Bagna Cauda


The culinary delights continue in Córdoba as we had the good fortune yesterday to enjoy bagna cauda for the first time.  Bagna cauda is a wickedly good winter dish, traditionally from Italy.  As is the case with locro, each family seems to have their own secret recipe.  Bagna cauda tends to either be oil or cream based, with garlic and anchovies making up some of the key ingredients.

Bagna cauda is eaten communal-style like fondue.  Our friend German has not only master asador skills, but also a wonderful bagna cauda recipe.  While the kids chowed on choripan, the adults dipped away with accompaniments like chicken, broccoli, sweet potato, milanese, carrots and bread.  It’s a deliciously salty dip that’s heavy on the garlic, always a good thing in our minds.  The rule of thumb apparently is one head of garlic per adult.  Yikes.

Kids table with choripan

Another beautiful Sunday spent with friends, wine, great food, and a little Fernet con coca.

Dipping treats

Firsts & Lasts

Just a couple of weeks ago we took our last overnight bus in Argentina from Mendoza back home to Córdoba. The kids were just as thrilled with it as they were the first time we took an overnight bus from Córdoba to Buenos Aires. The fancy “suite class” buses in Argentina are quite deluxe, and have approximately one million times more room than any coach seat on an airplane. If you have the time, I would recommend an overnight bus over a flight just about any day.

Molly enjoying her own video screen on Andesmar bus lines.

Molly enjoying her own video screen on Andesmar bus lines.

I don’t think that I’m making a revolutionary statement when I say that over the years, air travel has become less and less enjoyable, although, maybe that’s because in those earlier times, I traveled by myself or with Rob, and now I travel with three children under the age of eleven. I write this and slap my forehead at the same time because we are about to embark on about six flights over two weeks that will take us through Brazil and back home to Portland. WHAT AM I THINKING?!?!?

In all honesty I’m thinking that I cannot possibly believe that our “1 Year in Argentina” has just about come to a close.  This past year has been replete with new experiences:


  • Have I ever had really, REALLY carbonated water delivered to my house once a week in adorable seltzer bottles?  No!  Do I LOVE it? YES!!!!
  • Have I ever lived in a house with a pool?
  • Have I ever, in all my adult life, spent eight hours at someone’s house for lunch, and then felt like I was hurting their feelings by “leaving so early.  What is the hurry?”
  • Have I ever relied on my YOUNG children to help me get my point across to another adult?

Have I ever spent so much time together with my family?  NO!  This has been an exciting (and sometimes exhausting) year of learning.  While in Salta, a city with incredible colonial architecture in northern Argentina, we visited the MA’AM museum.  This was one of my favorite museum visits, by far in Argentina.  The museum houses a small collection of artifacts collected from tombs found high in the Andes Mountains, and three incredibly preserved mummies.  Only one of the mummies is on display at a time, for preservation purposes, and we were lucky enough to see the boy.  These mummies are children who were part of an Incan ritual that helped to protect the people who lived in the areas surrounding the Andes. The children were brought to the mountain peaks alive, and dressed in beautiful, ornate ceremonial clothes.  They were given a sort of corn alcohol to drink and cocoa leaves to chew, and then buried in stone tombs on the mountain.  The museum was very quiet as people shuffled trough the small space looking at the artifacts and reading the descriptions. As we quietly walked into the room containing the small mummy (in a special plexiglass cylinder kept at near freezing temperatures and low humidity), Ben said to me, “Mom, do you think the kids KNEW what was going to happen to them when they were walking up the mountain?” I still get the feeling of someone punching me in the gut when I think of that question. I had no answer for Ben, and told him as much. I tried to talk about how it was a very different culture, and it was a very different time, but those words didn’t begin to address what he was wrestling with inside his seven-year-old brain.

Have I ever been to so many rugby games?  Heck, no!  But really, is it all that much different from fall soccer on Saturdays?  Not too much.  The drinks of choice for both adults and kids are different:  mate instead of coffee for adults, and Coke or Powerade instead of water for kids, but other than that it’s still a bunch of kids running around having fun while their parents stand by and snap pictures and visit with other parents. I will say this, though:  the bonds of rugby are STRONG, and more often than not, the son plays for the same club that his father and uncles played for, and many rugby families have known each other for generations.

Have I ever lived in such close proximity with so many large insect-type things? Heavens, NO!  Cockroaches AND scorpions?  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!!?!?  Let’s just say that this one will fall in the “LAST” category, too. And I have to say that even though I have a great deal of respect for cockroaches–I really do!–they were around with the dinosaurs, that doesn’t mean I won’t spray the heck out of one, or smash it with a shoe the minute I see it.

Have I ever been so lax about the kids riding around in cars without seat belts, or cramming onto laps in cars? Of course not, but lots of paradigms had to shift to live here, and I can guarantee that once back state-side, we’ll be back on track.  Much to the dismay of my children, I’m sure. Another one for the “LAST” category, I guess.


  • Insects:  see above!
  • Clown-car-ing it:  see above!
  • Quite luxurious overnight bus:  see above!
  • Long-term living without a dishwasher:  Please GOD make this a last! I can’t afford the glasses and dishes I break!
  • Living in a house with an absolutely spectacular quincho:  I sincerely hope this ISN’T a “LAST,” and Rob and I are determined to do everything we can to recreate this incredible structure back home.
This is only part of it, but this quincho is my absolute favorite part of the house!

