Doug McLean World Tour 1999-2000
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Date: Thursday, December 16, 1999 11:06 AM
Subject: Dec. 3-Dec 8, 1999 - EZE life in The Country.

Current Date/Location: Dec. 16, 1999...still in Mar De Plata, Argentina.
Hard to leave this place...lovely town.
Planned Itinerary: Leaving tomorrow (17th)...will go to Montevideo, Uruguay (I think) and then probably to Sao Paulo...then Foz do Iguazu (Iguazu
Falls)...

Journal:

December 3, 1999 (Friday)
Well...the day was finally nigh...I was ready to head out for another trip...this time the destination was South America!

But first...in typical Doug fashion...I had hurredly arranged a brief meeting with one of the travel editors for the Austin American Statesman...I figured, what the heck, if I can get paid for this...why not!?? Anyway...I
met with the lady...she told me the details about the AAS and how to submit works...she seemed to distance herself from the idea of having an ongoing Journal due to limited space...and the travel section only appears once per week...cést la vie. But she was positive on a couple of other angles that I
may try. Anyway...after the meeting, I went directly to the airport.

Kissed mom goodbye and hopped on a plane AUS-DFW (Austin to Dallas/Ft. Worth for you non airline heathens)...then in DFW I caught a plane to MIA(Miami) (earlier than the planned flight). I was fortunate that I had gotten to MIA early, because there are normally 2 flights per night from MIA-EZE (Miami-Buenos Aires Ezezia Airport)...but this night there would only be one!

Arrrrrrgggghhhhhh!! Well, anyway...I waited and bided my time...the airport was a mad-house...people were being told that they would have to stay in hotels until tomorrow...and I don´t actually know how it happened...but they actually gave me a seat on the plane I wanted...Good Luck and good timing
were on my side...so I didn´t ask too many questions as I hopped on the plane...crammed myself into a middle seat in coach class on the MD11 aircraft...and got ready to enjoy the ride...as I napped, visions of gauchos and tango dancers were in my head...as I was finally bound for Argentina!
 

December 4, 1999 (Saturday):
I was VERY happy to arrive in Buenos Aires...was just about the last to clear customs and to get my bag...but I didn´t care...I was here...in South America...backpack in hand!

I had to call my Uncle and Aunt when I arrived...but in an enormous act of collossal stupidity, I had forgotten to bring their phone numbers with me...after an International call back to my parents (yes...they can be useful...love ya´ll mom and dad...sorry to wake you up) I had the correct number...rang my Uncle and he sent a driver to pick me up. The driver arrived and we headed out to see my Aunt and Uncle in the thriving town of Los Cardales!!!

OK...some background...the relations are that my Aunt Louise is my mom´s sister. She married my Uncle Jack who is quite the international guy...born in Lebanon of Armenian descent, family moved to Canada, married my Aunt and moved to Texas. He is an Engineer for a large Engineering Company in the USA and is on temporary assignment in Argentina as the Project Manager for the construction of a chemical manufacturing facility about 40KM North of Buenos Aires...they live in Los Cardales.

OK...so anyway...I arrive and am given my own room, bathroom, and a wonderful meal...I don´t expect that all of South America will be this accomodating...but one could only wish. It was great to see my Aunt and Uncle! They informed me that we would be going to have dinner and go to a Tango Show in Buenos Aires...it´s good to have connections!

We were joined by a friend of theirs and one of Jack´s coworkers, Marcella and we were off to Buenos Aires...land of the Tango! Now, there is not only one tango show in Buenos Aires...there must be 30! We drove around and checked out getting tickets to a couple of Tango shows...and after some frustration and some looking, we decided on one that was smaller, but had a reputation for being traditional and not as touristy as places that seated 1400 people per night.

We had dinner at a wonderful Argentinian steakhouse that is called a Parrilla (Chucascaria in Brazil) in the Puerto Madero area of Buenos Aires...this type of restaurant specializes in meat! I had heard about
Argentinian meat, and my Aunt and Uncle were intent on introducing me to the delights of Argentina...this place was incredible...we just sat at the table and they kept bringing around skewers full of different kinds of meats!!!! Now...if you have read any of my past e-mails...you know I love meat...I have quickly found out that I am in Meat-lovers HEAVEN here in Argentina...meat is king and pasta lovers and vegetarians take a distant 3rd or 4th place if they are even considered in this culture...the way it should be! Meat is where it is at! (my parents raise beef cattle...I have to continue the propaganda). Over dinner I learned some things about the traditions and culture of Argentina, as Marcella is Argentinian and speaks excellent English. Anyway...we all ate until I thought I would burst from the food.

