May 31, 2005

Luke Rader

For more than month before we traveled to Brazil, Betty studied Castilian (Argentine Spanish) at a school in Recoleta. Here she met Mario. Besides being a really great guy, Mario is a late 20's German network engineer. He has been here nearly a year with his girl friend - another German. She has a great job.

Three weeks ago I met Mario. The three of us went out for coffee and later beer. It was a lot of fun. Sometime during our conversation, Mario was talking about Luke, an American that was at Spanish school that he and Betty attended. Betty had already told me that Luke was, in fact, also from the Twin Cities. They had done a number of things together and Mario seemed to know Luke pretty well. The strangest thing began to happen as he talked. I started to think that I knew who Luke was. I asked, what is his last name? He said, Raader. I laughed so hard and said, "His name is Raider."

Yes I knew Luke. His name is spelled Rader, but pronounced Raider. Some 35 years ago we worked together in the paving department for the City of Minneapolis. I worked with him another season two years later. The first twelve years of working for the City, I saw him often. When I moved on to the assessor's office, I saw him only a few times. Still, he is very memorable. What a coincidence it was to hear of him going to school with Betty more that 6000 miles from our old stomping grounds in Minnesota.

Betty and I were just a few days from heading out of town to visit Iguazu and Brazil. So I asked Mario to keep the fact of my presence from Luke's ears until we could surprise him. Mario agreed.

Today was the day that we surprised Luke. We arranged to meet Mario for lunch. He brought Luke and Betty brought me. He was just as surprised by it all as I was when I realized that Mario's was the Luke Rader that I have know for 35 years.

Luke seems to be enjoying himself. He is a film buff, and this town shows classic movie greats on a regular basis. The art available at auction is always a good deal. And if you just like art, there is plenty here to enjoy. The theater art are great here too with dozens of great theaters.

Well, that is my Luke Rader story. It just goes to show you what a small world we live in.

Posted by bill at 05:34 PM | Comments (1)

May 25, 2005

On the Road

Press HERE to see a slideshow of pics from Iguazu to Florianopolis .

Notheast Argentina, Uruguay, and South Brazil

Betty and I were out of town from Thursday, the 12th of May, until today, the 25th of May. We drove to Parana, Puerto Iguazú , Curitiba, Florianópolis, Montevideo and back to Buenos Aires. If you look at the map on the right, you will see all the places that we visited. I should mention that when we were in Curitiba, we were only 400 miles from Rio de Janeiro. Maybe we should have checked it out.

Parana's Cathederal

Betty and I left Buenos Aires driving 250 miles north and west. It was not too bad of a day. It is the autumn here. The skies were cloudy and occasionally it rained. Like most of the regions where there is agriculture; the fields were mostly grass with cows and horses grazing. We had expected to see orchards, but they were not here.
We were going to visit our landlady, Sandra Leiva, in Parana. We got there late in the afternoon. She bought a lovely house overlooking the river for a price that Americans would find unbelievable. I wish that it had been a bright and sunny day, because I am sure that the view from her home is spectacular on a clear day. She helped us find a hotel and we took her out for dinner in the evening. We ate at the local yacht club and I ate river fish that was quite good. The next day we left Parana, driving mostly north and a bit to the east. We drove all day and got as far as San Ignacio, which is about 40 miles ENE of Posadas. Slowly but surely the land turned greener and greener as we drove north. They get six feet of rain a year in Misiones, the province the far NE of Argentina. We began to see plantations here and there. They appeared to be growing tea or yerba mate and fruit. Green and warm, it was a nice place to be. There are other differences, especially near to Posadas. The area was colonized 350 years ago, by Jesuit missionaries, so there are more people living on the land and on much smaller farms than in the bulk of Argentina.

