our quest just fine. We probably looked at about 30 of them). We spotted a TGI Friday's to my surprise. We went in for lunch and each got a burger. It was very yummy, but not the same as you would get in the States. The waitresses though, took flare to a whole new level.

Next on the agenda was the Catedral Metropolitana. We had seen this on the city tour and wanted to go back. On the way we walked past the Pink House and stopped in to visit the museum that featured every president of Argentina, as well as a small exhibit on Eva Peron. I had learned on the city tour that the building is pink to symbolize the union of two different political parties, a blend of white and red. We walked across the plaza to the cathedral. The church was very ornate, with many alters along each side of the main part of the church. The alters represent the apostles. I also noticed there were many small vases of flowers around the whole church. This is done to celebrate Easter. Normally, flowers are not placed throughout the church.

After a long day of walking around we checked back into the same hostel we had been at. Our room is very nice, although we don't have our own bathroom. Dan got out his computer so that I could work on the blog again, but as soon I closed my eyes to rest a bit I fell asleep.

Ahh, naps are good. (Dan Says: You got that right.) It was time to get some supper. We stopped and got pizza at a little place that only sold cheese, small or large. Dan had made it sound like the pizza here wasn't that great, but I liked it. (Dan Says: Normally I don't like pizza here, but this one was good.) Then we just got a beer at a place where we could sit outside. (Dan Says: One of about 1000 choices.) Even though it doesn't seem like we did much tonight, it was still about 2am before I got to bed.

Observation: When you get a bottle of water, soda, or juice, you always get a straw. According to Dan they love straws here. I noticed that almost right away, but now I'm experiencing it myself, every time I get a bottle of water, even from a street vendor.

Much Ado About Nothing

April 11, 2006
Day 195
Andrea Visit Day 3

Picture of Andrea in Tigre.

Andrea in front of a nice street in Tigre.

Today was a day better spent doing pretty much anything but what ended up doing, which was not much of anything. We got up early with plans to got to Tigre, a smaller town 40 minutes, by train, north of Buenos Aires. The hostel guy made Tigre should really great, so we decided to stay there for a night. (Dan Says: In fact several people have told me to go there, and the hostel guy said it was definitely worth staying the night.) We packed our day packs, stored the rest of our stuff, had a quick breakfast, and headed out.

Our first task was to find a computer to update the blog. Well finding a computer was not a problem, but finding one that worked was a different story. The first one worked for updating the blog, but not for sending e-mail. The second place was so slow, five minutes had passed and Yahoo home page still hadn't loaded. Three's a charm, because the third place worked fine. (Dan Says: Internet cafes are everywhere, but finding computers made in the 21st century is difficult to say the least.)

Next we went to the subway to catch a ride to the train station. The underground hallway was lined with shops, which I didn't expect. I never got the experience of actually riding the subway, because the line to the train station had broken down. We decided to walk, because it wasn't too far. On the way we ran into the biggest traffic jam I've ever seen. It was almost impossible to get across the street as vehicles were paying no attention to traffic lights or lanes of traffic. I was pretty sure I might die when I had to walk between two buses with about a foot of space between the back of one and the front of the other. (Dan Says: In fact, at one point, I started to walk in front of a bus because it had a red light, but it went right through it.) It was not fun, but we made it to the train station in one piece. The train to Tigre was 63 cents round trip, which is dirt cheap. The train ride was nice to see some different parts of the city. When we arrived in Tigre everything seemed great. It was quiet and pretty. We were very excited to get out of the city. (Dan Says: I even thought "too bad we couldn't stay there two nights.) This whole area is made up of a river delta, so there is a series of islands connected by a series of rivers.

