Archive for December, 2008

California is the Chicken of Traveling

As analogies go, I know this is a little confusing, but stick with me!

A person tastes rabbit for the first time and says, “hmmm, that tastes like chicken.” Chicken is the meat onto which everyone projects new carnivorous experiences. As we were taking our four hour bus trip on Saturday through Uruguay toward the Brazilian border and Punta del Diablo, I often looked at the landscape and thought, “hmmmm, that reminds me of California.”

That’s when I realized that California is to travel what chicken is to new meat experiences. The golden state, which I spent most of my childhood driving through or across, has a lot of land mass with such varied terrain that it can be analogous to nearly any spot in the world.

So, that means that California is the chicken of traveling…at least for me.

Tarriance in Montevideo

What a charming city. We spent most of our time in Ciudad Vieja, which is the historic part of Montevideo (and has a little bit of that Lord of the Rings decayed antiquity theme — there are ramparts falling into the sea, gates to the city, towers…)

Ciudad Vieja has a pedestrian walkway that runs through the middle of it that is closed to traffic. From this walkway, if you look to the left or right, you can see water. The old city is pretty impressive in that it’s built on a point that is surrounded by water on three sides. There are many beautifully restored buildings here, a robust police presence due to the large amount of tourists, shops, the inevitable McDonald’s (with the tag line “me encanta”) and a nice street market. Stray but a block or two off of the pedestrian walkway though, and you feel as if you are in a different city; the streets are sparsely populated and the buildings dilapidated.

Being in Montevideo made me come to a realization about Buenos Aires — buses are killing BA. They are ridiculously and unnecessarily loud, the street noise they generate drowns out everything else, even the conversation of the person standing next to you on the sidewalk. And, they spew noxious black exhaust that hangs over the city like a pall. By contrast, Montevideo seemed insanely quiet and and the air was crisp and clear — lovely.

One note, when you are located on a point of land surrounded by water on three sides, it’s freaking windy!!

At Least We Aren’t in the Tiki Lounge

We arrived in Montevideo yesterday on the BuqueBus boat in typical Offermann-Reeves fashion: one child with a high fever, two children with motion sickness, and too many bags (although we are getting much better about over-packing).

It went downhill from there. We couldn’t find a place to get local pesos; the cab line was an hour long; there were problems finding a taxi into which we could all stuff ourselves; our cab driver freaked out about the neighborhood of our hotel and warned us twice to be careful that someone didn’t steal our bags off of the sidewalk; Zoe had dry heaves last night; the shower in our room leaked onto the entire bathroom floor today, through the wall, onto and into the carpet, over the edge of the mezzanine and downstairs (“Mom, there is water dripping downstairs!”); Zoe’s fever got worse…you get the picture.

(Of course, we still think the glass is 3/4 full because we’re not in the Tiki Lounge!)

The good news: no one stole our bags off of the sidewalk, there is a lovely complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we were moved to new rooms that don’t leak (and they’re actually nicer), Zoe is a bit perkier tonight, and Montevideo is a charming city surrounded by water…more on that last one tomorrow!

My First Born Child for a Package

I had no idea that picking up a package in Baires would be so complicated!

Upon arriving at the central post office, the whole Offermann-Reeves clan entered a smallish room with postal clerks and a waiting area, where we took a number. When our turn arrived, we submitted our package delivery notice to the clerk, who had me sign it. She then tapped on the computer, ripped some stuff, and handed me a stub that contained a circled 6-digit package number.

Next, we were motioned into another larger waiting area. Clutching our stub, we all filed into a room that was dominated by row upon row of seated customers listening to low-quality loudspeakers blaring numbers.

We were to sit in this room waiting for our package number to be called for what they projected could be anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes.

Being on standby, anticipating our number, was uber nerve wracking. There was no board displaying the package numbers that already had been called, and when the digits were spoken over the loud speakers, they were nearly indistinguishable.

Finally, after about 15 to 20 minutes, our package came up. It was in my name, so I got to walk to the end of the room, go through a random turn style, and pass through an unmarked door. (That’s where everyone else went, so I did too.) This door led me to a small antechamber that had another unmarked door to my left, which I walked through.

I was now in the bowels of the post office. The belly of the beast was host to tons of people, and I was a bit overwhelmed. Customs work stations, postal employees retrieving packages, customers waiting for packages…had they come through the unmarked doors even though their number hadn’t been called?

After collecting my bundle of joy, I had to walk to another small area near the exit, where I scribbled my signature alongside my package number on xeroxed forms spread about on a table (very official).

That was it! I emerged, triumphant, package in hand, to the cheers of my family. Seriously, Tom said it felt a little weird to see me walk through the unmarked door…he couldn’t help but wonder if I was ever to return!

(The fruits of our labor? Receiving a fab smattering of stuffers from the stocking master, Fred Johnson!)

Monday Morning Is a Bitch!

Tom has noticed that when he takes the girls to school on Monday morning, he can nearly always find a seat for all three of them on the bus.

Why? Because the hard living, non-sleeping Porteños have had their ass kicked by the Argentine schedule (stay up late/get up early). By Monday, almost everyone is calling in sick, or late for work, thereby freeing up valuable seating on the bus!