This is only part of it, but this quincho is my absolute favorite part of the house!

  • Spending lazy Saturday or Sunday afternoons eating, drinking, and visiting with friends and family.  I certainly hope this, too, ISN’T a “LAST,” but as Americans, we always seem to be in a hurry to move on to the “next thing.”  It seems that often we are looking ahead without recognizing the preciousness and beauty of the moment.  Tomorrow we have been invited to an afternoon asado with friends, and I find that recently, I am thinking, “Ohhhh!  This could be the last time that we have asado with …………..” I know that when it truly IS our last Argentine asado (at least as pertains to this adventure), I will cry my heart out, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one.  The kids have all come to love the practice of asado. What’s not to love?  The kids run around and play, and come back for quick snack breaks, while the parents sit around without paying much attention to what the kids are up to!

So as we prepare to say, “Goodbye for now,” to Argentina, and, “Hey!  We missed you!” to the US, I must ask our US friends to forgive us for a couple of things:

  • If you invite us over for dinner, and we’ve been there for four hours, and show no sign of leaving, just remind us gently that we’re not in Argentina anymore (sniff, sniff!).  We’ll eventually leave, but we just don’t want to hurt your feelings by leaving too early!
  • The besos (kisses) hello and goodbye have become second nature for us (even Rob!), so don’t be weirded out if we come in for a kiss:  it’s been a long time since we’ve seen you anyway, so give us a kiss!
  • If we invite you over for dinner that very same night, or the next day, don’t think that we’re bored at the last minute:  we just want to see you NOW!  We don’t want to wait a week or two, so come on over, and don’t be in a hurry to leave:  we like spending time with you!

La Difunta Correa

Roadside shrine outside of Mendoza

Roadside shrine outside of Mendoza

Shrines to accident victims or saints along the road in Argentina are a very common sight.  A visitor to the country might mistake devotion for excessive littering at times when passing by shrines to Difunta Correa.

While driving from Mendoza to the foothills of the Andes near Uspallata, we passed the largest such shrine we’d see so far.  It’s an interesting sight and story to share.

Mounds and mounds of full water bottles

Mounds and mounds of full water bottles

Difunta Correa refers to the legend of a woman who attempted to find her husband during a time of war in Argentina in the 1800’s.  While trailing the marching army through the desert with her baby, she died of dehydration.  Her infant child was found alive, nursing at her breast by traveling gauchos.  Hundreds if not thousands of roadside shrines throughout the country pay homage to Difunta Correa (Deceased Correa) and her thirst by housing piles of full water bottles and other offerings.

Ruta 7 into the Andes from Mendoza is a beautiful, but desolate stretch of highway.  While we probably noticed 10-12 shrines to Difunta Correa on our 2 hour drive, none was larger than this one.

Ben distressed at the waste of water bottles

Ben distressed at the waste of water bottles

When we stopped for a closer look at this one, Ben and Molly were upset by the apparent waste of water.  When Erica decided to contribute one of the bottles we’d recently bought, Ben nearly revolted.

Driving in Costa Rica and Argentina has been an adventure at times.  We’ve rented cars a number of times as well as simply being passengers.  It’s provided a very different opportunity to experience the country than can be found onboard a bus.   I’m somewhat fearful for my newfound driving techniques when we return though.  My favorite is the habit of honking upon approach of a 4-way stop with no change in speed, as if to announce, “here I come, out of the way!”

Salta Surprises

City view from Cerro San Bernardo

City view from Cerro San Bernardo

Traveling to Northern Argentina has always been high on our list of must-see destinations ever since we began planning to live here.  Last week we finally ventured up to Salta and some of the surrounding areas while my Dad visited from Oregon.  Some of our favorite parts of travel is the way it can educate, provide global perspective and disprove preconceived notions.  We had always imagined Salta as a desert land of red rocks and adobe, but instead we were surprised by the vast diversity in people, food and landscape.

Land:  Salta sits 860 km to the north of Cordoba and about 300 km south of the Bolivian border.  To cap off my father’s visit to Argentina, we’d put together a 10 day tour to Salta and Mendoza before sending him home.  After the short flight from Cordoba, we spent 5 days exploring the city of Salta and neighboring areas such as San Lorenzo, Purmamarca, and San Salvador de Jujuy.  We noticed right away how wrong our ideas about Salta would be as we landed.  The surrounding area is lush and green, with high, arid mountains to the west.  The hills around Salta are a dense jungle-like landscape.  It is only as you head farther north that the more famous imagery of Northern Argentina appears.

View from the Cerro de los Siete Colores, Purmamarca

View from the Cerro de los Siete Colores, Purmamarca

We elected to rent a car for a few days in order to take a few day trips from Salta after hearing about how much the region had to offer.  I think my Dad was ready to continue solo onto Bolivia after the long day trip to Purmamarca with 3 kids in a 5 passenger car, but managed to see part of the famous Quebrada de Humahuaca.  In 2 hours we drove from a chaotic city, through dense green hills, into a broad glacial valley, and into the desolate foothills of the Northern Andes.



