Weekly Reading–Vol. 2

I read a lot of blogs, and always love the weekly reading posts–pulling some of the best articles, photos, and videos out of the chaff of the internet. Here’s what I read and found interesting this week:

1) A Videogame Controller Designed to Drive Construction Equipment  I know a man who would love to have this.  Also–this is super from a safety standpoint. (Oh, hi there, alliteration.)

2) Behind the Scenes Photos Reveal the Secrets of Mad Men Sets  Unfortunately, there is no AMC or Mad Men on DirecTV down here in Argentina (and I am dying for our internet to get set up so I can at least watch last season!). I LOVE reading Tom and Lorenzo’s Mad Style posts which analyze the costuming choices on the show. I’m just there for the beautiful vintage duds. So–seeing the detail that goes into the sets is awesome as well.

3) The Most Positive Countries in the World  Spoiler Alert:  The happiest country in the world is… Paraguay?  Who would have thought?! However, if the definition of experiencing positive emotions (their form of saying “happy”) is “smiling or laughing, experiencing enjoyment, being treated with respect, feeling well-rested, and learning or doing something interesting in the previous day,” I kind of get it. It’s all about expectations and perceptions–and when you live in a country where happiness is a soccer ball and a bottle of Coca Cola–it’s easy to feel relaxed and happy. It’s one of the best parts of South America.

4) 11 Hidden Messages in Company Logos  What is once seen can never be unseen.

5) Levar Burton is Kickstarting the Return of Reading Rainbow  YES. YES. YES. I loved this show. (Please see previous post on El Ateneo for reference.) I remember hearing about the tablet app… but never downloaded it because it seemed a little ehhh. This, however, seems awesome. They are already halfway to their goal, so I fully anticipate this one being funded.

6) 10 Spanish Words That Have No Translation 

Happy weekend, everyone! We’re working a full seven day schedule, so no rest for us for a little bit.

 

 

Same Blog, Different Theme

Yes, this is the same blog. I just got tired of how the Adventure Journal theme was behaving on tablets/mobile devices, and wasn’t thrilled that there wasn’t a sidebar for widgets.

(If you didn’t understand that, here’s the simple explanation: this looks prettier.)

Buenos Aires–Bookstore Heaven in El Ateneo

I realized I forgot one more set of pretty pictures from Buenos Aires!

I love bookstores–always have, always will. Even despite my strong love of my Kindle (pretty much the best way to get books in your own language no  matter what country you’re in), I love wandering a good bookstore, reading the titles, and seeing what’s popular with the staff and what the best sellers are.

El Ateneo is a book lover’s paradise. Situated in the old Teatro Gran Splendid, the four floor of the bookstore are overflowing with books, movies, and music. The stage itself was turned into a fancy little cafe.

Although I was hoping for a foreign language section (and thus, hopefully, some English books!) or at least a Spanish to Guarani dictionary, no dice to both of them. Oh well, we got to enjoy the beautiful architecture and peruse the pretty books!

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Weekly Reading

I read a lot of blogs, was emotionally decimated when Google Reader pulled the plug, and now live off of my account on The Old Reader.

Some of my favorite posts on my favorite blogs are the weekly reading roundups. The internet is huge, and it’s filled with amazing articles, videos, and photos.

Here’s my favorites I’ve found this week:

1) The Stark Difference Between Rich and Poor, Side by Side  This is so true in so much of South America. Beautiful, expensive mansions are separated from favelas in some cases just by a cinderblock wall–a startling contrast between the haves and have nots.

2) What the US can Learn from Brazil’s Health Care Mess  Brazil has been featured strongly in the press in the run-up to the World Cup next month, but this has been one of my favorites. Similarly to Brazil, in Argentina there is a vast difference in health care received based upon your socioeconomic status.

3) You Can Text 911 in an Emergency Starting Today  PSA: If you’re in trouble, and you need to call 911, but you either don’t have the signal, or the cell towers are jammed, this could be an option.

4) Animals Sitting on Capybaras My love for the large rodents that live around Ituzaingo is famous at this point. So, of course I love a blog that features various animals perched on top of capys.

 

Miscellaneous Buenos Aires

No real story to tell today! I just wanted to post some of the last shots I had in the folder of “things just too pretty/interesting not to share!”

