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June 2001

Rio de Janeiro, Brasil
Economic Crisis Rears it’s Ugly Head
Planning our Antarctica Trip

Friday June 1st - Because we still have tourist Visas, we have to leave the country every 90 days in order to have our passports stamped and renew our Visas.  Talking to friends about this, they said that it’s easy to take the “Buquebus” ferry (I call it the Boogy Bus) to Colonia in Uruguay since it’s right across the river from Bs.As., have lunch, see a few sites, then easily return the same day.  I thought about this and figured that if we were going to spend a few dollars for the ferry to go to Uruguay, we might as well spend a few MORE dollars and go to Rio de Janeiro.  I mean, it’s cold and damp here now because it’s winter, it’ll be cold and damp in Uruguay.  Why not go somewhere warm?  Ron agreed immediately with my logic reasoning!  After our Spanish class, we went to the travel agent to setup our trip to Rio de Janeiro.  We arrived at the address and it appeared to be an apartment building.  We pushed the buzzer and a woman said that she’d come down to get us.  A young guy was leaving the apartment and offered to let us in, so we went up in the elevator to meet her.  When we got to the correct floor, it truly turned out to be an apartment and I figured that they were running the business out of their home.  We knocked and a woman spoke to us in Spanish through the closed door.  We tried to explain who we were and that we were there to see Nilda, but our limited Spanish was not enough to get her to open the door.  A man came up behind us who had gone down to let us into the building.  We explained who we were and showed him an email message that Nilda had sent us.  He asked us to wait in the hallway till he talked to Nilda, saying, “You have to be careful in Argentina!”  Sage advice.  We were promptly let in and met with Nilda who was a very sweet woman who constantly apologized for her lack of English.  We kept apologizing for our lack of Spanish and told her that we wished our Spanish was as good as her English.  For some reason, Americans need a temporary Visa to visit Brazil and she asked if we wanted her to do this for us.  Not knowing what the process was for getting a Brazilian Visa, and knowing how slow embassies can be, we asked if she could do it for us.  She said she’d have everything ready for us by next week and we walked home, smiling and thinking about our first trip to Rio!

I had corresponded with a woman who found my website about Argentina.  She told me that she had a similar goal of leaving Texas and coming here to live.  Because of our common goals we became friends over the internet, isn’t technology wonderful?  Dee had actually moved here a few months ago and we hadn’t hooked up yet.  I thought it was time we had her over for dinner so we invited her and our friend Olga over.  Olga and Dee arrived promptly at 8pm and we showed Dee our apartment.  We had put the two of them in contact with each other and Olga was helping Dee find an apartment.  Going out onto our balcony, Dee asked about the Palo Borracho tree she had read about in our website, and I pointed out an apartment to Olga that looks like it has a big deck, facing the right direction to get the best sunlight exposure.  I told her, “There’s an apartment you can buy for us!”, and she said, “Is there time before dinner for me to go talk to them!”  We ended up laughing, talking, eating and drinking till someone looked at the clock and it was 3 am.  We were all astounded that it was so late (or early) and no one had noticed.  We all had a VERY good time.  Olga wanted to call a taxi but didn’t have the phone number of the taxi service she likes to use so they decided to just grab a cab on the street.  She took her key ring and put it in her fist with the keys sticking out between her fingers.  She said this way if the cabbie does anything funny, he’ll get a scratched face full of keys.  No one messes with Olga!  The next day I called Dee and she said it was actually very nice weather last night and the street was still full of people at 3 am (these crazy Argentines!) so they walked all the way home.

Tuesday June 5thRon and I were getting ready to go to the gym when I bent over sideways to tie my shoe.  All of a sudden I felt a sharp pain in my back and nearly collapsed.  I felt very foolish as I sat down to tie my shoes but then I couldn’t stand up, feeling even more foolish.  I finally stood up and tried to stretch my back but the pain was too intense.  I have never felt a pain like that before.  I called Ron and told him I couldn’t go to the gym that day and I was just going to take an anti-inflammatory and go to bed.  It’s a bitch getting old.

