Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Flying in the Andes

This weekend we celebrated Dia de Madre – Mother’s Day. For some reason Janalee got two Mother’s Days this year – it doesn’t quite seem fair since I am the one slaving at home all of the time, but I do get to do it in Argentina.

We spent Mother’s Day celebrating in the mountains. To be exact we spent the time doing a canopy ride. Canopy rides started in Costa Rica where people ride a zip line through the tree canopy. There are very few tall trees in Mendoza, so they make up for it by making the zip line really high. In fact, the zip line is about 190 feet above the ground.

Being the overly protective parents we are, we took Amelia along for the ride. I am a bit afraid of heights (anything bigger than a stepladder is killer for me – ok sometimes stepladders are too much), but Amelia doesn’t seem to have acquired that bit of fear from me. In fact, she loved the entire thing. At one point she was getting on board with one of the guides and I could hear her laughing all the way across the canyon. You can see photos of the entire thing here.

So there we are with our child riding on a zip line 190 feet above the ground and I started to wonder just how safe this really is. Some of you are thinking I should have thought of this before. Some of you might be thinking that you should call child protective services at about this time, but it will do you no good – we live in Argentina and CPS would have a hard time getting to us.

I gave up worrying about safety when I looked over and Janalee was hanging upside down with her hands reaching out for the ground while flying on a zip line 140 feet above the ground. How dangerous could it be if Janalee was willing to do it upside down?

Maybe I should be wondering about the sanity of my wife. Hasn’t anyone told her she is over 40 now? (That last comment is going to cost me – but it is well worth the fun of writing it)

The company that hosts the zip line is Argentina Rafting– when you are in town I highly encourage making the trip – what a fun time!

River vs. Boca SuperClassico

Here is a sad fact. Among the billions of people who live on this planet I am among the minority when I say that I am not a futbol fan. I don’t mean football (I am a fan of football even if both the Dolphins and the Sun Devils are taking losing to new heights), I mean futbol – the sport played with your feet by a bunch of guys less than 6 feet tall. So, it somewhat ironic that I got tickets to the River/Boca game – surely this is an experience that should go to someone who at least knows the rules. But life is not fair. I got a ticket and I went.

River vs. Boca is not just any game. It is the sporting event that Sports Illustrated says is among the 10 best sporting events in the world. The Guardian Observer (UK) says River vs. Boca is THE sporting event you need to go to before you die. I don’t plan on dieing soon, but that didn’t keep from going.

Being a bunch of gringos we hired a professional guide to take us to the game. Our guide started off with a simple rule. We were to cheer for River (since our seats were in the River section). If Boca scored we were to boo. If we didn’t he couldn’t guarantee our safety. I think what he was trying to say was if we cheered for Boca he was going to stand by and watch us get beat up – but he wanted to say it in a nice way.

So there we are in a big white bus on our way to the stadium, When we were about a mile from the stadium we noticed that the police were forcing the fans for the two teams to use separate side of the street. I thick what caught our attention was the tank (as in big gun on tracks) they were using to divide the fans. They seemed pretty serious about keeping the fans separated

River Stadium seats about 75,000. Of those seats about 5,000 are reserved for Boca fans. You can tell where the Boca fans are by looking for the 12-foot fence with razor wire. An hour before the game River fans has had already started singing. I think the first song was the ever popular, “I hate Boca fans”. Luckily the 5,000 Boca fans had their own “I hate River fans” song. So, here we are locked in a stadium where the fans are so passionate that the police don’t let them walk down the street together and 70,000 people are taunting 5,000 who are being kept in a section surrounded by razor wire – and people say American football is violent.

About 30 minutes before the game started the teams were introduced. The introduction of River was followed by the hard-core River fans entering the upper deck of the stadium. About 1,000 fans stream out of entryway carrying umbrellas and playing drums and singing the River song – as they come in someone released red and white smoke, which just about filled the stadium. Here is a link to some video of the event – not ours, but I found it on the internet.

