Buenos Aires: The Final Asado

Monday, April 20

Adela gave us a ride into downtown this morning. It was our final day in BA, and shopping was at the top of our agenda. Adela dropped us off near her office, and we spent the morning looking for the perfect pair of leather boots for Inna. BA in known for high quality and affordable leather goods. I had already settled on a pair of gaucho boots, and Inna didn’t want to leave without finding her special pair. We were amazed at the number of shoe stores in Buenos Aires.


We spent the afternoon shopping and buying gifts for friends and family in addition to some nice bottles of wine for our last evening. We even bought the cheapest duffle bag we could find to lug all of the new extras home in. We met Adela back near her office at the end of the day and met Fernando at the house. Hostal Rojas was expecting another guest this evening, Yoris, a fellow rider from Belgium. Fernando and Adela had also met him on the road and invited him to stay with them when he arrived in Buenos Aires. Those two are just the nicest and most hospitable people!

Yoris arrived shortly after us, rolling in on his BMW 1200. Seeing him arrive dusty and tired from long days of riding gave us a good picture of what we must have looked like pulling in on many occasions. Fernando gave him a cold beer and we chatted about our travels as Yoris unpacked the bike.


As a farewell for us, and a welcome to Yoris, Fernando and Adela were preparing an asado for dinner. This was just heaven for me as the grilled meat in Argentina is divine. The menu for the evening were strips of pork of a cut whose name I sadly can’t remember, chorizo, our new favorite, and cheese grilled in a skillet.


I chatted with Fernando as he prepared the grill, taking as many mental notes as I could. The grills in Argentina are interesting setups. They are housed in a tall brick enclosure with walls on three sides and a chimney out the top. The fire, from a wood and vegetable charcoal, burns in a carrier on the side. and the hot coals fall through to the bottom. The grill is a metal grate suspended by a chain so that it can be raised and lowered over the coals. The meat is slow cooked over the hot coals rather than over an open flame. I am determined to build a grill of this style as soon as I own my own home.


Yoris owns a restaurant in Belgium and had brought some wine from the vineyards he had been visiting in Chile. The bottle of Salentein Pinot Noir 2005 in particular was absolutely outstanding. Inna could not stop raving about it. The asado turned out excellent, as expected, and Inna and I savored every bite as if it would be our last. Conversation was lively as we all traded riding stories and dreams for future trips. Once we had our fill of the asado, we moved onto four flavors of ice cream that had been delivered , including dulce de leche with fresh dulce de leche, dark chocolate, and mousse de limon. Yes, not only do they have the best ice cream in the world in BA, it is home delivered at any time of the day. I need to move here.


We lingered around the table finishing the wine. It was a bittersweet evening for us, our final evening enjoying the company of Fernando and Adela. Since we had an overnight flight tomorrow we were going to sleep in in the morning, so we said our goodbyes tonight to our hosts and friends. They had been so generous and kind to us, treating us like family, and Inna and I would really miss them.

Thank you again Fernando and Adela! Hopefully we can meet up for ride in the near future.

Colonia, Uruguay: The 14th Country

Sunday, April 19

Today we planned on visiting our 14th country of the trip, by taking a 30 minute boat ride across Rio de la Plata to Uruguay’s Colonia.


After breakfast at home, Fernando gave us a ride to the ferry terminal where we purchased our tickets (for some reason the price was cheaper at the terminal than buying online), went through the customs procedure, and boarded our large and comfy ferry. The boat was quite plush, it had two seating salons, a cafeteria, a play room with two Wii play stations, and a duty free store.

Crossing Rio de la Plata took about 30 minutes. It is amazing that at one point you feel like you are in the middle of a bronze colored ocean, because you see neither Argentinean nor the Uruguayan shores, just the brown waters of the river.

I have to mention a few words about Uruguay. It is a tiny country, probably smaller than some Buenos Aires provinces, and has been forever living in the shadow of Argentina, though it shares a longer border with Brazil. Aside from a decade of dictatorship 30 years ago Uruguay has been the longest standing democratic state in South America, and its citizens enjoy some of the region’s freest conditions for labour and politics. Despite that, Uruguay could not avoid the economic downfall and a crushing recession in tandem with the economic problems faced by Argentina and Brazil, and it is taking longer to recover from the recession than its neighbors.


Colonia’s main attractions are restored colonial and Neocolonial buildings, cobbled streets, shopping boutiques, cafes and restaurants. There is really not much more to do than wonder around the old part of town, taking in the vibes of the city. Interestingly, the town’s colonial legacy is not wholly Spanish, for it were the Portuguese who founded it in 1680. Spaniards took over the city a century later destroying most of it, but while they were busy building up Buenos Aires, the English exploited it until Uruguay was created in 1828 as a buffer state between Argentina and Brazil.


We got off the boat and headed towards Barrio Historico, the old part of town. We passed through a cool colonial gateway surrounded by fortified walls and found one of the most photographed streets of the city. Other than that there wasn’t much to do or see around there. We have definitely been spoiled by colonial cities we visited in Mexico, Guatemala, Peru and Ecuador, so Colonia did not impress us much.


It was pleasant however to just wonder around the labyrinth of streets, walk down to the water, check out some old classic cars that still roam the city streets, and pop into a few boutiques. The town is known for its knit wear, so I found a cute little knitted beret for my grandma.


The fashion fad of “Vanilla Ice” pants is apparently popular in Uruguay too. I spotted a pair in one of the stores and had a good laugh threatening Matt to buy them for myself.


We found a great spot to have lunch at. Judging from the press clippings posted next to the menu outside the restaurant, their chef was a famous culinary expert, and although the place had not had a single customer inside, I was set on trying their pumpkin curry soup. The meal did not dissappoint. Matt had succulent braised lamb and I indulged in a fatty piece of Black Hake, a kind of Chilean Sea Bass, I had had once before in Santiago, which was absolutely delicious and incredibly flavorful.


