From time to time in my travels I come across events or things of interest that require a bit more explanation 

than can be given in captions on the photographs etc. I decided to try and expand on those little write-ups

by intiating this blog site. As time passes I will add to it and provide references to the various photo

galleries that pertain.

If you scroll down to the bottom of the page - left side, you can line select any

previous blog entry that may stir your curiosity.

Las Cruces Natural History museum

March 22, 2016

We went to the Natural History museum in town today. It was so windy that golfing was not an option, so we filled the time with other more esoteric pursuits. 

The museums in Las Cruces remind me of London, England. They're free, no admission fee and stay as long as you want. This museum is rather modest in size but I was really intrigued by it. You have to understand the history behind this valley we live in to fully appreciate what you see. 

About 280 million years ago, this valley was the home to a variety of wildlife that were classed as being "Permian" life forms because of their age. It was also the location of a huge inland lake (small ocean really) that hosted this early wildlife. About 250 million years ago there was an event called the "Permian Extinction" that resulted in virtually 98% of all life on Earth dying out. All the life forms from the previous age were gone, which opened up the way for the oceans to produce amphibian life forms, which eventually became land dwellers and evolved into the "Jurassic Park" animal life we see in the movies. 

The flat plates of shale that are in these photos are close to 280 million years old. There are tracks of the life forms that inhabited this area way back then impressed on those pieces of shale. The T-Rex in the photos came after the "P-Extinction" and lived here until about 65 million years ago, when a meteor hit the Earth around the southern end of the "Gulf Of Mexico" and wiped out all the dinosaurs (as well as sundry other life forms). At this museum you can actually touch the displays that are that old. I was in awe of the age factors involved.

As I said, its not a big museum but it has artifacts that were discovered here, as recently as 1980 and since. It makes a person feel real humble. The T-Rex head is mounted so you can stand right beside it. Again, makes you feel pretty small and insignificant. 

I have also included a couple of pics of the local wildlife as it exists now. Thought you might like something to compare with...not necessarily in order.

Enjoy.

 

 


Chloride

March 22, 2016

Toward the latter part of March last year (2015) we did a day trip to the small ghost town of Chloride. You go north from Las Cruces for about an hour and a bit, and just past the town of Truth or Consequences you turn west off the interstate and drive on narrow (but paved) country roads into the hill country for about 25 miles. Eventually you'll come to this small grouping of old buildings, one of which is an old General store. 

There is a fellow and his wife that live there and own the entire town (buildings and all) and have restored a lot of it to original condition. They have done a really nice job and are hoping to have more regular tourist type clientele to keep the program going. There is a restaurant as well that serves a great lunch at a cheap price. The General Store is also a museum and well worth the trip on it's own. 

The town was settled because of a silver mine nearby ...but the rest you can read on the signs that are part of the gallery.

Enjoy the scenery. 


Petroglyphs

March 19, 2016

As we spend more and more time here in the deep south west of New Mexico, we are discovering more and more about the history of this area. When humans started arriving in North America several thousand years ago I would suppose (like we "snowbirds") they found the winters in the north rather uncomfortable and continued their migration to this area of the south. 

There have been many recent findings here by archeologists, that date back a couple of thousand years at least. Our valley, the Mesilla Valley of New Mexico, was the home of a number of tribal peoples but predating them was a society of people designated the "Jornada Mogolon" culture. Some 600-900 years ago they populated the valley and surrounding area.

At a place called Three Rivers, they had a fairly sizeable village that has been the subject of great investigation. There are a couple of reclaimed living quarters on view in the village and some of the artifacts they left behind are in the local university museum. This discovery occurred mainly because of the petroglyphs these people left behind after their society died out. There are hundreds of them ... so many in fact that this place has the most of any area in North America.

We visited the site for a day and I've included the photos that we came home with. No one seems to know what these diagrams mean, or whether they tell a story. In spite of the look of some of the petroglyphs they are the real thing according to the science folks. If you're interested, please see some of the photos below via the slide show. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open the slide show by clicking on the panel below.

 


Cowboy Days

March 14, 2016

Every year, at the Farm and Ranch museum in Las Cruces NM, they have a weekend event called "Cowboy Days".

We should remember that this part of the United States was the last vestige of the true "wild west" that we've all read about and seen in the movies. The history of this area goes back to the earliest of human habitation in North America and has remained a solidly remote area of the U.S. right through until the early 1900's. 

The weekend of the cowboy reveres the times between the Spanish incursion from Mexico and the assimilation of the area and peoples by the U.S.. It does very well to explain what the local folks went through just to survive in this relatively hostile environment. One of the highlights (in my opinion) is the "Parade of Breeds". It is a lecture given by a long time rancher from the Mesilla Valley (my area) who has been in the ranching business for over three generations. We have been to every one of his lectures over the past three years and he is a font of information. He talks to the audience and answers questions at any time. 

