Long Time No See!

After a lovely almost three week vacation in the US for our annual home leave, we’re back in Ituzaingo! Apologies for the delay in getting posts back up and running–I’ve been having big issues getting my photos to load on WordPress. I think this was a combination of a really outdated version of Adobe Flash, some really cruddy internet service, and some pretty hi-res photos. Add to that the normal chaos of getting readjusted to work and life in general after a few weeks off–and it’s been pretty busy!

Home leave was wonderful! We saw so many friends and family, and got a lot of stuff done around our US house. We purchased our US house two months before we left for Argentina, so we’ve been busy trying to officially “move in” and make it feel less like a giant storage bin and more like a house! I think we finally succeeded on this trip.

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We got the chance to catch up with a lot of people and do a lot of sightseeing and activities. Through a daily deal, we toured the Manatawny Still Works in Pottsville with my sister. I enjoy a good whiskey, but wasn’t too thrilled with the tastings of the others–a little bit too much like taking shots! They’re a new still, so they’re still working on their first aged whiskey batches, but they had a neat clear whiskey, which we had never encountered before. We had a good time learning about the process of making whiskey and vodka, and the still itself was very cool–especially after having gone to Dogfish Head Brewery as a part of my bachelorette party a few years ago.

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I spent a day wine tasting and visiting Longwood Gardens with my mom and sisters. Despite the insane crowds at Longwood, the Christmas decorations were really pretty! T has never been to Longwood, so now it’s on our list to visit–and definitely to go in the spring, when it’s a little more comfortable to spend hours outside!

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We also hosted our annual Bash with some of our college friends. In all, we had about 20 people over to the house. Pro Tip: Chipotle caters, and they do an awesome job. And it’s not that terribly expensive either!

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We had the rodents for the time that we were home–and it was nice to spend so much time with them. Tesla (the rabbit who was supposed to be in Argentina) got even bigger! We got Mr. Winks, the geriatric guinea pig, a “cuddle cup” for Christmas, and he loves it. He was so happy to sit and watch a marathon of “House Hunters International” with my friend Clara and I–just one of the girls!

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We had a bit of an adventure getting back down here. The day we left (Monday the 12th) called for a nasty mix of freezing rain and snow, so we rented a car to drive ourselves down to BWI. Thankfully, the weather held out and despite the rental Dodge Charger having cruddy breaks, we made it to BWI without incident and on time. The flight to ATL was no issue either and we had a good time chatting with the new Mormon missionaries who were on our plane going down to Argentina. (Seriously, I can’t imagine being 19 years old and being told I was going to spend two years in rural Argentina with limited Spanish language skills and no access to the internet.) We met up with our new colleague from the US, who is joining us on the job for at least the next six months.

When we reached EZE (Buenos Aires’ international airport), things took a turn. Normally, the process is to disembark, go through immigrations and get the passport stamped, then pick up your checked luggage and go through customs. However, since it was slightly raining, EZE called a “delay due to meteorological conditions” and wouldn’t unload any of our checked baggage. We had to wait four hours until we got our bags–with the terminal filling up with irate passengers.  Each time the delay announcement was made over the PA system, the baggage area would erupt in sarcastic clapping and yelling. After hour three, Delta gave us all a little sandwich and a soda–which was great, because in that area of the airport, the only amenities are a duty free shop and a MAC cosmetics store.

We finally grabbed our bags, hustled through the customs line, and grabbed two remises (hired cars, kind of like Uber) to transfer to the domestic airport across town. Normally this transfer is really easy, since we have a lot of time between flights. However–this time we were fairly certain that we would miss our connecting flight if we didn’t hustle! Thank goodness our domestic flight was delayed–we just barely made it onto the plane.  We landed in Posadas, only to find that one of our checked bags hadn’t quite made it onto the flight. We retrieved it two days later, so it wasn’t a huge deal–but it was still one final issue on our way back.

We’re still in a rental car, since apparently the yacare (crocodile) accident nearly totaled our company car. It will probably take another four to six weeks before we see our car again, and it’s estimated that in total repairs will cost $98,000ARG (or about $11,400 USD). Thankfully, that’s all the company’s responsibility.

