On The (Side of the) Road In Argentina

It was to be a relaxing, inexpensive vacation. We used Tim’s frequent flier miles for two free tickets to Buenos Aires, Argentina then rented a car to see the countryside, to drive to Ibera National Park for a couple of days of watching the incredible variety of wildlife found in the park, and then to fulfill a life list item of Janet’s – to see the incredible Iguazu Falls. We would cap off the trip with a couple of days seeing the sights of Buenos Aires before flying back home. Our trip didn’t quite turn out as planned.

If you were reading our story in a literature class, there would be much discussion about foreshadowing beginning with the conversation between Janet and her seat mate on the flight to Argentina who questioned us about our trip, asking if we speak Spanish. When we replied we did not, he just shook his head, and said, “that could be a challenge”. We replied we like adventure and he just shook his head with a smile. Omen #1. Next was the $6000 security deposit the rental company wanted to charge to our credit card which was never mentioned when I made the reservation. Omen #2. We ended up purchasing Argentinian auto insurance to get around the deposit and headed to our rental car – a Fiat Sienna. Omen #3. When Tim went to start the car, it hesitated on the initial turn over. Omen #4. But it started right up on the second attempt so we filled the car with gas and were on our way!

Our first day was a six-hour drive to Santa Fe where I had made a reservation at the local Holiday Inn. (Travel tip: When traveling to a foreign country, securing a room the first night, usually, alleviates a lot of stress.) When we were about 4 hours outside of Buenos Aires, we had to go through the town of Rosario which included a lot of stop and go driving. The car began to jerk, sputter and bog down. Eventually we sputtered into a Supermercado where it completely died. Note: My seatmate was right, no one in Argentina speaks English – no one. This made for some really interesting initial “conversations” with the super market staff trying to get help. We did eventually, miraculously, find an English speaker who was kind enough to help us resolve our problem.

Tim called the insurance company and with help from our interpreter, a tow truck eventually showed up. The driver spent some time under the hood and then declared our car, “perfecto”. He drove around the parking lot to prove the effectiveness of his work and we were on our way again. Two hours later with only a couple of sputterings, we arrived at our hotel. By now it was late and we were hungry. Having been advised by the front desk that walking to a nearby restaurant probably wouldn’t be safe, we ate a very mediocre meal in the hotel restaurant. This was not the beginning of the restful vacation I had hoped for.

To make a long (very long) story short, over the next couple of days we drove north, putting more and more kilometers between us and the Europcar rental desk in Buenos Aires. After several hours of driving, the car would begin to sputter and jerk and we would pull over for a while until the car cooled down and we would then begin again. We kept hoping to make it to the next “larger” tourist town where we were sure it would be easier to find help. It wasn’t. The car got worse with each kilometer so with the help of google translator on Tim’s phone, we found a mechanic who hooked up our car to a computer and declared we had been putting in the wrong gasoline. Relieved, we drove around the town using up our gas until we were able to refill the tank with the correct gas. Argentian gas stations run out of gas quite regularly – we were lucky the correct gas was to arrive in a few hours.

Believing better performance from our car was assured, the next day we headed on but the car just continued to get worse. Two hours away from Iguazu Falls, it would go no farther. We pulled into the town of San Ignacio. It was here we decided our car would never make it over the mountains to Iguazu and we called again for help. Tim spent hours on the phone trying to secure help. Whether we talked to the insurance company or the rental car agency, they would say they would check on it and call us back – in 10 minutes. They didn’t – ever. We finally called the concierge at the Marriott in Buenos Aires to intercede on our behalf. He called us back with the news that we were suppose to have had the tow truck in Rosario take us back to the Europcar office in Buenos Aires to switch cars and because we hadn’t, we either had to bring the car back OR be charged to have the rental company tow the car back to BA for $1 US per kilometer for each of the well over 1000 kilometers we were now away AND for the charges to fix the car because we obviously broke it. It was, after all, “perfecto” in Rosario.

After many frustrated tears (Janet), we decide to try to drive the car back. Janet kissed the dream of seeing the falls good-bye and climbed into the car. We then drove south for two days. We would drive awhile and then stop for longer and longer periods of time on the side of the road. Finally the engine light would not turn off and the car would barely go. Having no options, Tim used our most trusty companions, the iPhone and google translator, to arrange a local tow truck to drive us the remaining 500 kilometers back to the Buenos Aires for $800 US and 7 1/2 hours in the cab of an Argentinian tow truck. Occasionally using the translator and Janet’s six weeks, one evening a week, of community college adult enrichment classes in Spanish, we carried on a conversation with our sleepy driver just trying to make it back to the rental desk alive. We finally pulled into the airport parking lot, relieved our “adventure” was at an end.

