Boca: Pretty Colors and Not Much Else. Also, Hang on to Your Wallet.

Ok, let’s do this.

This is what you think of when you think of Buenos Aires, right?
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I did too, sorta.

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But I definitely thought Boca was bigger than it is.

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It turns out to be a rough, working-class fishing industry neighborhood that happens to have a great soccer team and some colorfully-painted buildings.

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(On the walk to the stadium from the touristy area, it looks more like this.)Untitled

The main drag is filled with restaurants and tango characters trying to get you to take a photo with them so they can ask for some cash.

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There’s a lot of touristy shopping to be had, too. But apparently you can’t bargain, like I’m used into Ecuador. Even the lady selling laser-cut old records made into clocks wouldn’t budge. But my kid did end up with a Argentina National Team jersey that says “Messi” on the back.

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So I’d definitely go, get your photo ops and do some shopping, but don’t plan on spending the day there.

Unless, of course, you’ve got your mate and thermos along for the day.

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Breathing the Good Winds of Buenos Aires

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We did something this summer that we’d long dreamed about.

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It took some creative scheduling, some pooling of similes and hotel points, and one mom/grandma who was willing to donate a week of her life to hang out in Hot-lahoma with the grandkids.

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I don’t know about her, but it was SO WORTH IT.

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We spent five nights and six days in and around Buenos Aires, with a side trip to Montevideo, Uruguay. Argentina was appealing because it’s so different from the rest of South America (I’ve spent time in Ecuador, where I grew up, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Chile and Guyana; so those were my experiences). I also had two other pulls to the nation of cowboys and tango: my dad lived in the area for a while as a kid, and my brother-in-law grew up there. And of course, when I suggest a new adventure, my husband is always up for it.

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When I found out that Montevideo was just a two hour boat trip away, I knew we had to hop over there, too. My brother-in-law’s brother lives there. I went to high school with both him and his wife, so we took the opportunity to see them and visit Uruguay.

June isn’t the ideal time to visit; it’s starting into winter for them, so the weather can be cool and rainy. But for us, a few days in 50 and 60 degree weather was a refreshing change from Oklahoma summer.

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We walked a ton, and nearly everywhere in the downtown area offers gorgeous architecture.

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We also took the subway a bunch, which made me feel like such a local. It costs 4 pesos a trip, much less than 50 cents (using the unofficial – but widely used – exchange rate.)

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The first day we got on right at rush hour, which was a fun adventure, during which I tried to teach FP my Latin American street smarts for not getting pick pocketed in a crowd.

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So our itinerary went like this:
Arrive Friday morning, 9 a.m., commence city tour with private taxi
Three nights in Constitucion neighborhood (right by San Telmo)
Travel to Montevideo with a half a day stop in Colonial (Uruguay World Heritage site)
Stay one night Montevideo, return to Buenos Aires
Stay one last night in el Centro, right on the Obelisco
Spend the next day touring it up, and head to the airport for our night flight home!

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At that point, we were more than ready to see the tiny cuties who direct every moment of our lives.

More to come later!

Harissa and Its Lady

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During my first visit to Lebanon in 2012, I stayed in Beirut.

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This time, I stayed in Harissa, another town about 30 minutes north.

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You simply follow the highway along the coast and turn east in Jounieh to wind up the mountain.

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The city is important to the region’s historic Christian population and hosts a shrine to Our Lady of Lebanon.

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My hotel was right next to the lady, and I couldn’t help but think of this lady from my childhood:

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Virgen de Quito Panecillo 03” by CayambeOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

It was pretty crazy how much traffic there was up to the shine, especially on the weekend. Cars literally wound around the mountain at a full stop as people filed in to the shrine area.

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Curiously, the shrine was connected to a gondola area and children’s play park. The gondola takes tourists down to another recreation area in Jounieh.

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On a free afternoon, I wandered down to check out the gondola. I tried to hop on, but lacked a ticket and could never find where to buy one. I found myself crammed in a lift with about 15 Arabic-speaking teenage boys. (Awkward!)

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The lift operator spent his free moments in between gondola arrivals praying through his prayer beads.