He does the lectures from horse back, in a riding pen on the museum grounds. The cattle he "wheels in" are breeding stock for show and most had their beginning in the agricultural area of the New Mexico State University on the outskirts of town. Prime examples of the breeds of beef cattle over the last 200 years. I have never failed to learn something new every time I hear him speak. 

Back in the day, when the Spanish were the prime explorers of this area they imported the Corrientes breed from southern Spain. The heat of the summer in southern New Mexico is similar to that in Spain and the Corrientes are the "survivor supreme" of cattle of that era. The saying is "they can survive quite well living on a parking lot". 

They are not the largest cattle you've seen I'm sure, and the calves are not that big when they are born either. However the mothers have the reputation of being the most protective of any of the cattle breeds and in the high desert environment of New Mexico they fend off the mountain lions and other predators with great gusto. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gotta love the calves though. They do like to be like children.

At the Ranch everyone comes to see the Texas Longhorns. These guys are the ones that the movies made famous as being the main players in all the westerns that had cattle drives from Texas up to the railhead in Santa Fe and points north. I am told that the horns weren't something the ranchers bred into the cattle...it was simply a freak of genetics that resulted in the longer horns. Surprisingly it is not a definitive trait, aside from being large. No two heads have horns that are the same. Every cow (cow or bull) has some differentiation in the horns. In the photos below you can see one of the Longhorns with a horn that seems quite misshapen and out of whack. That's not a rarity. The longhorns are larger cattle than the Corrientes and don't move nearly so quickly (due to size). Still, they are impressive. 

 

 

Interesting the colour variations as well as the wonky horn on the cow on the right. 

 

 

During the late 1800's a lot of land was given over to European and American settlers. The intention was to run agricultural operations in the south. The newcomers did not really appreciate the ruggedness and severity of the local climate. It is "high desert" with everything that the title denotes. Some years are pure drought, some years have a little rain. It is cold at night in the winter and blisteringly hot at times during the summer. a few decades after the influx of "easterners" taking advantage of free land, they became aware that running a farm was not in the books. Most of them couldn't make a living and simply gave up the land and moved back up north. The land reverted to the Bureau of Land Management and is presently (in many areas) used as grazing land by ranchers. 

Around about this time (late 1800's - early 1900's) the train became the major method of moving cattle from the ranch to the processors. The ranchers were also looking for breeds of cattle that were larger and could provide more meat per animal than before. Not having to drive the herds en mass to the major centres was perfect for the breed of cattle the ranchers were bringing in - Herefords. 

As you can see, they are larger than the previous breeds and pack on a lot of weight fairly quickly. Unfortunately, they aren't as rugged an animal as the Corrientes or Longhorns and had some major issues with living in the high desert environment. They are a fairly docile breed but can be nasty when provoked. 

This big fellow is the breeding male and will live out his life at the ranch museum enjoying the company of his "ladies". He has sired a number of really great calves and the University folks take really good care of him. He's a prime specimen of the breed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ranching in the South West has always been a risky venture. I was told that the chances of a young fellow going into the ranching business nowadays is zero to none. The cost of land is too high, the cost of the herd exorbitant and unless you inherit from your family, there is no hope of having your own spread. The weather here is not cooperative at all. You get some years with good rain and the range produces everything the cattle need to live. Other years there is a drought and nothing grows, including the cattle. There have been many times in the last 75 years where ranchers have had to sell off their herd because they couldn't feed them and the water supply had dried up. They do get some subsidies from the gov't but just enough to tide them over so they can use what they got from selling last year to restart a new herd this year..weather permitting. 

And the amount of land required is vast. In the north they talk of number of head per acre, down here they talk of number of sections for each cow. We belong to the "High Desert Hikers" group and go hiking every now and then in the hills around our valley. It is normal to come over a hill and see one or two cows with their calves chowing down on the local grasses. Only one or two mind you...the next ones that you see could be two miles away. They are spread over vast amounts of land simply because the high desert here doesn't feed very many cattle in one area. 

There is always the effort to increase the weight of the beef cattle produced and to make them sturdier for living in the tough conditions here. The ranchers brought in Angus cattle to try and make the switch to a higher profit margin.  And so they brought in Angus.

As you can tell, they are big brutes and can pack on the weight. They reproduce well to boot. Lots of calves make the difference and keep the herd at full strength. 

However, they are used to cooler weather and northern climates, and find the summer heat to be a bit of a problem. To solve this dilemma they imported the Brahma from India. These guys are used to the heat and sparse grazing. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This breed worked very well and after cross breeding with the Angus produce the Brangus. Good solid meat producers. Fairly lean meat, reproduce well and live quite well in the southern western high desert. Good value for the money invested.

