Thursday, October 29, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
Finding a new way to serve and protect: Raising money to fight ALS
June 23, 2009, 6:30AM
Four years ago, Toby Candilora was working for the Washington County Sheriff's Department. He loved wearing a badge, protecting the community. He worked hard.
Toby decided to play in a charity football game, Washington County versus Marion County. It was a tough game. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament, in his knee.
A doctor suggested knee surgery. "But he said I'd be out of work for five months. If you're a cop working the street, that's not a good option."
Toby, who was then 31, decided to postpone surgery. "I was healthy and in great shape," he says.
But about a year later, he noticed a change. "I was walking with a limp." He scheduled surgery for January 2008.
A strange thing happened during his operation. His left leg -- not the leg being operated on -- started twitching uncontrollably on the operating table. Doctors told Toby to get the twitch checked. "But, of course, being stubborn and a guy with too much pride, I blew that off."
Still, during rehabilitation, Toby got concerned. "My legs were not acting right. Even the good leg. The way I stood, the strength, everything."
Toby went to a neurologist who performed a lot of tests, then proceeded to tell him -- "very arrogantly," Toby says -- "I believe you have ALS. You are dying. There is no cure. Get your affairs in order." Toby's wife started crying.
"I asked him, 'What's the positive?' He looked at me very coldly, shrugged his shoulders and said, 'Nothing.' "
ALS -- amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease -- is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that causes the brain to lose control of the muscles. Most patients die two to five years after diagnosis.
Toby took his anger at the unfeeling doctor and turned it into a powerful drive to fight the disease.
"I'm not a person who gets news like that and just says, 'I'm going to give up.' As soon as I walked out of his office, I said to myself, 'Years from now I'm going to walk into his office and thank him for being part of my motivation to beat ALS.' And I live with that philosophy. I'm going to beat this. You can't convince me otherwise."
He found a new, supportive physician, Dr. Kimberly Goslin. "She cares about her patients," Toby says. He considers Dr. Goslin his ally in the fight.
It's not a fair fight, Toby knows. People who have cancer can combat it with chemotherapy or radiation or other tools. There is no treatment for ALS, so far. But there are laboratories doing ground-breaking research, some using stem cells, to fight the disease. Human trials may be just a year away.
After Toby got the diagnosis, he did intensive research on ALS. But reading wasn't enough. Toby telephoned scientists across America to discuss their work. In every case, they told Toby their funding was provided by the ALS Association.
So last fall, Toby contacted friends and family and put together a walking team for the Vancouver Walk to Defeat ALS.
It was pretty much a surprise attack, says Aubrey Mercer of the ALS Association, Oregon and SW Washington Chapter. About 100 people walked for Toby; they raised more than $18,000. Toby, walking with canes, sometimes supported by family members, finished the entire 3 miles.
Today Toby gets around in a motorized wheelchair provided by the association. With trademark good humor Toby says, "It's so comfortable. If I'd known this 10 years ago, I would have got one of these chairs just for the fun of it."
Toby will go on medical retirement from his law enforcement job in a month or two. But he still considers himself part of the Washington County Sheriff's department, which sponsored a fundraiser for his family. Members have also donated vacation pay to cover Toby until his Social Security disability payments begin. "I can't thank them enough for what they've done," he says.
But he's asking for just a little bit more. Four quarters more, to be exact.
This year, for the annual ALS fundraiser, Toby is asking every person who works in the public safety industry in the Northwest -- police officers, firefighters, paramedics and others -- to donate a dollar apiece. (To sign up, go to http://web.alsa.org/goto/candiloracadets.)
He's hoping to get $1 apiece from 30,000 workers, money that will go to research and patient support. He's calling it "$30,000 from 30,000 of America's Finest Heroes."
It's a significant number. About 30,000 Americans have ALS on any given day.
Corporal Toby Candilora can't drive a police car anymore. "But I can still serve and protect the community with my charity work for the ALS Association," he says.
"I want to beat this disease. I'm going to beat this. Somebody's got to beat it. Why can't it be me?"
Toby Candilora was a corporal with the Washington County Sheriff's office. He loved his work, he told me. He picked law enforcement as a career because he wanted to help people.
I wrote about Toby in June. He was trying to raise $30,000 for the fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS -- Lou Gehrig's disease. Toby had been diagnosed with the disease just last year.
Toby told me he wanted 30,000 law enforcement officers, paramedics and firefighters to each pledge $1 for the ALS fundraising walk this fall. He wrote public service departments across the Northwest, asking for pledges.
Toby was 35, healthy and very strong. In June, when I interviewed him, he was still able to talk understandably, although he had recently transitioned to a wheelchair.
There was every reason to believe Toby would live for several more years. He certainly had the strength of will to wage a powerful fight.
And he saw it as a fight.
"I'm not a person who gets news like that and just says, 'I'm going to give up,' " he told me four months ago. "I'm going to beat this."
Toby talked to ALS researchers across the nation and resolved to raise money to support research and families of ALS patients.
"He had personal medical needs that insurance didn't cover," Toby's father, Kim Candilora, says. "But every time we raised money, he'd say, 'No. This money goes to ALS to help other families.'"
