Saturday, December 6, 2008

Fast food chains

Ordinarily I never eat at American fast food chains outside the U.S., but I'm glad I've experienced the Indian versions of familiar restaurants.'s not exactly the same!

Domino's Pizza and Pizza Hut - Because of the large number of vegetarians in India, pizza restaurants are heavy on the veg pizzas. And non-veg choices are usually with chicken rather than beef products. On Pizza Hut's menu, pepperoni was the only meat pizza available. You want Indian spices in your pizza? How about a chicken tikka pizza?

McDonald's - There's a McD near the apartment in the shopping area. Unfortunately in that area the food choices are either street food (looks good, but I don't want to chance getting sick) or McD and KFC. Both have A/C and seating with a view of the street so they're quite inviting when you're tired from shopping. I stopped at McD today thinking I would get a burger (I haven't had meat in 3 weeks!) and found that hamburger isn't on the menu at all! Burger choices are chicken, veggie and filet-o-fish. I ended up with a mexican chicken wrap, which was pretty good.

KFC - Last weekend I gave KFC a try since I was on that side of the street. Just like McDonald's, the menu is different. Fried chicken (dark meat only) and chicken nuggets were familiar, but instead of fries you can have rice with veggies in it. They also had fried veggie pieces for the vegetarians. KFC does deliver (virtually every store delivers for free here!) and has a number of scooters ready to go.

Subway - My lunch choices at work is either Subway, Pizza Hut or Coffee Day. Subway sort of tastes like the U.S. version. Turkey is available, along with chicken ham, lamb salami, tuna, and chicken meatballs. The veggie sub is obviously quite popular. There's no oil and vinegar or italian dressing. They do have honey mustard, mayo, teriyaki sauce and some other sweet sauces. I found that the best choice is asking for very little mayo and salt and pepper. Actually, the best lunch is leftovers from home!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Indian weddings

One of the cool things about spending 3 hours a week with my yoga instructor is learning about all things Indian. She attended a wedding today so we talked a bit about Indian weddings.

I've learned a few things about them since arriving in Mumbai:

1. Winter is wedding season. How terrible for those whose plans were disrupted due to the recent terrorist attacks!

2. They can be held on any day of the week. The day and time is selected by looking at the birth charts of the bride and groom. In fact, the charts are also used to determine if the couple should be married at all. They're usually held during daylight hours.

3. They're a massive, festive event. A colleague was invited to a wedding of someone he didn't even know. When asked if it was going to be OK with the bride and groom, he was told that there were going to be 1,000 people in attendance so how will one more guest matter? The more the merrier!

4. I've seen restaurants and fields decorated to host a wedding. It's a bit difficult to miss as lots of colorful fabric is used to decorate the entryway. It's a wonderful sight next to so many dirty and gray buildings in the city.

My teacher wished we had discussed this earlier because she would've invited me to come along. I hope that one day I can experience an Indian wedding because they're steeped in ritual and fun. For now I guess I can watch movies like Monsoon Wedding and get into the spirit of the event.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lunch in Mumbai

I had lunch at my yoga teacher's house this afternoon. When I arrived it smelled so good and she told me that she was making an eggplant dish for lunch. I just bought an eggplant on the way over to her house because I was planning on making eggplant parmesean for dinner. So she invited me to stay for lunch. How could I say no to such an invitation?!

What I smelled when I arrived was her maid's masala, which contains Indian spices (tumeric, cumin, coriander, peppercorn are what I remember) and coconut and onions. Masalas are the basis of Indian cooking (as I learned in a cooking class I took in Houston in October). They're added to dishes along with water to make a gravy, which we would call a sauce. She fills the small eggplants (about the size of a thumb) with the masala and steams them in the masala and water sauce. She also added some potatoes.

Every Indian dish needs a dahl, which is lentils. She pressure cooked the lentils with some cumin and later added them to some tomatoes and onions along with water. It was soup like.

Some rice and roti (bread) rounded out the meal. We ate in the traditional manner with our hands. Even the rice. Everything was fabulous. And over the meal I learned about Indian culture. Every class I learn more and more. There's nothing better than spending time with a local to learn about a location, its traditions, and its food. I'm grateful for having found such a great teacher.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Life is back to normal

I just returned from spending the last 4 hours outside in my neighborhood, Bandra West. I picked up some water from a small grocery store (there is no such thing as a big grocery store here), some eggs from the corner kiosk, ate an ice cream cone and a snack at the KFC while overlooking a busy street corner from the second floor, had a Thai foot massage, bought a pair of flip flops to wear in the house, some beautiful pashmina shawls from Kasmir from a sari store and a couple of bags from a street vendor, and window shopped (oh...the bedspreads here are beautiful!). There are lots of people shopping, street vendors are selling their sandals and clothing, sellers are hawking food, autorickshaws clogging the is normal in Mumbai.

The ordeal is finally over and the news stations are now speculating on how the terrorists got away with wreaking havoc in this major city. I'm sure the speculation and the accusations will go on for the coming days. I only hope that security gets tightened here. I still can't believe that the National Security Guard (equivalent to the U.S. Special Forces unit I think) doesn't have a unit stationed in Mumbai. Clearly the police force isn't trained to contront terrorists ... at least one of their cars were stolen by the terrorists!

I learned that the guards stationed at hotels and businesses here aren't even armed! In contrast, the guards in terrorist threatened countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia and Colombia are heavily armed. I like Mumbai enough to hope that another attack doesn't occur again. Let's hope the government will learn from this event and put stronger security measures in place.

I'm not afraid to be on the streets. I don't plan on cutting this trip short and have not been asked to do so. I still have 2 more weeks of enjoying life in India and continue blogging.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Update to the terrorist activity

It's after 11 am and over 12 hours since the activity began, it's still going on. There are terrorists holed up on a floor in one hotel and they're still at the Taj Hotel as well.

