Thursday, December 27, 2007
Took Mijo to the zoo last weekend and we had a blast. It is an old city zoo and some had warned us that it wasn't the greatest. However, we disagree.
The Buenos Aires Jardin Zoologico was Founded over 118 years ago and houses more than 2,500 animals originating from 350 species. After a few years of decline, the Zoo has been making major upgrades and enhancing its staff.
While it is no Temaikén, which has animal-friendly natural habitats for all its furry inhabitants, the Buenos Aires Zoo is getting there despite its small footprint.
Even though not all of the Zoo would make PETA happy, being there reminds you of those wonderful old children's books set in a city zoo ( Like Madeline would walk by any minute to say Poo Poo to the Tiger in the Zoo).
Hey, for $14 pesos for a complete pass, you can't beat it.
Here are a few more pics...
With it 80 degrees out, it has been kind of hard to be in the Christmas spirit. We almost didn't realize it was Christmas Eve on Monday. It was kind of hard to tell with so few decorations and most porteños going about their normal routines.
Actually, one big clue was the massive traffic jam as everyone was exiting the city on Friday. Afterwards, it was as if we had this whole big city to ourselves. I took advantage of it and took Mijo to the Zoo on Sunday. The zoo was empty and we had a great time. I'll post some pics tomorrow.
We spent Christmas Eve with another expat family and counted down the hours until midnight when the whole city erupted with fireworks. People were setting them off from balconies and in the streets. It was quite a sight and sound. More like what we were use to on New Years Eve before they cracked down on fireworks in the states.
We even set off a few bottle rockets using one of our many empty Malbec bottles. Our bottle rockets kept making a bee line for a balcony down the street. The people on the balcony were not too happy. ( Note to self: Large quantities of wine and fireworks do not go together.)
Actually, there is a lot to be said about the laid back version of Christmas they have here. No lights to put up. No gajillion presents to buy. No fighting over who's family you're eating Christmas dinner with. No wall-to-wall Christmas commercials. And best of all, no "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer"
The kids didn't even mind Christmas without presents. It was great to focus on the true meaning for a change. Besides, they are having the experience of a life time and looking forward to our three month trip to the rest of Argentina.
We head out after New Years. We are hitting Cordoba, Mendoza, Patagonia, Bariloche, and maybe even the end of the world—Tierra Del Fuego.
We'll keep you posted with lots of photos. This is a beautiful country and I look forward to sharing it with you.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Along Avenida de Libertador on the route to my daughter's school, I noticed a set of ghostly art made of metal and attached along the fence of a faded but stately military compound.
Finally, after two or three trips I asked my driver, "¿Que es este?" He explained that it was the Navy Mechanics School.
During The Dirty War, up to 30,000 Argentine citizens were rounded up by the government and executed. They are known as the Disappeared (Los Disaparecidos).
The Navy Mechanics School was home to some of the most gruesome torture and deaths. An estimated 5,000 of the Disappeared are thought to have been tortured and killed there in the late 1970s to early 1980s.
Some were executed by firing squad while others were drugged, loaded up on a plane and simply dumped overboard into the Rio Plata or the Atlantic. Pregnant women were held there until term and their babies taken and given to families loyal to the government. The mothers were then executed.
There is a graffitied sign on the fence wall that says:
"Todo esta cargado en la MEMORIA Arma de la vida y de la historia."
In english it says:
"Everything is loaded into MEMORY—Weapon of life and history."
The school was recently handed over to a human rights group. They are in the process of turning it into a museum so that no one will forget what occurred in Argentina 30 years ago.
And maybe we can all be reminded about the importance of fighting state run terror wherever it may occur.Their memory is our weapon.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
We were walking around in Las Cañitas Saturday afternoon and stumbled upon our first Pato Argentina match.
Pato was declared by President Juan Perón in 1953 to be the national game of Argentina. It is an odd cross between Polo and Basketball. In fact, we thought it was a Polo match at first seeing how Polo is a big sport here and we were at the Polo fields.
Pato has its roots in the Estancias of early Argentina where Gauchos would fight over a basket containing a live duck (hence the name Pato). The first team to reach their own estancia's ranch house with the duck was declared the winner.
It was a very violent game in the early days and gauchos were often trampled under foot while fighting for the duck. If they weren't killed by the horses, they might fall victim during the knife fights that would break out afterwards.
According to the Wikipedia, the Roman Catholic Church banned to sport and refused burial to anyone who died playing it.
During the winning goal above, one of the blue team's players fell off the horse and was injured. You can see the horse falling in the bottom right.
Wow, a game on horseback like basketball with gunfights and knife fights aftwards. Sounds tailor made for Texas. How come a cool sport like this never took off given our cowboy culture?
Monday, December 17, 2007
Just down from the Plaza Belgrano on Juramento is Sabores de Belgrano. An eclectic little Bistro with influences from all over the map. We stumbled in there the other day looking for something different for lunch.