On the way out, I made my way through the crowd and headed to the shrine’s entrance/exit. I heard someone calling out behind me, but as it was in Arabic, I ignored it, and continued on my way. I was suddenly yanked to a stop by a Lebanese solider, who wanted to search my backpack. Apparently, I looked like a potential terrorist. Backpack reviewed, I was free to take in the views from the top.

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Making Arabic Bread

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As you know, food is a highly critical element of any successful adventure. And after a day hiking in the cedars, lunch is essential. So when one finds to urge, one asks the taxi driver to pull over in front of someone’s house, where the lady of the house and her mother are making Arabic bread-khebez aarabeh-on the side of the road over a curious type of griddle.

Which, of course, I had to document. For the sake of science. And food, and stuff.

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The sandwiches created with this bread were amazing. She had a bunch of different kinds of fillings with mostly all included labneh, the thick yogurt-like spread so common in Lebanese cooking. I wish I would have taken pictures of the finished sandwich, but nope. Was too busy eating.

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I inquired about the dough used for the bread, and the lady told me it was just regular dough like you would use for pizza. so there’s that. It shouldn’t be too hard to replicate, save for the ocular griddle, right?

I took video of the process, and I’m so sorry for the screeching of the woman in the background. (But they paid for lunch! No complaining here.) I had a hard enough time just getting the video to upload, let alone any editing.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/10172734@N06/19288139922/player/

There you go: knead, pat, stretch, rest, cook, fill and serve. How to make a sandwich with Arabic bread in Lebanon.

You Should Go: Lebanon’s Cedars

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I don’t know what I expected from Lebanon’s cedars, but I don’t think it was a thin slice of forest covering the foothills of the mountains with breath-taking views on the way up.

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Tall, and reminiscent of California’s redwoods, these majestic trees apparently used to cover the land.

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Today, due to lack of regulation and protection, these beautiful trees are now limited to two shrinking forests.

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I visited the northern cedars (125 km from Beirut), where, though already May, the snow was still visible on the nearby mountain peaks.

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My plans for the day fell through, so I ended up hitching a ride with some other North Americans (they paid for the taxi!), with my friend May as our tour guide and translator.

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The entrance to the park is a bit of a tourist trap, but the park itself is well-maintained and peaceful.

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The entrance fee was a suggested donation of something around $5.

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One of the best parts of the journey was the trek up the mountains, where I annoyed the taxi driver by calling for him to pull over every few minutes to take a few more photos.

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This meant I had to wait for everyone else to unload so I could crawl from my snug spot in the third row of the station wagon.

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At least the driver took advantage of the smoke break.

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And I’m thinking I need to take lessons from the Lebanese on rug cleaning.

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Everyone was doing it.

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Vineyards, waterfalls, sweet red-roofed villages and poppies made up the scenery.

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Of course, the taxi driver got pulled over at a checkpoint for having 6 people in the car instead of the allowed 5, but with a little bit of arguing and a handshake, the soldier let us go. (Sorry for being your plus-one, random tour group that I joined!)

The weather was amazing, the trees beautiful, and the drive incredible. And it was all topped off by the most perfect lunch… but then, you’ll have to wait for tomorrow for that.

Until then, remember: Lebanon’s Cedars: you should go.

Easter Miracle

Two years ago, I took a photography class at the local community college. I wanted to learn to use my camera, and I wanted to get better at taking photos of my (at the time only one) kid.

The teacher’s advice on photographing kids? She uses the sport setting to shoot her dogs. That was it.

Fast-forward two years and one kid later, just try getting a good photo of the two of them together, especially now that the 4-year-old isn’t into getting his photo taken and the 1-year-old is BUSY.

Behold, I show you this:
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It was an Easter miracle. Now, that pose on the right wasn’t what I was going for, and I cropped off their feet but look! They’re both looking at the camera and have pleasant looks on their faces.

We were trying to recreate this from last year:

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That… did not go so well. They weren’t into it. (Also my tulips hadn’t bloomed yet!)

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So we tried another pose.

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Which was quickly met with disdain.

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Some people simply did not want to be photographed.

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And some people were busy.

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So we sent them off on a walk in the neighbor’s yard.

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Which, predictably, did not go well.

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More cheese:

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Some sweetness:

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And the moral of the story is: at least I got one decent one. But really? Sports setting? Someone does not know anything about children.

And at least they love each other.

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