By now you may have seen pictures of the Taj Hotel on fire on TV or the internet. It's a beautiful Colonial structure from the early 1900's and a major landmark for the city, much like the World Trade Center was for New York.

The news here is predicting that tourism will be impacted by this. They're calling it Mumbai's 9/11, which will mean that they'll take a harder stance on security.

I thought security at the JW Marriott was fairly tight. Similar to what I saw in Malaysia and the Philippines. All guests must go through a metal detector to enter. They restrict the cars that can drive up to the lobby and first inspect the trunk and hood of each car. I don't see bomb sniffing dogs here.

I'm a bit baffled as to why it took almost 6 hours for the army to storm the hotels where the terrorists have taken hostages. It doesn't appear that the government was really prepared for such an attack, although relations between Muslims and Hindus have been strained for some time.

And how on earth did two police vehicles get stolen by the terrorists? Makes me question the competency of the police force here.

The office is closed today and I've been told to stay in the apartment. Although there was one day that I wanted to give up on the idea of staying in an apartment, in hindsight I'm grateful that I had the resilience to not give up. It was meant to be in order to secure my safety.

Wow...a walking shrine on a cart just made its way down the street with its loudspeaker blaring a song. I wish I could post a photo. What a blessed sight....

Terrorist Attack in Mumbai!

I've been awakened by calls at midnight alerting me of a terrorist attack in Mumbai. The areas affected are not close to where I am staying, but I have been instructed to stay put in my apartment. My driver has also called to tell me he's not coming to pick me up in the morning. He sounded freaked.

All of the affected areas are in a very touristy area, where I visited this weekend. This includes the Taj Hotel (kind of looks like the real Taj), central train station, a hospital, and a dockyard. There are even hostages of tourists in the Oberoi hotel and shots heard in the Taj Hotel. I'm thankful that I'm not in an hotel tonight.

Quite interesting to watch it all unfold on TV here. It appears as if it's mass chaos. The TV is reporting 230 injuries and 60 deaths. I wonder if it's like the U.S. where the estimates are higher than reality.

Apparently a terrorist attack as big as this is unprecedented in Mumbai. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Much happier

Life is definitely better in the new apartment. My cleaning lady cooked dinner today. How wonderful to come home and find dinner waiting in the refrigerator. And it was quite good! I'm going to look forward to Tuesday and Friday nights now.

The building across the street is under construction and I came to the realization that the workers are living there. There are no walls yet, the concrete is being poured on the 5th level. I noticed a guy brushing his teeth on one of the levels one morning and assumed he brushes his teeth at work. Last night I noticed a small TV was on. This morning I noticed the corregated steel shacks next to the building. They do seem to start work early and end late so living so close to work probably is good for them. This would also explain why a sheer green covering is only on part of the building. I think it provides them with some privacy from my building across the street.

Two buildings down is a cricket field and the workers sometimes stop working to watch a game. There's usually a game every night and weekend mornings. I haven't spent any time watching a game. It looks similar to baseball and the cheering can get a bit it is right now.

If it's not the fans cheering, it's the traffic noise. It's only peaceful between 1 to 5 am. Then the crows start making a racket and the honking starts not long thereafter. Rather typical for a big city like Mumbai.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

New Apartment Improves My Life

After spending 4 days with no internet access (a userid and password is needed to access a web page to open up the internet connection), no pots and pans and other kitchen necessities, a static filled phone, borrowed linens, and crazy hot water heater switches (I had a decent hot shower for one day), I moved into a different apartment. The relocation specialist lived around the corner and was moving back to the U.S. I gladly took her offer to move.

I still have a 3/3 apartment, but now I'm on the third floor facing an apartment building under construction. It's a little noisier during the day, but the bedroom window faces what looks like a mango tree and is quiet.

This apartment is stocked in the kitchen thanks to the numerous ex-pats who have lived here, a home theater sound system, rugs, and one switch for the hot water heater. :-) I kept her cleaning lady/cook on the same schedule. I ate leftovers for lunch yesterday (a chicken patty and vegetable yellow rice) and it was quite good. I'm looking forward to dining in.

The food in Mumbai is surprisingly good and dirt cheap. Lunches are ordered in - either a veg or non-veg box of Indian food. I recognized paneer in spinach (I made it in cooking class in Houston) and masalas. There are lots of Asian style restaurants and Thai restaurants are popular. There is also a KFC and McDonald's nearby. I did get a veggie pizza from Domino's one night. It was far better than any Domino's in the U.S.

Obviously vegetarian choices are abundant. One of the guys at work is a Jain, which believes in non-violence to the point that they won't eat root vegetables because insects are killed during harvesting. That severely limits what he can eat.

I am eating well, haven't gotten sick yet (knock on wood), and am finally happily settled in Mumbai. The remaining 3 weeks here can only get better. The worst is behind me and I didn't let my troubles defeat me!

Living Like an Ex-Pat

I finally got a key to the apartment on Monday. It’s a 3 bedroom, 3 bath apartment on the 6th floor. My driver helped bring the luggage up and the first thing we noticed was the light switch in the hallway didn’t do anything. Uh oh. Inside the apartment it was more of the same – no power. Did someone turn off the electricity?

I call the relocation specialist and she says to check with security. Sure enough, they go turn on some main switch. Still no power. I send the driver back downstairs to talk to security as I looked for my flashlight. Security comes up and they’re looking for something. Nope, not in the bathroom or kitchen, but success! They found a breaker box in the hallway. The main switch was in the off position. Whew!

The A/C unit in the living area was cranking out cool air as I took a quick assessment of the apartment. One bedroom had a new bed, but I couldn’t figure out where the switch was to turn on the A/C. The other bedroom had a functioning A/C unit, but the light switches didn’t turn on any lights. The third bedroom had the A/C on and the lights working. I felt like Goldilocks.