Since T and I walked around the city the whole time (with our biggest cab trip to the Palermo neighborhood to Jumbo–a huge department store–to pick up some stuff we knew they had), we got to see some of the nifty architecture and squares. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times–Argentinians love their public spaces. Lunch hours are made for sitting on the grass in your local park, soaking up the sun, drinking mate, and people watching. In one of the squares near our hotel, we saw a whole promotional set-up for the World Cup. Not sure who was advertising, but we had lunch nearby, and people kept on showing up. By the end of the lunch hour, there was a whole marching band. Surreal.

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In other news, we are (fingers crossed!) getting our household goods on Monday! We were alerted they made it through customs and were on their way to us a few days ago. (Not sure why it takes us 11.5 hours to drive from BA to Ituzaingo, but takes our stuff close to 5 days–is it taking a vacation in Chile or something? Visiting Igauzu Falls?)  We’re incredibly happy to be getting our blu-ray player, movies, bikes and I’m excited for my long-sleeve work shirts. We realized that we probably didn’t need all of the things we put in the connex. (Pro Tip–don’t pack your household effects THE DAY YOU LEAVE THE COUNTRY. Never. Again.) However–it will be entirely worth it just for these little things! Since we only have one car, and Thomas is the only one who drives stick, I am particularly excited for the bicycles T and I got each other for Christmas. Now I can go to the store and pick up stuff without hoofing it for half an hour, or having to wait for T to drive me!

Buenos Aires–Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana) and Tango

More Buenos Aires pictures!

I’m glad we took so many photos on our trip–and that the weather was so nice. We could not have asked for more perfect weather–low 70s and sunny both days!

Remember those riot police we saw at Plaza de Mayo in the last post? Well, we found out where they had gone soon enough. They were all lined up outside of the Catedral Metropolitana, or the Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires. We weren’t quite sure why they were there–but tourists were still going in and out of the cathedral with no problems–so we took our chances and went inside.

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Originally built in the 1600s, the cathedral has been rebuilt several times. On several occasions, the cathedral just collapsed! The inside of the church is absolutely beautiful, with a breathtaking altar and gorgeous frescoes on the ceilings.

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The highlight of the cathedral is the tomb of General Jose de San Martin, who is essentially Argentina’s George Washington. San Martin was actually born in Corrientes province (the same one Ituzaingo is in!), and became the prime leader of South America’s struggle for independence from the Spanish empire in the early 1800s. He’s a national hero in Argentina, as well as in Peru. His tomb is guarded by elite members of the Argentinian military.

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The cathedral also offered several other smaller altars to specific saints, which were also beautiful.

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The organ was especially impressive–filled with 3500 pipes and made in Germany. Apparently, the organist will give free concerts when the spirit moves him.

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I thought the mosaic floors were very pretty and ornate as well:

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The church is particularly important because it is the “home” church of the current Pope. Everywhere in Buenos Aires, there are reminders of how proud Argentina is that they are the birthplace of the first Latin  American pope. There are all sorts of pope-based tours, and there were plenty of posters and exhibits in the cathedral itself about the Pope’s story.

After we had gotten our daily dose of church tours, we went back to the hotel and got ready for our tango show!  Since Argentina is synonymous with tango, we felt we needed to take in this cultural institution–and we found a pretty good deal online with Tango Porteno that included a tango lesson, dinner and drinks, and a tango show.  Although neither of us are big dancers, we were excited to be able to learn a few basic tango steps before the performance with some of the show’s professional dancers. We’re proud to say we can (kind of) now do the basic tango pass. Maybe with practice, we’ll learn some more!

The theatre the show is in is GORGEOUS. It’s 1940s art deco everywhere–and it has quite a history as a place for tango for decades. The show mixed old film footage of performers from the theater’s early days with songs (which were not our favorite–the word “caterwauling” was used to describe it several times later), and of course tango dances, either as an ensemble or showcase pieces.

The live orchestra was AMAZING–and definitely Argentinian. It was comprised of a pianist, a string bass, four violins, and four accordions–note the lack of drums, horns, guitar, etc!

