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buenos aires

Destinations, South America

An American in Buenos Aires

May 28, 2009 • By

I enjoy being a tourist in Buenos Aires but sometimes it leads to some interesting dilemmas.  When my friend Maria came to visit, we took a city bus tour with audio and historical context included.  Me being me, I felt like I could do it better so when my friend Pam landed in Buenos Aires, I decided Kelly knows best.  For the most part, that worked to my advantage until I panicked we missed our stop and jumped the gun on getting off the bus.  We were trying to get to La Caminito once a bustling port and home to the tango.  Today, La Caminito is a colorful street filled with local artist displays and restaurants and cafes in an otherwise run down neighborhood of La Boca.

After walking for about 15 minutes through La Boa, we finally arrived to the river and I decided it was now safe to check my map.  It seemed like maybe 30 seconds until two officers opened up their window yelling peligroso and pulling on their eyes.  Ahhh!  Whatever! I waved them off.  Next, a man came up to us tugging on Pam’s purse yelling, “robo” and speaking frantically in Spanish.  I had no idea what he was saying and started thinking maybe this guy wanted to rob us.  Luckily, Pam seemed to understand his Spanish or his body language(please note Pam speaks no Spanish) and realized he was trying to help us.  This nice man walked us behind a security gate where the officers explained we were about to be robbed by those adorable looking children playing in the street.  They looked harmless enough to me.  The officers explained (in Spanish I understood it a bit more now) this was not a safe area and we needed to use caution.  Caution is a word and a symbol used quite often in Buenos Aires.  When a local pulls on his eyes with his index finger it means dangerous:  use caution.  Having lived in a few big cities they might be overreacting a little but I was thankful for the assistance and Pam and I arrived safely at our cute little tourist destination.

This past week Pam and I spent a few days in Mendoza, otherwise known as wine country in Argentina.  We arrived early on Monday and started our wine tour straight away.  The wineries (bodegas in Spanish) aren’t to the glam level of Napa Valley or even Stellenbosch (South Africa) but they have their own unique blend of Argentinean culture and beauty.  A proper wine tour begins with a walk through the bodega where the host explains everything from the barrels used (mostly French, some American) to the length of the fermenting process.  I’ve taken one or two tours in my day but I found it interesting that in Mendoza you must take a tour of the bodega before you taste the wine.  That could very well be an attempt to slow the drinking process but I think it has more to do with the pride they take in their product.  We tasted at Carmelo Patti, a cute old-fashioned winery where the owner greets you and shares his stories.  He definitely had a flare for the dramatic, which I can totally appreciate.  From there, we enjoyed a fantastic lunch and wine pairing at Ruca Malen.  Set amidst the rows of fall colored vines with the snow covered Andes Mountains in the foreground, the bodega did not disappoint.  The people, food, wine and service were outstanding.

Mendoza bodegas produce incredible wines and the restaurants deliver savory meats and sweet desserts.  Your taste buds think they’ve gone to heaven and beyond.  The grounds are beautifully maintained but the bodegas let the wines sell themselves.  This is not about grand palaces and acres and acres of vines.  It’s more or less about the serenity of the mountains and the divine flavors of the wine.  Mendoza takes the simple approach and it works.

To immerse ourselves in the culture that is Mendoza, we tried horseback riding in the Andes.  I haven’t been on a horse in years but “Gaucho” and I had a conversation right off the bat where I basically asked the horse not to kill me.  We kept at a steady pace and winded along the foothills of the Andes where just 3 hours away lies Santiago.  Since the crisp air screams fall and winter is fast approaching, snow covered many of the mountaintops.  It’s also worth mentioning that Cerro Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas and the highest mountain outside Asia resides in Mendoza.  The peak reaches (6,962 meters) 22,841 feet and is considered one of the 7 summits.  Aconcagua looked harmless from a distance but I’ve learned the hard way that is never the case.  After a few hours on the horses, our guide Fancu cooked us an amazing steak and vegetable lunch complete with Mendozan red wine.  What gets better than sun, mountains, horses, a freshly cooked meal (by a cute local I might add) and wine?

