Shots of Argentina

Posted by David:

We’ve been gone from Argentina for a while now but we wanted to share some more pictures from our time there.

Stay tuned for a new “Toilet Blog” from Rikki.

Tango in Boca

Jose de San. Martin was the hero of Argentine independence from Spain and a fellow South American libertador with Simon Bolivar.  This is a great statue in the Retiro neighborhood near where we stayed.

Recoleta Cemetery

The Much Discussed Tomb of Evita

Some Delicious Treats

Portenos love their dogs but pay others to walk them. Watch your step.

Playing the ponies in Argentina.

Eva bought a great hat in the San Telmo neighborhood where they have a great art fair on Sundays.

Plaza de Mayo is an important place in the history of Argentina.  This is where the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo helped to bring the issue of the 30,000 disappeared people during the military regime starting in the late 70’s and 80’s.

This is the original government building in Buenos Aires

More beautiful buidings

Government Building

Evita is still as beloved as she was 50 years ago.

A Lion and his King

Kosher McDonalds. How strange is that?

Salt Flats

Horses on an estancia outside of the city.

Getting ready to go whitewater rafting outside of Salta, Argentina.

Loving the wet suites.

Colorful 7 Color Mountains outside of Jujuy, Argentina.

Count the colors.

Eating Llama (a delicious Argentine delicacy).

Small town near Jujuy with a great monument.

Salt Flats

Iguazu Falls…hard to show the massiveness of this waterfal.

Faces after lots of driving in rural Argentina.

Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Argentinean Busses

Posted by David:

We have used just about every mode of transportation that I can think of on this adventure, but our travels of the last week were extraordinary.

After five weeks of language classes in Buenos Aires, we decided to take some excursions to the northwest and northeast in Argentina.  We were heading for the town of Salta City in the Salta Provence (one of 24 Argentine provinces) and then venturing out from there to Jujuy, the salt flats, and some places in between before moving onto Iguazu Falls and finally back to Buenos Aires where we planned to fly to Lima, Peru.


There are plenty of flights to all of these places but we had been hearing about the wonderful long-distance busses in Argentina that are more like planes than busses complete with seats that turn into beds, food service, and movies, and we thought it would be fun.  So we bought the tickets.

I haven’t had stellar experiences on ultra-long distance bus rides in the past.  I once took a bus from Tel-Aviv to Cairo.  Smoking was mandatory and as you might expect, the windows of this bus were sealed shut.  There was also a video monitor above each seat, which blared a continuous loop of Arabic music videos at an ungodly decibel.  I was traveling with two friends and the one that sat next to me vomited the entire trip.  Two other very memorable long distance hauls include a 24 hour train from Cairo to Luxor which was very similar to the above mentioned bus trip, and a 48 hour Amtrak ride from Chicago to Seattle in which my friend, Eduardo, and I were seated next to a woman who berated and slapped her young kids for most of the journey.

Our first bus  ridewas 20 hours, our second bus was 26 hours and our third bus was an easy 18 hours!


For the most part, the busses were really nice.  The seats reclined enough so that you were almost in a prone position.  They were double-decker and we always got to sit on the second level, which was cool except for when there was a lot of wind and it seemed that the bus might tip over.  The bathrooms were, well….they were bathrooms on a long distance bus.  Use your imagination and then multiply times two and you’ll get the idea.

On the first leg of our journey, there was a man sitting a couple seats in front of us who snored.  Before the bus ride, Amy worried about a lot of different bus-related scenarios.  What if the bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere? What if there is a traffic accident?  What if the road gets closed by one of Argentina’s many manifestacions (protests)?  She forgot to think about the likely scenario of the snoring man who may be seated in front of us.  I am told that I snore, but I am sure my body is not capable of making the sounds that came from this man.  He produced a continuous and brutal head throbbing noise that came from a place in his body that was most certainly controlled by aliens.  It’s hard to believe that this man was able to stand up and walk after producing this sound for more than 8 hours.


There was food served but it made dormitory food look incredibly tasty and beautifully presented.  After the meal and before “bedtime” we were offered champagne or whiskey.  It was a nice touch but a bit incongruous with the overall experience. Having the movies was nice but unlike the movies shown on a plane where you choose to watch the movie or not by plugging in your headphones, everyone had to listen to the soundtrack.

