Latin America

You Say Potato, I say Patato

Everyone loves good food and wine.  However not everyone agrees on what constitutes good food and wine.

I love white wine.  My husband prefers red.

My favorite wines of all time came from Don Pasquale winery in Juanico, Uruguay

My favorite wines of all time came from Don Pascuale winery in Juanico, Uruguay. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

I prefer to eat Vegan or Vegetarian when I have too, and my husband eats everything including meat dishes.

Some people think that food smothered in sauces, be them cream or red are the way to go.  I say yuck.  I want plain and simple food.  I want to be the one to add salt, pepper, or other alternative spices to my food.  I don’t for heavens sake want my dish smothered in mayonnaise which is very common for some reason in a lot of the Latin American countries.  We are still trying to wrap our heads around that one.

Simply the best empanadas I've ever eaten came from Santiago Chile.

Simply the best empanadas I’ve ever eaten came from Santiago Chile. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

The best overall wine I have tasted in all my years of travel came from Uruguay.  The best white wine I’ve tasted came from a little family owned winery in Croatia.

Because we want to live like the locals it has been easier for us to simply shop where they shop and to buy local fruits and vegetables to cook our own meals.  Eating out is incredibly expensive depending on where one goes and since costs are a factor in how we live we tend not to want to spend a lot of money on food.  We recently asked a group of brothers who were visiting Rome where they were eating during the day since the food was so expensive everywhere and they told us McDonalds!  Can’t do it; we won’t patronize junk fast food places.  We’d rather use our funds to travel some place new and meet new people.

I shop at local farmers markets in every city we have traveled too and lived in.  Nothing compares.

I shop at local farmers markets in every city we have traveled too and lived in. Nothing compares. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Now, we aren’t starving, far from it.  We’ve tasted and sampled some of the best foods in every country we have gone too.  We have shared meals with locals and asked them what their favorite restaurants are and what their favorite dishes are.  Everyone loves to share their thoughts and recommendations on good food.  They want you to experience and appreciate the quality and the expertise of the foods in their culture.  We haven’t been to a country thus far where someone we asked about their favorite food in their country and they tell us to eat at the local foreign restaurant.  Like no one in Rome said to eat at the Chinese buffet.  No one in Mexico said to eat at McDonalds!  No one in England told us to eat Thai food but we found an awesome place anyway.

Best white wine I have ever had - really.

Best white wine I have ever had – really.  The winery is Toreta on Korcula, in the small town of Smokvica. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince

Food is the reason we have the energy to keep traveling and to keep wandering the streets.  Food is also common ground for the start of great conversations and it can also be the basis for making new friends.  So here’s my salute to good food, good wine and the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Florence Lince

Tango the Night Away

In Montevideo, Uruguay

Travel to Latin America is hot.  All of the countries on this continent are being discovered by tourists, many for the first time.  In 2011 we spent 21 days exploring the beautiful country of Uruguay.

Cecilia Regules Viajes helped me plan our trip. Cecilia lives and works in Montevideo.  Lots of people sell travel to places they have never been. Since I used to sell travel I always look for a local agent to take care of my travel needs.  This cuts out the middle man and is usually cheaper since the agents who do not create these trips charge a service fee to do so.  Cecilia has been in business since 1981 and she took great care of us.  We went to the cities of Mercedes, Fray Bentos, Salto, Cabo Polonio, Colonial del Sacramento, Punta del Este and of course Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay.

Because we were such good clients and open to going places that others might have found too rustic Cecilia offered to take us one night to a club where mostly locals go. Since Mike and I always look for these opportunities we jumped at the chance to go with her.  We meet Cecilia at 10:00pm at her office on a Saturday night and we walked to the building known as the Mercado de Los Artesanos.  The ground floor of this building is a huge souvenir shop selling items from all over Uruguay.  The magic happens on the second floor.

You can take Tango lessons in the restaurant

You can take Tango lessons in the restaurant

Uruguay is one of those Latin American countries where they eat dinner late.  It is normal to see people eating dinner at 10:00 or 11:00pm.  When the shop on the first floor closes at 9:00pm the restaurant upstairs begins to cook, which is why so many tourists do not know about it.  You can take tango lessons here and there is even a market to buy fresh cut meats and cheeses.  The restaurants serve local Uruguayan food but people are not coming here for the food, they are coming for the floor show.  Around 11:00pm a singer takes the stage and he sings a couple of favorite songs.  He then walks from table to table and asks everyone where they are from and a round of applause ensues when you say you are from someplace outside of Uruguay.  This night there are a lot of people from Argentina and Germany in the audience.  Since the emcee is just getting warmed up this becomes open mike time and everyone and anyone can get up to sing or perform.  There are a few takers and several of them have wonderful singing voices.  Sitting and eating good food, drinking good wine, having wonderful company and enjoying the show makes the time fly by and soon it is close to 2:00am and no one is leaving, these Uruguayo really know how to party!

The Mercado de Los Artesanos is not in the best section of town and if you plan to have dinner and attend the show make sure to take a taxi so you are not wandering around the city streets at such a late hour.  Montevideo is pretty safe during the day but nighttime can be another matter.

The people of Uruguay are incredibly warm and friendly.  They are also one of the most progressive Latin American countries we visited.  They have legalized marijuana, abortions and gay marriage.

