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January 2004

Carnaval in Gualeguaychu!

Wednesday January 7th, 2004 – A friend was coming for a visit and we hadn’t yet bought a bed for the guest bedroom / office.  I wanted to buy a futon bed because the office isn’t that wide of a room and a bed would take up too much of the floor space, by having a futon bed it would be more like a sofa most of the time and then just pull out for a bed when needed.  Besides you don’t want your guests to be TOO COMFORTABLE, they might extend their stay!

I saw an ad in the cable guide that showed futon beds with mattresses made of different layers of foam and material, which looked much more comfortable then just a cotton lumpy mattress.  Ron got out the guia (bus guide) and figured out how to get to the store and off we were on another adventure to buy something.

We arrived at the store and it wasn’t very large, I was hoping since they had an ad in the cable guide that it would be a large store with a good selection, however, we entered and the pretty store clerk greeted us and started asking us what we wanted.  They did have several selections of wooden frames to choose from and we found one that was very nice and seemed like it would go great with our office furniture.  I then asked her about the mattress and she showed us a display with cut cross sections showing different choices of mattresses, when I asked about prices she showed me a printed price list, for the best quality mattress they had it was about 1,015 pesos or about $350 which included the wooden frame.  I made a “Aaaaaaa cheeeee wwaaa wwaaaa” groan and grabbed my heart like I was about to die (don’t want them to think we have unlimited funds!)  The next quality of mattress was about 775 pesos or $267 USA.  I thought even though we don’t want our guests to be TOO COMFORTABLE that we’d spring for the better mattress.

I asked her when it would be ready as our friend was arriving in 9 days and she was pretty certain that it would be ready.

A double bed, yours when you come to visit!

Saturday January 10th , 2004 – Our friend Frank was going to be visiting us on the 16th for 2 weeks and the last remaining thing was to get a shower curtain for the guest bathroom.  We had passed by a store many times downtown that had lots of cool looking shower curtains in the window so I told Ron I wanted to go there.  We took the bus for the short 10 minute ride downtown.  We got in the store and started looking around when a helpful clerk came over and asked us what we were looking for.  I explained to her in my best Spanish that we needed a shower curtain and rod, she then asked, “What kind of style do you like; modern, classic, traditional, whimsical?”, and I just told her that I would keep looking till I found what I wanted.  After about 30 minutes of looking through every stupid shower curtain they had, we finally agreed on one, I then asked about the curtain rod, and then some clips to hang it.  We got it all stacked up on the counter and she started entering it into the computer and she then said, “$299.95”  I was stumped, thinking “how much is that?”, and then I said “TRES CIENTOS PESOS!??!?!?!?!”  I looked over the counter to the computer screen to be sure I heard her correctly, she said (in Spanish), “They’re PESOS!” and I told her (in Spanish) “I live and work here, I earn pesos, I don’t earn dollars!”  She then said, “It’s imported from Portugal” and I said, “I don’t care where it’s imported from, it’s just a plastic shower curtain and you want 300 pesos?”

She then wagged a finger at me as she said in a very sweet jokingly way, “You never said anything about price, we have many shower curtains that are cheaper then that”, after looking for over a ˝ hour I was not about to start looking again, so I said, “OK” and started digging out my money.  Luckily Ron had just given me a 100 peso note, and we both started pulling out our money, checking our pockets, feeling for extra change, looking in other wallets, finally after about 10 minutes with everyone around us watching, we had all the money on the counter, I held up a 5 centavo coin, I told her, “This is all I have left, I can’t even get home on the bus now!”  The owner or manager walked by and asked what was going on and when she explained, the owner cried out, “Oh for heavens sake!” and gave me back 5 pesos and said, “Here’s a discount for paying with cash, at least you can take a bus home now!”

As she finalized the bill I started looking around the store and saw some nice pillows for the bedroom.  I pointed to them and asked, “How much are those pillows?”, she wagged her finger at me again and said, “Those are the MOST expensive pillows we have in the store and you only have 5 centavos left!”  I told her, “With my cash discount I have 5 pesos and 5 centavos left, and I like them”, she said, “They’re imported”, I said, “I like them, how much are they?”  She typed them into the computer and come up with a price of 72 pesos each.  I told her we would be back the next day to get them after we got more money out of the bank.  We stood outside waiting for the bus with our shower curtain, thanking myself that we didn’t have to walk the 20 blocks home in the summer heat.

Monday January 12th, 2004 – I met Alberto and Jorge at the Pasco gym near Alberto’s apartment.  The nice thing about this gym is that they have a café counter where you can get food or a coffee and we usually get a “jarro” café which is like a double espresso before we exercise, giving me some energy to get going.  I told Alberto and Jorge about spending 300 pesos for a shower curtain and I thought Jorge was going to fall of his seat, they both asked where the store was with incredulous looks on their faces, I was telling the story in a funny manner but I could see by their expressions that they thought I was taken advantage of.  Alberto leaned in close to me and said in a really nice way, “The next time you need to buy something, tell me and I’ll take you to a place that sells things for a reasonable price.”  I thought this was very nice of him, I did think $100 USA for a shower curtain and rod was expensive, but I DID like it and it WAS imported!

Tuesday January 13th, 2004 – We received terrible news that our friend Frank who was to visit us had a mild heart attack.  We were very sorry to hear that he cancelled the trip, but of course it was totally understandable.

Gratuitous cat pics!  Aren't they sweet??