Low and behold, right there in front of me was a Tex-Mex section on the menu. I had to try it.
I'm proud to say it was very close to the real deal. Only, the tortillas were a little tough the first outing. But, they actually had hot sauce that was hot and something that was real close to sour cream.
The first time, I ordered the tacos. Today, my wife had the fajitas and I ordered the quesadilla. No matter what we ordered, they all looked and tasted like the same thing. Only, we didn't care. It tasted like real Tex-Mex.
They even had pinto beans mixed in with everything and the guacamole was tasty!
Sabores de Belgrano, Ave. Juaramento 2080.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Every wonder why Cristina and Chávez always seem to be having a good time when they're together. Maybe they have something going on the side that Néstor doesn't know about?
Put those rumors to rest. We found out today the real reason.
I would be happy too if someone gave me a suitcase with $800,000 US dollars. To be fair, the money never made it to Cristina, but it is the thought that counts right?
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Tonight, my wife and I went back to Frida Khalo the restaurant in Núñez (Ciudad de la Paz 3093), and I have to say it is much better than the other Mexican place I mentioned a few weeks ago. It is now my favorite place for a spicy ( and I mean really spicy) fix of my favorite food from back home.
We heard about Frida Khalo's when we first went to Il Gran Caruso, a very good and highly recommended Italian restaurant in Las Cañitas.
There we were having one of the best Italian meals we have had in the city when my wife looks up and says, "Isn't that a Mariachi Band in the lobby?" Now, we had consumed one or two bottles of Malbec already, but sure enough our eyes did not deceive us.
It is not every day you see a mariachi band in an Italian restaurant, much less in an Italian restaurant in Buenos Aires. We had to go up and introduce ourselves. Come to find out, the Guitar player was a college student from McAllen, Texas! What a small world.
Well, we never found out what in the world a Mariachi band made up of good'ol boys from Texas was doing at an Italian restaurant. We had more important questions to ask... Like where in the hell can you find decent Mexican Food?
After a small debate and a few recommendations on where NOT to go (Maria Felix), they all agreed on Frida Khalo. We immediately phoned our friends and made a date to try it out.
The first time to Frida Khalo's was wonderful. Although it was not Tex-mex, it was very similar to food at the nicer restaurants in Mexico. Very fine interior Mexican food. When we were telling other's of our experience at Frida Khalo, we received puzzled looks. Several (mainly porteños) who had tried it said they did not like it.
Because of the feedback from others, we had not tried Frida Khalo's again until tonight. What a mistake. The food was excellent and very, very spicy. Ahh just what I have been missing. The same can't be said for our second outing to 5ta. Esencia in La Lucila.
We started with two Sopas. Mine was the Sopa Trotsky, a cold soup that was very similar to Gazpacho, only less tomatoes and more lime. Very good. My wife started with the Sopa Chiloto, a warm mexican corn chowder with plenty of cilantro, lime and the most deliciously sweet corn . It was slightly spicy with just a slight hint of chili. It was one of the best corn chowders I have tasted, including my own.
Frida Khalo is known for their moles. My first visit, I had the chicken mole made with the traditional brown mole (the numerous ingredients include chocolate and peanut butter). Tonight, I had the chicken enchiladas with the same mole sauce. The mole was very spicy and I was very happy. The only complaint was the chicken was a little bland on the inside.
My wife tried the pork enchiladas in a spicy red sauce. When they say spicy, the mean it. The pork was seasoned well and was tender. Her only complaint was that the dish was a little too spicy. Yes you heard me right. Food that was too spicy here in Buenos Aires is a little hard to believe, I know.
If you don't believe me, try it for yourself.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner took office today as Argentina's first elected female president.
There have been numerous comparisons between Cristina and Hillary Clinton. Both are smart women who went to law school and their husbands preceded them in office as president. That is Cristina's husband in the photo above who as outgoing president had to turn over the keys to his office to his wife.
What does this mean for Argentina? From what I have heard, elections can be anxious times for Argentina. Most election years, people don't know how policy changes from one president to the next will affect them. And they have been burned in the past.
However, after this last election, everyone was resigned to the fact that things would remain the same no matter what they thought of the Kirchners' political record.
Under Señor Kirchner's presidency, Argentina climbed out of one of the biggest economic collapses this continent has ever witnessed. The country has rebounded and had over 5 years of strong economic growth. A little too strong.
The strong growth has let inflation rear its ugly head. The outgoing Kirchner and his wife have been accused of mucking with the inflation index and under reporting the true numbers. Anecdotal evidence from the local supermarket would tend to back the critics.
In retrospect, it was kind of hard for Nestor Kirchner to look bad when your country could fall no lower. The only way was up for Argentina after the collapse of 2001. But now there are storm clouds on the horizon for Cristina's turn. We'll see how well she navigates the rough water ahead.