After lunch we did some more walking and before we knew it it was time to go back to the ferry terminal to catch our boat back to BA. When we arrived to BA it was already dark. We walked along the paseo in Puerto Madero and treated ourselves to the famous Freddo’s ice cream. We thought about going to a tango show, but we felt tired and ready to go home. We booked a remise (kind of like a taxi, but cheaper and suited mainly for longer distances) at the ferry terminal, which took us to the house. After another tasty dinner with Adela and Fernando we retired to our upstairs quarters, and while Matt wrote the blog, I watched the movie late into the night.

Buenos Aire: Tigre, The Parana Delta

Saturday, April 18


We were recommended to spend a day at the popular tourist destination Tigre, a residential and commercial district in a neighborhood on the outskirts of BA. Fernando and Adela offered to give us a ride there so we all left the house around 11:00 after breakfast.

This neighborhood sits on an island bound by three rivers that are part of the large Parana Delta. The area is dominated by lush green islands separated by rivers and waterways. Lining the banks are traditional houses on stilts set against the panorama of subtropical vegetation and deep brown colored water.

Fernando and Adela gave us a car tour around the neighborhood and dropped us off near the market to wonder on our own. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Tigre used to be the favored summer retreat of the Porteño elite, which is why the area boasts a great number of lavish mansions and English-style palatial rowing clubs. Today Tigre is a picturesque little town that mixes the flavor of its former noble grandeur with being a popular tourist destination and a weekend retreat for Porteños. It serves up the pleasure of walking and boating along the waterways, seeing the beautiful and sometimes dilapidated homes on the islands and around the riverbanks, visiting a local market/shopping district, and eating some good food.


We figured we would start exploring the place with the boat tour of the river canals. On the huge catamaran for a 2.5 hour tour only a small handful of passengers had gathered; Matt and I, two transgender male-to-females with their friend (or a lover?), a mid 50’s Argentinean couple, she was dressed so over the top that Matt asked me to never dress like that, ever!, a mid 40’s English-speaking couple, and one lonely male passenger. I can’t say I enjoyed the tour. The water in the canals is brown, it is safe and clean, but its color is dirty brown, and not very attractive and pleasing to look at. Consequently even the nicest residencies and cool looking homes, and hotels that sit around these canals and accessible only by boat, start looking not so amusing very quickly. So after seeing them for 20 minutes you get the idea and it becomes a boring boat ride. I was actually more fascinated by rusty looking old homes with an interesting character that reflected their 80 year-old history as summer retreats and private sanctuaries for wealthy portenõs and now were disintegrating with every generation.


The only worthy piece of architecture that seemed truly amusing was the house of the Argentine Liberator, San Martin, put in a huge glass box like a museum piece.


Back on the mainland, we headed to the market where we ran into Fernando and Adela who used their couple of hours to shop and eat. They helped us get the best deal on the sheep skins, of which we bought three pieces of three different varieties of hair (all in natural white), for making the butt-soft seats for the bikes. They pointed out some tasty fried pastries – the popular Latin pastries churros, which we of course opted to fill with dulce de leche – they were such a sweetly delicious treat from the market.


Fernando and Adela left, leaving us to wonder around the neighborhood by ourselves for the day. We browsed the local market for traditional Argentinean goods, like leather, accessories, guacho gear, wooden kitchenware, dulce de leche alfajores and everything in between.


After a couple of successful purchases, we headed over on to the other side of the canal harbor for a walk along Paseo Victorica, with plenty of street hang outs, restaurants and bars and some spectacular rowing clubs buildings. Tigre projected an appealing mix of faded glamour and day-trip casualness, as we strolled the riverbank contemplating the moment in the life of the Delta.


We walked a lot today and were still on the outlook for food, as the sun began to set. I really wanted to see Argentina’s first social club/casino/hotel, that closed in 1933, and was later turned into a local art museum. It was a long walk, but Matt favored trying to get there before the sun set, so we walked for another hour along the river to the end of the paseo. I was happy to see this grand sumptuous mansion up close and snap some photos.


It was already close to 7 pm, so we headed back to the Central Station where we got a cab to take us home. It was a quiet night. Fernando and Adela were hosting their friends at the house, so we mostly stayed in our room and went out to say hello to everyone before retiring to bed.

Buenos Aires: The Art of Buenos Aires

Friday, April 17

After spending a full day at the cargo terminal yesterday, our plan for today was to reward ourselves with some fun tourist activities. We had planned to visit MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires), the rose garden, and do some shopping.


We slept in till 10 am and skipped breakfast in order to catch an earlier shuttle into downtown. While we waited for the shuttle outside the neighborhood gate, we saw a dog walker holding 10 or more dogs on a leash. These professional dog walkers, called Paseaperros, are a characteristic sight of BA, they not only walk the prized pedigree dogs on weekdays, they also brush and groom them and look out for signs of ill-health. We were delighted to see our cutsie barrel-shaped mutt Rovi among the neighborhood’s premium breeds. While the other dogs were giving the paseaperro a hard time, Rovi was walking calmly paying little attention to the surrounding dog squabble.

Matt and I had a fun time imagining a conversation among the high-class neighborhood dogs when Rovi entered their social circle for the first time. Rovi was a street dog until Peppa hit her with a car, and feeling guilty brought her home, where Adela and Fernando nursed her back to perfect health and adopted her as their permanent pet. Rovi had a Cinderella story, and as we imagined she was probably looked down upon and teased for not being “one of them” by the snooty neighborhood dogs when she joined their close knit elite circle for the daily walks. But nothing could disturb the peace and enthusiasm of our modest Rovi. She went from rags to riches and knew exactly how lucky she was to be a part of Fernando and Adela’s household.


