Archive for February, 2009

Time to Bitch about Our New Home!

terraceWe are now in our third apartment in Buenos Aires, and our second neighborhood. Our new home is a MUCH nicer place than the Tiki Lounge (our last dwelling), unfortunately though, our move has not been without problems. (More on those later.)

We are now living smack dab between outlet stores, funeral homes, and a trendy expat-focused district. Needless to say, it is not a neighborhood where we spent very much time previously, so we’re having to get to know our new environs — for some reason it has been hard to work up the energy. (Of course, we have located our closest Chino (small grocery store), laundry service, kiosk, and supermarket!)

Onward to our new pad…this place is what I picture the results of a makeover on Home and Garden TV to be — it all looks good, but most of the construction is cheap and doesn’t function well. Our closet doors, for instance, slide on rails. Sadly, the doors don’t slide far enough so that we are able to open the drawers that reside inside the closet, which means gaining access to the drawers often bumps the sliding doors off of their tracks. Really annoying. The shower has this crazy system where the water trickles down the back wall (I mean regular wall, not tile, not marble) and it collects in the recessed built-in shelves. The few drops that escape the shelves proceed down into a gutter on the floor. I’m guessing they used waterproof paint, but it doesn’t really work well. The “retro” furniture is falling apart. The roof leaked in three places during a recent rainstorm. The neighbors turned off the electrical service to our main air conditioner on a hot day. When we moved in, there were no phones downstairs, the doorbell didn’t work, the lights were nearly all out in the living room, the dishes weren’t clean, there was an electrical outlet literally hanging out of the wall, the downstairs toilet wouldn’t flush…you get the picture.

On a positive note, (I do have them) the place has an awesome private terrace (pictured above) with a built in parilla (grill), outdoor sink, outdoor outlets, and a large table. It’s really quite lovely. And the crazy high ceilings with fabulous light puts us in a good mood (or blinds us) when we get up in the morning!

Travel Tips Learned the Hard Way


  1. Make sure all ropa blanca is included — towels, blankets, sheets, pillowcases. Sounds funny, but after our Punta del Diablo experience, we learned to scan for towels and check for sheets immediately upon entering a room or a cabin.
  2. Breakfast Monotony. Prepare yourself for the fact that hotel or cabin-included breakfast will be exactly the same everywhere you go in the country. I am not exaggerating. Of course, I love the medialunas (little sweetened croissants), rolls, jam, butter, coffee, and fresh orange juice. What wore me down after awhile was the same slimy tasteless piece of Oscar Meyer-like deli ham, folded in half, next to the same slice of tasteless white cheese, folded in half. (Fresh fruit salad does appear occasionally, but know that you are hitting the jackpot if you get some!)
  3. Travel with cash. Many places don’t take credit cards and ATMs aren’t always available. (Poor Tom had a money belt with about a zillion Argentine pesos in it by the end of our trip because we had to hoard cash to pay for our apartment up front when we returned to Buenos Aires. It was quite a brick to pack around in a money belt. Needless to say, he got really tired of me saying, “is that your money belt, or are you just happy to see me?”)
  4. Barking in Bariloche. The dogs in Bariloche are spoiled outdoor dogs that bark at everything all day and all night long. If you read an online review of a cabin/house/hotel that mentions dogs barking, heed their advice and stay somewhere else, because when we were there, it sounded like we had six rabid dogs chained in our bedroom every night.
  5. Travelers checks, if you need to cash ’em, hop over to Chile. Travelers checks are about as valuable as toilet paper in Argentina, but you can really rock them in Chile.
  6. When in southern Patagonia, fly if you can afford it. The bus rides are long, slow, and in our case, either really really hot (traveling sweat lodge) or smelled like we had our head stuck down an outhouse for the entire ride. Many of the roads are not paved, and traveling over gravel for long periods of time on a bus can make even the most iron stomach get a little queasy.
  7. Control thy thermostat. You may want to note who controls the heat in the hotel/cabin you are renting if you are traveling to the colder climes of the south. (Ironically, our issue was that the rooms were sweltering!)
  8. Internet/WiFi reliability in the more remote parts of southern Argentina really fluctuates during prime time. Our experience was that access practically disappeared from late afternoon until late evening every day, so plan accordingly. Also, some locales only have satellite connectivity, so you don’t have the juice to Skype, stream, or move large files.
  9. Bring toilet paper and alcohol gel on long bus trips. (Click here for our other bus tips.)