I then noticed that none of the beds had sheets, blankets or pillows. A quick check in the closets confirmed no bedding other than a blanket. Yet another call to the relocation specialist (I was having dinner with her that evening) and she offered to bring some bedding when she picked me up. She was smart enough to also bring towels, which I also lacked. She did show me how to find the multiple electrical switches each room seems to have. None of the switches are marked. They control the electriacl outlet, fan, lights (many lights), A/C, etc.

She also told me that the hot water heater has to be turned on about 20 minutes before showering, but we’re not sure which switch is for the hot water (there’s no hot water for the sink). Thank goodness she mentioned it or else I would’ve been taking a cold shower in the morning. Alas, I did end up taking a cold shower (for 2 days). I tried the switches in one bathroom with no luck. I did the same in the other bathroom, which was warmer to begin with, and accepted the room temperature water as being bearable. I’ll figure out which combination of switches will turn on the hot water heater by the time I leave!

The apartment is really spacious. The honking horns cannot be escaped, but the wrap-around balcony is cool. The apartment takes up half of the building and there’s a balcony around the entire apartment. The exterior wall is floor-to-almost-ceiling windows. The views are of other apartment buildings, but it’s great looking out at the city. In the morning I watch the guy in the next building pray facing East as a woman in another building does a walking circuit on the small rooftop terrace.

Grocery shopping in a big store is non-existent here. The closest market is teeny, but has staples like bread, butter, water, chips, yogurt, milk, cereal along with Indian staples. A guy follows you with the basket, which makes the store even more crowded. He also tries to sell me things. Try this dip, try this sweet. Then when you check out, he reads the prices to the cashier and bags everything. Fairly efficient since the store doesn’t have scanners.

Fruits and vegetables can be bought off the street, right outside the apartment door. Some vendors have stalls. Others sit in the road and sell produce off a blanket. My purchases have been limited to bananas and eggs so far.

Driving: The traffic is as horrendous as I’ve heard. With three-wheeled taxis (rickshaws) buzzing everywhere, along with the 4-wheeled versions, buses, goods carriers (aka trucks). It’s not the vehicles that I fear, but the pedestrians that seem to dart out of nowhere right in front of you...and there are LOTS of people walking everywhere!

To make things worse, there are vendors selling on the side of the road everywhere and forces more people onto the streets. I don’t know how these drivers do it. It’s frightening being on the road. The honking doesn’t help either. It seems that they honk at virtually anything, but I guess it makes sense when people, cars, buses, trucks are all trying to get somewhere. I think the driving has to be some of the worst I’ve seen, beating Shanghai with no doubt.

Dust: Dust is quite pervasive, which is why cleaning ladies come daily. My apartment feels like a dust bowl. I normally am barefoot in my house, but here I have to wear slippers otherwise they soles of my feet would be black by the end of the day.

Mumbai Beach Life

On Sunday I did nothing but lay by the pool. I didn’t bring a swimsuit since I thought I was going to be in an apartment, but I managed to get some sun nevertheless.

I spent about 15 minutes walking on the beach. At 10 am it was populated by so many men playing games of cricket that made me feel uncomfortable walking around on my own. In one direction I sort of followed a young Indian couple for safety. Then I got to the “boardwalk” where the coconut milk guy tried to sell me a drink and a wood flute vendor started to follow me around as he played his instrument. At that point I figured I had experienced enough. The “boardwalk” was amusing as it had small carousels for the kids and food booths where the smell of curry was strong (I think I prefer smelling vinegar fries).

Apparently the beach gets quite crowded on the weekends with families coming out, especially in the late afternoon. I assume it’s because the wind picks up and makes the heat bearable (it was actually a comfortable day, probably in the mid-80’s).

I spent the entire day at the pool and closed the day by watching the sunset. Unfortunately, it was a bit cloudy for a really nice sunset, but I can add yet another sunset picture to the blog when I'm able to post photos again.

Holy Cow ... I'm in Mumbai (Bombay)!

Six days after returning from Argentina, I was once again in the air on a nearly 24 hour jouney. I arrived on Saturday night thinking I would be staying in a corporate apartment. Unfortunately, no one arranged for a transfer of the key. I assumed the driver or building security would have it. Nope. After a few calls and about a half-hour wait, someone booked me a room at the JW Marriott for the weekend instead. It actually worked out well as I now didn't have to worry about how to explain to the driver that I need a grocery store where I could buy breakfast food and water ( buy food...for cook...fruits....vegetables .... blank stare). Those are activities that best dealt with after talking to other ex-pats or locals.

The Marriott is in a suburb called Juhu and is on the beach (on the Arabian Sea). It was beautiful and fabulous. The place smelled of jasmine as it was everywhere inside the hotel. I guess on the weekends they string it and hang it, and place blossoms on floors, tables, etc. Flowers in the jasmine family are extremely fragrant and I was in heaven taking big whiffs as I toured the hotel.

Saturday night at the Marriott was hopping. I noticed quite a few young people dressed up and dance club music blaring. One of the doormen at the club convinced me to go in and take a look. Although it was past midnight and I was tired after a long day of flying, I figured what the heck. I'm glad I experienced the Mumbai club scene. I immediately understood why he wanted me to go in ... the male to female ratio was heavily slanted on the male side and the place was packed.

What’s unusual were the guys were all singing, pumping their fists in the air, and dancing with each other or by themselves. Other ex-pats later confirmed that this is typical, and no this wasn't a gay bar (homosexuality is frowned upon). In the hour or so I was there, not a single guy asked a girl to dance. They seem to be content watching the scene, singing and dancing. The girls danced with each other, the guys were doing their own thing. There were some mixed groups and they danced with each other in a group.

The singing was especially fanatical when the songs were native dance hits. They play a lot of western songs, of which I only recognized Daddy Yankee’s Gasolina.

