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February 2001

Keith and Edward Visit
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
with mom and Aunt Cindy

Thursday Feb 1st – We go to hospital to have an eye exam for our residency visas.  I explain to the eye doctor what I want and that I don’t speak very good Spanish, he asks me (in Spanish of course), which language I speak and I tell him “English”.  I’m quite pleased that 1) I could explain something to someone in Spanish, 2) He couldn’t tell what my native language was (or he was just being polite) and 3) that I could understand his question when he asked me in Spanish what my native language was.  I guess I am learning SOMETHING!

He asks me to cover one eye and read an eye chart with letters on it to test my vision.  I tell him that I will read aloud the letters in English, since I didn’t want to make a mistake translating the letters and flunking my eye exam!  In case you’ve never tried to learn Spanish, when pronouncing the alphabet letters in Spanish, A is ah, E is A, and i is E (amongst other things, H is hache, J is jota, W is doble ve, X is equis, Y is “i griega” and Z is zeta of all things).  The exam went quickly and the doctor signed my form, yet another step closer to getting our visas.

Coto is very close to the hospital so we stop there to check on the bikes. Like Walmart, the prices are very cheap, but so is the quality of the bikes.  We’re still leaning towards the first place we looked to purchase our bikes. On the way home we also stop at the pet store to buy some cat food.  I see a really nice brush for the cats and decide to get them that as a treat. 

Once home I use the brush on the cats and they are in HEAVEN!  Good investment! 

Ron received a letter in the mail regarding his step father who had recently passed away.  It was from the executor of his very modest estate and said that his will mentioned a small knick knack statue of a chimp reading Darwin that he wanted to have given to his daughter.  This cracked both of us up that he would mention something so trivial (to us) in his will, he must have loved it!

Olga called and said that she had time to show us the apartment that was for sale, OH BOY!  We got the address and headed over to meet her, it’s actually pretty close to our current apartment.  Olga was her usual effervescent self and greeted us enthusiastically.  She showed us the apartment and it was quite large with an odd layout.  A lot of the larger apartments we’ve seen in the past seem to be very oddly shaped.  In general, I would guess that when a developer has a weird floor space that won’t accommodate a “regular” shaped apartment, they build an apartment around it rather then having every apartment be the same.  This way they maximize areas as livable space rather then let it go unused. Rooms seem to go off into nowhere or stick out over strange areas.  The owner had created a terrace on the roof, but you had to kind of climb out a large window to get to it.  Once up on the roof there was a large patio area, built in BBQ and 3 added rooms: a small kitchen and laundry, a bathroom and a bedroom, all with doors facing out onto the outside patio and not being connected internally.  Guess when it rains, your guests use an umbrella to go the bathroom!  Would make a neat office though! 

o the store I was trying to read the package, which is in Spanish of course, I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t poison the cats.  I didn’t see any warnings about pets or children so I figured they would be OK. You plug them in and there’s a little bottle of liquid which keeps the mosquitoes away.  I didn’t like the idea of sleeping in a room filled with poison fumes, but it seemed better then the alternative.

We get home and our portero (doorman) gives us a card from the Post office.  It’s very difficult to figure out what it’s about but we figure there is a package for us at the main post office, funny thing is that they don’t give an address.  Ron went to the local correo (post office) to ask about the receipt and they told him where to go.  He ended up going to the huge post office and customs building down by the Retiro train station.  He entered a large waiting room, took a number and then sat waiting.  Of course when they announced a number, it was over an old, loud, crackling, static loudspeaker in very fast Spanish.  He ended up asking someone to help him listen for his number to be called, which was 2 hours later.  When he finally got the package, it was from my sister Phyllis. She had made us a care package like the one our friend Elis sent us.  This package was slightly bigger and heavier, but not by much.  Elis’ package had been shipped right to our apartment and we didn’t have to go retrieve it.  We figured that if the package is over a certain size or weight (we haven't figured out which) it won't be delivered to our apartment but goes to the customs office.  He finally got home with Phyllis’ care package (not in a very good mood after the wait), she sent some smoked salmon from Seattle (where she lives), some “Seattle’s Best” coffee, and some homemade preserves.  That night we had smoked salmon on crackers while we played cards on the balcony.

Friday Feb 2ndWe went to our Spanish class and our profesora was telling us a story in Spanish, but I couldn’t understand what she was saying, I could swear she was saying that she put her eyeglasses in the refrigerator and couldn’t find them, but that couldn’t be right, I must be misunderstanding her explanation.  Well, I asked for clarification and I had understood her perfectly, she had put her eyeglasses in the fridge and she couldn’t find them.  We all had a hearty laugh over this one.

The day started out fine but then we had a torrential rainstorm and the humidity was terrible.  That evening, however, the effect of the rain took affect and it was soooo pleasant playing cards on the balcony with our gin and Toros.

