Thursday, January 31, 2008

Comedor Nikkai

Because I have a blog, it's easy to fall into the trap of believing that everything I do is interesting.

Easy for me, I mean. Not for you.

You know better.

But I may have done something slightly interesting today in having lunch at Comeder Nikkai, the dining room of the Japanese Society of Argentina. The nigiri were delicious as usual. But it's the service here that always blows my mind. It's so good. Zero attitude, friendly, considerate.

The restaurant is one of those consummately Buenos Aires places that doesn't look like much of anything from the outside, certainly not like anywhere you would expect to eat. In this case, on the street you see a double wooden door — sometimes open, sometimes closed; sometimes with a doorman, sometimes not. If there's a sign posted, I've never noticed it. Through the double door is a hallway with a skylight, below which stands the sliding-door entryway to the restaurant itself, framed by two lanterns.

I've been going there occasionally for a few years, but I've really stepped it up lately.

So why haven't I mentioned it before? Principally because I am ridiculous.

I was worried that mentioning it on the blog would drive people there. No, really. I was.

But now I only have two months left here. And I am not too concerned about ruining the restaurant for myself in the space of 60 days. So go nuts, people. Tell them the guy who sits alone and reads Clarín sent you.

They're so nice there, they'll probably pretend that means something to them.

After lunch I took the bus to the neighborhood of Agronomía, home to the Agronomy and Veterinary Sciences School.

Outside the school is something of a jarring sight in the city: a field full of horses.

* * *

Every day I comb through the site traffic numbers for this blog, hoping to glean some insight into how I can trick more people into visiting. I am happy to report that if readership growth continues apace, I will have two — possibly three! — more regular readers by the time I wrap up this blog.

What else do the numbers show? Thanks to advanced Google technology, I can tell how many times you roll your eyes when you're reading this blog. I can also see how long you spend on the page before your head hits the keyboard and you wake up.

But amidst all the data, one thing always tickles me: seeing the number of visits spike on the 29th of every month, on gnocchi day.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

4 crashes, 7 buses, 58 wounded

Yesterday was not a good day to take the bus, as Clarín notes.

Why so many crashes lately? To paraphrase a man who has studied the issue: January is especially dangerous because fewer traffic jams means the buses can actually move, which increases the risk of collisions.

Everybody here has colectivo stories — brushes with death.

Last week I was on a bus that was so far onto the railroad tracks when it stopped that the crossing gate was hitting the top of the bus as it was coming down. The driver did not seem bothered by this, but the passengers objected so he backed up.

For those of you not acquainted with the city or its buses, here's the short version: If you took the bus system from any other major city in the western world and then stripped away the components that made sense, you would have the bus system here.

I'm not saying it doesn't work. Remarkably, it sort of does.

What I am saying is that all the buses look different and are owned by different private companies. Most make an unholy racket and belch astonishing amounts of exhaust. In rush hour, they're unbearably crowded. They're often old and in bad repair. They don't follow straight lines or any pattern, nor do they follow the same route going one way as they do going the other (one way streets make this impossible). The route signs are often missing, incomplete, outdated, indecipherable or just wrong.

The buses are colorful, though. I should take more colectivo photos.

I'd often thought it would be great to compile a book of such photos. As with most of my best ideas — take blogging, for instance — it turns out I was not the first person to have this idea.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


The New York Times has an article in its Travel section about this city's Boedo neighborhood.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


I know plastic bags are evil. But when there are no more plastic bags, what will children use to create makeshift kites on breezy summer mornings?

This kid was having a great time.

I watched him as I waited near the farmers market for the Slow Food couple.

They showed up and we talked about their meals here so far.

I get so nervous when I give out recommendations. Because restaurant experiences can vary, right? Maybe the chef takes a day off, maybe the server has a bad day, etc. So I only recommend places I've been to several times. But even then there's always the nagging voice in the back of my head saying, "It might not be as good as the last time you were there, Dan."

So I was happy to learn this morning that they had enjoyed their meal at El Trapiche the other day: steak (lomo), chorizo and fries.

To help them navigate wine lists here, I had given a few pointers on well-regarded wineries, too. This also made me nervous; I don't know what kind of wine they drink at home. (I know what kind I drink, which lies somewhere above the wine I refuse to drink and somewhere below the kind I'd love to drink.)

