January 29, 2011

Kosher, but not so healthy...

For the last few years, I've kept boxes of Mannischewitz Matzo Ball and Soup Mix in the pantry as a go-to quick delicious light and healthy (or so I thought) soup meal. All it takes is water and eggs and you have a light but filling delicious soup in 20 minutes. Also, adding a bit of Sriracha makes an extra special treat.

Today, I pulled out the last box in the pantry for lunch and amused myself by reading the ingredients.

MSG? Really?

54% of my daily sodium?

9 Servings in this little box?

Holy Moley.

Seeing as how E and I often divide a box into 2 large servings with a 3rd serving left over, it would appear that every time we do so we're getting > 162% of our daily sodium and an extra dash of MSG to boot.

I will be learning to make this meal from scratch!

In hindsight, I'm not sure why I thought the general rule that pre-prepared foods are bad for you didn't apply to Matzo ball soup in my mind. But, I've learned my lesson. Beware the pre-prepared foods! Even when calorically sound, they often have other gotchas you just don't need.

January 23, 2011

Argentina Food

Many other folks have written extensively about the amazing food of Argentina.

So, I'll just keep it to photos with minimal comments.

First, there is the glorious culture of the parilla:

Which results in juicy awesome steaks (Note: contrary to popular opinion, in our experience, the word Jugoso will get you a rare steak.):

But, the appetizers were the big surprise. Salads -- construct them from the ingredients on the menu. And, if you've never had fresh hearts of palm, order some palmitos. The fresh meristem of the palm has to be one of the most wonderously delicious vegetables on the planet (and, it's healthy!) Think artichoke hearts without the chokey flavor and an order of magnitude more succulent and yummy. Simply add a little balsamic vinegar, and some olive oil, and you are in heaven.

At one lunch, when I ordered sautéed vegetables as a break from the meat orgy, I was blessed with palm stringy things. I asked and more or less understood them to be related to hearts of palms, but easier to come by (and slightly less delicious, but still oh-so-salivation-inducing-tasty). Yet, upon arrival back home, despite at least 5 minutes of internet research, I was unable to identify what they were.

At the time, the server seemed so complacent that I figured it would be easy to figure out. But Google has thwarted me and instead distracted me to this hilarious video about someone stealing palm trees.

Back to Argentina. Have you heard of Empanadas?

Ay! Dios Mio! Que rico! And baked. The baked ones are to die for. They come in vegetarian cheesy goodness with tomatoes and other veggies, and of course, a full selection of meaty varieties, including chicken with curry flavors, which surprised me. I am sad that the ones we have in California are almost always fried. On the other hand, I'm trying to be caloricly deficient since our return, to eliminate the excess of Argentina that attached itself to me. So perhaps I'm not that sad...

And, now, to my favorite appetizer: Provoleta.

A huge hunk of locally made cow's milk cheese covered with herbs and grilled? As a starter? What a wonderful thing!

And, if you are lucky, you can order Provoleta a la napoletana or Provoleta completa which comes with ham and an onion tomato garlic sauce or just fresh chopped onions and tomatoes. Either way, it's a brilliant appetizer and I wonder why, with all of the Real California Cheese marketing they haven't figured out that this is an easy way to convince diners to order and consume half a pound of cheese, no problem.

Ahumados. Smoked Goodness. Ciervo (venison), Trucha (trout, including pink trout, delicious!), and Fabali (wild boar), plus, of course, queso (cheese, which they often interlace in meats prior to smoking... how cool is that?)

January 15, 2011

2010: The Year in Books

Despite my Slow Start, I made it to 27 28 (forgot one). My best showing since I started keeping track. And, this year feels like it's got potential, so I'm going to challenge myself to 30. Any suggestions?

1. The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood. Awesomely complex characters riddled by religion/society/scars from other humans. Primarily strong women, which is, of course, if repeated throughout many books, a flaw, as an author should be more balanced with well developed characters of all genders, but much like most male authors throughout history who have favored their male characters, hers is a common and easily overlooked flaw. Also, there are lyrics of song and worship that reminded me of Blake, one of my favorite poets. In the afterward, she noted Blake as one of her inspirations. Overall, this was one of the most enjoyable books I read this year.