Toby actually believed his diagnosis was a gift because it made him appreciate his family more.
But his family thought they'd have more time with him than they did. "ALS is a hard disease," says Toby's widow, April. "It's different with everybody. It will slow down, then speed up."
Unlike most ALS patients, Toby was able to speak until the day he died. But his lungs stopped working. He had decided early on that he did not want to be put on a respirator.
Toby made it to the ALS walk on Sept. 27. Ten days later, Toby died in his bed at home, with his wife and two daughters beside him. "It's time," he told April. "I love you."
Toby didn't reach his $30,000 fundraising goal. "But I know that he knows the girls and I are still going to continue the fight for him," April says.
To donate to the ALS Association, go to http://webor.alsa.org.
"I would rather fail in a cause that will ultimately triumph than to triumph in a cause that will ultimately fail." - Woodrow Wilson
Friday, October 9, 2009
I had the pleasure recently of visiting Utah. The purpose was two-fold: to visit my paternal grandparents, who live in Roy, and to attend the annual Affirmation national conference. I was successful on both counts.
I flew into Salt Lake City on September 19th, arriving at lunch time. I had invited my dad to fly up from southern California and join me in visiting his parents. He accepted, after also planning a fun weekend for himself. His flight arrived a few minutes after mine and we met at the Avis rental counter. After getting our stylish Hyundai Accent (my first new car my senior year of college – oh the joyful flashbacks!) with Colorado license plates, we stopped for lunch at Taco Time in Woods Cross.
Before I go on, we learned the secret ingredients of one of the spicy-yet-tangy sauces they offered in their salsa bar: barbeque sauce with ranch. I enjoyed dipping my tater tots in it (I will never be able to call them Mexi-fries). But I digress. We made it to Roy and found my grandparents’ home. I am sad to report that it had been years since I had seen my grandparents (possibly graduation day at BYU?).
My grandma, who has suffered a few strokes, was home, but my grandpa was not. Grandma was in her wheelchair, reading. She is as cute as ever, but the strokes have left their toll. She sits hunched over and is fairly non-communicative. When she did talk, it was nice to hear her sweet voice. Her smile, always wonderful, was constant. Even as her body suffers, her spirit is sweet and constant. It warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes.
Grandpa came home and we all sat around, catching up. Soon, grandpa showed my dad and me that one of his knees was completely swollen, about doubled in size. It looked incredibly painful. It was also discolored and clearly infected. The infection was spreading down his leg, which was warm to the touch and very bruised. It was evident that he was in great pain. It was also apparent that this old Dutchman has an extremely high tolerance for pain.
My dad explained, very logically, that grandpa was at risk of losing his leg or even dying if his leg didn’t get immediate treatment. Grandpa wouldn’t hear anything of it, dismissing dad’s attempts to get him medical care. Grandpa said that he had received a blessing and was just going to wait it out. He hated emergency rooms, he said, and made it clear he wasn’t fond of doctors. A short time later, I brought up the idea of going to urgent care. I plugged “urgent care” into my trusty iPhone and saw that even in Roy, Utah, there were many. Grandpa warmed to this idea and soon we were on the way, after he had assigned my dad some tasks to perform around the house (this reminded me of my childhood summer days – now I know where my dad learned his delegation skills).
Urgent care needs to change it’s name to not-so-expeditious-care. We were gone several hours. Grandpa was feisty with all of the people in the medical office, all women. I could tell he wasn’t very confident. When it was all said and done, he had an exam, was X-rayed, got a shot in the rear end, and was sent to a local pharmacy for more anti-biotics. He and I were both pleased when the pharmacy employee told me that the pills prescribed by the doctor were on their $4 list. That was the best news of the day – and worth waiting for!
When all that was said and done, my dad drove me down to the University of Utah. The Affirmation conference hotel was the university guest house, with most of the speakers and seminars inside the hotel or at adjoining Fort Douglas. The facilities were pretty good, though the hotel rooms, built apparently for the winter Olympics, seemed hastily built and were barely three-star accommodations, in my humble opinion.
I got checked in, happy with trusting Utahans that simply accepted that I was sharing a room with my friend Jason. The student employee made me a room key, and I was set. Jason had gone to an opening-night conference and didn’t return for a few hours. I hung out with my friend Brett for a while, and then the three of us joined others and went to a few clubs. None of them were noteworthy, although I did like that the first one we found served bottled root beer. I liked that.
The hotel provided a continental breakfast, which was great. I didn’t see my dad today. He went golfing in the morning with a friend and then to a BYU football game in the evening. Since both are activities I don’t care a lick about, I was glad to have a neat conference to be part of.
The opening session was at 8:15am(!). The speaker was Marie Soderburg. I thought it was funny when she said she was grateful to have been invited to speak by her good friend, Brian. I knew the conference chair from past conferences and know him by his real name, David. The first presentation I went to was by Joan and Bill Atkinson, a wonderful couple. I like the personal narratives of parents of gay children.
I then attended former-BYU history professor D. Michael Quinn’s presentation entitled, “3,600 years of verified same-sex marriages.” He knows his history and presented a cross-cultural examination of same-sex relationships and marriages over time. It was pretty interested. I later bought his book, which I first read/skimmed in college, called “Same-Sex Dynamics Among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example.” He signed it for me.