But I got lucky here, too. They had a chance to try two Malbecs I had suggested — Luigi Bosca and Rutini. They liked them both. Given my anxiety on the subject, I was more relieved than outright pleased.

We went into the market and spent some time talking about what "slow food" and, say, "organic" mean in a place where some people grow their own food out of necessity rather than culinary fetish.

We bought plums, grapes, pears and tomatoes so that they could try them all. I also bought a jar of dulce de leche and finagled some spoons. The dulce de leche at this market is bar none the best I've ever had. They spread it on slices of pear and swooned.

The market is right next to the Chacarita cemetery, so we headed there next.

Some structures there are gleaming and others are in disrepair. This bit was interesting because wooden braces were in place to keep it intact — not something I'm used to seeing.

I don't know if I'll see this couple again before they leave on Monday. But they're regular customers of the farm, so I know I'll see them again starting in June.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Avenida Córdoba

I was walking back from coffee with the Slow Food people in Recoleta when I noticed Córdoba Avenue was weirdly deserted. So at 7.30pm I stood in the middle of the street and snapped this photo.

Every so often I post photos of beautiful buildings here. The thing is, that's only part of what Buenos Aires looks like. This is the other part. I defy you to find a beautiful building in this photo. Most of them look like they've been beaten with the ugly stick. Or bludgeoned with the hideous cudgel. OK. I tried something there and it didn't work. But you get the idea: the buildings are ugly.

I talked to the Slow Food couple and gave recommendations for ice cream, for pasta, for wine. We made plans to meet up Saturday at the farmers market and then we parted ways.

On my way home I started thinking about dinner. A single thought bubble formed: "Holy crap! I've got to have pasta, wine and ice cream right freaking now!"

I stopped at Multipasta for some spinach and cheese ravioli, at the chino for a bottle of Nieto Senetiner Malbec and then at La Flor de Almagro for a quarter kilo of ice cream with two flavors — banana with dulce de leche and chocolate chips, and fig cream with walnuts.

Honestly, I don't know why I got so excited about this meal given that it closely resembles 97% of my meals here.

But it was so good.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


I've mentioned the Falkland Islands before. References to these islands, over which Argentina fought and lost a war, are everywhere. There's a memorial to the war dead downtown, and most cities have a street named Malvinas Argentinas (Argentine Falklands).

It also crops up in some odd places. The ice cream shop down the street is named after the islands. And I've gotten receipts from stores bearing the slogan "The Falklands are Argentine!"

When Stu and I were in El Calafate, we saw the side of a bus painted with a map of Argentina. My eyes drifted toward where we were, toward the bottom of the map. Of course, the Falklands were included as part of Argentina.

Plotting in my above-ground lair

I am going to visit Japan this year. Traveling to Japan requires money. Also, I have several articles I would like to sell before I leave here, and time is running out.

All this means that I have kicked my job search into high gear.

This blog is not about my travails as a freelance writer — joke's on you, really, because this blog is not about anything — so I won't go into excruciating detail. But let me just say that if there's anyone worse at being a freelancer than I am, I would like to meet him (though that's probably out of the question as he's likely died of starvation).

I am doing what I can.

The other day, I applied for an online writing job. (The ad requested writing samples and said that blog entries were ideal. I sent a few pages from your blog. I hope that's OK.)

I also sent out an email to my college alumni Listserv asking for help selling four story ideas. I got quite a few emails back. A few from friends I hadn't heard from in a while. A few from well-meaning strangers offering advice.

One woman wrote back and said that she loved all the ideas and wanted to wish me luck. Her last name was not Newhouse or Sulzberger, so this was pleasant to hear but ultimately not fruitful.

Fortunately, something did come of all my scheming and searching: I have a job interview today at a wine shop. It sounded great, initially. Then I called up and the woman told me the job would consist in part of distributing fliers on the street and in part of high-pressure sales.

Considering most of the pressure I exerted on people at my last sales job was NOT to buy things (Definitely don't buy those peaches; I wouldn't get those cherries if I were you, etc.), it's hard to see myself thriving in a high-pressure sales environment.

I do feel upbeat about my chances of getting the job. One of the requirements for the job is fluency in English. In the phone interview, the owner asked how my English was and how I had come to speak it. I told her I was from the United States of America. She expressed surprise and complimented my Spanish.

Wait till she hears my English!