Food:  In most of Argentina, spicy food is rare.  Not so to the north!  Living in a college town like Cordoba, we’ve had our fill of lomos, pizzas and migas that lack any sort of spice.  I can’t say we’re tired of empanadas though.  Standard fare in Salta and Jujuy includes tamales, humitas, llama empanadas and locro.  Most restaurants also provide picante (sort of salsa and hot sauce mix) to accompany tamales or empanadas.  The tamales are small and round, filled with corn meal and meat, but otherwise similar to what we’d find in Mexico.  Humita is a sweet, corn-based sort of tamale that’s delicious.  Both are wrapped in corn husks and steamed.  We also managed to be in Salta on May 1st, when locro becomes a standard menu item in many restaurants as the weather turns colder.  Locro is a stew of pork, corn and potatoes that varies widely based on the chef.  We’re determined to track down a family recipe before we leave!

Ben loves his locro

Ben loves his locro

People:  It was fascinating to see just how distinctly different the people looked in the north.  Features commonly associated with Peru or Bolivia like high cheek bones and dark complexion stand out in Salta and the north.  The huge influx of European immigrants that diluted the indigenous population in so many parts of the country and makes Argentine people so incredibly diverse has not reached the north.  There’s an incredible quantity of textiles and crafts available in the north as well.  True gauchos are a common sight with their flat brimmed hats or berets, trousers tucked into high leather boots, and red sash at the waist.  So many leather boots might explain the disproportionate number of shoe shiners in the main plazas in Salta.  Sitting in an outdoor cafe on the edge of Plaza 9 de Julio ensured we would have a minimum of 5 shoe shiners stop by to see if we needed a shine, even if we didn’t have on leather shoes.  We also noticed a strong police presence that is not visible in Cordoba.  Pairs of police officers seem to be on every corner.  Check points on the highway were more frequent.  It was a bit unnerving to see so many, particularly ringing the teachers on strike in Plaza 9 de Julio at all hours.

Plaza 9 de Julio, Salta

Plaza 9 de Julio, Salta

We could have easily spent a month or more in the north and still not seen it all.  Even with one year we are finding that Argentina is too vast to see all of its many wonderful sights.

Condors & Jesuits

Hosting family visiting from the States have given us ample excuse to tour the region around Cordoba and play the tour guide.  With my Dad visiting this month we  managed to visit some of Cordoba’s most historic sites and stunning scenery prior to heading out to Salta and Mendoza.

Jesuit estancia of Santa Catalina, north of Cordoba

Jesuit estancia of Santa Catalina, north of Cordoba

The city of Cordoba is ringed by a number of estancias built by Jesuit missionaries in the 16th century.  Many of these sites are Unesco World Heritage sites, as is the Manzana Jesuitica in central Cordoba.

Museo Jesuitico Nacional de Jesus Maria, built in 1618 in the pueblo of Jesus Maria north of Cordoba.

Despite eventually being expelled from the continent by the Spanish, the Jesuits left an enduring legacy in the Cordoba area.  Most of their settlements and institutions remain today.  Founded by the Jesuits, the National University of Cordoba is one of the oldest universities in South America.

Museo Historico Nacional del Virrey Liniers, in Alta Gracia south of Cordoba

Museo Historico Nacional del Virrey Liniers, in Alta Gracia south of Cordoba

The Jesuits utilized a number of large farm facilities in the surrounding valleys to generate income for their mission.  Sad to say the kids have seemed most interested in the old bathroom facilities used by the Jesuits.  The wine making equipment and workshops where slave craftsmen built everything from nails to ornate works of art for use in the church are fascinating.  Each estancia was centered around an iglesia.  We found the displays and overall state of the Jesuit Estancia in Alta Gracia to be the best we’ve visited so far.

Jesuit Estancia, Alta Gracia

Jesuit Estancia, Alta Gracia

In addition to the amazing history left behind by the Jesuits, the surrounding mountains are a wonderful way to experience the Cordoba area.  Just over an hour drive to the southwest of Cordoba lie the Sierras Grandes.

Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito

Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito

Rather than the low, rolling hills covered in scrub brush that define the Sierras Chicas nearby, the Sierras Grandes rise sharply out of the valley and are vast.  The summit of this range is an open, rocky grassland called the Pampa de Achala rising to about 5,000 ft.

The quebrada (gorge) where condors nest and learn to fly.

The quebrada (gorge) where condors nest and learn to fly.

Halfway between Cordoba and Mina Clavero is Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito.  Despite a blustery day, Dad and I had a great hike to a clifftop viewpoint above a stunning gorge.  Although we saw only a few condors soaring high above, we had a great view of giant white streaks of condor poop against the cliffs.

Balcon Norte, near La Pampilla in Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito.

Balcon Norte, near La Pampilla in Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito.

The highway to the park is in great condition and provides amazing views of the rugged terrain.  We rented a car for the weekend to a few estancias and in particular for the trip up to La Pampilla.  Although I’ve read it’s possible by bus to access the park, I wouldn’t want to try it.

Next up, Salta and Mendoza!

