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December 2003

Our new Juan Carlos Lasser Painting and Christmas in Chile!

Wednesday December 3rd, 2003 - This is our 4th Christmas here and in the past we’ve never been able to get into the spirit of Christmas because it’s just too damn HOT!  All you want to do is sit around in your underwear in front of a fan, not the kind of “nestle up next to the fireplace with a brandied eggnog” kind of feeling, more like “Don’t touch me I’m sweating, bring me a cold beer” kind of feeling.  However, with the purchase of the new apartment we shipped down some more personal effects for us including our Christmas ornaments.  I was determined to try and make a go of it.  We went to “Jumbo” which is our all encompassing “superstore” to purchase a fake tree and 220V lights.  They don’t do real trees here, only fake ones.  We took the bus to the “Jumbo” store, about a 15 minute trip, it was a typical hot summer day as muggy humid air blew in through the windows, melodies of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” were NOT going through my head.  We got to the store and found a pretty good display of lights and ornaments, I picked out some cool lights and then found my icicle lights.  In California, I told Ron for 10 friggin years that I wanted icicle lights but never got around to buying them before the stores sold out of them, this year I was determined to get my icicle lights.  They had a good selection of different sets, but they didn’t say how long they were on the box, only how many lights were included, why should I care if there’s 50 or 100 lights?, I want to know how long they will reach!  We made a guess by buying 3 - 150 light sets.

Next we looked for the fake tree, most of them looked pitiful and cheap and of course the one I liked had no price tag on it.  We found a store manager who looked up the price and it was, no big surprise, the most expensive one they had.  We took it up to the register but when the clerk ran it through the register it wasn’t in the computer, she had to call another manager who went searching for the price but no one seemed to be able to find the price, I kept telling her the price the store manager had said, but I guess she had to get an “official” price from a store employee.  After quite a long while they somehow figured out the price was just what I said it was and we were finally able to check out.

Once home, Ron unboxed the icicle lights and it appeared that the strands only had a plug on one end, and there was no plug on the other end to daisy chain them into a longer strand.  That will never due!  Ron’s eyes quickly lit up realizing he had a new project to work on.  He said that he could cut the wires and string them all together into one strand, “Hmmmmmmm……………….” I thought, “Ron’s never been good with electrical projects, but OK, whatever you say!”

Thursday December 4th, 2003 – I get up to find 450 icicle lights all over the kitchen floor, “What’s going on?” I inquire, “I’m fixing the icicle lights!” Ron glees, “Move AWAY from the coffee pot please” I order, getting my cup and heading off to the computer to read email and leave Ron to his project.  As I come in for refills on my coffee, I see some of the lights burning bright and some of them burning dim.  “What’s the problem?” I inquire, “Well……, it appears that there are 3 wires per each set, and they don’t daisy chain very well.”, “Move AWAY from the coffee pot please” I order, getting my cup and heading back off to the computer to read email and leave Ron to his project. 

Around lunch time Ron was looking a little dejected.  “What happened?” I inquired, “I blew up one of the sets of lights” Ron responded.  “Hmmmmm….” I said.  “But don’t worry, I figured out what I did wrong, I’ll just return this set I melted and said it didn’t work when I got it home!”

Friday December 5th , 2003 – Russell invited us over for a wonderful dinner.  He has a woman who comes over to his house once a week and makes a bunch of meals for him ahead of time, then puts everything in Tupperware in the fridge for him.  Russell swears by her.  She had come over earlier in the day and had prepared everything, then Russell could sit back and enjoy his dinner party and not be running around.  I REALLY need to try that sometime, Russell looked so calm and happy, able to enjoy his dinner party, chatting with everyone.  It was a wonderful dinner!

Saturday December 6th , 2003 – Alberto asked me if I could take a Christmas picture for him like I did last year.  I helped him setup his tree and then put a santa hat on his dog Eva!

Frances wine and food event for the month, the following is from France’s email about the event.