Our first task was to find a place to stay. We stopped and got a brochure from someone recommending the Hostel Delta. Dan made the call and the cost seemed reasonable. We had to take a boat to get to the hostel. At first this seemed great. (Dan Says: Andrea was jumping for joy at the thought of staying on an island.) The beginning of the ride was quite nice. But soon all you saw along the river was old rusted out ships tied to shore. The guy taking us to the hostel said they couldn't be used on the ocean anymore so they dragged them into the Delta, sold the parts, and left the rest sit. It looked like a junkyard. When we got to our 'island' it still seemed like it would be okay. However, when I saw our room, I had second thoughts. It was gross. I'm pretty sure when I go to bed tonight I may get carried away by bed bugs. (Dan Says: I was off because the hostel owner tried raising the price he gave me on the phone once we got there.) Anyway it didn't look good. We went to the restaurant to get some lunch and found out that we got totally ripped off on the boat ride here. It was the only way to get here, and it cost $10 for a ten minute boat ride in piece of crap boat. To add insult to injury, we found out that that boat was the only way to get off this hellhole. (Dan Says: I've been driven to hostels many times, and I've never had to pay, so I didn't even think to ask if the boat was going to cost anything. The ten-minute ride was as expensive as our room for the night!). So we figured we'd order a beer along with our food to improve our outlook on the situation. (Dan Says: You forgot to mention that we found a kitten that we wanted to take home, but we couldn't because it had the plague.) While eating lunch two Kiwis (New Zealanders) walked in. Dan talked to them quite a bit about their respective travels, and he passed on much good advice about where to go and what to do in Bolivia. I laughed when the Kiwis realized that they could buy dynamite and blow stuff up in Potosi. This immediately made me think of Reid and his tendency toward pyromania. The Kiwis were quite funny and interesting to talk to.

After lunch we took a walk around the island. We visited the gorgeous "sandy beach," but we decided to scratch swimming off the agenda, even though we didn't have our swimming suits with us. Walking around the island consisted of 100 yards. We then realized that we were stranded on Giligan's Island with nothing to do. We decided that despite the cost, we would take a boat to get the heck out of here.

We got dropped off in Tigre and wandered around an artisan's market with many places that looked like Pottery Barn.

Next we went to a casino where the average age of the clientèle was 95. Dan and I both enjoyed the clean and pleasant atmosphere of the bathrooms. We were so bored I hit the slots for about five minutes. Dan was going to play craps but it was too rich for his blood, so we decided to mosey on out of there.

Next on the agenda was licuados, which are basically blended milk and fruit. I didn't like my first one two days ago, but I was willing to give it a whirl. I actually understood the lady when she asked if I wanted frutilla con leche. I said "si, gracias." I still didn't like the licuado because it was like drinking melted ice cream, although I enjoyed the fresh berries. Dan thinks I'm nuts because he loves banana licuados.

After the licuado experiment, we saw an old gutted out mansion. It looked like a haunted house, beautiful at one time, but neglected over the years. I'm very curious to know the story about this house. (Dan Says: I think it was used on the set of the Scooby Doo cartoon series at one point.) We walked around a very nice residential neighborhood with palm trees and fountains in the middle of the road. We then decided to work our way back and stopped at a bar. We had an Iguana cerveza. Then I decided to get McDonald's because I wanted some food I could count on enjoying. (Dan Says: Typical American.) The kid working there freaked out when I gave him a 100 peso bill, which is another different thing about this culture. When I change money, all I get are 100 peso bills, but no one will take them. I don't understand why. The McDonald's food was good. It tasted as good as, if not better than, in the States. We bought some wine and continued to head to our pickup point. We had to call the hostel to pick us up on their boat, which is just ridiculous. Luckily, we found our way back, although we weren't quite sure where we were, and the boat guy actually took us back to our hostel. On the ride back, I was lucky not to die of asphyxiation from the boat's exhaust. But on the bright side, Dan showed me the Southern Cross, which cannot be seen in the northern hemisphere, and other fun facts about stars. (Dan Says: I almost bored her to sleep, although it might have just been the fumes.)

Once we got back, I worked on the blog and Dan feel asleep. After I finally got caught up on the blog we went to see what the Kiwis were doing. The were listening to music, enjoying some wine, and playing cards. We joined them and agreed to play President. I found it interesting that they were familiar with the game, in fact, I believe they were the ones to suggest it. We quickly realized however, that we had far more rules for the game than they did. (Dan Says: All of which involved drinking insane amounts of alcohol.) Even though the day was a bust as far as doing anything exciting, I had a blast tonight. Not only was the card game fun, but the Kiwis were a good time. It reminded me so much of hanging out with all of my friends from back home. We used to and still do stuff like that all the time. I'm glad I got to know a few people from somewhere else that I could actually communicate with. I was having so much fun, I didn't go to bed until 2am. (Dan Says: Wow, you managed to stay up late enough to see the Argentine nightlife get started.)

So the day ended on a good note.