The answer is…1884.

Later that night, yes I’m nearing the part of the story where I become a vegetarian, Pam and I headed to our big fancy dinner.  With economic hardships reaching Mendoza, the restaurant’s prices took a dip that worked in our favor.  We each ordered a different cut of steak (AMAZING), a bottle of wine and after several courses of salads, breads and “on the house” nibbles, we settled on skipping dessert.  Of course, we didn’t anticipate the smoldering waif of chocolate floating by our table at the same point the waiter handed over the postres menu.  Alas, we only live once and death by chocolate or chocolate is death (I forget but either way you get the point) landed on our table moments later.  It was worth every bite.

With our stomachs still full from the previous night’s endeavor, we embarked on another journey through Mendoza.  I say journey because for me it’s not a place I often find myself …the KITCHEN.  The chef sized me up pretty quickly when I couldn’t even figure out how to kneed the bread dough.  Thankfully, she couldn’t speak English so we listened to an interpreter but her scornful facial expressions said it all.  Pam seemed to be doing just fine since the chef never once took her dough away from her.  I felt like I was 6-years-old again helping my mom make cookies and having her shoo me away.  After bread, we made what is becoming like my biggest addiction EMPANADAS.  This time we stuffed the specialty of the house with onions, meat, and my favorite condiment, cheese.  The chef took the uncooked displays from us and we patiently waited with wine in hand next to a gorgeous fireplace.  It seemed like hours passed until piping hot empanadas finally greeted our mouths.  I’m not sure if it’s because my hard work went into preparing these empanadas but they were simply delicious.  We sat back and enjoyed the fruits of our labor.  Just when I thought we were done for the day, we were treated to a wine tasting and a 5-course sampling of meat.  No I wasn’t hungry, no I definitely did not need any more food but I persevered eating a few bites of the rib eye, the sausage, the chicken and lamb and pork.  It got to be ridiculous.  I knew we should have taken the bicycle ride over the cooking class.

Back in Buenos Aires, we said good-bye to Daniel, our salsa friend from Holland.  He was armed with his trendy shirt and shoes and ready for dance.  Unfortunately, we ended up at a Samba bar and chuckled over how many different dances we would need to master before truly becoming “local” in Argentina.  The night moved along before we found a local favorite in where else?  Palermo Viejo.  This salsa bar even had professional dancers perform during music breaks.  If only my dance moves were as perfected as my shopping moves.

Pam and I tackled our last day of sightseeing by visiting Casa Rosada.   The Pink House or the Presidential Palace is the official seat of the Executive Branch of the Argentinean Government.  It’s famous balcony, which faces the Plaza de Mayo square has served as a podium for many historical figures through the years.  This is where Evita gave her speech rallying the working class of Argentina and even Pope John Paul and Madonna have stood on this great foundation of change.  We entered Casa Rosada from the front and toured a few rooms before landing on the side porch.  It was a beautiful sunny day with the Argentinean flag flying high.  As I stared down Plaza de Mayo Avenue from the May 25 Revolutionary statue to the Obelisk, I couldn’t help feel the sense of shared history.  I turned back to catch a glimpse of the sun radiating on Casa Rosada and thought to myself one day Argentineans will triumph over their loss.

Later that evening, I returned to La Cabrera for Pam’s last Argentinean supper.  This time armed with information from my previous visit with Landra and William.  I told Pam emphatically “no appetizers.”  She ordered the Kobe beef and I chose the beef tenderloin.  An hour later wishing my jeans were made of elastic I realized my beef eating days must come to an end SOON.  I mean I cannot continue to devour portions of cow like this.  It clearly doesn’t help that I insist on ordering panqueque with dulce de leche and ice cream for dessert but still.  While I was convincing the Israeli American at the table next to me to order the beef tenderloin and the superb bottle of wine we were drinking we somehow engaged another man who considers himself Palestinian(unclear where he lives now).  I moderated for a bit and decided we should move beyond politics and back to what we were all here for….the beef and of course the wine.  I don’t know how I find myself in these situations but I do.  Always.  Anyway, Pam and I walked away with a free bottle of wine—a gift the waiter explained.  I’m not sure how a restaurant makes money giving away free bottles of wine but it has now happened to me twice.  Hey you business people out there, where do you put that in your expenditure report?

