Archive for December, 2008

Balls O’Soap

This public hygiene oxymoron is pictured to the left — they are the green and pink egg-shaped items suspended over the sinks on metal bars. The first time that we encountered these in a public restroom, none of us could figure out what they were (it’s as if the girls and I mentally erased their existence) and we proceeded to search high and low for the soap. I’m not sure upon whom it finally dawned that we were supposed to rub our hands on the Easter egg hanging over the sink!

Four-Byin’ and Four-Leggin’

On Christmas Eve, we took a two hour off-road trip with Andes 4×4. The day after Christmas, we completed a three hour trail ride that was beautiful. (Although the girls have been on horses many a time, this was their first extended ride, and they adored it.)

Both outings were fabulous. While in the Land Rover, we traversed a completely broken-down trail that was traveled by priests with pack horses from Nono to Cordoba; in those days, the trip would take 5 days. (Now, by car, it takes about 3 hours.) As you can see in the photo below, we were amazed at what our driver, Alejandro, was able to successfully negotiate!

The vista as we descended into the valley was incredible. It was the rainy season, so there is more greenery and wild flowers than you would expect in such a rocky mountain environment.

Santa Made It to Nono

Christmas at the estancia really started on Christmas Eve, which is the important day here in Argentina.

As Papa Noel was flying around the world delivering presents, we were erecting our Christmas tree that Fred Johnson sent to me before we left Buenos Aires. The girls and I had a ball putting it together. Of course, it called for craft glue to attach the ornaments and the snow drifts to the tree. Surprisingly enough, I don’t travel with my hot glue gun, so we improvised and used some athletic adhesive tape. We grew quite fond of this little tree, although the girls were somewhat concerned about presents fitting under it!

We took our tree to Christmas Eve dinner, which featured suckling pig (pictured below on the parilla — Zoe had a heart attack because she saw them butterflying the pigs whole). We had singers entertaining us during the meal, they lit off some fireworks afterwords, and then, past midnight, the Argentinian kids opened their presents. Everyone young and old partied into the night.

We, on the other hand, went to bed. When we got up in the morning, the Zs were delighted to discover that Santa was able to locate us. He used the Christmas socks that Fred sent us as stockings and there were presents around our little foam tree. It was a lovely, simple Christmas that we all enjoyed. (And a big thanks to Fred Johnson for all of our Christmas accoutrement).

Argentina: Quirks and Qualities

QUIRK: Garbage Cans. Why is it that every cabin and every hotel room that I’ve stayed in has only one garbage can located in the bathroom; and why is said garbage can so tiny that you can fit exactly nothing in it; and, why does this garbage can have a lid with a rotating top that cannot function if there is actually any garbage in the bin?

QUALITY: Dulce de Leche…for breakfast…I mean caramel in the morning, does it get any better than that?

QUIRK: Flash Web Animation. In planning our two months of traveling this summer, we surfed a lot of sites from all over the country, and it seemed that EVERY site used the same Web designer because they all had a flash splash page that took forever to load and featured background music that could not be turned off.

QUALITY: Everyplace that we have traveled in the campo has had fabulous neighborhood dogs that kept the girls occupied for hours.

QUIRK: Maps with No North. We have noticed that in Argentina, maps are often displayed with an eye toward a pleasing layout and often do not have any indication of which way is north! Of one thing you can be certain though, north is not at the top of the page.

QUALITY: You can sit in a cafe for absolutely ever, sipping on agua or cafe con leche, and the waitstaff will never try and roust you out of your seat. (We truly tested this in Cordoba where we encamped at a cafe for 6 or 7 hours during our layover. At one point, we had two computers plugged in, running movies which four of us were watching on headphones with Y adaptors…no problem!)

Buses, Boats, and Automobiles

Yes, more family traveling disasters as we ventured from northwestern Uruguay to the Sierra mountains of Argentina (southwest of Cordoba).

We started for Montevideo on the Saturday before Christmas, leaving Punta del Diablo at 11:15 a.m. (pictured here at the bus stop). The car that we were counting on to help schlep our bags into town wasn’t available, so we had to sprint, in the sun, over dirt/sand roads, with our suitcases to make it to the bus stop on time! The bus trip to Montevideo was long and hot, but generally uneventful, thank God!

Sunday, at mid-day, we took a boat from Montevideo to Buenos Aires, Argentina. In BA (which felt like home) we had a 7 hour layover, during which we had to run a zillion frantic Christmas and travel errands. At 10:30 pm on Sunday, our overnight bus left Buenos Aires for Cordoba, where we arrived at about 7:30 a.m. in the morning on Monday.

After an hour at the Cordoba bus station, we were preparing to depart for Nono, Argentina when Zelda somehow managed to fall into a giant grease slick, getting herself and her bag covered with a thick coating of engine oil (about 2 minutes before our bus left). We boarded the micro (small bus) and began our journey on a long winding road that climbed up through the clouds into rocky terrain. Really beautiful. Unfortunately, the bumpy ride with cloudy visibility whilst sitting in the back of the bus on twisting switchbacks caused Zelda to get sick, really sick. (Luckily, all of Zelda’s childhood illnesses involved massive amounts of vomiting, so she’s pretty nonchalant about the whole thing…and rather neat as well! Poor bean.)

Upon our arrival in Nono (Zelda sporting a combination of grease and vomit), we took a local taxi over rocky roads, gravel, through a creek, and after about 20 or 25 minutes, we arrived at our final destination: the estancia La Lejania. (It only took 51 hours of traveling from Punta del Diablo.)

What is the first thing that we did at the estancia? I’m afraid that we accidentally locked Ian in the cabaña. He had to escape out a window with a pretty big drop off. Needless to say, he wasn’t too pleased.