The kids did great.  Amy and I aged about 10 years each but I will say that I was able to read a lot more in one sitting than ever before.


The second bus ride was the longest, 24+ hours, from Salta, Argentina to Iguazu, Argentina.  In addition, we had one transfer and an hour and a half layover.  I don’t remember much about the trip other than it was incredibly long and I found myself wondering whether having a catheter, although incredibly uncomfortable, I’m told, may have improved the overall experience.

The third ride from Iguazu back to Buenos Aires was only 18 hours and the bus was a notch above the other two we had taken.  The seats were more comfortable and the movie selection was pretty good, and the bathroom was clean(er).  The time went by quickly and I had a fun conversation with a young guy from New York named Ron Golan whose father had emigrated from Kabul, Afghanistan to Israel, fought in two wars in the Golan Heights and changed his last name to Golan in honor of the battles.

The kids did great on all three rides.  Amy was a trooper, as always, and I tried not to complain but really wished we had flown!  I do believe that it’s all in the journey, but I must say that long distance bus rides may not be included in my journeys in the future.

Categories: Argentina | 8 Comments

When David Gets a Cold

posted by Amy

I hope I am not jinxing our family, when I say that overall this year, we have been incredibly lucky in staying healthy.  But every once in a while, we do get a little bug that gets passed around the family unit.  No one likes to be sick, but to this date, I have never seen anyone do it so well as David.

David is quite sure when he gets sick, that he is the sickest that anyone has ever been, anywhere in the world.  Of course he is able to appreciate the difference between the common cold and a life threatening illness, but to rephrase, when he gets a cold, he is sure that he has the worst cold than anyone else has ever had in the entire world.

It is always helpful to David if I can manage to catch the bug first.  That way I have suffered some of the minor aches and pains and inconveniences associated with this bug and can build up some small amount of empathy when David eventually gets it too.  But, that also works against poor David when he gets sick, because I know it is not necessary to spend two days stricken in his bed.

Another aspect of David’s associations with his unhealthy self is his quest for a cure.  David is willing to try anything to get over his cold.  He believes in cultural emersion for finding a cure.  Most recently in Northwest Argentina, David gladly accepted a medicinal tea bought in a small pharmacy on top of a mountain.  The tea contained various herbs and probably was very soothing and helped him stay hydrated, but I am not sure it ended his suffering any faster.  In Phu Coc, Vietnam when David got the stomach bug that several other travelers staying at our hotel had also had and repeatedly told David, “It takes 24 hours, you will feel fine in 24 hours.” David laughed at the idea of waiting out a whole 24 hours.  He dipped into our traveling hospital bag and took the antibiotics we brought with us from home for just such a stomach bug.  He was better in 24 hours.

In China, there were the pills containing ground tiger bones, totally illegal in the open market, but easily bought if you know a guy.  In Peru, the recommendation to help ease the pain of altitude sickness is to sip coca tea or chew on coca leaves, two or three in your cheek will do the job.  If two or three are good, twelve or thirteen must certainly be better.  It’s okay, we don’t see any mandatory drug testing in David’s near future.

But the family does suffer when David gets sick.  Suddenly, the rest of us have to ask questions to waiters and tour operators, taxi drivers and random people on the street.  On our most recent trip in the mountains in Salta, Argentina, David felt so bad that he decided to sit in the back of the car our tour guide had rented to show us the region.  I had to sit in the front and make conversation.  Sure, I could handle the “where are you from originally?” and “how old are your children?” parts.  I could even ask a few well -informed questions regarding the political history of the region.  Where I froze though were the questions such as, “Well, tell me exactly why you got divorced.  And while you are at it, please give me the health history of your maternal line.”  I also, can’t talk about cars.  I don’t know anything about cars and see them more as a mode of transportation rather than a topic to fill hours of desert terrain.  Apparently, my pathetic attempts to made conversation with our tour guide was actually the best remedy I could ever find to David’s cold.  After the first rest stop, we changed seats.  David sat shot gun and took over interviewing the guide.  We quickly found out that he has a fiancé who lives in Poland and he is soon going to move there to be with her.  We learned the details involved in their meeting and all the job possibilities available to him in Krakow, including giving Spanish language tours of Aushwitz.