Saturday Feb 3rdMy 39th birthday!  I AM NOT A HAPPY CAMPER!!  Ron didn’t know what to get me, so I do what I always do, told him exactly what I wanted and where he could buy it.  Off to the store he went.  I come from a fairly large family and one of the traditions my mother always had was that we could have whatever we want for our birthday dinner.  It was quite a treat for a kid to get exactly what they wanted for dinner on their birthday!  Well, the tradition continues.  I’m not really a big dessert person but my all time favorite is German Chocolate cake.  Ron started making this for me from scratch for my birthday years ago and it is SOOOOO good that I can no longer order it in a restaurant as it is ALWAYS such a huge disappointment that it isn’t even worth eating.  Since we’ve had problems locating some ingredients here, I made sure when I was in Michigan to bring back everything that Ron needed to make me a German Chocolate cake for my birthday.  Ron starts making my cake when he sees the recipe calls for baking soda! Damn!  How did I miss that?!?!?  He goes to the store and finds bicarbonate of soda and wonders if it’s the same thing?  I make a quick email to my Aunt Hazel and my mom and they both quickly respond with the answer we need, it IS the same thing.  Next he sees buttermilk as a missing ingredient, GAWD!  One of my expatriate friends, Colleen, told me that you can substitute a cup of buttermilk with a cup of whole milk with a tablespoon of vinegar in it.  Ron continues baking. What could possible be next??  Of course, condensed milk!  Gaack!  I call Colleen and she says they have sweetened condensed milk called “Leche condensada azucarada”, (killer stuff that Ron puts in his coffee) but we need just regular condensed milk which we can’t find at the market.  Ron decided to substitute light heavy cream 50/50 with whole milk.  I hoped this was the last of the missing ingredients.  I worked on the computer while Ron was baking away, the smells coming from the kitchen were intoxicating!  Our Spanish teacher had told us of a fantastic restaurant to try for my birthday but I really felt like staying home and having a nice relaxing dinner at home.  Ron walked across the street to the Norte supermarcado (3rd time that day) and got something for dinner.  I just love how convenient everything is here!  We had a fantastic dinner but everything hinged on my German Chocolate cake. We cut the cake and it smelled SOOOO good, but then I taste it!!!!!!!!!  OMG!!!!!!!!  His best cake ever.  I think Ron has finally come to terms with baking with gas!  I am in heaven. 

The WORLD'S Best German Chocolate Cake  Made from scratch by Ron!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Happy to have my cake but NOT happy about turning 39!

 A crazy family tradition, it's called "Hang, Hang over your Head, What are
 you going to do with it?", then you give 3 choices, if the person doesn't guess
 right, they don't get to keep the gift.  Can you tell I'm taking this myself by
 holding  the camera in front of me?  Funny what a little vino will make you do!

Ron cleans up, the birthday boy does NOT do dishes!

Sunday Feb 4thWe were walking home from the gym when we stopped at the corner waiting for the light to change, I noticed this well dressed lady peeling off a sign that was posted on a telephone pole and thought, “That’s odd, why isn’t a government worker removing old posted messages?”  The light changed, we crossed the street and I noticed another one of the posters was also posted on the light pole on the other side of the street, so I stopped to read the poster.  The poster says “Lealtad, Volve’ Menum”  I know that “volver” is ‘to return’ but I had to wait to get home to look up “Lealtad”, however, it was obvious what the poster meant.  Menum was the previous president who I think in general was well liked by the people.  Fernando de la Rúahas been the current president for the last 18 months and the economy has been in a recession during his whole term.  The people are looking to de la Rua to pull them out of this economic situation but the people are becoming impatient and there has been rumor of him resigning or being thrown out of office.  The poster was calling for the return of the previous president and this woman was exercising her right of freedom of speech by tearing down the poster, obviously she didn’t agree with this sentiment.  Once I got home I looked up “lealtad” and it means loyalty and allegiance. 

Every day going to the gym we walk by this little café that has copies of their menu photocopied and hanging from a hook outside their front door, so you can take a menu home.  It looks like a nice little place, plus it’s called Kahlua Café, I like it already! I grab a leaflet and start reading it thinking it would be great to start ordering take out for dinner some nights.  Almost all restaurants do a BIG delivery business, you see scooter bikes with storage compartments on the back of them delivering meals all over the city, and I wanted to start using delivery for easier dinners!  I walk along reading the menu and deciding what I’ll order that night.  Later, I ask Ron if he wants to call the Kahlua Café to order dinner and he flatly refuses, so it’s up to me.  I decide what we’ll have for dinner and then call them, “¿Habla ingles?”, “No”, they quickly reply.  OK, no problem, I can do this!  I use my Spanish and order dinner, he reads it all back to me including the address.  WOW! I’m impressed, he says it will be there in 15 minutes.  I tell Ron that I ordered our first take out in Spanish and it’ll be here in 15 minutes. Ron says, “Wanna bet it’s NOT here in 15 minutes?”, “Hmmmp, oh ye of little faith!”, I say.  A half hour goes by and I’m wondering what’s taking so long. I figure that maybe they didn’t understand me saying the address so I go downstairs to see if someone is walking up and down our street with our dinner.  I get out of the elevator and there’s a waiter standing outside our lobby door!  I open the door for him and try to ask him how long he’s been waiting but I get flustered and can’t think of the words I want to say and start gaping like a newly landed fish on a dock.  The waiter motions to go up the apartment so I led the way.  Once inside he goes into the kitchen and he just kind of looks around and motions if setting it on the counter is OK, I think if there were plates out on the counter he would have set everything up for us.  I ask him how much for the meal and give him a $2 tip.  I had called our friend Olga previously to ask what the delivery people expected as a tip and she said something small, like $1 or $2. I give him the tip and he seems pleased.  I put the food on plates and serve it to Ron, still pleased that I was able to order dinner.  However, I think the waiter was waiting outside our door for 15 minutes because everything is cold.  No matter, I still ordered my first delivery in Spanish and I’m tickled pink.  Progress!

I was working on the computer later that night when I noticed that the yapping dog is finally gone, maybe the owners couldn’t deal with it’s constant yapping either!  I feel sorry for the dog losing it’s home, but not sorry for the return of our quiet apartment.

We call, Lourdes, the daughter of our friend Ignacio, to see if she can take care of the cats while we’re on vacation.  She says everything will be taken care of and we schedule time with her to give her the keys and tell her what needs to be done.  We like the idea of having a friends daughter watch after our cats but I'm sure there will come a time, or a holiday, when she is unable to look after them because of a clash in our schedules.  We have 2 “porteros” or doormen in our apartment building.  Claudio seems to be the "official" day time portero, and Daniel seems to work "under" him, or maybe Daniel is only part time, or maybe Claudio has more seniority.  Anyways, I perceive that Claudio is the head portero.  However, Claudio seems uncomfortable around us, probably because of his lack of English and our lack of Spanish.  Daniel seems much more friendlier and outgoing and frankly I would trust Daniel to do a better a job then Claudio.

