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March 2002

My friend Alberto’s Birthday Party
and our 6 week journey begins to Tahiti, Moorea, then the North Island of New Zealand!

Monday March 4th We left on Sunday morning and returned home to Buenos Aires on Monday morning. It was raining like crazy and you could barely see out the front of the taxi cab windshield as he raced along. We got home and the cats were VERY glad to see us, they wouldn’t leave us alone and kept rubbing against us. No matter how much fun a trip is, it’s always nice to return home again!

Friday March 8th Colleen and Gary invited us over to their house for a sushi dinner.  We arrived and Gary made us margaritas as we told them about our trip to California and Mexico.  Gary asked if we bought another time share, both Colleen and Gary are accountants and find it funny that we keep buying timeshares as they are leery of the value of the benefits!  We mentioned to them about getting our tickets for our New Zealand trip through the travel agent we’re using.  Our agent said that they would have to charge an additional amount on our credit card but that they would refund the money to us in USA dollars.  The agent had come over the previous night to our apartment and went over our airline tickets with us to be sure they were correct.  He then gave us $600 USA dollars as a refund.  We couldn’t figure out why they would overcharge so much, I can understand prices constantly changing, so maybe the price of the tickets for a big trip like this could vary by $100, but $600??  We couldn’t figure out why they would do this so we asked Gary and Colleen for their opinion.  Gary works for “Pacific and Orient Shipping” and he said that with the current economic policies in place his company can’t pay their bills overseas because that could be considered capital flight.  Gary thought maybe they’re charging more to our credit card because it will be billed to a company outside the country, so it’s a way for them to get their dollars out of the country.  This country constantly amazes me.

We ate a ton of sushi and then played pool on their pool table in their living room, followed by a wonderful walk home around 1am.  They live in an area of the city which has a lot of expensive and large homes and walking past the stately homes is very cool. 

Monday March 11th Today was my friend Alberto’s birthday and we invited him over for dinner.  Alberto is the friend that I speak Spanish with once a week as his level of English is about the same as mine in Spanish, so we both benefit from our weekly get togethers.  He had previously told me that it was his birthday and I asked him if he was doing anything with friends or family and he said he didn’t have any plans so we invited him over.  I asked him, “Para cenar, quieres salmón? pollo? pescado? cerdo?” to which he replied, “Pescado!”, I then asked, “Te gusta una torta de manzana, melocotón, chocolate?”  To which he replied, “Chocolate!”  And, so, dinner was decided!

I went to my favorite website for some recipes and found some that looked interesting.  I found a kahlua chocolate cake recipe that sounded good but when Ron read the ingredients he said, “There’s over 3 cups of butter in this recipe!  I can’t make this, it’ll kill us all!”  Ron then found a recipe that he had wanted to try and set off to make it.  It was supposed to be a marbled kind of cake and Ron set off to baking. 

This is the picture from the recipe!

A few hours later the apartment smelled wonderful but when I went into the kitchen to check on the results it didn’t look very good.  It was supposed to be a sheet cake but it was uneven and kind of flat.  Ron explained that he might cut it out of the glass pan and stack it in two layers to make a higher cake.  “Hmmmm!”  I said doubtfully.

I came in a little while later and I put my head in my hands, shaking from side to side, the cake was a disaster.  How could we serve this to our friends I thought???  What would Julie Child do in such a situation?  Ron had tried to put the icing on the cake but had run out of icing and was only able to ice the top and one side.  He said, “I’ll bring it out with the frosted side facing Alberto!”  I said, “No one will EVER see THAT cake looking like THAT!  We’ll cut it and put it on plates, maybe it will look better cut up!”  As we stood there, the cake started to have an frosting avalanche mudslide and a big piece of it fell over.  We just cracked up laughing!

                         This is the disastrous results!                                                Would you serve this to company??


Alberto and Daniel arrived and we headed into the kitchen to get some drinks, unfortunately Alberto spied his cake so I had to explain the whole story to him.  He was acting very polite and saying, “No hay problema” but I thought there was a major problema!