You will all be happy to know that we are currently feeling good and ready to tackle the final legs of our trip.  David has committed to staying healthy and we are all working on the art of asking questions, just in case.

Categories: Argentina | 3 Comments

The Classroom Commandments

Clase de espanol

Posted by Maya:

The way I see it, there are four basic classroom rules:

  1. Be at school on time
  2. Raise your hand if you want to speak
  3. Always ask the teacher before you leave the room to go to the bathroom
  4. Do your homework

The last time I was in a formal classroom was 10 months ago, but I am pretty sure that I remember those four rules from school. They are the four things that teachers tend to be the most fussy about. They have been enforced in nearly every class I’ve ever been in, from kindergarten to seventh grade. But apparently, these rules do NOT apply to adult education.

Maybe I should explain: We’ve spent the past month in Buenos Aires learning Spanish at a tiny, gorgeous school called Amauta. Since I was the only teenager enrolled at the time, I had the option of doing class with Eva and Rikki, or being in an adult class with my mother and four or five strangers. I chose to be in the adult class, and I have really enjoyed it. I went from knowing absolutely nothing in espanol to being able to communicate. Of course, I can only communicate with preschoolers, but it’s a start.  I’ve also really liked getting to know my fellow students at Amauta, my Spanish school.  We’ve met people from Australia, Alaska, Japan, Germany, Romania, Switzerland, Brazil, Sweden, Idaho…. The list goes on and on.  However, I was shocked to learn that nobody in my adult Spanish class remembered The Four Classroom Commandments.

I thought that it was ironic that I looked out of place raising my hand in a classroom. True, it’s one thing to have a discussion with six adults and another to have one with 27 thirteen-year-olds, but I just couldn’t avoid raising my hand! Also, for the first 3 weeks of class, I was bewildered by people who would get up and leave the room without asking the teacher. By the fourth week, I was more comfortable, and I even did it once or twice myself, but it still felt wrong, like somehow I was betraying every teacher I’ve ever had. It took me awhile to get used to people walking in the door nearly an hour after class started. I just chalked that up to the relaxed Buenos Aires atmosphere.

I was able to adjust to the breaking of the first three Commandments easy enough, but the last one, Do Your Homework, proved more difficult. I was absolutely shocked by the amount of people in my class who winged it when the teacher had us read our assignments out loud. “What would your mother say?” I wanted to shout. That is, until my own mother pulled the same trick. I just couldn’t believe it! Didn’t my classmates, including my mom, want to be prepared?

While the lawless Spanish classes did have some appeal, I think I prefer classrooms with rules. Though it is nice to be able to go to the bathroom whenever I want.

Categories: Argentina | 6 Comments

Cycling in Buenos Aires

Big Wheelin’ in Buenos Aires

Posted by: David

Buenos Aires is the perfect cycling town.  Wide streets, flat as pancake, and great weather year-round.  There are some but not tons of people on bikes here and the city has installed some bike-only lanes and a nice path that connects a major swath of the city.  Strangely, not as many people ride as you may think.  Many of those that do ride, use a very simple, single-speed beach cruiser type bikes cost a little less than $100 U.S.  They are perfect for this city.  Most Argentineans I speak to here say that cycling is so dangerous and that the drivers are too careless and there’s just too much traffic.  But I have found that the traffic here is no worse than in any other major city in the world including Chicago, New York, Paris, or Rome and cycling here has been great.  I’m a much safer cyclist than car driver anyway so I may have a warped perspective.