I would rather ask Daniel if he would be interested in the job but I don’t want to offend (or piss off) Claudio if we asked Daniel to take care of our cats instead of him?  Like Lourdes, we would pay Daniel for his services, but I don't want Claudio to get mad at us if it is "his right" to get any job that pays money, before Daniel could accept a paying extra job. Having Daniel as a "backup" would be great.  Another cultural dilemma.  I decide to email 3 of our Argentine friends and ask their opinions.

Monday Feb 5thWe got a call from some friends of a friend of ours.  Edward and Keith took a cruise from Santiago, Chile, down around Tierra del Fuego, then onto Patagonia to see the penguins, then onto Bs.As. where they were going to spend 3 days before taking a flight to Iguazu Falls. We offer to meet them and take them to a favorite restaurant of ours called “La Chacra”.  The waiter recognizes Ron and I and starts talking to me in rapid Spanish, I nod and say “Sí” a lot!  We had a wonderful dinner except that we forgot to ask for the “single” bife de lomo dinner and everyone gets 2 huge filets on their plate.  A feast, but there is no way we can eat it all.  Ron asks for it “Para llegar” which literally means “For to take”, a way of asking for a carry out.  Usually Argentine’s NEVER ask for a carry out no matter how big the portions are, however, Ron refuses to see good beef go to waste and I’m glad he asks for it.  Besides, we’re tourists!  We’re expected to ask for a carry out!

The meal was fantastic and our new friends were a lot of fun.  Since they have 2 more days in town we offer to take them out again for a little site seeing the next day.

Tuesday Feb 6thWe met Keith and Edward again for a little site seeing, we walked down “Av Florida” which is a closed off pedestrian street, filled with shops and tourists.  We were heading to Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo to go visit some antique stores when a woman in a car stops and asks me directions, I give her my best directions and turn to see Edward watching me, he says, “Wow, I’m impressed, giving a local directions in Spanish!”  Actually I was pretty impressed I did it myself, hope I gave the poor woman the correct directions!

We perused antique stores in San Telmo, it was a very hot day so we decide to stop and have a small lunch.  We met some acquaintances that Edward and Keith had met on the cruise ship and all six of us have lunch outside in the plaza.  Sitting outside having lunch in the shade a huge tree, it was fantastic. I love doing tourist things!  The only problem with eating outside is you do get accosted by people selling things or asking for money.  One youngish guy asked us for money and we said no, only to have him be persistent, finally I said, “Señor, por favor, NO!”, and he finally walked off, cursing us under his breath.  I catch a few words, but I don’t think our Spanish teachers at Berlitz ever taught us those!

We wanted to show Keith and Edward our apartment so we take a taxi there and have a quick drink on our balcony.  We then walk to the Recoleta Cemetary to see Evita’s tomb, I tell Keith it is only a few blocks.  The cemetery never ceases to amaze me with its huge statues, mausoleums, stained glass windows and ornamentation.   There is ALWAYS a crowd around Evita’s tomb and of course we all snap pictures. 

This is a statue on top of one of the mausoleums!

In front of the tomb, Edward is crouching,  Keith is next to him.

Afterwards, we walk down a little ways to a sidewalk café and order drinks outside.  Again, I’m basking in the feeling of being in a wonderful vacation spot.  The air is warm, the drinks cool, lots of activity bustling around us as we sit to rest and have a great conversation.   By then it was mid afternoon so we decide to split up, take a siesta, get cleaned up and meet for dinner later on.

We met Keith and Edward later that evening for dinner and they invited us into their room for a cocktail before going out.  They tell us that they both have condos in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, and I want to find out ALL the details.  I love Puerta Vallarta!  They spend ½ the year there and then the other ½ year visiting their families in the USA, sounds like a great setup.  We agree to meet them sometime in Puerta Vallarta so we can see their apartments and see what living next to the ocean in Mexico is like! 

I recommend that we walk to Puerto Madero for dinner, Puerto Madero is a refurbished area of the city that used to be all decrepit, abandoned warehouses. Now it’s being fixed up into yuppie expensive restaurants, shops and condos.  Keith asks how far is it and I say, “Oh, just a few blocks!”  He reminds me that I said it was only “a few blocks” to the Recoleta Cemetary and he counted 10!  I laugh and say, “OK, we’ll start walking and if you get tired we can jump in a cab at any time!”  We walk down to Puerto Madero and find a fantastic restaurant and have another great evening together. 

Wednesday Feb 7thWe met Keith and Edward again for one last time to have lunch and exchange addresses before they had to leave on the next stage of their trip.  We ate in a nice sidewalk café near their hotel that Ron and I had eaten in before and enjoyed.  Again, we were being accosted, but this time it was by people selling things. They walk into the eating area of a restaurant and place things on all the tables, then circle back and see if you want to buy it.  This gives you time to look at whatever it is and see if you like it before they get back to you.  Edward was saying that he needed to buy some souvenirs for his kids and ended up buying a bunch of things.  Even Ron got in on the action when he saw a small pocket radio that had an electric tuner, instead of manually moving a dial to tune in a radio station.  He thought that would be good for listening to music at the gym, and besides, it also had a built in pen light and at $10, how could you go wrong?  We finish up lunch and say our goodbyes, it was great showing them around and they offer to repay us if we come visit them in Puerta Vallarta, sounds like a deal to us!

Our lunch was delicious, HUGE and only cost something like $5 for each plate. We’re so stuffed that we decide to skip dinner that night.