Management Lessons From Argentina

Prior to moving to Argentina I worked for the Portland Business Journal as a sales manager.  As a young manager I gleaned what knowledge I could from a number of more experienced managers and sales trainers.  I recall my mentor George telling me early on just how similar managing salespeople could be to parenting.  Our superb sales trainer at the time, Jeff Schneider, hammered the key tenets and roles a sales manager must play into me while also drawing many such parenting analogies.  While traveling and living abroad as a family, I  have been repeatedly reminded just how much parenting can mirror sales management challenges.  The lesson I suppose is that it can be more difficult than one might think to escape entirely from reality and thoughts of work while on sabbatical.  While I don’t claim to be the best parent or manager, the lessons provided by these men provide a wonderful goal to aim for whether it be while managing a sales team or a family experiencing life south of the border.

The four primary roles of a sales manager I was taught are coach, mentor, trainer and supervisor.  As Jeff so wisely pointed out, most sales managers end up focusing primarily on supervision, an eerily similar problem faced by Erica and I here!  I’d like to share a few additional management lessons I’ve learned thanks to living abroad as a family.

Manage the individual, not the team

Just as salespeople are unique individuals and require an individual approach, living abroad together has illustrated just how different our kids are.  We’ve spent A LOT of time together.  It’s been a fascinating and rewarding experience to discover what approach might inspire one of the kids, while having zero impact on the others.  Freed from the responsibilities of a job while we live in Argentina, I’m grateful to have the time and energy now to truly learn about my kids.  They are all highly motivated by any electronic device of course. Elliott tends to be very money motivated, Ben not at all.  Sport of any kind and socializing with friends drives Elliott.  Ben loves having friends over for play dates, but sport, eh.   Elliott cherishes access to his email account we opened for him to keep in touch with friends at home.  Ben has one also but we have to nag him to use it.  On the other hand Ben loves rocking out with his headphones and iPod.  Michael Jackson and Charlie Daniels are favorites.  Molly loves the iPad and pleasing others.  She might be freaking out about her shoes not fitting one minute and kissing your hand the next.  Not unlike seeking the right formula for a sales rep, Ben’s a tough cookie.  We’ll let you know when we figure that out!

Be humble

As any good sales manager knows, you want your salesperson to be a better rep than you.  Well, I can tell you that my kids and wife excel at speaking Spanish while I simply manage the logistics of our existence here.  While I would love to be more fluent, I recognize my own strengths and weaknesses.  The other day at rugby, Ben was speaking to Erica with a new friend looking on.  Afterward Erica overheard the friend ask,”Hablás inglés, vos?”  Nothing makes us happier.

Lead during times of change

Our team at the Portland Business Journal went through a tremendous amount of change while I was a manager.  Learning how to manage during times of change while also learning to be a manager was incredibly difficult, but not so unlike our current status.  Our kids have adapted amazingly well to living in Argentina.  Their world has turned upside and yet they have just rolled with it all from the start.  When we started selling furniture on Craigslist last year, they barely batted an eye.  We moved in with a Costa Rican family of 5 for 3 weeks and enrolled in a language school.  We tossed Ben and Molly in a taxi with the school director each day to go to kindergarten in Spanish.  We lived out of a hotel in Cordoba for 2 weeks!  No problem.  Well, minor issues that we can gloss over now.  We threw the boys into a public school that is 100% Spanish.  We jumped on an overnight bus to Buenos Aires.  All things considered, the kids have been champs.  I like to think that they have been relatively unfazed because of the confidence Erica and I have tried to project despite our own concerns.  Although scared out of our minds and unsure at times during this adventure, we have always positioned each trial or phase as a new adventure.  I don’t recall who started it, but we began a corny Team Vaughn chant completed with hands in to kick off meaningful new adventures before we even left Portland.

Motivation by trial and error

Our challenge to provide motivation for the kids began the moment we sprung our plans on them a year ago. We pulled out the stops with stories from our scouting trip about meat, ice cream and swimming pools. When we were in Costa Rica incentives took the form of a trip to the public pool after a good behavior day at language school.  This trial and error continued in Cordoba when we came up with the Morning List, The Big 3 and the Night List.  While we’d tried a number of similar things in Portland, we actually managed to find the time and motivation to stick with it here.  In an effort to teach responsibility and maintain our own sanity, we came up with a few basic things the kids should do on their own without endless nagging and reminders.  Morning and Night includes stuff like get dressed, make the bed, and brush teeth.  The Big 3 believe it or not are flush, wash hands and lights off in the bathroom.  I cringe to envision life with 3 boys rather than 2.  Successful completion of these tasks on a daily basis is rewarded with 5 pesos each.  Given the ready availability of kioscos and sugar this has proven to be a fairly productive incentive so far.  I won’t lie though. It’s not uncommon for the boys to have a debt tally on the fridge when motivation devolves into supervision. Homework, behavior at school and our home school efforts have provided endless opportunities for experimentation with motivation.  We committed to home school the boys 5 days a week in English since their school day is short compared to the US.  Although not particularly popular with the team, we created a chart per day with subjects including reading, history, math and science.  We have a mix of workbooks, apps, documentaries and games we use to keep it mildly interesting.  Regardless, Ben still manages to try to scratch out math on the chart and make it look like history. We also have learned when to call in the big guns for training help as does any good sales manager.  We finally saw the light and have our wonderful babysitter helping Elliott with his homework twice a week.  It’s a far cry from our painful attempts to interpret assignments using Google Translate, and he’s far less likely to misbehave with a cute 21-year-old Argentine instructing him that ourselves.