We went to the Tango show...and it was interesting...but not as much Tango as I had expected. It was a nice setting, an intimate place with probably enough room for 150-175 people to sit at tables and watch. The show consisted of Tango music and Argentinian singing which was nice...and during
about 3 of these songs, they had a couple who came out and danced the Tango.  They could certainly dance...but it was less dancing than I had expected. Nonetheless, we certainly enjoyed the show. Did I mention that the show started after 12midnight and we didn´t get out of there until 2:30 or
3am...the first long night...in a string of many...the Argentenian lifestyle is to do everything late...
 

Dec. 5, 1999 (Sunday):
Jack and Louise again undertook the unenviable task of playing tour-guides for me and we were again headed into Buenos Aires. We picked up another of Jack´s co-workers, Nograge (note...this is probably a horrible misspelling of his name...I apologize in advance), and we all went into Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires lives up to it´s billing as a city that resembles any city in Europe. We did drive down the huge boulevard of 9 de Julio...the Argentinians are proud to tell you that is the widest street/avenue in the
world...something like 8 lanes of traffic in each direction. Now, let me inform you of something...there may be 8 lanes painted on the street, but there are probably 15 lanes of traffic actually moving in each direction...these people have no respect for lines on a road and are pretty free-form when it comes to driving...kinda exhilirating and scary at the same time. Luckily, Jack is pretty good at driving in this mess and we navigated the city with ease.

As I mentioned, my Uncle is of Armenian descent. Since it was Sunday, we
went to the Armenian church in the Armenian part of Buenos Aires. It was
amazing! We were greeted warmly at the door by a church greeter who was
very happy to welcome us to the church. We were then taken in and seated in
the front...quite an honor. Anyway, it was a very interesting service and a
beautiful church. It was a side of a culture and my Uncle that I had never
seen, and I appreciated being allowed to attend the service.

Had lunch at an incredible parrilla (remember...this is in essence the term for an Argentinian Steakhouse) called Freeway on Santa Fe Avenue. It was the Best...they cooked your meat for you at a big open grill...you had tons of different kinds of foods and desserts to choose from off a buffet and
they would make incredible pasta dishes for you as you waited...it was really a treat!

We then headed to the artsy/fartsy part of Buenos Aires...Boca. In Boca there is a famous street called La Caminita. The buildings and fences along this street/alleyway are brightly painted and have art vendors. There are also street musicians...and since it is Buenos Aires, you also have Tango performances. Well...we watched a Tango performance on the street, and this couple could dance! They were amazing...the classic beautiful young Argentinian couple that could tear-up the pavement with their dancing...very distinctive and romantic. Anyway, at one point they went to choose a guy and girl out of the crowd...and the next thing I know, I am in the middle of this performance trying to dance with the most beautiful Argentinian girl I have ever seen...c´est la vie...tough life.

NOTE: If you visit Buenos
Aires...save your money and go to Boca and see a street tango show instead of a show in a Tango theater...the dancing is better and your tips go directly to the dancers...not the theater.

Florida Street is a pedestrian walking street with lots of shopping...every town has one. Anyway, there was another Tango show in progress...but not as good... We walked around there for awhile...and then headed back to Los Cardales.

Dec. 6, 1999 (Monday)
Woke leisurely...figured that I would look like a beached whale when I hit the beaches in the near future here in South America...so i made a pre-emptive attempt to start gaining some color early...so I headed out to the pool behind the house and started working on my first South American burn. Ahhhh...mission accomplished...by the end of the day, I was bright red on my front, but still white on my back. I had a red/white line on the sides of my arms that could have been drawn with a pencil...oh, well...no one said this would be easy.

Aunt Louise and I hung out at the house...and took a walk around the neighborhood. In the neighborhood, there lives some ground owls that are always sitting outside their little holes...I had read about owls that live in the ground...but had never seen one. They are small...about the size of a small pidgeon...and would just sit there and watch you. They had a comfort zone of about 20m before they would start to either go in their hole or fly to a nearby tree to watch. It was neat to see them.

It was a nice time...my Aunt and I got to spend lots of time talking and visiting. Funny...I have never spent this much time with my Aunt and Uncle...always seemed hard to find time while working and living in the
USA...I had to go to another continent to justify spending time with my Aunt and Uncle...sad commentary on the go-go life in the USA.

Anyway...my Aunt shared some insights into Argentina that she had learned. The Argentinians love having their pictures taken. If you are at an event and whip out a camera to take their picture, they will take this as an act of appreciation...in essence you are saying that they are memorable enough
to photograph. Living in a gated community in Los Cardales is called living in ¨The Country¨ (Yes, they use this English phrase for it)...this means that it is an exclusive gated community, normally consisting of houses that are owned by families in Buenos Aires that use them as weekend/summer getaways...almost all have backyard pools. The tranquil life in ¨The Country¨ is considered to be one of the benchmarks of success in Argentina. Another VERY Argentinian custom is that EVERY house has a parrilla grill in
the back yard or part of the house. These folks love their meat, and the parrilla grill is probably the biggest focal-point of entertaining and socializing (along with hanging out by the pool enjoying the sun...Argentinians love the sun). Cooking on the parrilla is considered a specialty and luxury...not an odorous task...it is relished as a wonderful activity...ahhhhhh, you gotta love this place!