2. The Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferris. No doubt you've heard of it and some of the many opinions it has incited. I found its perspectives interesting -- some useful, but most ridiculous. Good preparation for going out on my own as a solo.

3. World Without End, Ken Follett. Masterful storytelling -- twisting and turning plot with complex, flawed, but loveable characters. Excellent historical research.

4. The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood. Amazing, painful, at times chuckle-worthy, but at all times clear descriptions of raw humans and their wrinkles and bows, set firmly in the details of the mid-20th century.

5. Tales From the Pancake Guy, Jamis MacNiven. Hilarious insider stories from Silicon Valley, Berkeley in the 60s and the random travels of a true adventurer (and likely a tall-tale-teller, but a great one).

6. Shanghai Baby, Wei Hui. A crazy tale of a foreign life lived by a young female author in a foreign city, but told in a way that felt eerily familiar. It made me want to spend some time in Shanghai.

7. Zorro, Isabel Allende. A mythical lyrical tale of adventure in the early 19th century combining the Spanish missions in California, Native American magic, gypsies, fencing, pirates, secret societies, unrequited love, prison breaks, travel across the world, and more. A delightful escape.

8. Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver. A multi-character narative told from the interwoven perspectives of a Mountain woman, an aging farmer, and a "city-girl" widower. An impressively researched biologically fact-heavy story of life and interdependencies. One of my favorite books of the year.

9. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver. As E said, "You've got a complete girl-crush on Barbara Kingsolver." This book tells the story of an adventure after my own heart. As a gardner and food enthusiast, I couldn't agree with her more. It was entertaining, educational, and inspirational.

10. Farm city: The Education of an Urban Farmer, Novella Carpenter.

11. Girl With a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier. Simply written sentences told a bold and intriguing tale. A study in character development -- I could not help but fall for and root for the heroine.

12. Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything, Geneen Roth. Interesting combination of Zen and Yogic philsophies as applied to women's compulsive eating issues. While I had difficulty relating to the majority of the eating issues displayed by the author and her clients, I was surprised as the application of philosophies I have come to embrace in the face of my own patterns -- it helped me understand that the zen and yogic philosophies are, at their core, about how we, as humans, can learn not to hide from our true nature.

13. The Other Boleyn Girl, Phillipa Gregory. An excellent tour of pre-Elizabethan British Courts and the ridiculousnous that ruled the world therefrom. Also, a great life story of one who loves despite the power struggles that make it unintelligent to do so.

14. A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseni. A poignant love story that graphically depicts the fate of women in Afghanistan.

15. The World to Come, Dara Horn. A mystical tale of birth, death, life, love and art built on Jewish, Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian and American culture.

16. Halting State, Charles Stross. A mystery science fiction novel set in Scotland post UK economic meltdown setting forth a super-speedy tale of esponage, crimes perpetrated in virtual reality, and one possibility of the future of economics and trusted computing.

17. The Gold Coast, Nelson Demille. A novel in the Gatsby Tradition regarding the fading gentry of Long Island's Gold Coast, their social mores and traditions, and how they mix and react with the only new money that can buy them out: mafia, foreign royalty, and others.

18. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Steig Larssen. A gripping crime trilogy with a whiplash-inducing plot focused on drawing attention to violence and hatred against women by men.

19. The Girl Who Played with Fire, Steig Larssen.

20. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, Steig Larssen.

21. A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson. A lighthearted skim of the little bit humans have learned the development of life on earth. Informative and funny.

22. Gang Leader For a Day, Sudhir Venkatesh. A fascinating look inside the daily life of one of Chicago's largest projects and the various power brokers within it.

23. Tinkers, Paul Harding. A woven story of fathers and sons, told in non-linear time, and sad but precise poetic language.

24. The Solace of Open Spaces, Gretel Ehrlich. Language paints the rugged sadness and lonely beauty of Wyoming and how the space can heal.

