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August 2002

Visiting Dad, Key West, Florida
then Aruba!

Friday August 2nd, 2002 – We went to visit the new office of our friends Frank and Fabiana.  They have hired a college graduate to help them figure out the costs of exporting into the USA, so that they can quote real costs to any distributors they may find in the USA.  It was interesting that I was looking at exporting and getting caught up in the “process” of getting things shipped, through customs, duties, taxes, tariffs, etc.  Frank just shrugged and said, “That’s just a process, that’s why we hired someone to figure that out for us, what we need to find is buyers for the products once they get there.”  This made perfect sense to me and had me thinking that I was approaching the problem backwards.  Frank is now trying to find distributors and buyers in the USA for products he is finding here for sale.

In Frank and Fabiana's new office

That night we met our friends Thomas and Felipe for dinner at a Chinese restaurant near their apartment.  It was a great find of a restaurant, we will be back!

Saturday August 3rd, 2002 –Jason and Michelle had a board game night at their apartment.  This included a potluck meal and then playing a board game of some kind.  Jason isn’t sure how much longer his contract is going to last here, but they expect to return sometime within a year.  He showed us his stash of good Argentine wines that he’s going to take back with him to the USA.  He was telling us that some of the wines that are selling for $27 pesos here (about USA $7.50) are selling for USA $80 in the states.

After a scrumptious meal and lots of red wine we played a new game that Jennifer bought.  We decided to split into 2 teams, the men against the women.  You would pick a card that had a topic heading on it, then you had a minute to guess the 10 things that may be on the card that were related to the topic.  Some were easy, like “Car rental companies”, others were hard, like “USA war battles”, some were misleading like “Seas” with some of the answers being “sea horse, sea foam, sea bird, etc.”, we were thinking of the names of different seas around the world.  There was lots of shouting, laughing and groaning.  Half of the group was Argentines who could speak English, but as usual, with lots of laughing and shouting, the different accents were getting everyone confused and there was lots of miscommunication which made things even funnier.  Great night.

Sunday August 4th, 2002 – Alberto invited me over to his place again.  Today was a fantastic day and very warm, quite wonderful considering it was supposed to be the coldest part of winter.  Since it was so nice outside, Alberto suggested that we walk to Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo to have lunch.  Plaza Dorrego is where they have the antique fair every Sunday.  We were walking to the fair when Alberto saw an old scraggly dog laying on the sidewalk and he stopped to pet her/him.  I told Alberto that in English we call an old, scraggly looking dog a “Flea bag”.  I was trying to explain this to him when I just did a literal translation and called the dog a “bolsa de pulgas!”  He laughed about this and said that’s exactly what they call them in Spanish.

We got to the plaza and as usual it was very crowded.  We found a restaurant with outside seeing and sat in the warm winter sun.  There was a sign on the window for an “oferta” of a big pizza and a big bottle of beer for $12 pesos (USA $3.35.  Boy I love this devaluation thing!)  We were eating our pizza and drinking our beer when this kid comes along with a little accordion and asks if we want him to play something.  I nodded “no” and the kid started playing anyways, after a few seconds Alberto said, “Basta!” (Enough!).  I cracked up because this is what he always says to his dog Eva when she’s bugging us.  The kid kept playing and Alberto repeated “Basta!”  He finally stopped and held out his hand for a coin.  Had to give the kid credit, he’s persistent.

A few minutes later another small boy came along and was trying to beg for some coins, when we said no, he asked for a piece of the pizza.  Alberto said something to him and as the kid left I heard him say, “Muerte a vos”, I almost snorted beer out my nose.  I asked Alberto, didn’t he just say, “Death to you”?  I felt like smacking the kid.  Alberto explained that it’s just a phrase that kids use all the time, kind of like calling someone a “booger head” when someone takes your marbles.  I still thought this sounded like quite an insult, but took Alberto’s word on it that it was a harmless jest.  Wonder what someone would think if that was said during a United Nations conference speech?

Thursday August 8th, 2002 – We were getting ready for our trip to Florida to visit my dad.  We figured on just renting a car once we got to the airport but thought it might be easy enough to rent a car online.  I went to yahoo.com and typed in “car rentals” and within a few clicks I was looking at the comparative rates of car rentals out of the Miami airport.  The internet sure is good for some things!  I asked for Ron’s credit card and rented us a car.