This month’s food and wine event focused on Patagonia:  Chef Walter Geist – born, raised and trained in Patagonia – paired a six-course Patagonian inspired meal with the wines of Humberto Canale, a family run winery located in Patagonia’s Rio Negro Valley.  Guillermo Barzi Canale, father, and Guillo Barzi Canale, son – the team that currently runs the bodega – was the guest speaker for the evening.

Chef Geist’s Patagonian childhood exposed him to the vastness of the region’s untamed game, fish, and produce.  His passion for cooking began in his family’s kitchen as he transformed his outdoor excursions into hunts for items he could turn into culinary pleasures. His hobby transformed into seasonal jobs on Patagonian cruise ships, Bariloche restaurants, and event catering.  Without a professional degree, his career plateaud and Walter moved to Buenos Aires to enroll in the Gastronomic Institute of Argentine.  Upon graduation, after a brief internship at the newly opened Sofitel, he became head chef at Winery.

Founded in 1913 by Humberto Canale, the winery is still run by members of the Canale family, now in its fourth generation.  Rio Negro has the distinction of being the southern most wine-producing region in the world.  The location, 40 degrees south Latitude in the Upper Valley of the Rio Negro, provides a sheltered environment for grapes as well as orchards. The cooler climate, alluvial soils, intense sun and cool nights is considered excellent for the production of Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.   We will taste both the Humberto Canale and the premium Marcus lines.  Both award winning wines.

 Appetizer I

Shrimp sautéed in tandory and coconut milk
Appetizer II
Lamb tongue en light sherry vinaigrette
Baby greens
Main Course II
Yacari with coriander perfume
Glazed carrots
Asparagus crackling
Sorbet of lime and basil
Main Course II
Braised Deer wrapped in herbs of juniper and thyme
Confite of shallots
Cassis lines
Flavors of the Andes
Red Fruit sweets
Goat cheese
Glazed girgolas

Need I say more?  Wonderful!

Sunday December 7th, 2003 – We finally decided to put the tree up so we could enjoy it for a few days before we left for our Christmas vacation in Chile.  The cats were quite happy to see all the boxes to jump in and sniff around.  My aunt Hazel had made me a stuffed Christmas mouse that has always been Scarlett’s favorite toy to attack, you should have seen her eyes when I pulled it out of storage.  I promptly put the Christmas mouse in the highest possible branch.

                                                                                           Ron's sister Sally made the Gingerbread house on the TV

               See Scarlett looking for the XMas mouse?                  Notice Scarlett under the tree
                            It’s at the top of the tree!                         trying to get the Christmas mouse

I got the tree setup and then wanted to put up the icicle lights that Ron had wired together.  I was sure he tested them out ahead of time, but it was still nice to see them light up once I got them all taped up to the balcony glass.

I finally get my icicle lights!

Monday December 8th, 2003 – A friend had told us of an art exhibit where she was one of seven artists being featured.  We took the bus to the neighborhood where China town is located and found the gallery, today was some kind of holiday, “Day of the Virgin Mary”, do Catholics in the USA celebrate that?  I don’t remember!  Since it was a holiday we called ahead to the gallery and asked them if they would be open, we got their voice mail so just decided to go and hope for the best.  We got to the gallery and the owner buzzed us in.  Ariel was a very nice and energetic man, young, mid 30s I’d say, and very knowledgeable in art.  He spoke excellent English and explained that he opened the gallery last September and has been changing the exhibits about every 6 weeks.  He took us around the gallery talking about the different artists and how he tried to group the artists to come up with a “show” that had a similar theme and worked together.  It was modern art, so there was an interesting assortment of sculpture, paintings, and mixed media.  We toured the small gallery and then Ariel said that the previous exhibit was of Juan Carlos Lasser and that he had a few paintings left from the show that hadn’t been returned yet to the artist.  Ariel pulled out an enormous canvas of 1.5 meters by 1.25 that was an explosion of dynamic color, I felt weak in the knees, the painting called my name, “Take me, I’m yours, you must have me!” the painting sang to me in a siren song.  I tried to look nonplused.  He brought out another Lasser canvas and propped it up in front of “my” painting (how rude).  This one was also very large, it was beautiful, but did not sing the siren song.  I casually moved the painting out of the way, so I could view “my” painting again, every artist uses colors, but the use of colors in this painting was just dazzling to my senses, it was fluid, movement everywhere, you could taste the colors, smell the colors, feeling them wash over you like a wave, I was a goner.  I was headed for the rocks, I could tell. 

