Thursday, December 27, 2007

Buenos Aires Jardin Zoologico

Thirsty Giraffe

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.

Picture 1.gifThe 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.

Lion Love

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...

The Lizzard is not empressed with your tounge


Polar Bear

Merry Christmas

Where is Christmas?
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

The Disappeared and The Navy Mechanics School


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


Photo by Mrs. Longhorndave
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

Tex-Mex Found! Sabores de Belgrano

Photo by Mrs. Longhorndave
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

Cristina and Chávez Sitting in a Tree....

Cristina and Chavez

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

Frida Khalo: Mexican Food Quest Part II - Getting closer to the real deal

FridaKahlo.jpgPhotos © copyright by Guía Oleo
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.

frida1-0246.jpgWe 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

Argentina's First Elected Female President... Is the US Ready For the Same?

Photo copyright and stolen from La Nacion
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

Insurance and Bad Gas: USA vs Argentina

arg-hospitalPhoto by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³'s

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

Tren De La Costa / Tigre


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.

Tigre and the Delta from Goolge Earth

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

More Pics from Uruguay

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.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

La Huella Restaurant in Jose Ignacio

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On our trip to Punta del Este, we stumbled upon one of the greatest seaside dives—Parador La Huella.

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According to Peggy Knickerbocker at Gourmet Magazine, several chefs consider it the best beach side restaurant in the world. It is the kind of place that would be right at home in Austin. Despite attracting an international A-list crowd and having one of best chefs in the region, it is the kind of place where flip flops are the attire of choice.

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The restaurant is in a "shack" right on the beach in the seaside village of Jose Ignacio about a 20 minute drive up the coast from Punta Del Este. Jose Ignacio appears on the surface to be just your average sleepy little South American fishing village.

But behind those small little fishing casas are some of the most expensive homes in South America. Supermodel Naomi Campbell, Duran Duran lead singer Simon Le Bon, Michael Eisner, and Ralph Lauren are just a few of the neighbors in this small town.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Punta del Este

As I mentioned previously, I took my family across to Uruguay for the four-day Thanksgiving weekend. We picked the beautiful beach resort area known as Punta del Este.

Punta del Este is THE place for porteños to get away to. During summer, many families in Buenos Aires just pack up and move there for three months. It is easy to see why. It is a very beautiful place.

Punta del Este

Many famous beach resorts in the US, Europe or Mexico end up looking like one giant stretch of tacky tourist shops all selling the same cheap "I went to XXXX and all I got was this lousy t-shirt" kind of crap. Their initial beauty overwhelmed by excess commercialism to the masses. Not Punta del Este.

Some of the best designed apartment buildings and vacation homes can be found here. Most are modern masterpieces right out of the pages of Dwell. Yet despited all of the high-end design and well heeled visitors, the place has a very relaxed, laid-back feel.

conrad3869 .jpg

We stayed at the Mantra Resort. A very nice resort on the north end of town. The room was one of the best I've stayed in. However, the service was very lacking. I think those in the know end up renting one of the sleek, modern bungalows on the beach. That is what we plan to do next time.

As for our trip. We didn't get to spend much time on the beach. The weather was cold and cloudy on Friday and Saturday. It turned nice on Sunday, but we had to leave by 8:00am so we could drive back to Montevideo to catch our Buquebus ferry.

We still had fun. It was nice to just get away and enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Oh, and we had some great food too. But that is another post.

If you ever come to Buenos Aires, make sure you carve out time for the trip north to Punta del Este.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving at the Beach... No Turkey for Us This Year

Empty Bucket at Punta Del Este
While our friends and family were stuffing themselves with turkey this Thanksgiving, we headed to the beach.

Our daughter was out of school for the holiday even though they do not celebrate it down here. That gave us the perfect opportunity to hop the Buquebus across Rio Plata to Uruguay to renew or tourist visas that were set to expire last week.


Lots of other families from my daughters school thought the same thing. The ferry was full with my daughters classmates.

Unfortunately, the beautiful weather we had last week did not last. It turned cold and ugly. But we didn't care. We were having fun falling in love with a whole new country.

Argentina, you have some competition next door!

More to come once I've had time to go through all the pics.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Mexican Food... What every good Texan misses most.

What does the typical Texan miss most when away from home?

Mexican Food! What else? To be technically correct, that would be Tex-Mex. But when you are desperate, any form of Mexican food will do.

Everyone finds it hard to believe that the food down here is mild. In fact, it is blander than the food in from Great Britan. Yes, it is that bad.

Most people in the States use the following logic when summing up Argentina: It is south of the border, they speak Spanish (or so they are told), so therefore they eat Mexican food. Or at least something similar.

As a side note, when word got out that we were moving to Argentina, one of my daughter's friends actually asked, "they speak Mexican down there don't they?"

Well I wish that logic held true (even the speaking Mexican part). I MISS MEXICAN FOOD!

Great news. After disappointing outings at three restaurants that attempt Mexican food, I've finally found the real deal. 5ta. Esencia in La Lucila (Av. Del Libertador 3986).
We started with the ceviche tostadas and they were perfecto! We then had a sampler with several tacos, quesadillas, taquitos and other items. They were all great even though they didn't exactly look like the fare from home or Mexico. But, they came damn close.

Back home, we have a saying about Mexican restaurants. You can judge how good the place is by the chips and hot sauce they serve when you sit down. The chips here look more like Fritos and not the familiar triangles we are use to, but were good. The hot sauce at first was as bland as katchup with zero heat. I asked if they had real hot sauce and was brought liquid fire in a bowl. I was in heaven.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Tree on my Balcony
Reports from back home are of the Indian Summer you guys are experiencing in North Texas.

Keep in mind that things are reversed down here south of the equator. Not only does water drain clockwise not counter-clockwise (as proven by Lisa Simpson) but it is spring, not fall here.

And while Texans are out on the lake enjoying an endless summer... WE ARE FREEZING TO DEATH!!

We awoke today with the temp hovering at 9 celcius (48F—I know, I know that is a long way from freezing... but remember I'm from Texas!) and the wind was blowing like a bat out of hell. My fellow expats from Chicago (mike and frank) probably felt right at home.

The great thing about the weather in Buenos Aires—stick around it will change. Ahh, just like back home.

I wonder if they call it an "Indian Winter" here.

I'll leave you with images from when the weather was a little more spring like. The Nike 10K was held here last weekend. The images are from the Cartel Endorfina site. Please click on the link to see more amazing shots of Buenos Aires.

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Ahhhh..... Volta!

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OK... The downside to having to go out to eat after 9:00pm with a 3 year old? He often falls asleep through diner. Add the fact that my daughter needs to wake up before 6:00am to get ready for her bus, and you can forget about ordering dessert. Get the entré and get out of there is all we have time for.

Volta to the rescue!

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Porteños are crazy about ice cream. And this is a city where just about anything can be delivered right to your doorstep. So of course the ice cream places all deliver. Volta is one of the best.

So here it is 11:00pm and I've just placed my order. It should be here a few minutes after I finish this post. And boy will it be good. I can't wait!