A Travellerspoint blog

Argentina

FROM EGG HUNTS TO WINE TASTING

EXPLORING MEDOZA

sunny 24 °C

It doesn’t seem like that long ago we were spending our Easters in Florida and each Easter Sunday started with a traditional egg hunt and here we are spending the day in Mendoza, Argentina where we were tasting wine by 9:30 am. Believe me, it is not a complaint but merely an observation.
We arrived in Mendoza at about 2:30 yesterday afternoon after an easy 2 hour flight from Buenos Aires. We are staying at the Sheraton which is pretty nice, especially considering my usual standard of travel. Our view, however is a little less nice.

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We headed out to explore the city. We stopped for a quick bite at local chain, Kinkos. We picked the burgers that were in the pictures and Isaac ended up with one we could barely lift. Honestly, I have never seen such an excessive amount of meat per serving in my life. Yuk.
We decided to do a city bus tour but by the time we reached the depo, we had just missed the bus and would have to wait for an hour. There was a second option that seemed a little sketchy but it was leaving immediately. This city tour proved reminiscent of one we all did in San Francisco years ago when I ended up demanding my money back after sitting for two listening to the most unenthused guide ever, and the manager wanted to call the cops on me. This one might have been marginally better had they spoke English. Once I asked for a refund after the first half they gave us our own English speaking guide. It was nice to see the city and it was incredible to see all of the parks and green areas. Lots of families enjoying them too on this long Easter weekend.

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A creepy Spong Bob begging for $$

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April 6th – Easter Sunday.

We got started early this morning with an 8:30 pick up to go visit two wineries. There are 1500 vineyards in this region alone and much of the wine I drink at home comes from this region. This was really interesting as both used different techniques. The first, Alta Vista, was quick to show off its many accolades and touting its reputation as one of the top in the world. We viewed the vineyards, the vats, and the cellar where the wine sits in barrels before being bottled. To get the cellar, we had to take stairs and were warned to tell them right away if we felt weak, as the carbon dioxide coming from the barrels can be strong. We did fine and didn’t find it too bad. From there it was wine tasting. Yup, starting at 9:30 am!! We tasted 3 wines and suddenly at the end, she ended up breaking out one of their most expensive wines the “Alto”. I think it was because we had a couple from Wisconsin with us who were talking about buying cases. We really couldn’t tell the difference so no point even considering a purchase. Isaac thought it was great and we made a discovery, blue teeth might be genetic (only those that know my sister will get this).

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I loved the second vineyard. Or, at least I loved the story. Domino del Plata is owned by Susana Balbo. Susana graduated with a degree in enology (which makes her an expert wine maker apparently). She had great difficulty getting a job in Argentina because she was a female and the first in her field. She decided to leave the country and eventually became an expert wine maker, making her famous and suddenly in great demand. With many offers in Argentina she worked for the top vineyard before opening her own and putting her own name on the bottle. Her vineyard exports more wine from Argentina than any other. You go girl!! The grounds are gorgeous and her passion and attention to detail and show everywhere. Her most commercial line shows a symbol with her hand and that of her two children who just began working with her. The others have her name, or one of a couple beautiful paintings showing the manual labor that goes into each bottle. The originals hang in the restaurant. The most expensive in stock is the Nosotros 1998. We did not taste that. Once again we toured all the parts of the process only this time when we all went to the cellar we immediately felt weak and short of breath. The carbon dioxide was so strong. We quickly left and went to an amazing room to taste the most amazing wine. I just loved the Susanna Cabernet Sauvignon. Might have to hunt for that one back home because it does ship to Canada. It really was a beautiful place and great fun.

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The rest of the day was spend wandering around and eating. There was little open because it was Easter Sunday. It was fine all the same because we did some walking and window shopping in some really nice weather.

We have been learning some Spanish and getting by in restaurants and stores. When we don’t know the word, we just make them up. We simply add a “o” to end of the English word and hope for the best. Today’s word was “chango”. When Tony paid the lunch bill he told the waiter, “no chango senor” and it worked like a charm.

Tomorrow we leave early on bus for what could be up to a 12 hour trip to Chile. It is about 4 hours to the border driving high in the mountains and on winding roads through the Andes. Although it is a long trip, they say it is one of the most spectacular. The border is known to be quite difficult and can take up to 4 hours to get through especially on a holiday weekend. I have learned it can be quite difficult for single parents so I am praying we do not have a reenactment of what the Gabriels experienced in Brazil. Hopefully my next post will be from Valparaiso, Chile. Don’t expect to hear from us tomorrow because after a long journey it will be straight to bed.