I casually asked, “What would a canvas of this size cost?”, trying to act nonchalant, I knew my eyes were saying something different then my voice, but I couldn’t control that.  Ariel said, “$8,000 pesos”, “Ugh”, I thought, “That’s a lot of money, hmmmm, how much is that in dollars??   Hmmmm, maybe 2,800 USA, hmmmm, I’ve never spent that much money on a painting, hmmmmm, what am I going to do?  I must have it, hmmmmmm………….. it is “my” painting, I cannot resist, resistance is futile, hmmmmmmm, someone please help me!”  I just kept looking, wondering where I was going to get $2,800 dollars. 

I asked Ron if he was ready to leave and just before we got out the door, Ariel said, “And it’s negotiable!”, HAH!  Got him!  This is Argentina, everything is negotiable.  As we were walking down the street Ron and I were talking, Ron said we would offer 5,000 pesos.  I thought this pretty insulting, I would never think about offering less for art in the USA, but we’re not in the USA, we’re in Argentina.  OK, I thought, we’ll offer 5,000.

We got home and I sent Ariel an email message that we would like to offer 5,000 for the painting, Ariel replied that he would talk to the artist and get back to us.  I anxiously awaited to hear back from him.

Thursday December 11th, 2003 -  We heard back from the art gallery owner Ariel (FINALLY!) and Lasser said that he could only lower the price to 6,400 pesos.  We thought this very affordable for a canvas of this size and an established artist who has painted for over 30 years and has had numerous international showings and awards.  I told Ariel that I have never spent so much money on a painting and that I only buy art from artists I know, so we asked to meet the artist first.  Ariel said the artist is very shy and doesn’t like to meet people but that he would talk to him and see what he could do.

Thursday December 18th, 2003 – Ariel got back to us and arranged a date to meet with the artist so today we went to visit Juan Carlos Lasser’s studio in the barrio called Almargro.  FANTASTIC!  His studio is a wonderful space of light, breezes, mature trees swaying outside the windows and all sorts of artist stuff crammed EVERYWHERE!

                                           His desk                                                                       Painting supplies

Juan Carlos is a VERY loveable, friendly, sweet, gentle giant of a man, his hands were like ham hocks, enormous and strong.  He didn’t seem shy at all.  His studio is crammed with his paintings, he’s very prolific.

I was drooling over his paintings and he was like a little kid putting them on an easel for us to look at, you could tell he was excited that someone was interested in his art, not trying to sell us more, just wanting to share his art with us.  We kept refusing something to drink and finally he went and got us glasses of "7-UP" anyways.  I finally told him to stop showing us pieces because I wanted to buy several and thought I was going to get in major trouble with my bank balance.  A really nice visit.
Friday December 19th , 2003 – Ariel delivered the painting to our home today, I am a very happy boy!

I asked Ron to stand next to it so you could see how large the painting is

Saturday December 20th, 2003 – Our 3 month tourist visas were about to expire which requires that we leave Argentina and then return to get a new 90 day stamp in our passports.  We were trying to figure out whether to just go to Uruguay to renew the visas or do something more exciting for Christmas.  A friend had told us about cruises in the fiords of southern Chile  This sounded much more exciting then taking a ferry ride back and forth to Uruguay so Ron setup the trip.