The next presentation was semi-interesting. Connell O’Donovan presented on “Irony and Ecstasy: Communism, Mormonism, and the Origins of Modern Homophobia.” I learned more about Cleon Skousen, who I remembered was one of my dad’s college professors. I didn’t know Skousen had been an FBI agent or the police chief in Salt Lake City. That’s about all I remember from that session.
Saturday’s luncheon speaker was superb. I’m sure that has nothing to do with the fact that he was a police officer for many years. Robert Kirby is a columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune, picked up after being too blunt/honest/crude for the readers of Provo’s Daily Herald. His talk was one of the best of the conference. We were also shown an excerpt from a movie called “Voicings,” a film being made by Stephen Williams. Any struggling married person (and even those of us not married) would appreciate the delicate/sensitive situation depicted in this movie.
Many conference attendees went to hear Chad Hardy, creator of the Men on a Mission calendar series. A natural public speaker, he talked about the public’s/church’s reaction to his calendar and his eventual ex-communication from the Mormon church. It was very interesting.
After the afternoon sessions and before dinner, I got to talking to an awesome guy named Dustin. He is a professional sign language interpreter and was paid to come to the conference to interpret, but the person that needed interpretation had not actually come to the conference. Dustin and I were going to read together on the grass, but got to talking and hit it off. He is easily the neatest person I have met in a long, long time.
We went to the awards banquet, where we got to hear Carol Lynn Pearson, one of the neatest people in the world, I think.
Dustin and I then went on a long walk. We had awesome weather during the conference and the night was cool and crisp. Sunday morning was the devotional, which is usually the highlight of these conferences for me. We heard from Linda and Steve Stay, who spoke and performed musically. There was lots of good music that brought in a wonderful spirit. The Danzigs spoke about their son, Tyler. When they talked about their son being married to Spencer Jones, a light bulb went on in my head. Spencer Jones, an attorney in San Francisco, is a cousin of mine. When they showed some pictures of the event, I even saw my cousin Warren and his wife. Small world! It was a great talk and a much-needed devotional.
My dad came to pick me up and we drove back to Roy, where we visited with his parents again. I shot some pictures of furniture that grandpa wants to sell. We had a nice visit and all ate some pizza together before dad again dropped me off at the university guest house. I stayed up late talking to my friends David and Robert, then took a shuttle early the next morning back to the airport. Apparently, I just missed my old friend Jeff Jensen in the airport.
"Damn, will you respond?"
"Incredible Madonna's tits."
Nope, not even that will entice me to open your spammerific email.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Monday, August 24, 2009
Photos from this trip can be seen here if you are a Facebook user.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Our vacation this year started at a normal hour. Curtis' co-worker Brooke got us to Portland International Airport on time for out 12:35pm flight to Dallas. We arrived in Texas at 6:25pm. Although we didn't go outside, we could feel how uncomfortably hot it was. We were very glad that Dallas was not our final destination. We had time to walk around this lovely and sprawling airport, which is one of the nicest I have ever seen.
After some decent Mexican food and a lengthy chair massage at the Brookstone store, we boarded our American Airlines flight to Santiago, Chile. It departed at 9:10pm and arrived the next morning at 7:10am. They fed us plenty, but the seats on the older jet were not very comfortable. I was surprised for an international flight.
Our first destination was Chile, a country with a coastline of over 3,000 miles (about the same distance as New York to Los Angeles)! Its average width is only 115 miles. It has a very diverse geography, home to both the driest desert in the world (the Atacama) and a slice of Antarctica. Interestingly enough, Easter Island and the Robinson Crusoe Islands belong to Chile. Frommer's guidebook describes Chile as having a "firmly entrenched democracy (corruption is relatively unheard of here)" and continues to call it "one of the safest and most economically prosperous countries in South America."
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
This was the first time for both of us on the South American continent. The Andes Mountains were amazing and I was glad to be able to see them for quite a while before we landed. We arrived at Santiago's airport and were immediately shepherded to customs and immigration. First things first, though. Chile charges citizens of certain countries (Albania and the United States among them) a reciprocity fee. Our guidebook said it would cost $100/person. The current fee is $131/person. Supposedly, our country charges this to Chileans who enter the United States and they just want to be fair.
We then walked passed the masses of waiting cab drivers, all eagerly vying to take you wherever you want to go. As it was winter in Chile, we were able to watch the sun rise. The snow-covered Andes Mountains made an absolutely stunning backdrop. Most of the time, the temperatures were in the 60s and very pleasant. At night, sometimes it got down to freezing.
We stopped and looked into ground transportation and saw that we could both take a shuttle service to our hotel for $18. On the way, we drove past some very scary-looking shanty-towns on the side of the highway. TransVip dropped us off at the Windsor Suite Hotel. Our hotel was a stone's throw from Cerro Santa Lucia, a park landmark and very high hill in the middle of downtown Santiago. The location was perfect, actually. From here you could walk to all the sights of the city. It was also quite close to a subway stop.
