Thursday, May 13, 2004

Santiago International Airport - 7.30pm

I've just arrived in Santiago after a week in Argentina. It is such a beautiful country, but I'm also tired and ready to head home.

Two nights ago, I went to a leather shop to see if there was something I liked. A taxi took me there because it was far - about a 10 minute ride. After browsing for 20 minutes (they only sold jackets, what is up with that?!) they closed the store behind me as I walked down the street to call the hotel. OOPS! My cell phone can't call locally. I called Andy and had him keep me company (in Chicago) while I walked around the poorly lit city streets of Mendoza at night to find my way back home. No taxis were available. It was a bit unnerving, but as I collected my thoughts and remembered my city tour on day one and generally the direction from which the taxi dropped me off, I found my way back. 2 hours later! It was nice to walk around the town, however. Bustling with many college age kids.

Strange sight: I walked past a Shell gas station, and between the pumps and the mini-mart area was a SEATING AREA with umbrellas and seats. So you can have a coffee while you watch people pumping gas. It was packed with people. Bizarre - in any culture.

Last night the General Manager, Director of Sales and Reservations Manager took me to a restaurant near the hotel that was like a goods store. It had spices in glass boxes on the wall, a deli and a very nice wine room. And tables all over, so we ate inside this goods store. It was very nice, although the food was somewhat average.

I also tried this dessert called Dolce de Leche. It was delicious... they gave me a jar of it for my trip home!

Today I had a chance to take some photos as it was not raining. I will miss Argentina.

Tomorrow I will be home and glad to be. I am very tired, I have been traveling for two weeks living out of a suitcase. I look forward to relaxing over the weekend - and seeing Andy!

It is 5.30pm and I am on my way out the door to catch my ride to the airport. A good week of work, a lot to think about. I love this country so much!

I took a few photos today and can't wait to post them all so everyone can see. The mountains are full with snow, but they always get clouded as the sun gets higher in the sky so I don't have pictures of that.

The hotel gave me a gift... Dolce de Leche. It is kind of like caramel, wonderful stuff. Yum.


Sunday, May 09, 2004

Park Hyatt Mendoza, Argentina

Wow. This is one of my favourite cities in the entire world.

Flying over the Andes was spectacular (although it was a bit unusual when the stewardess said "The Governement of Argentina wishes to inform you that it is required to spray an insecticide in the cabin prior to landing. This is non toxic and made of natural materials. Thank you." and then she sprayed the hallway). Landing at Mendoza airport was like landing at Lansing airport, it was so small!

I was picked up and driven through Mendoza. The city was so beautiful at twilight, there are antique lights all over and several squares which had art festivals. They have them every night! The architecture is like a cross between Spain and France, and many of the cars are from the 1950s (and in bad shape). Utterly charming. The Hyatt has a historic façade but is very modern and beautiful behind. Upon arrival, my amenity was a glass of wine filled with cherries and cinnamon. Yum.

This morning, Mario (my driver) picked me up and drove me around town. Over EVERY street the trees grow to make a natural tunnel, and all of the buildings are beautiful. Although a million people live here, it seems MUCH smaller. Behind Mendoza are the Andes, rising up to 20,000 feet. The world's tallest mountain outside of the Himalayas is right behind the city - it is called Acongagua at 22,841 ft. A spectacularly beautiful town.

After touring the town, we went to two wineries (also below the Andes and during the fall, so the leaf colours are amazing): Finca Flichman has all the modern techniques and equipement, a very impressive tour arranged just for me by the Park Hyatt. The second was Nieto Senetiner, much closer to the base of the Andes. We had an authentic Argentine barbeque outdoors at the winery, with amazing beef and empanadas. Delicious!

After all the wine and the warm temperature (about 80 degrees), I came home and had a massage. I realized how weak the currency is here after that, as an hour massage was A$90, or US$30. They have been through so much here, it is amazing. I read an article on the plane about Argentinians, now creative they are culturally to try and generate revenues. Ad hoc theatre, paintings, crafts and performance art.

After my massage, I walked to Plaza Espana and Plaza Independencia to hit the nightly art fairs. It was so charming and very romantic, and the whole city was out looking at all the booths. I bought so many gifts and spent only $30, including a beautiful handcrafted knife just for me at $20. The leather goods are incredibly beautiful and inexpensive.

This is everything I want in a city... nice weather, beautiful architecture, very green, near mountains, very cultural, great wine, inexpensive, wonderful people... what more could you want?

Back at the hotel, now I have to work. A wonderful day ending with work... A busy week ahead!

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Dunkin' Donuts at Santiago International Airport

Arrived here and I've got a 4 hour layover. I slept for about half the flight; it was spectacular flying over the Andes, I took a couple digital pics from the plane that I will try and post. What a view.