Saturday, January 19, 2008


I'm a little late to the party with this one. The blog in question was featured last month in the Wall Street Journal.

But if you haven't seen it, you should click around a bit. It's called Generación Y. It's written by an unorthodox Cuban woman, in a place where orthodoxy is everything.

She lived in Switzerland from 2002-04, but ended up moving back to Cuba. Now she posts about daily life in what she calls "Stalinism with conga drums."

The Journal notes that the $3 she pays for half an hour of Internet access is nearly a week's wage for many Cubans. And of course, in a society where freedom of expression is sharply curtailed, there's no guarantee that she'll be able to keep posting.

It's written in Spanish, though some entries are available in imperfect English by clicking on the "versión al inglés" link at the top of the page.

If you're looking for a place to start, I recommend "Un día sin mercado negro." (English version here.)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Time and energy

A few weeks back, the president declared that moving the clocks ahead one hour would alleviate the energy crisis (read: persistent blackouts). One day she announced the time change, a few days later the congress approved it, and a week or so later we were all changing our clocks.

(It reminded me a lot of when her husband declared a new national holiday with about a week's notice.)

Alas, now one of the provinces says it's not happy with the time change and will be switching its clocks back. Those clock-watching surrender monkeys. Why do they hate this country so much?

Meanwhile, a rebounding economy and consumer credit have meant a sharp rise in the purchase and use of air conditioners, which has strained the electrical grid. So the other brilliant strategy for taming the energy crisis is an air conditioner census. Since the air conditioners themselves are unable to fill out the census forms, the collaboration of the city's doormen has been requested.

A survey has been sent out asking them how many air conditioners are in the building.

The government is convinced that if it could just get a handle on how many air conditioners there are in which neighborhoods it could . . . it could what exactly?

It doesn't even matter. After people pitched a fit, the government clarified that participating in the census was voluntary. If you don't want to tell the government how many air conditioners you have or don't have, that's fine.

So now we have self-selected respondents answering a meaningless question.

Such a waste of time and energy.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


The place I went for lunch — the place I crossed the city to go for lunch — was closed.

(Why didn't I call ahead? Assuming I could even find their number, they could easily be open but not picking up the phone. So not getting an answer would mean nothing.)

I ended up at La Americana for pizza, for the third time in a month.

I grabbed a table and flipped through Clarín. I almost did a spit-take with my grapefruit soda when I read that the city has identified 12 areas where garbage accumulates. Twelve? Really? Not, like, 13 or 14? Just 12?


But the main headline of the day was the city and national governments fighting over what to do about the protesters that choke the main arteries of the city.

The national government is far too populist to curb the protesters. It would pay too high a price in its working-class support if it cracked down on these protests over pay raises, working conditions, etc. More to the point, such confrontations have a history of getting violent and spiraling out of control.

The city government, on the other hand, does not draw its support from the working class. As far as it's concerned, the protesters should not be bringing traffic to a standstill and should have the required permits.

This may sound eminently reasonable to some people, but the rules of engagement are very different here.

I looked up from Clarín when I heard the steady beating of drums outside. A line of police was forming outside the restaurant. Protesters had cut off Avenida Callo.

Some fresh-faced First Worlders outside stopped to gawk and snap photos of the protesters.

An old woman in a purple suit sat at a table by the window. She watched the protesters for a bit, too. Then she finished off her beer and fished a mirror out of her bag to check her lipstick.

I paid and as I was leaving, a woman waved me over to her table. "Can I have that newspaper?" she asked. "I'll take it back when I'm done," she added, motioning toward the counter. She thought it was the restaurant's newspaper.

"Well, I was going to take it," I said. She looked a little taken aback.

"It's my paper," I added quickly.

"Oh!" she said.

"But, here, take it." I thrust the paper toward her.

"¡No! ¡Por favor!" she said. She wouldn't hear of it.

"No, really. It's OK," I said.

Again, she wouldn't hear of it. So I left, newspaper in hand.

I was standing on the corner outside the pizzeria, waiting for the light to change and listening to the unholy racket of the protesters' drums. Inside the bank across the street, a cop stared out the window, thumping his fingers on the glass in time to the rhythm of the drums.

This place is by turns so civil and so confrontational.

I ran back to the pizzeria, dropped my paper on the woman's table and darted back onto the street before she could say anything.

Is this a good time to mention that I'm considering keeping a parallel blog to record all the times that I'm a raging asshole? Just for the sake of balance.