The shuttle dropped us off downtown where we took a quick taxi ride to MALBA. The modern glass-fronted building of the museum was perfectly matched by the three-story atrium with spacious and airy galleries inside.


Peppa told us they had a great cafe at the museum, which is where we decided to have lunch. We chose to sit outside on the patio, enjoyed our fancy sandwiches and watched people and the world go by.


The museum’s collection, focused solely on Latin American art arranged in a chronological order from 1910 to the present, was the best and smartest collection of modern Latin American art I have seen so far. I particularly enjoyed the interactive material installations that could be switched on and off,

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the whimsical surrealist sculptures,


the wooden benches with their curly slats spreading over the museum walls like grapevines,


and of course paintings by such Latin American heavyweights as Frida Khalo, Diego Rivera, Joaquin Torres-Garcia, and Antonio Berni among others. The MALBA museum had a great gift shop, but I restrained myself from buying there because I knew we had a lot of gift and personal shopping ahead of us.


After the museum we walked to the rose garden. I was amazed at the number of parks and gardens in BA. This was such a beautiful and calm place to escape the daily commotion of city life. The rose garden featured a great variety of roses from large fragrant blooms to small decorative bushes.


It was a pleasure to walk around there, albeit the fact that I was attacked by mosquitos and begged Matt to flee the garden after six huge itchy bubbles turned up on my arms and legs. Matt had not had a single bite.


It was time for us to do some shopping. Mainly, we wanted to research the kind of traditional things we could get as gifts for friends and family and may be find something special for ourselves. Some of the things we noted but not yet bought were a leather wine bottle holder we have seen used at the estancia and Fernando and Adela’s house, gaucho leather boots for Matt, awesomely comfortable leather sleepers, and the famous Argentinean alfajores, the soft sandwich cookies layered with dulce de leche and covered in chocolate. I admit, we became quite the addicts of the famous Havana Alfajores during our stay in BA.

Before catching the shuttle home we stopped at an upscale gaucho boutique recommended by Fernando and Adela where I purchased a pair of summer khaki-type gaucho pants called bombachas that everyone wore at the estancia. They looked quite quite on me.


I have to pinpoint a strange fashion fad popular with young women in BA. They fancy these “Vanilla Ice”-type pants with low crotch design, so it looks like they are carrying a bunch of s..t in their pants. There is nothing even remotely sexy about these pants. They look even more foolish than Uggs worn with mini skirts (if that look can be beaten!), but somehow they are the hottest trend among the fashion impaired BA gals. Go figure.

We caught the shuttle back to the house where Fernando and Adela were waiting for us as we were invited to go to their friends’ home for a birthday party. We cleaned up and the four of us headed to the friends’ residence. It was a grown up party, most men and women hung out in separate parts of the house in circles, while we carved out a small circle for ourselves and were being entertained and tried to entertain our new friends as we savored the asado of beef and chorizo served on tiny hamburger buns which tasted great. After singing the birthday song (I was asked to sing in Russian) and being treated to three varieties of dessert, we were invited to look at an antique car of one of the hosts’ neighbors. It looked like a British roadster and indeed was produced in Argentina from the parts of British and American race cars in the 1940’s. It was a total hoot to hear it roar.

It was a long and eventful day, and we were ready to hit the bed as soon as we got home. Mumy came to visit us in the bedroom, but despite my pleading of staying with us overnight, she left as soon as the lights went off. We’ve heard from Adela and Fernando that she goes on neighborhood patrols at night, and sometimes comes back with a mouse or a bat as her gift.

Buenos Aires: Shipping Day

Thursday, April 16

We woke up early today as we needed to be at the airport by 10 AM to meet our shipping agent. We had done most of the packing the night before so it was an easy time to pack the bikes for the last time in South America. We ate a quick breakfast and hit the road at 8:30 because we would need the time in the heavy morning traffic.

We were a little concerned about Inna’s chain breaking on the way to the airport. The repaired link was missing 1 of 4 o-rings, but it would probably hold for such a short trip. Fernando had given us a length of rope to take with us in case the chain failed. I didn’t relish the idea of towing a bike but in the end it was unnecessary and an easy ride out.

Apparently the Petrobras station at the international airport is the place to be because when we arrived, there were 4 other riders there waiting for their shipping agent. We had read or heard about 3 of the 4 riders before. There were the 2 V-Strom brothers from Seattle and Portland (small world), Neopodo who had done the crazy sail boat crossing from Panama to Colombia, and another gentleman from Arkansas who would also be flying through Houston. The latter two were riding KLRs.


We chatted a bit while we were all waiting, swapping stories and comparing experiences. It turns out we had seen them before at a police checkpoint when they were doing a speed run south to Ushuaia down Ruta 3. They had gone with Navicon and we were luckier when the All Cargo agent showed up first. He was a nice young man and he hopped on the back of my bike and navigated us through the security gates over to the cargo terminal.

We first went to a large cargo scale and parked both bikes on the scale. We piled on all of our riding gear with the bikes and were pleasantly surprised that our total weight was only 440 kg total for both bikes plus our gear, well below the 300 kg per bike we had guessed previously. This was cheering news as lower weight meant lower price.


We next moved the bikes over to the packing area. We were introduced to the packing manager who would be doing the magic of getting these two big bikes on one palette. He bragged of having shipped 2000 bikes in his career and that he could even get a third bike on the palette if he wanted to. The palette would be only 1 meter wide, 2.2 meters long, and 1.15 meters tall. When we saw it we couldn’t believe both bikes plus luggage would ever fit on it.


Breaking the bikes down was a fairly straightforward process. We disconnected the batteries and shut off the fuel lines. We put the blue bike on the palette first and took the front wheel off. It was about this time that the other four riders came in the room, so score on All Cargo for being timely. With the forks resting on the palette, I took off the mirrors and handlebars to make the bike as narrow and short as possible. The bike was tied down firmly and it was the red’s turn.