Santiago is home to more than five million people and nearly one-third of all Chileans. It was early, so we figured that we would have to leave our luggage and come back. Turns out that it was no problem at all for us to check in early. Breakfast was still going on, so Curtis and I enjoyed a feast of meats, cheeses, canned fruit, and breads. This turned out to be a typical breakfast for each of our hotels in South America.
Curtis has a Chilean co-worker who was in Santiago for the summer with her children. Bernice asked if she should have her friend, Francisco, a massage therapist, pay a visit to our hotel. When we learned that an hour-long massage was only $30, we said sure. He was to arrive around 3pm, so we ventured out of the hotel for bottled water. We also had our first chicken empanadas, which we instantly liked.
We also found an ATM and withdrew Chilean pesos. The exchange rate was $1 to 500 Chilean pesos. It began raining outside, so we stayed closer to the hotel and explored a large, covered artisan market.
Chile had a lot of stray dogs wandering around. Some looked horribly filthy, but others looked like they just walked away from a cute dog contest. While some appeared to be healthy, others were obviously diseased and close to death. As much as I love dogs, I never touched one of them. It seemed odd that in the interest of public health that the government didn't round them up and euthanize them. None were violent or mean.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
This hotel was decent, but the hot water wasn't plentiful. Bernice traveled to us and had the hotel breakfast with us. She had some paperwork to do downtown, so we walked with her to the government building, and then wandered off to see a few things. We saw Constitution Plaza, home to the Palacio de la Moneda, the presidential work palace and site of the 1973 coup that put Augusto Pinochet into power.
We saw the Plaza de Armas, the city's main square, planned for in 1541 by the city's founder, Pedro de Valdivia. We found the best bargain of the trip near here – a vendor was selling ties for only $2. We found a couple that we liked.
The highlight of the day was a long dinner with Bernice and her sister, Pam. Pam works for Experian, which she told us outsources work and calls to Chile. She used to be a concierge at the Santiago Ritz Carlton and was a wonderful resource on what to see in Santiago and Chile. She gave us plentiful maps and guides.
We ate at a place called Como Agua Para Chocolate in Bellavista, the city's bohemian neighborhood. Curtis and I shared a giant helping of Mexican fajitas. Our desserts were almost too beautiful to eat. The conversation was wonderful and we all had a blast.
Bellavista is graffiti-covered and a neighborhood made up of narrow streets. By night, the clubs and bars open and it is home to the city's nightlife.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
We again enjoyed the hotel breakfast. Curtis and I had been told by Pam to go to Cerro San Cristobal in Metropolitan Park (a large park with over 1,800 acres!) early in the morning or at sunset to see the best views of the sun reflecting off the Andes. We decided to hit it this morning, walking through Bellavista to the old funicular.
The car we rode on had a plaque that said that Pope John Paul II had been on it. This made me feel safer as the old transportation system went into action and carried us up the steep mountainside. There was one stop for people to get off at the zoo, but then we were at the top.
The view was stupendous. I can't even guess the distance that one can see from the top. Santiago can be seen sprawling in all directions. Away from downtown, one could see clusters of skyscrapers in parts of the city that we would not even explore on this trip. We had the only Magnum (ice cream) bar of the trip as we walked around the hill. We visited the sanctuary and the giant Virgin Mary statue (72-feet tall). Unfortunately, the teleférico (cable car) was closed. Here's what the view looked like from up above.
When we descended, Curtis went for another massage while I went on another city walk. I explored some neighborhoods and found the University of Chile. They had a plaque inside with a lengthy list of all of the presidents of the country that they counted as alumni.
Friday, July 3, 2009
At 8:45am, after eating the hotel breakfast, a TransVip shuttle picked us up and returned us to Santiago's airport. We picked up a rental car from Alamo – a Chevrolet Swing, a tiny little thing – and began our drive to the coast. We splurged and got a GPS for $12/day. We knew that Valparaiso is a steep city consisting of 40 or so hills. Since we didn't know how to find our hotel, I thought it was imperative that we have the GPS. Unfortunately, the GPS didn't acknowledge our hotel's street name.
Along the way, we stopped in a small village at a place advertising empanadas. We apparently stood out quite a bit. All of the locals just stared and stared. True, we were the only ones wearing shorts, but still. Instead, we bought bottled water and then went to a roadside cart. A woman made us sopaipillas (fried dough) on which we applied hot sauce. Curtis also had coffee. Our total bill was one dollar. We were amazed during this trip at the buying power of the United States dollar. We were quite pleased. We also explored a local cemetery, which was quite neat.
We made it to Valparaiso, the GPS taking us to a street near our hotel. As expected, the coastal city of hills was a labyrinth. We kept running into dead ends and having to turn around. Fortunately, it was daylight and we happened to stumble across our hotel, the Hotel Ultramar. Although purely in a residential neighborhood, it was super nice. A recently re-modeled villa, it was open, extremely modern, and had free street parking. We put our bags down and went out exploring. Later, when the heater didn't work, we got upgraded to a room with a marvelous view of the ocean.
Valparaiso was gorgeous, a city of buildings painted in colorful pastels. It is also a very impoverished city. Our friends in Santiago discouraged us from staying in Valparaiso out of concerns for our safety. The city has a lot of simple structures made out of sheet metal. Graffiti and stray dogs were rampant.