I want to conclude by telling you what an American does in Buenos Aires in the winter.  On Saturday, Pam, Landra and I rented bikes.  We were a little rusty at first but once we realized using breaks and power steering were completely unnecessary, we got along just fine.  We pedaled through many of the city’s parks, gardens and after an hour of intensive exercise we lounged on the side of a pond slurping up popsicles.  I can deal with 80 degrees in winter.  After a walk through the rose garden and a cab ride to another neighborhood, we devoured some well-earned pasta and by now it goes without saying, a picture perfect dulce de leche panqueque con helado.  You simply must visit to try one.

I’m off to Patagonia tomorrow to climb a very famous glacier with my friend Landra.  When I went to buy gloves today (yes this is my second purchase in 6 months), the store manager informed me it’s very cold.  Most normal people visit Patagonia in the summer but in January and February I was busy falling down mountains and chasing pyramids.  I have a few more stories to share and I will try to download those by the weekend.

Africa, Australia, Destinations, Middle East, South America

The last chapter?

July 15, 2009 • By


  1. Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro
  2. Learning a new language
  3. Sailing the Nile
  4. Swimming in the Red Sea
  5. Sipping Malbec and Camanere (red wine)
  6. Visiting Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall
  7. Seeing lions, cougars, elephants, zebras, giraffes in their natural habitat
  8. Devouring dulce de leche and falafel
  9. Watching the most incredible sunsets from Table Mountain, South Africa and the middle of nowhere Botswana to the mountains of Petra, Jordan and over the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv, Israel
  10. Spraying my room, bed, clothes and entire body with bug spray
  11. Dressing up as Cleopatra
  12. Finding coffee in Tanzania
  13. Visiting four continents and 14 countries
  14. Taking tango lessons
  15. Learning to salsa
  16. Showering after my Mt. Kili climb
  17. La Cabrera, Buenos Aires, Argentina
  18. Starbucks, Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt
  19. Rocking until 5 am in Buenos Aires and Tel Aviv
  20. Thinking a lion was going to eat me.  Thank goodness for the grazing zebra
  21. Visiting a hospital in Arusha, Tanzania
  22. Horseback riding in the Andes
  23. Walking along the Indian Ocean in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa
  24. Shopping for boots…daily
  25. Meeting all the wonderful people who changed my life for the better



I left New York City on November 18th.  It took me six weeks to remember I didn’t have a job and another six months to realize eventually I would need one.  It’s been an incredible journey with memories to last a lifetime.  For those of you who have shared in my adventures, my last chapter is for you.  You have been my greatest fans cheering me on and pushing me forward when at times I wanted to call it quits.  Many of you have asked the following:

  • Why did you take this trip?
  • What did you learn?
  • What’s your favorite place?
  • When are you coming home?
  • Where are you now?

I hope I’ve answered those questions somewhere along the way but in case my long-winded responses were not enough for you, here goes:

I am fortunate.  I am blessed.  I am independent.  I am lucky.  I am not brave.  I am not crazy.  I did not run away from anything or anyone.  Travel for me is my greatest love.  It’s my passion in life.  At 35, I figured I had time, money, and a natural break in my career.

Life is about choices.  I considered buying a condo but then I weighed the pros and cons and figured investing in myself would be the smarter choice.  Someday, I will own a house.  I may never again have an opportunity to travel freely for an extended period of time—to take a “life break.”  Since 6th grade world history class, I dreamed of seeing Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Each week we were required to read newspaper articles pertaining to the region we were covering and draft a summary of at least one article –three for extra credit.  We all know I completed three.  While I hated “current events” (my mother probably disliked them more because she helped every Thursday night), these assignments launched my fascination for the world.