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The dinner was pretty good too! A three course dinner, with an appetizer of either potato soup (delicious) or buffalo mozzarella (acceptable), a main dish of bife de chorizo (acceptable) and matambre de cerdo (absolutely delicious–highlight of the evening), accompanied by wines from Argentina and finished with a trio of Argentinian desserts (flan, cheese and sweets, and dulce de leche ice cream with orange and cocoa).

It was very much an enjoyable evening–although very much a touristy experience!

Hopefully, we’ll practice the main tango steps that we’ve learned. Our lawyer friend mentioned that her sister is BIG into tang0, and goes to milongas, which are essentially tango parties where people go to dance the night away. I don’t think we’re quite up to that, yet!

Still a few more pictures in the corral for another post tomorrow! I know–I finally remembered I had a blog, and now I’m blogging every day. This is what happens when you don’t work every day and get to do some picture-worthy stuff! 🙂

 

Buenos Aires–Plaza de Mayo

When we visited Buenos Aires, we tried to walk everywhere.  The tourist areas tended to be fairly close together (15-20 blocks in either direction)–plus, it was just so much fun to window shop!

We found a department store in B.A. called Falabella–which was almost too good to be true. Somewhat of a cross between Bed, Bath and Beyond and Target, it includes a large selection of homegoods, clothes, and most importantly–imported food!  We grabbed French’s mustard, pretzels, Goldfish crackers, pesto in a jar, barbeque sauce, steak sauce, Nerds, and Tabasco sauce–all items we had been craving from the states!  At this point, we have a bit of a stockpile of French’s mustard–but they must add a hint of sugar to the mustards made in Argentina because they taste a hair too sweet.

In our wanderings, we made it to Plaza de Mayo–one of the main tourist attractions in Buenos Aires. The scene of the May 1810 revolution (hence its name), it is politically the most important square in Argentina.  In the 1940s, trade unions rallied here to free Juan Peron, who would later become President of Argentina. (Remember Evita? She was his wife.)  Later, the same plaza was bombed in the 1950s trying to overthrow President Peron.  It was the site of huge demonstrations of support during the Falklands War (known here as Guerra de las Malvinas). Since the late 1970s, the plaza has been famous for the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, a group of mothers and grandmothers who wear white shawls and congregate with pictures of their children who were disappeared (desaparecidos) by the Argentinian military during the Dirty War.

Surrounding the Plaza de Mayo are some pretty important buildings in Argentina: the Casa Rosada (home of the Argentinian executive branch), the Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires (more on that later), the May Pyramid, the City Hall, and the national bank headquarters. Also, the financial district is right next door.

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We walked around the outside of the Casa Rosada. The name translates literally to “Pink House”, and it got its name from its distinctive color–caused by being painted with ox blood originally. Apparently, now the color is trademarked after previous presidents had the tendency to change the color on a whim. Now, they’re obliged to only use this color.

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Behind the Casa Rosada, we were at first confused by a statue being dismantled. Upon further research, this was apparently the Christopher Columbus monument, and President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner demanded it be removed and moved to La Plata.  It is a controversial decision, and there were protests trying to protect the monument. It did seem that they were clearly being careful in removing pieces of the monument and marking them for future reassembly–but in South American politics, anything is possible.

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We swung around the front of the Casa Rosada and onto Plaza de Mayo. As we were drinking our bottles of water (always important to hydrate!) we kept on seeing more and more police vans and buses show up, filled with police in riot gear.  We didn’t see or hear any protestors, so we just sat there, enjoyed the beautiful day and the water fountain, and kept an eye on the police. Plaza de Mayo has a built in riot wall. On the side facing the Casa Rosada, it doesn’t look like much. Go to the other side, and you’ve got a taste of what’s been recently protested there: Monsanto, abortion, veterans’ rights…

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The only protest we saw that day was an encampment of veterans from the Falklands/Malvinas War in the 1980s. Here it is ALWAYS called the Malvinas.

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Here are some other pretty pictures of the view around the Plaza del Mayo:

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And one not so pretty picture: there are a lot of very obese pigeons in Buenos Aires. When T took this photo, I muttered “dirty birds,” and they immediately flew over my head and sprayed me with disgusting water. Ew.

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More on the Metropolitan Cathedral tomorrow!