Here is the end result...the Brangus. There is still the effort to improve on the ranching methods and production of meats for the general public, and hopefully there will come a day when the emphasis on having good food will not entail such a heavy dependence on meat production.....however, in the mean time ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a move afoot at the moment to thin out (....less fat in the meat...) the production line. The object is to produce good meat with reduced fat content and something that will be better for you. The latest trend is to cross breed Charolais with the Brangus. It'll be interesting to see how that turns out.

 

 

 

 

 

The rancher that does these lectures makes no bones about it..he can't eat beef...his system doesn't process cholesterol and he would have a heart condition pretty quick if he ate beef. We have chosen to forego red meats ourselves, simply because we aren't really comfortable with the processing methodology in use these days. But there are millions of people all over the world that eat beef and there is a thriving business in meat production in both the U.S. and Canada. 

 


Dripping Springs Nature Area

January 27, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Las Cruces is located in the middle of the Mesilla Valley, southeastern New Mexico. At one time, millions of years ago, this area was very volcanic and the valley is actually the old caldera from an ancient volcano that existed way back then. Today the mountains that ring this area, although eroded by weather and time, stand straight and tall in many locations. Remember too that this part of New Mexico is nearly 4000' ASL and you can begin to understand how rarified the air is and how dry it is. Small wonder they call this part of the U.S. the "high desert".

On the eastern side of this valley are the "Organ Mountains". They get their name from the Indians who noted that the rock formations looked somewhat like the pipes you may see in a church organ. At least that is the story most locals seem to accept as being true ... although when the original indigenous tribes may have seen an actual organ is beyond me. In any case the mountains gave their name to a small town nearby called "Organ". 

Nestled up against these mountains, lining a couple of "box canyons" is the Dripping Springs Nature Area. It is quite the place, sponsored by the National Bureau of Land Management, and is the home of many varieties of wild life (mountain lion, deer, elk, etc) and bird life (hawk, eagle, falcon, quail, etc).

The Springs began modern life as the grazing land of a cattle rancher, was sold to a mining consortium (silver) was eventually depleted, sold again to a doctor who ran sanatorium for TB patients, sold and operated by a new group as a destination resort and when they ran into financial problems the land became the property of the nation and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. This history sounded so interesting and the area on the maps looked quite enticing so we decided on a day hike through the area. It's about 26 miles out of Las Cruces, on a partial dirt road ... but the access is well maintained and the facilities excellent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can follow the trails and will come to the livery stables where the horses taking people to the sanatorium were kept, then in another mile or so come to the actual buildings (the remains that is) of the original hospital (which became the resort ?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just below that is the spring (it really is "dripping"). 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They used the springs to fill a holding pond that people used as the major water supply. Unfortunately, what with the present drought being what it is, the springs do actually & only drip from time to time.

 

 

We walked the entire route (some 6 1/2 miles) and came to the cave where a local hermit lived for some time. The rangers at the park told us he was murdered somewhere along the line and it remains an unsolved crime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a good day, warm and partly cloudy, and we drove home from the reserve tired but happy. We're really starting to like this part of the world I think.

For more photos go to     http://globalodyssey.ca/p246670073


New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum

January 22, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

The state of New Mexico has a Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum out by the university district, east side of the city. You can get to it easily from the Las Cruces-El Paso highway. The state funds the museum and it is manned by volunteers, with very few paid employees working there. They have displays from all the way back to the early original native Indian inhabitants plus the later settlers (ranchers mostly). They now raise a lot of crop varieties here and pecan trees are everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cattle they have here are actually a cross between the Aberdeen Angus from Scotland and the Brahmin from India. It seems that the cross breed is perfectly suited to the climatic conditions here and does very well on the scrub grazing available. They also raise a lot of cattle that originated from the Texas Longhorn of the mid 1800's. There are a few of the originals in residence at the museum here, and "longhorn" is a very appropriate name for them. This one is small by most standards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was John Deere's 164th (?) anniversary of fabricating farm equipment when we visited here and they had a fairly sizeable display of various models of ploughs and harvesters to look at. Interesting to say the least. 

For more photos please see  http://globalodyssey.ca/p243633975


4 months in Las Cruces - Heading South

January 21, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

As early as last Feb/Mar 2012 we decided that this year (2013) we would not be heading back to Buenos Aires. Too much political upheaval, 28% annual increase in the cost of living and very restrictive protectionist policies by the government put Argentina on the sidelines for the time being. We will go back ... just not this year.

After a fair bit of searching the internet and other sources, we came to the conclusion that Las Cruces, New Mexico (in the U. S. of A.) might be the best choice as a spot to pass the winter months. We wanted to rent a place in the area of Las Cruces but needed easy access to a relatively inexpensive golf facility. Luckily enough we found such a house on the 10th fairway of the Picacho Hills Golf and Country Club, on the west side of the city. It has turned out to be a pretty good choice.