Daniel and Alberto

Pete, Ron and Alberto

Marcelo and Diego

 Ignacio and Ron

Ignacio, Marcelo and Diego showed up shortly after and we had a wonderful evening.  When it came time for dessert Ron and I brought out the cut cake slices (it looked slightly better).  Everyone agreed that no matter how it looked, it was delicious.  Diego said it was better then the German Chocolate Cake Ron made for my birthday and I told him that was blasphemous!

               Alberto and Daniel                                    Diego, Ignacio and Marcelo

Igancio and Marcelo

Friday March 15th Alberto came over and we conversed in Spanish and English on our balcony, drinking mate.  He brought over his English book and had some questions for me.  I really enjoy when we go over his English homework because I get to see someone else struggle as much as I do trying to learn another language.  The exercise he was having problems with was using the phrase “feel like”.  The example was, “What would you like to drink?” and the answer was, “I feel like a cup of coffee!”  He looked at me and said, “I feel like a cup of coffee?”  This was pretty funny to try and explain and actually incredibly difficult, just think about trying to explain that for a second.  Next he asked me about a phrase a friend said to him.  He said, what does “…and then some!” mean?  I tried to explain that “…and then some!”  is a phrase that you use, but only after you said something previous, “Like, I hope you have a nice date tonight, …and then some!”  You wouldn’t just leave a conversation and then say “…and then some!”  You’d have to say, “I hope you have a great night, …and then some!” 

In my frustration to explain these language nuances I was trying to explain to Alberto that comics in the newspaper are extremely difficult for me to understand.  Although they are short with usually very few words, they are usually all about the idiosyncrasies of language, slang, or innuendo.  I will read a comic and just NOT get it, at all, sigh….

After our chat together, Ron, Alberto and I went to the gym together.  Alberto asked me if I wanted to work out with him and I quickly agreed.  Alberto is in great shape and I was happy to pickup some pointers on new exercises and proper technique.  Unfortunately, working out with a friend kind of puts you on the spot and you don’t want to look like a slouch so you push yourself harder then you would if you were working out alone, I guess that’s the whole point of working out with someone else.  I kept telling him he was trying to kill me.

Saturday March 16th I could barely get out of bed I was so sore from the previous day’s exercise, I’m going to kill Alberto the next time I see him! 

The Argentine peso continues to devalue.  I can’t help but feel sorry for my Argentine friends, but for us, prices really haven’t gone up so with the exchange rate we’re getting twice as many pesos as we used to get, so now things cost ½ of what they did previously.  We decided to take advantage of this and went out for dinner at a local restaurant we like, Rigoletto’s.  It always feels like such a treat to go out to dinner, walking down the beautiful streets at night, feels like we’re on a continuous vacation.  We had a wonderful dinner, I had salmon raviolis and Ron had chicken wrapped in puff pastry.  The waiter was very nice and said that their tiramisu was excellent that night.  I’m not a big dessert person (that’s Ron’s job) but tiramisu is one of my favorite desserts.  The only problem is, tiramisu can be heaven when it’s good, but can be a terrible disappointment when it’s bad.  This one was fantastic, and with a nice café it was the perfect end to the meal.

Sunday March 17th I had sent a message to our email group asking for information on buying real estate now in the current economic situation.  Our friend Frances responded to me and suggested that we come over to her and Andres’ apartment for brunch to talk about purchasing property.  Andres is Argentine and could give us a local perspective on how real estate purchases work here.  We walked to their apartment which is in a very nice part of town, being Sunday the streets were unusually quiet.  Their building was beautiful with fantastic architectural features and really cool old elevators, they gave us a tour of the apartment which they had extensively remodeled and introduced us to their two children.  They gave us some sage advice on the intricacies of purchasing property here and also Andres’ opinion on the current crisis and how it may come out.  Very interesting stuff.  Frances made an excellent Pear Kuchen, she said that it was supposed to be a Peach Kuchen, but since it’s almost fall here the pears were perfectly ripe, so she switched to pears and added lemon zest, fantastic!  She also showed us a travel magazine we weren’t aware of called “Lugares” or “Places” that looks like a great magazine for finding new places to visit in South America.