We flew from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Chile, and then picked up another flight flying further south to Puerto Montt.  The travel agent we have suggested that we stay in the neighboring town of Puerto Varas which is only about 15 kilometers from Puerto Montt but much more quiet and tranquil.  We arrived at Puerto Montt and were met at the airport by a sweet young girl named Pía who spoke very good English.  I always try and think of a way to remember someone’s name so I thought of Pía Zadora the wanna-be singer / celebrity / actress who married a man 50 years older then her.  Pía had a van and a driver, and they started right off with a tour of Puerto Montt which is a wonderful little fishing village.

We walked through the fish market, drooling over all the wonderful selections.  This one guy was husking sea urchins like you wouldn’t believe, filling huge bottles with them, I wondered if they were going to be shipped off to Japan, although it didn’t look like a commercial kind of setup.

We walked along the little tourist shops, it was tempting to start buying things but we got away with only a couple of wool scarves since we didn't pack ours and we could already feel the cold nipping at our necks.  It’s our summer now and I expected the temperatures to be much warmer, I know it’s always cooler on the water, but I didn’t expect it to be so cold even on shore.

Next we drove 15 km north to Puerto Varas where we were to spend the next two days before our cruise departure.  Puerto Varas sits on the edge of Lago Llanquihue, Chile's largest lake at 470 km², with the volcano Osorno standing majestically across the lake from our hotel, just spectacular.  After a brief tour of this much smaller town, we were taken to our hotel and Pía pointed out a couple of restaurants not far from our hotel within walking distance.  That evening we had a wonderful fish dinner and we were in heaven, the meal was exceptional.  Although the day was very clear, the clouds started coming our way during dinner.  We didn't think to bring our umbrellas and when we left for the walk back to the hotel it was just "spitting", well, the "spitting" turned into a pretty good downpour before we got back.  We were soaked to the skin.  Fortunately our room had nice radiant heaters so we just draped our wet clothes over them, and by morning they were dry.

Sunday December 21st, 2003 – We woke up to see that the beautiful volcano across the lake was totally obscured by clouds.  When Pía arrived I mentioned this to her and she said, “Oh yes, it’s quite unusual to actually see the volcano, usually I just make a huge motion with my arms and say ‘You just have to imagine it there behind all the clouds!’”  I wish she would have told us that yesterday when we could see the volcano, I would have taken a picture of it!

We took an all day excursion with Pía to the Petrohué National Park and saw some magnificent falls there.  It was a wind driven rainy day which Pía said is typical, so it was really difficult to keep dry.  Pía said that’s why people who live here don't even have umbrellas because the wind just blows them to pieces.  Pía was wearing a hooded rain coat which seemed to work much more effectively then trying to control my umbrella.  She just sighed and said, “I love where I live, but I just can’t stand it here!”

Monday December 22nd, 2003 – In the afternoon we boarded the "Magallanes", a cargo ferry which had been converted to carry 300 passengers, as well as the many huge semis, and all sorts of vehicles.  At the orientation before boarding the vessel they mentioned 3 times about being drunk on ship would not be tolerated, I thought this very odd as most Argentines don’t drink hard liquor at all, but then I noticed most of the passengers were European and many were Germans, it didn’t look like a rowdy bunch of kids, but I guess they mentioned it for a reason.

It was not by any stretch of the imagination a luxury cruise, but it cost as much as one.  The dining experience was cafeteria style and Ron said that it was a grim reminder of his years in the U.S. Navy.  The food was about the same quality as a Navy mess hall, a bit disappointing, we knew it was a converted ferry boat but for what they were charging us, it seemed they could have spent a few more dollars on the meal preparation.

We soon left the dock and headed into the fiords which were as smooth as glass, the scenery was beautiful.