Macho Macho Man

Being a party of five, we have to take two cabs everywhere we go because, in Buenos Aires, the insurance companies will not pay on any accidents if the cab driver has more than four passengers in his/her car. (They will not cheat, we have tried.)

A few days ago, we were catching said cabs outside of our door. The first cab was piloted by a woman who did not know the Las Cañitas area where we were headed. The second cab driver (male) did know the area in question, so we thought it would be fine if the female driver followed our male driver.

Instead, what ensued was machismo in action. The millisecond Tom and I were ensconced in our ego-driven car, the cab driver loudly declared that women taxistas were useless and proceeded to break the land-speed record to our destination. It would not have been possible for Mario Andretti to follow the dolt driving our carro.

Since there was no reeling in this guy, we sighed, pulled out the Guia T, and talked to Ian on his cell with directions so that we could all successfully meet at Persicco, our favorite heladería in Buenos Aires.


Summer Mixtape

[DJ Tom is responsible for this post.]

I can’t remember the last time I put together a mixtape, or even felt the urge to make one. But, after 7 weeks on the road, there are certain songs that I know will always remind me of our summer travels in Argentina, so it only seemed right to compile them together all in one place.

Courtesy of Favtape, you can play along as you read the rest of the post.

  1. Sheena Easton – “My Baby Takes The Morning Train”

    I swore this was a Juice Newton hit, but Michele insisted it was Sheena Easton. She was right, and she hasn’t let me forget it. (Clearly, I was mistaking if for “Angel in the Morning”.)

    This song’s chorus was impossible to get out of our heads. For weeks and weeks, one of us was always humming this tune. Zelda especially loved it, and if somehow the rest of us had collectively purged it from our minds for a short while, Zelda would come bopping along, singing “My baby takes the morning train…” and instantly reinfect us all.

    Admit it, you’re humming it right now, aren’t you?

  2. Vampire Weekend – “I Stand Corrected”

    A lot of mixtapes segue from Sheena Easton to Vampire Weekend, no?

  3. Coldplay – “Viva la Vida”

    The girls loved this song and desperately wanted to sing along with it, but could never get through it without asking a ton of questions. “Why is he rolling the dice?” “What are the bells ringing for?” “Who is St. Peter?” “…just what is this song about, anyway?”

  4. The Ting Tings – “Shut Up And Let Me Go”

    How do you learn about new music these days?

    Well, I’m not sure how hipsters do it, but I learned about The Ting Tings because their song was the background music for a Sponge Bob Square Pants commercial that played incessantly during our Bariloche stay. That commercial was easily my favorite thing on TV.

    The rest of the family quickly became nauseated by my ability to work the phrase “I ain’t freakin’, I ain’t fakin’ it” into nearly every conversation.

  5. The Decemberists – “Oceanside”

    By the time we hit Ushuaia, we had left our poppy, dance phase and had become a bit more contemplative and alternative. I’m not sure why I had to travel all the way to the end of the world before finally giving one of our hometown’s most acclaimed bands a listen.

  6. Bob Marley & the Wailers – “Iron Lion Zion”

    Uncle Ian filled our daughters’ iPod Shuffles with his favorites, making sure to ground them in the classics (Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin) and cover all important genres. This was the family consensus pick from the Reggae lesson.

  7. Madonna – “Give It 2 Me”

    We rented a car for a couple days in Bariloche. We spun the radio dial while we drove along the winding lakeside roads, searching for any song simple and catchy enough for the whole family to sing along to…and Madonna gave it 2 us.

  8. Katy Perry – “I Kissed A Girl”

    Yes, we’ve already mentioned that we heard this song everywhere in Argentina.

    Somehow, we managed to avoid a parent-child discussion about what exactly Katy Perry was singing about, but if that conversation comes up in the future, I’m ready. Thanks to the Pastor at Havens Corners Church, I now know what I’ll say:


Lessons Learned by the Zs

  1. Chewing on glacier ice can bust out a loose tooth.
  2. The tooth fairy is intrepid; she can find you even when onboard a boat in the Patagonian fjords.
  3. How to read the airplane safety information card. (Zelda was the airline safety police, making Tom turn off his Kindle during take off and landing.)
  4. Little girls can go to sleep even if they are sharing a big room with four other people.
  5. How to hang out in a cafe for 7 hours. (If we had a particularly long layover in a city, we would inevitably find a cafe with WiFi and really sprawl. Zoe would be at her own table reading. Zelda might recline on a bench seat. Ian and I would set up at a table near an electrical outlet for our computers. Tom would be at the “food” table, where we would munch throughout the day!)
  6. How to recognize oxidization in wine corks (they really keep an eye out for it now).
  7. A ten mile hike is just a bit too long for them.
  8. How to sing “Burn One Down” by Ben Harper. (Thanks a lot, Ian.)