Unfortunately, after our best efforts, it sometimes all comes down to banning the kids from electronics, rugby, play dates or loss of pesos.  I learned some of my biggest lessons as a manager from the people who worked for me.  The analogy continues as our children challenge and inspire Erica and I everyday in Argentina.


It is hard to have a conversation about Argentina for 5 minutes without talking about meat.  We are only half kidding when we list carne as one of our primary reasons for moving to Argentina.  The reverence placed on the asado and its importance in Argentine society can’t be overstated.  The priority placed on family in Argentina is a wonderful change from the States.  Many of our friends grew up in Cordoba and live mere blocks from siblings and parents.  The concept of moving to another city or country for work is rare.  An integral part of this family first culture is the Sunday asado with friends and family.  We have been very fortunate to have had many opportunities to enjoy asado during our time in Cordoba, so while I’m far from an expert asador, its time to share some of the best part of Argentina.  Before I continue though, a brief glossary of terms is necessary:

Asado:  Basically a barbecue.  Though a BBQ in the States might mean an hour with hotdogs and burgers, an invitation to an asado tends to mean you’re on the hook for at least 4 hours, not that you’re watching the clock after the wine and excellent meat.  This is the term for the event itself and the Argentine method of cooking.

The parrilla and tools ready to start

The parrilla and tools ready to start

Parrilla:  The actual barbecue.  This typically references the structure of the actual cooking space that can come in a multitude of designs.  Usually the parrilla is housed within the quincho (next term) and includes the grill and rack for combustibles surrounded by brick.

El quincho

El quincho

Quincho:  This is the eating and socializing space typically separated from the house.  While house hunting in August a realtor asked Erica what the English translation for quincho was.  The realtor was astonished and horrified to find that there is none.  I suppose if you imagine nearly every house in America with a “man cave” built around their BBQ outside, you’d understand the quincho.

Tools of the asador

Tools of the asador

Asador:  The grill master. Lena: The name assigned to any hardwood that’s used for an asado. Typically sold in plastic bags at any kiosco or neighborhood store. Prices range from $13ARS to $25ARS. Carbon:  Charcoal is probably too generous on this, but close.  This is typically lena partially burned and bagged up and available pretty much anywhere.  It tends to be a few pesos cheaper than lena.  While many people prefer the flavor from using lena over carbon, it takes less time to be ready for cooking.  We’ve been slightly amused and pissed to discover the occasional brick in the middle of a few bags of carbon now and then.  A trick to charge more for less based on weight. Carniceria:  The meat market.  It has been fun to gradually learn and experience the difference between cuts of meat in Argentina and the US.  Finding a high quality, reliable carniceria in the barrio has been part of the adventure.  When buying meat for an asado the general rule of thumb is to be prepared for 1 kilo per person.  Much to the chagrin of the nation, Uruguay recently surpassed Argentina in annual beef consumption.  Needless to say they can still put it away nicely.  Standard purchases from a carniceria for an asado tend to include vacio, chorizo, morcilla, matambre and asado (short ribs). Fiambres:  Appetizers.  Typically meat, cheese, olives and bread platters.


The method of cooking meat in Argentina has been a stark difference from our push button gas grill in Portland.  There’s nothing fast about an asado.  Many families gather on Sundays for a weekly asado, which might be in the shape of lunch or dinner depending on the designated start time.  It is standard for guests to bring sides, salads, bread, desserts or drinks potlack-style while the asador handles the meat.  Depending on preference, the asador will get the lena or carbon started in advance of arriving guests.  The fire is started in a compact, elevated grate to the side of the primary grill.  There is no charbroiled grilling to speak of in our experience.  The idea is to allow the lena or carbon to burn into hot coals before they are shoveled in a thin, even layer under the grill.  Meat preparation is simply olive oil and parrilla salt (basically kosher salt), lots of salt!  A good trick I noticed once was lemon added to some cuts as well, but I’ve never seen anyone use a dry rub or sauce of any kind.  I get the impression that might be blasphemy.  Many parrillas have extra bells and whistles such as grease catchers and grills whose elevation can be changed.  The coals essentially smoke and sear the meat slowly, resulting in a wonderfully smoky flavor.  It’s tricky to learn how to keep adequate coals at the ready as the coals placed under the grill cool in order to maintain even heat and judge what heat will blacken the meat versus cook it perfectly.  As the meat cooks guests snack on wonderful fiambres and hang out in the quincho.


Typical sides cooked on the parrilla include thinly sliced potatoes with paprika and oil, bell peppers, provolone a la parrilla (provolone cheese with oil in a tin dish cooked until bubbling and served with bread), and onions (tossed directly into the coals and peeled after roasting).  It’s common to serve the cut as it comes off the parrilla rather than wait until all the meat is ready.  In fact at a few man-asados I’ve had the privilege of attending, it’s common to bring your own asado knife and pass around forks to eat communally off the cutting board sin platos.  Salads of tomato, potato, arugula or carrot are pretty typical sides along with bread.  Of course no asado is complete without dessert after the gluttony.  Some of our favorites have been helado and home-made dulce de leche.  If Fernet with Coke appears at the end of the night you can be assured you’ve lived a good life.