Then the announcer introduced Boca and all kinds of mayhem broke out in the Boca section. Same kind of thing with flags, singing and dancing – only this time the River fans were singing even louder (they really don’t like the thought of singing a Boca song in River Stadium). At one point in this process I looked around and noticed that about 7,000 were giving the Boca fans the “bird” – not sure why, but it was as good a time as any to get your frustrations out.

Once the game started you could see that the passions applied to the players as well. Within 4 minutes of the start of the game two players had been removed on stretchers – this was going to be an intense game. I hope they brought extra players.

Boca scored first. We thought about cheering because it was an amazingly athletic move, but then we looked around and decided that being the only people cheering who were not separated from the crowd by a 12-foot fence might be an invitation. We booed – really loudly.

Then River scored. I thought I might go deaf – they say that Seahawks stadium is the loudest in the NFL. Jon, a guy from Seattle who goes to those games, said this was the loudest thing he had ever experienced in a stadium (or he might have said that he was experience cramps in his cheering arm – it was really loud and hard to hear). Thank god half time is coming.

Half time entertainment was a folk singer. He sang his little ditty (George Bush eats excrement) while nice looking young people carried an enormous banner that read “No Mas Violencia”. Somehow I don’t think that is going to keep this crowd from getting after each other – but I appreciated the effort.

The second half proved to be a fantastic game. I have seen several Major League Soccer games in the U.S. and as much as I like those guys, this was an entirely different sport. The players on both teams played with such speed and their skill with the ball was just amazing. I can’t do the game justice, but it was an amazing display of athleticism.

River scored two more goals in the second half – Boca was shut out. Interestingly the Boca fans didn’t sulk or make their way out of the stadium quietly. Instead they stood defiantly singing and chanting. A couple of minutes before the end of the game the people running the stadium asked that everyone stay in their seats at the conclusion of the game. They had decided to allow the Boca fans to leave the stadium first. Following the lines of good sportsmanship that had been displayed throughout this game the Boca fans remained in their seats chanting and singing for about 90 minutes after the game ended. Finally the police had to remove them from their section – I guess they were tired of the Boca fans burning things in the stands and throwing whatever they could rip up down onto the seats below them.

So, including all of the pregame chanting and the post-games displays we were at the stadium for 6 hours. And, the crowd never stopped cheering and singing. It is indeed something you need to see to believe.

Sorry about the long post – I would blame it on Jan, but I can’t think of a reason….

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Not a Winery, but a good time

Tapaus is not an Argentine winery; it’s an Argentine distillery. But, it gets a bit of a pass because all of their products are made from Malbec grapes and the structure itself is well worth a visit when you are in Mendoza. After having made my second visit in two weeks (I couldn’t let either Peter and Zoe or David and Abby go home without trying this could I?) I can give you the history back and forth. But you are going to have to make the visit yourself to get that angle.

Here is what I will tell you. Tapaus’ unique approach to spirits and liquors is an interesting change of pace. All of the products use grapes as their base, but once distilled the alcohol is mixed with a variety of flavors from grapefruit to honey (we spied about 10 jugs of raspberry liquor that is awaiting government approval). The resulting products are fantastic (what I remember of them is that they are fantastic – they are also a bit powerful). My personal favorite is the Triple Sec, everyone else that I have taken has loved the Mandarina or the Pomelo. The other big favorite is the Miel (honey) liquor that tastes like the honey my mother used to keep in the cupboard in a plastic bear (I bet that plastic bear is still stuck to the cupboard).

If you are not into brandy and orange liquor, the architecture is in and of itself enough to warrant a trip. Tapaus boasts a truly “green design” and employs stones from the nearby Rio de Mendoza and recycled materials from old oil and gas operations in its design. Be sure to check out the hand made stills (they will remind you of re-runs of M*A*S*H – those of you that are old enough to remember M*A*S*H) and the outdoor garden where water from the river is filtered for use in Tapaus’ spirits. The folks are more than generous with their tastings (assuming you do the individual tour – you don’t want do the bus tour at Tapaus it usually full of Chileans and no one understands a word they say).

I am feeling a little strange about the fact that an entire page of notes in the guest book come from friends that I have brought to Tapaus – I should wait a week before I go again……