The large ditches around the streets that guide the water than runs from the Andes. Without looking down, you could easily walk into one of these.

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Look what Sherry found. She got so excited, she knocked it all off the shelves.

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Isaac loves the size of the beer bottles

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Posted by curlygirl 20:34 Archived in Argentina Comments (3)

TRANSPORT, TOURS AND TANGO

WITH SOME CHIMICHURRI SAUCE ON THE SIDE

sunny 30 °C

Our morning at La Bamba started pretty much the same way as the previous day ended. Overeating. After insisting that we were all tired of eating and all tired of dulce de leche, we found ourselves in another beautiful setting eating a delicious breakfast. I have no idea what put us over the top, whether it was the fresh squeezed orange juice, the homemade croissants or the large jar of homemade dulce de leche that goes brilliantly with apples, strawberries, and a spoon. It was crazy but the service at this place is outstanding.

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The ranch was kind enough to set up a tour of a small traditional nearby town, San Antonio. This was something I wanted to do before I arrived but wasn’t sure it would work out. It was a real delight despite the exciting ride into town. Our taxis were two decrepit Fiats that didn’t look like they would move let along hit 80 kilometers an hour on a bumpy dirt road. The drivers rode hot on the tails of the cars ahead of us and made some risky passes that involved a “too close for comfort” moment with a transport truck. I had Ellen and Isaac with me and they were wide eyed for the 30 minute ride.

Our tour was with Magda, a very energetic and enthusiastic local history teacher who has lived her life in the town and knew absolutely everything and everybody. This town is rich in history and every shop looks like a museum. The buildings have been carefully restored and are full of antiques in every category. Its greatest charm, however, is the in preservation of the artisans. We went in shop after shop where the owner had been creating products for many years or were the son and daughters of those who had perfected the craft before them. We met a silversmith whose handmade silver jewelry was like nothing I had ever seen. The detail was incredible. There were leather workers and a lovely gentleman that hand spins wool to create pashminas and mohair sweaters. We had little time to shop but I made one purchase for a gift that I am not sure I will part with. Magda was an excellent hostess who made sure we were adequately fed and safely on our bus back to Buenos Aires.

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Perhaps what she didn't know was that our bus may not have been that safe. Starting at about 20 minutes into the 90 minute drive the bus simply cut out. Cut out completely while in motion. Sherry tried to question the driver when he rolled to the side of the road, but she got the hand saying, ‘wait, wait”. Sure enough, he got it going and off we went until it happened again, again and again. At one point we were dead in the water as he could not get the clutch in and he was on the on the phone speaking frantically to someone who appeared to know what to do because we once again were on our way and made it into Buenos Aires. All was good until Sherry noticed that we were almost to the airport. She was certain this was wrong because there is a large stretch of shanty towns as you approach the downtown area and we did not pass them. Her spidey senses were right. The driver thought we were headed to the airport and had to turn around adding about another 40 minutes to our drive. You just have to laugh at this stuff, or stay home.

So we were back in BA, late in the day and wishing we had just gone on to Mendoza because our plans to tour the city were a bust. In addition to our late arrival, it is Good Friday in a very Catholic country so most things were closed. But the dynamic duo (Shelley and Sherry) got on it and made a plan. We choose one of the restaurants recommended by Marcelo, which one again proved to be celiac friendly, and was known for its great lomo, or tenderloin. Yes, I was sick of meat too but yet, as a non-red meat eater, found myself having red meat for the 3 time in 36 hours. The restaurant in San Telmo, was very casual and filled with locals and tourists. The waiter was excellent and spoke great English and the 10 ounce tenderloins for $15 were delicious. Sherry and I opted to share one and we still rolled away from supper. I have been accused by my travel mates of leaving out some of my eccentricities from the blog. Apparently, I have shown a more than “normal” amount of enthusiasm for the chimichurri sauce in this country. How can I not? This blend of herbs, vinegar and oil is outstanding and I love it on everything. The sauce in tonight’s restaurant was the best. So good, that the waiter sold me the herbs and gave me instructions to make it at home.

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Our next adventure was to try and find some local tango in the city that created the dance. Opting out of the touristy tango shows, we elected to go to a Milango. A Milango is a local bar where people go to dance the tango. We found one near our restaurant and decided to go in. Well although I was thrilled with the atmosphere, the place was empty. I was told that people don’t start coming to dance until 11:30 and the live band starts at midnight. While I was gung-ho, my companions were not. They are still recovering from the travel and a night of erratic sugars (Ellen is diabetic). Even though we did not wait for the band at midnight, we did stay long enough to see some dancing. I loved loved loved it. It was so amazing to me that it was mostly young people in casual clothes who were wandering in with shoes in hand. They would greet friends with a kiss on the left cheek and hug, as most Argentinians seem to do, change their footwear and began to tango. What a beautiful and sensual dance that appears rather complicated. The bar was nothing fancy but it felt authentic.