Friday June 8thI waited a few days for my back to get better and it hadn’t improved at all so Ron and I went to the hospital for a doctor to look at it.  There was a general strike announced for this day (in Argentina, they announce when there will be a strike several days in advance) and walking to the hospital the streets were absolutely deserted and most businesses were closed.  We’ve heard that when there is a strike there is the possibility of riot violence near government buildings, businesses that are open or if you’re taking public transportation, trains or even taxis, because they are targeted as operating during the strike and not supporting the reason for the strike.  Luckily, things were very quiet and there were no demonstrators to be seen.  At the hospital the doctor prescribed a muscle relaxant and anti-inflammatory and barely examined me.  I guess he’s seen lots of sprained backs before.  We walked to the pharmacy to get my prescription and the druggist said that he couldn’t fill the prescription unless the doctor wrote my account number on the prescription.  This didn’t seem to make any sense to me, I showed him my medical card with my name and account number on it, the prescription had my name on it, why does the doctor have to write my account number on it?  Arguing logic with an Argentine over a bureaucratic policy is futile.  We trudged back to the hospital and waited to see the doctor again which ended up taking more time then the initial appointment took.

Olga had another apartment for us to see, so we met her there at 7 pm.  It turned out to be a store building that was converted into a house.  A standalone house in the city of Buenos Aires, VERY unusual.  The house was designed by a German architect and was VERY cool and stylish, pretty large and had a great roof patio deck.  However, the neighborhood wasn’t that great, there was a school next door to it and there was a soccer court right across the street that had screeching boys playing soccer.  Ron and I are totally spoiled by our current neighborhood that we love, with tons of mom and pop stores, cafés, grocery stores and our favorite pasta place.  If that house was in our current neighborhood we would strongly consider buying it, but being where it was and with the always crowded, loud soccer court across the street, it doesn’t seem likely that we will consider it.

Saturday June 9thWe leave for Rio and it’s only a 3 hour flight.

The clerk at the hotel was very pleasant, spoke perfect English and gave us our choice of rooms.  After unpacking a little we went up to the roof to check out the pool and the view.  Afterwards we went down to the hotel bar and ordered a margarita.  The bartender had to go ask someone how to make one but he then made us some great margaritas from scratch.  That night we didn’t feel like going out for dinner so we went to the hotel restaurant for dinner.  The same bartender we met earlier was now in the dining room as the waiter.  He had to turn the lights on when we entered as we were the only ones there and I wondered how fresh the food would be with no customers.  I asked his recommendation for something to eat and he gladly recommended some fish for us which sounded perfect.  I ordered a martini with dinner and the waiter wasn’t sure what we were talking about.  He first brought over some Martini Rossi dry vermouth and was going to pour that in a glass for us.  His English wasn’t very good but I tried to explain what a martini was but he thought we were both nuts.  He retrieved the gin bottle and I talked him through making the martini, seeing his incredulous expression as I explained each step.  He finally poured the martini in some glasses and I asked for olives to go with it.  He then brought us a big tray of olives.  We were in hysterics, but at least we got our drink!

Sunday June 10thRon was looking in a guide book during breakfast and saw a picture of the Ilha Fiscal (Revenue Island) which looks like a castle out in the bay, it was originally the palace of Emperor Peter II but after their independence it was converted to house their equivalent of the IRS.  We decided to go check it out as our first adventure.  When we arrived we discovered that there was some holiday that day and that the tour of the island, which is run by the navy, was free that day.  Ron asked one of the officers about the tour but she said that all the tickets were gone for the day, however, if we stuck close to her she might be able to fit us on the boat.  We toured the navel museum waiting for the scheduled time for the boat to take us to the island.  When the boat came to ferry us over to the island, we stood off to the side till everyone with tickets boarded, since there was room they were able to fit another 10 or so people on the boat.  I thought that was really nice of her to try and squeeze us on, instead of just saying, “It’s full, come back another day!”