Pollo para parrilla

Pollo para parrilla

A huge part of our family’s experience here in Argentina has revolved around the asado.  Given the importance placed on asados and the role it plays in family relations we’ve been exceptionally grateful to have been included in the experience with a number of Cordobeses and expat friends here.  Wherever we land when we return, we hope to carry back the tradition and technique of the asado and build our own quincho.

Costilla, chorizo and vacio

Costilla, chorizo and vacio

A Tale of Two Days

During our time in Argentina we have been fortunate to have very few days in which Erica and I are both at the end of our rope.  Some days it seems that nothing goes right or according to plan.    Being flexible and patient are critical,  and I like to think we’re pretty good at it, but some days it all falls to pieces regardless.  Rarely however, do we seem to have two days that are so starkly different from one another.  Yesterday was a rough day for both of us.  The sun comes up the next day and the magic is back.  A tale of two days living in Argentina:

Wednesday, March 19

Yesterday was unusually cool and cloudy.  Molly and Ben are killing us the moment they wake up.  In short order Ben and Molly both lose access to all electronics for the day.  Molly freaks out about everything from hair to shoes, is late for school and screams during drop-off.  Ben and Elliott bicker and mess around rather than buckle down with morning homeschooling.

I proceed to get my ass kicked in my Spanish class and realize I may have hit my learning limit.

Erica tries yet another new bus route to work downtown but has to abort and get a cab.  Paying cabs to get to teaching gigs is not very profitable, thus frustrating.

The boys goofing around on the walk to school grows so annoying I nearly push them into the street.  My plan to check in with Elliott’s teachers about homework fails when I first try to ask Ben’s teacher if we have bought the correct math book.  Ben has disappeared with said book to the kiosco to spend the pesos I gave him for a water bottle on candy. By the time I return the candy and collar Ben, Elliott’s class has started.

Molly and I head to the grocery store for the weekly restock.  At checkout I try yet again to ask for home delivery.  After 3 attempts the checker understands me.  When I ask if I said it correctly, she says yes.

Erica tries to pay a hotel deposit for my sister’s upcoming visit at a bank and realizes that ALL banks close for the day at 1:30pm.

Hoping for a nice day tomorrow, I vacuum the pool and proceed to break the vacuum.

While Erica’s heading to her 2nd teaching gig of the day, she gets hung up in downtown traffic since all the garbage workers are striking and firing off cannons in the street.

Molly and I head to a nearby doctor’s office to schedule health checkups for the kids before we pick up the boys at school.  After feeling pretty good about making the appointment despite my rough language, I realize I booked a time when the boys are in school.  By the time I realize my error we’re on the bus headed to school.  The bus Molly and I take from the doctor’s office completes its route before I expect it to, making us late to get the boys.  On the walk home from school, every dog seems like Cujo, ready to rip our limbs off and I start to realize I’m really bothered by the ridiculous amount of security on the beautiful houses in our barrio.

On Erica’s way home from teaching downtown, she flags her bus which slows down at the curb, and then, for no apparent reason, speeds up and drives past the bus stop without stopping.  She ends up having to wait another 15 minutes for another bus to come by.

Thursday, March 20

Today it’s a gorgeous, sunny day.  The boys start their math homeschooling today without being reminded!  Bickering is minor.  Molly awakes in a good mood and gets dressed with no fussing.  She’s dressed and delivered to school on time and with no crying.

Erica recovers the boys’ notarized birth certificates (previously missing) at their school and successfully completes the bank deposit she tried the previous day at a bank near our barrio.

The boys and I hit the pool store for some supplies and I miraculously get what I need with zero translation help from the boys.

With trepidation, I call the doctor’s office to reschedule the appointment, and am amazed that I’m able to do so with near total comprehension.  The makes my day since speaking on the phone in Spanish is one of my greatest fears here.

I’m able corner Elliott’s teacher and ask how he’s been doing on homework.  Seems he’s doing what he’s supposed to so far.  I covertly watch Ben buy his water bottle today as instructed versus candy before heading out for a quick run home in the sunshine.

Erica’s finally able to get Molly to wear her tights to ballet and dropped off with no fuss allowing her to get to work on time.

Erica’s evening English class goes well….her favorite 82-year-old-student charms Erica with her question about idioms, “Ehreeka, I don’t understand. What means this, ‘hunky guy?'”

My medicinal Fernet & Coke seems to be easing a persistent cold this evening.  The day was good.  I didn’t even explode when Ben dropped an entire bag of milk on the kitchen floor (yes, I said “bag”)!

So again we have a lesson in perspective.  It’s all still parenting, with just a few extra wrinkles to make things more interesting.  One day we feel worn down and helpless.  The next, all is well in the world and we’re living a dream once again.