25. Woman Hollering Creek, Sandra Cisneros. Beautiful Vingnettes. Strong Language. Often painful Stories, achingly told.

26. Kate Vaiden, Reynolds Price. Best female character I've ever read written by a male author. An orphan due to tragedy tells her story of survival and the choices she made in hopes of reuniting with the son she gave up for adoption 40 years ago.

27. Run with the Horsemen, Ferrol Sams. Languid biography of growing up in the South interspersed with vivid displays of racial tension and race/class roles all told from the view of a child who's known nothing else.

28. A Civil Action, Jonathan Harr. A gripping real-life tale of a self-destructing lawyer chasing a complex toxic tort case.
Uruguayan Fried Fish

It's a thirty-five minute flight from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, which I believe is the shortest flight I've ever taken in my life.

Montevideo on a Sunday evening in early January is an overwhelming horde of people lounging, wading, eating, sunning, swimming, biking, and walking along the 20Km stretch of beach that makes up much of the city's border.

Our cab driver probably cheated us by taking the long route (along the coast) from the airport to our hotel, but it was very helpful in helping us decide between the beaches of Punta del Este or the historic town of Colonia. The masses on the beach made it clear -- we were going to head for the sleepier northern town on the river rather than the crowds of the beaches.

We walked to dinner at El Fogon. E's pulpo a la gallega was amazing. My order of merluza a la marinera came as a lightly fried filet without tomatoes or any kind of sauce.

Assuming I knew what I'd ordered (to some degree, expecting at a minimum some tomatoes) I told the waiter that my dish was not what I had ordered.

After a look of confusion, he apologized profusely. He took the dish away and returned, triumphant, 5 minutes later, with the same fish, obviously much more elaborately battered and fried.

At this point, I remembered that a la napolitana was what I wanted, and E laughed hysterically at the likely conversation in the kitchen, because clearly, in this restaurant, a la marinera just meant *fried*:

Those Americans sent this marinera back because it isn't fried to their standards. You know Americans. They invented KFC. Could you please fry it some more for them?

January 11, 2011


The greatest thing about this trip is the uninterrupted time with my best friend. In hindsight, I remember saying the same thing about our Asia trip in 2008. And, historically, we've left the country together at least once every 12 months, so the last 20 months have been something of an anomaly. But still, the wonderful togetherness and sharing of things that haven't been shared with anyone else -- they are the happiest and most unique glue in our relationship.

I'm not sure what I did to deserve such a wonderful husband who feels that travel in my style is good (e.g. with partial-planning of the big things but with lots of seat-of-the-pants adventures). But, I hope to keep it up.

Traveling the world with someone who shares my values is an amazing gift. I am grateful. We've been to two Catholic churches this trip, and in both I've left an offering and taken the time to kneel and give thanks for many things (you may note, I feel free to worship in pretty much any sacred place). My wonderful husband, best friend, supporter, and fun travel friend -- this has been the object of the first of my thanks in each case.

In many touchy-feely events and classes I've attended throughout my life, I've been asked to define what "success" means to me. I've never really known how to answer. Generally, my feeling has been, "I'll let you know if I get there."

Yesterday, I thought of those events and smiled. We were sitting outside under a metal awning in a restaurant that looked like a 50's drive-in but had table service, in Montevideo, on the corner of Ejido and 18 de Julio (the main street of the capital of Uruguay). I was enjoying a chivito sandwich (with a fried egg!), while E was eating mushroom raviolli, and, of course, both of us sipped on agua mineral con gas y vino while sharing a salad of palmitos. For more than 2 hours, we watched the world go by in the city with the highest literacy rate in South America, and leisurely felt at home in the pace of life and language of our 5th continent and 13th country together.

I don't think I've never smiled when thinking about my own definition of "success" before. So, I guess that's something kind of big.

January 10, 2011


We splurged on a fancy-pants resort for our 3 night stay in Bariloche. We checked in to gorgeous views of the lake on a uniquely calm day.

The first night, our buddy Ivan at the front desk recommended the best (and best priced) parilla experience of our trip: El Boliche de Alberto. It was a nice 1.5 Km walk, each way, which was a good thing because we opted for provoleta, salad, and huge Entraña in addition to wine and water. This may have been my favorite meal of the trip.