* * *

I saw today that the subte is having a writing contest. First prize is 3000 pesos (US$1000). Second prize is 2000 pesos. Third prize is 1000 pesos.

This is great. If I can win first, second and third prizes, I can pay for a trip to Japan this year.

Some of you are probably scoffing at the notion of my winning first, second AND third place. And, really, I'm with you: It is hard to imagine me finishing third.

But I'm not going to be talked out of this plan.

Because you know what? They said I'd never have a blog!

Oh. Wait. I said I'd never have a blog.

Well. Someone definitely said something about a blog.

Don't change the subject.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Worlds collide

An email from Paul landed in my inbox the other day.

(Some of you are thinking, "Who's Paul?" Others of you may be tempted to ask, "How is Lupe doing?" I can only answer the first question: Paul owns an orchard.)

Great news: Paul will employ me for a third season. As part of the deal, I demanded he help me find a real job. He agreed, but he had a condition of his own: I had to tell him what kind of job I wanted.

Can you believe that? The gall!

So I have to figure out what kind of job I want. Apparently "keen observer of the human condition and fruit" does not actually describe a job with a paycheck. So that's out.

The good news is that years of living with only the barest trickle of income means that money is not my top priority. Although, the job should definitely provide income. So blogging's out.

Anyway, yes, this post is related to Buenos Aires. Paul also told me that some Slow Food* honchos he knows are coming down to Buenos Aires and asked me if I'd be interested in showing them around a bit.

I have a book full of historically significant pizzerias, a head full of ice cream shops and a checklist of the city's notable bars and cafes. So I am looking forward to their visit.

* Slow Food is a group formed in reaction to the proliferation of fast food.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Summer vacation

A lot of businesses reduce their hours or close in January.

Today I stopped at the olive oil store and found a sign saying they'd be on vacation from 5-21 January.

Then I walked by a convenience store with a more pragmatic sign:

"Ciao. I went on vacation until the money runs out."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Providencia and El Trapiche

For Stu's last meal in Argentina, we went to Providencia.

I texted my friend Lelis with the address and told her to meet us there. She was running 45 minutes late when she called and said she couldn't find the place. I had neglected to mention in my text message that the restaurant has no sign — no indication that it's a restaurant at all, really. Just a note on the door that says "Knock hard."

Lelis came in, sat down and didn't know quite what to make of the place. After a while, she came around and said she liked it.

"Está buenísimo ¿no?" I said. "Tiene onda." (It's great, isn't it? It's cool.)

"Sí, tiene onda ... lo que no creo que tenga es habilitación." (Yeah, it's cool ... what I don't think it is is licensed.)

I grudgingly conceded that they were closed by the city for several months a year or two ago. Probably for not serving beef.

Providencia is in the middle of a move and has closed off half the restaurant. We sat on the side with large communal tables and the open kitchen. They had two plates on offer that day — a sandwich duo and a salad. We went with the sandwiches. I had seen other people getting them and they were grilled panini-style. When we got them, they were not.

But if you go to Providencia expecting consistency, you're in the wrong place.

Providencia is where this coffee came from. When we finished lunch, we ordered cortados. Unfortunately, we ordered them from a woman I hadn't ever seen working there before. I knew right away they weren't going to be the four-layered, picture-perfect cortados I'd had before. Still, what are you supposed to do? Demand that someone else make the coffee? No.

Stu took the photos of Providencia, mostly because I couldn't take my eyes off the chef, even to snap a photo. He was just so good looking. I mean, good cooking. Good at cooking. HE WAS SO GOOD AT COOKING.

Moving right along. . .

Providencia is in their current space until the end of the month.

Their location now is cavernous and unfinished, with stencil graffiti on the walls, impossibly high ceilings, and an open kitchen. It's definitely part of what has made going there a unique, unpredictable experience. Of course, the food is the other element — simple, seasonal and sometimes inventive without being pretentious. The menu changes constantly and you can tell from eating there that they're actually interested in making the food.

Restaurants have life cycles and sometimes you catch one at just the right time.

I don't know what's going to happen after they move. From what the woman told us, the new space is much smaller. I don't know if it has an open kitchen or not. I doubt it.

It might be that Providencia's arc coincided with mine here.

* * *

The relatively light fare at Providencia was all but a necessity considering the meal we had eaten the night before at El Trapiche.