                            Leaving Puerto Montt                                                     A big chess board on the back deck


Tuesday December 23rd, 2003 - In order to round a huge peninsula where the fiords did not continue through, we had to enter the open ocean around 4:00 PM, and we didn't re-enter the fiords until the next morning.  During this time the ship rocked and rolled considerably.  That night at dinner fully 2/3rds of the 300 passengers failed to show up for dinner.  Not to miss out on a meal, Ron and I were there with hardy appetites.

Wednesday December 24th, 2003 – There was a lecture about a native Chilean people that had only been discovered in the 1880s.  When they were discovered they were naked and would dive in the freezing cold waters for their food.  Of course the well meaning missionaries made them put on clothes which stayed wet on their skin, causing all sorts of illnesses and nearly wiping them all out.  There is still a village of about 200 inhabitants and the cruise ship drops off supplies weekly to them.  The boats come out to the ship and fill up on supplies. 

The town is modern they said, with electricity, schools, a hospital, but we weren’t allowed to go ashore.  Our trip was about 800 miles long in the fiords and the one thing that was obvious was that there is a “whole lot of nothing” there.  Beautiful, but there were no towns, villages, homes, ranches, NOTHING, for 800 miles.  If you want remote, this is the end of the Earth to come to.

For Christmas Eve the crew had prepared a nice pre-dinner treat and party for the passengers, with Pisco Sours (the national drink), cakes, ceviche and various cheeses.  They also had presents for all the children on board.

Thursday December 25th, 2003 - We arrived at Puerto Natales on Christmas Day, and somehow this was one day sooner than we had expected.  Without reservations we were concerned about where we were going to sleep that night.  Our travel agent had a devil of a time booking the 27th for us, as all the hotels were full.  Luckily it turned out well as the hotel was able to accommodate us.

We took a walk around the town which was pretty closed up for Christmas day, it appears that tourism is their main industry as there were lots of restaurants and places that rented rooms and camping gear.  The day was brisk but still nice and we shot some pics of the local flowering plants, it is summer after all.

Since we had an extra day, we had nothing planned for the following day.  We had met a very nice couple from the Netherlands on the cruise ship, and they were also staying at our hotel.  It just so happened that they sat down at the table next to us for dinner that night and they told us that they had booked an all day excursion to the glaciers for the next day, but they had also hired a car.  What they didn't realize was that they had to be there at 9:00 AM to receive the car but the excursion boat left the pier at 8:00 AM, so they were unable to use the tickets.  They asked us if we had any plans for the day and when we said no they offered the tickets to us since they were completely worthless to them.  We gladly accepted, and we were shocked to see that they had paid C$77,000 (US $131) for the tickets.  We felt really bad, so we offered them C$20,000 (US $34) to buy themselves a bottle of wine with their dinner, they seemed to be happy with the token. 

Friday December 26th, 2003 – We got up and had breakfast and headed over to the “Nueva Galacia” boat for our day excursion to the glacier.  It took 2.5 hours of the boat chugging away to make it to the glacier, but the scenery was beautiful, we even spotted a rookery of penguins along the way.  Inside the boat was very warm and toasty and made you very sleepy, on top of the boat was very windy and cold, so we kept going from warm to freezing to enjoy the scenery.

Yes, it was THAT COLD!

When we finally reached the glacier we had a nice nature walk to the glacier, felt good to get some exercise after the 4 day cruise and then this long boat ride.  The glacier was spectacular, took lots of photos, being summer time many plants were blossoming and bearing fruit.

More Glacier and Plant Pics

Something buzzed my head that sounded like a hummingbird but I couldn’t see what it was, then I saw that it was the biggest bumble bee I have ever seen in my life.  Ron snapped a pic as it lazily buzzed around looking for nectar.

We then went to a near by hostile for a very good hot lunch, consisting of grilled chicken, chorizo, a hotdog, potatoes and a salad.  It was a great trip.