Friday Feb 9th - We had a fantastic wind and lightening storm, the cats were terrified but Ron and I enjoyed it immensely.  It was WAY to windy to sit on the balcony and enjoy it as the wind was like that of a tornado storm.  I grew up in Michigan and really enjoyed the intense storms they have there, although I never saw an actual tornado in Michigan I was in MANY storms where they had tornado watches.  Experiencing tornado weather is very bizarre, the sky is an odd grey color and there is a special kind of smell to storms that have tornado potential.  And the SOUNDS of the wind, somehow very intense but at the same time there would be periods where it would quiet down and there would be no noise for several seconds and you could hear a pin drop. I remember several storms very clearly from my childhood where we expected to see the twister from the "Wizard of Oz" come crunching down our street.  This storm had all those same characteristics, the sky and clouds were a weird mixture of grey and velvet blue and the sound of the wind as it whipped between the apartment buildings was eerie.  Every once in awhile you would hear a huge crash of some window slamming shut somewhere, leaves were blowing into our house and traveling right through the house and going out a window on the other side of the apartment!

That night I awoke at about 3 am to huge thunder cracks!  The wind had stopped but now it was time for lightening and thunder.  I sat up in bed and watched mother nature's spectacular show for almost an hour as lightening streaked across in the sky like spider webs, webs of light constantly spreading across the sky, splitting into several veins that would reach out further and then split again into several more veins, covering the entire sky in a web of light that was over in a second.  I can't expect you to believe the intense light show, I would not believe it if I didn't see it myself, I have never seen such an electrical storm.  I was very glad to be in bed and not in an airplane at that moment.

Monday Feb 12th - We hear from more "friends of friends" who are in town and they asked us if we want to meet for dinner, of course we agreed!  I love an excuse to go out.  We took them to a favorite place, "La Chacra", were we took Keith and Edward when they visited us.  We had a great dinner as they explained the cruise to Antarctica they were about to take, sounded awesome.  I always told Ron I don't like to vacation anywhere that doesn't have palm trees, but we hear them tell us of the glaciers and the natural wonder sites they're going to see and I become intrigued.  Besides, I'm sure they have a bar on board where you can warm up with hot buttered rums!  We asked them to let us know all about it when they got back to Denver, give us a complete rundown on the cruise and to send us any brochures if they had any.

Wednesday Feb 14th - We invite Lourdes over to our apartment to show her how to take care of the cats while we're on vacation.  It's really quite simple, but I'm worried that we'll be gone for over 3 weeks and we're leaving our poor kitty cats in the care of someone else for such a long time.  We had just bought a new plant for the deck and I showed her how to water the plants, we also gave her the email addresses of my mom and sister Cindy in case of an emergency.  She assured us that everything would be taken care of.  It's great that we have someone we can trust to look after things while we're gone.

Friday Feb 16th - Ron started packing for our 3 week trip; one week will be in California to have our taxes done, visit family, and do a bunch of errands that we never accomplished before moving here and then we head off for a 2 week vacation in Mexico. The cats always get a little weirded out when they see Ron take the luggage out as they know we're about to leave them again.  As soon as you open a piece of luggage, the cats will jump into it.  I'm not sure if they want to come with us or just the usual weird things that cats do, like when you sit an empty box on the floor and they HAVE to sit in it!  We try and pack light, but like almost everyone in the world we over pack way too much stuff.  Ron took several empty collapsible suitcases with us because we wanted to fill them up with some clothes that got left behind in storage.  We figured we'll bring back some things in the empty suitcases. As always, I let Ron do all the packing as he always gets nervous and antsy right before a trip.  It's best just to stack all the clothes I want to take on the bed, then leave him alone to do the actual packing, believe me, it works best that way!

Saturday Feb 17th - We leave for California.  We had called a hired taxi, called a Remise, to take us to the airport and we start chatting with him in Spanish.  He asked when we're leaving and we told him the time, and he said, "Oh, mucho tiempo!" as we had 2 hours before our flight was to leave.  We checked in with the girl at the Aerolineas Argentina desk when she noticed that Ron's passport was 2 days over the 90 day limit for a tourist.  We had talked about this previously and decided that since it was only 2 days over the limit, maybe they wouldn't check or care (insert omen here!).  Fully expecting that we might have problems I had folded a $20 bill into the palm of my hand thinking that it might "expedite" things if there was a problem.  She quickly stated that we need to go to the customs office in the other terminal to pay a fine.  I asked if there was anything she could do to help us and was just about to place the bill on the counter in front of her when she quickly stated that the only way to get this resolved was by paying a $50 fee at the customs office and receive a receipt to show the customs officials because they are the ones who care about the date stamp being correct.  Luckily I didn't make a fool of myself by trying to bribe her!