 

Buenos Aires–Puerto Madero

T and I got back on Sunday from an excellent tourist trip to Buenos Aires! The past few times we’ve been there, we didn’t really see any of the tourist sites (and the immigration office sure isn’t a tourist site). We had a few days off due to Paraguayan holidays, so we decided on a whim to buy bus tickets and see some of the more famous sites. I’ll probably break the trip down into a few posts.

First, the bus. We took the bus from Ituzaingo to the Retiro Bus Station in Buenos Aires. All in all, it was about a 13 hour trip. The long-distance buses in Argentina are less of the sketchy Greyhound variety, and more of an Amtrak train that just so happens to have wheels. There are different levels of buses, and each bus tends to be all of the same level. We chose a “cama” option, which meant that our seats were much larger than normal, had a foot rest that folded down, and reclined to a nearly flat position. You can go even higher to the “cama ejecutivo” option, which allows you to completely recline your seat into a bed in your own pod (something we may consider for the next time). We also got dinner and breakfast, plus drinks while we rode. They showed a movie–one the way down to Buenos Aires it was some unidentified movie in English, and coming back we saw “Captain Phillips”.  The buses are all double decker, with a bathroom on the lower floor and an RV-style kitchen on the top floor. We had the front seats on the top level, so we had a birds-eye view of the road, when we didn’t have the curtains drawn. We found the bus to be a good option–significantly cheaper than the flight to BA (which is about $345USD round trip) and much more comfortable. We had plenty of places for our luggage, and could stretch out fairly well. T was still uncomfortable in the seat and didn’t get much sleep–which is why we may just suck it up and try the “cama ejecutivo” the next time.

Not my photo--courtesy of rumbofamiliar.com

Not my photo–courtesy of rumbofamiliar.com

Not my photo. Courtesy of metroflog.com

Not my photo. Courtesy of metroflog.com

We got to Retiro Bus Station at about 8am, and walked from the station to the Sheraton Convention Center, which was only a few blocks away. If you visit BA and decide to take a bus, do know this–the bus station backs up against a favela, a highly impoverished shantytown. There’s a wall that separates the favela from the actual bus station, but I can’t imagine it’s a good place to be at night. In general, watch yourself and your personal belongings well at Retiro–I counted no less than five people actively begging, and a few other suspicious characters roaming around.

The Sheraton, on the other hand, has become one of our favorite experiences. We got a good deal on the club level rooms through Travelocity, which affords us snacks, breakfast, and some excellent views. The Sheraton is well appointed, most staff speak English, and in general is a lovely experience. Also, the breakfast is American-style (which means eggs, bacon, sausage–PROTEIN!).  Normally, an Argentinian breakfast is all about the pastries. The breakfast on the bus, for example, was crackers and alfajores.

One of the places on our list of “things to see” that came highly recommended by our Argentinian colleagues was Puerto Madero. Indeed a port, the area was used in the 19th century to accept cargo ships, but was phased out when the Port of Buenos Aires was finished in the 1920s. It quickly fell into neglect, and for quite a while was an unsavory neighborhood, although only a few blocks away from some of the most important government buildings near Plaza del Mayo.  In the 1990s, a massive redevelopment effort was launched, and today Puerto Madero is the most modern portion of the city we’ve seen. It feels strongly like Inner Harbor in Baltimore–even down to having TGIFriday’s. (For those interested–the menu is exactly the same to that as its US version.)  We were appreciative of the clean, new walkways, the nicely spread out benches, and the gleaming buildings–but it felt a little too much like the US at times. (Perhaps this is why our Argentinian colleagues liked it–several lived in the US for a few years, and remark about how they miss some of the commercialization.)

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It was pretty interesting how they left a lot of the cranes intact around the port–giving the area a very old-meets-new vibe. There were also a lot of little “extras” in the neighborhood–like a fitness park on one side for able-bodied people and one on the other focusing on those who were handicapped.

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While we were at Puerto Madero, we paid our two pesos each and visited the Buque Museo Fragata A.R.A. “Presidente Sarmiento” which is a museum ship in Puerto Madero. It was built for the Argentinian Navy, and is one of ht elast intact training ships from the 1890s. It is named after Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, who was the seventh president of Argentina.  We had a good time walking around the ship and exploring, and of course T spent a lot of time in the engine room poking around at the boilers and bearings.