Inna’s bike went through the same process, and sure enough, both bikes fit comfortably on the palette. We were wondering a bit how all of the panniers would fit, but now it was time to do some waiting. Before we could pack the luggage onto the palette, they would need to be inspected by the customs agent from Continental Airlines.


We hung around for a bit and chatted with the other guys. Finally our shipping agent came to tell us that now would be a good time to take a lunch break as the staff was taking their lunch now. He escorted us over to the security checkpoint and made sure we could reenter. Our lunch would be in the Petrobras cafe eating sandwiches Inna had prepared at the house. We had a leisurely lunch, our last gas station meal.


When we returned and waited a bit longer, the customs agent arrived and inspected our luggage. Their was an argument between the customs agent and our shipping agent about what was permissible as luggage. Since it was a shipment of motorcycles, everything going with them needed to be motorcycle related, needed for riding. This allowed us to put all of our clothing and helmets with the bikes, but some of the other things we had put in the luggage were more questionable. Our shipping agent was sympathetic and it was easy enough in the end to simply declare everything was essential riding gear and the customs agent was mollified. The luggage was squeezed into every nook and cranny and strapped in.


With that hurdle crossed, our shipping agent informed us that the bank transfer had come through and that all was needed was the final paperwork. This was more waiting for us, and when they finally brought the paperwork over, I noticed they had used my middle name as the last name on all of the documentation. This meant starting over and an hour and a half wait for all of the documentation to be redone. We were first in and last out as the other riders finished up and left as we waited around. It finally came through and we were all set. The entire palette was shrink wrapped in plastic. We waived goodbye to our faithful steeds, the South America ride now truly being over.

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We took a shuttle back to downtown, where we caught a ride home with Fernando and Adela’s daughter Pepa. It had taken the entire day, but the bikes were shipped and it was one big thing we no longer had to worry about. We had a celebratory dinner with Fernando and Adela. It was a weight lifted off my shoulders to have the bikes taken care of, but it was a sad time as well as it made the end of the journey more tangible.

Buenos Aires: Chasing Banks

Wednesday, April 15

Today was every American’s favorite day, tax day. After waking up and making breakfast, I did some online banking and resolved final issues with my taxes. Inna was smart and paid her taxes before we left for the trip. The goal for today was to get to some banks downtown and figure out how to extract enough cash to cover the payment required for shipping the bikes home.

We caught the 11:50 shuttle to downtown BA and set about finding a willing bank. In Panama it had been relatively easy to do, but here in Argentina we had no luck. After standing in long lines at three different banks, only to be told we couldn’t withdraw cash beyond an ATM withdrawal limit, we were told to go to a specific Citi Bank location. We arrived 1 minute after closing at 3 pm. I envy bankers and their slacker hours of 10 am – 3 pm. It was a frustrating waste of time, and we had to go to plan B for paying, a wire transfer. It turned out that neither Inna’s nor mine bank (thanks Wells Fargo!) was set up to do wire transfers online, only in person at the bank’s branch. Plan C was having my parents do a wire transfer for us and us paying them back, which they were kind enough to do.


After all that banking joy, we rewarded ourselves with a nice lunch at the Italian restaurant Filo on San Martin street. Since it was late afternoon, the usually popular and crowded restaurant was deserted and the service was good and fast. I had a wood fired oven pizza, while Inna had a Niçoise salad. The pizza was unbelievably good, almost the perfect pizza, finally ending the streak of mediocre to crummy pizzas I had eaten on this journey. Inna enjoyed her salad with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and we left fat and happy.


With the banking and lunch sorted, we decided we would get at least one tourist activity in for the day and visit the famous Recoleta cemetery. We arrived around 5 pm, which left us an hour to look around. There isn’t a formal tour system here, just qualified and badged tour guides hanging around the front gate. After some initial confusion, I spoke with a tour guide, and were told the price of the tour was up to us to decide at the end of the tour. Hard to argue with that for a private tour.


The tour guide was a pleasant women who took us on a nice tour and having done it so many times she recommended the best angle for taking photos. The cemetery itself was very impressive, if a bit over the top. The crypts are like tiny houses packed together, with the actual coffins resting in a basement underneath. Looking through some of the windows you could see the staircase that descends into the basement, with some crypts containing as many as 60 coffins. Each crypt is considered private family property, so even if it clearly hasn’t been visited in 50 years and the glass is broken and it’s a mess, it will be left as is by the caretakers.


Some of the crypts were enormous marble monuments, unbelievable in their audacity and perhaps the vanity of those who commissioned them. Others were more stately, while some seemed to be designed as prisons rather than a resting place. Our tour guide told us some interesting stories about the resting inhabitants, and we even had one of the resident cats as an escort for a while.


We closed the place out, with our tour guide dodging the security guards closing up for the night to get us the last few pictures she thought we would like.


The sun was beginning to set, so we tried to hurry over to the giant flower sculpture, Floralis Generica, to see if we could watch it close for the night. We hustled along the busy rush hour streets and I guessed incorrectly on where to best cross the traffic. The flower closed as we were crossing the street and we missed it. Inna was very disappointed, but it was still very beautiful in the evening light and one of my favorite installations of the trip.


Fernando was working late this night, so Adela met us in front of the MALBA museum and gave us a ride home in the heavy BA traffic. Fernando joined us an hour later, and we were all treated to more fabulous cooking from Adela, this time a chicken curry. She must have read our minds as we were both desperately missing asian food and a curry was a wonderful treat for our taste buds. To top it all off, our dessert was more delicious dulce de leche ice cream to which we were now both addicted.