At the Devil's Throat

So we came to Puerto Iguazú in the early afternoon on Saturday, the 14th of May. We checked out the Sheraton. I was willing to pay the outrageous $150 or more a night for a room facing the falls. They only had rooms facing the jungle so we passed on the Sheraton and drove into town. We quickly found a nice hotel with a pool and a court yard, where we immediately quenched our thirst with some beer. Then we walked a bit through the town. The town is very small and we saw a lot of it. Of course, the hotels and resorts stretch out along the main highway on the way to the falls, but the town center is quite small. We put off visit the park until Sunday.
Thank goodness Sunday was a pretty nice day. It wasn't sunny like Saturday, but still it was warm and dry. We drove the dozen or so miles out to the Parque Nacional Iguazú to see the largest falls in the world. They are called Las Cataratas in Argentina. The water falls out of a basalt ledge several kilometers in distance. It is truly an amazing site. After arriving, we took the little train and then walked out to the Garganta del Diablo, the Devil's Throat. With the mist rising from the falls, you might think that it is raining - but it is not. At this outfall we wanted to hangout as long as we could. The pictures can not do it justice. After lingering at the Devil's Throat, we walked to the Sheraton for a light lunch and to enjoy the view. It is so close to the falls that view is just fantastic. I cannot believe that there is any other such hotel in the world with so fine a view. Of course, I have not seen the entire world yet.
We ended our visit to the park with a 90-minute ride on the river. The boat took us right into two of the outfalls. We got thoroughly soaked. Even Betty's camera got a bit to wet, despite all our protective measure. At least nothing got ruined. After the soaking we took a run down the river canyon to for several kilometers. The rapids were not too scary, but Betty got a bit freaked when they spun the boat in fast circles. At the end of the boat journey, we got a ride back to the park on a truck traveling through the jungle. The most notable site on the journey was a family of monkeys that lived high in the tree canopy. We were wet and cold and the sun would soon be setting. We headed back into town having thoroughly enjoyed our day in the park.

Along the Trail
with Outfalls Everywhere
Another Outfall
The View from the Sheraton
Preparing to Board
On the Iguazú River

On Monday we drove into Brazil. I should mention that Brazil requires visas, and they are quite expensive - nearly $110. Brazil is very keen to ensure reciprocity for anything the USA does. Although I am sure the cost for a US visa is much higher for Brazilians.
We had to drive through Foz do Iguaçu. Just across the river from Puerto Iguazú , it is no small town. I am not sure about the size but it is a city. We drove across the state of Parana. It rained all day so it was a good day for travel. Most of the Brazilian states charge high tolls to drive on two-lane roads. While the road conditions are much better, the $2 USD charge every 65 miles is crazy. This is on top of the $3.50 to $4 per gallon gas. Here the alternative fuel is not natural gas, like in Argentina, but it is alcohol and still quite expensive. We drove all day and stopped about 20 miles before reaching Curitiba.
The next day was Tuesday. Betty was surprised at how good the Brazilian breakfast is when it is compared to the coffee and rolls in Argentina. The breakfast buffets are large and usually have eggs and fruit. What a pleasant change. We decided to checkout a bit of Curitiba. It is a wonderful modern city. It had a very nice feel to it. We had decided to visit a local art museum. The architecture of the museum was its greatest object of interest. It is called the Eye. Look at the picture and you will know why. We wandered through the entire building before heading south toward Florianópolis.