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My last taxi story of the day, was our ride home. Once again, I had the kids so ended up in the front seat. From here, I could watch my driver surf facebook at the stops with his iphone propped up on the dash behind the wheel. What could possibly go wrong?

I was so pleased that we had one last night in this magical city. Sometimes things just work out.

So my plan was to come home and sleep, and blog tomorrow at the airport but I was so inspired by my evening that I had to get it written while I could still feel and smell the atmosphere. Hopefully the upload goes better than last night when the pictures kept distorting and going grainy. This is not always an easy task when you are at the disposal of any available internet.

My favorite room at La Bamba

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Posted by curlygirl 21:02 Archived in Argentina Tagged san tango antonia milango Comments (2)

JUST ANOTHER DAY AT THE FARM

AND HOW NOT TO GET OFF A HORSE

sunny 30 °C

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I cannot believe where I am as I write this. A quick 90 minute drive from Buenos Aires has brought us to the most amazing place. I know I think lots of things are amazing but this is really amazing. We are in the middle of the countryside at the most beautiful and elegant Estancia and I cannot express how blessed I feel.

An estancia is a privately own gaucho ranch. A gaucho is a South American cowboy. We arrived at the gate of La Bamba and were greeted by a beautiful native Argentinian on a beautiful horse. He led the way until we arrive at the main entrance where were met by all the staff who welcomed us, shook our hands and provide fresh towels. We could not contain our delight. When we walked inside the first building where we in complete awe. It is spectacular. After a quick drink and check in, we were given a tour. The grounds and building are beautiful and Ellen nearly lost her mind when she saw all the horses, llamas and dogs. Ok, so there are no llamas but that what poor little Ellen was calling the sheep. Easy mistake. We knew we were in for a night of real pampering especially when they showed us each of the four locations where we would be served lunch, cocktails, dinner and breakfast, each completely different. The next delight was the fresh empanadas. Sherry sighed because she loves empanadas but can’t eat them because she is a celiac. Or can she? Yes, it was true, hand delivered on a single separate plate was a steaming hot gluten free empanada. Sherry was sure this was going to be a great way to celebrate her birthday. Furthermore, they assured her, she could eat everything here. Her smile was as big as her face.

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We took some time to explore the grounds which included stables, a pool, a main house with our rooms that have towel warmers for our bath towels, or rather bath sheets. Sigh. Then another main house with an amazing sitting room and a library. You get the idea. Sherry and Tony even get their own room with Ellen across the hall. Happy Birthday Sherry!

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Next was lunch. A BBQ that included everything you can imagine slow cooked over coals. We had salads, and bread (gluten free too) and chicken, pork, beef, sausage and grill vegetables. There was no end. Oh yes, there was. It was the hand charred dulce de leche crepe. Good grief! Oh ya, all beverages are included too. That means Malbec.

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Following that was a presentation by a horse whisperer next to the pool. In complete silence this guy completely calmed the horse and with no words had him in a trace and the two intertwined for 15 minutes. Beautiful.

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We took an hour to chill before heading out horse riding.

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I do not know how I managed to stay on the horse because I can’t not remember the last time I laughed so hard. Let’s just say we were not all naturals. Besides hearing Isaac squeal with delight when his horse started running, the funniest part was watching Isaac get off the horse. The poor guy was the last to get off so had to endure us all watching, laughing and videotaping. I am such a kind mother. I would be posting the video except that the file is too large. I really am not under any illusion that I looked graceful on the mount, ride or dismount.

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Cocktails were served at 8, followed by dinner (beef tenderloin) in the formal dining room. There are thirteen guests here at the ranch from Argentina, Brazil, and England. One of the Argentinian gentlemen spoke perfect English and he reiterated the desperation they feel in country and are hoping for change with the October election. I will be watching.

The evening ended with a special gluten free dulce de leche birthday cake for Sherry. It was covered with meringue. This was in addition to our dessert. Homemade dulce de leche ice cream with chocolate sauce. I think I have had enough meat and dulce de leche in the last 24 hours to last me the rest of the trip.

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It is just another wonderful day to put into our collections of memories. Ellen says this is the highlight of all her travels.