Monday August 12th, 2002 - We left for Florida, waving good bye to the kitty katz, I think they woke up and acknowledged our leaving, but you can never quite be sure with cats.

Tuesday August 13th, 2002 – We arrive in Florida at 5 am.  Boy I hate flying to and from Argentina, we’ve never had a flight at a decent hour, guess they think people prefer to try and sleep during a 10 hour flight.  However, I know of no one who can sleep on a plane in the economy section and you always arrive feeling like you have a hangover.  Wait!  Maybe that’s the problem, I DO have a hangover with the free drinks offered on international flights!  Jajajajjajaja!

As we step outside the humidity is pretty bad, even at that time of the morning.  Our eyes are burning from the lack of sleep.  We get to the car rental agency, show them the printout of our confirmation number from the internet and get our car keys.  Pretty simple.  Now the tough part, trying to find our way out of the city to the highway.  We look at the very basic map the car rental agency gave us and see that it’s about a 250 mile drive to Tampa, at least 5 hours.  We start driving west as the sun rose behind us, giving us a beautiful sunrise.  I had bought a large coffee at the rental agency to try and keep alert and stopped at a rest area after about 45 minutes of driving to stretch and wake up a little.  Getting out of the air conditioned car was quite a shock, yikes, it was hot and humid.

Driving along “Alligator Alley” from the east to the west coast of Florida it was quite a shock to see so much nothingness.  Living in Buenos Aires without a car, it was a rare site to now be driving along with not much to be seen in any direction.  I flipped on the radio and found NPR, National Public Radio, my favorite station.  It was great to again hear the voices of Noah Adams, Cokie Roberts and Carl Kasell.  Just like old times!

It had been a few years since I visited my father in his Florida home and I actually didn’t know where I was going so we stopped and bought a more detailed map of Florida.  We checked out the map and just made sure we were headed in the right direction. 

We arrived at my dads around 1 pm in the afternoon.  We sat around with a beer and got caught up on each other’s lives.  Ron was fading fast, and my dad mentioned that we should go run some errands so that Ron could get a nap. 

On the way back from our errands we stopped at my Aunt Dorothy’s house, she’s my father’s sister and lives just a few houses down from my father.  I haven’t seen my aunt in years, but she looked exactly how I remembered her.  Her two daughters were there, my cousins, who I haven’t seen in probably 25 years.  Shiloh and Beth, although older, looked surprising the same as when they did 25 years ago.  Hope I looked as good to them as they did to me.  It was great to get caught up on things, have a beer and sit on my aunt’s back patio in the warm Florida afternoon.

That night we took my dad out for dinner, he recommended a favorite local place, no frills, but very good food.  When we were ordering Ron asked for water “con gas” and the waitress thought he was pulling her leg.

Wednesday August 14th, 2002 - Every morning my dad walks aunt Dorothy’s dog at 7:30 am.  This give him the chance to get some exercise before the heat of the day, gives the dog a chance to stretch and do her business and also allows him to pickup a newspaper for the way home.  This was also a good time to have some quality time with dad and talk about things so I joined him.  We watched the sun come up and I thought to myself, I haven’t seen 2 sunrises in a row in I don’t know HOW long.

We returned back to my dads, dropped off the pooch, and sat down for breakfast and coffee.  Ron changed his mailing address to be a PO box at my dad’s house and my dad loves to tell us how all this junk mail comes in cartons every day to the PO Box.  Dad promptly retrieved a box of mail and dumped it on the table for us to sort through.

Ron wanted to get a Florida driver’s license because the IRS makes you claim a state for your primary resident state, even if you don’t live in the USA the entire year.  Ron picked Florida because of the lower taxes, I need to claim California as my resident state because I still have my rental condominium in Fremont, California.  We called the local department of motor vehicles office and asked for an appointment for the following day to get Ron a Florida driver’s license.  Knowing that these things can take time, we asked for the first appointment of the day.