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The Sarmiento went on a number of cruising voyages in its career, including a number to the US. There was a picture of President Taft with the ship’s crew in one of the exhibitions. Also, there was a mildly creepy taxidermied dog (T: “That can’t be a dog. That has to be a wolf.” S: “Nope. Perro. Mascota. Dog. Pet. Totally lived on this ship once.”) as well as a single torpedo.

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Of course, we got an exciting photo of T steering the ship.

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There was a barbershop on the ship, with some rather scary looking grooming tools. It definitely made T feel better about using his electric razor!

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After we were done with our adventures on the ship, we decided to explore the Puente de la Mujer, or Women’s Bridge. The focal point of the Puerto Madero barrio, or neighborhood, it was designed by Santiago Calatrava, a Spanish architect. The internet tells me that it is a Cantilever spar cable-stayed bridge–but all I know is it is a nifty looking footbridge with some character.

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Finally, because we are us:

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I’ll add more on our Buenos Aires adventures later.

I did find an old picture on the camera, though!  To clear fields here, they burn them in controlled fires. A few months ago, the sky was constantly filled with smoke because of these fires, which led to some pretty cool pictures. This actually isn’t uncommon–we saw the same thing in Romania.

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Just your typical Saturday night in small-town Argentina

We’re slowly getting more accepted here (and, for our part, more comfortable socializing). On Saturday, we had a LOT of socializing. Our subcontractor invited us to their weekly asado.

Let’s not pull any punches here. This was not a tony affair. The meal was served in the middle of a sad-looking field, next to the remnants of a burn pile with a herd of stray cats running around.  The meat itself was served in slab form on a door that was wiped off and used as a table. There were probably 20 people there, and only two sets of utensils and four cups for Coca Cola.  So, there is not the same level of hygiene as we are used to in the States. Given that… the meat was fantastic. Chorizo (fat, spicy-ish sausage) that you can either eat on its own, or as choripan, where you cut the sausage in half and stick it between bread. Vacio which is some variety of cow, and is absolutely delicious. Perfectly cooked, always juicy–just wonderful. Then, pollo, or chicken. There were apparently some ribs as well–but I seemed to have missed those. Just in general, and bunch of construction guys enjoying the Saturday afternoon sun. There was a lot of kicking the cats away when they tried to steal food and people were playing music on their phones–Bob Marley was a big winner there. T tried to explain to them how he had lived in Jamaica for a little bit–but I think all they got out of it was that they now think he lived in Bob Marley’s house.  Oh, lost in translation…

By the end of the afternoon, we were invited to a barbeque at a coworker’s house that night. (All we do now is eat meat…) Some of the Paraguayans were going to come over to our side to celebrate one of them getting their engineering certificate. I’m not sure if there is a difference between a certificate and a degree… but regardless, if a capybara sneezed, I’m sure someone would consider it a reason to party.

We live in a kind of interesting DMZ between Paraguay and Argentina. With our work badges, we can go over the border to Ayolas, Paraguay (although we haven’t tried it yet), and the Paraguayans can come on over to Ituzaingo.  I’m told that, if you were really feeling adventurous, you could probably sneak beyond the borders of the town with no big problems… but it’s not recommended. I have no urge to spend time in a Paraguayan jail, so we’ll hold off on that. At some point, we are going to get our Paraguayan visas, but that requires handing over our passports to their embassy in Posadas for a week–and any minute I don’t have my passport on me makes me itchy. It is interesting, though, to see so many interactions between the two countries. People who live in MERCOSUR countries (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Venezuela are the big members, with Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Suriname as junior members) can go in between all of these countries just using their national ID card and a slip of paper that essentially notes what day they entered and gets punched when they go back to their country of origin. For Americans, even though we will (eventually, someday) have DNIs, we still count as non-MERCOSUR, and therefore have to jump through their sometimes crazy visa processes. I’m sure as we go through that nonsense, I’ll be able to detail it further on the blog.