Buenos Aires In Three Hours

April 10, 2006
Day 194
Andrea Visit Day 2

Today we slept in and caught up on some much needed rest. We got up just in time to have some medialunas, sweet crosissants, at around 10:30. They are very good. Then we went to the mall to check out the Salvidor Dali exhibit at the museum there. Yeah, I know, museum at the mall? Different. Dan enjoyed the work of Dali more than I did, but I'm still glad I can say that I saw his work. It's just too abstract for my taste. (Dan Says: The only difference between him and a lunatic was that he was not a lunatic.) Then we decided to visit the other main exhibit that was there, which consisted of photographs by Robert Capa. His pictures covered the Spanish Civil War, WWII, and the Indo-China War(pre curssor to Vietnam). I liked this much better than Dali's work. The captions to the pictures were in English first of all so I could understand what the pictures were about. There were a few that were in Spanish only, but I knew enough about the history that I could guess what it was talking about just by recognizing a few words. I learned quite a bit from viewing the photos, which also added to my enjoyment of them. By the time we were done looking at art it was time to get back to the hostel to go on a guided tour of the city.

We were running a bit short on time and I asked Dan about lunch. It was already after 2pm and my tummy was telling me I was about two hours late for lunch. The whole time schedule here is much later than in the U.S. People don't even think about going to eat supper until at least 9pm or later. Anyway we had just enough time to pick up some empanadas. Empanadas are sort of like a hot pockets, but freshly made, not processed. There are many different kinds that you can get. We had ham, chicken, and beef. They all had egg in them, which is different, but they were soooo good. I decided that we need to get this in the U.S. Dan and I are currently trying to figure out how we might finance the opening of a Solo Empanadas store in Madison or Rochester. I think we could make a killing. (Dan Says: If it's such a lucrative idea, why are you putting it here?).

We got back to the hostel just in time to make our tour. We enjoyed our empanadas on the small tour bus as others were picked up. The tour around the city ended up taking about 3 hours. We visited four or five out 47 neighborhoods that make up the city. We were able to get out and walk around a few of the areas. The tour was fun because we were able to see a lot in a short time. Now we will go back and visit our favorite places later in the week. Then we can explore them at our leisure. Highlights of the tour include the Pink House, like the White House in the U.S. in which the President of Argentina works, the Boca Juniors Stadium, and the Boca neighborhood. We plan to go back the main cathedral and the Boca neighborhood. After visiting the Boca Juniors stadium I decided even though I had cheered for River yesterday that I would be a Juniors fan. Why, you ask? Well Boca's colors just happen to be the same as the old school Brewer colors. Cool huh? So I will be coming home with some Boca stuff. We drove past the zoo, museum of modern art, and the cemetery, where Eva Peron is buried. We plan on going to all of those places as well.

After our city tour Dan went to check out the availability of another hostel for the rest of the week. I stayed back at the hostel and started work on my very first blog. Dan brought back the most bitter coffee I think I've ever had from McCafe, which is Starbucks, McDonald's style. I think they put about half a pound work of sugar packets in the bag, so that helped with the bitter. At about 9:30pm we decided it was time to get some supper. Dan has been telling me how great the steak is here, so we walked to one of the more modern neighborhoods to check out some restaurants. I really like this part of the city. It was very nice and there are life size fiberglass cows scattered around either dressed up or painted in different ways. It reminds me of the cow like things around downtown Milwaukee. Although these are realistic except for their costumes/paint jobs.

We checked out the menus of a few different restaurants before settling on one. They seemed to have a good variety of beef dishes for the best price. It was the nicest restaurant I've ever been to, and I still could wear jeans there. Linens and very professional service. We ordered a bottle of wine to go with our meal. The food was outstanding. The steak was cooked to perfection and was so tender you barely needed a knife to cut it. We were able to sit at our table until about 1:00 and the only reason we had to leave is they were closing. Here the wait staff only visits your table when needed and won't bring the bill until you ask for it. People are welcome to sit at the table for as long as they please. This is good as long as you aren't in a rush. (Dan Says: It was a great meal, but it did cost about $35 total.) After dinner we stopped to get ice cream on our way back to the hostel. It was pretty good, but not quite the same as in the U.S.

All in all we saw a lot today. It was also a very good food day. Everything I had I loved!!! (Dan Says: I'm just doing my job, ma'am.).