I also noticed a lot of guys drinking out of brandy snifters, and I doubt it was brandy. Some had ice, others had a straw and the drink didn’t look like brandy. The guy next to me either smelled of cloves or his drink (in a snifter) did. He seemed to enjoy using my hip as an arm rest. Given how crowded Mumbai is, Indians' size of personal space is quite small.

As I left around 2 am (amazing that I stayed up so late on the first night), I noticed a little podium with a charge card machine. Ah ha...the bar only makes the drinks. Payment is handled at the “cashier” station and it seemed a bit frantic at 2 am as people started to leave.

Day one first impression: smell. Everyone always remarks about the smell of India. As I stepped onto the jetway, it smelled like insecticide. Hopefully it’s to kill mosquitoes....I'm taking malaria pills just in case.

P.S. My card reader isn't functioning properly so I can't post photos at this time. :-( But I'll add them later.

Friday, November 7, 2008


Mate? No, it's actually pronounced mah-tey. It's basically tea, drunk throughout the day in vessels. We spent a lot of time with 2 Argentines who drank the stuff all day. They have bags to carry their thermos of hot water and their mate cups and straw.

It's an art pouring the grass into their vessel, shaking it to remove some of the dust, then slowly pour the water, stop, then pour more. In meetings they pass the mate cup around and everyone takes a sip. A very social activity.

Leandro let me try his mate and it's bitter, tastes a little like grass and similar to a very, very strong green tea.

It was 90 degrees outside and they still drink their mate throughout the day. In Uruguay it's common to see people drinking it while driving.

On the drive back to Buenos Aires we stopped at a gas station to take a bathroom break. Outside of the bathroom I saw this vending machine, which dispenses hot water for mate. Just insert your thermos, drop in your pesos, and the Argentine can continue to drink their mate.

I wonder if Mate Annonymous exists to help them kick their addiction?

Colon, Argentina

My second week in Argentina was for work and it required me to travel to Colon (we were about 30 minutes away) for a week. Colon is a 3-hour drive from Buenos Aires. The drive could've been through any farm state in the U.S. Lots of wheat fields and the corn was barely sprouting.

The entryway to the plant is lined with huge eucalyptus trees. Driving in, I felt like I was in a movie and going to a resort! Too bad it wasn't.

The accommodations in Colon were in the plant's guest house, right next door. This was probably the shortest commute ever on an audit. The house is rather large. Our wing (left in the photo) had 7 or 8 bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms. There is a formal dining and living room, a pool room, a TV and dining room, and kitchen. We have no idea what the other wing's accommodations look like.

We were served breakfast of toast and fruit for breakfast. A huge lunch was served at the plant cafeteria. And a home-cooked dinner was served back at the guest house (at 8 pm, while the Argentine guests ate at 9).

On Thursday night we had a parrilla - barbequed meat. That's beef ribs, blood sausage, chorizo, and chicken on the grill.

I wish we didn't work 14 hours a day because this place is a great retreat. Very, very peaceful. Birds wake me up at 6:30 am. Sometimes we can hear cows mooing from the next farm. The night sky is full of stars and a clear moon. There are grapefruit and tangerine trees on the property and the blossoms' sweet fragrance is intoxicating. Lots of areas to sit, relax, and enjoy the surroundings.

Cats and kittens roam free (unfortunately they're not fixed) and catch mice and birds. The dogs lay around near the cafeteria to be fed. This dog is soooooo friendly and starved for attention. The cat is the ONLY cat that would allow anyone to pet it and she too is starved for attention. She even let me pick her up. There are lots of cats were hanging out and hiding from the heat behind the cafeteria.

All the animals were waiting for Friday's lunch, which was cooking behind the comedor (cafeteria). And here's what it looked like on my plate. This is a small portion. Most of the guys also have rice, bread, and a dessert (jello or flan).

Yup, the food in Colon was an extention of what was started in Buenos Aires. I'm a very happy girl who is in need of a diet.....or a trip to India. Looks like India has won out. I'll be leaving for Mumbai in a week.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Back to Buenos Aires - art and food

Friday was spent going to yoga in the morning, having breakfast, then going to the MALBA, the modern art museum of Latin American artists. It's a really beautiful museum with some unusual artwork. They were showcasing one artist who had red, white and blue lollipops piled in a corner and the audience was encouraged to eat the display. Of course I complied and took a photo, which the guard said I couldn't do. Como? We can eat the display, but we can't take a photo of it?!

He had a similar display of candy in silver wrappers spread out on the floor of a large room. Three other displays had posters on the floor (one was red rectangular with a black border titled NRA, as in National Rifle Association) and again the audience is encouraged to take them. Truly a modern museum.

In the evening, hotel proprietor Jim and I went to a Spanish restaurant and had the best fish he's ever had in Buenos Aires - and he's lived here for 2 years! While I had crispy pork ribs. Absolutely delicious. It was nice trying a restaurant that he's never been to, yet he's been recommending it to guests. It was definitely perfect for people who are tired of eating red meat.

On Saturday I soaked up some sun at a very big and local Centenario Park (after walking for MILES to get to the place). People here love to go to parks and lay out. Some are in swim suits, others are fully clothed. I didn't photograph any of the sun worshippers, but here's the pretty lake that was in the middle of this park. There's a small artists feria there (along with numerous flea market-type booths) at which I had to buy more jewelry. Since this one tends to cater to locals, the items were pretty inexpensive but lovely nonetheless.

On my last night in Buenos Aires, Amanda (one of the auditors) came out to Palermo and joined me for dinner at La Cabrera. It's a well-known steak house a few blocks away from the hotel. We couldn't get reservations, but we got a table around 9:30 pm when we arrived - que suerte!