We started our trip south and thought that missing the winter snows in the mid-west states and the high ground of the mountains would be a good thing, so we planned the road trip south via the coast of Washington state, Oregon and California before turning east and travelling through Arizona and into New Mexico

The coast of Washington and Oregon is magnificent. The roads are very curvy and as they traverse a large area of  bays and inlets, there are lots of bridges and ocean side scenery.

It took a bit longer for the miles to add up as the roads are twisty and slow to navigate. We had planned for 5-6 hour days but until we got clear of the slow roads we drove for upwards of 9-10 hours to get to the next way point. Mind you, once in California we stayed on schedule just fine.

There is a lot to see enroute and we found a colony of harbour seals that were quite interesting. They spend a lot of time in the water fishing but many of them "haul-out" for a rest and a sleep. 

At this point (day two) we were not far from a place called Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. For serious golfers, this place has got to be one of the major destinations on their "bucket list".   It is a "links" course (welcome to Scotland) and plays the same way.  We were amazed at how windy and cold the coast actually was and for some reason thought that once out of Washington it would be balmy and quite nice. NOT !

 

We eventually crossed over the state border into California and the real fun started. What they say is true .. everyone here tailgates at 80 mph, they all carry a gun in the glove compartment (not actually sure about that) ... which are two things you want least in a place with no socialized medical coverage. It was like the proverbial rat race. We actually opted to by-pass San Francisco (and the Golden Gate bridge) and drove the alternate route through the east of Oakland and then down west again to the coast and points south. I didn't take any photos here, nor in Los Angeles, which was no different .. only more congested.

We finally made it to Palm Springs which was interesting. Stayed the night here as well, just to have a look around. We found a nice place for a couple of drinks in the late afternoon and a neat restaurant for dinner ... and they had a live band that started mid evening. Spent a pleasant hour of so with wine and dancing ... It made for a really pleasant break in the drive.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fact that the temperature was 20 degrees warmer here than in Oregon probably had something to do with the enjoyment factor. Palm Springs seems like a nice place but we could tell it was a little on the expensive side. 

 

We spoke with a number of passers-by and everyone seemed very happy, helpful and to be nice folks. There were a lot of Canadian license plates in the area as well. Seems we're not the only ones contemplating becoming "snow-birds".

 

We left Palm Springs with great expectations for the next two days heading east and were certainly not disappointed. We crossed the California/Arizona border, the sky cleared, the temperature went up and the road became straight and smooth. The sun shone and life was good. We stopped here and there for gas ($3.19/gal) or the "rest-stops" which seem to come up every hour or so of driving. It's a great road system and makes the driving a great deal less strenuous. 

There is however the endless straight-away of the highways, with not much to see on the horizon except the mountains in the distance. We passed a lot of emptiness, with the odd old farm house or ramshackle cabin stuck way out in the middle of a field somewhere. In some ways it seems really desolate. But there is an abundance of blue sky, hardly any cloud, no rain (yes.. it is desert and very dry) and lots of cactus and tumbleweed. 

As I said, there are mountains in the distance and every now and then we had to climb a fair sized hill along the way, but basically it's pretty flat. Wherever there are hills though, it gets interesting. At first I thought the hills were from some kind of geological land shift (orographic lift) forcing the hills upward, you can see the stratified layers of the earths crust on hillsides that have eroded away. It turns out that this area of the southwest was volcanic in origin and the flatlands are actually part of what was once a gigantic caldera. At one point the caldera was a lake (hence the sedimentary layers in the rock). There is a pretty huge magma extrusion underground here (about 10 miles down) .. not as big as the one under Yellowstone Park up north, but fairly big in any case. most of the mountains are part of old volcanic cones that have eroded or fallen apart with age.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following the drive from Palm Springs to Tucson and points east, we managed to crawl into Las Cruces on day 6 around 2:30 pm and were met at the house by the care-taker gal who was most happy to see we'd made it. 

For more photos please see  http://globalodyssey.ca/p954330579

 

 

 


Socialism - Why It Doesn't Work

May 31, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

An economics professor at a local college made a statement that he had never failed a single student before, but had recently failed an entire class. That class had insisted that socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer. 

The professor then said, "OK, we will have an experiment in this class". All grades will be averaged and everyone will receive the same grade so no one will fail and no one will receive an A.... (substituting grades for dollars - something closer to home and more readily understood by all).

After the first test, the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. As the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too so they studied little. 

The second test average was a D! No one was happy. 


When the 3rd test rolled around, the average was an F. 

As the tests proceeded, the scores never increased as bickering, blame and name-calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for the benefit of anyone else. 

To their great surprise, ALL FAILED and the professor told them that socialism would also ultimately fail because when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is great, but when government takes all the reward away, no one will try or want to succeed. 