April 9, 2006
Day 193
Andrea Visit Day 1

To the faithful readers of Dan's blog, you are now about to gain a new perspective, mine. (Dan Says: Well, I still feel the need to throw in my opinion every now and then. So plan on hearing from me throughout Andrea's ramblings. Think of it as a conversation of sorts.) This is Andrea, a friend of Dan's, who some of you may know or have heard about. So for the next week you will be hearing from me as I detail an account of our adventures.

This morning I arrived in Buenos Aries, Argentina, after a very long flight originally from Chicago. When I got off the plane a guy was standing there rattling off instructions in Spanish so I had no clue what he was talking about. So I just followed the crowd. There was a huge line of people going through some sort of immigration checkpoint. There were two lines, one for citizens, one for tourists. I felt better after someone asked me in Spanish which line was for tourists. He asked in English after I met him with a blank stare. After getting through the checkpoint with no problems I went to get my luggage. After that I wasn't quite sure where Dan would be meeting me. As I walked toward the exit I saw a crowd of people waiting so I figured that would be my best bet. It was. As soon as I walked past the last security point Dan spotted me. (Dan Says: Thankfully, I was there on time or I would have faced the wrath of Andrea). It was great to see him again, but a bit weird as we were in another country. (Dan Says: It was nice for me because she was the first person from home I had seen in over half a year. We hopped on a bus and caught up. Mostly I filled him in on stories that I had been saving because I was too lazy to type out all that stuff on e-mail. (Dan Says: I enjoyed hearing someone with a Wisconsin accent again. Phrases like "holy crap," "cripes," "royally ticked," and "holy buckets" were mainstay in our conversation.).

Once we arrived at the hostel we had some breakfast and coffee. We were able to get our own room and bathroom in the hostel, which is nice as we don't have to share a space with five or six other people. (Dan Says: It's the nicest hostel I've stayed in for a long time). After we got settled in we took off to walk around the part of the city near our hostel. There are several pedestrian malls in the city. The one near our hostel reminds me a lot of State Street in Madison, lots of shopping and places to eat. We also took a brief walk through the shopping mall, which was much nicer than any I've been to in the U.S. The shops looked upscale, but the prices were cheaper than in the U.S. (Dan Says: I guess that brakes the "Third World Country" stereotype.).

So far it doesn't really feel like I'm in a foreign country. The people are just like any you would see in any big city in the U.S. I thought I would stick out here, but I don't at all. It is a very diverse place. I recognize a lot of brand names from the U.S. Plus there's no language barrier for me. I can have a conversation with Dan in English and many people here speak English as well. When people do speak Spanish Dan can translate, so no big deal. Anything else that is foreign, like the money system, Dan can explain to me. He's been here for awhile and knows the ropes, for the most part. (Dan Says: I love playing tour guide!).

We had lunch early in the afternoon around 2pm, which is fairly typical. We just shared some grilled chicken, which was good. It was made on an open grill in the main part of the restaurant. This is also common. My favorite part of the meal was the sauce that went with the bread. I liked it even better than ranch, which I love.

After lunch we went back to the hostel to make plans to attend a soccer game later in the afternoon. Dan tried getting into contact with someone he had gone out with the night before. The lady at the reception desk was enjoying mate (pronounced "mah-tay"), a very popular drink. As he made the phone call to his friend, I had mate. It is basically a special cup filled with dried Yerba leaves and then infused with hot water. You sip it through a metal straw that has a strainer on the bottom, which prevents you from drinking the tea leaves. The kind most people drink is bitter and Dan had made it sound like it was practically undrinkable. However this the less-common kind, which had a little sweetness to it and I liked it. (Dan Says: Personally, I like "amarga," or non-sweetened mate better. It's a way of life here.).