Classic Buenos Aires Cruiser

There are quite a few delivery cycles here that are used by pizza parlors and grocery stores.  I also saw a couple of old guys on cool old bikes with grinding wheels attached to the frame.  They have traveling knife and scissor sharpening businesses.  They stop and put the bike up on a stand that elevates the rear wheel so they can pedal the bike in place like an exerciser, and then use a belt that goes from the grinding wheel to a flywheel on the back wheel to power the grinder.  I was told that years ago, these guys had a particular song that they sang as they rode through a neighborhood that would let people know it was time to get their knives sharpened.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to get in on the bike culture here as I bought a used big wheel unicycle ( 29” diameter wheel) when we were in Australia and carried it with us to New Zealand and onto Argentina.  It’s smaller than the 36” wheel I ride in Michigan but it’s very easy to travel with and it’s still super fast (I can keep up with the average bike rider).  Our second day in Buenos Aires, I found that there was going to be a Critical Mass event.  These happen all over the world, including in Detroit.  It’s a grass-roots, quasi-anarchist movement not dissimilar to a flash-mob (a sort-of spontaneous but choreographed dance that manages to just happen in an unlikely public place with seemingly absolute strangers joining in) where at a set date and time, tons of people on bikes of all kinds gather and take to the roads forcing vehicular traffic to a standstill.  I showed up on my big wheel at the Obelisk in Buenos Aires at 4PM on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  After an hour or so, a bunch of people began circling the Obelisk on their bikes.  The group continued to grow and grow until several people branched off and began to ride away from the Obelisk with the rest of the group following.  At this point there were probably over 500 cyclists.

Riding the Big Wheel in Buenos Aires during Masa Critica

There was no set route but the group rode and rode and at each intersection, several participants would stop and hold off the oncoming traffic.  There were times when taxi drivers became irate but for the most part, people were very cool.  There were several places where the entire group stopped at huge intersections with large apartment buildings on either side.  People were out on their balconies and the group began to chant, “AGUA, AGUA,” and suddenly buckets of water were raining down on the crowd of riders.  It was awesome.  I was a fairly normal sight compared to the long-curly haired man in rainbow unitard pulling a child-trailer with a fully- grown woman inside, or the guy on a bike that was probably 20 feet long.  There was a guy with a cool old folding bike that was selling raffle tix for $$20 Pesos each and was planning to pick the winning raffle ticket at the end of the ride. I was the only unicycle and people really liked it.  Everyone wanted to know where I was from and if it was hard to ride the unicycle which they call a monociclio.  It was hugely energizing to ride through the streets with this mob of cyclists, see the city, and enjoy the pure joy of being outside and pedaling with others.  I rode for more than two hours that day and the huge group was still going when I broke off to go home.

I’ve ridden the big wheel around the city at other times too and to Spanish class.  It’s been a great way to see things that we don’t see from the public bus or taxis.  It’s also fun to see other people out on bikes and to talk to them.   The streets and sidewalks are pretty good and it’s been a good challenge navigating the massive amounts of garbage and dog waste that accumulates here.

Buenos Aires has done what many other cities around the world have done by making bikes available to people all over the city so folks can get from one end of the city to the other by bike without actually having to own their own.  Everywhere we have seen this program, there is a fee for the bikes but in Buenos Aires, it’s FREE, or gratis as they say here, for citizens of the city.  The bikes are basic but perfect for getting around and it seems as though the program is well used.

I hope that in 20 years I will come back to Buenos Aires and see a city with tons more bikes, and fewer cars, as it truly is the perfect cycling city.

Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Tomando Yerba Mate (Drinking Yerba Mate)

posted by Eva

What is Mate?:

Mate is a very popular drink here in Argentina. It tastes like tea but it’s not exactly tea. It is a joke that all Argentineans walk around with a cup of mate in one hand and a thermos of hot water in the other.  This seems pretty accurate to me.  Mate is a social drink. You say to your friends, “Do you want to come over and drink some mate?” Mate can be drank anywhere like in the park or at work.

How to Serve Mate:

Barbara, our Spanish school director, serving the mate

There is a very particular way to serve mate. First, the person who brought the mate prepares the mate. Then, the maker drinks the first cup. He or she refills the cup with water and gives the cup to another person. He/she gives it back to the maker to be refilled with water.  Everyone takes turns drinking the mate.  You and your friends all use the same straw. It is considered rude to wipe the straw after the previous drinker.  The maker knows when you have finished the cup because the straw makes a gurgling sound when you get to the bottom. If you want another round of mate, DO NOT say “gracias” to the maker. If you say gracias, it means that you are done drinking mate. Also, it is rude to say “gracias” after only one round of mate.  You should wait at least until the second.