 
These are possibly the 5 best sentences you'll ever read and all applicable to this experiment:

1. You cannot legislate the poor into prosperity by legislating the wealthy out of prosperity.

2. What one person receives without working for, another person must work for without receiving.

3. The government cannot give to anybody anything that the government does not first take from somebody else.

4. You cannot multiply wealth by dividing it!

5. When half of the people get the idea that they do not have to work because the other half is going to take care of them, and when the other half gets the idea that it does no good to work because somebody else is going to get what they work for, that is the beginning of the end of any nation.


Family history

May 17, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Seems that our family did in fact originate in Ireland. I was wandering through the internet today and came across these photos. 

Ardtully and the old Orpen estate

The pics are of an estate (castle) called Ardtully, in southern Ireland. I gather it was quite the promenant fixture in the landscape, until Cromwells army invaded and razed the place to the ground. I remember your great-grandfather Orpen talking about Ardtully years ago, back when I was much younger than you are now. 

Too bad, ... it looks like it might have been a real nice place to live back in the dark ages. The ORPEN family coat of arms still hangs over the main entrance though, which is a plus. 

I'll have to go there some day, if for nothing more than to just see it with my own eyes. 


The castle was a permanent fixture in the surrounding landscape until Cromwells army razed it to the ground It still lives on, although not as prominent as before
The ORPEN Coat of Arms still hangs over the main entrance


A Brief Sojourn in Wine Country

April 28, 2012  •  2 Comments

This past week we  pulled the pin on BA and went for a few days to Mendoza. For those of you who may not know, Mendoza is the Napa Valley or Bordeaux region of Argentina. They make some of the best wine in the world right here. While in Mendoza we were privileged to be able to join a group that went wine tasting at a number of fairly exclusive wineries just outside of the city, in an area known as Lujan de Cuyo. Cuyo would be the regional area (not all that large actually, similar to a long valley) and Lujan is the smaller area within that has it's own micro-climate and correct conditions for the type of wine grape that they grow. There are other smaller areas (Maipu or the Uco valley to name a couple) and each one produces very distinctive wines due to the differing soil, sun and altitude conditions of each area. 

The city of Mendoza is wonderful. On the way in from the airport we had a great conversation with our driver whom we understood with absolutely no problem. I had to ask when I realized he was speaking regular Spanish and we all had a good laugh while he explained that those people in B.A. don't really speak Spanish, they fake it most of the time. No wonder we have trouble understanding Platenese Spanish! Every one outside of B.A. speaks the regular lingo, which does make things easier. 

The city is fairly modern in many ways but still has an old section that was the original core of the town. Some years ago Mendoza had a hugely devastating earthquake that levelled everything. They rebuilt, using all the new modern methods of construction, so now total collapse is not so much a problem. One thing they did that is of interest is how the new city parks are situated. It seems, after the last quake, people simply wandered the streets with nowhere to go after their houses were destroyed. During the rebuild the city decided that sizeable parks could be the answer ... so they built a central park, Plaza Independencia, and then added four smaller parks (still fairly sizeable) just off each corner of the main park and 2-3 blocks removed. In the event of another catastrophe the citizenry are supposed to gather in each of those parks where emergency services will be provided. When not in use for emergency purposes the parks host all sorts of entertainment events, displays of artwork, childrens day trips ... there are fountains and playgrounds, bike rental stands, arts and crafts kiosks, the list goes on. It seems to be a really smart way of beautifying the city while providing the infra-structure for people to enjoy ... or depend on should the need present itself. 

The city is much more laid back than B.A. The drivers aren't nearly so courageous (dangerous), the pedestrians actually have the right of way and the cars allow for it. The people seem quite happy for the most part. There is no end of shopping going on in the city centre and although the prices here are slightly less than in the "big city" they are still quite high compared with our experience of last year. 

We stopped by the local museum and spent some time wandering through. Amazing stuff when you consider just how long ago all the exhibits were in use. The local history goes back to the days of the Spanish occupation after the conquistadors began exploring the interior of South America from Lima, Peru. That would be in the mid 1700's.

On our second to last day in Mendoza we were part of a wine tasting tour. It took the better part of half an hour (I'm being facetious) to get to the first winery - they are all so close together - and get into the tour of the property. The young man escorting us was a font of information and, as it turns out, is a qualified "sommelier". He took the course, did a practicum in the U.S.  and worked as the sommelier on the Canard Lines Queen Elizabeth. Came back to Mendoza (his home town) 6 months ago to study economics and works for the tour company to help pay for the education. We visited the Bodega Dominion del Plata, Pulenta Estates, Bodega Piatelli and the Bodega Melipal (Melipal gave us the gourmet luncheon - what a feast).