Saturday December 27th, 2003 - Today we had booked an all day excursion to Torres del Paine National Park.  It was just the two of us in a van, and our guide spoke excellent English.  On the way to the park we stopped off at the Cave of the Milodón, a pre-historic bear that lived in this area some 10,000 years ago.  The cave was huge, and it was formed by water action from a lake that was left in this valley after the glacier receded.  It's a huge archeological site, and they are still finding bones, of course we had to pose with the statue of the Milodón just as every tourist who visits the cave surely does.

We then continued to the Torres del Paine National park which was fantastic.  Truly the highlight of our trip.  It’s a strange geological formation, the surrounding countryside is rolling mountains all around, but then all of a sudden there is the Torres del Paine which are huge vertical mountains coming straight out of the ground, it’s like being able to drive up to the Swiss Alps.

More Torres del Paine National Park

We had noticed on the cruise that almost everyone on the boat were hikers and campers, there are tons of trails around the mountains and on the cruise ship there had been lectures on camping, hostiles, weather conditions, etc.  Even though it was summer (I keep saying this) the weather was very varied, it would be nice and warm, then 20 minutes later there would be gale winds, then snow, then rain, then sun, then sleet, etc.  People always say to wait 20 minutes and the weather will change, well, this place is the definition of that phrase.  They said you have to be prepared for anything when you’re hiking and camping.  Ron and I didn’t realize this was such a hikers paradise, we just came here on the suggestion of our travel agent.  We both want to return and do a hike, maybe not the full park perimeter which takes 7 to 10 days depending on weather conditions, but I’m sure they have a one day hike to a nice lodge with hot tubs and Irish Coffees, I can do that!

Sunday December 28th, 2003 – We took a bus for a 3 hour ride to the airport at Punta Arenas to catch our flight back to Buenos Aires.  The whole trip was a wonderful way to spend Christmas.  We felt the cold of southern Chile, with the glaciers and fiords, and it actually felt like Christmas for the first time in 3 years (well, except for the Christmas we spent in Antarctica). 

Our plane made a stop in Puerto Montt to pick up more passengers before going onto Santiago, as the plane took off the majestic volcano Osorno was visible and Ron snapped a pic from the plane.

December 31st, 2003 – I wanted to have a new years eve party in our “new” apartment so we invited a few friends over, many were out of town because of the holidays or already had plans with friends so we had a small get together of just 7 of us.  My friend Sharon had invited me to her apartment one day recently and treated me to something called “Anana Fizz” which is a carbonated pineapple alcoholic champagne that is traditional to serve at Christmas time, she said you can only buy it around the holiday season.  I mentioned this to Alberto who nodded in agreement, but also told me about something called “Shiraz” that is another traditional carbonated drink for the holidays.  Alberto brought some of this with him to the party, when Eduardo saw it, he said, “Yes it’s traditional, but I don’t like it!”

                            Miguel, Ignacio and Ron                                            Alberto, Eduardo, Gonzalo

We were having dinner and midnight quickly rolled around, we quickly tried to get the champagne opened to toast the new years, I also tried to open the “Shiraz” but it had a plastic cork in it and damn if anyone could remove it.  I got a pair of pliers and gave myself a nasty pinch blister trying to get the damn cork out.  I finally gave up and we cheered the new years with the champagne.

               Eduardo pours champagne with Miguel

It was amazing to see the city skyline from our wonderful vista view.  They love fireworks in Argentina and the skyline was filled with them for over 1 ½ hours.  People were lighting them off in the park below us, from surrounding rooftops, the middle of the street, etc.  I was actually a little worried that a bottle rocket may fly up and take one of us out, but I figured, hey, when your time is up, I guess it’s up, so to hell with it, I watched from the balcony as things sparkled, exploded and dazzled all around us. 

On the balcony, watching the fireworks!

I went back to the kitchen, determined to get the damn plastic cork out of the bottle of “Shiraz”, somehow, without hurting myself further, I was able to get the cork out, I gave myself and Alberto a glass and we toasted the new years.  I turned to Eduardo and whispered in his ear, “You’re right, this stuff is terrible!”