Unfortunately, it was not quite over. There was no one at the Europcar desk. We called their downtown office and found them surprised we had returned early. They promised to send someone to get the keys. Two hours later no one had arrived. On a return call, we were told to put the keys under the mat and leave the doors open. Right, this should turn out well. We realized we would most likely rot in the airport before anyone actually showed up for the keys so we did what they told us to do and caught a cab to the BA Marriott.

We spent three days in Buenos Aires – I would describe BA as a glamorous ’30’s movie starlet but it is now 1995. The architecture was at one time gorgeous. Almost every street we visited had beautiful buildings. But now everything is tired, graffiti covered, and tense. We did spend two wonderful days with the parents of a friend who took us to a marvelous, old world coffee shop followed by a driving tour of the city, and later for a wonderful steak lunch at a beautiful tucked away restaurant. The next day we were welcomed to a party at their neighbor’s home where each person there did their best to make us feel welcome and included.

Despite all, Argentina is a gorgeous country. We found kind people throughout the country willing to tackle the language challenge to help us. The Jesuit missions ruins we visited were amazing. The bar and the restaurant in the Buenos Aires Marriott are two of the most romantic rooms I have ever been in and we had memorable, delicious meals in each of them, including one for Tim’s birthday. The bartender was so passionate about his job, it made being in that gorgeous room even more enjoyable. And Argentina’s Malbec is now my (Janet’s) favorite wine.

No doubt about it, Argentina threw down the gauntlet on this trip. Argentina won the first round but we will be back and we will win round two. Argentina just has too much to offer to give up on it and not return. But first we have to pay the phone bill and next time, we’ll take the bus.


A Wayward Visitor

On Saturday we had a visitor to our pond that we certainly did not recognize. After searching our Peterson’s Field Guide to Estern Birds, we identified it as a Bufflehead Duck. (It was obviously named by Mr. Peterson’s 3 year old child as what self-respecting ornithologist would name a bird a Bufflehead?) A quick look at its Range Map confirmed this was one bird who was off its migratory path. Soon it flew off heading we assume for Canada, its summer breeding range. If you, like us, do not know what a Bufflehead Duck looks like, here is his photo:

Behold The Bufflehead!

January – Respite

I have come to love January. After all the activity of Christmas, January comes quietly. It begins with the New Year, a clean slate. It makes no demands on your time or attention. It is a time to relax, to reassess, to reorganize. Ahhh…..

January has been very snowy. This week we had twelve inches of wet snow. It outlined every branch of every tree and bush. The branches of the pine and holly trees bent to the ground under the weight of the snow. The snow is white. The sky is white. It is hard to tell where the sky ends and the snow begins. It is so beautiful!

When you go for walks, you can’t hurry through snow. Every step takes work causing you slow down and really appreciate the world around you. So in the spirit of January:

Good Bye Scottsdale, Hello New Year

Our last night in Scottsdale arrived before we knew it. For our final evening together we had a very special dinner at BLT restaurant. The food was delicious and we discussed our hopes and dreams for 2011. (You’ll have to watch right here to see what those might have been!) The days had flown by and the next day we were all on our way back home – to four different states – grateful for our time together. We return to our everyday lives looking forward to a new year and all that it will bring.

New Years Eve Part II

We returned from the hike to relax before dinner. Some hopped in our heated pool. Several chess matches were played and some TV was watched until we headed to Brian King’s house for drinks, hors d’oeuvres and many laughs. Then we were back to the resort for dinner at Rita’s buffet. They had a fabulous selection with the lamb chops and chocolate fountain being a couple of the table’s favorites. We went back to the room by 11 but only Kyle and Kerrin had the stamina to make it to the new year.

We all send our greetings for a Happy New Year!

Piestea Peak

On Friday, Lauren and Alexis had booked facials at the Camelback Spa.  They were out the door at 9am and back by noon completely relaxed and gorgeous!  After their facials they took advantage of all the spa had to offer.  Once they returned and we had all eaten lunch, we packed up in the cars and headed down the road to Piestewa Peak Park for some hiking.  The sun had come out and though the wind was cold – it is in the 40s here – it was a great day for a hike.  The only trail head we found was Summit Peak so off we went up the mountain.  Four of our group made it all the way to the summit and were rewarded with an awesome view.  Here are a few photos of the hike:

At The Trail Head
On The Way Up
The View From The Top