As we neared Santiago, however, there was no view. The pollution is so thick you can cut it with a knife - and this is on a Saturday! The weather is great here, however, and I only wish that I could get outside - like the outdoor cocktail lounge at Palm Springs Airport.

I went here and realized as I ordered that I had no money - I ordered a sandwich (jamon y queso) and a café latté and it cost me C$2,900. That's US$4.60, ridiculous. I put it on my corporate Diner's Club. How funny will that look! My phone works here now, and I kind of expected it would. As difficult as some of the economies are in South America, Chile has remained the strongest. That the airport is nice and has free (2 hour "trial") WiFi is a plus! There is a range of shops located in the concourse here, and they are all actually rather nice. Frankly, it is the nicest airport I've seen in South America and Mexico. You'd put it right up there with the nice airports in the States or Europe.

I have some leftover Brazilian Reias (R$56=US$18). I hope I can use it again, I won't even bother to exchange it because it isn't worth the fee.

Every day I am checking to see how the LATEST dipshit scandal is affecting the President's popularity. Will Americans finally realize the danger in his blind convictions, and how nuts his foaming-at-the-mouth Secretary of Defense is? In Brazil everyone asked me what I thought, saying "your President is crazy!" Of course, they added theirs wasn't much better either...

Next stop... Argentina!
American Airlines Lounge São Paulo International Airport

What a sorry excuse for an airport lounge. I guess I can´t expect much more than a free cup of coffee; this place has not been refurbished since the early 1980s, and all of the food is either breakfast pastries shinkwrapped or hot dog buns. At least it is quieter than the airport gate.

Thursday night we all went to this place called Miller, Goddard & Cia. Ltda. It was in the Brooklin area of São Paulo. The place was totally fun, it was like a nice pub. It was interesting, when you arrive you are given a card with a price for drinks on one side and a price for food on the other. You can choose either or both, and that much is required to be paid at least by the end of the evening. You can go over that price if you want, but you have at least that minimum. As you select things from the menu, they are checked off on the list. As you leave, they check your card at the door and add up the total, and you pay the minimum or the entire amount, whichever is greater. It ensures a minimum revenue for the bar and a way to track your budget for the customer.

Anyways, the place was very charming, with lots of tables and wood walls with photos and old magazine articles, photos of São Paulo. There was a band in the far corner, and they were VERY fun, starting with a disco version of "Killing Me Softly With His Song," then a disco version of "Have You Ever Seen The Rain." People were getting pretty drunk, and having a great time, and dancing around the tables. It was fun! Later, after a break, the band played all of these traditional Brazilian dance songs that my colleagues said are popular in Rio. It was really fun. I also had some cachaça finally - boy is that strong stuff! Caiprihinas are made with lime and cachaça, and are kind of like a strong margarita. I only had one and had a headache all the next day.

On Friday, it was raining so bad, I did work in my room and then decided to risk it and venture out to the Paulista and Jardim areas. Just as I arrived, the sun came out and it was beautiful! I walked all around the neighborhood, it is so incredibly gorgeous - big houses and apartment buildings, all either traditional or modern. Big walls around some houses, and very very lush with lots of trees. The hills are very steep, like in San Francisco. I walked along a street called Oscar Firiere (sp?). Extremely expensive but charming, lots of cute little boutiques. I got some traditional Brazilian art in one, and I also got a CD (Madonna - American Life - only R$12, which is like US$4).

I walked up to Avenida Paulista, which is the centre of the financial district. People everywhere, and the huge street - really a boulevard - was packed with people! It was very nice, and the sun was out. I ended up at the MASP - Museo Art da São Paulo - which is a stunningly modern building, but I had no time to get into it. My car back to the hotel was waiting!

Traffic was bad, but when I got back to the hotel, I was sad to say goodbye to everyone. A beautiful gift was on my bed, wrapped so nicely. I will really miss this place! Later in the evening, I went with some hotel staff to dinner at TriBeCa, which is in the Itaim district. Very nice place, and again, great food. I had duck ravioli. Yum.

Ok, I gotta go. My flight is waiting... next stop, Mendoza Argentina via Santiago Chile!

Thursday, May 06, 2004

São Paulo

Rained all day today.

Another full day of meetings. Afterwards, I went to the Morumbi Shopping and bought Haivainas. Finally! I hope they are the right sizes for everyone! It was not an easy thing to do. Unfortunately, I could not buy them for Andy or Scott because they don't make them greater than a U.S. size Men's 8. It was not an easy thing to figure out! I spent a total of R$107, which is US$35.

I am going out with colleagues tonight, we are all going to a club. I am excited to experience the Brazilian nightlife. Tomorrow I may get most of the day off, but I have to work with Cancun and Acapulco on some things. More on the nightlife tomorrow...

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

São Paulo

Another full day of work. Did not even get a chance to step outside; it rained last night and I woke up from thundershowers overnight, so it was probably very muggy as it was over 80 degrees again today. Still sunny though.