Likewise, the next US President has one big mess to clean up. A much bigger mess with no easy solutions. I'm afraid things will be much tougher for the next President no matter who he or she is.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
About a year ago, my daughter was having severe stomach cramps. We are talking rolled over and can't move kind of pain. The pain was predominantly on her right side. What if it was a burst appendix we thought? As a parent, you can't dismiss stomach pain that severe as just your average stomach cramps and hope it works itself out.
Bad Gas Emergency
Being a Sunday night around 10:00, our only option was to take her to the emergency room of the local hospital. Now, those of you not from the United States might not understand the full ramifications of such a routine trip to the hospital in time and money.
My wife took her in around 10:30pm and it wasn't until 3:30 or 4:00am that they returned home. The diagnosis? Your average stomach cramps. The cost? Just under $4,000. That is right—$4,000 and over 5 hours to diagnose a case of bad gas.
But you might say what about insurance? Yes, we had insurance. In the states we had a Health Saving Account plan pushed by the Republicans as cure for high insurance and medical costs.
HSA: A Cost Saving Pipe Dream
How the HSA worked was we could put up to $5,500 of our own cash (I was self-employed) into a tax free special savings account and pair the savings account with high-deductible insurance. The deductible was equal to the limit on what I could put in my savings account. Only after I had spent $5,500 on medical expenses would the insurance kick in. And then, it would only cover 85% of my costs.
The cost for such an insurance plan? It started out at $370 per month for our family of four. After four years on such a plan, our premiums more than doubled to $770 per month. That was more than our COBRA insurance payments from my last corporate job. At least that plan had only a $10 copay and covered everything we needed.
If you do the math, we were paying $14,740 each year for shitty insurance in the US. Not only that, having to go the hospital was a nightmare and could take up to 10 hours of our time waiting in the ER.
Private Insurance in Argentina
Argentina does have universal coverage. However it can be augmented with private insurance plans that are more kin to the HMOs of old where you get access to your plans private hospitals and facilities. Think Kaiser Permanente.
I know HMO brings back nightmares of insurance gone wrong in the US. However, the insurance companies here get reimbursed by the state so they are not really concerned about denying care. Their whole purpose is to provide better care than what the state alone provides. They would be out of business fast if they were denying service you could get for free.
I pay a little over US$200 for my family of four or $2,400 per year. That is a savings of over $12,340 verse what I would of paid in the US.
Bad Gas Argentina Style
Earlier this week, my daughter and I were walking down Cuba when she rolled over in pain. She said she had never felt pain that bad and could no longer walk. We were less than a block from the Medicus hospital here in Belgrano.
I helped her to the hospital and we were quickly sent up to a room. A couple of doctors started diagnosing her and she was given a sonogram to rule out appendicitis all within 15 minutes of arriving.
The sonogram showed what they thought was leakage and before we knew it we were put in a private car and whisked to the large Medicus hospital for possible surgery. When we arrived the Surgeon met us and did a few test to make sure. Once the test came back it was clear it was just another case of "bad gas."
Our out of pocket expenses? Nada. They even paid for the remis (private car) to drive us the other hospital.
Time Spent. About an hour at each hospital. No complicated forms to fill out. Just a flash of our insurance card allowed us entry and my daughter was quickly and efficiently taken care of.
Lessons for the US
Healthcare in the US is outrageously expensive. The insurance and provider systems are broken. Yet, universal public healthcare would never fly in the US. A good solution would be a blended model where basic coverage guaranteed to all could be augmented by a private plan similar to plans in rest of the civilized world.
The thought of going back to the existing healthcare system in the US is enough to give me a case of bad gas.
Monday, December 3, 2007
My family met up with another expat family and took the Tren De La Costa up to Tigre on Sunday. Many porteños keep houses there and it is a favorite destination on the weekends—especially in summer when the city is sweltering.
The city sits on a river delta formed by several smaller rivers feeding into the Rio Plata.
Think Mississippi delta. In fact like the Mississippi Delta, you'll find a lot of trashy places...
and some quite nice places...
Around the turn of the century to say the 1920s and 30s, Tigre was the summer place for the Buenos Aires high society. Strangely, that society centered around "rowing clubs" that were formed around that time. Some of the most stately buildings in Tigre were built to house these rowing clubs. The one in the first picture above is a great example. The one below is of the Buenos Aires Rowing Club.
Finally, Here is a video that some creative chaps took of their trip to Tigre back in July. They did pretty much the same trip we did. But their trip was set the cool grooves of the Gotan Project.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
Thought I would share a few more pics from our Thanksgiving weekend in Punta Del Este and Jose Ignancio. Above is the lighthouse on the same beach as La Huella restaurant in Jose Ignancio. (Best viewed large!)
It is a good surfing beach. The dad and brother of one of my daughters classmates happened to be surfing there while I was taking these pics.
The local beer...
...But some brands are universal.