Ron really wanted to go to the movies and see “El Señor de los Anillos” or “Lord of the Rings” so we went to the cinema which is about a 10 minute walk from our house.  We got there and it was packed with the current show sold out, so we bought tickets for the next showing. 

I LOVED IT!  I never compare movies to books because to me there is no comparison, they’re 2 different mediums.  Books use your imagination and how can anything be better then that?  However, I must say, they did an excellent job with adapting the books into a movie.  I usually don’t like to see special effects for no reason, but this is a visual feast for the eyes that is totally necessary to advance the story line.

Tuesday March 26th Read a really interesting article on the NY Times website about the current peso situation.  I copied it to my website.

Peso Down Steeply, Argentines Strengthen Currency Curbs

Olga took us out to look at some more apartments for sale.  We saw one apartment overlooking Vicente López park, a VERY prestigious address and it was quite reasonable.  I guess with the current economic crisis the prices of apartments is really dropping.

Thursday March 28th, 2002 – Our 6 week trip to Tahiti, Moorea, New Zealand and Easter Island begins!  It's weird how this trip happened, originally I had only wanted to go to Easter Island and the travel agent said, "Do you know how expensive it is to fly JUST to Easter Island?  Most people just stop there on their way to Tahiti, you should really go to Tahiti and just stop in Easter Island for a few days."  So I said, "Tahiti??  Wow, that sounds great!"  Then I was talking to another friend and she said, "Do you know how expensive it is to fly to Tahiti?  You should really go to New Zealand, it's just a few $$$ more!"  So originally all I wanted was a 2 day trip to Easter Island, and now we'll be gone 6 weeks!  Wow!  Our friend Colleen suggested that we extend the trip to Australia (she’s an Auzzie) while we were at it, but I had to draw the line somewhere?!?!?!

As usual we didn’t finish all of our packing from the night before.  When will we ever learn?  We usually take a Remis to the airport; a Remis is similar to a taxi but charges a set fee for the ride, as opposed to a running meter.  Usually the ride to the airport is $20 plus $2.80 in tolls.  Our portero (doorman) mentioned that he also runs a Remis service and offered to take us to the airport.  He’s a nice guy and we thought “Why not?”, we usually pay someone we don’t know to go to the airport, why don’t we pay someone we do know so they can earn the money.  Miguel was a little anxious to pick us up early, maybe to make a good first impression as this was our first ride we were taking with him.  He rang the buzzer 15 minutes early and we told him we weren’t ready yet and to come back at the time we originally agreed upon.  Of course, as the clock struck exactly 11am, Miguel buzzed our door to pick us up.  We gave him the heaviest bags and told him we’d be ready in 5 more minutes.  We gave the cats one last belly rub and I left some stinky gym clothes on the bed, as a little reminder of me for them to sleep on while we were gone (I read about that in some Kat magazine, so the cats can smell you and get whatever comfort they can from laying on stinky TShirts).  They had both already curled up my stinky clothes as we were getting ready to leave.  Krazy Kats!  Hope it helps them, I’ll miss them!

As we drove along I was speaking Spanish with Miguel and making pretty good small talk, that is, until we entered the autopista freeway and he picked up speed.  His old car apparently needs a front end alignment bad and started shaking so much I was afraid I was going to lose a few tooth fillings.  I was worried the front wheel was going to fly off, we’d flip the car and I’d miss my vacation.  Funny how you prioritize things.  We got the to the airport none too soon, luckily with both the front wheels and my fillings attached.  Miguel told us to call him the day before we were to arrive home and he’d pick us up from the airport, I’d love to help him out but not until he gets a decent car.  Another cultural dilemma, ride in your portero’s car and risk death from an automobile that isn’t properly maintained just so he can earn a few dollars, or hire another Remis and possible die at their maniac driving.  You really learn to appreciate life more when you think you may perish at any moment!  When you realize how fine the line is between safety and chaos, the air just smells sweeter and the colors are more vibrant!