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Posted by curlygirl 20:20 Archived in Argentina Tagged la estancia bamba Comments (7)

OH WHAT A CIRCUS, OH WHAT A SHOW

BUT THE GABRIELS HAVE COME TO TOWN….FINALLY!

sunny 29 °C

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My first text of the day was from Sherry saying that they had finally arrived in Buenos Aires but were busy filling out baggage claims. Could anything else go wrong? Well yes a few more things but at this point things had turned into to a complete gong show. Still we were delighted to see them arrive as we went down for breakfast this morning. To be honest, they looked good and were in great spirits and were determined to make the most of the day.

We met our guide Bernadette and she was determined to help the Gabriels but she could not make the bags magically appear so we headed out for a very short tour of the city. It really reinforced the value of Marcelo on Sunday because although she was informative, in four hours you really only have time to drive around and not explore. We did get to visit the Recoleta graveyard again, which I love, and I got see the neighborhood, La Boca. But as my mother says, “it’s an ill wind that doesn’t blow some good”. Because the tour was short, I had time to attempt to reschedule my photo course and Bernadette was most helpful in sorting that out, making calls between stops.

Argentina is known for protests and we saw a peaceful one by dance students today who were losing their funding

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Tango dancers

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We got back to the hotel in time to grab a quick lunch. I went for the closest restaurant and almost had Isaac in a “house of ill repute”. I didn’t get very far before I notice this place had only woman, lightly dressed, and none were eating lunch. So we opted for a sandwich from the food court across the street. I gave Isaac a 30 minute rest before dragging him off to our photo afternoon but he will tell you it did not disappoint even for him who has no interest in photography.

We took a rather long ride with our lost taxi driver back to La Boca to meet up with my course instructor, Lisa. La Boca is not a neighborhood where you want to get lost or just jump out of a taxi. Although it is considered quite safe in the day, that safety net only extends to about a 2 block radius which is filled with most of the tourist attractions. The area has a distinct charm with its bright colored houses, the sounds of live music and the unique characters moving about the streets trying desperately to make a peso in any way possible. The area is quite poor as it was originally settled by the immigrants who came primarily from Italy and Spain with nothing except the promise of jobs. They built homes from scraps, including the tin from the boats and used whatever left over materials to create a home for their families, although these homes rarely amounted to more than a room in a community structure. They remain the same today. The bright colors arose from the left over paints from the ships. It is truly spectacular. I felt so blessed to have the opportunity to explore this place with my camera.

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So my street photography tour was with a company I found on trip advisor called Foto Ruta. I had originally booked a private tour for Isaac and I which had been cancelled because of the strike, so when we rebooked short notice we were joined by a lovely couple from Zambia, Ian, originally from Kenya and his wife Sue who hails from the UK. Our instructor Lisa, was a charming and knowledgeable young lady from Germany. Lisa began by giving us some pointers on things to look for and challenged us to work differently that we normally do. For me, that meant shooting entirely in manual. It was a great learning experience and while it was challenging getting the shot while fumbling with new settings, I do think this is something I will continue to work on. I may not love all my pictures but I loved the experience! Not only did we get constant advice, we got great explanations of the history of the place. Awesome.

Ian and Sue

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From there we jumped on a bus and made our way to San Telmo which you may recall is the neighborhood once occupied by rich but abandoned during the yellow fever outbreak. Isaac and I were here on market day which was amazing but the feel today was also incredible. The architecture was elaborate but the streets had a much more bohemian feel. Houses once occupied by one family, now house many sharing bathrooms and kitchens. It really saddens me just how spectacular this city must have been in its prime, as the 8th richest country in the world, to now where locals can barely make ends meet. Health care and education are free but the government can’t support it so the entire system is failing and the city is at risk of crumbling both economically and aesthetically.

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Our tour ended with a coffee and a lovely traditional coffee shop and a review of our pictures. It really was a great experience for both of us and I am already trying to find time in Santiago for another half day. The company operates in Buenos Aires, Santiago, London and Barcelona.
We ended up walking home because no taxi would take us. Thankfully Lisa was around to explain when the taxi driver refused to take us (did I mention there is virtually no English here?) because the roads were blocked into the city center so no more cars could enter. Isaac guided the way and it only took about 20 minutes. His sideways feet are holding up brilliantly.

Our fantastic day ended with meeting up with the Gabriels, who had just gotten their bags, and enjoying a spectacular meal at a nearby restaurant discovered by Ellen. Can you say MEAT? I had lamb and had enough for 4. Isaac was delighted to be reunited with his travel buddies and we all look forward to many relaxing and fun days ahead. We are off to the ranch in the morning. Yee haw!