More Ilha Fiscal Pics

The trip took just 10 minutes and when the tour guide asked us a question and saw that we didn’t speak Portuguese, she ran to her office and brought back a transcript of the tour in English, again I thought this was really nice of her, I was content just following the group around listening to the tour in Portuguese.  As the tour began it was the first time I’d heard an extended Portuguese conversation, I thought Portuguese was supposed to be like Spanish?  It sounds much more like French.  The tour guide was real sweet and after she would tell the group something in Portuguese, she’d run over and tell us the whole thing again in English.  When we returned we toured a submarine that they have docked there.  Real nice day.  Went to dinner that night and the waiters didn’t speak hardly any English.  The waiter talked about the specials and Ron asked him to repeat it and the waiter thought Ron was ordering it and walked off.  Oh well, made the decision of what to order easier.  I asked for a gin and tonic before dinner and the waiter again looked at me puzzled.  He brought another waiter over and I repeated that I wanted a gin and tonic, you know, “con alcohol”.  After a few minutes he brought us over a picture of cold ginseng tea.  He poured it and then walked away when I realized that somehow he had interpreted gin and tonic as ginseng.  Since it was very warm, he probably wondered why we ordered tea so he iced it!  It was actually very good!

Monday June 11thToday we took a tour that drove us out of the city by 90 KM to some southern islands, then we boarded a sailboat for a trip of the bays and to do some swimming.  There was only one other couple on board so there were only 4 of us besides the crew.  We stopped at an island hotel for a nice lunch, it was very tropical and would be a great place to stay.  As we were leaving to get back on the boat Ron saw a HUGE spider in his web, probably over 2 inches across.  I asked Ron to put his hand near it while I took a picture to show how big he was but he wouldn't do it.  You could clearly see that the spider’s mandibles were hungrily moving like he saw us getting near his web and he thought he was about to capture lunch!  GROSS!  Had a great day.
More Saling Pics

That evening we went out for sushi and had a GREAT sushi dinner.  The sake was only $2.50 for a small bottle unlike the ungodly amount of $8 they charge for a tiny bottle of sake in Buenos Aires.

Tuesday June 12thToday we took another tour that drove 60 KM into the mountains to a town called “Petropolis”.  The emperor of Brazil had built a summer home in the mountains to escape the heat of the summer and it had been preserved as a museum.  First we stopped at little store to use the toilet if anyone needed it.  I’m sure that the store owner is a relative of the tour company as they only had one small toilet, not adequate facilities for a bus load of people, which gave you lots of time to mill about their little store.

A hotel in Petropolis

More Petropolis Pics

We stopped there for 15 minutes and then drove onto the summer house.  Our guide took us on a tour of the house and the one really funny thing was that we had to wear slippers on our feet to protect the marble and wooden floors.  The slippers were huge, “one size fits all” that you kind of step into but there’s nothing to grab your heel, so you have to slide your feet along the floor when you walk so they wouldn’t come off your feet.  It was hilarious to see everyone skating from one room to another and that place had the MOST HIGHLY polished floors I have EVER SEEN!  They then took us for a nice lunch in a big converted Victorian house and didn’t tell us that lunch wasn’t included and we had to pay extra for it.  Surely another relative must own this business.  Next stop was at a park with something called the Crystal Palace which turned out to be an arboretum that is now converted into a kind of stage area.  There was some local event going on with kids in costumes dancing around so Ron decided to take their picture, I saw another person from our group take a picture and some woman quickly approached him for a donation to their community event.  I grabbed Ron and high tailed it out of there before she saw him taking a picture and hit him up for a donation.

Wednesday June 13thToday the tour was of the famous Christ statue up on Corcovado.  The bus takes you to an electric train that climbs up the steep mountain to get to the statue.