[And apologies for the posting blackout, we were without Internet access this past week.]

Lonely Planet Top Ten

It is our last night in Punta del Diablo, the town that made the Lonely Planet Top Ten Places to Visit in 2008. We have had a lovely time decompressing; enjoying the slow pace and empty beaches. And, as an added bonus, Zoe said that she had her best birthday ever (of course she says that every year).

Should you decide to visit, we have our own guidebook observations below.

  • Pack some warm layers. The wind really howls and it’s cold at night.
  • Don’t expect a super fine white sandy beach with clear water, a la Mexico or the Carribean. The sand is nice, but can get a little bit rocky as you enter the water. And the waves–a pounding Atlantic surf that is cool when you first submerge yourself. (Kind of reminds me of Oregon a bit, actually.)
  • The town is spread out, so if you rent a cabin, make sure that you are close to the grocery store and the beach, otherwise you might be doing more walking than you anticipated.
  • Make sure that your rental accommodations come with sheets and towels. (Something we learned the hard way!)
  • Even though we didn’t stay at the El Diablo Tranquilo Hostel, we would recommend them highly. We ate at their restaurant nearly every night, we rented their surf boards, they made an awesome birthday cake for Zoe’s birthday, and they let us buy some WIFI time. Top notch organization.

Photos courtesy of Tom and his morning sunrise walk!

How Would We Pack for BA Now?


1. Tampons (I laid in an 8 month supply!)
2. Pans (We brought two All Clad pans with us, a stock pot and a frying pan.)
3. Chef’s Knife
4. Paring Knife


1. Glide Floss
2. Leopard DVD (Tom could have then restored his MAC operating system in English after his hard drive died.)
3. Y Adapter (So the girls could both listen to a movie or music on one device.)
4. More US Bills (Moving and traveling require cash money.)


1. Formal Clothes. (Everyone goes on and on about the formality of the populace in Baires, but the truth is, it’s like any other international city…unless you’re going to work or hanging out in a trendy bar, jeans and a regular shirt are SOP. I would have packed far less “nice” clothing and more t-shirts.)


1. Immersion Blender (pictured above). We bought this little jobby in Baires and I love it. I haven’t used an immersion blender forever, and they’ve come a long way baby. Truly, this is a power tool! We have taken it with us on our summer sojourn and we try to make smoothies most mornings, no matter where we are staying!!!

Point of the Devil

It still isn’t high season here in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay…the locals tell us that high season starts directly after Christmas and goes until about mid-February.

One waiter likened the busy season to the scene in Ibiza, only with a lot of South American visitors mixed in with the European tourists. (Not so many Americans.) Now, in mid-December, it’s still pretty deserted and the beaches and restaurants are empty; which is exactly what we wanted.

The town itself is basically built on the dunes, with the types of roads you would expect…sand and dirt! There are neighborhood dogs to keep us company on our walks…all pretty clean, happy and well behaved. There are beautiful moon rises to light our way home after eating out late (of course). There is a howling wind that keeps our temperature down, but makes us more susceptible to sun burn because we never feel hot! There is a fabulous restaurant serving us some of the best food we’ve had in South America. Oh yah! There are people from all over the world, young and old. There are a zillion stars in the sky. There are large busy anthills in the dunes.

And there is plenty of room on the beach to complete Crossfit workouts (Tom pictured above) — I know…we’re crazy!

Yerba Mate Mania

Uruguayans are serious about their mate drinking–they take it with them everywhere.

The mate-on-the-go form executed throughout the country is characterized by tucking the thermos under the arm, and then holding the cup and sipping straw in the same hand. (It’s an advanced maneuver, one that Ian is trying to perfect.)

This one-armed technique allows you to have all of your mate necessities at hand, while still leaving an arm free. For instance, at the bus station, with all of the bags that weren’t heavy (that means all suitcases except for ours), the bus driver clutched his mate accoutrement in one hand and loaded bags with the other. You’ve gotta be impressed by that.

Unfortunately, Ian doesn’t really have the right cup for this mobile mate consumption, so we often hear, “ahhh, I burned my hand,” as we walk around Punta del Diablo.

Towel, Sheet, Internet Boycott

Apologies for the break in posting over the weekend. We traveled to Punta del Diablo and the free WIFI places in this small fishing village are down, so that meant no posting!

(After a momentary freak out, we were ready to embrace a week free of the Internet…until we discovered a hostel that would let us buy some WIFI time!)

Back to the story. Just as we were “manning up” to living without the Internet, we realized that we were going to be embracing a week free of towels and sheets as well. (In truth, this is more “manning up” than I intended on this version of our journey.)

The bleeping dirtwad who owns the cabaña we are renting in town left us with no sheets or towels! When we hiked into town to call him (he lives in Montevideo), he said, “nothing I can do, I do not provide these.” Basically, their trick was to make the beds with attractive and colorful bed spreads to cover the mattresses and pillows so they appeared to be properly made (with linens). It wasn’t until we actually went to get in the bed that we realized there were no sheets or pillowcases. (Do not rent a cabin called “Lo Maximo” from Eduardo in Punta del Diablo.)

We learned about the lack of towels after washing Zelda’s scraped knee (which Ian captured beautifully in the photo above).

We currently have a two-stage solution to post-shower drying. Stage 1: We wipe ourselves semi-dry with cleaning/dish rags that we found at a local market. (Man do these rags slough off a lot of fuzz, and they are a bit water repellent…) Stage 2: We whip out my teeny tiny hair dryer and blow dry our bodies.

These two stages get us to a slightly tacky/sticky state, which is when we know it’s time to get dressed!