We spent the rest of the evening packing up. We were due at the airport by 10 am the following morning, and we were trying to send as much riding gear back with the bikes as possible to make our own flights back easier.

Buenos Aires: Mi Buenos Aires Querido

Tuesday, April 14

We woke up early today and caught a ride with Fernando and Adela to downtown Buenos Aires (BA). Our main objective for today was to get information on shipping the bikes to Houston. We’ve done prior research and identified two shipping companies that handle motorcycle air freight, so we planned on visiting their offices in the morning. We had ruled out sea shipping based on other riders’ reports that claimed that while the initial costs might be cheaper, the paper process was tedious, the cargo took much longer to reach its destination, and the port fees were brutal and unregulated.


For some reason the car ride was tough on us, we both felt slightly nauseous, may be because we have not been riding in car in a city traffic for a long time. After Fernando dropped us off we went to a coffee shop to wait until the offices opened at 9 am.


My first impression of BA was that of a large but neat, orderly and lively metropolis. It is the world’s twelfth largest city with nearly 14 million inhabitants in the Greater Buenos Aires area. Its wide streets with five lanes of traffic in each direction reminded me of broad prospect streets of Moscow. While the streets are buzzing with cars and pedestrians you don’t feel so suffocated as in New York. BA has an eclectic mix of tradition and culture, classic and modern architecture, world-class arts and incomparable lifestyle. Its sense of spaciousness and open air is enhanced by the city’s countless parks, gardens and plazas, and the abundance of trees lining the often cobbled streets.


There are restaurants, bars and cafes to suit every taste and pocket. A myriad of shops, theatres, museums and galleries, beautiful French-style palaces and nineteenth-century townhouses with Italianate facades are all located within half a dozen of central barrios (neighborhoods) each with its own unique style and attractions. Being born and raised in a large and sometimes overbearing city like Moscow, and now having found pleasure living in medium-sized but incredibly green and beautiful city of Seattle, Buenos Aires seemed like the best of both worlds. I instantly fell in love with it. It didn’t take me long to realize this was my favourite city of the trip and I could not wait to spend some time here and explore it together with Matthew.


But first, we had to figure out our shipping situation. After coffee we walked to the offices of Navicon where we met with an air freight agent. He was professional and knowledgeable, but it was apparent that the company works mainly with large clients and he recommended we use an outside agent in addition to them to help us deal with customs, paperwork, etc. From Trevor and Nina’s report we knew we could omit this agent and do the paperwork ourselves. We had received a detailed quote from him based on a guess weight of 300+ kg a bike which came to about $1,200 per bike. We were hoping to save some money by putting the two bikes on one shipping palette, which he said was not possible with them.

We walked to the next shipper, All Cargo, getting a bit lost in the streets. We ended up taking a slight detour, that lead us to a Starbucks and produced an imminent craving for a Seattle-style latte, which we decided to get on the way back. Generally, at home we avoid going to a Starbucks, preferring to support small neighborhood coffee-shops, but when you are away for six months you start craving the most mundane things from home, like a Starbucks latte or a Burger King burger, which we never eat at home.

The All Cargo office was much smaller without a waiting area or a conference room, it was just a number of cubicles and busily working people, who paid little attention when we walked in. We were finally attended to by a woman in her window-corner office who gave us the shipment details in five minutes and said she would email us the quote shortly. Unlike Navicon, All Cargo could put the two bikes on one palette and will help us with all the paperwork and customs clearance.

We were quite satisfied with the results and decided to have an early lunch and coffee while we waited for the All Cargo quote. Since most cafes and hotels have free wi-fi, Matt was able to retrieve her quote on his iPhone within an hour. After a few emails back and forth, and suggesting that she book us on Continental vs American Airlines which we knew from the Navicon’s quote had cheaper rates, we calculated that All Cargo would be cheaper and easier for us to use, and confirmed with her that we would be using them for Thursday’s shipping.


In the afternoon, I was set on doing a city bus tour. Normally, I am not a fan of organized tourist tours, but because BA is such a big city, I felt like it would be helpful for us to see it as a big picture and then visit the individual neighborhoods in the days to come. Matt was not so keen on the idea but agreed to do it in the end.


It was a 3.5 hour tour that started in the micro center. For the next hour we were riding around the center collecting additional tourists which got on Matt’s nerves and seemed to justify his claim that city bus tours are worthless. But soon (or not soon) enough we finally started with the real tour. We drove through the main barrios of the center. One of the first things the guide pointed out was the Russian Orthodox Church which I never expected to see in Buenos Aires.


Retiro and Recoleta barrios were all about chic streets lined with boutiques, art galleries and cafes, and the largest concentration of French-style palaces owned in the past by the BA elite and now occupied by embassies. I put on our to-do list a tour of the famous Recoleta cemetery and a visit to the 25-meter-high aluminum and steel flower sculpture I saw from the bus window.

The Palermo barrio had the largest concentration of the city’s museums and gardens, including a Japanese Garden, a Rose Garden and a Botanical Garden, as well as the Museum of Modern Latino-American Art (MALBA) that I had read was a must visit for art lovers.


We then drove through the Boca barrio, which is famous for its soccer team the Boca Juniors, and their stadium La Bombonera.


Next up was the San Telmo neighborhood, with its colorful crumbled facades, cobbled streets, and improvised tango performances outside cafes and restaurants.


This is mostly a working class area, but it’s superb architecture, antique shops and artsy atmosphere attracts bohemians, tourists, and students for a less polished and/or developed look at BA.


The tour ended by taking us through the Puerto Madero barrio to the east of the city center that consists of four large docks that run along the Rio de la Plata. The main stroll is lined with brick warehouse buildings that were once storage spaces for grain from the Pampas, and now house voguish restaurants, luxury apartments and business offices.