The town is now completely full of tourists. Whereas four weeks ago we could have essentially parked anywhere–now it’s more difficult to find parking. The clubs and restaurants are hopping, and that annoying circus in the plaza that woke us up with “Gangnam Style” every night at 11:20pm is back. Thankfully, we don’t hear a single bit of it at our house.

Mooch the cat was waiting expectantly for us when we got home–and was begging for dinner the moment we got out of the car. We were glad to see nothing had changed with him.

Our favorite grocery store, TaTa, underwent a MAJOR renovation while we were away–we came back to a store three times its original size! It’s almost like a US supermarket now. It’s just nice to have larger aisles where two carts can pass each other.

Other than that, we’ve been acclimating to the very hot weather (the whole week it should be in the mid to upper 80s) and introducing our new colleague to the town. He’s originally from Puerto Rico, so language is not a problem for him–but there are definitely some idiosyncrasies in Argentinian life that take some getting used to.

 

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2014 Wrap Up!

It’s a rush to the finish here in Ituzaingo! Our site closes for the two weeks surrounding Christmas, so that means as of December 20th, we don’t even have to think about work for two weeks! However… that means it’s chaos here trying to shut everything down and get ready for the next year. Both T and I are super-excited to go back to the States this weekend and spend some quality time with friends and family. (As well as time with the “rabbit that should have been in Argentina” and our guinea pig!) We’ve been playing Christmas music in the office the past few days to get into the holiday spirit–despite the fact that it’s in the mid-90s outside! The Argentinians are very much into fake Christmas trees and garlands–very strange to see next to the palm trees and parakeets.

Our end of the year prep has gotten a little more hectic than we could have imagined, though! Last week we accidentally hit a yacare, or crocodile. We had to drive to Posadas for a business dinner, and were driving back late. Since the yacare are so close to the ground, we didn’t see it until the absolute last second… and by then it was too late.  For future reference–don’t hit yacares! They are like rocks. We are both fine, but the car’s radiator is shot and the radiator frame is bent–plus we have no front bumper.  We were planning on sending the car to the dealer for some scheduled maintenance while we are out of the country anyway–but the car had to be towed all the way to Posadas now.  We’ll see how long it takes the Argentinian mechanics to get the necessary parts! We’ve since been told by others that the area where we had our accident is a popular late-night crossing spot for yacares–so we’ll have to keep that in mind if we drive at night again!

Courtesty of Taringa.net

Courtesty of Taringa.net

This means that we’ve been doing everything by bike since then. We do hitch a ride into work every morning with coworkers, but for all of our normal errands, we have to bike around the city. We’re definitely glad we brought our backpacks and have a nice basket to put on the back of one of the bikes. It’s been a bit of an adjustment, especially for grocery shopping!  I’m actually really glad we spent the money to get a water purification system for our tap–now we don’t need to lug heavy bottles of water from the grocery store!

Our vegetable garden (huerta) has been growing like crazy with all of the hot weather and rain! T installed a homemade drip line to keep the basil particularly well-watered, but it’s done wonders for the other plants as well! We’ve already harvested some of the beans, but I think our first crop of tomatoes will be while we’re in the States. You know what’s nice about Argentina, though? The growing season is YEAR ROUND. So we will have lots more where that came from, I am sure.

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Basil (albahaca) growing like crazy!

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Tomato plants, with a row of lettuce, a row of onions, and a row of carrots. Our spinach didn’t fare so well.

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We also had our company Christmas party, which was a fun experience. We had both the Argentinians and Paraguayans, as well as our customer, at the big dinner in one of the fanciest spots in town. On the menu was a delicious whole leg of beef that the cook lit on fire at the beginning. It was perfecto. We also had a wide variety of salads (not the lettuce kind–more of red beets, potatoes, and rices). We made friends with the venue’s dog and a teensy, tiny kitten, but left before the karaoke got into full swing. (We made it 1am! We’re getting somewhat closer to being Argentinians!)