The next day we walked to Teleferico de Cerro Otto and took the old-school two-cable gondola to the top of the mountain for an awesome lunch of local specialties (smoked venison, wild boar, fish and cheeses) and salad while we rotated through the 360 degrees of views in the rotating restaurant. After 2 hours of rotating, we hiked to the nearest peak and enjoyed the views.

From there, we headed downtown and walked until we'd worked up an appetite for gelato at Jauja heladeria (mmmm... thanks for the recommedation ALV). We walked around town, watched a windsurfing race, toured the cathedral and eventually figured out how to catch a bus to somewhere near our hotel.

We liked our first night's recommendation for dinner so much that we asked Ivan for advice on night two. He recommended El Patacon (check out the picture of Bill on the homepage!). Upon entrance, they pour you rosehip pulp mixed with white wine -- a bit odd, but quite delicious, actually, and it makes their guerrilla jewelry salon sales efforts more tolerable (thanks to their efforts, I bought a handmade necklace of leather and metal, so perhaps they know what they are doing). The fire with the splayed lambs in the lobby won E over on first sight, and, fittingly, after smoked venison and glazed mushrooms starter and an empanada, they served him his favorite meal of the trip -- an amazing medallones de lomo preparation with mashed potatoes (my trout was bright pink and flavorful in a light acidic break from the red meat orgy).

The last day, after a false start with the bus system and waiting "ten minutes" (aka 40 minutes) for a cab, we headed out to the much fancier than our digs resort of Llao Llao, where we were unable to take the hike we'd scheduled, but were mistaken as guests of a wedding (American daughter of ex-pats who live in Bariloche marrying a Central American man, I believe) and, so, they allowed us to sit for lunch in the fully reserved lobby bar. (Score!) Food was good, but the views, eavesdropping, and people-watching were phenomenal.

Perhaps this is why the port for our boat tour out to a peninsula and an island in the middle of the lake left from their driveway. You know what they say: Location, Location, Location. The entire boat ride, E and I couldn't help but gape in awe at the majority of the lake's edges and their pristine state of undeveloped nature. Thank you Perito Moreno (think the John Muir of Argentina).

Upon return to our hotel (we made the bus system work for us on the way back), we learned we'd been upgraded to a suite with an in-room sauna for our last night (double score!).

For dinner, we walked to the finest meal of our trip at Butterfly. With only 7 tables and two seatings, reservations are very difficult, but ALV had given us the head's up so we'd made it a priority ahead of time. Wow! Assuming I can find the time, there will be a whole separate post to rave in particularity with pictures. Regardless of my schedule, suffice it to say that this group of folks is on the rise. In an amusing coincidence, the Irish chef, Edward (from Cork) had attended the wedding at Llao Llao the night before and he, like the Llao Llao staff, mistook us for guests he'd met there. He was embarrassed and apologized profusely, but we were very amused. Apparently, the parents of the bride are very good customers and fans of his restaurant, so he was invited to the wedding -- this explains the unexpected cancellation of our original reservation and their request to reschedule. A nearby table during our dinner was 4 obvious guests on the American side, as well, all currently living in New York.

This was one of those times that travel really makes you think -- events that have nothing to do with your life prior to arrival can become extremely relevant during your stay. To travel well is to be aware of your own frame of reference and your life's state of relativity.

Speaking of frames of reference. While it occasionally annoyed us (buses, dry dirty roads -- or choking dust, as E liked to call it), for the most part, Bariloche spoiled us.

Wine. Food. Wine. Food.

I felt like I was living a fairly healthy tourist lifestyle in Buenos Aires. Lots of walking. Working out. No bread or pastas except for the occasional empanada. Sharing delicous portions of meat on the side of full portions of vegetables. With a few modifications, we followed this pattern in Iguazu as well.

With no scales to be had, I convinced myself I must be getting healthier and losing weight on this Atkin's diet of sorts.

And now, I'll never know if it was true. Thanks Mendoza.

We flew from Iguazu back to Buenos Aires and, despite the chaos and confusion of the Mitre Omnibus Terminal, we managed to board our bus for the overnight ride to Mendoza. Apparently, this is the standard mode of transportation in Argentina. So, while our trip was too short to do it for every leg of transport between cities, we figured we'd give it a try at least once.