Due to the steep hillsides, there are approximately 40 elevators throughout the city that move people up and down. We walked and explored the city. Curtis went into a tattoo parlor and felt that he needed to get a tattoo right then and there. My fear tactics got him to give up on the idea.
For dinner, we went into an empty Chinese restaurant. We still weren't used to having dinner so late, so we ate alone until the very end. I saw a roach scurry across the dining room floor, but I was undeterred.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
We took a road trip today to the neighboring city of Viña del Mar. This is a much more upscale city than Valparaiso. Still, stray dogs roamed everywhere. We parked in a river bed that had been converted into a city parking lot. We walked the clean and modern city, which was much better maintained than its neighbor. At a street café, we ordered roast chicken and steak. A cute stray dog waited nearby, patiently awaiting table scraps.
We walked across the river to a giant and glamorous casino. Instead of going in, we hired a horse-drawn carriage to take us on a city tour. After that, we were quite cold, so we got back in our car to take a Pacific Coast Highway tour. Along our route, we saw fruit stands offering all varieties – three kilograms for $2. Amazing.
Our trip took us along the stunning Chilean coastline.
We stopped often to admire the sights and to take pictures. We saw Reñaca, a very popular beach. We continued north and saw many, many resorts and condominium developments in all stages of construction. We drove back to Valparaiso and found our hotel again. We walked to dinner at El Mastodonte, where I enjoyed filet mignon and mushrooms for $6.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
We woke up at 7:20am. Headed out early, stopping for gas before our drive back to Santiago. The route to the airport was well-labeled. Alamo was SLOW checking the car back in. They said we had a scratch on the hood (we didn't), which was still no big deal since we obviously had the full coverage. I think it was their chance to have the car repaired while someone had coverage on it.
We checked in for our Air Canada flight to Buenos Aires. It was delayed while they checked on some engine problem. Our two-hour flight was uneventful. It was nice hearing English again and having something similar to American-style customer service.
Argentina is over one million square miles, which makes it the eighth-largest country in the world. Prior to landing, it was announced that Argentina required all deplaning passengers to don face masks. The flu scare was alive and well and they didn't want to take any chances. Many North Americans on the flight thought this was a good photo op. Unfortunately, I set off some kind of temperature alarm during their walk-through medical screening. After being re-checked several times, I was allowed to continue.
We arranged a private car to our hotel and paid in dollars. We drove right by the Mormon temple, which was surprisingly close to the airport. It began to rain and soon our cab driver exited the freeway, unexpectedly. Ever cautious, I was a little afraid. Soon it started hailing – violently. Several cabbies and other cars tried to take shelter under a gas station. We tried to get pictures, but the pictures didn't do justice. These were the largest chunks of hail that I have ever seen.
Our hotel was top-notch and in the ritzy Recoleta district. While Curtis relaxed, I filled out some postcards. We decided to get out and see the city. We took the oldest subway system in South America. We saw no open ticket booths, but the gates were wide open, so we walked on and rode to our destination. Had we been able to buy a ticket, the cost was $0.30.
We watched a large gathering (we think soccer fans of rival teams gathered in the same plaza) that was being observed by riot police. This was near the neat obelisk. We found a great dinner in a small restaurant district. I enjoyed my lamb and potato slices and Curtis said his steak was good. That night, we went to a dance club. We didn't stay long.
Monday, July 6, 2009
We slept until noon, missing the hotel breakfast. Then, we dealt with electrical issues, as in we didn't have any. I had to shower upstairs in a different room, as the bathroom was too dark to occupy.
We got our bearings and explored the Recoleta cemetery, where Eva Perón, arguably one of the most famous (or at least well-known) Argentines was laid to rest. The tombs here were very elaborate and super fancy. I was surprised to see that some, though, were in complete and utter disrepair. Looking in, you could see the coffins, no longer protected by their edifice. Some of these tombs were deep and one could see several layers of rich, dead Argentines. The main tourist attraction here is the final resting place of Eva Perón, wife of former Argentine president Juan Perón.
We took a cab from here to the Abasto Mall, a large and sprawling shopping center. The cab driver was extremely friendly and talkative and I enjoyed the banter. He even complimented me on my "Castellano," the word for the Spanish that they speak in Argentina. He told us that his business was suffering as a result of the flu epidemic. He told us that all schools (including universities), courts, and theaters in the country had been closed as a precaution. He told us that traffic was unusually light.
While food prices were awesome, prices for goods such as clothing were comparable or even more expensive than in the United States. We saw many international name brands here. At this mall, most of the prices were quoted in dollars. Today, we dropped off laundry. It was $20 for five loads. [We got it back the next day, nicely folded, although they didn't do a good job of matching socks.]
We walked around Puerto Madero, a really nice port district. Full of upscale restaurants and clubs, it is the place to be in Buenos Aires. We saw the Teatro Colón, a very impressive theater. We also saw the widest boulevard in the world, the noteworthy Avenida 9 de Julio, which boasts 20 lanes of traffic! I think we used three different crosswalks with traffic control devices to get across the whole thing!