One of the highlights was a white modernistic looking bridge by the famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, which was a reason for me to come back here later for a closer examination of this cool piece of modern architecture.


The bus dropped us off at the center and as we walked towards our meeting place with Fernadno and Adela to catch a ride home with them, we noticed a curious exhibition of bear sculptures on one of the plazas. The bears were arranged in a large circle and each represented a world country painted in traditional designs by an artist from that country. “The United Buddy Bears” is a charity that raises money for children in need and the exhibit had already been to five continents before arriving to South America.


I was a bit disappointed with the Russian Buddy Bear, there was nothing Russian about it. I would have done a Matreshka Bear or something cute like that. Matt however seemed very happy to hug his stately Bear of Liberty.


It was a lot of fun looking at the bear designs guessing their country of origin. Some of them were exceptionally artistic and humorous, others not so much. I bought a “Buddy Bears” t-shirt and a few stickers to support the charity, and we hurried to meet Fernando and Adela.

Back in our five-star residence, Adela cooked a delicious beef stroganoff which I had been craving for the last six months. Once on this trip in Baños, Ecuador, I was close to satisfying my craving, but the sauce had a very unsavory flavor, so much so that I had to send it back. This time though, they had to take away the serving dish from me, as I was keen on eating it all by myself.

Buenos Aires: Welcome to the End

Monday, April 13

After the drama of the night before, we felt no guilt sleeping in until 9:30. We lounged a bit in our super comfy beds before heading downstairs to see the house for the first time in daylight. Fernando and Adela have a beautiful home, very modern and tastefully decorated with so many windows it gets great natural light.


In the absence of our hosts who were at work, the pets were happy to have us around. Their dog, Rovi, was what Sebastian had cleverly called a Peruvian Shepherd. It had all of the markings of a German Shepherd, but was short with a barrel shaped body. She was a nice dog that had been a stray when the family accidentally hit her with the car and then nursed her back to health. They also had two cats, Mumi, a Siamese, and another Mau like cat, whose name escapes me. The two cats had an interesting relationship. Mumi ruled the indoor territory, swatting at the other cat if it got more attention, and we were told the other cat beat up on Mumi once they were outside.


Inna took the opportunity of having a kitchen available to us to make us a delicious egg breakfast. The eggs were superb and were fresh from the hen house at the estancia. As we were finishing up, a friend of Fernando’s with good mechanic skills came over to look at the chain. With the extra links I had, he was able to hammer together a master link on the chain, although despite my attempts to make sure they were all there, he only used 3 out of 4 o-rings. It was so nice of Fernando to arrange for this repair and so nice of his friend to donate his skills and time to us. I wasn’t feeling 100% about the chain, but we only needed the bike to get to the airport. Given that they have both failed on us, these chains are going in the trash when we are stateside.


Knowing that we had reached the end of the road, I think our adrenaline cut off and we both could have slept all day. While we didn’t do this, we accomplished about as much as if we had. I managed to do a little bit of blog writing and Inna enjoyed the sunny afternoon by the pool. We were feeling a bit sheepish about our slacking when Fernando and Adela came home from work.

Adela cooked us another delicious dinner and then we had more flavor heaven Argentine ice cream. Their company was a pleasure, as always. After our exhausting day of doing nearly nothing, we went to bed. The next day was to be a “work” day, dedicated to lining up shipping for the bikes on our first foray into Buenos Aires.

Estancia to Buenos Aires: Another Missing Link

Sunday, April 12

We woke up around 10 am thinking we would have another full day at the Estancia and head to Buenos Aires on Monday. At breakfast Fernando told us that the Estancia staff was getting the Sunday evening off, so we would be leaving in the afternoon. We had to rethink our plan for the day. The first and most important order of business was to ride the horses.


We checked with German about the horse assignments, and I got the same white horse as yesterday. She was older and supposidly easier to ride. Matt got a different horse, it seemed younger, stronger and more energetic than mine. Fernando also provided us with gaucho hats that completed of our riding ensemble and made us look like real cool kids on horses.


We set out in a different direction than yesterday, and from the minute we left the gates I could tell my horse was in a bad mood. Every time I signaled her to go faster she would start galloping and immediately head towards the fence along the side of the road, stop and start picking on the grass or try to turn around and walk back in the direction of the main grounds. I then would straighten her up and signal her to get back on the road. She would reluctantly obey, start walking slowly up the road and as soon as I nudge her to gallop, the whole sequence would repeat again. She was completely disobedient and a bad influence on Matt’s horse, who seemed to be confused at to whether it should be doing what it was ordered to do by Matt, or become an accomplice in the white horse’s rebellion against me. It was a bit of a comical sight as we were struggling to take command of the horses, it took a lot of effort to make them move forward at the speed we wanted, and they seemed to be totally oblivious to our instructions. Sometimes they would converge on each other so that Matt’s and my legs would get squeezed in between them. It looked like they knew exactly what they were doing – purposefully testing our patience and being unruly- so that they can go back to the stables.


I finally had enough of this battle and turned my horse to go back home, which was her plot all along. She started galloping so fast I could barely hang on, but after yesterday’s practice run, I felt more comfortable and let her do her thing. Despite her disorderly eagerness, it was fun to ride that fast. I slowed her down a bit in order to turn into the gates and in a matter of seconds we were parked by the stables. I got off the horse, tied her up, told her what I really thought about her lousy performance today, and went to check on Matt who was still on the road enjoying his time alone with the horse who now seemed to be completely obedient, happy and reasonable.

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We were done with our ride just in time for lunch, which was again served in the galpon (garage) with kids and adults eating together. We were treated to tasty lomo beef, salad, cheese soufflet (everyone’s favourite), and more delicious dulce de leche ice cream for dessert.

After lunch the adults went under cover and hid chocolate Easter eggs around the lawn area. It didn’t take long for the kids to figure out it was time to start egg hunting and they scattered around the lawn like little bunnies collecting their chocolate treats.