When we arrived the mountain top was in fog and we couldn’t see a thing, luckily the fog blew off in a few minutes and we got a fantastic view of the city.

More Christ Statue Pics

After visiting the statue the tour continued onto Tijuca, a national park which is the largest metropolian park in the world, here we visited a beautiful waterfall and had the oppurtunity to stop at a gift shop were we bought some candied coconut to munch on.

Iwas reading in one of the tour books about their style of “parrilla” called churrasco barbeque that they have in Brazil, of course we had to try it.  The waiter came over and asked us if we wanted a drink before dinner, he had a big tray of drinks and explained them all.  One was made with passion fruit and the national rum drink of Brazil, cachaça, Ron wanted to try it and it was great!  They put a bunch of sugar in a class then dumped in the seeds of the passion fruit, he then mashed it up a little with a pestle and dumped in some cachaça and gave it to us.  It still had huge bits of seeds and fruit in it so you had to kind of munch it up as you drank it.  We REALLY liked it.  The waiters then started bringing around skewers of meat and offering it to us.  We hadn’t even ordered yet so I wasn’t sure what to do.  One waiter came over and explained that it’s all part of the “churrasco barbeque” and that you just keep eating till you’re full.  They gave us little placards that had red on one side and green on the other, you just leave the placard on green until you want them to stop bringing you food and then you flip it over to red, like Tom Hanks character in Forest Gump, “Run Forest, run!, Stop Forest, stop!”.  In addition they had an excellent buffet of salads, side dishes, and sushi!  One of the skewers that came around was of grilled chicken hearts, another favorite of mine!  I was in heaven!

Thursday June 14thYet another tour, this time to Pão de Açucar (Sugar Loaf).  First they stopped to show us where the samba contests are held, they have constructed some huge bleacher stands that go on for blocks to view the contests that are held for 5 days once a year at Carnival time.  We then stopped at a very strange, cylindrical cathedral, then onto Sugar Loaf. 

The day before we had driven by Sugar Loaf and the peak had been encased in clouds, luckily it was very clear and the view was amazing.

More Sugar Loaf Pics

The tour ended in the early afternoon so we then headed for the beach for the first time.  Boy it’s a good thing we did all those tours before going to the beach, otherwise we would have never taken the tours.  The water was beautiful and it was nice to lay in the sun.

Friday June 15thWe received an invitation for a free tour from a jewelry manufacturer company called H-Stern that mines their own stones and according to them, mine and cut 85% of the worlds emeralds.  We knew that the tour would end with a sales pitch but we thought, why the heck not?  A new ring might be nice!  The tour was only about 15 minutes but was very interesting as you walked in front of windows where the jewelers were cutting, shaping and polishing stones.  At the end, sure enough they sat us down with a “representative” after the tour and he showed us some rings.  I ended up getting and emerald ring and Ron got a garnet.  His birthstone is Ruby and he asked how much a similar ring would be with a Ruby instead of a garnet and the salesman said it would be $5,000 more!  Hah!  Ron quickly said that the garnet is a nice substitution for a Ruby.

On the way out they had yet another “representative” show us around some show cases of jewelry.  I can see why they don’t show you this first, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything they have to offer and just give up!  The show cases were amazing with beautiful jewelry.  One necklace had a 52 carat blue stone and Ron asked the price, $52,000.  WOW!  Afterwards we head for the beach for a few hours.  That night we went to a samba dance show that was great.  The costumes were amazing, kind of like Las Vegas vs Liberace vs Beach Blanket Babylon, and the show was very enjoyable, some of the outfits had gorgeous bird feathers which were unbelievable. 

Saturday June 16thWent to the beach one last time before returning home.  We asked the man at the front desk if it was OK if they didn’t clean the room till we left, so we could go to the beach for a few hours and then come back and shower before we returning home.  He said they were there to meet our needs, not the other way around.  What a great attitude! 

More Beach Pics

We spent a few hours on the beach then returned for our flight home.  Sigh….. the week passed WAY too quickly!