Africa seemed like a faraway land with poverty and war; a place that people read about but never actually visited.  Regardless, I knew one day I would step foot on the African continent and find beyond the pictures and words a place rich in history and culture.  To say Africa is a beautiful place is one thing; to experience the African music, taste the food, participate in the rituals and to see natural marvels untouched for thousands of years is quite another.  I made an effort to learn about the people in each country I visited.  I realized I couldn’t live in their shoes but I wanted to experience a snapshot nevertheless.  It was my choice to backpack, camp, hike, ferry, bus and take less traveled routes not because I am a glutton for punishment but because it was the scenic route; the route less traveled.

From place to place, country-to-country, I observed the faces of people.  Some of their faces revealed great suffering, others sadness but more often than not people greeted me with welcoming smiles and a sense of determination and perseverance unmatched in other parts of the world.  Life in Africa is complicated.  I don’t know what it’s like to be hungry, to live without water and electricity, to be considered so invaluable that the cattle are more important.  I have opportunities that most African’s cannot even imagine possible.  I am free.  I am educated.  I have choices.  What the African people need more than anything is to know there is hope, to demand more of themselves and of their leaders and to define their own destiny.  I saw what amazing things occurred in Botswana where the government is stable, education a priority and the economy self-sufficient.  I met the kindest and most considerate people in Arusha, Tanzania where everyone from the hotel manager to the chef and restaurant crew welcomed me with open-arms; cared for me like a member of their family; and cried with me while I hobbled around the hotel with crutches. There are countless others like Adronis and God Bless who dragged me down Mt. Kilimanjaro injured and my guide Herman in the Serengeti who understands education is the key to success and scrapes up money to educate his two boys in private schools.   He says it’s their only chance at success.  AIDS, poverty, malaria and corruption are a part of African life but these people will not be defined by illness and tragedy.  They are the real story of Africa.

In some respects, I took two very distinct trips.  I saw oceans and mountains, seas and lakes, deserts and forests, religious artifacts and burial sites, man made spectaculars and natural wonders.  In Africa and the Middle East, I challenged myself in ways I didn’t think possible.  I’m a city girl.  I don’t like dirt, I don’t like bugs and I certainly don’t enjoy using nature’s bathroom.  Africa changed me.  I’m confident it made me stronger, more tolerant and wiser.  It shaped me in ways I may not understand for years to come.  With every passing day, I opened my eyes to a world and to a people often ignored.  Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, riding a camel at the Great Pyramids, sailing down the Nile, reaching the top of Mt. Sinai, silently observing a male lion devour a giraffe, praying at the Wailing Wall, watching the clouds blanket Table Mountain were highlights of my African experience.  They are memories to last me a lifetime for sure but when friends ask me about Africa I immediately flash to the people.  The African people triumph over adversity daily and what they want —what we all want— is to provide for their families; to keep their children healthy, safe and secure; to give them an opportunity to enjoy life not survive it.

After four months of tramping through an entirely different part of the world, I hauled my cookies from Tel Aviv to Zurich back to the United States and then down to my home away from home Buenos Aires, Argentina.  My parents assumed I would be back by May 1 but I had other plans.  At the urging of my friend Jack, who encouraged me to stay longer in Argentina, I rented an apartment, enrolled in Spanish classes and immersed myself in the culture.  I always dreamed of living abroad to learn a language and finally I made it happen.

Making friends is never difficult for me but in Argentina I discovered people from all over the world who were like me.  People who worked hard but made travel a priority.  We shared a common belief that one must see the world to understand it.

There are 13 million people in Buenos Aires.  While I didn’t meet them all, I received an incredible welcome from my teachers, classmates and other locals who shared their life with me on a daily basis.  In doing so, they changed mine.  I learned to slowdown, to see things at face value, to appreciate the beauty of each day.  I studied Spanish, danced the tango, consumed vast amounts of beef, sipped wine, biked through parks, climbed a glacier, hiked Iguazu Falls and more importantly celebrated life.  Living in Buenos Aires was awesome for lack of a better word.  It’s considered to be the Paris, Rome and New York City of South America.  I contend it’s better but if only they could please clean up the dog poop.