Luckily, we stumbled upon a Spanish restaurant called La Rioja. The food was stellar! This place is definitely worth looking up when we return to Buenos Aires. We had an appetizer of hams, cheeses, and olives that was to die for. We then shared their paella valenciana, which was superb.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
After a breakfast at the hotel, we walked around downtown some more. The shopping district is huge and a lot of it is pedestrian-only. We exchanged more money today (which requires a passport here). Looking at our itinerary, we determined that we would eliminate Mendoza. It ended up being too far of a drive, so we opted to have an extra night in Córdoba. I also knew that because we used hotels.com, we would not have a cancellation charge as long as we called this morning.
We found a call center and I made the call. I was so pleased with the customer service that I received. Not only did he cancel the reservation without a fee, but the rep also extended by one night our hotel rate in Córdoba. And he found that the rate had gone down since I booked online, so he gave us the lower rate. Amazing American customer service. The more I travel, the more unparalleled it seems!
We took colectivo 152 (a colectivo is a shared car or bus that runs on a set route) to Boca, Buenos Aires' storied Bohemian neighborhood. All of the buildings in the area are painted brightly in fluorescent colors. It cost us each $1,20 ($0.30 US) for the ride. Transportation is dirt cheap here!
Boca is a neat tourist area, complete with outdoor cafes with tango dancers on Caminito, the main passageway. The dancers invite people up to dance with them, take photos with them in dance positions, etc. There are guys working the streets whose sole job is to drum up business for the cafes. They were rather aggressive.
We sat at one of the cafes and enjoyed the tango dance show. We feasted on the mixed grill, which had several different kinds of meat. Curtis had the blood sausage (which they translated as "black pudding,"), which I refused to try.
Walking around the area, I stopped for a brief second to look at pictures on our camera (I think our memory card was full). A police car pulled up next to us and asked if we understood castellano, what the Argentines call their language. Skeptical of foreign police, I indicated that we spoke a little. The officer encouraged us to move back onto the tourist beaten path, as we were at risk of being robbed. We heeded the advice.
We saw lots of artists out peddling their work. Some were painting in the street. We struck up a conversation with a vendor representing Carlos Sosa, billed as el pintor sin manos (the painter without hands). Sosa has some kind of palsy or paralysis of the arms/hand and paints with the brush in his mouth. It was amazing to even think about. We talked about pricing and looked at several of the works, purchasing one.
We bought another piece of original art from someone else after our first attempt to negotiate down the price was swiftly accepted. Walking back through the area, I saw a sign indicating that it was Carlos Sosa's studio. I stood in front of it and asked Curtis to take a picture, since we bought one of his and I liked his story.
Just then, we heard a voice shouting at us, trying to get our attention. It was the artist, inviting us to come in to his studio/home. This great and humble man welcomed us in and introduced us to his children. He showed us his work shop and told us all about his work. It was fascinating. He also told us that due to the flu scare, business had been bad. He said it had been 29 days since he sold a painting. [Hearing that, we obviously bought a second one.] He showed us that he was down to his last 30 pesos.
His talent is great. The fact that this man is severely disabled (he only walks with great difficulty) makes appreciating his art even easier. Also in Boca, we sampled Argentina's national drink (we later learned that it was prevalent in Uruguay, too), yerba mate. I'm not a huge tea fan, so I didn't particularly care for it. In Boca, we spent a total of 630 pesos (roughly $158) on art.
We went back to the neighborhood of our hotel and picked up our laundry. We then wandered and saw the night vendors on Avenida Florida. We took pictures of La Casa Rosada, Argentina's presidential palace. Dinner was at La Chacra, a place I vowed to email Frommer's guidebook about. It billed itself as Buenos Aires' most typical restaurant. This place is all about the beef. There is a stuffed cow near the front door to greet people on the sidewalk. People can also see large cuts of meat cooking on an open fire.
The expansive menu has a diagram of a cow and shows where all of the different beef cuts are from. We had an awesome meal. We both enjoyed great steaks and provoleta, a large grilled cut of provolone cheese. Fantastic!
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
We took a hired car to the Jorge Newberry airport for 45 pesos (about $11.25). We had arranged through Priceline.com for a rental through Alamo. When we got there, Alamo had some dumb limit of 200km per day. Since we were going to be doing some serious driving, our Priceline reservation wasn't going to cut it. All calls to Priceline were unsuccessful.
We checked around and ended up getting a better deal on a car with GPS and unlimited miles through Hertz.
We investigated airfare prices to/from Uruguay (too expensive for last-minute purchase), but then drove in heavy traffic to the Buquebus ferry terminal to get our boat tickets to/from Uruguay. Due to a very large and serious crash, it took hours just to get out of Buenos Aires.
Outside of the city and in a rural area, we were startled (okay, I was scared) to see people with banners blocking most of the freeway. They had burning tires and had slowed all traffic down to one lane. Curtis rolled down his window and was handed a flyer about disgruntled cargo workers being laid off. It was scary but also very Latin American. There were no police to be seen.
We made it to Córdoba by evening. Most of the route from Buenos Aires was on a two-lane highway (Route 9). With big, slow trucks, Curtis spent a lot of time passing vehicles. We passed through towns with names such as Morrison, Armstrong, and Bell Ville, which should have been called Ballville. It is home to several soccer ball factories.