Back to socializing… we were told that they would probably start grilling at 8pm. Now, we should have known better because we’ve been here for almost five months. Argentinians are notoriously late. And not in the “eh, traffic was bad, I’ll be there in 15 minutes” sense. They are epically late–by hours, days, weeks.  So we run out, grab some cervezas to share with everyone (because we have no idea what else to bring to an asado, and you can never go wrong with something alcoholic), and decide we’ll stop by around 8:15.  Thankfully, the party was just the next block over, so we swing by on our way back from the supermercado.  No one’s there. We go back to the house, watch the end of “Herbie: Fully Loaded” on Disney Channel, and try again at 9pm. No luck still. We finally get a text at 9:30 that the first set of people have just arrived, so we head on over.

Everyone grabs a chair, sits in a circle near the grill, and grabs a beer. The parrillador or GrillMaster hangs out by the grill the whole time, and throws all of the meat on. When the meat is ready, he pulls it off, puts it on a cutting board, cuts it into bite-size chunks, and walks it around to each person. This continues for hours of eating meat, drinking beer, and talking. I’m understanding most of what is said at this point, but T’s still a bit in the dark. Once the talk turns to specific soccer teams and plays, I’m out–whether it’s in English or Spanish.

They’re revving up for the World Cup in June/July down here–and everyone is going to be watching it, even though the Paraguayan team didn’t make it. The Argentinians were put in a group that pretty much gaurantees that they’ll make it beyond their group and into the top 16, if not even further. We’re putting the dates of each game on our calendar, and hope to catch one or two while we’re down here. We’ll probably just go to a local bar and watch with the locals. They are super–passionate about their teams, so it’s best to always know where your emergency exits are in case of a fight.

There were a good mix of people at the asado, and we try to mix the Spanish we know, and the English they know into some form of conversation. They always have lots of questions about American holidays and American customs. US tv shows are everywhere down here (Big Bang Theory, Bones, Family Guy, Simpsons, etc) so they see a lot of the quintessential American-isms. Lots of questions about how we handle Christmas, how Easter is different (remember, no bunnies down here!), and endless questions about colleges and college life (particularly fraternities and sororities).

Argentina deals with post-secondary education in an entirely different way from the US. If you want to go to college, you go. All of the national colleges are completely free of charge as long as you maintain somewhat reasonable grades. You don’t have a part time job or anything while you study–and it is expected that your parents entirely financially support you while you are in college. It absolutely blows their mind the amount that people in the US spend on a college education–and they can’t imagine having that sort of debt when they graduate.  Even more, once they graduate, they live with their parents until they are married–and a lot of the time, their mothers will cook, clean, do their laundry up until the day they move out. Craziness.  They’re enchanted by the idea of fraternities and sororities–understandable considering the amount of American cinema and television devoted to that particular facet of college life. T’s regaled them with stories from college, and I’ve explained sororities–although girl drama isn’t nearly as interesting as themed parties and giant cookouts.

We finally gave up and went home at 1:30am–just as the Argentinians were ready to head out to the club. I still need to work myself up to that level of energy!

Back with a Battery!

After a long hiatus…. I got my camera battery backups yesterday!

We’re still without internet at home (but actively annoying the telecom company until they get that mess sorted out)… but T has his own phone with 3G down here, so that’s been helpful. Much easier to function when you have a local number and a basic internet connection!

We have been working hard six days a week, so it was very nice to have the Wednesday through Sunday of Easter off. Easter is a HUGE deal down here (unsurprising, as it’s a very Catholic country), and lots of people travel to see family. We dog-sat a coworker’s three dogs and spent a lot of time catching up on reading and tv shows/movies. I can’t remember the last time I was able to read so many books in  a month!

For Easter, there are no egg-hunts and no chocolate bunnies.  Instead, they have giant hollow chocolate eggs that are decorated with icing. These can range in size from Cadbury egg size all the way to two feet tall! They tend to be filled with candy of some variety. Apparently, the larger ones are meant to be eaten as a dessert–just use it as a table centerpiece, and then at the end, crack into it as a family.

Beyond that–I’m sorry to report nothing new and exciting!  We’ve gone to Posadas a bit to look at industrial safety stores and continue our immigrations paperwork. We found a really nice restaurant there that actually had some diversity in food! (And, by that, I mean one of the dishes was a chicken stir-fry with soy sauce–exotic down here.) Otherwise, we’ve been so busy working that we haven’t done much else of note.