We had a 3.5 hour plane ride to Chile, then an hour lay over, then a 5.5 hour flight to Easter Island.  At Easter Island we had an hour layover so we were able to get off the plane, stretch and have a drink in the airport lounge.  From what we could see the airport is very modest and the bar was a very comfortable indoor / outdoor affair.  The air felt wonderfully warm and humid as we walked up to the bar and a very beautiful hostess asked as what we would like.  We ordered a rum and coke and she quickly supplied us with drinks and some walnuts to munch on.  Hot night breezes drifted around us as we sipped our cool drinks, I love this kind of weather!  The hour quickly disappeared and then we re-boarded the plane for another 5.5 hour flight to Tahiti.  What can I say that you don’t already know?  All long airline flights are the same, LONG, uncomfortable, and you can’t sleep!  I’ve never flown business class or first class and I’m actually scared to try it, I’m scared I may be tempted in the future to pay the outrageous difference between business and coach once I feel what it’s like to fly in a comfortable airline seat.

With the change in time zones, we arrived in Tahiti at 11:55 pm and had no place to stay for the night.  I asked Ron, “Why don’t we have a place to stay?” and Ron said, “The agent said to just find a room!”  That is the difference between travel agents in the states and travel agents in Argentina.  They just don’t seem to “get it” as far as full packages are concerned.  They’ll set you up with the airfare, but transfers, shuttles, extra nights in a hotel while you’re awaiting your next flight, and other such “conveniences” are left up to you.  We looked around the airport lobby for some hotel brochure recommendations and saw very few.  Ron spied an information booth with several attractive girls talking in it, but when I asked them if they worked there, they said “No, but maybe we can help you out.”  We asked if they could recommend a reasonably priced hotel room and the girl said, “You should try the BeachCombers”.  Ron asked if we could walk there and the girl looked appalled and said, “You should never walk alone in Tahiti at night!”  We jumped in a taxi and told the woman to take us to the BeachCombers.  I asked her how much the ride would be and she said “$1,800” which I roughly calculated as about $15.  That didn’t seem too bad until we arrived at the hotel about 3 minutes later, less then a kilometer from the airport.  The man at the front desk said the only room available was $33,000 Polynesian francs, or about $300 USA.  I asked if he could suggest a more reasonably priced room and he said the “Hotel Sofitel” was right next door and that they had cheaper rooms.  Ron asked again if we could walk there and the guy said, “Sure, it’s the next hotel down the road.”  So, off we go, dragging our heavy luggage, laptop, carry-on and 2 backpacks filled with maps and books.  It’s really not a big effort, but it was very hot and humid and we were soon drenched in sweat.  We passed some locals on the deserted street and I was a little worried after what the girl warned us at the airport about, that we might be robbed.  We trudged on.  The walk was actually pretty far and I didn’t feel at all comfortable being on a deserted road, weighted down like “sherpas” dragging our luggage down the street after midnight.  We passed a bus stop with 6 young men waiting in it, I smiled at them and nodded as we passed, trying to look confident, self assured and friendly, hoping they weren’t sizing us up for a hit! 

We arrived safely at the hotel, soaking wet, and they had a room for $14,500 or about $119 USA.  We got into our room, showered and then hit the sack!  LONG day!

Some day they’re going to figure out how to “beam” us from one point to another instantaneously, like in “Star Trek”, THAT I will definitely pay a premium for. 

However, even with all my complaints it still truly amazes me that with modern transportation you can be ½ way around the world in one day; even though that one day is sure a LONG day!