We checked into the lovely Amerian Hotel (an Argentine chain), which was smack dab in the center of downtown. It was a nice place. We checked in and then headed out on foot for food. We ended up settling on a $2 pizza. Food prices were amazing.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
We slept in, then enjoyed the hotel's breakfast. It was some sort of holiday, so everything was closed. There were still street vendors out and about, so we looked at their goods (mostly pirated DVDs) and saw some very neat cathedrals. We saw most of the University of Córdoba and the historic center. At a café, I discovered my love for licuados, a smoothie-like drink made from milk and peaches.
This delightful city turned a former women's prison into a beautiful community-gathering spot called El Paseo del Buen Pastor. Right by an old cathedral, this place had fountains, lawns, and community space. Hundreds of young people flocked here to have mate with each other. Love was in the air!
Walking on, we discovered Parque Sarmiento, which had a small amusement park in it. We enjoyed seeing the simple rides and the little kids enjoying them so much. We walked to see the river, which wasn't very impressive. We did have different stray canines accompany us. We befriended a young Argentine schoolteacher named Dario and together enjoyed döner kebaps.
Friday, July 10, 2009
After partaking of another hotel breakfast, we checked out and headed out with the car to find a money exchange. After changing some money, we drove to Rosario. On the toll roads, some of the tolls were so cheap we wondered why they even bothered. We arrived at 4:45pm and checked into the local Howard Johnson. We stopped in at a bakery and once again were astounded at their amazingly low prices.
We then explored the city on foot. We could have used some more time here, as it turned out to be a beautiful city. We particularly enjoyed Belgrano's crypt and the tomb of the unknown soldier (complete with eternal flame) monuments near the river. We had an early dinner (we were the first ones to show up, around 8:30pm) at La Estancia, another grill place. We sure enjoyed our steaks in Argentina. We had to go to bed early.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
We woke up at the ungodly hour of 5:20am and were on the road just after 6am. The GPS apparently didn't work that early in the morning, so we were on our own to head back the 170 miles to Buenos Aires. Fortunately, signage was good and we found our way.
Our complaint about the GPS not working got Hertz to not charge us for it. We then took a taxi to the Buquebus terminal, where we were early enough to take an earlier ferry (10am instead of our 11:30am reservation). Immigration checks for both countries were handled right in the terminal and took only seconds. Frommer's guidebook lists Uruguay as having "the best medical care system in South America." It is further described as being "one of the most peaceful and corrupt countries in South America."
We took the fast ferry across the Atlantic Ocean to Colonia, Uruguay. After a quick customs inspection, we joined a fancy bus for the two-hour ride to Montevideo. I enjoyed looking out the window and seeing the countryside. We saw both shanties and nice homes before we made it to the capital.
At the bustling bus terminal, we exchanged money into Uruguayan pesos (about 23 pesos to the U.S. dollar). We took a cab to our extremely humble two-star hotel in Montevideo. This was a place I took a gamble on online at $28/night. I really shouldn't have. This place was dank, obscure, and quite frankly, a little scary. The surly desk clerks collected the key each time we left. The building was old and the bed and fixtures in the room had to have been at least 30 years old. It was definitely the yuckiest hotel we've stayed in.
Downtown Montevideo resembled a ghost down. There was hardly any traffic and not that many people out and about. We found a grocery store open and bought water and snacks, then walked down to the legislative palace, which was gigantic. We walked around the city some more, including to La Rambla, which wasn't anywhere near as cool as the area with the same name in Barcelona. We saw the ocean, not a whole lot to see.
We found another grill place (we thoroughly enjoyed our carnivorous selves this trip) and enjoyed sushi, then steaks. Curtis and I both read a couple of David Sedaris books on this trip, so we retired early and read.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Neither of us felt great this morning. My skin itched. We worried about the flu, bed bugs, etc., since the hotel was so nasty. We didn't have consistent hot water. We were concerned about staying another night, but not concerned enough to spend the dollars to switch to a nicer hotel. We told ourselves we were camping.
We had breakfast at an outdoor café in the city center, then walked the main street up and down. Next we went to the old city, which had some amazing architecture. Most things were closed, except for Burger King and McDonalds, both of which I was disappointed to see. The Mercado del Puerto (port market) was very neat to see. We sat outside and ate some more paella, which was filling.
Later that evening, we went to a ballet show. The tickets were obviously subsidized, costing us only $4 for an evening's entertainment. Not knowing anything about ballet, we still enjoyed it. It was nice being out with the elite of Montevideo. The nights here were cold and our waterproof windbreakers barely kept us warm.
Monday, July 13, 2009
We checked out of the scary hotel and took a cab to the Buquebus terminal, where we spent our last pesos on breakfast (empanadas, licuado, and coffee for Curtis). We arrived back in Buenos Aires with plenty of time on our hands. Since we had luggage with us, we had to take turns exploring the city. I think we each got 90 minutes to walk.
I checked out Puerto Madero again and was surprised to see a "Queen of Holland Plaza" near the ABN-AMRO building (a huge Dutch bank). There were lots of international companies in this area. I walked and located the bus terminal where we needed to catch our bus to the airport. Curtis then had his turn walking around.