 

The patio of our venue... with some leftover decorations from the previous weekend's quinceanera celebration

The patio of our venue… with some leftover decorations from the previous weekend’s quinceanera celebration

All of the salsas!

All of the salsas!

Just some of the delicious carne.

Just some of the delicious carne.

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It wouldn't be an asado without a copious amount of bread!

It wouldn’t be an asado without a copious amount of bread!

Teensy, tiny kitten!

Teensy, tiny kitten!

Leg of Beef

Leg of Beef

The whole spread, minus the salads

The whole spread, minus the salads

The whole crew!

The whole crew!

We’ll miss the main festivities of Argentina at Christmas–I’m told it involves a lot of beach time–but we are so happy to go back to the States and see some snow! We’ll see if I blog at all while I’m back in the States!

Feliz Navidad y un prospero Año Nuevo a todos!

A Home Leave’s Best Friend: An Ode to Amazon Prime Pantry

Amazon likes to boss me around. T and I pretty much share my account for simplicity’s sake, and combining our disparate interests plus buying gifts for people on the site, Amazon is confused. But it still likes to tell us what to do by sending us emails reminding us of the services we haven’t taken advantage of, the items we probably would like to buy, and that an item we saw a while ago is on sale, so we should buy it now. T and I invested in Prime a few years ago, lured not only by the free two day shipping (so convenient) but also by the promise of tv and movies. Granted, with the slow internet connection down here, we haven’t used the tv and movie function as much as we would like–but we have definitely used the Prime shipping to quickly ship items when we know we’re making a quick jaunt home.

Amazon sent me another one of their bossy emails a while ago advertising the Prime Pantry service. Much like Subscribe and Save, it allows you to purchase items that you use everyday and have them shipped to your door–a sort of virtual Costco or Giant. In the Prime Pantry version, you can pop in your zip code and, for $5.99 flat rate shipping, purchase a full box of groceries (non-perishables only, at least in my market), personal care items, pet items, and household cleaning products. One of the biggest frustrations I’ve had so far on my trips home has been trying to remember what I still have in stock in our US house. I always clear out any food before we leave to avoid mice and bugs, but I can never remember if I left my face wash or deodorant there the last time I was home–or if I brought it down to Argentina with me.

It’s such a pain to have to make a Walmart run for the essentials after already being in transit for over 36 hours. At that point, all I want generally is a shower, a snack, and a nap! This is where Prime Pantry comes in. This trip home, I created a “care package for myself” filled with my favorite brands of toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, and of course some Velveeta Mac and Cheese for that first lunch back in the States. I had my lovely in-laws bring the box over to our house (we have all our packages delivered to them, since they have been so kind to check on our house while we’re away), and it was like heaven when I saw it. No run to Walmart, no US-shopping sensory overload, just exactly what I need, when I need it.

We’re planning on making up another one of these when we come back for our “real” home leave in December. I’m not sure about T, but at least for me, I find it overwhelming to go from rural Argentina, fly for so long, and then get thrown right into American commercialism in the form of Walmart, Target, etc.  I need a few hours to decompress and remember what fast internet feels like!  It will be so nice to just have all of our necessities there and ready to go!

At some point, I’ll write a series of posts with our tips for being temporary expats. It’s a niche group, and it can be tough to find helpful information on the web. (A lot of broke college students, a lot of long term expats, but not a lot of information for those of us in the “temporary expat” category!

 

Nope, I haven’t been comepnsated by Amazon for writing this at all. I was just super-happy to solve one of our bigger “going home” issues!

 

On Time in Northern Argentina

Going back home, then coming back to Argentina always puts some things in perspective.

We loved being home and seeing everyone. What we didn’t miss was all of the other scheduled things–doctors appointments, lawn guys, and a million other silly little things to do in a short period of time.

It was wonderful being able to just flush toilet paper–which they do not do in Argentina. (The ugly American inside me shudders.)

We had so many foods that we desperately missed (Mexican food, Chipotle, hot wings) from the USA that we gorged on all week. But we missed our nightly fresh veggie plates and simple cooking.

But what struck me the most this trip was the difference in time and urgency. If we are late 15 minutes to something in the States, we know to call ahead and tell the person we’re meeting we’ll be late. Down here, it’s different.