We walked to the other terminal and asked several people for directions to the custom's office finally arriving at a small, narrow, cramped, dirty industrial green painted hallway with flickering fluorescent tubes.  Several of the tubes are out altogether so there didn't appear to be enough light. This scene was directly from George Orwell’s "1984" novel.  We approached the small window and there were two other men waiting before us and there was no one at the window.  We waited for a few minutes, then we waited another few more minutes and I'm beginning to wonder what are we waiting for?  Is anyone here?  The overhead fluorescents flicker and annoyingly buzz like a mosquito that won't go away, the industrial green of the hallway and the fluorescent light giving us all the appearance of death, everything has a grey or green cast.  I'm beginning to worry that we may not make our flight. Finally a clerk showed up and talked to the other 2 men then asked Ron what he wanted.  Ron tried to explain things to him and he shoved a form in Ron's hand and told him to go fill it out.  While Ron filled out the form, two women appear and waited in line, then a family of 5 showed up and the "husband" pushes past everyone to go to the front of the line.  This caused everyone else to start pushing forward and in general acting very rude. The narrow hallway and the rudeness of the people gave everything a claustrophobic feel and I just had to get out of there.  Ron finally got the attention of the clerk again and the clerk told him that he needs to take the form to the bank in the terminal to pay it.  We leave the hallway of death and reenter the world of the living to pay the fine.  We went to the bank and there is a long line there and I'm really beginning to wonder if we'll make our flight.  Typical Argentina, the form has 5 parts and Ron needs to write and repeat everything 5 times.  We got to the beginning of the line and there was a real grumpy looking teller behind the window.  Ron showed him the form and he signaled that it wasn't filled out properly and to step aside while he filled it out correctly so that he could wait on other people.  Of course the form was in Spanish so we tried our best to fill it out but then Ron tried to explain that we don't understand the form and somehow a miracle happened and the old grumpy teller smiles and decided to help us out. He signed each of the 5 sections, then wrote the amount in Spanish in each of the 5 sections, then he stamped each of the 5 sections, then signed it AGAIN over the stamp, then turned it over and stamped each of the 5 sections with 2 different additional stamps each.  In the words of Dave Barry, “I am NOT making this up!”  Argentines just love stamps, signatures and paperwork!  We take the receipt back to the green hallway of death and I just know that the hallway will be filled with 100s of way ward immigrants, goats and chickens! I'm usually an optimistic person but this just had a bad feeling to it.  We get to the hallway and all time slowed down as we turned into the hallway in slow motion, sounds from the terminal were groggy and muted, like a record playing at 1/2 speed.  We made the turn and HALLELUIAH!, the hall was empty, no huge line, no goats, no chickens!  Just the long, narrow, flickering hallway of green grey death.  My heart soars, maybe we will make our flight afterwards!  We approached the window and of course there is no clerk there.  Ron leans in the window and said, "¿Hola?  ¿Hola?".  A clerk appeared, looking annoyed and Ron handed him the 5 parted form and the 5 parted receipt.  He started tearing it all into 5 parts with no perforations to help him, he didn't bother to use scissors, just creased the paper and tears it along the edge of the table.  I imagined him accidentally tearing it across one of the parts and him telling us we’d have to do it all over again.  He then takes all the pieces and disappears in the back room for 10 more minutes.  I'm beginning to wonder, what happens if they come and take Ron into the back room?  What if they detain him for some reason?  What if they interrogate him?  Beat him with rubber hoses?  What would I do?  Sometimes your mind just does weird things!  Luckily, the clerk finally appears and they don't take him into the back room and beat him with rubber hoses, he just handed Ron 2 of the 5 receipts and told them to show them to the customs agents.

By then it was noon and our flight was set to leave in 1/2 an hour.  After our encounter with the hallway of death I really wanted to get a drink but remembered that sometimes going through the customs checkout can take quite a long time.  We thought it prudent to head right for the gate.  Just before we get to the customs area a group of about 100 students barged through in front of us, apparently on an international field trip.  There were many chaperones and one was at the front giving each student their paperwork for the customs officials.  Each packet appeared quite thick with a hand written 3 page letter on top.  Don't know why they would need that to get through customs, some kind of essay possibly on their family background???  Each packet had several stamps, signatures and golden seals, each stamp, signature and golden seal was thoroughly inspected by the customs officials. Have I already said that Argentines love their paperwork!  As I'm watching all this, I say to Ron, "Don't mention anything about being over the 90 day limit!  If they catch it, just show them the receipt, otherwise, I think it safer if you just don't say anything that might cause them to delay us further." Remember Judge Wapner on the “People’s Court” TV show?  I remember him saying once to just answer the questions YES or NO or as succinctly as possible, whenever you give more information then you need to, it usually makes things worse for you.  Sage advice!

When I finally get to the customs official he looks at the date on my passport stamp very closely and I wonder if Ron is having any problems.  The official that Ron went through didn't even check his, just stamped it with a new date!  Just the luck of the draw I guess, Ron could have slipped through without paying the fine and having to endure the green grey hallway of death, but you never know! If we risked it and Ron had to go pay the fee at the last minute we WOULD have missed our flight.

We got on the plane and luckily the 100 high school kids were seated way back in the plane so we can't hear their excited behavior!  Things were looking up!

We had a VERY long flight to Los Angeles, first time we've flown directly to L.A., usually we have to make a stop in Miami.  Going through customs we got herded into an ever smaller opening till we were walking single file, we turn a corner and a security officer was running a beautiful Labrador up and down next to us we walked.  I've seen dogs at luggage carousels before but this is the first time I've walked single file next to one.  The lab comes up and to us and stopped, probably to sniff the cat smell on us, but doesn't give the "drug" alarm so the officer tugged the dog along.

In San Francisco we called my mom to come pick us up.  Through the power of technology and time zone changes we left Buenos Aires at 12:30 pm and arrive in San Francisco at 10 pm the same day!  As we're waiting for our ride we spot one of our old neighbors from our townhouse complex on Sierra Vista also waiting outside.  What a coincidence!  It's great to see him again and we laughed over the odds of meeting like that!  A friend of our familys, Paul, picked us up and took us back to my mom’s apartment. My sister was there along with a friend of hers, Valerie, from Michigan.  We had a few drinks and got caught up on things.  My mom was able to get us a discount rate at the St. Francis hotel in downtown San Francisco, so Paul dropped us off at the hotel around 12:30 am.  A very long day!  We checked in and dissolve into one of the new features of the Westin hotels, a "Heavenly Bed", they put a goose down mattress cover on the bed, then have a goose down comforter on top and goose down pillows.  A truly "Heavenly" bed!  However, I think we were asleep before our heads hit the pillow.