Wednesday January 14th, 2004 – Ron and I had visited Gualeguaychu with our Australian friends Colleen (the “Answer Goddess”) and Gary two years before.  The town of Gualeguaychu has a “Carnaval” every year in the summer months of January and February that is quite amazing.  It’s a little town about 225 kilometers north of Buenos Aires.  I have never been to Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro or in New Orleans, but I can’t imagine anything more spectacular then the show they put on in Gualeguaychu.  http://www.carnaval.gualeguaychu.net/

We were considering taking Frank to the show, but now that he wasn’t coming Ron asked me if I still wanted to go, “HELL YES I WANT TO GO!”  At first we checked the local tourist agencies to get a package deal, but the prices were outrageous.  I told Ron, “Let’s just rent a car and go there and find our own place to stay and tickets.”  The first time we visited with Gary and Colleen we just drove up the day of the parade and got front row tickets and a place to stay with no problems.  It’s a small town with only a few hotels but many local folks rent rooms in their home for the weekend to visitors.  I don’t really like going anywhere without reservations, but I figured we’d be ok.  We asked our friends Russell and Alberto if they wanted to go with us and they readily agreed.

Saturday January 24th, 2004 – Ron picked up the rental car at 8 am and we drove to pick up Alberto for Carnaval.  I was a little hesitant about driving in the city since the drivers are all so crazy here and I’ve never driven in the city, but since it was early morning on a weekend, it wasn’t too nerve racking.

When we arrived at Alberto’s apartment, he was waiting on the sidewalk for us with his overnight bag.  As we headed over to pick up Russell, Alberto said he woke up at 5:30 am and couldn’t get back to sleep because he was excited about the trip which made it seem special because even though Alberto is Argentine he has never been to Gualeguaychu.

We picked up Russell and headed off to Gualeguaychu!  It was only about 2.5 hours to get there and as we turned off the main highway to the city of Gualeguaychu there were many tourist information booths alongside the road.  We stopped to get a map and some information on places to stay, the few hotels in the city were all full, but there were many people along side the road with signs to rent rooms so we weren’t too worried about finding a place.

We found the place where we had previously bought tickets for the show, but unfortunately there were no front row seats left, the front row are great because the dancers come right up to you.  There are bleachers in the back that are the cheapest seats, then along the path the parade follows are tables that you can reserve where they serve you food and drinks, our tickets were several rows back from the parade center but still assured a good view of the parade.

As I turned from the ticket booth I saw Russell speaking with a woman, Russell has only lived in Buenos Aires about 18 months but has been taking intensive Spanish classes and has a natural ability for learning languages (of which I have none) and has become quite fluent in Spanish.  He told us that this woman has a house to rent for the night for 100 pesos that can accommodate 6 people (about $35 USA), this sounded like a great deal so we piled in the car and she took us to the residence.

Unfortunately, the place had already been rented but she said she “represented” several properties and she would be sure to find us a place.  This IS Argentina, it’s all about who you know, that’s for sure!

The second house was available for 120 pesos a night ($42 USA).  The woman jotted down our names and our passport numbers and then picked up her pet parakeet in a cage and told her kids to turn off the TV and follow her.  I felt kind of bad, the kids were coloring in their coloring books watching cartoons and here the mother was saying, “Come on, time to go!”  I asked her where she was going and she said, “To my mother’s house, this is how we make extra money by renting our home on weekends during Carnaval!”  I just shrugged and figured, well…, that’s what you do here, rent your home for one night a weekend for a few extra pesos.

By then it was about 1 pm in the afternoon so we dropped our bags and headed down the street to find a placed to have lunch, we walked along and decided on a regular neighborhood joint.  Alberto talked to the guy in quick Spanish and soon a huge ice cold bottle of beer arrived.  I asked, “Did we order yet?”, “Sure!” Alberto assured us.  Soon a table side parrilla grill of meats arrived, YUMMY, we ordered another beer to quench our thirst and enjoy the meal.


Salud!

Alberto had ordered the traditional parrilla BBQ lunch which is the national style of grilled meats in Argentina.  This includes all sorts of meats, but also organ meats, Ron and I love all this stuff, but Russell poked a few of the “tubes” around and said, “I don’t do tubes”, they’re some kind of intestine, and actually I really don’t want to know what they are, I love it all, but if I get too many details I may not eat it!

Yummmm!  HEY, that's my morcilla!!

After lunch Russell said he really wanted to crash in a park and take a little nap.

Ron, Alberto and I were set to do some walking to work off the lunch and we found a boat that does a one hour cruise for 6 pesos ($2 USA) on the river.  This sounded like a great way to spend an hour.  The boat was enjoyable as we cruised along and it felt good to ride on the river, sun on our faces.

                                                                                                                             Argentina Flag!

After the ride we found Russell sleeping in a park and went back to the house to relax before the show.  We went out for dinner, more grilled meats, YUMMY, and then off to the show. 

The show started about 10:30 pm and lasted until 3 am.

More Gualeguaychu Pics

Tuesday January 27th, 2004 – Ignacio introduced me to a new friend Pedro at the gym.  Pedro is studying English and really wants to have someone to practice with.  He asked Ignacio if he would help him out and I’m sure Ignacio was saying to himself, “What’s in it for me?”  He figured Pedro and I could study English and Spanish together and we would both benefit so he introduced him to me. 

This is actually how I originally met Alberto and it has turned out into a great friendship.  So now, Pedro is coming over twice a week to our apartment and we speak English and Spanish for an hour and a half and then head off to the gym together.

Dos Pedros!