We didn’t have to go looking for our egg though. Adela gave us one as a present along with a bucket of fresh honey made at the estancia, which made me extremely happy as I am a honey addict, and a dulce de leche tablet.

It was time to start getting ready to leave. Back at our guest house we packed the bags and loaded the bikes. A few families who were leaving ahead of us stopped by to say good bye. We thanked Adelita and Vicente and the rest of the family who was leaving after us, said our farewells and set out to Buenos Aries. We were sad to leave, as it had been such a wonderful experience. We can’t thank the Gutierrez family enough for their hospitality. It was so kind of them to share their Easter holiday with us and we will always be grateful.

Fernando and Adela extended their welcome for us to stay in their home in a suburb of Buenos Aires which is where we were heading. Matt had copied the GPS coordinates of the house from Fernando so it was easy to follow the directions, and we knew we had about 200 miles to go that afternoon which would get us to BA after dark. It was about 3:30 pm when we got on the main road. We usually only go about 65 miles/hour on the highways and it was a strange feeling, after the empty Ruta 3 we have been on for the last few weeks where we hardly saw any cars, to be on a two lane but very busy highway being passed by cars and getting stuck in small traffic jams, as everyone was returning to the city from their country homes on this Easter Sunday.

As now was customary, after about 100 miles we made our final rest stop at the beloved YPF, which strangely enough had a full on deli selling a variety of cold meats and cheeses, in addition to a table service cafe. We filled up on gas and got back on the road as the dusk fell.

It was completely dark when we started approaching the greater Buenos Aires area, but the highways widened to three or four lanes in each direction and were nicely lit. I noticed that the moon was exceptionally splendid that evening, its large milky disk with muddy spots accompanying and lighting our way through.

We were only seven miles away from our destination when I felt a snap in the rear of the bike and the motor died. I knew instantly it was was my chain. The damn thing that we changed in Chile broke in the exact same spot – the master link – where Matt’s chain broke off just a few days ago. I announced the bad news to Matt over the radio and pulled off the road. Now what, we thought. It was 9 pm on Easter Sunday, who is going to come and save us now?

Fernando gave Matt a cell phone to use in case of emergencies, so we planned on calling him. We noticed an emergency vehicle on the other side of the highway and waved at it. We saw it take an exit in our direction, but it never came for us. However, a few minutes later, another emergency vehicle pulled up, with two men in it. The driver stayed in, and his companion came out and inquired about our problem. He was a very nice and well composed gentleman and said he would call a tow truck for us that was a part of the highway emergency patrol team. We let him talk to Fernando on the phone and the plan was for the truck to tow my bike to the security gate of Fernando and Adela’s neighborhood and then we would roll it to the house from there.


While we waited for the tow truck, Matt was chatting up our two rescuers, telling them about our trip. We were so amazed (and relieved!) at our luck of being picked up by them just five minutes after the accident. They said that this part of the highway is patrolled frequently by emergency vehicles and especially on the holiday weekends they are always busy helping out people with broken down vehicles.


The tow truck arrived just 15 minutes later. We rolled and secured the bike on the platform, I got in the car with our two new best friends, the tow truck followed us, and Matt followed the tow truck. As we were driving, there were a lot of broken down cars on the side of the road, with a few emergency vehicles helping them out. I guess many people drive cars that they may not have driven in a while or at least not to such long distances as when they go out of town to their country homes on a holiday weekend, so break downs are more common on these days.

A Nirvana song came on the radio, and the two guys were humming along. In my broken Spanish I tried to tell them that Matt and I are from Seattle, the same town that this group Nirvana is from. I used more gestures than words, so not sure if they understood me in the end.

After 7 miles we turned off the main highway where Fernando was waiting for us. He lead our motorcade to the gates of the neighborhood where we rolled the bike off the tow truck. We thanked our saviors profusely. I could not believe how painlessly and quickly we were able to deal with the situation, unlike last time. The service was free, but I think I saw Fernando slip them some money, which was a generous gesture that they absolutely deserved. I am sorry we were too slow to think of it at the time. Thank you, Fernando, for taking care of us and our helpers.

We passed the security gates of the neighborhood. I was following Fernando’s car on Matt’s bike, while Matt was rolling my bike for about five blocks to Fernando and Adela’s house. It was a gorgeous home, modern, clean and simple architectural lines of the white exterior corresponded perfectly with the lit up and glowing blue swimming pool in the front yard. We parked our dirty beat up KLR’s next to their sparkling BMW 1150GS and 650GS, picked up the bags and entered our 5-star retreat home.

We were assigned living quarters on the second floor, which looked like heaven at that moment. The bright comfy bedroom had nice firm beds with down comforters; we had a private bathroom and a separate TV room. What have we done to deserve this luxury?! This was such an incredible treat.

We were offered chilled Heiniken beer which for some reason tasted like the best beer I have ever had. Adela made us dinner, and after the meal, melting further and further into a tired sleepiness, we said our thanks to the hosts and hit the beds feeling completely wiped out from the day, but happy and grateful.

Estancia Calchaqui: A Day in Our Life As Porteños

Saturday, April 11


We woke up around 9:30 am looking forward to a nice breakfast. We were told that one of the brothers, Vicente, during his youth worked as a cook at an American diner and learned to make mean eggs. This was the subject of numerous witty jokes at last night’s dinner, and we were eager to try these famous and highly advertised “Vicente’s eggs.” Well, it wasn’t Vicente’s shift in the kitchen, and instead Adelita directed the kitchen staff and put her special touch on a scramble of freshly collected eggs for each of us. Fernando had read about our grievances towards Argentinean skimpy breakfasts and was determined to make sure we get our eggs, cheese, bread, juice and coffee every day.