We sat down to dinner at 11pm and ordered steaks, french fries and beer.

A few people reading this have known me for years and probably never seen me consume any of these things, let alone all three of them in one meal.

But I've come around to the idea that there are times for steak, fries and beer. And the last evening of a friend's three-week trip to Argentina on a hot summer night is definitely one of those times.

As we sat at a table by the window,
lightning flashed, the skies opened up, and the heat finally broke.

We walked home at 1am, hopping over puddles and dodging raindrops.

* * *

Stu got on a plane the next day. I had an amazing time when he was here. We were on the move a lot, so I didn't have a lot of time to think. Now I've got nothing but time to think.

I'm moving back to the States on March 31. I'm determined to make the most of the time I have left here, but first I have to figure out what I mean when I say that.

24 flavors

How do you measure the success of a trip halfway across the world?

Is it the stories told? The laughs shared? The memories forged together?

Who knows. What do I look like, the answer man?

All I know is that over his three weeks here, Stu had 24 flavors of ice cream. That's pretty damn impressive.

He kept a journal of the flavors and I've listed them below (with the exception of one lost to Stu's tummy and the ages). I've tacked on some explanations and translations where I could.

Most ice cream shops have somewhere between 20-30 flavors. Of those flavors, probably half to two-thirds are roughly the same from shop to shop. We're talking your dulce de leche (plus variations: with walnuts, with chocolate chips, etc.), your basic fruit flavors, your chocolates (again, plus variations), your vanillas and sweet creams.

After that, you get into the specialties of each shop. These can be named after the shop itself, or they can take the name of the idea/flavor/place that inspired it. So maybe "Chocolate Daniel" has pieces of my favorite fruit in it. But the problem with this is that there are NO explanations on the signs at these ice cream shops. So you have to constantly ask, "Well, what does chocolate of the jungle have in it?" Or "What does dutch chocolate have in it?"


  • Chocolate holandés (chocolate with candied orange peel)
  • Dulce de leche con nuez (dulce de leche with walnuts)
  • Crema de pistachio
  • ?
  • Banana Volta
  • Crema de almendra (almond cream)
  • Crema de cereza (cherry cream)
  • Bacciola (chocolate and hazelnut cream)
  • Vainilla al malbec (vanilla with Malbec wine)
  • Mantecato (similar to butter pecan)
  • Canela (cinnamon)
  • Melocotón al syrah (peach with Syrah wine)
  • Crema portuguesa (Port-flavored cream)
  • Torroncino (Spanish/Italian nougat flavor)
  • Maracuyá (passion fruit)
  • Chocolate alpino
  • Frutilla (strawberry)
  • Crema rusa (booze-flavored cream)
  • Banana split (banana ice cream with chocolate chunks, dulce de leche)
  • Crema de higo con nuez (fig cream with walnuts)
  • Chocolate amadeus
  • Crema maiori
  • Sambayón (Marsala-flavored cream)
  • Mousse de limón

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Serious watermelons

We came across some serious watermelons on the sidewalk in front of a fruit stand in Palermo yesterday. They were larger than bicycle tires.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Bar Uriarte and Azema

I can't read Stu's mind, but I thought I recognized the look on his face Saturday. To me, it read "Argentina fatigue."

I'll grant you that it could easily have been "Dan fatigue." But for the sake of this entry and my fragile self-esteem, I'm going with Argentina fatigue.

This syndrome is not limited to foreigners. Experience and my small circle of friends tells me that it affects Argentines just as much as non-Argentines.

It sounds harsh, but being here can mean a string of small disappoints that feed into a sort of low-level aggravation and battle mentality.

Getting even simple things done can turn into an odyssey.

It's the waiting in line to take a number to wait in another line, only to get to the front of the line and be told to come back tomorrow. It's waiting in one line one day and then going back the next day to wait in the same line, only to find out that the line has changed.

It's the total lack of confidence and trust that pervades the society, with everyone absolutely convinced that everyone else is out to get you and them (although not the cab driver, waiter, etc. who vocalizes this distrust to you and warns you, of course; s/he is a saint and a victim.)

Have I ever mentioned the first question I was asked by an Argentine I met in Chicago? I had visited Buenos Aires in 2001 and upon my return came across a porteño selling ice cream in Chicago. I told him I had just been to Buenos Aires.