One Storage Space Down…

…Four More to Go.

Tom loved to say that we had five storage spaces while we were out enjoying our summer sojourn:

  1. Two storage spaces in the US (I like to think of it as 1 1/2)
  2. One storage space rented in Buenos Aires.
  3. Suitcases stashed at Jermey’s apartment.
  4. Computer backup at Guada and Dani’s place here in Baires.

We have managed to clear out our Baires storage space (we used Deposito Belgrano — they were great). In the next few days, we should have our precious items from Dani, Guada and Jeremy, which will leave us back to a paltry 1 1/2 (or 2) storage spaces. (Containing all of the stuff that we couldn’t possibly live without.)

Wondrous Weather Wonkiness

On our first trip to El Calafate, Argentina, we arrived in the midst of a torrential downpour. When we asked around about how long the weather might last, we were greeted with a Gallic shrug and a loosely translated, “it depends upon what side of the bed the Chileans have risen.”

When approaching Cape Horn for an attempted landing, there was no mention of the weather forecast, because “you wait five minutes and the weather will change.”

So imagine our surprise when we arrived in El Chaltén and the bus driver, Gonzalo (the owner of the cabin we rented), the park ranger, and various restaurateurs gave us very complete weather forecasts…for the next 3 days, all of which included words like “barometer” and “high pressure.”

And you know what? The forecast was dead on! So it IS possible to predict the weather somewhere in southern Patagonia!

Climbing Mecca

elchalten1The first thing we noticed on our 3 hour bus ride to El Chaltén (north of El Calafate) is that we really didn’t blend with the demographic on the bus — that would be backpackers in their early twenties from Israel! When we arrived in this small mountain village, our demographic isolation continued because we weren’t serious rock climbers or well-off seniors on guided tours either! There was a notable lack of 40-something parents with kids in town…go figure!

El Chaltén sports a confluence of rivers and is an area where the steppes meet the forested reserves of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, and it is crazy beautiful (if rather windy)! There are tons of well-marked and maintained trails that lead directly from town to the standard insane vistas that we have come to expect, nay, demand.

Added note, El Chaltén just got it’s first ATM and there is one grocery store that will take credit cards, but it’s still mostly an all-cash town, so bring a lot of the stuff if you are visiting.


Adventure Ennui in Ushuaia

ushuaia1Tom: “Wanna visit a glacier?
Mich: “Nahhh, I’m kinda burned out on glaciers.”

: “They have boat trips…”
Mich: “Are you serious, we just got off of a boat…?”

: “There’s a chairlift to a glacier…”
Mich: “Glacier, done it. Chairlift up a mountain, done it.”

If we had come to Ushuaia without having gone anywhere else in Patagonia, I’m sure we would have been excited to avail ourselves of the various activities available in the area. As it was, we were a tough group to inspire.

We finally settled on a 3-4 hour hike in Tierra del Fuego National Park along Lapataia Bay, ending up at Lago Roca. We’re glad we were able to get our asses in gear because it was beautiful and we spotted an amazing array of birds. (On a side note, Tom and I have decided that if you want to become a birder, you should just travel to southern Patagonia and experience about 200 life birds…knock a bunch out in one trip and then call it a day!)


Unsolicited Advice for Innkeepers

Tip: Arrange for very docile and friendly pets to lounge about your property if you want to attract and retain families in your establishments.

We spent a lovely 3 days in a Patagonia Villa cabin in Ushuaia, where we rarely saw the girls. They tarried away hours on the balcony with a cat sitting on their lap, purring happily; and they passed countless more hours on the front porch petting a neighborhood Golden Retriever. (By the way, we do think there was a direct correlation between the “loveliness” of our stay and the amount of time that the girls spent outside of the cabin!)

Mind you, at times, the weather was quite cold and windy, yet the girls would sit outside until they were blue-lipped, tending to their animal friends. Zelda said, “Zoe, the cat sat on me while you were downstairs and I think it was the best feeling in the whole world.”

Sheesh, they are really making me feel guilty about not allowing pets. I have relented and promised them a cat when we return to the US to live. Of course, they can’t be happy with that, they are now requesting two cats, one for each of them!