How to Make Mate:

Step 1:  Get a Mate cup and some Yerba Mate.

Step 2:  Put a little bit of Yerba Mate in the cup.

Step 3:  Shake the cup upside down to get the “dust” out of the cup. (Muy importante!)

Step 4:  Put the Yerba Mate to one side of the cup.

Step 5: If you want sugar, put it in the empty side of the cup.

Step 6:  Add hot water to the side with sugar.

Step 7:  To put the bombilla (pronounced bombisha) in, scoop it under the Yerba Mate.

Tips for Making Mate:

If you don’t shake the dust out, a lot of stuff will come up your straw. Make sure you scoop the straw under the Yerba Mate.

This is a typical Mate cup. It is made out of a gourd.

Mate is actually the name of the cup, which is made from a gourd.

Notice the bombilla (straw). You can get a curved straw or a straight one.

You can buy the yerba mate (tea) at any supermercado. In fact, any grocery store here, will have a whole row devoted to mate!

Mistakes to Avoid:

When we tried to make mate ourselves, we put the straw in before the water and got a lot of yerba up our straw.  When we sucked up the yerba, we had to spit out the yerba chunks.

(This would be rude if you weren’t just with your family.)

Also, the water was way too hot, and we burned our tongues.

Another mistake that we made was that we put too much sugar in the cup.  Yerba tastes very bitter, but too much sugar doesn’t make it better.



David deciding if he likes the mate.

Categories: Argentina | 5 Comments

Rikki’s Toilet Blog about Graffiti

Posted by Rikki:

Nothing new to report on toilets, but I have this graffiti blog instead…hope you like it.  Take it one flush at a time.  Rikki.

Rikki's Toilet Blog

There is so much graffiti in Buenos Aires, you might think it’s legal.  But the truth is, it’s illegal.  Out of all the places we have been, Buenos Aires has, by far, the most graffiti.  The reason why there is so much graffiti here is that when the people are mad at the government one of the ways they show their anger is by doing graffiti.  If I wrote on the walls when I got mad, our walls would be colorful and exploded with graffiti and my parents would be like the government trying to figure out how to clean it up.  They would be exploded with anger.

Pretty Graffiti

Interesting Graffiti

Scribble Scrabble Graffiti

1976 to 1983, Argentina was under a dictatorship.  During this period, people would be put in jail or maybe even killed if they did graffiti.  The government kept everything looking like Oz except it was beige instead of emerald green.  After the dictatorship, the people were really mad at the government so they started to express how the felt through graffiti.

Some of the graffiti here in Buenos Aires is beautiful….masterpieces really.  Others are just words in Spanish that I really don’t understand. They could be swear words for all I know.  Some of it is just scribble scrabbles.

Some of the graffiti, as you know, is ugly.  I feel like it ruins the look of the city.  But some of the graffiti is quite beautiful and makes the city more interesting to look at.  I can’t really think of a solution right now, but  if you have a solution, I’d love for you to write back to me in the comments section and I’ll pass it along to La Presidente, Sra. Cristina de Kirchner.  Thanks for reading!

Graffiti I swear my dad didin't do

Categories: Argentina | 5 Comments

Futbol Argentine Style

Posted by David

Portenos (Aregentines living in the port city of Buenos Aires) are passionate about five things: Politics (they have 80% participation in elections), Beef, Tango, Mate (a hot herbal drink pronounced MA-TAY), and Futbol (the game we North Americans call soccer).  We have experienced all of these passions here in Buenos Aires, but going to see a futbol game was something I’ll never forget.

I was a little surprised when we were told that, under no circumstances, should we consider going to a futbol game in Buenos Aires on our own.  And even though a bleacher seat may cost the equivalent of $7.00 USD, and a Porteno might pay even $50.00 for a good reserved seat, we should happily shell out double this amount to get ourselves safely there and back. I know that games in the U.K can get crazy and sometimes violent, but this is Buenos Aires for Gods sake, what could possibly happen? My very sensible alter ego, Amy, decided that we should listen to this sound advice.  Once again, she was right.