Although the couple next to us from San Francisco kept on offering us their leftover steak, we declined and ordered our own ojo de bife (rib eye). As you can see, it's larger than my hand!
Plus all of the little side dishes that comes along with the steak were so yummy. Who knew that baked apple, pumpkin, or pear would be good with a steak? Plus there were side dishes of lentils, beans in a pesto-like sauce, olive paste, garlic, and red peppers just to name a few. The steak, a mixed salad to share, 2 bottles of water and a generous glass of Malbec totaled $37. A bargain! We were stuffed, but it felt good to eat every bit of that steak.

The variety and price of food in Buenos Aires is amazing. I had lunch at an Armenian restaurant on Saturday and had a wonderful plate of rice pilaf and seasoned shredded chicken all for $5. Pretty much every kind of food is available here and it's generally inexpensive. On Sunday a friend of my mother's and I went to a buffet that's run by Chinese people. Dirt cheap with grilled meat and a good variety of other dishes (like fried rice, noodles, and other Chinese items) and dessert.

Of all of the things I'll miss in Buenos Aires, it has to be the food....and the shopping! ;-)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Punta del Este, Uruguay

I'm still a couple of days behind in the blogging. On Thursday, I took a 2 hour bus ride to Punta del Este to have lunch, walk around, and see what the fuss is about this resort town. Although the trip is "direct" it still dropped people off in the middle of nowhere and made a stop in a small town outside of Punta del Este. I assumed it was the bus terminal for Punta del Este so I got off (no announcement and almost everyone got off). Ha! Was I wrong! Luckily the next bus arrived in about 10 minutes and took me to where I wanted to go.

Right outside of the bus terminal is quite an unusual landmark. As you can see below. It's right in front of the beach. I think the fingers up close kind of looks like Stonehenge!

I admit, Punta del Este is a great little beach town on a pennisula on the Atlantic Ocean. The "fingers" side of the water is rather windy (it is spring and about 65 degrees outside). I got my feet wet and found the water quite cold. The surfers were out and they were all wearing full wet suits.

On the other side of the penninsula the water is much calmer. And the yacht club is at the tip of the penninsula.

In all, I spent about 3 hours in Punta del Este. I would definitely go back if I were in the area in the summer.

I got back to Montevideo in time to depart on the 7:30 pm ferry back to Buenos Aires. It's a 3 hour trip and I was able to say adios to Uruguay and my last sunset over the Rio Plata.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Montevideo, Uruguay

On Wednesday and Thursday (days 5 and 6) I took the ferry to Uruguay. Here's my breakfast at the ferry terminal - two medialunas and cafe con leche. I love medialunas. Just the right amount of sweetness (i.e., not too sweet).

The last time I was in Argentina I went to Colonia and spent about 6 hours there. This time I took the high-speed ferry to Colonia (50 minutes) then spent 2.5 hours on a bus to Montevideo. It was a good way to see the countryside.

I guess Uruguay must be pulling in good tourist dollars because I saw a lot of road and building construction. Colonia is getting a new immigration terminal where the ferries arrive (sorely needed) and a divided highway outside the city. Considering the number of buses that travel these roads, I'm glad to see such infrastructure improvements.

Montevideo is the largest city in Uruguay. It's not very big ....kind of like a mini-Buenos Aires with pretty tree-lined streets in the residential neighborhoods. They have a nice walkway (Ramblas) on the Rio Plata, which is where my hotel was located. This is a view of the walkway from the hotel. And me on the Ramblas at sunset.

I love the buildings in Montevideo. Lots of art deco. Great character.
I spent the day just walking around the old city and enjoying the beautiful day and architecture.
Like most South American cities, horse drawn carts are not unique.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Day 3 and 4 - Buenos Aires

Day 3 in Buenos Aires had me downtown buying ferry tickets to Uruguay.

The ferry terminal is in Puerto Madero. This is a fairly new area that screams tourists. There are lots and lots of restaurants and a few pricey stores in the brick buildings (there are several).
It's quite picturesque and full of business people enjoying a lovely spring day along with the tourists walking about and snapping photos.

I ended up sitting outside and dining on a lovely lunch of beef carpaccio while frantically trying to access my hotmail account with the free wi-fi. I needed to find my passport number in order to make a ferry reservation. It's not like I haven't been to Uruguay before on the ferry....I knew better but it slipped my mind! All was not lost...dining al fresco meant that I would get a sunburn on my shoulders. Yet again, I forgot that the sun can be brutal down here.

I spent a part of day 4 at the office. I was only going to have lunch with a friend, but stopped by to meet some people. I'm forever networking!
Obviously labor is inexpensive here because I saw 4 guys carrying small billboards on the side street next to the office. There were two on each side of the street. When the light turned red, one or two would stand in the middle of the crosswalk and raise their sign for drivers to see. And when they weren't standing in the middle of the road, they just hung out on the side chatting. What a job!
I did more shopping after spending some time at the office by hitting Calle Florida, a pedistrian mall many blocks long. I ended up with a great leather jacket for half-off because I paid in cash. The entire store obviously has a problem with cash I helped improve their cash situation! :-)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Day 2 in Buenos Aires

OK Ginger...I'll play hand model and post a photo is for you. My jewelry finds from today (2 rings and the bracelet which is a fork) and yesterday (the circle ring). The bracelet is a fork (note the tines) with a lapiz or some sort of stone. I had a tough time trying to decide which one to buy. They were all incredibly creative.

I've been buying jewelry primarily at the many fairs in the city. Today's purchases came from the fair in Belgrano. It's a small fair, but the artisans are quite good and it's not very crowded with people.

Lucas and I walked for miles today. Luckily the weather was perfect...not too sunny and not too cool. Belgrano has some pretty tree-lined streets, but since it's early spring some of the trees have yet to return to life. But the barren trees still make for a pretty cool photo.

Avenida Juramento is a major cobblestone lined streets. What I really liked about it is that the cobblestones are in a semi-circular pattern.