Pros: it's less expensive than flying and much more comfortable than 13 hours on a plane in economy class. Also, there's a dedicated attendant, and since we opted to pay the extra $25 US or so to get leather seats that fully reclined, our seats came with sparkling wine and our dinner came with wine.

Cons: The flight would have been about an hour and forty minutes. More importantly for me, a rocking bus in traffic is much louder than a plane. So, I spent much of the night almost dozing off to be woken by a horn, a jostle, cross traffic, or my fellow passengers. While awake, I cursed my stupidity for leaving my earplugs in my checked luggage.

Eventually, we arrived in Mendoza unshowered and sleepy. Thankfully, we were immediately checked in, and after a shower, we sat for a 2 hour Italian lunch including a meat and cheese plate, salad, beet and squash gnocchi with lamb in a tomato sauce, and pounded veal cutlets for E in a white wine olive sauce. You know, a light lunch.


A flight of wines at Vines of Mendoza Tasting Room (highly recommended).

Dinner at the hotel and sleep. Glorious sleep.

A weak excuse for a workout. Wait for the driver, who is 30 minutes after the rescheduled late arrival. Coffee. Of course, the driver arrives once the coffee has been ordered.

A gluttonous day of wine tasting and food including the lunch of infinite awkwardness. Suffice it to say that we are not wine buyers, but we were the guests of a winemaking family who had come under this impression for some reason. They were not thrilled with our honest questions, like "Rioja? As in Spain?" (Note: we have since learned that there is a wine region known as Rioja in Argentina as well)

Thankfully, despite the mix-up, we had a superlative day of fabulous wines and great food, which makes everything wonderful.

For dinner, we followed the advice of the amazing Carolyn of Uncorked Argentina and enjoyed a deliciously multi-regional meal at Siete Cocinas (Note: best scallop ceviche I've ever had. Order it.)

On our walk home, we stopped to buy water. We re-hydrated until sleep.

The last morning in Mendoza, I rose to work out, guiltily. Restraint of any sort had not been in effect for several days and the workout felt as you'd imagine.

From there, we were to fly to Bariloche, the land of chocolate.

(pictures and more details to come)

January 9, 2011

Argentina Tidbits

Sadly, we're almost done with Argentina. More details and photos to come. But, since we've stamped out of Argentina except for our last visit before our return flight from EZE, and we now have Uruguayan Pesos in our wallets, I need to take a moment to remember the small things about Argentina before I forget them.

Amazing coffee. Oh, how I will miss thee. In some ways, Argentina takes the coffee ritual even more seriously than Italy or France. I never saw a single person walk up and order a shot (or double or triple) of espresso just to shoot it, pay, and leave. Always, there was a pause. A seat, even if just on a bar stool. Sipping and Savoring. And of course, a longer pause that is entirely outside of the consumer's control for the server to return and collect payment. The way we saw it, unless you find yourself in a Restaurante Auto-Servicio (which is a cafeteria monster with lines and trays you slide along like school), Servers control access to the change and receipts, not the person running the cash register.

Agua con gas, you are easy to find at home. I already stock it in our fridge, but I'm thinking I will try to continue its part in my daily routine (thereby replacing many diet cokes).

Palmitos. Oh dear. I can't believe this vegetable has been missing from my life for so long. After its discovery, I tried to eat it at least once a day, always just with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Apparently, according to the server I asked, they farm them in Argentina, which is why they are ubiquitous (i.e. they grow sustainable multi-stemmed plants and selectively harvest instead of killing wild palms by harvesting the single stem). Yay! Guilt free deliciousness. Too bad the only state in the US where they are farmed is Hawaii. More investigation will occur.

Roxette. They are huge here. Unlike most Americans, I was a big fan back in the day, and I listened to their cassette tape incessantly. So, in Argentina, I often find myself singing along in taxis, on the overnight buses, etc. I blend.

80s revival. Clothes. Music. Everywhere. Is this true in the US as well?