I read my books...enjoyed the tranquil life...we had a nice dinner of something...I don´t remember...I just remember that it was nice to live the traquil life in ¨The Country¨.

Dec. 7, 1999 (Tuesday)
More work on the burn at the house in Las Cardales...ahhhh...tough life. I spent more time lying on my stomach so I would be evenly charred...success...I had a nice medium-rare appearance in no time!

Louise and I walked to the stables that are within the community (yes, another sign of success is having horses....you´ve really made it in Argentina if you have atleast 4 polo ponies that you keep). Anyway, we rode horses for a half hour...my first experience in a non-western saddle. It was OK, but I did find my self instinctively going to grab the saddle-horn a couple of times...and there was none!

We decided to visit the metropolis of Las Cardales. Ahhh...you want to talk about a quiet town...we hit it in the middle of the mid-day siesta...not a thing was stirring. This town is just a little larger than my hometown of Jarrell, Texas...which is to say that it is a town that has 4 stray dogs wandering the streets instead of 3. Louise wanted to get some film developed, so we waited for the photo shop to open...and then headed back to ¨The Country¨...our excitement level for the day had been surpassed.

We felt cultural and made parilla at the house for dinner...ahhh...it was wonderful! We made huge steaks called lomo...basically it is tender-loin...in a sauce called Chimmichurri...mmmmmm. Jack arrived just in
time from work to provide management oversight assistance to the whole project and we had an incredible feed!

Dec. 8, 1999 (Wednesday/Holiday in Argentina)
Dia de Aparaceda de la Virgin (Day of the Virgin)  Jack left for work at his usual time...4:30am...this guy works hard! Louise and I (not having to work quite as hard) left the house at 9:30 to visit Jack´s worksite.

Needless to say, when your Uncle is the project manager, you get a great tour of the facility! We walked around the whole site that had only a few months before been fields. Now, it is the site of what is becoming a huge petrochemical plant...what most people would consider a huge eyesore and a
dangerous producer of chemicals. Now, I will get on a soap-box a little to spout my opinions on the subject. This plant will produce types of agro-chemicals that my family has used on our ranch...and assists in weed management. Now, I am not going to kid you...chemicals make me queasy
also...but let´s be honest. Oil plants, chemical plants, and refineries are as important to our society as Microsoft, IBM, or Hewlett-Packard. It is a basic trade-off in our society...like if you want a hamburger, you had better get beyond the fact that an animal had to die for you to get your meal. I think that many, many people find it easy to say that we should not have chemical plants or refineries...but still want to have cheap gas to put in their cars and want insect free produce. In my opinion, the Menonites and the Amish would have ground to stand-on when it comes to condemning things like this, but few of the rest of us would, as we daily benefit from the use of chemicals and fuels...they have shunned these things in favor of self-reliance, which I highly respect...probably not a whole lot of people I know are rushing out to live this lifestyle...life has it´s trade-offs...something to think about I suppose...

The facility was very interesting...the type of facility that has literally miles of pipes interwoven into a huge conglomeration of structures and tanks. I have often wondered when looking at these plants...who the heck designs and understands those darned things!!??? ...the answer is...my Uncle Jack. I was impressed with the detail of knowledge, safety, and technical expertise that is being put into everything in the construction of the facility. ...Now, that all being said...it doesn´t mean that SNAFU´s don´t happen. Sometimes, the obvious things can be overlooked...Jack´s staff found a bathroom door that had been installed in one of the new buildings...it was a lovely door...with a huge window in it...hmmmmm...doesn´t exactly allow for much privacy in a single-toilet bathroom...needless to say, that was changed quickly.

We then left the plant and headed to the city of Lujan. Lujan is a religious ¨Mecca¨ for Argentinians...and today´s holiday is in honor of the Virgin of Lujan. They were having the Fiesta de Nuestra Senora de
Lujan...we arrived in town and saw the impressive church and the Virgin. Many people were there who had walked from many miles away on a pilgrimage to see the Virgin on this day...needless to say...we took the easy way, and drove to Lujan. Anyway, we saw the little city and then it was time for me
to go to Buenos Aires...I had to start moving on my backpacking journey...times had been good with my Aunt and Uncle...but it was time to move on.

They dropped me at the Youth Hostel in Buenos Aires...I walked around the city a little and went to sleep...tomorrow I would catch a bus to Mar De Plata...a beach city 5 hours South of Buenos Aires where I have a friend that I met in Prague.

Doug