We toured the individual wineries at each stop, did a tasting of their more popular wines and usually ended each session by trying their top of the line limited production. These wines are distinctive, each with it's own personality and each one was very, very nice.  We ended up buying a couple of bottles - the Pulenta Estates La Flor Sauvignon Blanc (and we're not great white wine drinkers .. but it was soooo good) and the Piattelli Malbec Grand Reserva. They weren't cheap but they will be worth every penny if we can get them back to Canada without the travel home ruining them.  We rated the wines as best we could, being uneducated palates that is, and, surprisingly enough, came in not too far off the professional rankings. 

For more photos of Mendoza and the wineries, please go to              http://globalodyssey.ca/f337718835        

 


The Myth of the Maids

April 14, 2012  •  1 Comment

Someone asked me the other day about the maids here and does everyone have one .... so I did a little digging and found out some interesting info regarding "mucamas" (aka house maids).

Last year, the place we rented came with a mucama. We were not impressed. The standard of cleanliness after she had left the apartment was such that we ended up cleaning again later. She did change the bedding and the towels etc, plus water the flowers, sweep the patio, and generally tidy .. but really clean .... not really. 

We found out, after our time here last year, that the property managers hire the maids and then charge the owners the maids salaries, then pay the maids themselves. Our maid was getting something like 12-15 pesos an hour ($3-$4 dollars). Also seems the property manager was charging the owners 25 pesos and paying the maid the 12-15 as I said, at least that is what the owners told me after the fact. This year, we decided that we didn't want a mucama as neither of us are comfortable with some stranger wandering around our apartment .. especially when we don't know how trustworthy she is ... so we're doing without. 

But many couples in this area are both working .. and they work long hours. Not abnormal to have people leave for work at 6:15 am, come home around 3pm, then go back out again until after 11pm (they finish work then go for dinner). Repeat "dias habiles" (every weekday). It is accepted that these folks will employ a mucama to care for their house as the owners don't have time to do it themselves. 

So what does this entail .. having a mucama. Well .. you can do it two ways .. either "en blanco" or "en negro". Blanco being above board, everything included and declared (obra social, social security, paid vacation time, and sick time). Negro is simply the black market underground economy. Everyone knows it exists (including the govt) but no one does anything about it. Anyway, the rates for negro are higher than blanco and will vary, depending on hours of work and what you're comfortable with. This will reflect the insecurity of not having a permanent job on the maids part, as well as her foregoing all the other social services working "en blanco" provides. 

As of this week, under "blanco", a mucama will get around 18-20 pesos an hour. The govt standard for a full time maid is 2000-2800 pesos a month (do the math). With the inflation rate being what it is, that will go up, probably to around 20 - 25 pesos an hour by next September. You also have the other expenses, as in the items mentioned in the previous paragraph. Interesting to note that last Nov 2011, the official pay rate was 15.79 pesos an hour. 

Under "negro" the mucamas will get somewhere around 25 - 30 pesos an hour but they also want a lunch provided, as well as "viatico" (travel expenses). Viatico is important as most of the mucamas travel daily from the outlying barrios at the city's edge to work in the downtown area .. and that costs money, of which they earn very little. 

Usually the maids are hired based on referrals ... so it pays them to do a good job and get a good recommendation from their employer (but not  from we transient tourists .. we're never here long enough for it to matter much in their lives). A local told me that they would never hire a mucama that had worked for a gringo ... we pay them too much and spoil them for working for a local Argentine. Interesting concept I must say. 

So endth the lesson !

 

 


Finca en las Pampas (A ranch in the prairie)

April 12, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

I received a query recently about ranches in the pampas and if you can actually go and visit one.

I'm pleased to say .. yes you can. We have been a couple of times to a particular ranch and have always had a great experience while we were there. Don Silvano's is one of a number of "fincas" that encourage tourists to visit and then put on quite a show when they come. We like Don Silvano's, mostly because of the entertainment and the fact that the staff are so readily available to explain all the goings on around the ranch and what is next to see or do.

They offer a number of activities for you to take part in. You can go for trail rides, be driven around the estancia in a horse drawn carriage, play bocchi ball, wander through the corrals with the horses and cattle or just sit in the shade and "veg out". Additionally, they also do a display of the normal activities that happen on a daily basis around the ranch. The gauchos that work there play a major part in these events.

There is the "main house" for you to explore, as well as a bunk house area that is rented out, room by room, for those guests who want to stay over night. It is a very unique experience and although we have not stayed for the weekend, they tell me that it is a never ending menu of surprises and pleasantries. A late night song fest and barbeque was mentioned as the highlight of the Saturday night.

The main feature of the "tourist daily visit" is the parilla luncheon. Everyone gathers in the main dining hall and you are fed a meal unlike anything you've ever had. The meat is excellent (all barbeque), the wine never-ending and the entertainment exemplary. We've been to that luncheon twice now and it's been a wonderful gathering on both occasions. Not only do you get "fed" well but you also learn a lot about farm life in Argentina. They have entertainment that schools you in Argentine history as well as regional differences ... and you can even learn to dance a couple of local folk dances as well. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We heartily endorse a visit to Don Silvano's or any other estancia out of the city. Well worth the time and effort to get there. If possible, stay the weekend. It's an experience you won't forget.