Hoarding of change and small bills. Metamatt warned us, but it's still shocking. So let's say you are lucky enough to find an ATM with cash, but you don't get small denominations. Well, merchants will refuse to do business if they think the bills presented are too large for the transaction. Vendors sell stacks of change at the bus terminal in Buenos Aires and call it out as you walk by Hay Moneda! Hay Moneda!. On several occasions I have walked away from a purchase in surprise due to the rejection of my 100 peso or 50 peso bill. The economic forces at play are mind-boggling.

General inefficiency. Yesterday I shocked myself by thinking that the municpial bus system in Bariloche was less efficient than *BOTH* the Italian and the Mexican solutions to the same problem. I can honestly say I'm unaware of thinking that about anything else. Ever.

Airport trade-offs. After this trip, I will have taken more flights in close succession from Aeroparque than from any other airport in the world. This is not by choice, it's just that most flights within the country are on spokes of a wheel that centers on Aeroparque. As promised, the security line is usually super-speedy and reasonable. For example, I watched them let a teacher with a collection of rounded-tipped scissors through after a brief questioning, although I did get a 5 minute questioning on my facial powder on one occasion -- rather than upset me, it made me smile -- good point! Why aren't they looking for large amounts of contained powders? (Now I've done it...) No matter what I'd been told, however, the time saved in security was easily replaced by other inconveniences. Instead of jetways or good old fashioned walking on the tarmac, on multiple occasions, we have exited airport gates, to wait for a bus to slowly load and spasticly transport about half of the passengers (and their luggage) 50 meters so we can slowly disembark and walk the last 20 meters to the stairs (while the other half load the plane in front of us or the bus behind us). On one occasion, a driver revved the engine multiple times but failed to move until the exasperated driver in the bus behind him exited, tapped on his window and explained how to put it in first and release the clutch while all of us passengers looked on. Often the airport bus does not start, it does not have air conditioning, or the bus doors do not open properly. On one flight, after disembarking the bus, passengers were simultaneously told to board the front stairs and the rear stairs of our MD-88 -- no thought was given to which entrance should be used by passengers assigned to which seats, so, after E and I took the rear stairs to our seats in the rear of the plane, we got to enjoy the show for 15 minutes while folks fought their way past each other for access to their seats and luggage space.

10 minutes means the same thing as 15 minutes or 20 minutes. AKA, "sometime in the next hour."

Baked empanadas. (Read: not fried). E tried to eat these every day.

Provoleta -- or, let's take some local provolone cheese and brush it with olive oil, top it with herbs and grill it. Or better yet, let's add some tomatoes and onions and make provoleta a la napoletana. In honor of which genius should I build an altar?

And steak. Great steak. Oh, how I have loved thee. E is of the opinion that either brochette de lomo or bife de lomo is best. Me? I'm a simple girl. I just love me a good Entraña (jugoso, por favor).

Argentina, we're missing you already.

January 4, 2011

A Quick Adventure in Brazil

E very much wanted to tour the Itaipu Binacional dam. The second largest hydro-electric dam in the world is not to be missed, in his opinion (and, I was excited to see it as well, plus I love to add countries to my visited list).

The dam is half in Brazil, half in Paraguay, and the extensive tours are offered in English from the Brazilian side. I had researched the issue several times, but could not find a straight answer on whether a Brazilian visa was necessary for a single day trip by land. Most of the reports of people who had actually DONE the trip indicated that a visa was not necessary. And yet, the official line appeared to say the opposite without explaining how to acquire a land visa, and it does seem a bit odd that you could enter a country that requires a visa without some sort of documentation. Bravely (or foolishly) E and I decided to try to make it work according to the reports of folks who claimed it was not required.

So, we walked to the bus station near the Sheraton and took the bus to the Puerto Iguazu station (15 pesos for 2). From there, we took the inter-city bus to Foz do Iguacu (14 pesos for 2). Everyone disembarked at the Argentina immigration station and stamped out of the country. I explained that we were just leaving for a few hours and the immigration agent looked at me blankly, as if to say, "Lady, why do you Americans always think we care about your travel plans? You're leaving. I'm stamping. Enough."

