January 1 – 11th - Life here in Buenos Aires has been very interesting, don't know if you've seen the news but we're going through presidents faster then I change my underwear around here. We've had 5 presidents in 2 weeks, the peso has been devalued for international trading purposes and "another" peso rate (that the average Joe, Jane and we will use) is floating freely (or plummeting depending on how you look at it) on the open market. However, don't let the news worry you, 99.9% of life here is normal, it's just in certain public areas where all the demonstrating goes on. Remember the big earthquake in northern California in 1989? If you only watched the news, it looked like San Francisco was totally destroyed while the major damage was actually limited to a few locations. It's the same here. Life is pretty normal with stores having signs that say "¡No aumenta los precios!", meaning they won't raise their prices because of the devaluation, we'll see how long that holds out. The government is trying to use propaganda saying businesses that raise their prices are unpatriotic and trying to take advantage of the people and you shouldn't patronize a business that raises prices. The government doesn't tell you that it was the crooked politicians, who robbed every penny the people had, that is the true reason the country is broke. ¡Viva la revolución!
The devaluation is actually advantageous for us right now as prices really haven't changed but we're getting almost 2 pesos to every 1 of our USA dollars. So for the moment everything is 1/2 price! However, we expect prices to start creeping up, just hope they don't go into hyperinflation like they did before they pegged the peso to the dollar 10 years ago. Then they were having 5,000% inflation per year. I just can't imagine what my Argentine friends are going through. The government has basically frozen people's bank accounts so they can't draw the money out, they then issued them a 3 or 5 year bond for the amount, so in 3 or 5 years (depending on the type of account and the amount in it) they'll then have access to the money IF (and that's a HUGE IF) the government doesn't default, change their minds, give them "NEW" bonds to extend it further, collapse, or ???? It's insane. I'm actually surprised there's not more violence over this. Can you imagine the government freezing accounts in the USA? BUT the government also wants the economy to grow, but no one has any money to buy anything. Very educational experience!
The other night we went for dinner at a favorite tourist area near our apartment. It's near the Recoleta cemetery where Eva Peron is buried (Evita). The restaurant is outside and since it's summer here right now it was nice and warm with a nice breeze. I love eating there, feels like you're on vacation and it's only 6 blocks from our apartment. These crazy Argentines eat very late so I insist to Ron that we don't go before 9 pm. We're always the first ones in the restaurant and then when we're about ready to leave at 11:30 pm or so, the place is starting to then fill up. Don't know when these people sleep.
I haven’t really felt like adding to the journal since things haven’t really been exciting. I do read the news every day, just to see if we have another new president or not!
Friday January 12th – Colleen and Gary invited us to a parrilla barbeque at their house. Us, never turning down a good time were anxious to go! Colleen and Gary have a crazy neighbor lady who started blasting music at us as we were sitting outside. Luckily she was playing some classic opera at concert decibels and we were all quite enjoying it, glad she didn’t like rap!
Gary did an excellent job on the BBQ and Jason and Michelle were there along with Andrew and Jennifer. After a wonderful asado dinner and many bottles of wine we played the charade game Pictionary. We haven’t played that in ages and we had a blast. My hardest one was “Cauliflower”. Just try and draw that!!
Friday January 19th – Since it was Friday, Ron and I went to a local restaurant we enjoy for dinner. As we were walking to the restaurant people were clanging pots from their balconies as a protest against the current government and the economic policies, they call this “el cacerolazo”. A sauce pan is “una cacerola” (casserole) and a ladle is “cucharón”. So the act of banging a ladle against a pot lid or pan in protest is “el cacerolazo”. It sounds like an inefficient way to protest, but it really seemed emotional with clanking and banging going on as you walked along the streets. You’d look up and you wouldn’t see anyone, but you could hear them, you knew they were there. Ghosts in the night. The beat was 1, 2, 12345: CLANK, CLANK, CLANK CLANK CLANK CLANK CLANK!! Somehow it was like, I know you’re out there, I know what you’re feeling, I’m mad as hell and I ain’t gonna take it anymore!
Friday January 26th – Colleen called and asked us if we wanted to go to Carnaval in a town about 225 kilometers north of Buenos Aires in a town called Gualeguaychú (try and pronounce that real fast with a mouthful of brie and crackers!). This is Argentina’s version of Carnaval, like Rio de Janeiro’s, Venice’s or New Orleans’. Ron thought we would be too busy getting ready for our trip next week, but I browbeated him and said, “Ron, you’re always complaining we don’t take enough advantage of current activities in and around the city, this is a perfect thing to go see!” Ron called Colleen back and said we’d be thrilled to go! The website for the Carnaval is www.carnaval.gualeguaychu.net but it’s all in Spanish!
Saturday January 26th – We took a $2.65 taxi ride to Colleen and Gary’s apartment (our cheapest fair yet, I called this guy “Mario Andretti”) and arrived around 2pm and headed off in their car. It only took us a little over 2 hours before we turned off the main highway for Gualeguaychú. Right away there was a tourist information stand setup alongside the road so Gary stopped and let Colleen out to get some information. Colleen and Gary have lived here for over 4 years and Colleen’s Spanish is very good. Colleen came back and said the vendor asked, “You’re here for Carnaval, right?” Like for what other reason would we be out in the middle of nowhere, to take a tour of the local meatpacking plant??? She got some information on the Carnaval and also a place to stay the night. Since this was kind of a last minute, spur of the moment thing we didn’t have any lodging reservations. It’s not that big of a town and we didn’t know if we’d be able to find a place to stay for the night. Driving along there were lots of people setup alongside the road the road that had places to stay for the night, all of signs were hand written, and said things that said, “Room in private house, private bath” or something to that effect. One table had 4 really cute young girls offering rooms, I’m surprised they weren’t already sold out.