For more photos please visit              http://globalodyssey.ca/p911081579

Enjoy.


Nuestro Caballos (Our Horses)

April 10, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

We spent this past weekend going to a local exposition. We have stayed in this part of town now on two separate occasions, for at least 3 months each time. A block from our present apartment there is a building that we knew was there .. but paid little attention to. We have always thought it was nothing more than a place for rock concerts or the like. Turns out that this place is truly amazing. 

The complex (and it is a complex) is called "La Rural" .. you can see the name on the side of some of the buses that pass by, it's part of their usual routes. The front of the building is rather non-descript and the sidewalk in front is usually the hangout for some of the cities more indigent residents. Lots of trash in the gutters and cigarette butts and paper on the street. Around the corner is another main street that was the parking place for the Dakar rally vehicles from last years race as well as what turned out to be ... the main entrance to the complex. The entire place backs onto a shared fence line with the American embassy, so you have to believe that at least some part of the complex is as safe as Fort Knox.

La Rural hosted the annual horse and dog show this weekend. Hundreds of displays, horses and dogs and of course people, coming and going. It was amazing to watch ... and very reasonable to get into. Cost all of 20 pesos ($5.00 CDN) for the days admission. They had two show rings that were twice the size of Olympic hockey rinks, one that was about the size of an North American hockey rink and an outdoor ring that was like half a soccer field. The stalls were all laid out in such a way that each breed of horse was in the same area. They had everything from polo ponies and Palaminos to my two favourites - the Peruvean Walking horse (Peruano de Paso) and the Argentine Criollo (the local version of the North American western saddle horse). The horses on show here are not your typical "dressage" type horses. They don't do high stands or kicks, they don't run little obstacle courses and they don't look like they'll fall over from fright. All of these horses are "working" horses that are trained to work on ranches or service the local farming communities in one way or another. No prissy little things here, these are the tough guys of "Equus Caballus"... and I love them a lot. 

The actual showing in the ring is always in reference to what they are called upon to do on the ranch. The exercises are reflective of the cattle herding, the transporting of humans, the game of polo, all the usual activities each breed takes part in or does for a living. The horses are graded by a group of judges that stand out in the middle of the ring and ask the riders to perform various manoeuvers. The judges know all the horses and the riders so don't always ask for the same exercises from every horse ... although the basic format may be the same, what they ask can vary a great deal. While all the judging is going on inside, in the outdoor ring they have demonstrations by every breed of horse attending the show. They had everything from English saddle riding to polo players whacking a ball to actual working gauchos riding herd on some cattle (cutting horses come to mind) and then a few of the Peruvean walking horses, all going through their paces. 

The Argentine Criollo is the working horse here, equivalent to the American saddle horse in the U.S. and Canada. They are somewhat more stocky than the American breed, with legs that look slightly short for the body size .. but these little guys are strong as steel and can work all day without batting an eye. The Peruvean Walking horse I particularly like. I have a bias for it, having lived in Peru for a couple of years and seen it way back when .. plus I have a bad lower back. The Peruano de Paso has a characteristic walk that is almost like a strut and, as a result, its back remains perfectly flat when it walks. No jarring of the riders spine, no odd movements, in short .. it's a flat ride. It is truly an elegant horse to watch or to ride. 

The riders and wranglers here also intrigued me. Many are ranch owners who are indulging their hobbies and fancy themselves "breeders" but in actual fact they are just "horse enthusiasts". Some are legitimate breeders. They have more money than god. You can also tell them apart because they have absolutely no pretences (they don't dress up in costume to show the horses) and they take a great deal of interest in the other horses in the competition. Then there are the actual gauchos. They have this certain non-chalance about themselves that makes you believe they are only there because the owners/ranchers asked them to come to handle the horses, so here they are ... and they're bored. They've been there and done that ... for real. These guys I love !! You always know a "pro" when you see one. 

 

 

 

This was Easter weekend and the crowds were getting larger and larger as the weekend wore on, so we didn't go for the last day, but for the days we went, it was well worth the visits and not only did I see some great horse-flesh, I learned a lot too. I'm still looking for an English book on the Argentine Criollo. If you know of one, please let me know. 

For more photos and movies, please go to  

                   http://globalodyssey.ca/f887642168

Enjoy !


Cartoneros

April 08, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Here in Buenos Aires they have garbage collection on a daily basis. They have to! There is just so much of it that they would get too far behind to let it slide for even one day. 8 million people generate a ton of trash. Surprisingly, you see very very little evidence of recycle bins anywhere. There are piles and piles of green garbage bags in mid block and on every street corner .. but no blue recycle bins or collection depots anywhere. I would suppose, based on that observation, they do not have a recycle program here in the city. 