So there we were, stamped out of Argentina, on our way to Brazil. And, what do you know? The bus stopped in Brazil, but it was optional to go through immigration, and about 3/4 of our bus chose not to do so.

The next thing you know, the signs were in Portuguese.

From the bus station in Foz do Iguacu, we found our way to the bus to Itaipu (14 Argentinian pesos for 2, which was nice since we really didn't want to go to an ATM for Reales -- their bus terminal appeared to accept USD, Arg pesos, Paraguayan Guarani, and Brazilian Reales, which was quite the opposite of our experiences in Argentina where everyone wants Argentinian Pesos even though there aren't any in the ATMs).

Upon arrival, we tried to book a "special" tour, which means we'd get to see the insides of the power plant. We were informed it was booked. So, we stood in line to by the "simple" tour. Having spent almost a week in Latin America, I'd learned to ask again, so I asked our attendant if there were open spots on the "special tour" and he turned off the speaker and went to go speak with a supervisor. He came back and informed us that, "Yes. There is room. But no flip flops. And you must have your knees covered."

"Ummmm... is this okay?" I asked, backing up so he could see my full attire including running shoes and pulling down my sundress to show how long it was (or could be, when pulled) and then up to show my running shorts underneath.

The speaker was turned off again. A second supervisor was called. I was motioned to step back and turn around, you know, model my outfit.

The female supervisor did not approve.

E, crestfallen at the idea that we'd crossed international boundaries and my clothes were going to stop us, did not look happy. Uncharacteristically, I recognized that this was not a good time to make a scene about the sexism of the no-short skirts rule (literally, the below the knees rule was only stated to apply to skirts). So, I offered to buy pants.

This would explain my new 3/4 length long white shorts with the Itaipu Binancional logo embroidered in them. They are actually quite flattering when not worn beneath a sundress. And, of course, they make a great story.

Also, the dam tour was super cool. One of the best experiences of the trip so far -- the guides were very knowledgeable and we were able to see the penstocks, turbines, the floor capping the 20 generators, the architectural structures, plus the control room split into two identical sides (where the Brazilian engineer appeared to be working and the Paraguayan engineer was blatently looking at pictures of women).

And, bonus, we made it back into Argentina without incident. The bus stopped at Brazilian immigration on the way back and many international English-speaking back-packers got off the bus. I asked if it was required for us to disembark and the driver looked at me like I was an idiot, saying,
Solo, si tiene entrada de brasil. La Tiene? when I said, No, solo tenemos Visas de Argentina, he shook his head, half in amusement, half in annoyance and told me to sit back down with the half of the bus who were skipping the Brazilian immigration experience.

6 bus rides and two countries later, we stamped back into Argentina with a sigh of relief and made our way back to the hotel.

The Iguazu falls truly are as gorgeous in person as everyone says they are.

We walked the Upper Circuit on our first day and found ourselves about a mile into the Argentinian National park when it started to rain. Not a light rain, mind you. A torrential downpour fitting for a *rainforest* or a *jungle* because, oddly enough, that was where we were.

We ran where we could, but much of the path was on elevated metal grates that were slippery enough before the rain. So, we walked most of the trip back and smiled sheepish drenched hellos at the much more prepared folks walking into the park in their full rain gear.

Something about being caught in a heavy rain while it's warm is immensely joyful. I couldn't help laughing and smiling the entire time.

We were staying at the Sheraton hotel in the National Park, so we could walk up from the trail and enter the hotel without navigating the bus system as drowned rats. The staff met us at the back entrance with towels and we retired to our room, where we safely watched the storm. At points of high humidity (for example during a 4 hour downpour), the falls instantly create clouds as the fine mist created from the impact of the falling water rises into the atmosphere. This creates the image of smoke from a huge non-stop fire, both from land and from the airplane.

(Pictures to come)

New Year's Eve in Buenos Aires is unlike anything I've ever seen. 13 million people and it looks like at least one out of every 100 had access to commercial grade fireworks and a desire to set them off.

So, our relatively quiet evening on the balcony ended with over an hour of fireworks viewing with new friends on the top floor of our apartment building.

Not a bad way to end one year and start the next one.