The poor stragglers who do manage to drag themselves to the bus on time Monday morning usually look like hell and sleep during their commute.

Actually, the evidence of the tough weekend is visible by Sunday morning, when the city is a ghost town until about 2:00 p.m. Pictured above is Las Heras, a nearby busy street, at roughly the same time mid-day on a weekday and on Sunday.

Motorcycle Helmets on the Elbow

Motorcycle/Scooter helmet law in Baires requires that you have a helmet on your person, but you don’t necessarily have to wear it on your head! I know…weird.

Generally, you see these permutations:

  1. Not having a helmet at all.
  2. Placing the helmet on the motorcycle in between the driver’s legs.
  3. Hanging the helmet on the forearm, or in the crook of the arm, while driving.
  4. Placing the helmet on the crown of the head, so it looks as if would blow off in a stiff breeze.
  5. Seating the helmet completely on the head, but not fastening the strap.
  6. Lastly, wearing the helmet as it was designed.

Ian has a friend who wears his helmet properly, and when Ian asked why, his friend said, “Because it’s more comfortable than wearing it on my arm!”

New Theory: Tiki Lounge is Haunted

We have now decided that the poltergeist living in the Tiki Lounge (as we refer to our apartment) has been frustrated beyond belief because we weren’t really picking up on his message to get the hell out!

We didn’t understand that the water that sprays us from the bathroom sink, the floor polish that rubs off on our feet so that their bottoms are dark brown, the shower head that streams in an impossible-to-rinse-your-hair flow, the lights that burn out constantly (even with new bulbs), the door to the porch that gets more and more difficult to open, and the couch sectionals that tip over are really attempts to dislodge us from the apartment.

How did we finally get the message? That frigging ghost has started messing with our Internet connection.

Mmmm, hmmmm, that’s right. Our perfectly good WIFI connection doesn’t want to be found, blinks in and out randomly, and generally thwarts our attempts to do things like pay bills online, or waste time on mindless YouTube videos!

Interfering with our Internet connection, now that’s war…everything else, we can put up with!

And, we even know what the bastard looks like! The gentleman pictured above (in a painting that hangs in our entry way and is the first thing we see when we enter the door) must be our phantasmic friend.

Standoff at the Subway

(Sure, we’ve talked about the coin shortage crisis a few times before, but here are a couple examples of how it affects me every day. — Tom)

  1. To get to school every morning, the girls and I take the bus, which only accepts coins. So, everyday I have to figure out how to get more coins. One strategy I tried, when I happened to take the subway, was to forgo using the convenient subway card and actually stand in line to pay for a single fare ticket. A huge pain, but in exchange for a 2 peso bill, I would pay my fare and receive a precious $1.10 in coins.

    Problem solved, right? Well, not exactly. The clerk at the subway stop I most often frequent stopped selling me single fare tickets. I would show my 2 peso bill and ask for 1 ticket, and he would say “no monedas” and wave me through the gate for free. Every day, the same thing would happen. Same clerk. Same 2 peso bill. No coins, and he would wave me through for free. This went on for 2 weeks.

    You would think that I’d be pretty happy about this, but actually, it infuriated me. I don’t want to ride the subway for free…I really want the coins instead!

  2. Paying cash at the supermarket can be glacial. They keep very few coins in the cash registers, so every time they run out of coins, the checkout clerk has to call for a manager, who has to go to the safe to get more coins, who then exchanges 2 pesos worth of coins for a 2 peso bill. Yes, that’s right…they restock the coins in the register with the equivalent of 60 US cents at a time!

La Bomba de Tiempo

Ian and his fellow drum ensemble members made their performance and directorial debut on Monday, opening for the very popular La Bomba de Tiempo drumming concert that happens every Monday.

Ian kissed the Zs before going up to direct, which enamored him to everyone in the crowd. I must admit, I found myself with a tear in my eye as I looked on in admiration — it’s not easy to put yourself out there as a performer, especially when you are a 39-year old just beginning to learn your craft. He was fab, the group was able to follow his direction cleanly and crisply, and his directing was quite creative and engaging!

PHOTO GUIDE: Top photo is an Ian’s-eye view while he directs; two left is Ian directing; and, one left is Ian on the congas (in the center, and you can just make out the Zs). (Click to Enlarge Photos)

Flowing Flowery Farewells

Although Spanish and English are both Latin-based languages, you realize when you are living in a Spanish-speaking culture that we Americans use about 1% of our available vocabulary and we use that vocabulary in the least poetic and lyrical fashion possible.

I notice this most at social events when we are saying goodbye. Farewells are a lengthy event here in Baires and they involve a lot of cheek bussing and lovely words of parting…well, at least on the part of Porteños and very fluent expats.

For me…not so much.

When leaving a parent event, for instance, you will hear, “A thousand kisses, I was enchanted to spend this time getting to know you.” Your family is so lovely, your daughters so beautiful….” “Please, I am here to help you in the event you should require any assistance, you have all of my telephone numbers.” You get the picture.

To all of this we say a lot of “gracias,” and “adios!”

Not really in the same league. I think Spanish classes should begin with how to say an appropriately poetic and lyrical goodbye. Now that would be practical.