We drove right up to where the Carnaval takes place and there were huge spectator stands that extend about 400 yards on both sides of the “street” where the Carnaval proceeds. As like most things in Argentina there are many seemingly identical choices with no rhyme or reason to where to start. We stopped the car and talked to the people at the “VIP” booth. They explained that you can reserve a table or a place in the stands. A front row table was $60 pesos for four people and the entrance fee was another $12 per person. We were wondering if it would be better to be higher up in the stands so we could see everything but the woman suggested that being in the front row was the best (and of course the most expensive). We took her sage advice.
Now that we had our tickets we headed off to find a place to stay. We stopped at a traditional hotel and they only had one room with 3 beds in it, not a great arrangement. We then went to find the hotel Colleen received an advertisement for at the roadside stop, it took us awhile to find it and as we were looking for it I was thinking that Colleen and Gary are much more adventurous then we are. We were going down several dirt roads in a not too appealing area of town. Colleen and Gary were joking that the advertisement was probably a trap to lead us to a dead end alley where we would then be robbed. Crazy Australian humor! We finally found the hotel and it turned out to be very nice, Colleen and Ron went in to check out the rooms, came out and after a short discussion we decided to take it. We plopped our bags into the room, grabbed some beers and then walked down to the river to enjoy the beers and relax.
We headed into town and Colleen spied a good place for a parrilla dinner. It was only 8:00 pm, pretty early by Argentine standards, so we were the first people in the restaurant. We ordered some beers and a wonderful parrilla dinner and proceeded to get our protein fill with morcilla, mollejas and bife de chorizo. I was in heaven. The whole bill was $39 (remember those are pesos) for a dinner for 4 with plenty of beers. Not bad!
That’s one big bottle of beer!
We headed off to the Carnaval, found our reserved table and ordered a few more beers. I really liked the look of the crowd. I’ve never been to Rio’s or New Orlean’s Carnaval, but I heard it can get pretty rowdy with people getting too crazy or drunk. This was very comfortable with more of a family crowd and lots of kids in the stands.
By 10:00 pm the crowds started stamping their feet, waiting for the Carnaval to start. It didn’t take long before the music started and the dancers, performers and floats started slowly going down the procession. Gary thought that we were sitting near the judging area and this seemed advantageous as the performers really seemed to give it their all when they were in our area. It was great being in the front row, being able to see all the sexy outfits, fit bodies and nice butts parading by.
The fun lasted to about 2:30 am.
Sunday January 27th – We stopped for a quick breakfast of coffee and media lunas alongside the river. Colleen mentioned that this was one of the first times that they had been apart from her boys and you can tell she was anxious to get back to them. We had a nice breakfast, bought some Gualeguaychú Tshirts and headed off for home. What a great time!
Wednesday January 30th – Ron wanted to throw me a little birthday party before we left on our trip to California and Mexico. We spent the day getting the house cleaned up and Ron made me a German Chocolate cake. Since it was my birthday we wanted to make things a little easier on us so we ordered a big order of sushi to be delivered for finger food. We also had cheese and other little nibblies to go along with the sushi. Soon our little apartment was filled with about 15 guests. It was a great mix of English and Spanish speakers. Ron lit the number 40 candle he found and everyone sang Happy Birthday to me in English and then in Spanish. I was extremely embarrassed and overwhelmed at the outpouring of affection from our new friends. Everyone went GAA GAA over Ron’s German Chocolate cake, with good reason. Ron makes the cake from scratch for me only once a year, for my birthday. Gustavo’s wife, Gracela, cornered Ron until he agreed to give her the “secret” recipe. Unfortunately, summer is in full swing here and it was pretty hot and humid but the party turned out to be a smashing hit.
Thursday January 31st – I was asking around to find a good masseur and Ignacio told us one that he really enjoyed. We used to go 3 or 4 times a year in California and really enjoyed pampering ourselves. Here, there are lots of places that advertise massages but I really wanted a recommendation from someone. Ignacio told us of this masseur who works with many of the dancers at the teatro Colon and teatro San Martin. We made appointments with him and I eagerly awaited my massage. Our appointments were an hour and ½ apart so Ron went first as I didn’t know if the masseur had rest periods between appointments or not. When I showed up Ron was just leaving and he was all glowing and smiles, the sign of a good massage. Ricardo lead me into his studio where he also teaches yoga classes. The building was beautiful, 100 years old with high ceilings, lots of leaded windows and huge beautiful doors and wooden window shutters. He led me into a room and proceeded to give me a fantastic massage with wonderful mood music, scented oils and hot scented compresses on my face. Quite a deal for $20 pesos which is only about USA $12 right now. I asked for information on his yoga classes and floated as I walked home. The only problem with a massage is I didn’t feel like going to the gym and working out after that, I was much too relaxed.