5 Reasons We Love Cordoba

The view of downtown Cordoba from our rooftop in Barrio Urca

The view of downtown Cordoba from our rooftop in Barrio Urca

National Geographic Traveler recently named Cordoba one of the 20 Best Destinations in 2014.  As the article points out, the city’s combination of history, culture and proximity to the Sierras make Cordoba a wonderful destination.  We decided to move to Cordoba because of the size, climate and people.  It is also a huge college town, with more than 6 universities, which we assumed would be a bonus for Erica’s teaching endeavors.  We could not be more pleased with our selection and are proud to share it with so many family members visiting this year.  While the mountains and lakes of Bariloche and the glitz of Buenos Aires tend to garner far more attention, Cordoba flies under the radar as the nation’s 2nd largest city.  To mark our upcoming 7 month anniversary in Cordoba here are our top 5 reasons that we love Cordoba:

  1. Cordobeses:  The absolute top reason we love Cordoba is the people we’ve met.  Cordobeses have a well deserved reputation for being some of the friendliest Argentines.  The generosity and willingness to embrace our family has been astounding.  Our house, entrance to the boys’ school and Erica’s job have all been possible only due to the kindness of the people we’ve encountered.  The character of Cordobeses have allowed us to truly become a part of the community as we experience school, work, birthday parties, asado, family gatherings and sports.  Where else would a taxi driver return an expensive camera a week later?  Where else are you invited to their home for an asado 10 minutes after meeting for the first time?
  2. Language:  The Spanish spoken in Argentina is commonly referred to as Castellano.  It’s a distinctly different sound than the Spanish spoken in Mexico.  The accent in Cordoba is unique as well.  The sing-song intonation of Castellano is beautiful to hear, albeit muy rapido mucho veces.  Moreover, we love the fact that very little English is commonly spoken in Cordoba.  We came here to immerse and learn the language and Cordoba is a perfect city to force us all to speak Spanish.  This point was reinforced during our travels to Patagonia and Buenos Aires in January where English was widely understood.  In Cordoba, we’ve grown accustomed to the stares and second looks when we speak English.  Nearly everyday we are asked, “de donde son?”  Our presence here is unique and people are genuinely interested to listen to English, as evidenced by the crowd of kids that gather around us when we speak to the boys at school.  In Cordoba we need to be ready to speak Spanish at every turn, for every task, no matter how minor.  It can be exhausting, but it’s an effective way to learn.  We’re also thrilled to hear locals tell us that the boys have picked up the Cordobese accent.
  3. Climate:  We have loved most aspects of the weather in Cordoba so far.  We wanted to live in climate far different than Portland.  For the most part, that means warm and dry as opposed to wet and dreary.  Winters are dry and windy here.  Summers are hot and sometimes humid with regular thunderstorms.  The electrical storms in the spring and summer have been unbelievably powerful.  Continuous cracks of lightning and thunder rattle the house followed by sheets of rain and hail.  Given how much we walk, we’re fortunate that the rains that turn the streets into rivers are fairly infrequent and dry up quickly.  The region has gone from brown and drought-ridden to flooded and lush in our time here.  We have been told this year has extreme for the region with record-breaking heat, wildfires, giant hail, flooding and even an earthquake!  With the exception of some miserably hot and humid days in December and January, we have loved waking up to beautiful, sunny days that seem the norm here in Cordoba.
  4. Neighborhood:  While researching our trip, we’d read about Cerro de Las Rosas and Urca on some expat forums.  These adjoining barrios lie about 20 minutes by bus to the northwest of downtown Cordoba.  It is a middle to upper class neighborhood that is crisscrossed by major bus lines and is extremely walkable.  To the horror of our friends here in Argentina, we have been determined to go sin auto for the year, and it would not be possible were it not for the convenience of our barrio.  We’re blocks away from a great park, ice cream, meat market, vegetable stand and school supply store.  We walk 2 blocks to drop Molly at ballet and Ben at karate.  Our longest regular walks are to the boys’ school and grocery store (Disco, aptly named).  It’s a safe and relatively quiet area outside of the usual blaring alarms and dogs.
  5. The Sierras:  To the north and west of Cordoba lie the Sierras de Cordoba.  We have loved our limited excursions to some of the towns that dot the mountains nearby.  The Sierras remind us of Nevada in a way.   Far from alpine, the Sierras tend to be more desert and scrub.  We’ve been able to visit La Cumbre, Mina Clavero, Jesus Maria, Nono, Capilla del Monte, Villa General Belgrano and Ongamira.  The bus system is wonderful and cheap, allowing us to avoid expensive car rentals most of the time.

(Bonus favorite from Rob)

Fernet & Coke:  While definitely an acquired taste, Cordobeses love their Fernet and Coke.  Erica’s description of this Italian digestif is that it tastes like jet fuel and Grandpa cologne.  Accurate for straight Fernet to be sure.  However when mixed with Coke, you have a sweet yet bitter cocktail.  I must admit I only tried it first as a novelty, but it’s truly grown on me.

Fill 1/3rd glass with Fernet, top off with Coke and ice, and you're half Cordobese

Fill 1/3rd glass with Fernet, top off with Coke and ice, and you’re half Cordobese

Quick Trip

Recently, we had Rob’s cousin, Shannon, visiting us from the Boston area. Although the weather didn’t completely cooperate, it was significantly warmer than the 26 degree (Fahrenheit) highs that Shannon was coming from.

After my parents leaving over a month ago, the kids were ready and excited for a new visitor. And after a solid day and a half of relaxing (and an asado), we filled Shannon’s time here with exploring in and around the city of Cordoba.