After eating a perfectly grilled piece of beef for lunch, we headed back to Palermo and stopped at Freddo's for an helado. The dulce de leche helado is amazing. So was the chocolate with almonds. And I'm not even a chocolate lover, but I do love my ice cream!

We got back around 4:30 and I headed back out to go looking for the shop with the blue boots. I never made it there! I stopped at a bunch of clothing boutiques of up-and-coming designers. There were also a bunch of storefronts that had many, many designers together. One was clearly a bar that they turned into a designer clearinghouse. I noticed later in the evening that it was a bar with tables in it. I guess they make more money renting space to designers during the day than as a bar. It was a madhouse everywhere I went. Although the effects of the U.S. recession is starting to be felt here, you wouldn't know it by the number of people shopping and buying.

I didn't bring a whole lot of clothes with me so I picked up a lot of great items at reasonable prices. At this rate, I may not need to do laundry!

Tomorrow I've decided I'll head downtown, visit Puerto Madera and look into my options for traveling to Montevideo later in the week. All of the boats depart from Puerto Madera and reservations are needed. The shopping spree will most likely continue tomorrow. I remember walking down a pedestrian street full of stores the last time I was here. Let's see if I can find it!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Day 1 in Buenos Aires

Well, after a long overnight flight I made it into Buenos Aires (otherwise known as BsAs). I got to the hotel around 11:30 am, had a coffee, took a shower and had lunch with my friend Jim.

The hotel looks fabulous and is doing great. Amazing what this place looks like considering 10 months ago it was still a lot of unfinished plaster walls. This is a very small, 6 room hotel in Palermo SoHo. Jim has some great people working for him. All are very friendly and speak great English and they all think I need to convince Jim to take a vacation day and go to Uruguay with me.

He finally got smart and outsourced the restaurant so that's one less thing to worry about. It's incredible that he's still dealing with some construction issues with this place. The A/C is his biggest headache. Today's issue with the A/C was that it wasn't blowing air ( was for a few minutes), but sucking in the air instead. After a few tries of turning the system on and off, we said screw it and went to lunch.

He's ready to call it quits. The city is getting more and more dangerous. He was been robbed at gunpoint at the hotel a couple of months ago and he was telling me that a number of guests have been robbed while out touring. So that's my goal for this not get robbed. It was not like this 10 months ago. It's a pity that the crime rate has increased. There's talk that it's a way to show displeasure with the government so that they would get booted out. But we're unsure if anything would really be better with a replacement government.

The rest of the day was spent shopping the many, many boutiques in the neighborhood. I'm pleased that I never got lost, although I did get turned around a couple of times. Not bad considering I don't have a map. There are lots of brand new designer shops (i.e., not yet discovered) and fairs in Palermo. I picked up a silver ring, a necklace, wallet, and silver bookmarks today. I'm debating whether or not to buy a pair of blue ankle boots. They're comfortable and unusual. I certainly don't have a pair. I wish I took a photo so that my friends could counsel me on the purchase!

For dinner, Jim and his business consultant, Thomas (he's Polish), went out for a bite to eat. It's still pretty inexpensive to eat here. The wines are wonderful, of course. My favorite white is a Torrontes. I need to pick up a few bottles to take home with me. I almost forgot that licuados are perfect for a warm day (think fruit smoothie). I figured that I have all week to drink them.

Tomorrow, my friend Lucas is taking me out to Belgrano to walk around, eat an asado and top it off with a helado (ice cream). It's supposed to be a beautiful area so I expect to post a photo.

So that's pretty much my first day. Sorry to be boring tonight, but I think I'm doing pretty well on 4 hours of sleep!

Chao from BsAs!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


After a 10 month absence, I get the pleasure of returning to Argentina for 2 weeks. One week of vacation in Buenos Aires and one week of work in Colon. Since this will be my second time in BsAs, I hope to escape for a couple of days to Montevideo, Uruguay to check out the big city. Too bad it's springtime because I could use a beach right now and Uruguay has some great spots (oh yeah, and the guys are much better looking than the Argentineans).

The blog will be revived sometime on or after Saturday, October 25. I have no plans for Saturday, but I already have a friend taking me on a tour to Belgrano on Sunday. I'm looking forward to the steaks, wine, seeing friends and sharing all of this fun with blog fans. Chao!

Monday, May 26, 2008

You know you're in Japan when....

The air is clear and clean and the restrooms have a fancy toilet that's heated, has a bidet and other water wash options, the sound of running water (in case you want to be discreet) and a deodorizer all built in.

This is actually the first time I've landed at the Nagoya airport, which is where my mother is from. Much smaller than Narita, much less walking from the gate to security to the lounge and to the gate again. I like this much better!

But Narita does have a great Northwest business lounge with Mac computers and 19" screens. On the other hand, Nagoya doesn't have wireless but I have a lovely view out the window (impeccably clean of course) of a Hello Kitty covered Eva Air plane. How cute! The characters even have Eva Air hats! LOL!

This is only a two-hour layover (which really means 1 hour since boarding is always an hour before departure). Too short to enjoy the lounge, but just enough time for me to write a blog post.

What a vacation!

It's now 1:50 am and I am not sleeping tonight. I'm back in Manila and I have to take a taxi at 3 am in order to be at the airport three hours in advance as recommended. I think this is crazy, but everyone (people at work, taxi drivers, hotel staff) tell us the same thing so I think I should listen to them.

Ken and I arrived in Manila around 6 pm. I spent the morning reading on the balcony of the cottage and watching the fish below. We brought the rolls from dinner and fed them in the morning. Feeding the fish is quite an entertaining show.

After we checked out and had lunch, we took a kayak to a small beach near the hotel. It was about a 10 minute ride and spent about a half hour swimming. The beach was pretty deserted except for a local boat, a guy and a dog (sounds like a song!). It was quiet and we were able to see some birds that we had not seen before. I also heard some odd animal noises in the forest....I'm glad we didn't hike to the beach and decided to kayak instead.