Everything with work is going so very well. I ate at Kinu, the Japanese restaurant here, yesterday, and at Eau - the French Restaurant - today. Both were very very good, impeccable service.

As I was on the phone in someone's office, I looked at this cable and realized it was a digital camera cable that would work for my camera! So I set it up and I now have pictures online! Yeah!

Having dinner in my room, will finish up my presentation for tomorrow then go to bed. Tired!

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

São Paulo

Worked all day today. A productive day at work. The hotel is so beautiful at night, just spectacularly lit up.

Last night, hired the hotel car to the Morumbi shopping centre. It was like any mall, with two main department stores (equivalent of a Mervyns and a Lord & Taylor). I wanted to find a digital camera connection to my computer, and went into a camera shop. No HP products (in fact, none anywhere to be found - I don't think they distribute here), and a fellow shopper who spoke Portugese helped me translate. I know a little Spanish, but I can't even use that. The language is so completely different. It is frustrating, I feel at a total loss. I should have gotten a portable dictionary. Shoot - I just realized I left my portable Spanish dictionary at home. Oh well, the same trouble in Argentina. How frustrating! No camera cable, no Portugese, no Spanish.

I had the local soft drink, I can't remember what it is called, but it is made from Guarana. This is a Brazilian berry from the Amazon - very popular. Tasty, similar to Ginger Ale but much sweeter. I will definitely have it again!

Enough for tonight. Time for bed.

Monday, May 03, 2004

São Paulo

Olà my friends!

Another hot day in Brazil, it is 72 F right now, high today in the mid 80s. Meanwhile, it is only supposed to be 50 in Chicago. HA HA. Not a cloud in the sky, either.

Met with my colleagues for breakfast. After doing a bit of work in the office, I am now off to tour the Grand Hyatt São Paulo officially, then to see the competition. Some work to do in the afternoon, then I hope to have maybe an hour by the pool and then to go visit the nearby mall to do some shopping - I want to buy some Havaianas and that camera attachment.

The soap here in the hotel is amazing. It is called Granado and I was given three scents: Coco, Pitanga and Guarana. It is made from the Amazon rain forest:

Off I go to the Brazilian sun...

Sunday, May 02, 2004

São Paulo

I hired a taxi from the front drive and took it to the nearest Metrô stop (their subway was built within the last 10 years but does not reach the area where the hotel is). It was fascinating to see the shanty town on one side of the large avenue and on our side, a hill with some beautiful houses of the wealthy looking down on them. Sadly poetic. In Sao Paulo, rich and poor are yin and yang. A couple of 12 year old lanky boys juggled tennis balls in the street for a handout at one stoplight.

The Metrô is clean, efficient and feels safe. It took me directly to Plaça Republica for R$1.90, which is about 64 US cents. Upon leaving the train, it felt great to be in warm sun, among thousands of happy people moving through the stalls. It was interesting to see that the fair (held every Sunday) was sectioned: wooden items in one area, semi-precious stones in another, leather in one area, and an incredibly large section devoted to (mostly awful) paintings. There was also a food section.

Not seeing much of interest, I looked to find the nearest McDonalds - always the best place to find a clean bathroom in any foreign city, fyi. As I neared one, five teenage men created a "scene" in front of two hefty American middle aged men on the Avenida Ipiranga. The two men tried to understand what was happening; a sixth man entered the scene from a store, and went up one of the American man's polo shirt and literally ripped off the gold chain from his chest; he ran into the street and away so fast, it would have been impossible to catch him (although another man tried); the other five then disappeared. The mugged American just stood exactly where he was, stunned to have been so blatantly violated in the middle of a sunny day on a busy street. About four seconds had passed. I checked my person, felt comfortable with my safety, then went on my way, also a bit leery.

I took the Metrô to Sé, the centre of the city. A massive cathedral exists - frankly, much much larger than anything I had expected. I took some pictures, and met two young men who took my photo - and I theirs. We got to talking, and it was ironic to hear that they were from Maastricht, in the Netherlands only 20 kms from my childhood home. They are on a six-month tour for a company on behalf of their university, searching potential sites for the company to expand. This was their second week in São Paulo and they leave this week to southern Brazil, then Chile and Argentina. Nice kids.

Next up was a short walk to Liberdade, a region that has the largest number of Japanese in the world outside of Japan. I had no idea, and it is no lie. The entire area is like Chinatown in San Francisco, but it is Japantown in São Paulo. Tons of Japanese food stores and shlocky shops (anyone up for Hello Kitty! in Portugese?!). As I walked down the street, I ordered a aguadecoco. Literally, what they do is take a green coconut, make a v-cut in the top with a machete, then insert two straws. It cost R$1.50. Not as refreshing as pure water, but by then it was probably 90 degrees out and anything helped. And I met three ladies from Japan who were **so** excited to get this (?!) and I took their picture, and they took mine. This area of town felt very safe. It is on a crest and is halved by a massive freeway, but it is sunken into a hill, so all the streets run over it. What is neat is that you get a chance to see a view - of so many buildings, all highrises, it is unbelieveable. I've frankly never seen anything like it.