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Posted by curlygirl 20:56 Archived in Argentina Tagged san la buenos aires boca telmo Comments (9)

TRANSPORTATION STRIKE HITS ARGENTINA

AN ENTRY DEDICATED TO OUR COMPANIONS STUCK IN BRAZIL

sunny 28 °C

So as planned, the transportation strike went ahead. Did it transpire as expected? Well maybe for some but for us, there were some things that worked out better than others. As it happens, some taxis were running so I may have been able to do my course had it not been cancelled, and it made it possible to do a few things today. Completely unexpected was that all flights were cancelled including that of our travel companions, the Gabriels, who were traveling via Sao Paulo, Brazil. If nothing else, their adventure gave me something to write about since our day, like the city of Buenos Aires, was pretty sleepy.

But let’s start at the beginning. After a really great sleep, I got up and checked the internet for the Gabriel’s flight status. I learned right away that their flight was cancelled and spent some time pondering about the right thing to do. Text Sherry and have here completely stressed on landing but with hope of getting ahead of the other 100 in the same boat? or let her find out when she got to the gate? I opted to tell her and arm her with anything that might help including phone numbers. I started emailing our travel company to see what they could do. Really though, I think we all knew today was out. The strike had the airport shut down.

Isaac and I had a leisurely breakfast. Another of Marcelo’s interesting facts is that Argentinians don’t eat what we eat for breakfast. Instead he tells us sweets are more common, like pastries, and he likes croissants. This would explain the breakfast spread at our hotel which includes cookies, brownies and lots of pastries. This morning, Isaac decided to try an unknown that came in a mini mason jar and was there each morning. He tastes, he smiles, I taste and proclaim, “it’s freakin’ caramel!” with brownie crumble on top no less. The dulce de leche is seriously everywhere. This was straight up rich creamy caramel. What can ya do? I had one too as a chaser to my oatmeal and flax. What I don’t get is that everyone is thin and beautiful yet the meal regime has them taking high tea at 4pm (with sweets) and dinner at 8pm or later.

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From there it was back to our room til noon corresponding with our company and Sherry trying to get them sorted out. Through text, and I am sure I am missing a lot of really “interesting” moments with the Gabriels, I learned first that they had no new flight, and that it might be 2-3 days. Then, that they had a flight at 4 am tomorrow but no boarding passes. That they could not leave the airport because they did not have a visa for Brazil. Then, that the airline (GOL) was providing a hotel. Only to later learn, after 2-3 hours, they finally got boarding passes and hotel voucher but the hotel would not check them in. The staff did not believe that Ellen was their daughter. There was nothing they could do to convince them. I was thinking that Ellen does look like a gorgeous Brazilian girl and well, Sherry and Tony, do not. But kept that to myself figuring I best not test their humor at this point.

We decided to head out for a walk and get some fresh air considering there was nothing else for us to do. We visited a nearby park with a beautiful photography exhibit for Down’s Syndrome Awareness. You do find treasures when you are a little stranded (as opposed to a lot stranded like our friends). We walked up the famous pedestrian street Calle Florida where we stumbled upon this gorgeous bookstore preserved from 1939 with sections of original books. We also went to the Opera House in hopes of a tour but this too, was closed. At this point, Isaac wasn’t feeling the best. Just a little off. Gees what a bunch I got for travel companions!! Marcelo to the rescue, I texted him and he called the Evita Museum to confirm it was open and assured us we should be safe to get a taxi home if we got one there. It would be a really long walk back. So I dragged Isaac and we did a short visit there. The best part was her dresses and the live footage playing in the rooms. People just loved her. I really had to get there because my niece Katie absolutely loves her and would love to see it. We signed her name in the guest book too cause she was there in spirit. From there we took a taxi home so I could give Isaac some advil, pepto and put him to bed. He is starting to come around two hours later.

The exhbit

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Around town

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The bookstore and Isaac checked out McDs to see what was on the menu.

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The Evita Museum

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Meanwhile, back in Brazil, a lovely English speaking agent allowed the Gabriels into the lounge and proceeded to get the police involved to confirm that Sherry and Tony were not pedophiles and alas, sometime later, they got their rooms. In between all that, there was a text saying that their meals were dropped and spilled over an x-ray machine somewhere along the way. You just can’t make this shit up.

Here is the one of Sherry's facebook posts that followed all this:

Sherry Collins Gabriel This is our "hotel room". Omg! Took the key to get a shower. Opened the first door to find a very hairy guy on the toilet brushing his teeth. Behind door #2 was a Japanese guy doing his pee!! What an adventure so far!

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We all hoping for better things tomorrow. Hopefully when I wake Isaac's tummy will be settled and there will be 3 more of us on this adventure.

Posted by curlygirl 14:50 Archived in Argentina Tagged museum buenos aires eva evita peron Comments (5)

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