Case in point: last night we were invited to the local club for a special promotional night. We asked what time the party started, and were told 10:30pm. Late for us boring people who work on Saturday, but not bad! So we got all dressed up, drove to the venue, and…. no one. Not a sign of a person in sight. We texted our contact, who said they were running late, and the earliest they would be open for business would be 11:15. We texted again at midnight to ask if the party was going yet, and they were still trying to get the venue open. Shortly thereafter, we fell asleep.

We had a good conversation about everything down here is a very mañana type of experience–it’s customary to arrive one to two hours late to a party in a person’s home. No one thinks to call if you’re 15 minutes late (unless they recognize that we’re the Americans, and we clearly value that sort of thing). In some ways, it’s liberating–but in many ways, it’s incredibly frustrating. Transfer the same attitude from social engagements to work life, and it’s even more frustrating. We often spend a decent amount of time explaining to our coworkers in the States that things move slower down here–so we need to accommodate that distinct possibility when planning.

 

On a completely different note: WordPress has informed me that someone found my blog by searching for “Patron Saint of Guinea Pigs.”  Whoever you are… that’s awesome. And apologies, to the best of my knowledge, there is no patron saint of guinea pigs.

 

USA–July 2014

Well, we’re back in Argentina after a week and a half of time in the US seeing friends and family–plus a few days of work. No rest for the exhausted, apparently!

We had two HUGE suitcases that we filled up with all sorts of goodies–so much so that they each weighed 85 lbs! This made for lots of fun navigating the various airports–and a lot of telling overly enthusiastic remis drivers to ten cuidado, or be careful, as they tried to hoist them into the car.  We carried a lot of work stuff, a lot of gifts for coworkers, and a HUGE pile of textbooks back. (More on these exciting personal goals later!)

So, what did we do in the states? We saw these two cuties–who we miss very much. This is the infamous Tesla (the rabbit who was supposed to be in Argentina) and Mr. Winks the guinea pig (who is geriatric and is not travel-friendly):

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We had a lot of fun family time–including a picnic complete with a campfire, fireworks, and smores!

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I swear everyone was much happier than this photo may let on.

We tackled our overgrown lawn a little bit (and had words with the lawn care guy who was supposed to be taking care of it).  A vine even grew up from our pergola, onto our telephone/cable wires, and INTO our bedroom window, curling around the Venetian blinds!

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Finally, we ended our trip watching this happy couple tie the knot near King of Prussia. Congratulations, Keith and Sarah!

A gorgeous, radiant bride…

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A heartfelt and teary ceremony…

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And a great reception!

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Oh, and Argentina got second place in the World Cup. 🙂

It was a great time home. We wish we would have taken two weeks! We didn’t have much time for ourselves or on our own–but we did manage to squeeze in one movie (Transformers 4) and the requisite movie theatre popcorn (a big craving of mine).

It looks like the next guaranteed time back is our official home leave in December for the holidays!

Surviving a Long Flight

As you’re reading this, we’re on our way back to the States for a week of R&R and friends and family! We’ve loaded up our Amazon carts with all sorts of goodies for our personal and professional development (more on that later!), and are incredibly excited to see some of the people we’ve missed the most. Plus fast internet–we are incredibly excited for fast internet.

Now that I’ve done the trip a few times, I’ve thought lots about how to make the actual travel less painful. The door to door trip from Ituzaingo to York is around the 40 hour mark.  We have a mind-numbing nine hour layover in Buenos Aires and this will be the third time I’ve made the trip.

1) Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. If you’re going from Argentina to the US, you can buy your huge bottle of water before security–because in Argentina they don’t care if you take liquids through. If you’re going US to Argentina, buy as big of a bottle as you can once you’re past security.