After breakfast we went for a tour of the monturero (saddle) house. The room was filled with all kinds of horse paraphernalia: saddles, bridles, old-fashioned carriages, racing hats, albums with press clipping featuring the family’s participation in the harness racing dating back to 1950’s. In fact, Adela’s grandfather brought harness racing to Argentina from US in the first part of the 20th century. To this day the family continues to race (Adelita retired not long ago, but Ignacio, the youngest brother, still races), and breed horses. It was a fascinating place and inspired us to get in a saddle ourselves as soon as possible.


The estancia’s horse handy man German assigned us each a horse for the ride. Neither of us had much experience riding horses. Matt did some riding in his childhood. I had been on a horse twice before, once at a Moscow zoo when I was a kid and another time in Costa Rica a couple years ago as part of a very slow jungle horse tour. Fernando agreed to accompany us for a while in order to show us around the territory and point out the road to the fields.


First, I was a bit terrified of the horse thinking that it probably felt my inexperience and at any moment could charge ahead throwing me overboard.


But we had quickly learned the correct – Argentinean, not English – way to hold the reins with one hand and how to signal the horse to do what you want it to do, the rest came naturally. Soon enough we were galloping out into the fields in absolute joy, laughing all the way like kids with their new toys.


The horses were getting sweaty and a bit unruly, and it was obvious they wanted to get back to the stables. When we reached the end of the road we let them chow on some grass and as soon as we turned them around to head back, they got a sudden burst of energy, started up their motors and were unstoppable. Galloping so fast, I felt like my organs were being rearranged. I could barely hold on, squeezing the horse between my legs, the same technique I use when riding the bike on rocky dirt roads. The experience was unforgettable, immensely fun and freeing.


We reached the stables in minutes, got off the horses and felt extreme muscle straining in our thighs. Some unknown muscles we hardly ever use got significant work out. We were determined to ride the horses at least once more before leaving the estancia.


It was lunch time and all adults gathered around the dining room table for another delicious meal prepared by the hard working kitchen staff. As always, it was jokes and wise-cracking all through the meal, but conversation eventually steered towards the current state of the investment banking system in US. Two of the brothers, Pablo and Sebastian are executives at a top Argentine bank, and had an interesting outlook on the executive compensation issue. While Matthew was partaking in the conversation, I thanked Adelita for a special present she gave me, a traditional gaucho faja belt and took a lesson from her on how to wear it properly.


After lunch, while kids and some adults were splashing in the pond, we rested for an hour in our room before heading to the main house where Adelita showed us the map of the estancia. She told us about the division of the property (11,000 acres!), the crops they grow (mainly soy and corn for export), the process for harvesting, and the various matters of running the estanica and being an estanciero (rancher/estate owner) in the current political and economic climate in Argentina.


Adelita then invited us to take a ride in a horse carriage around the estancia. Adelita driving the horses with Fernando in the front, and with Matt and me, Pepa’s husband Sebastian and their son Juanito, and Ignacio’s daughter in the back we set off on the estancia tour.


We passed through fields of different crops in various degrees of preparation stretching as far as the eye could see,


stopped to say hello to the group of pregnant brown and identical looking cows, who nevertheless had very distinctive and captivating face expressions ranging from irritability to curiosity to amusement.


We saw a number of owls and other birds,


tried to “moo-talk” to a group of fierce looking bulls, passed a couple of beautiful white horses and an unbelievably handsome but lonely stallion. Continuing on we saw other wonderful inhabitants and parts of the estancia, finally arriving back to the main quarters just in time to see the huge brightly-lit orange disk of sun setting on the horizon.


Fernando then took us in a car to see the soy and corn crops being harvested. The family hires a special company to come and collect the crops, because the machines are too expensive for individual farmers to own. We rode right into the fields, with huge machine roaming in the fields outside the car windows. It was a cool sight.


While everyone was having fun in the afternoon, German was hard at work preparing the asado (grilled meat) of lamb and chorizo for tonight’s dinner in the special parrilla (grill), the biggest one we have seen so far.


This time, the dinner tables for kids and adults were set in the galpon (storage room/garage) where the ping pong match took place last night, and the room was soon roaring with voices, noises and commotion of over 30 people. I have to say, this was probably the best lamb and chorizo I had ever had in my life.


The slightly fatty piece of lomo of lamb was melting in my mouth and chorizo had an exceptionally palatable flavor. The side dishes of potato and mixed green salads almost sent my taste buds to food heaven, and I was elevated completely when the dessert of dulce de leche flan and a fruit salad was served. This was definitely one of the most memorable food experiences on this trip for us.


After dinner, there was an awards ceremony where prizes were given to winners of various family weekend competitions: kids and adult golf, ping pong match, and others. What a great tradition I thought, and before I knew it, everyone was cheering for me to go upfront and say a few words in Russian. My Russian, particularly in a spontaneous moment like this doesn’t come out smooth and easy, but, even though no one could understand me, I spilled out a touchy little speech. I gave my translation in English afterwards. Matthew and I were incredibly humbled and grateful for such a warm welcome by the Gutierrez family, and for giving us the opportunity to experience the life of the Argentinean family first hand. Personally, not having a big family myself, in fact feeling a bit like an orphan in America, it was incredibly inspirational to see the great amount of fun, love and joy one family creates and shares together. I pointed out how lucky they were to have each other and that there really is nothing more important in life than a loving and caring family. I almost teared up at the end of the speech.


The final entertainment of the night were games of musical chairs, sardines (one person hides and everyone goes out looking for them – once found they hide together and the person who finds all the sardines together is a loser), and hide and seek.

It was an amazing day filled with so many great activities, one that will stay in my memory for a long time, and a definite highlight of our trip. When we were finally back in our nice room, I think I fell asleep before I hit the bed.