The day really flew by and we were back on the boats and plane back to Manila. Once back in Manila I could feel the stresses returning....the traffic, the high density housing, the noise and pollution. I longed for the clean air and water. I miss peacefulness and slow pace of Lagen. We decided that the resort must be a great employer. So many happy employees. They all wanted us to enjoy our stay, tell others, and come back.

If anyone is interested in vacationing at Lagen, check out I would recommend Lagen over the sister resort, Miniloc. Yes it's pricey, but it's an unbelievable getaway. We didn't book online, but searched and found an online travel agency in Manila that had the best rates (

By Tuesday afternoon I will be back in Houston. I'm saddened to be leaving, but I'm also glad to return to my cats.

I hope you've enjoyed this blog. Stay tuned for more episodes. I should be in Argentina in October and will resurrect the blog!


Our third day at the resort was more leisurely. Ken decided to skip the dive so that he could sleep in. No alarm clock today. Just breakfast before 9 and catch the 11 am boat to one of the islands (Entalula) where we would have lunch, rock climb and sail.

Leisurely meant lounging by the pool for me while Ken swam laps. The infinity edge pool is long enough to get a decent workout. We were there long enough to see new guests arrive (and hear the welcome song again) and join us at the pool (as we did on our first day). Lots of families with kids. More Japanese tourists. And a beautiful Filipino girl and an older (maybe 10 years) fat Filipino guy. Ick. Luckily 11 am arrives and we’re off.

There’s no set schedule and we’re allowed to lounge, swim and snorkel (without vests) for as long as we want. The water is beautiful and inviting. There are a few people on the beach with us, but not many. Too bad they’re blaring music that’s more appropriate for a trendy hair salon than a beach.

We eat the buffet lunch (the grilled meats and shrimp are awesome) and rock climb. To go to the ledge is free and going farther is an extra 300 pesos. We watch a bunch of Filipino girls try it. The first ledge looks pretty do-able to me. The second would require some work.

I opt for the ledge. Brian (in yellow) was our teacher and he did a great job (move your left foot up to your leg…what?!). The tree that I'm grabbing is the ledge where I call it quits. Yeah, it's not that far from the ground, but I knew the second ledge is a lot tougher and this was bad enough!

Ken easily scales up to the ledge in about 10 seconds and tackles the next climb with ease (about twice as high). He then tries a different climb and got about 2/3 of the way up. It was definitely more difficult and required him putting his left foot up onto a hold that he just couldn’t find.

By this point we were pretty much the only guests left on the island. Everyone else had gone off to take part in other activities.

After a dip in the water to cool off, we decided it was time to sail or we would run out of time. It was a Hobie cat and we’re accompanied by one of the staff. There’s not much wind, but we make do. After we get moving Ken steered the entire time. It was nice being on the water without hearing a motor. I’ve always enjoyed sailing and I should try to do it more often.

We were able to lounge around for another hour before the boat came to pick us up. There was no one to bother us. The remaining staff members were hanging around talking while we read under our hut. This is the life.

Once again, we get back in time for a quick shower and a massage in the massage hut. Our massage ladies were late so we missed being able to watch the sunset. But we could still sit at the bar and take photos of the ever changing colors of the sky. This was our last sunset and possibly the prettiest. I could watch it every night. I look forward to comparing this sunset to the ones in Hawaii later in the year. The ones here are spectacular though.

We leave tomorrow afternoon. We’ll spend the day lounging around the pool until it’s time to take the boat back to El Nido’s airport.

They left a marketing CD for the resort in the room tonight, along with our Good Night leaf and chocolates. The leaf is a really nice touch. We get one every had "good night" another "sleep well" and "sweet dreams" with our names painted on the leaf. It's the little touches like this that make us love this place.

Ken will take the CD to China with him since it’s more likely that folks there will express an interest in vacationing here (I did pick up another copy at checkout). We did run into 3 Americans at dinner tonight. They look like fraternity boys. I wonder how they found this place.

Old guys, young girls

The only thing that I dislike about this place is the number of old guys and their Filipino girlfriends. Yesterday there was an older guy (probably in his late 50’s or 60’s) beaming because his girlfriend is pregnant. There was at least a 30 or 40 year age difference.

Today a table of 3 Japanese men (50’s, and 60’s) and 3 young Filipino girls sat next to us at breakfast. It was absolutely disgusting. One of the girls could speak rudimentary Japanese. The guys spoke Japanese. Ken thinks they could have “hired” the girls for their trip. We saw no evidence of girlfriend/boyfriend like behavior. Two of the guys and all of the girls accompanied us on the snorkeling trip. Big “ewww” factor.

This is something I did not see in Malaysia. I’m not sure if it’s because Malaysia is primarily Muslim or if they’re not as poor as the people in the Philippines. I would rather be back at the Malaysian resort just for the guests.

Most of the guests here are Japanese, Chinese, Australian/New Zealand, Middle Eastern, French, Italian, and Filipino. It’s nice hearing different languages during mealtimes. Americans rarely come to Asia for a beach holiday. I was the only American vacationing in Malaysia last year and the manager confirmed that they don’t get many Americans. Too bad….Americans don’t know what beauty they're missing. This place is incredible. This photo is taken from the balcony of the water cottage one morning.

More fun in the sun

Day 2 of our vacation had us getting up early to eat breakfast and get out for our excursion. Today it’s snorkeling, kayaking and swimming with the jackfish.

We spend a lot of time on boats. It usually takes about 20 or 25 minutes to get your destination. And always, we take a powerboat to a larger boat for the trip. The time goes quickly when you’re admiring the view. The water is so blue and clear. I love to sit in the front and feel the air and sun.