Before the Eye
Inside the Eye

Florianópolis - Room View

I should mention that the there is a good four-lane freeway that runs from Florianópolis to Sao Paulo; and here we were on it. So we drove all afternoon before coming to the Island of Santa Catarina, where the city of Florianópolis stands. The island is 60 by 12 kilometers. We stopped at an information office and got directed to a hotel on the north end of the island in Canasvieiras. It was a nice hotel with a good view of the sea. That evening we had a great dinner of shrimp.
Our biggest obstacle to really enjoying ourselves was the weather, because it rained all the next day. The street in front of the hotel flooded. We didn't go out but watched a movie on the computer. The next day was a joy. We got some email from friends, who directed us to the south and east side of the island. We took off for a wonderful outing in the sun along the east coast and we found many beautiful beaches. There were a number of surfers doing their thing and a few sun bathers. But basically these wonderful beaches were devoid of visitors. I am sure that it is quite different in the summer months of December and January. We really enjoyed Barra da Lagoa, where we saw fishermen, sunbathers, surfers and this is where we lunched. After lunch we continued south to Armação. It was a beautiful drive; the island is simply lovely. We wondered around on the beach and across a little island there. We considered moving to a hotel here the next day and checked out a few. Like the rest of the Brazil we were seeing, the island is really green. Not a tropical paradise, yet a wonderful natural place where tourists can find an easy going life with wonderful repasts and great beaches.
We were just here at the wrong time, because the next day again it rained all day long. We drove into the city for the afternoon. We saw the movie Kingdom of Heaven. I did not expect to enjoy it all that much, but - in fact - I really liked it. If it had not been for the rain, it would have been a fantastic three days. Instead, it was just OK. I guess that says a lot for Florianópolis.

Rainy Days
Fishing Boat
Waiting for Fish
Casting His Net
Barra da Lagoa's Beach
And More of Its Beach
And Its Harbor

We left Florianópolis driving south. In the state of Santa Caterina there were no tolls as we drove. When were almost to Porto Alegre the tolls started up again. We drove all day and still did not get out of Brazil. We stopped in Pelotas for the night. The next day we drove for another three hours before getting to Uruguay. I had heard that gas was cheaper in Uruguay so I did not tank up be for crossing the border. What a mistake! Gas cost $5 per gallon in Uruguay. They must have the highest gas tax in the world. Just as bad were the tolls. Every 60 miles you paid two dollars, and there are no free roads. How a county can give its roads to privateers is beyond me - especially in a country that should be collecting plenty of money to fix the roads at the gas pumps. Worse we had no Uruguayan cash so we had to use Argentine pesos. I consider these tolls a form of legal robbery. So it should be a surprise to anyone that the rate they gave us at the toll booth was 15% less than the normal exchange rate. They robbed us twice.
I was pretty tired when we got to Montevideo. But we were there.


We had met a couple, Laura and her husband - Pablo, from Montevideo when we came to Buenos Aires. I called them and they helped us find a hotel. We chatted a while, ate some snack and shared a bottle of wine. We made a date for the next night before heading to bed for some seriously needed rest.
The next day was Monday, the 23rd of May. We took our time getting out. It was our first day sans driving in past three days. We took a bus downtown and wondered around. It is quite different than Buenos Aires and mostly it is a lot smaller. We walked into the port area and found a wonderful restaurant mall. It was so damn neat. We drank a couple of beers; I have to say that they make really good beer in Uruguay. We took a cab back to our hotel, where I picked up our car. We went for a drive along the shore of the Rio de La Plata in Montevideo. It has a kind of a gold-coast feel. And if a river can have a beautiful beach, then it is certainly in Montevideo. The north side of the river has fantastic beaches. This is very different from the Argentine side that has none. There is a picture of a clothing store we saw in the afternoon. It has an interesting name.
In the evening Laura and Pablo came by our hotel. We drove to a restaurant that friend of his owns. It was wonderful to get to know them here. Laura is school administrator, who is working on a Masters in Education. Pablo is a lawyer who is working for government office that is dismantling a bankrupt bank. We ate a lot of meat, drank a lot of wine and talked until midnight. It had been a lovely visit!

Montevideo's Central Plaza
Fishing the River Plata
Mercado del Puerto Parilla
Diners in the Mercado

Betty had decide that she wanted to get back to Buenos Aires as quickly as possible. So we put our car and ourselves on the fast (read expensive) ferry from Montevideo to BA. The ferry cruises at 38 knots. Now that is amazing. So in the middle of the afternoon we arrived. All was cool at the house both figuratively and literally. Yes, it is getting cold here with lows in the 50's and highs in the mid 60's. Not so bad, but our house only has one small, space heater. Oh well, my bed is warm.

Well, that's it for now.

Posted by bill at 11:30 PM | Comments (7)