Instead of catching a cab, I convinced Curtis that we could walk. Bad idea. I took one wrong street and we over-walked it. Suddenly, we went from being hours early at the bus terminal to possibly missing our bus and our flight. Ugh. A bus 30 minutes later still had seats and we were able to get on it without any trouble. We made it to the airport and were happy to be on our 9:30pm from Buenos Aires to Dallas.
Tuesday, June 14, 2009
We made it to Texas at 6:05am. The temperature was already way too high. We were glad we didn't have to leave the building. It's always nice to be back in the United States again. We arrived back in Portland at 11:05am and were picked up by our friend Lee, who had been house-sitting for us after he returned from a trip to Fiji. Our first trip to South America was quite the adventure. It was another great and relaxing vacation.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I'm sure you won't be surprised that we broke both of our guidelines. We saw a mostly-white cat with brown spots and beautiful blue eyes. She was in one of the communal rooms that are three sides glass. She made eye contact, then followed us around, apparently very interested in us. She then began pawing at the glass door, seemingly wanting us to come inside. She then continued to rub up against the glass door. We were very impressed by her little show. So impressed, in fact, that we didn't need to look at any other cats. We brought her home
We christened her "Gladys," continuing the tradition of having cats with old-people names to them. She is super affectionate and has been no problem at all. We like having a pet around again.
Back in March, I went to the emergency room for some intense ear pain in my left ear (read all about that here). I was diagnosed with an outer ear infection and was given some strong pain pills and ear drops. I was half deaf for about a week, but then began follow-up appointments with an audiologist and an otolaryngologist. The doctor told me that I hadn't had an ear infection, but rather had suffered trauma to my left ear. I remembered then about three weeks earlier, at work, I had slammed the side of my head into a police car while trying to remove someone out of the back seat. It hurt at the time, but I had forgotten all about it.
They also determined was that I had moderate hearing loss in my left ear. The doctor started me on a nasal allergy spray as well as allergy pills to see if allergies had anything to do with my ear being blocked. I had no external allergy symptoms, but what the heck?
For work, we have our hearing tested annually. I had data for the past eight years on how my hearing has been. The doctor asked me to bring it with me when I returned to see him. To make a long story short, I was re-tested by the audiologist. There was no significant improvement in my hearing, unfortunately. In fact, they told me that if I were older, my hearing loss is when people started looking at hearing aids. :( They also told me that my hearing loss is right in the range of where normal human conversation is. So if you're talking to me and you see my favoring my right ear, now you now.
The good news was that when the doctor reviewed my hearing tests for the last several years, he noted that my hearing had not deteriorated over that time. The bad news (moderate hearing loss) turned out to be good news (it hasn't gotten any worse!).
Friday, July 3, 2009
Today we rented a car and drove to the coast. We are at a very nice hotel in Valparaiso. Tomorrow we will take a day trip to Viña del Mar. After that, on to Argentina for several days and then on to Uruguay.
Chile has been wonderful. We´ve tried new fruits and foods and I´ll write later about the unbelievable hospitality we have experienced here. One of Curtis´co-workers is here for the summer and she and her family certainly spoiled the heck out of us. I can´t wait to get my pics posted!
Monday, June 22, 2009
We had a bike picked out at a dealership in Hillsboro, a Kawasaki 650R Ninja - Plasma blue in color. We had inquired about some listed on Craigslist, but hadn't heard back from anyone. Curtis told me when he picked me up that he heard back from someone in Beaverton who was selling the same back we were going to buy from the dealership. This one, though, had less miles and cost less. Not one to pass up a bargain, we re-directed to Beaverton. We stopped at Chase and withdrew lots of cash.
We met Todd, who let us both test-ride his nice motorcycle. Curtis and I both drove around Beaverton and determined that we liked it. We paid Todd cash and he signed his title over to us. He also gave us a free - almost new - helmet with the purchase. More DMV fees are in store for us (at least we can ride the motorcycle there to have a fun part!).
Curtis then rode the motorcycle to a nearby elementary school, where he rode around the parking lot while I got on the phone with Progressive Insurance. My research ahead of time had narrowed our future insurance provider to either Progressive or Geico, both of whom had very favorable rates. Within minutes, Progressive sold me a policy and faxed and emailed insurance cards to me. I rode around the parking lot. Once we were fully legit with the state, Curtis rode to a local motorcycle shop and I followed in the BMW. Since our new beauty has to sleep outside, we wanted to get a heavy-duty lock for it and a cover (since it rains so much!).
We then rode by Curtis' cousin's house to show off (at her request), but she wasn't home. I then rode from her house through the city of Beaverton. Prior to the freeway, I pulled over so Curtis could take over. We made it home safely and parked our beauty for the first time. After dinner, I'm going out for another ride!
Sunday, June 21, 2009
It was so challenging, in fact, that when she told me that I passed, I was also prepared to hear that I hadn't passed. Curtis did very well, ranking number two in the class on the skills portion. I got an 84% and he got a 86% on the written portion. We were both very happy to find out that we had passed the class!
We came home and got busy researching the motorcycle we plan to buy tomorrow, after we stop at DMV to obtain our endorsements.