Wrong ... they do ... and it begs explanation.

The topic of the Buenos Aires Cartoneros has been documented, filmed, written about and blogged damn near to death. Go on an internet search and you'll see a few thousand entries under that title. However, I can't let my time here in B.A. go by without at least mentioning these folks and the job they do. It's amazing how such a poorly regarded and looked down upon resource could have such a disastrous effect if it weren't here. After all, all they do is collect the recyclables that are discarded every evening by the residents of the city.

To get the statistics out of the way first: 

- 400,000 tons of recyclable material is collected and sold every year

- Cartoneros earn 70 million pesos annually selling it

- By the time it's passed through the middlemen and back into business, it's sold for 450 million pesos

- There are 6 -10,000 cartoneros today that make the daily trek into the city, as opposed to over 40,000 back in 2002 (during the economic crisis)

- 10,500 are officially registered with the government

- Cartoneros get $.45 pesos (thats 45 centavos = about 12 cents U.S.) per kilo of white paper, 17-20 centavos for cardboard, 12 centavos for newsprint, 25-30 centavos for plastic bottles and 7-10 centavos for glass.

The neighbourhood bosses who collect from the cartoneros add 20% to the price before they sell the bulk to larger recycling collectors, who add another 100% before they sell to the paper mills and recycling depots as raw material, who themselves sextuple the price when they turn the material into finished products that they will sell back into the public market.A "cartanero" at work

There were garbage pickers long before the Cartoneros, but these guys came into their own during and after the economic meltdown in 2002. The govt back in those days was just happy that some people were finding work (jobless rate was over 50%). At the time the recycle money was pretty good too (comparatively). The rates that the recycle companies paid back then were much higher than today .. and jobs were tough to get back then as well. The government helped by putting on a special train to take the workers from the barrios into the city and then using the same train to carry all the recycle material to the plant up near Tigre or the plant out by Mataderos. With the economic recovery came better work opportunities ... and then the recycling businesses began to pay less ... which accounts for why many Cartoneros have moved on to other jobs. However, each evening, rain or shine, these folks arrive from their barrios outside the city and go to work, pawing through all the bags of garbage looking for the recyclables.

This "job" has become regarded as a "profession" by it's practitioners. They have a union of sorts. The govt has recently acknowledged their contribution to the cities welfare and has accorded them the same increased benefits as any normal worker gets. They are registered with the city government and have ID cards to prove their place in the workforce. For many, it has become a family affair. Some bring their kids with them and they all go trash-picking (I'm dead set against child labour) and it's not unheard of to see the wives and babies manning the little coffee stands at the central pick-up points scattered throughout the city. The guys take a coffee break every now and then when they bring their cart loads into the collecting points.

I'll let you find your way through the internet to read or see more photos on these folks. As I said, it's a tough job, in unsanitary working conditions and inclement weather, but it is honest work and serves the needs of the city. I'll just leave it at that.

 


You're really going to love this one !!

April 05, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

About two weeks ago, we got a notice from the general manager of our apartment complex shoved under our door.

It was an instruction sheet that told us, with the cooler weather coming on, they were activating the heating system in the apartments and wanted all residences to keep the temperature set at 26 degrees, for the benefit of all apartments surrounding the one you occupy. If one is cold, it affects the heating in the adjacent flats (I assumed because of the cement walls being cold in winter etc). It is an "in-floor" electric heating system .. and because it was 26-28 degrees outside (and we use the air conditioning) we elected to not turn ours on. 

Last night, a nice fellow from upstairs knocked on the door and very politely explained that he lived above us and could we please turn our heat down because his place was over 30 degrees. I showed him our thermostat & that the power switch was off. He was puzzled by this. We talked some more and during the discussion he told us when they built the building 5 years ago the builders had made a mistake and hooked up the temperature controllers in each apartment incorrectly. The controllers actually control the temperature in the apartment immediately above the one you live in. 

If you recall, I mentioned the way they build here in a previous post. The first drawback to this method is that this mistake from 5 years ago is irreversible. It can't be fixed without tearing apart the cement walls in every apartment. The residents have been living with this problem ever since. Our upstairs neighbour then seemed to accept the fact that he would be warm until the real cold came and and shrugged it off by saying it wasn't our fault, this was the best we could do and he'd just have to accept it. His apartment - 903c has air conditioning too and he'd have to use it for a while longer. 

I had to tell him, our apartment is actually 2 below his .. we're 703c. When he realized that he'd made a mistake, I thought he was going to croak. Very embarrassed and very apologetic. No problem I told him - I felt for him .. I didn't laugh until after he'd gone.

As the adage says "There but for the grace of god go I".

I thought you might appreciate hearing the sort of thing that happens here from time to time ... with, what to us, seems like a lot more frequency than at home. 

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