Friday March 29th, 2002– After a good nights sleep we headed out to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.  A woman was sitting in the activities booth and greeted us as we passed by and asked what we had planned for the day.  I told her we were only there for a day before going on Moorea, she said, “Why don’t you go on the island tour?”, then there was a squawk behind us as someone else cooed behind us, “It’s very interesting!”  I turned around to see a woman sitting on the sofas behind us.  The woman at the desk continued, “Everything in town is closed today because of Easter, you should really take the tour”, to which I heard the same distracting voice behind us say, “It’s the best tour on the island!”  Geez, they were coming at us from every angle.  She told us the price included entrance to 2 museums and lunch and she talked us into it.  I told her, “We want to get some breakfast!” and she said, “You better hurry, the bus leaves in 15 minutes!”  I mentioned that we were going to be staying a few days here on our way home from New Zealand and we asked her if she could recommend any reasonably priced hotels in the area, say for $90 USA a night.  She sighed and nodded her head from side to side.  She suggested that we asked for a discount at the front desk and she said, “Be sure to ask nicely and maybe they’ll give you a discount”, she made a motion like she was putting lotion on her arm and she said, “Just be sure to put a little cream on it when you ask them!”  We went up to the counter and put on our sweetest smiles, said we needed to spend a few additional nights there and was there any way possible that we could get a discount.  She smiled and said, “I’ll see what I can do!” and the price dropped from 14,500 to 9,000.  We came back to the activities desk to get our tickets for the island tour and I told the woman that we were able to get a discount and that I did put some cream on!

The island tour was a very pleasant way to spend the day!

More Tahiti Day Trip Pics

Saturday March 30th, 2002 – We were to take a short 10 minute plane ride over to the neighboring island of Moorea, we didn’t realize it but Moorea was visible from our hotel room, it would have been cheaper and probably faster to take the ferry over but we already had plane tickets through our travel agent.  We got to the little domestic airport, which was very small, and checked in, they motioned over their shoulder for us to put our bags on a trolley cart that would be taken out to the airplane, they didn’t give us the “Did you pack your own bags and have they not left your site” speeches.  We had a few minutes so Ron bought a few beers and a sandwich that we split.  Wild chickens were running about the open air waiting area with their little chicks as we waited for our plane to arrive.  I noticed a sleeping cat on one of the counters and had to go over and scratch it’s head, he/she didn’t even bother to lift an eyelid, guess the cat picks that spot for just the reason of the constant head scratches.  Our plane soon buzzed into the airport and we were soon boarding.

The plane only had 20 seats and every seat was quickly occupied.  There was only one pilot, no co-pilot and we didn’t go through any security checkpoints or metal detectors.  Once in the plane I said to Ron, “Gee, they don’t have a copilot” and he said, “I guess it’s because it’s such a short trip!”, and I said, “Yea, but the plane is still up in the air and if something happens to the pilot, we still need to get down!”  The cute pilot turned around in his seat and through the open cockpit in French said to “Fasten your seatbelts and enjoy your flight”, then off we went!

The ride was quick and after landing we found a taxi for the ride to our hotel.  The driver was very friendly and said that he had 12 children and that the young girl sitting next to him was his youngest daughter.  He said the island record was 24 children by the same couple and he admitted that he had had his children with the “help” of 3 different wives.

Once arriving at the hotel we checked in and the woman at the desk said that her name was Rose and that if we needed anything and no one was at the front desk, that her apartment was “right over there” and we could knock on her door if we needed anything, she was quick to add, “Only if it’s an emergency!”  The bellboy carried our heavy suitcases up the flight of stairs to our room and I tried to give him a tip but he politely refused, I thought that was a nice change.  We put on some shorts and headed to the bar for a drink.  The outdoor bar was quite large but there was only one exotically beautiful woman waiting on everyone, we pulled out our books as we waited for her to make it around to us.  It wasn’t long before she came over, apologized for the delay and asked us what we would like, we ordered 2 Mai Tias.  She said that the prices just went up by 20 francs from the day before, we assured her that that was ok, after all 20 francs is about 16 cents.  The drinks were delicious as warm breezes caressed our ankles and we watched the boats on the bay, 20 feet from the bar.  WOW!