Dan never got a hold of his friend so we made our way to the soccer game on our own. We couldn't find the bus to get to the stadium, but we did find some River Plate (name of soccer team) fans. We jumped on the same bus as they did and successfully found our way to the stadium. (Dan Says: My way of travel may not be the easiest or fastest, but at least it's adventurous.). We got off the bus a few blocks from the stadium, but could still here the boisterous crowd singing away. We were a bit late and by the time we got to the ticket booth that sold the cheaper general admission tickets, there was a crowd pushing and shoving to the to the window. It seemed a bit unruly until about two minutes later when the ticket windows slammed shut meaning they were sold out. All that meant is that we would have to pay more to see the game. The general admission price was 7 pesos for women and 14 for men. Personally I thought that was great. Instead we paid 30 pesos which is about $10 U.S. There are completely different sections for the home and away fans. River is the second best team in the city, second to Boca. Instituto, the team River played, was the underdog by far, so there were by far more River fans in attendance. The soccer game, no offense, was rather boring. But that's just me. However, it was a blast because of the crowd. The only thing I've experienced that is even remotely like this is a Badger Hockey game. The loudest River fans were located at the end of one goal. The fans were just crazy. In Dan's words they were sober but acting like a bunch of drunken fools. You could hear the banging of a drum or drums which provided the beat for the songs the fans sang. Songs at a soccer game here are the equivalent of chants, cheers, and shouting at sporting events in the States, except the songs never really stopped. They just got louder or changed when something exciting happened. At the end of the game when River was up 3-1 the rowdy fans unfurled the hugest flag I have ever seen. It covered at least five sections of the stadium from top to bottom. That was cool!! The only other thing that caught my attention at the game was all the police that were there. There were three or four at the entrance of each section and then four or five more scattered throughout the section. The cops are there to apparently prevent potential riots from breaking out. I haven't become a soccer fan, but it was a ton of fun.

After the soccer game we came back to the hostel to chill for awhile before heading out for supper. We left at 10, again a common time to eat, and decided on a buffet. We had Parrilla, which is variety of cow parts. I'm pretty sure part of what I ate was intestine, which I only took one bite of. The flavor wasn't bad, but the texture of the "filling" was a bit . The sausage was the best part, but that may be due to my Wisconsin roots. There was something else on my plate, I think may have been kidney or liver, but that pretty much made me want to throw up. Dan told me to just spit it out, but I just washed it down with Quilmes, which is pretty much the equivalent of Miller Lite, both in taste and popularity. You see signs for it everywhere. Dan doesn't like it, but I thought it was good. There wasn't really any dressing for salads and the best thing I had was some type of Chinese food. The ice cream was also good, but I think it was made from water instead of milk. I had blue, which tasted exactly like the frosting my mom makes for birthday cakes and pink, which tasted just like cotton candy. Yum!!!

I finally got to bed around 1am, maybe. Considering I only got two hours of fragmented sleep on the plane, it was a very long day. I had lot of fun though. So far I like it.

Observation of the day: My first impression of the city is that it is dirty, smelly, and loud. However, I'm not much of a city person and Buenos Aires is a huge city. The whole city is not like this. The pedestrian mall is very nice, and I think so far that is my favorite part. However, the city atmosphere is offset by all the parks and plazas I have seen. Those parts of the city are full of big trees, green grass, peace and serenity. I can't wait to relax in one.

Lesson of the day: People really aren't that different. At the soccer game there were these two little boys sitting in front of us. At the end of the game they appeared to be getting a bit bored with the game, as was I since I was watching them more than the game. They had just finished their popsicles and were playing around with the sticks. I was bit horrified when one seemed to shove the stick rather far up the other's nose. Then they proceeded to play doctor, the one Spanish word I recognized, using the Popsicle stick as a tongue depressor. I found it entertaining. At the restaurant we had supper at, there was a little eating something that made quite a mess around her mouth. I could tell her father was admonishing her as he reached over to wipe her face clean. She then used her sleeve, which only got an even more negative reaction from her dad. I just smiled to myself, thinking that's something I would have done when I was little. Kids are kids no matter what part of the world you are in.


April 8, 2006
Day 192

Today I went to a soccer game with Kathleen. It wasn't between any of the elite teams in the city, but both teams were good and evenly matched, making for a good game. I didn't realize this when I got to the stadium, but each side of the field has its own fans, so they can never mix/riot. I'm still not a fan of the game, but the atmosphere of the game was unbelievable. Everyone was jumping up and down, waving giant flags, and singing the entire game. Whenever my team took a shot at the goal, no matter how pathetic it was, everyone cheered their effort. It was a strange feeling to be cheering for a team for not scoring, but I guess if you only cheered the goals, you'd be sitting on your hands all the time. I picked the losing side, but I think from now on "Velez" will still be my team. I finally have a feel for Argentine soccer now that I've been in the country for several months.