My dad took us to Tarpon Springs for the afternoon.  Tarpon Springs is a Greek town about 20 miles from my father’s house, it became famous because Greek immigrants found that the gulf waters had sponge beds that rivaled those in Greece and a huge sponge industry had been born there.

                           Some cool tile wall murals

                                                                                                  A memorial statue for divers who have died

We were walking around the touristy part of the town, looking at kitschy stores, sponges for sale and T-Shirt shops when we passed an aquarium, we heard over a loud speaker on the sidewalk, “The show is about to begin!  See our fearless diver enter the tank and hand feed the sharks!  Marvel at the force of these prehistoric flesh eating creatures as our diver risks life and limb as sharks swim around him to compete for their meal!”  It reminded me of an old RKO MovieTone news reel, it was hilarious.  We just HAD to go in and see the show.  As we entered the aquarium I saw the diver standing by the door, already in his wetsuit, speaking into the microphone that was broadcasting outside.  He was announcing his own show!  Pretty funny.

Sure enough, he climbed into the tank and it was fun to watch him feed the fish and the sharks, the fish slowly circling him, knowing they’re about to be fed, looking more like our fat lazy pussy cats waiting for their dinner then prehistoric flesh eating fish.

Peso Down Steeply, Argentines Strengthen Currency Curbs

After the show we headed off for lunch, my dad has a favorite restaurant along the waterfront that we stopped in.   It was very hot so Ron and I started off with a margarita on the rocks, then a nice salmon salad.

Thursday August 15th, 2002 – Ron and I woke up again early to get to our 7:30 am department of motor vehicle appointment.  I saw my third sunrise in a row.

We were wondering if they were going to ask any questions about our residency in order to get the license.  We’ve been using my dad’s address as a mailing address to have important financial papers sent but we didn’t know if they would require bills in Ron’s name or some other kind of proof that he was living there.  Knowing how slow the department of motor vehicle can sometimes be, I decided to wait in the car and read my book while Ron went inside.  He came out 10 minutes later and showed me his new license!  WOW!  They did everything right then and there.  We didn’t even have to wait for it to be mailed to us.  Sometimes a government agency can actually surprise you!  Ron told the clerk how surprised he was, and she said, “Yeah, but it’s 7:30 am and you’re the first customer of the day, try and get this done in mid-afternoon!”

We met my cousin Shiloh for lunch and the place she wanted to try for lunch was closed, so we again drove to Tarpon Springs to have lunch.  Afterwards we took a little touristy motorized cable car around the town as the driver told us the history of the town.  Worth every penny of the $1 charge.


Dad and my cuzin Shiloh

Next we went to a park along the coast to stretch our legs, work off our lunch and feel the sun on our face.

Friday August 16th We rose early to drive to Key West, the next stop on our vacation.  We said goodbye to my dad as he walked down to get Aunt Dorothy’s dog for his daily walk. 

We saw our 4th sunrise in a row!

The drive to Key West was pretty long, took 5 hours just to get back to Miami, then another 3.5 hours in afternoon traffic to drive out to Key West.  The drive is very beautiful along the way though, as the highway is bridged over open water between the different islands that make up the Keys.

We arrived and checked into our hotel, the Best Western out by the airport.  It was about as far away from the downtown district as you could get, which I wasn’t too thrilled about, but after driving for 9 hours I was ready for a drink by the pool.  We threw our stuff in the room, put on our suits and headed for the pool.

We saw a sign that said “Happy Hour, drinks 50 cents off”, we ordered drinks and when the bill came, we said, “Aren’t drinks supposed to be price?”, and the bartender said, “The sign says 50 CENTS off”, and we said, “Oh, we thought it was 50 percent off” and she said, “People see what they want to see!”  Hah!

We sipped our drinks and enjoyed the warm weather.

That night we drove into town and looked for a hotel within walking distance of the “Duval” main tourist drag where all the restaurants and shops are.  We found a nice place to move to except they were full for the weekend and would have to wait till Sunday night to move in.

Saturday August 17th, 2002 – We drove into town and did touristy stuff, went to the Hemingway house, visited the Lighthouse museum, went to the pier at sunset, anyone who has ever been to Key West has done the same thing but it’s still fun to play tourist!