                 A view from our balcony

I’m reading “In the Heart of the Sea, The tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” by Nathaniel Philbrick.  It’s a true telling of a whaling ship from Nantucket that in 1820 was rammed and sunk by an enraged sperm whale and was the inspiration for Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick”.  The crew of 20 then setout on an almost 3,000 mile voyage in three 20 foot open whaling boats to reach the coast of South America.  Shannon, who I met on the Antarctica cruise in December recommended it to me.  Shannon and her husband Tom are both sailors and she said it’s a fantastic book and I can’t agree with her more, I could barely put it down.  It’s a documentary type telling of the story, interjected with facts about Nantucket, whaling, marriage, separation and eventually, survival skills, both emotional and physical.  It’s riveting, go find it in your public library, you won’t be disappointed, just make sure you have plenty of water to drink as you read it, I swear my lips blistered and my eyes bulged from lack of water just imaging what it would be like to be on an open boat in the middle of an ocean with no apparent hope of survival.  

We walked down the street to a nice French restaurant called Alfredo’s.  The walk wasn’t long but they don’t have sidewalks and no street lights and it was as black as ink walking along the street.  Who would have thought to bring a flashlight to the French Polynesian Islands??  We had a wonderful meal and walked back to our rooms to read a bit before going to sleep.

Sunday March 31st, 2002 – We went down to the bar by the pool for breakfast, our hotel was nice, but Moorea is pretty small and laid back and our hotel didn’t have a real restaurant, just breakfast and lunch in the bar area by the pool.  The continental breakfast was 1,000 francs or about $8 for a plate of fruit and coffee, sounded perfect to me.  Peggy fixed us 2 plates with a huge ½ of papaya, ½ a grapefruit, 2 tiny bananas, some pineapple and some lime wedges, along with a plate of toasted French baguette bread and coffee.  I was in heaven, my perfect kind of breakfast.

We really needed to get some cash from the ATM.  We had brought some USA $$ with us, but we really didn’t want to use them if we didn’t have to, since the peso devaluation in Argentina USA dollars are like gold and there’s no where to get them there, so we didn’t want to spend ours if we could help it.  We asked Rose at the front desk where the nearest ATM was and she said, “It’s about 2 or 3 miles down the road”, we replied that we’d head off to get some cash.  “But it’s Easter, the machine may be out of money and it’s so hot, you may get there and there might not be any money!”, she said.  We assured her that we wanted the exercise and headed off to find the ATM.  It was actually quite nice to walk along and look at the countryside, the road boarded the water so you get magnificent views no matter which way you looked.  Every 20 or 30 yards you’d see a car pulled off the side of the road, with local children playing in the water and the adults sitting in the shade of the trees having animated conversations.  You can’t help but look at them and envy them for their lifestyle, as slow paced as it may be, it just seemed like paradise.  What could be better then sitting by the water, in the shade of a big palm tree while warm breezes blow about you?

We got to the ATM and sure enough it refused to give us any francs, bastards!

After walking back to the hotel I opened the balcony doors in our room and also the front door to get some air flowing through.  A kitten came bounding into our room through the open doorway and missing our own kitty kats, we had a nice time scratching his (or hers) ears and pulling their tail!

Ron on the laptop!

That night our hotel had crab races where people bet on the crabs!

                                                                                                            On your mark, get set........

                       Rounding the first bend!

We again walked down the road, in total darkness, and had an excellent dinner in a restaurant that had a patio overlooking the water.  The hostess said that the chef made their own “Tiare” flavored sorbet for dessert.  When I asked what a Tiare was she said it was the fragrant jasmine flower that the locals wear behind their ears all the time.  We ordered some of this and it was delicious.