2) TSA Time. Speaking of security, wear an outfit with the TSA in mind. Slip on shoes, no crazy belt buckles, and please empty your pockets before you get to the scanner. Also, fun facts: glittery sweaters should NOT be worn through the scanners (or else you’re getting a pat-down), and some hand lotions contain the same properties as bomb residue, in case they wipe you down. In terms of Argentinian vs. US Security: The two countries are so very different. Coming from Argentina, you’ll go through very low-key metal detectors, but right before you board, they will hand-search your carry-on and personal items. Then, once you get into the US, be prepared for customs. We like to transfer in ATL, and need to remind ourselves that a two hour layover is essentially the minimum to make it through the craziness that is US customs and security. Try to hoof it quickly to the customs line–I think several international flights come in at exactly the same time, so if you don’t book it, you’ll be stuck at the back of the line. Also, be prepared for a much slower security experience–there’s a lot of people who have never heard of the liquids, laptops, pat-downs, scanners we are used to in the States.

3) Bring a “survival pack.” I have a pack of items I keep near the top of my personal item so I have them mid-flight. These include: Yes to Cucumbers wipes, tissues, Chapstick, a hotel-sized hand lotion, my glasses case (no sleeping in contacts for me!), an extra pair of comfy socks, toothbrush/WISPs, and a hairbrush. These are just for mid-flight necessities. I keep a whole separate makeup bag for once I’m off the flight to pop into the restroom and make myself look somewhat like a human again. Other products to consider: I’ve heard that misting spray and dry shampoo work wonders as well. I haven’t tried either of them on my flights yet, but am considering grabbing some for a trial run.

4) Bring your own entertainment. This is insanely important for the layover. Both Aeroparque (domestic) and Ezeiza (international) in BA have WiFi, but I always try to load up my Kindle Fire with books, movies, games to keep myself amused for the time. Since you can’t check into a flight more than four hours ahead of time, I’ve had luck camping out in one of the cafes at Ezeiza and enjoying a soda and sandwich with my luggage.

5) Papers, Papers, Papers. International travel is full of paperwork (particularly for those who live in two different countries legally). In our case, it’s important to bring our US drivers licenses, US passports, Argentinian precarias (pre-DNIs) as well as our legal papers for temporary residency, yellow fever vaccination booklet, reciprocity fee (SUPER important–they will only let you print this ONCE. Save a copy. Make multiples. They are hardcore about this requirement), and we often bring our international driving permits and work badges. I like to throw all of this, plus all of our necessary travel itineraries, into a plastic folder from MEAD I pick up in bulk at Walmart.  Make sure it’s accessible–you’ll need to reference it often.

6) Bring a snack. Try to keep something in your bag in case you need it. If you were planning on grabbing a meal at your transfer, you could get delayed and never have a chance while you’re running to your connection. That’s when that granola bar you threw in your backpack comes in handy.

7) Don’t take a taxi off the curb in Argentina. If I was not clear enough there, I’ll say it again DO NOT HAIL A TAXI OFF THE CURB IN ARGENTINA. Go to Tienda Manuel Leon in the airport, where you can get a remis (hired car) to drive you where you want. You pay them there (and can pay with a credit card), they introduce you to their driver, and they take you where you want to go. A remis is ALWAYS the correct, safe way to go. If you are absolutely desperate and in Buenos Aires, you can hail a Radio Taxi (that name only) with the red LED sign in the window (also important) and they are fairly reputable (and will only take efectivo, or cash). Ignoring this advice could put you in a heck of a lot of danger.

8) There are weird cultural norms. Argentinians love to hurry up to stand in line forever–so the moment the plane touches down, everyone is up and trying to hustle in the aisles to get their luggage.  Also, some Argentinians clap once you land to thank the pilot for getting them there, or to God for not having the metal bird fall out of the sky (I’m not sure which one, but my sources tell me this is a very “country bumpkin” sort of thing to do in Argentina). Also, when Argentinians get grumpy, like in said long line, they will clap–sort of like how Americans do when that concert hasn’t started an hour after it was supposed to. They also have a very different version of “personal space.” Americans prefer a lot of it, and Argentinians… not so much.

9) Dress comfy, and in layers. I’m still working on this one. I alternate between broiling and freezing in airplanes, so I try to wear a lot of layers. If I wasn’t concerned about looking like a schlub, I would wear yoga pants. So far, I’ve worn jeans and regretted it, but I picked up a few maxi dresses and a pair of leggings that I’m going to try out this round and see how that goes.