Peso Down Steeply, Argentines Strengthen Currency Curbs

Sunday August 18th, 2002 – We moved into our new hotel which had a free beer and wine happy hour every night at 7pm by the pool.  No wonder I picked that place!  We then walked to a seafood restaurant by the water to have dinner.  I saw that they had crab cakes on the menu and I LOVE crab cakes.  When they’re good, they’re heaven, but when they’re bad, well………  I asked the waitress, “I’m kind of a crab cake snob, can I ask your honest opinion, how are the crab cakes here?”  She kind of looked around to see if anyone else was within earshot and said, “I’d recommend you order something else!  I’m from Maine and they just don’t make them right here.”  I profusely thanked her honest opinion and ordered the Mahi Mahi, she just earned a good tip!

Monday August 19th, 2002 – More tourist stuff.

              Ron at mile marker 0

Off for a snorkel trip

Peso Down Steeply, Argentines Strengthen Currency Curbs

We really wanted an insulated sports bottle to have for when we sat around the pool, so it gave us something to look for in all the little tourist shops.  We stopped in “Sloppy Joes”, the favorite bar of Hemingway, and I saw a huge sign shaped like a sports bottle hanging from the ceiling, with the words, “Buy a drink for $7 and get it served to you in a sports bottle that you get to keep!”  I pointed the sign out to Ron and he looked at the sign and said, “I feel like a beer”, I said, “No, you big dummy, what does the sign look like?” and he said, “What sign?”  I swear, he’d lose his head if it wasn’t attached.  We bought 2 drinks and got our insulated sports bottle.

Friday August 23rd, 2002 – Our week in Key West came to an end, we had to set the alarm for 4am in order to be able to have time to drive to Miami for our 8 o’clock flight.  At least driving at that hour we didn’t have to fight the traffic.

Our next destination was Aruba.  I had never been to Aruba before but I remember my 2 sisters going there about 25 years ago, and they still always talk about it.  You know how you get together with family and the same ole stories keep getting retold?  Usually these stories are terribly embarrassing or traumatic, like the time Phyllis buried an axe in the neighbor’s head, or the time I got my foot caught in the spokes of a bike, or the time Cindy learned to throw a chair out behind her as she ran from my brother Joey, thus, tripping him so she could make her get-away.  Well, Cindy and Mary always tell stories about their trip to Aruba.

I’m sure that Aruba has changed a lot in 25 years, but it is still a pretty small island.

The downtown area, Aruba is a Dutch Island the buildings were interesting

The water is a beautiful chartreuse color, the color of Caribbean waters, the beaches blindingly white, but the rest of the island is very desert like.  The reason to go there is for the beaches and the water and that cannot be beat.

Peso Down Steeply, Argentines Strengthen Currency Curbs

We stayed at the Holiday Inn, just like any Holiday Inn in the world, the pool was filled with laughing, screaming children.  Luckily they had plenty of lounge chairs on the beach, far away from the screaming hordes.  Our room was facing the water and the view was picture postcard perfect.  There were large iguanas stretched out everywhere, I think they enjoyed the watered grounds of the hotel for getting a drink and finding something to eat.  They were very beautiful and some of them were quite large, maybe two feet in length, not as big as we had seen in Costa Rica, but still quite large.  It was great to see them lounging in the trees or soaking up the sun on the lawns. 

Wednesday August 28th, 2002 – Today we did a snorkel trip which included an area where a German supply boat was sunk in the second world war.

I have never snorkeled near a shipwreck, it was actually quite a spooky experience.  The water wasn't that clear at first, we were the first to swim out to the wreck and as I swam up to it it slowly came into vision, at first you could just see this HUGE shape in front of you and then slowly as you swam towards it it came into focus.  The night before we watched a show on the Discovery station of researchers swimming near huge hump back whales.  On the TV, it looked impressive, but swimming up to this shipwreck, feeling the scale of this massive thing coming to view in front of you, it gave me the willies!  I can't imagine what it would be like to swim next to a large living creature.  This dead, man made creature was enough for me.  We swam up and down the length of it, it was probably 300 feet long, just amazing.

Just a few sunset pics!

September 2nd, 2002 – Our 10 days in Aruba came to an end and we return to Buenos Aires.