Before we hit the lagoon where we would snorkel, we made a “drive by” into a smaller lagoon. There’s one guy in the front of the boat to direct the captain around the rocks. Another guy is on one of the beams to navigate around the rocks as well. This lagoon is on the scenic route as evidenced by a line of boats waiting to get in.

Then we finally get to the big lagoon where we would be able to snorkel and canoe. I’m not much of a swimmer, but we’re required to wear a life vest so I quickly got comfortable snorkeling in pretty deep water (they let Ken snorkel without one after another guy also dove in without one). There were so many fish around the reef. Colorful parrot fish, angel fish. surgeon, and countless fish that I can’t identify. Some were colorful, others had interesting patterns. I would just float and watch what was going on below me. As you can see, the water is incredibly clear and blue.

After snorkeling Ken and I kayaked in the lagoon. We made a good team and went into a smaller cove through a hole so small that it took some work for us to maneuver ourselves inside. Ken had to lie down in order to get through. We saw 2 large guys swim and push/pull their kayak instead. But it was worth the effort. Very few people were in the cove so it was quiet and there were tall rocks around us.

After kayaking we went to the sister resort for lunch and swimming with the jackfish. Mineloc is an older resort (built in the 1980’s), but they have a great lagoon for snorkeling. They don’t have a pool and only have open air dining (we have an air conditioned room and outdoor seating). The buffet is very similar, but they had a great green mango salad and blueberry cheesecake.

Our guide Chris (same guy as yesterday) left us with a lot of bread so we could feed the fish. Ken loved feeding the fish as evidenced by the photo. One of the little fish even bit his finger instead of bread.

They would swarm even if you’re in the water and just swimming. I let him feed, I would snorkel. The jackfish are HUGE! Some were a good 3’ or larger. They are mean-looking too. They just hang out in the lagoon. They don’t each much of the bread and the schools of fish clear out when they swim by. They seem to like swimming in a clockwise pattern. It was awesome.

The tide was going out so I laid on the pier. The perfect conditions… water and a late-afternoon sun.

At 4 pm, they took us back to our resort. Just in time for a quick shower and a massage in the massage hut. Afterward we picked up a drink from the bar and walked out to the jetty to watch the sunset. The skies were a bit different than the day before. I think it was even better! I stayed until the last ray disappeared and the stars became visible. Just in time for dinner.

We’ve decided that this is the best beach vacation either or us has taken. The staff treats you so well here. The water is clean, the fish plentiful, the weather is warm and sunny. Palawan is very eco-friendly and we’re asked to keep everything clean as we found it. We don’t look forward to leaving in two days.

El Nido's Lagen Resort on Palawan Island

I made a promise to not go online while I was on vacation, but I can still write my blog and post it later. ;-)

I am vacationing with my friend Ken (old friends from work...he lives in Shanghai) on Palawan Island at the El Nido resort called Lagen. Getting to Palawan requires a 75-minute flight on a chartered plane (departing at 7:30 am), then a transfer to a speedboat (after a quick snack of sticky rice…basically mochi rice that you sprinkle on coconut and sugar – I had 3!), which then takes us to a larger catamaran boat, then another transfer to a speedboat again to get us to the dock. Whew! Lots of boats, but we remained dry.

We land on an unpaved runway. Yes, we feel like Indiana Jones in this airplane!

As we skim the clear blue waters en route to the island, Grace, our activities coordinator is helping us selected some activities we want to book. This is an all-inclusive resort so the activities are generally included. We agreed to the island hopping tour in the afternoon, and in subsequent days kayaking, rock climbing, snorkeling, sailing and diving for Ken.

We pass plenty of islands. Similar to those seen in Malaysia (Ken thinks it looks like Vietnam). Most of the islands are just large rocks in the water. The Philippines is made up of over 7,000 islands.

The Lagen resort is in a U-shaped cove. Talk about picturesque! There are 51 rooms in this hotel built in 1991. The landscaping is beautiful. The view from the pool is unbelievable.

We’re welcomed with a fish-shaped lei made coconut tree fronds (they make these in Hawaii too) and the employees singing a traditional Palawan march. Yes, we’ve arrived in paradise and we're being treated like royalty.

After checking in and getting settled in our water cottage (thank goodness we splurged to stay in one of them), we looked out at the fish under our balcony and I lounged by the pool for an hour while Ken swam in the water and did laps in the pool.

Lunch is a large buffet with an amazing selection. The fish was really good and the black bean crab was tasty, but too much work. There’s also a stir fry, grill, and shabu shabu station. We’re certainly not going to starve on this trip.

After lunch we took the island hopping tour. Chris was our tour guide (he's in the green shirt) and took us to a cave where we had to climb through a small hole (there are bats inside!).

Then we went to Snake Island…no snakes, but a sand bar connects two islands and the tide was out so we could walk across. We also could swim in the clear water, but Chris made us wear our life vests (party pooper!). You can see the sand bar pretty well in this photo.
And the last island was a "drive" into a small cave - yawn!

After we returned, we got a massage in the room. We wanted the massage hut, but it was already booked. We did reserve it for the next day though.

The massage ended just in time for the sunset. And a spectacular one at that. We sit on the concrete jetty and enjoy the show.

A drink at the bar, then dinner outside next to the pool (we got there early enough to ensure a table next to the water). The staff puts on a nice little show of national dances.
One dance uses two long bamboo poles and the dancers jump as the poles are being struck in rhythm. We used to learn this dance when I was in elementary school and I forgot all about it until seeing it again. After they dance, they recruit audience members to learn it. I decline, remembering how many times I used to get my ankles stuck between the poles. I’m too uncoordinated for this dance.

By 9 pm we were exhausted and crashed. We had an incredibly busy day, but at such a relaxed pace. We were just grateful that we didn’t get sunburned and can enjoy our activities tomorrow.