Sunday Feb 18th - My uncle Pete, my namesake, offered to let us borrow his car while we were in town.  Him and Aunt Rosemary had moved to San Francisco from the suburbs about 6 months before that and I had never visited their new apartment on Nob Hill which just happened to be within walking distance of the St. Francis hotel.  We received a wake up call from my mother and agreed to meet at uncle Pete's for coffee before we went out for breakfast.  Uncle Pete told me to take the cable car because the walk is pretty steep and the cable car runs right outside the front of the St. Francis, up the hill, and very close to their apartment.  We were standing outside and it was a beautiful day, nice and brisk, hearing the clang of the trolley bells, seeing the people bustle about, I LOVE feeling like a tourist in this beautiful city by the bay.  We stand in line with a bunch of other tourists but I'm worried that we won't get on for several cars and since I don't want to be late we decided to walk.  Walking up Jones Street is like scaling a mountain, it's one of those intensely steep streets that give S.F. its reputation for hills.  Walking up the side of the mountain, feeling the brisk air in my lungs, looking at the beautiful architecture of the apartment buildings I think to myself, "Why didn't we move here to get a feel of city life?"  Would have been much easier them moving 8,000 miles away! Thank God we've been using the stair master cross trainer at the gym, but even being in good aerobic shape, we're still hot and sweaty by the time we get to their apartment.  We entered the lobby of their apartment and they have a great lobby, lots of pink marble and a huge display of fresh flowers, Ron said, "Gee, we don't have fresh flowers in OUR lobby!"  One of my favorite hobbies has been ogling apartment lobbies as we walk about the city, in Bs.As. it seems like everyone is competing for the nicest lobby.  Aunt Rose and Uncle Pete greeted us and showed us their apartment, it's very nice and large and what a great part of the city.  Standing outside their apartment you have views from Nob Hill of 3 different parts of the city, WOW!  Mom was there along with Paul, Cindy, and her friend Valerie.  Turned out that Valerie reads hands and our family has always been very open and interested in that thanks to the open minded, optimistic personality of our mother!  We went out for brunch to a favorite spot of Aunt Rose's and on the menu I spotted crab benedict!  OMG! I love crab and I haven't had crab since I left California last October.  Most Argentines I speak to think crabs are disgusting creatures and I haven't seen a single one in fresh fish markets or the restaurants in Bs.As.  I was craving crab and crab cakes were one of the things I wanted to get on this trip!  The breakfast was fantastic and I ended up sitting near Valerie, on the walk back to the cars she started asking me about things and telling me what she thought about Ron and I from observing our hands during breakfast.  She said some VERY interesting observations about our personalities that were dead on!  Very cool! Once back at their apartment Uncle Pete introduced me to their doorman and told them that we would be borrowing their car for the week.  The doormen park your car for you and you just ask them to bring it out when you're ready, GREAT! 

Ron had created a spreadsheet of all the things we needed to accomplish during our one week in California so we said goodbye to everyone and set off to start the odyssey.  First, we stopped by our old home to pickup a few things that we didn't have time to store before we left and just threw under the house, telling the new owner, "Well be back in 5 months to pick that stuff up!"  The new owner, Joe, is a real nice guy and said, "Sure, see you then!" We're loading the items into our car and a neighbor comes out and starts talking with us.  One of the things I loved about our old home was that there were only 10 units in the complex so we all knew each other real well, it was a real nice community feeling.  We start chatting in the driveway and more neighbors came out, and pretty soon we were having a great time, just like old times!  A better bunch of neighbors you couldn't hope for!  They did update us on some of the "things" going on with the complex, issues that needed resolving, etc. and it was kind of nice not to have that worry.  We're renters now, so we don't have to worry about "maintenance" issues! We must have talked almost 2 hours when we figured it was time to start working on some of the other items on the spreadsheet.

We stopped by several stores to pick up things we wanted and then called friends of Ron's in Ben Lomond in the Santa Cruz mountains.  Ron wanted to see Paul and Donna and they recently had their first baby so they thought it would be a nicer visit if they just made us dinner in their home, OH BOY! It was a great visit to talk about our new lives in Argentina and their new lives with the baby.  They served a wonderful dinner and treated us to some peach liquor with dessert, yummy!  The drive home from the Santa Cruz mountains to downtown San Francisco was a long one! We left the car with the doorman and walked back to the St. Francis hotel.  At least it was all downhill to the hotel!  Our second night there and we crashed into our "Heavenly Bed" and fell asleep before our heads hit the pillow so we couldn't even appreciate how sumptuous it was!

Monday Feb 19th - We trudged back up the mountainous Jones Street to get Uncle Pete's car. The doorman was very busy getting people's cars so we had to wait a few minutes.  I saw 2 guys walk up to go into the apartment building with Starbuck coffee cups in their hands.  I asked them were they got the coffee and they said it was really far away but there's a grocery store one block away that sells coffee, thank God!  I thanked them and went to get Ron and I a cup while we waited for the car.  When I returned Ron had been talking to the guys and told them that we trudged up the Jones Street hill the last two mornings and they told us an easier route! Turned out if you just go one more street past Jones, the hill is much more gradual.  Great info! 