Monday June 18thFirst school day back from Rio.  As soon as we walked out our front door to go to our Spanish class I noticed how quiet the street was.  Our street is usually extremely noisy (thank God our apartment is in the back and is nice and quiet!) and many times you can’t even hold a conversation while walking down the street because of the noise, however, today it was noticeably quiet.  Hee hee, I think to myself, it must be another holiday we weren’t aware of, “No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers, dirty looks!”  We walked to school with a bounce in our step, hoping that class was canceled but wanting to be sure just the same (they charge us for the class if we don’t go and give them 24 hours notice).  Of course the school was closed so we went back home with a big grin on our faces.

Friday June 22ndThere are daily articles about the current economic troubles of Argentina.  Things are going great for us, but only because we're not looking for jobs right now.  Argentina is in 3+ year recession and times are tough here. There are daily articles in the papers about the poor economy and possibly defaulting on their loans with the International Monetary Fund.  It's kind of depressing, the young people have no hope for the future.  The Spanish and Italian embassies are by our house and everyday there is a HUGE line of young Argentines trying to get visas to go live somewhere else.  It's really a shame, this country is so great and has so much to offer.  However, the young people think they can go somewhere else and everything will be perfect and high paying jobs will fall out of the sky.  They don't realize how good it is here.  The saga continues....

One of the people on the BANewComers yahoo group organized a happy hour at a local wine bar.  It had been awhile since someone did that so the turnout was great, I think someone counted 28 people.  I was surprised that the only people I recognized were Gary and Colleen.  We had that big new years eve party and these were all new folks I didn’t recognize.  I guess it’s not surprising since there are 91 members on the email list.  The wine bar was a 10 minute walk from our house under Neuve de julio (9th of July, their Independence day), the main drag where you may have seen their obelisk, kind of a Bs.As. landmark.  There's a real cool collection of trendy restaurants right under the underpass (who'd a thunk it?)   Gave me lots of great ideas for upcoming diners out!  It was great to meet a whole bunch of new people but the place was small and it was hard to mingle with everyone.  We met a native Argentine, Agueda and her husband Marcos, who were both very interesting.  I started asking them about the current economic situation and what their opinions were, always a fun way to start a conversation.  We were also talking with a Texan couple, Joe and Pam.  They were the stereotypes of a Texan; loud, flashy and fun!  Joe was saying how when Argentina was privatizing some of the large companies, that the gas company he works for bought an Argentine gas company that was floundering and going bankrupt.  He said that they were able to turn it around, made it efficient, and the company was now very profitable.  Agueda was saying how the Argentines thought that they were giving up part of their national identity when the government was selling off assets owned by Argentina.  She felt that the people were losing part of what belonged to Argentina.  It became quite an interesting point-counterpoint “discussion” as Agueda talked about protectionism and national interests and Joe talked about capitalism and free market economies.  Agueda is a beautiful, petite woman and Joe is a large Texan, but during the enthusiastic, passionate discussion, if things came to blows, I’m not sure who would come out the winner!

Walking home afterwards was great, the evening nice and chilly, with our guantes (gloves) and our bufandas wrapped around our necks (scarves, I love saying that word, "Hand me my bufanda will you??"), seeing the beautiful buildings all lit up, it was magical!