First we bused to a little town called Mina Clavero which is southwest of the city of Cordoba. It took about 2 hours on a bus along windy roads (and some of them very narrow with a sharp drop-off to one side). I was glad that the kids slept on the bus most of the way, and there were points where I was wishing for sleep myself.

Usually, people go to Mina Clavero because two rivers flow through town: the Rio Panaholma and the Rio de los Sauces. The town sits at the confluence of these rivers, and it makes for some fantastic swimming among the boulders and pools. The only problem was the timing of our trip: Cordoba has been experiencing a huge amount of rain lately, which has resulted in flooding in many areas. So not only was it too cold in Mina Clavero to swim, the rivers were so swollen, and the water was running so high, that with children, we hesitated even walking too close to it!

Mina Clavero

Here is a picture of the river in Mina Clavero in good weather.


And here is a picture of the river when we were there.

It is always interesting to try to find things to do to entertain children when you are in a rainy climate, and we found a “museum” of sorts near Mina Clavero called “Museo Polifacetio Rocsen.”  I’m not sure how else to describe this place other than a “museum of the weird.”  This museum had everything……and I mean EVERYTHING!  Name on thing, and I am pretty sure the museum had it:  old cars?  Yep!  Old printing presses/typewriters/adding machines/computers?  Yep!  Shrunken heads?  Yep! Taxidermied animals? Yep!  Beautifully beaded flapper dresses?  Yep!  Old medical equipment?  Yep!  Weapons?  OF COURSE!


A collection of car “things.”


How could I have forgotten to mention the goucho gear!?!?


Weapons, of course.


This picture gives a particularly good idea of just how much “stuff” is crammed into each room.


And some of the “stuff” is just a tad bit dusty.


After two days in Mina Clavero, we decided to head back to Cordoba.  There is some excellent condor-viewing near Mina Clavero, and we had hoped to take a day trip to hike around, but the weather was rainy and cold, so we just headed straight home.

A couple more days in Cordoba, then we rented a car and drove to our friends’ farm north of the city of Cordoba. Our friends had invited us to their farm before, but had said that we would need to rent a car to get there.  “Isn’t there a bus that goes near it?” I had asked.  After an hour of bouncing and bumping along winding dirt/mud roads and driving across little (and not-s0-little) creeks and streams, I began to understand why Carla had told us that we would need to rent a car.

Driving in Argentina is always an adventure, and when you cram six of us into a small sedan with fold-down back seats, throw in a 4-year-old who HATES to wear seat belts (thank you, Argentina) and add terrible weather to the whole thing, it makes for a really GREAT car ride—NOT! I’m pretty sure I kissed the ground when we got to the farm first, and helped the kids out of the car second.

The farm is in an incredibly gorgeous spot not far (as the crow flies) from Jesus Maria, Cordoba.


The lovely farm house of our friends, Carla Dawson and Sebastian Olocco.

We spent a fantastic two days (despite rainy weather) with Sebastian and Carla.  The kids ran free, played with animals, waded in the pond, caught tadpoles, lit fires (for the water heater and asado), and basically had a wonderful time doing kid things.  The adults relaxed, took walks, relaxed some more, and ate really, really wonderful meals.

A spring-fed pond at the farm.  Tadpole catching was good, but fishing with rocks was not.  For the record, it was definitely NOT warm enough to go wading/swimming, but that didn't stop Ben.

A spring-fed pond at the farm. Tadpole catching was good, but fishing with rocks was not. For the record, it was definitely NOT warm enough to go wading/swimming, but that didn’t stop Ben.

Lighting the "globos" was the high light of the evening. Here, Rob holds the globo, and Sebastian helps Elliott light it.

Lighting the “globos” was the high light of the evening. Here, Rob holds the globo, and Sebastian helps Elliott light it.

Globos for each kid.  We lit them individually and watched them until the burnt out.

Globos for each kid. We lit them individually and watched them until they burnt out.

Molly's pure joy was pretty clear.

Molly’s pure joy was pretty clear.

The beauty that was the beginning of our asado on Sunday.

The beauty that was the beginning of our asado on Sunday.

What's better than a delicious asado on a wooden table with good friends?  Pretty sure nothin'!

What’s better than a delicious asado on a wooden table with good friends? Pretty sure nothin’!

After two wonderful days with Carla and Sebastian, we headed to Capilla del Monte, which is known around here for it’s alien presence.  We didn’t see any aliens, but we did manage a short little hike (maybe 20 minutes) with Ben complaining the entire time as if we had been stranded in the desert for 40 days.

Mysterious Mount Uritorco.  No aliens spotten on our watch.

Mysterious Mount Uritorco. No aliens spotten on our watch.

Now here we are back in Cordoba.  Cousin Shannon headed back to Boston after a couple of days exploring Buenos Aires on her own, and the kids have all started back to school this week.

Molly on her first day of school in her "guarda polvo."

Molly on her first day of school in her “guarda polvo.”


The boys ready to head out to school on their first day. Just like Portland, teacher’s strike averted!

Rob and I are so glad to have the kids back into the routine of school. It’s been a busy, busy summer going from place to place, and I think everyone is ready for a return to “normalcy.”

Now just two weeks until Rob’s sister and her family arrive!  SOTERS:  WE ARE READY FOR YOU!