Finally…

10) Don’t be a jerk. I didn’t think this needed to be said, but then I encountered a group of high school students who had clearly been down here on some sort of extended field trip. They were clearly from a well-off magnet school in California, and had not learned a lick of Spanish while down here except for a series of awful curse words that they belted out with glee every thirty seconds. Now, I have nothing against cursing–I can have a mouth like a sailor when the moment calls for it. I work on a construction site! However, standing in a line in a nice airport with a lot of families with small children around is no time to yell curse words, plus hop back and forth in line. It suceeded in making the entire experience a bit miserable. Just be a normal human being who stands in line, speaks politely, maybe learns a few useful words in the  language of the country you are visiting, and behaves reasonably.

Any other suggestions of how to make it through a 28 hour travel experience in one piece?

 

US Trip–and Disappointment

Well, after a week in the US for some work meetings, I’m back in Argentina.

I’ll open this up with the biggest disappointment: Tesla’s still in the US. I’m finding that bringing a pet down here is an experiment in how many things can go wrong at once.  In order to get the bunny down here, the following steps need to be taken:

 

  1. Find a USDA approved vet. Neither the USDA or APHIS actually have a list of these people, or at least won’t tell you over the phone. So just start calling vets, asking for their recommendations, and hoping to find one.
  2. Make an appointment no more than 10 days in advance with your USDA approved vet. Bring several copies of the APHIS 7001 sheet, and any other paperwork you can find that might help you out and may or may not be needed by Argentina.
  3. Try to arrange an appointment with the USDA state vet in Harrisburg, because you are either overnighting the forms your vet filled out and hoping they’re right, or personally bringing them to the state vet. Pro Tip: they don’t respond to voice mails.
  4. No more than 14 days before you leave, book your Delta Cargo flight. Read their instructions carefully, because you can’t allow your pet to have any fruits, veggies, or agricultural products (including hay) in the carrier. The carrier itself has to be bolted together, with a water bottle and bowl that can be filled from the outside, with stickers that say “live animal” and all identifying information on the owners (addresses in both countries, phones in both countries, and feeding instructions).

 

Needless to say, this did not include having to spend hours trying to get information out of the USDA, APHIS, the US embassy in Buenos Aires, and the Argentinian embassy in DC.  None of which were incredibly helpful.

Ultimately, I had the vet appointment, and all of the accessories for bunny. But–the state USDA vet never bothered to get back to me, then Delta decided to run planes on the ATL-EZE route that do not include a pressurized part of the cargo area for animals. Finally–the nail in the coffin–the newest edition of the TACT newsletter–which is all about air transport rules–has an explicit rule change for Argentina, which bans all live rabbits and hares and their associated products from entering the country.  Because those diabolical bunnies are clearly plotting an invasion.

So, that was incredibly disappointing, but thankfully both Winks and Tesla seem very happy with my family in the states. (THANK YOU ALL AGAIN FOR TAKING CARE OF THEM!)

However… we did get two suitcases full of goodies for down here:

  • XBOX One and games
  • Cayenne Pepper, Chili Powder, Crushed Red Pepper, Garlic Powder
  • Colored Sharpies
  • Pretzels
  • Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs
  • Peanut Butter
  • iPhone (unlocked and ready for a global plan… we are still forced to use our US phones only in emergencies without our DNIs)
  • Long-sleeved shirts and jackets for me!

We still don’t have our household goods down here, and it’s questionable if they will ever show up, so we were getting a little desperate. I had thoughtfully packed most of my winter wardrobe in there, thinking that by the time it was winter, it would be here. So much for that–but a good excuse to go shopping.

We’ve been trying to eat healthier down here–two months of hotel food has taken its toll. Thankfully, the fruits and veggies here are very inexpensive!

I’m hoping to be better about updating this–but we’re most likely going to a 7 day a week schedule for a bit at work–which means I don’t have anything terribly exciting to post. I will try to post more tomorrow about the drive from Buenos Aires to Ituzaingo–which was actually exciting–after I get my photos loaded up.