We got home and decided to rent a DVD.  Unbelievably there is a BlockBusters right across the street from us and Ron and I went to get a DVD.  I saw a copy of “Titan A.E.” and wanted to rent it.  This is a science fiction film that came out last year and it didn’t get very good reviews, but I’m a big S.F. buff and wanted to see it.  We once rented the video tape of “Titan A.E.” and I didn’t realize that we were on the “dubbed” half section of the video store.  When we put the tape in and started hearing dubbed Spanish I groaned and had to return it.  I tried to listen to it to see if I could pick up the Spanish, but Science Fiction is so hard to try an understand in another language because of all the made up “space technology” words they use.  When I saw it in DVD and thought, HAH!  I finally get to see this B movie.  We got it home and jumped on the couch, putting a cat on each lap and getting ready for the movie.  I start up the DVD and got a message on the TV screen that said something like, “This DVD has security features that cannot be played on this player!”  Ugh!  My expatriate friend Colleen, who I affectionately call the “Answer Goddess” because she has lived here over 3 years and knows EVERYTHING there is to know about this town, told me that on the back of DVDs is a little globe with a number on it.  Apparently even though there is a standard for DVDs, there are different security measures around the world for protecting copying of the disk.  The USA is security global code 1 and Argentina is 4.  Damn!  Foiled again!  Ron returned the DVD and got a voucher to rent a tape in the future.  Will I ever see “Titan A.E.”?

Saturday June 23rd  – I received an email from one of my expatriate email friends.  She had moved back to the USA and her and her husband had their apartment up for sale for the last 10 months.  Because of the current economic slow down, the apartment had not sold until they recently received an offer which they considered ridiculously low, however, they were in a tight spot and wanted the money so that they could purchase something in the USA where they were now living.  She remembered seeing an email from me that said we were considering buying an apartment here.  Life sometimes throws us a curve and she thought that maybe, just maybe, her apartment would be perfect for us.  They were not happy with the current offer, so if we offered them even a dime more, they’d be happier selling it to someone they knew then selling it to someone who had already backed down and changed several of his offers.  So I’m sitting there in my jammies and slippers, reading her email, with my café and media luna, and she says that if we want to see it, we have to go TODAY because the realtor is going to start the papers to transfer ownership on Monday.  As I mentioned, life has a way of shaking you up from a dulled state every once in awhile, so I say to Ron, “Hey, you want to take the subway and go see an apartment for sale in Belgrano today?”  Ron muttered, “WHAT?!?!?!”, between bites of his media lunas and sips of café.  After explaining the situation, Ron says, “SURE!  Let’s go!”  We called the realtor and I start the conversation with the obligatory, “¿Habla íngles?”, to which he quickly responds, “¡No!”  “No hay problema”, I can do this, I say to myself.  I stumble through the conversation and make myself clearly enough understood and setup an apartment to meet in an hour.  We walked to the subway station and took the quick and efficient (although sometimes VERY noisy) subway to Belgrano, a suburb that is only a 10 minute train or subway ride from the downtown financial district.  After arriving at the Olleros subte state, we walked down Av. Federico Lacroze to the realtor office and there were HUGE mature Chinese elm trees planted down the center of the avenue, very nice neighborhood!  However, I keep thinking to myself that we lived in a very nice suburb neighborhood for 19 years in California, now I want to live in the heart of the city, not another suburb.  We got to the realtors office and the young man showed us to the apartment a few blocks away.  It was a nice enough apartment, but nothing that made me say, “This is it!” to myself.  We thanked the realtor and of course he tried to get our business by offering to show us other apartments.  I’m really not interested in living in a nice quiet neighborhood at this point in my life, I want our noisy, crowded, hustle – bustle exciting neighborhood!  On the way home we stopped at a Victorian home that had been converted into a restaurant and gymnasium and ordered a chopp beer.  The waitress was really nice and spoke perfect English, she brought over a plate of hummus, olives and other snacks to have with our $2.50 beers.  What a great place!

That night we went over to Zelfa and Gunther’s apartment to give them a deposit on the Antarctic cruise that we’re taking over XMas.  They are both a great couple and we had a fun time talking with them about Antarctica, it’s become one of their passions.  We are now very excited about our trip there in December even though my usual idea of a vacation is somewhere with palm trees, beaches and drinks with little umbrellas in them.  Zelfa gave us some very cool brochures on the trip.  Now all we have to do is come up with the money for the trip!

Here is a link to the company we are using:

                                                                                                                        See the ship on the lower left?

Stereotypically Russian, big, strong and UGLY!