I wanted to go to my PO Box to get my mail that had been accumulating there the last 5 months but it turns out it was Presidents day and the post office was closed.  Of all the damn luck!  We had made an appointment with the relocation company to go through the things we were going to ship to Bs.As. and whittle it down, hopefully by half. We rented a truck and drove over to San Leandro from Mountain View.  Traffic is terrible.  I forgot how bad traffic is there, it was NOT fun.  Traffic may be bad in Bs.As. too but because we don't have a car, we don't see it.  It's nice to walk, take cheap taxis or public transportation everywhere we need to go in Bs.As.  Once at Crown Relocations we talk with a representative and they took us into the warehouse to see our 2 large boxes.  We talked to the foreman, Keith, and told him what we wanted to do but it's right around lunchtime and I feel bad that we may be interfering with his lunch.  Everything had been itemized and catalogued when it was originally boxed up and we tried to figure out how we were going to do this.  He gets a crow bar and opens up one of the crates that must have been 7' high x 5' wide x 8' long, looking inside I started feeling ill, it was overwhelming.  We told him we wanted to go through each box, take 1/2 of it with us and then ship the rest to Bs.As.  I offered that he could go to lunch and come back in a few hours when we should be done but because they are responsible for all of our things, and all the stuff is insured for breakage and theft, for security reasons he didn't want to leave us alone with our things.  I can understand this, so we tackled the job. I suggested we make a fast pass and take out the stuff we know we don't want to take so that would give us a sense of accomplishing something!  We easily take out the bicycles, the Grandfather clock my dad built for me, and the Nordic track ski machine.  Progress! Ron then opened a box, and started sorting through individual books and I just groan that we'll never get through this.  I say, "Let's open the box and make a yes or no decision quickly, let's not sort through the contents individually."  We actually made fast progress and in around 2 hours we were done.  Much faster then I anticipated.  I think we were able to take almost 1/2 of it with us. Progress!  I pulled in the truck we rented and we loaded it up, Keith joked and said he would hire us as movers and I assured him that he COULD NOT afford me! I would charge WAY too much if I had to do this for a living!  We head off for our storage facility in Hollister which is about a 1.5 hour drive south.  Traffic again is awful! How did I ever put up with this? Once at our storage unit we open up the 2 units and survey the situation.  By now it's 3 pm and there are dark clouds rolling in and it's starting to rain.  When we originally rented the storage unit we had to commandeer the 2nd unit at the last minute because we were running out of time and didn't have time to try and get everything in one unit.  We just threw a check under the door of the manager’s office explaining what we did and that we’d be back in 5 months to straighten it all out.  Ron wanted to try and condense both units into one at this point to save money.  Again, I looked at the situation and just wanted to poor gas on everything, light it, and have it be done with!  It was just too much to consider doing in the time we had.  I talked to Ron and because it was beginning to rain I suggested that we throw everything in there, pay for 2 units till next year and just be done with it. Sure, we’re spending more money then we should be on the 2 storage units, but there's no way all the stuff will fit into one unit.  We're going to have to get a unit that's 1.5 times as big as one of our current units and MOVE ALL of the stuff from BOTH UNITS into the new unit.  Even if they had a larger unit available, which they didn't, it would take at least 2 days to move everything.  We just didn't have the time, thank God!  So….. we threw it all into the storage units, grabbed 3 bottles of red wine from storage, slapped a lock on it and headed back to San Francisco.  Out of site, out of mind, just don’t look back!  By the time we dropped off the van and drove the car back to San Francisco we were both dead tired.  We dropped off uncle Pete's car and told the doorman we would need the car at 6:30 am the next morning, we then walked back to the St. Francis, took a quick shower and went out for a nice dinner.  We were both falling asleep in our soup by then, but at least we had a nice meal. Once back in the hotel room we opened one of the bottles of red wine, watched some TV and tried to relax.

Tuesday Feb 20th - We took the new route from the St. Francis to get the car that the guys from the day before told us about.  BIG improvement!  Unfortunately, it's only 6:30 am so the corner grocery store isn't open for us to get some coffee.  I drive along intently looking for a diner or café to get some coffee, nothing! Damn!  We get to the post office and pickup all my mail for the last 5 months. Before we moved I had sent out “Remove me from your mailing list” cards to every company and catalogue that had been sending me mail, but it doesn’t matter.  I swear they just ignore those letters and keep sending you junk mail. The pile is huge after 5 months. I hurried through it all to find W2s and other tax information we needed to have our taxes done and head off for our tax appointment.  Jim Monnie has been our taxman for over 10 years and it's always fun to go see him, well…. as fun as having your taxes done CAN BE!  Jim's a real nice guy with a great sense of humor.  We did my taxes first because they're a lot easier then Ron's. Once he finished up, he reached for Ron's stack of papers and said, "Now for the return WE'VE ALL been looking forward to!"  Ron is very organized so he had all the information for Jim but it still took a long time to get through Ron’s returns.  With selling both our cars, the house and moving our work's 401K plans and pension plans around, there was a lot of calculations that had to be done. Jim gave me good news (a refund) and Ron BAD news (lots owed to the big boys)!  Ron started complaining about owing so much money in taxes and Jim said, “Look Ron, you’ve been saving your money all your life, you’re so cheap you squeak when you walk, start spending your money and enjoy it!”   We all cracked up over this one but Ron said he wanted to spend his money himself, not by giving it to the IRS!

We went to have lunch at a favorite seafood restaurant and called our friend Elis to see if we could get together for a few hours to chat.  The timing couldn't have been better and we go right over to Elis'. Turns out she was just laid off from her new job and needed someone to vent her frustrations to!  With the help of a good bottle of Chardonnay we cured all the worlds’ major problems and we all felt better afterwards.  Elis is a wonderful person and a great friend and it was great to catch up on things.  Her cat Suzy remembered us and kept doing figure eights around all of our legs, purring contentedly.  We actually got back to the St. Francis at a reasonable time and I told Ron I wanted to have a martini in the lobby of the hotel as the St. Francis has a fantastic bar in the lobby of the hotel.  I had also been craving martinis as you can’t get one to save your life in Bs.As., they always make them like English martinis, all vermouth and very little gin. We walked in and you could just feel the opulence of the place.  We were quickly seated and even more efficiently brought two, frosted, perfect martinis.  Resting, it felt like it was the first breath we had taken since getting there.  Sitting in the beautiful bar it was fun to people watch.  Most people were dressed very expensively and it was fun to imagine what their lives were like.  One large group sitting near us kept having people come in, pull up a chair, order a glass of champagne, make grand gestures with their hands while they told some story, then flitted off as quickly as they showed up. Everyone was clustered around some Noel Coward type person who was sitting in the middle of all this commotion, obviously the center of attention, I wondered who he was?  We ordered a second martini while we listened to the band play, they were playing old standards from the 20s, 30s and 40s, and the lead crooner singer had a voice as smooth as ole Blue Eyes.  He was VERY good!  He was dressed in a zoot suit with a fedora hat and the whole band was also in era dress.  We walked down to a sushi restaurant and stuffed ourselves with sushi and sake!  Finally I felt like I was on a little vacation!