Uruguay should be on everyone’s list of places to visit and I’m glad it was one of the countries we explored.  Mike and I both agree that the cities of Mercedes and Fray Bentos are still on our list of places to perhaps live one day.  The country of Uruguay reminds me of the old saying, “special things come in small packages”.

Cecilia and Mike enjoying good food, good wine and good company

Cecilia and Mike enjoying good food, good wine and good company

Florence Lince

Family, Family Everywhere

Or Fancy Meeting You Here

When I first met my husband Mike in 2005 I jokingly told him that I have family everywhere.  You see I am Italian and I do come from an incredibly large family.  I always thought everyone grew up with that many cousins.

The first generation of my family to be born here were my grandparents.  My great-grandparents were from Sicily.  They had 10 children.  Those 10 turned around and gave them 24 grand-children, and you see where this is going.

My first Thanksgiving with Mike I had 45 people for dinner.  He had to fly in from Seattle to my home in Las Vegas four days before Thanksgiving to help me cook all the food and the pies.  He was overwhelmed but this was just how I grew up.

Before we headed for Argentina in 2011 I had found out that, low and behold, I really did have family everywhere.  There are about 100 family members living in cities throughout Argentina and I connected via facebook with my cousin Claudia in Cordoba.  She speaks pretty good English.

We chatted back and forth and we gave her our itinerary for our time in Argentina and what cities we would be in and what dates.  Then I lost contact with her and didn’t hear back.

Mike and I left on our four month exploration of Latin America in June of that year.  When we made it to Argentina I simply sent Claudia one last message letting here know that we were in the country and again what our dates were and where we were going.

At 6:00am one beautiful day while we were getting ready to explore the city of Mendoza, Argentina the front desk called our room and told me that I had company.  Being it was 6:00am and I was in a foreign country I thought the front bellman had gone daft.  After asking me again if I was Florence Ricchiazzi Lince he confirmed that I indeed did have company.  Walking to the lobby the morning fog lifted and the only person I could even fathom was waiting for me was Claudia.  And there she was, in the lobby, with her husband and three of her children!  After seeing my note that we were in town they had driven over 6 hours to get from their home in Cordoba to Mendoza to spend the day with us. It was the first time we had ever met but we talked and talked and talked the day away.  What an incredibly warm and sweet family.  We had breakfast together and then spent the day at the Mendoza Zoo.  The kids had a wonderful time and by the end of the day they were calling Mike Uncle.  Our day in Mendoza, with family, is still one of the memories we cherish most from our many travels.

Me and my cousin Claudia. Can you tell we are related?

Me and my cousin Claudia. Can you tell we are related?

By the end of the day he was Uncle Mike!

By the end of the day he was Uncle Mike!

A family reunion in Argentina

A family reunion in Argentina

Mike no longer doubts me when I say I have family everywhere.  He just smiles and shakes his head and waits for the next 6:00am call.

Florence Lince

The Butterflies of Cuernavaca

Living in Mexico was sort of an afterthought.  It really wasn’t on our list of countries to live in, it just sort of happened.  We needed a place to live after our exodus from Panama and we needed it quickly.  We had already been in Latin America for two years exploring through Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina and we wanted to live someplace new.  We had met some people on a cruise who were from a town called Cuernavaca so we decided to investigate what it had to offer.

Cuernavaca is called the “City of Eternal Spring”, which we never actually saw.  Instead we were surrounded by more butterflies than I have ever seen in the wild in my life.  Our yard was filled with them in every shape, size and color.  I never knew that butterflies came in so many colors.  We found out that Cuernavaca annually has thousands of butterflies that descend on it so we had come at the right time of year.

As is normal for us we had no car while living there and it is not easy to get around.  Yes, they have buses and taxis that were cheap enough but the town is built on hills and while it was great exercise, not everything was paved so the simple task of walking to the grocery store was a full exercise event.

We met and rented a flat from not only a local but also a fellow expat.  Professor James Horn taught about Latin American studies at Brockport University well before it was fashionable to do so.  Professor Horn had retired to Cuernavaca some years before and he rents out the floors of his house to fellow travelers.  We were lucky that he had an available flat and we left for Mexico.  Professor Horn is also a fine dining patron and a Mexican wine connoisseur so we were invited to go to some of Cuernavaca’s best restaurants on a weekly basis – thank you Jim.

Contrary to what the news media will report, we never once felt unsafe in Mexico.  Now, we didn’t do anything stupid like buying or dealing drugs or taking part in prostitution or using a gun, and we were always home by dark but we never once heard a gunshot, and we always felt safe.

We did a lot of touring around this section of Mexico during our 5 months in the country and we loved it all with Mexico City, Taxco, Teotihuacan  and Xochicalco standing out for me with some great memories.

The people of Mexico were warm and friendly.  When you tell a local that you are living in their country the look of first, surprise, and then pride, that shines through is worth the price of a passport.  The people of Cuernavaca were helpful in sharing with us the best places to eat and visit.  It is also incredibly helpful that my husband speaks Spanish since in some of the smaller towns there wasn’t a word of English to be heard.  This is after all their country so speaking Spanish, or at least understanding it, is the way to go.

We lived incredibly well while in Mexico and we would have no hesitation in promoting its charms, or its people.  Viva Mexico!

                                                                                                Florence Lince