The Argentine people are strong and determined.  They have endured hardship and instead of waiting for change they take to the streets and fight for their rights.  Argentina is not immune from corruption or poverty but in Buenos Aires I felt the sincerity of a people who demanded more from their government and believed their troubles of the past were the basis for a secure future.  There were certainly things that drove me nuts, for example, change.  Money is a problem in Argentina.  No one has it and everybody wants it.  I met many people (college educated) who worked 2-3 jobs to survive.  They struggled but they never complained.  I learned much from them.  To my teachers, neighbors, and new Argentine friends you are truly an inspiration.  I miss you already.

I finished my travels in Chile, which was nice because it gave me a chance to reflect on the last eight months.  It is true I am sad to leave the world of travel behind.  Every Friday when we said good-bye to a classmate, we used to mourn their loss.  They had to return home…back to reality. Something none of us wanted to face.

When I left the USA, I didn’t know what I would encounter.  I wanted to “see the world” but I wasn’t entirely sure what that entailed.  I had already visited other countries and how would this experience be different?  Letting go of my career, my friends and my family was tough but it opened doors for me.  When Jill and I departed at the Johannesburg airport and I stood there without a plan, it was the first time in years I truly felt alone yet free.  I quickly understood the path before me was unknown and I was ready for the adventure.  As I traveled through Africa, the Middle East and South America, I realized my life is privileged.  I have a loving family and friends who shape my life for the better.  This trip wasn’t a vacation.  It was a learning experience.  I learned to trust in the kindness of strangers, to accept my surroundings and to be at peace with myself.  The world is small and it gets smaller each day.  Be kind to it.  Appreciate your loved ones and take time for yourself.  You only get one shot to make the most of your life.

I am “home” in the USA.  I’ve already enjoyed a hot shower, fresh laundry and two home-cooked meals. Sometimes it’s the little things you miss the most.

To be continued…


Richie and Yasmin, England

Hog Hollow

Otte Family, Luxembourg

Namibia couple

Jeri Wade, USA

Troy, USA

Adronis, Tanzania

God Bless, Tanzania

Herman, Tanzania

Entire staff at the Arusha Hotel, Tanzania

Pilot Tom, USA

Sanja, Tanzania

Janet Keller, USA

Arie Rubenstein, USA

Bruce and Harriet

Elisa Franzo and her family, Italy


John Weadick, Ireland

Paddy and Allan, South Africa

Stella and Terry, England

Christine and Matt, Canada

Jenni and Margaret Kline, USA

Geri Sadek, USA

Laura and Jim Ross, USA

Pamela, USA

Tim Allen, USA/Argentina

Katherine Thonvold, USA/Argentina

Karen Downey, Australia

Gustavo Chamorro, Argentina

Ursula Leal Capria, Argentina

Anna Achenbach, Germany

William “Steve” Jackson, USA

Kate, USA/Chile

Annette, Germany/Chile

Daria Saharova, Germany

Ash Dawson, England

Gabi, USA/South Africa

Barin Darnew, USA

Janine and Erik, USA

Ecela Language School, South America

Pilar, Argentina

Rocio, Argentina

Leila, Argentina

Lorena, Argentina

Alberto, Columbia/Argentina

Guillermo, Argentina

Emanuel, Argentina

My friends at Pilates and Starbucks

Pia and USA/India

Tal, Israel/England

Pablo, Argentina

A special thanks to Jill Straus, my travel partner in crime and Maria Brijeski and Pam Manz who visited me in Argentina

To all of you who kept tabs on me, encouraged me along the way and responded to my Facebook updates, many thanks

To Landra Bickley, my Argentine sister, it was certainly a wild ride.  Espero que bailes tango y comas muchas carne sin yo.  Quiero todos detalles.  Te extraño

Jack O’Donnell who served as tech support and a constant sounding board (via email).  I’m sure you are happy to have more time on your hands.  I’m still writing the book.

Thank you to my parents who despite their concerns pushed me to reach for the stars.  Your support is unwavering and your love is the reason I take chances in life.  It was time someone had as much fun as Patrick.

Besos, abrazos y muchas gracias a mis amigos en Argentina

Espero que encontramos otra vez pronto

Chau Chau