We bought tickets through a hotel concierge near our apartment.  It was a whole package deal.  You get transportation to and from the game, tickets, and a personal escort that stays and watches the game with you.  You arrive an hour before the rest of the fans and leave half an hour after the rest of the fans have left the stadium.

So on the day of the game, we walked over to the hotel and waited for the bus.  A young guy named Santiago met us there and got us in a van with a bunch of other gringos headed for the futbol game.  We were going to see San Lorenzo and Colon play a very important game for San Lorenzo, the favored team.  We were told it was wisest to cheer for San Lorenzo.  I was also wearing a hat for another popular Argentinian soccer team called the Boca Juniors and was emphatically told to remove the hat prior to arriving at the stadium.

I joked with Santiago that he forgot to bring us our flack jackets and billy- clubs.  He chuckled gratuitously, which made me a little nervous.  We were guided to our seats and watched a warm-up match between two junior teams.  The stadium started filling up and we were seated in the expensive grandstand seats with an overhang protecting us from the sun.  It was about 90 degrees that day.  Behind one goal line there were bleacher seats filled with shirtless, die hard fans with lots of percussive type instruments, and behind the other goal line were the seats for the visiting team (Colon). They had about 100 sad-looking people hoping for an upset. Across the field from us were more grandstand seats filled with fans that didn’t mind sitting in the direct sun but were not rabid enough to sit in the bleachers.

The game started at 4PM and luckily there was a nice guy sitting next to me who helped us understand which team was which, who some of the players were, and some of the subtleties of the game including a translation of the fan’s chants and colorful expletives shouted at the refs and the other team, and the proper way to flail one’s arms.

The game was great.  The girls stayed engaged almost the whole time.  The fans were super rowdy and there was more standing up and sitting down than there is at a synagogue on Yom Kippur.

About halfway through the second period, it was still 0-0, a line referee threw a flag and called off-sides but only half the players, including San Lorenzo’s goalie, saw the flag.  Colon, kicked the ball into San Lorenzo’s goal during this quasi penalty period and the head referee decided to count the goal.  1-0 Colon.  The stadium erupted in anger.  The ref’s mother was maligned, his masculinity was questioned, and his life was threatened. Shortly afterwards, San Lorenzo scored but it was now 1-1 with only a few minutes left to play.  The game ended in a tie and the fans were in an uproar.  They were screaming, “Nobody leaves the stadium,” and the referees were afraid to exit the field.  The police, dressed in riot gear, surrounded the refs who did not dare make the move into the locker rooms.  As soon as they would take a step, fans began throwing things at them.  Finally, they made a mad dash into the locker room but the fans wouldn’t relent.

A huge group of fans gathered around the area where the refs and players would need to exit the stadium.  The police tried to disperse the crowd but nobody would leave.  We started to hear what we thought were firecrackers.  It turned out that it was tear gas.  Before we knew it, the gas had drifted up to our area, the civilized seats, and before we could get out of the way, it was in our eyes and throats.  We were tearing and coughing and trying to get out of the stadium.  There was confusion and the kids were scared.  The teacher chaperoning the group of 15 high school exchange students from Manhattan told his kids to go, no come back, no go.  Finally, we got out of the stands and Santiago found us along with the rest of the group that came from the hotel.  We were all a bit shaken up but also excited by the madness.

We visited the Colleseum in Rome and learned how the Emperor used the gladiator events as a distraction for the public so they wouldn’t have to worry about their economic woes.  The guy sitting next to me told me that Cristina’s (that’s President Cristina Kirchner) popularity improved when she recently mandated that all soccer games be shown on free T.V., no pay-per view needed.  Was this supposed to help people forget about the 30% inflation going on here? (the official inflation rate was last reported to be 9.7%).

It was a short ride home from the game and we were able to relax in the van.  We asked Santi if this sort of thing was typical.  He said, “I wouldn’t say it’s typical.  Maybe if you went to a really important game you would expect something like this but this was supposed to be a safe game.”

Categories: Argentina | 5 Comments

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