The first question he asked me: "Did anyone try to rip you off or cheat you?"

It's kind of funny, but it's kind of not.

I don't hold the United States on a pedestal, but that would probably not be the first question I asked someone who visited my country.

* * *

Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, talks about how having more choice often leads to higher expectations and more disappointment. If there are 100 detergents, surely one of them must be the right one for me. If I buy one and am not satisfied, it's a disappointment because I'm sure satisfaction must lie among the other 99.

But what if there are only one or two brands of detergent for sale? Then if I buy one and don't like it, I tell myself that there's not much to be done about it because there were only one or two detergents for sale and, hey, nothing's perfect anyway, right?

So basically choice and high expectations are the enemy of satisfaction. On a very basic level, learning to live here has meant learning to live a life of fewer choices and lower expectations. That might sound miserable to the First World ear. But it's not if you recognize as true what Schwartz says about the tyranny of too much choice.

I'm pleasantly surprised all the time because I've learned not to expect much. I'm not being flip.

All that said, sometimes limited choice and dashed hopes can drive you around the bend and back.

* * *

If I were to choose the short phrase that described Argentina best, I would probably either go with "por las dudas" or "es lo que hay."

The first phrase means "just in case" and is muttered as an explanation for everything in a place where you never know exactly what's going to happen and it always pays to have a back-up, a back-up for your back-up and a little luck.

The second phrase means "that's what there is" and is sort of a shrugging acknowledgment that, hey, you might not like it but that's all there is and you're going to have to take it or leave it.

Stu and I have had a lot of fun with these phrases since he's been here, but living — or even just traveling — in the land of "just in case" and "that's all we got" can take its toll.

So I took him out to lunch at the place where I go when I want to feel like I'm in the First World. Bar Uriarte is where I went to have my first steak in about ten years for my birthday last year. From the street, you can look through the window into the open kitchen. It's a little expensive, but it's not overpriced for what you get.

We split some baby calamari for an appetizer. I had a mixed green salad with roasted pears, cashews and blue cheese for my main. Stu had stuffed chicken on a bed of barley.

It felt amazing and decadent to deviate from the national menu of pizza, pasta, beef, and ham and cheese.

In fact, it felt so good that we did it again later that night. We met up with a fellow expat blogger and his friends for dinner at Azema, in a section of town known as Palermo Hollywood (because of the production studios located there, not, as Stu theorized, for the junkies and hookers).

Azema serves French-Asian fusion food. (Or Frasian food as it was dubbed by a clever commenter at the table. Wait. That was me. Well, it's no secret that on my blog, I always get the best lines. And that one. The best lines, and that one.)

We had a great meal. Stu had the salmon. I had the fish of the day. For dessert, I had a passion fruit mousse and Stu had a dulce de leche cheesecake.

* * *

It's 39 degrees here today. For readers in the United States and Belize, that's 17,000 degrees Fahrenheit. . . if I did the math right. It's definitely too hot to do math, in any case.

I turned off the water heater in my apartment because even the "cold" water is coming out of the tap warm, which is no wonder because it sits in a tank on the roof of the apartment building baking in the sun.

The length and utterly self-indulgent navel-gazing of this entry can either be attributed to heat-induced delirium, or the liberating realization that 20 people a day look at this blog regardless of what I write — hell, even when I don't write at all!

Which might have been the better bet today.


Sunday, January 6, 2008


We were a little hungry at the airport the other day, so we looked for a place to get a bite.

The only cafe past security was inexplicably closed, so we walked back around to the one place that was open.

I offered to go to the counter for Stu and bring something back.

"What do you want?" I asked him.

"I'd like the ham and cheese on a croissant."

"And if they don't have that?"

"Then some medialunas."

I went off to wait in line.

I heard the guy in front of me ask for medialunas. The defeated kid behind the counter said they didn't have any. When I got to the front of the line, I asked if they had ham and cheese on croissant. They didn't.

I laughed, but quickly felt guilty. The poor slob behind the counter thought I was laughing at him.

I asked for two waters and a piece of chocolate cake.

"That'll be 21 pesos." (US$7)

I handed him a 50 peso bill.

"Do you have anything smaller?" he asked.

"I don't," I said.

"Well, I don't have any change."

"I think I have a one-peso coin and then you can just give me 30 pesos even," I offered.

"No. I don't have any change," he said again.