The weather was so nice, everyone was outside. It started to get too much, so I dived into a grocery store and bought some aguardente de cana - it is an alcoholic drink used in making caipirinha, the brazilian drink. A fifth cost R$2.90. That is US $0.98. I bought three of them, also bought the mixer for it, it is so cheap. It was neat to go into the store. Basically, the goods seem very similar to the designs found in Europe. Nothing shocking, really.

I took the Metrô home and then ran to get a bit of sun (which, actually, I got anyways just being outside today), then worked out and hit the Grand Club. Free cocktails and hors d'oeurves at night.

Looking forward to a good room service dinner and a good night's sleep... sweet dreams!
Grand Hyatt São Paulo

I slept 5 hours straight on the flight! Amazing.

The most amazing sight was flying over Sao Paulo. For miles and miles, through wisps of clouds, all you could see was 20-30 story white apartment block buildings. This city is huge!

Going through customs and immigration ended up being a non-issue. There are rumours of taking hours to get through, but we were the first flight in from the U.S. and so we were the first in line. They separate Americans, who are subject to a photo and fingerprint screening. But the people who worked the booth were very friendly and smiled a lot.

Very hot and humid today, at least 80 degrees.

A driver from the Hyatt named Carlos picked me up at the airport, and we drove in following a river. He told me they are dredging it because it floods during the rainy season, and then they are going to spend 20 years to extract all the pollution from it. Not a pleasant drive in, and there were edges of a shanty town to be seen, but suddenly a gleaming office park appeared to the left of the freeway, and the Grand Hyatt is on the edge of it.

I was greeted very warmly by the hotel. Phenominal service. Room is spectacular, and the Grand Club Lounge is nice indeed. A very large mall is nearby, so I will try and get my camera cord there later today if I remember. Tonight I will work out and maybe go swimming, then eat room service and chill out. Right now, I plan on washing up and going to see some sights downtown. They say the metrô is very safe and clean, so I am thinking I might try taking that.

Sat May 02, 9:00pm CST

American Airlines Flight 0963

What an exciting trip!

This morning was so crazy, doing laundry at 8am, rushing around packing and getting ready for my trip. By the time I got to O’Hare, I was relieved to be on my way. The bad news was that I realized that I left my cable connection from my digital camera to the computer in my desk. How stupid! I looked it up, to FedEx it to me would take at least 5 days and cost $60. That means that I may be in Argentina by then, half way done with my trip. I’m going to see if during the week I can buy a cable in Sao Paulo.

It is interesting to read the guide books about São Paulo. Everyone has mentioned security to me, and the guide books are very “light” on it. Of course – they don’t want to scare you. In reality, I think São Paulo is probably like any large city. Know where you are going, don’t be flashy and you’ll be ok. I bought a Fodor’s PocketBook on it on Friday, and there are certain areas where it says “be cautious,” etc. But it is specific to different areas – for instance, about the “Avenida Paulista” area it says “… Avenida Paulista may well be the safest place in the city. Even so, stay alert and hold onto your bags, particularly in Parque Trianon.” It is stuff like that which is telling me “be careful.”

I also read that Cirrus/MasterCard are not widely accepted in Brazil. So… I am going to look up and make sure I find a Citibank (they MUST have a branch in São Paulo, it is the world’s 3rd largest city!) and get money there if I need to.

I really like the fact that I fly overnight, and there is only a 2-hr time change (forward). So even though the flight is 10 hrs long, I will arrive in the AM overnight. Yeah! I hate jet lag. I’ll be refreshed and ready – there is a driver to greet me at the airport, and I should get to the hotel and be ready to hit the market. On Sundays, most stores are closed as in much of Europe. But there is an outdoor market that everyone talks about at Plaça Republica, and it is near many sites to see, so I think I will do that. And take pictures!

The Grand Hyatt São Paulo is supposed to be just incredible, I know the marketplace is difficult and they are losing money. But I look forward to the experience, and I have worked so hard on their rates that I think the presentation will go well. I really enjoy talking to the staff there and I can’t wait to meet them! I also hear the hotel is just so spectacular… it should be a great introduction to the “new” Hyatt International product.

Ahh… business class on American. Food, wine, food, food. Dinner is about to be served, so I have to sign off. I love the fact that you have champagne before you take off, crudité and nuts, wine right after take off, newspapers, space, you can even plug in your lap top. It is easy to get used to this, even though 10 hour flights suck. I love that AA gives you a private DVD player with 20 movies to select. Lots to occupy the time!