Thursday Feb 22nd - Ron wanted to close an account with a brokerage firm that he used when he was employed with Adobe, since they only dealt with employees it was no longer of any use to us.  We looked it up on the map and saw that it was within walking distance from the St. Francis.  We started walking and stopped to get a cup of coffee and a fresh bagel on the way. We were walking down California Street towards Market and I noticed that this was a part of the city I had never walked in.  It was fun to walk in a new part of the city giving me more of a feeling of being a tourist.  The only problem was that I knew we had to walk back up California Street, another awesomely steep street, to get to uncle Pete's apartment to pick up his car.  It's fun to walk up, but it’s also a lot of work and we had a million things to do that day, I wasn't about to use up a lot of energy first thing in the morning climbing that hill.  Luckily a cable car runs up California Street so I thought it would be fun to take a cable car back up it, but as we walked, block after block, I didn't see any cable cars.  I could hear the cable moving in the track so I knew it was running, but where were the cars?  We finally got to the end of California Street and there was the building with Ron's brokerage firm, then I noticed several men looking under one of the stopped cable cars.  I yelled at them to get the damn thing fixed fast, I would be back in 20 minutes and I need a cable car to get me up that hill! Luckily none of them heard my order! We closed the account and came back to California Street just as a cable car was pulling up, what luck!  We hopped on and paid our $2 each, the car was almost empty so we got a prime seat facing outwards.  What a glorious day, the air was cool and brisk, the sky was deep blue and I didn't have to walk up that friggin hill!  I pulled out my fresh sourdough poppy seed bagel and started munching on it.  Wow! Life is good!  Clang, clang, clang went the trolley!!!!!!!!!!!  Ding, ding, ding, went the bell!!!!!  I think the trolley conductor is used to such behavior and wide grins from happy tourists.  We passed by the Mark Hopkins hotel on the left and the gorgeous Fairmont Hotel on the right and hopped off the cable car right after Grace cathedral. Best $4 bucks I ever spent!

Friday Feb 23rd - We went to Frys, which is a huge electronics store, and asked them if they could upgrade Ron's laptop with more memory and a larger hard drive.  This is an older laptop that Ron has been using as a computer while our PCs are being shipped from California.  For those that know Frys, it is a fantastic store if you know exactly what you want, however, if you need to ask a salesperson for any information it can be a thoroughly frustrating experience.  Ron's laptop is several years old but I figured they would have a way of pulling up information on the computer to see how big a hard drive you could install, what kind of memory it requires, etc.  I had previously gone to Toshiba’s website and this information is NO WHERE to be found.  I'm guessing that they want you to take it to an authorized Toshiba service center in order to get it upgraded.  Frys had no way to check if we could put an 8 Gigabyte hard drive in it or a 30 Gigabyte drive, they offered to install it and see if worked but they couldn't know ahead of time till they tried it.  Since we had left this to the last minute and we only had a few hours time before we had to be somewhere else, we decided not to risk it and Ron will just have to wait until his computer arrives from the shipment from the USA.

That night, good friends of ours, Dana and Manuel, threw us a fantastic going away party with a Mexican theme.  Even Ron's daughter and son in law showed up as they had recently moved back into the area from Arizona. My aunt Cindy had arrived that afternoon and was still going strong at the party even with the 3 hour time zone difference from Michgan.  I am VERY glad this week was over.  We accomplished everything on our spreadsheet but it felt like we'd been running with our heads cut off all that week and I was looking forward to relaxing on the beach with a drink with an umbrella in it!

Saturday Feb 24th -  We left for our two week vacation in Cabo.  In 1995 Ron and I bought a one week vacation condo timeshare in Cabo San Lucas and the great thing about it is that there are 2 separate units that are joined by a door that opens between the balconies.  This way each room has their own entrance, bathroom, kitchen and bedroom but you can socialize on the balconies.  Since we have two units we get to invite guests every year to enjoy it with us.  This year we invited my mom and her sister, my Aunt Cindy. 

Sunrise from the balcony of our room.

Another shot from our balcony.

Aunt Cindy was teaching us to play Bridge,
here we are on the balcony watching the sunset.

The other great thing about going there with someone else is you get to enjoy it through their eyes and experience it as if it was the first time you've seen it. We kept telling aunt Cindy about the world’s best happy hour at "Rio's Bar and Grill" and after we arrived, and were in the bus to take us to the hotel, I kept chanting "Rios! Rios!"  As we neared the bar I had my nose pressed to the glass of the window in anticipation of seeing it when I saw it was boarded up!  THE HORROR!  This cannot be happening!!  I must be having some terrible nightmare!!  We get to the room, throw off our clothes, throw on a swimsuit and head off to the pool for a frosty margarita!

That night we headed for a favorite restaurant for dinner.  We usually would stop for a margarita at Rios before going onto dinner but alas, that was not meant to be for this trip!  I was still not over my disappointment, how could they be closed?  We wanted to go to "Edith's" for dinner but when we arrived it was packed and booked up for the night.  Mexico??  The healthy economy seems to have made "Edith's" a very popular place. We made reservations for the next night for dinner (reservations in Mexico??) and proceeded onto the "Office".  The "Office" is a great restaurant where the tables and chairs are out on the beach.  It's a very popular place and always a fun time. It's fun to sit in your chair and sink into the sand, it actually helps to give you stability after you've had a few margaritas!

 Sunday Feb 25th - We had breakfast in a restaurant across the street from Rios.  We asked a waiter what happened and he said that the waiters wanted more money and went on strike and the owner just boarded it up.  Happened 2 days before we got there, damn!  The waiter said now we could come to his restaurant for happy hour, but it isn't NEARLY as nice as Rios.