He handed the 50 pesos back to me and waved me away.

"Just take it. I'm giving it to you."

"What?" I said.

"Just take your water and your cake. I don't have any change to give you. But take the water and your cake."

Uh. OK.

There was a tip jar near the register, something I don't think I've ever seen in this country. I stuck 2 pesos in the jar.

It had to really suck to be working on New Year's Day, watching half the country head off on vacation from behind the counter of the only airport snack bar, which had almost nothing to sell and no change to give you if you wanted to buy the few things they did have.

* * *

I bought three figs and a honeydew melon yesterday. The total came to 9 pesos and I handed the woman a 10 peso bill.

"I don't have any coins," she said.

"Well, what do you have that costs a peso?" I asked.

She ran down the list while I scanned the display. My eyes settled on the cherries.

"Can I have one peso's worth of cherries?"

She dug a handful out and weighed them before she came back out.

I got six cherries as my change.

Part of me wants to try to convince a bus driver tomorrow to let me ride for six cherries instead of 90 centavos.

Unfortunately the other part of me already ate the cherries.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

El Calafate

"While you're writing a real postcard to your real girlfriend, I'll be posting a virtual postcard to the Internet!"

This is what I told Stu over ice cream an hour ago and, yes, I laughed at myself after I said it. I am at least slightly self-aware.

Hey, anyway . . . Weather's here, wish you were beautiful, etc. Hope things are great with you in your hemisphere!

Say . . . I sure took a lot of pictures of ice!

White ice . . . blue ice . . . clear ice . . . brown ice. Practically every color of the rainbow! As long as your rainbow includes white, clear and brown.

When we got into Río Gallegos at 1am on Wednesday, there was still a faint glow of sunlight on the horizon. Aside from that, the great thing about Río Gallegos — besides the bartender at the Café Central on the main drag — is that you can spend only 12 hours there and not feel like you're leaving too soon.

By 2pm, we were on a bus headed to El Calafate. We got lucky with our hostel room here. Not only was it available, but it was 10 pesos cheaper than I had been told it would be. Good thing we saved money there, because everything else here is stratospherically and almost comically expensive.

The town of El Calafate is about an hour and a half from the Parque Nacional de los Glaciares. We caught a bus this morning that had us at the park by 10am. Guess what? We saw a glacier. The Perito Moreno Glacier to be exact. It was great. How long do you think you could look at a glacier? A few hours maybe? That turns out to be the right answer, since the cheap bus that gets you there by 10am drives you back to town at 1pm.

Yes, you can see a few other glaciers if you take different excursions. You can take a boat to view the glaciers. You can hike on a glacier. But we didn't do any of this. We didn't have the right gear for some of the excursions. And it's probably also fair to say we were a little "excursioned out" after our Mendoza trip.

So ultimately I came like 2000 miles to look at something for about three hours. On top of that, we spent a lot of money and choked down some lousy food.

But we also had a lot of fun.

I'm glad I did it once — which sounds about right for a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Going south

December 31 was the hottest day of 2007. Stu and I woke up this morning sweating and thinking of going to the movies.

Instead, we're going south to Patagonia. We're spending the night in Río Gallegos before we head off on a four-hour bus ride to El Calafate, near Los Glaciares National Park.

We're going because we found a cheap last-minute ticket down south and a not-too-expensive ticket back to Buenos Aires. We debated for a while before we decided to bite the bullet and go. Like Stu said, who knows how much longer there'll be glaciers to see.

When I booked our hostel in Calafate today, the woman said she was pretty sure she had a room and that we should definitely stop by. She said that if by some chance she didn't have a room, she would find one for us.

That's very nice of her, but it's hard to imagine a worse bargaining position than being homeless in high season in a town of 7,000. So I can already see this getting interesting.

Basically, traveling in the summer here is really asking for it. I think it's fair to say that getting around Argentina is a lot tougher than Stu had imagined. It might even be fair to say that everything here is a lot tougher than he imagined.

The other day I asked him outright if he could see why I have a love/hate relationship with this place. He's already seen enough to be able to answer yes.

I don't want to curse this trip before it's even started. I'm excited to go. I could not ask for a better travel companion. And what better way to start the year than to unexpectedly end the day 2000km from where you started?

Truth be told, I'm barely recovered from my last trip. I'm still sore from the horseback riding. But at least now I can look at a photo of horseshoes without wincing.