On Monday I began my week-long travel across northern Argentina. I will stay for Christmas in the city of Cordova. I need to be there on the 23rd of December.
For two days, I had stayed in a private room in an Airbnb house in Puerto Iguazu in Argentina. It was a regular house with regular people. That is what AIRBB began as before people saw better money letting out apartments short term.
Mary and Berardo were good craic, and I enjoyed the two days I spent there.
I took a five-hour bus to the city of Posadas. I am still straddling the Paraguay Argentina border. I will only spend a night here to break the bus journey.
I don’t like border towns. They always look unfinished. Maybe it is because borders keep changing. What is today’s Argentina could be Paraguay tomorrow? No point making it look good if you might not own it later.
I got my first real look at how tough times are in the lastest Argentina economic crisis in Posadas. People were lining outside currency exchange shops.
They were trying to exchange their Pesos for Dollars. Nobody trusts the Peso now. Those that did have seen their savings diminished as the Peso collapsed.
One thing I can already see is Argentina has one thing in common with all the other countries I have visited. The worst off people are always the same. Those that look a little darker than the rest.
The people who used to own the place seem to be at the bottom of the ladder in all South American countries. The non-Europeans. They are the people in the tents.
I don’t see them working in Shops. Bars. Restaurants. They are not in the Police. Teachers or doctors.
When South American countries won independence from Spain, it was Europeans getting independence from Europeans. The ruling class is much the same.
My trip to the next city on my way across Northern Argentina had an interesting start. I had booked a room on AIRBNB for two nights. I was surprised that my room in Corrientes was in a retirement home.
In the section, I was in not sure if I was the only person there, but I did hear a lot of strange noises during the night. I don’t know why, but I could not get the thought of peoples brains been sucked out late at night.
Maybe with a bit of luck, I might catch the Christmas party when I am here.
Corrientes itself is quite a pleasant city. It has a relaxed vibe. I am fairly sure it does not get much in the way of international tourism.
The main attraction of the city is that it is situated on the Rio Parana. Second, in size only to the Amazon in South America.
The riverfront is where many of the city’s population gather at night to enjoy the gentle breeze on hot nights. The area is packed with people having beers or families eating picnics.
Like all of the country, Corrientes is having a tough time economically at the moment. Thankfully sitting on a seat near the river is still one of life’s enjoyable free things.
To tip or not to tip.
I find tipping hard to understand. Every country seems to have different tipping rules. In Paraguay after a few beers, I gave a barman a 10% tip. He asked why. For your service. I don’t understand, he replied. I was embarrassed.
Last year in Belgrade I had one beer for eighty cents in a bar. As I paid and walked away, I heard him say fuck you. I asked someone what the problem was. He said a 10% tip was needed. So I replied I should give him eight-cent?
Last weekend when I crossed the border into Argentina I had something to eat in a restaurant. When I asked for the bill, he came out with an amount written on a little piece of paper. He said there was a 12% service charge.
I had intended to give him a tip, but I did make the point that I did not believe there was a service charge, and what he gave me was not a bill. I don’t believe in a service charge as service can be bad.
Here in Argentina, the people who put your bags into the bus storage area expect a tip. For me, this is not a battle I want to fight, and I am happy to give. I am sure many a bag goes missing for non-tippers.
One of the problems Argentina has is that it has a fairly controlled and closed economy. It does annoy me when I use my debit card I am asked for my passport number. They enter it into a system.
I wonder why. Is there someone in an office checking I spent 3.45 Euro on eggs and water in a supermarket. They are not impressed when I answer 1,2,3,4,5,6.
In just over a week, I will have a windfall of 25,000 dollars. I had disclosed I did own 1.25 bitcoin. I did lose my nerve and got my money back after selling one bitcoin this year. I held onto 0.25 of a bitcoin.
A man from the future has made some predictions on bitcoin. One is that a bitcoin will be worth 100,000 dollars in 2019. As I write it is just over 7,000 Dollars, but we still have a week or so to go.
You would be amazed at how many people believe the man from the future. They never mention that he also said the world order would collapse and people without bitcoin will want to kill us, bitcoin holders. I plan to spend my 25,000 dollars quickly at the new year sales.
I made my escape from the retirement home at 0500 on Thursday morning. I had an early bus and a ten-hour journey to my next destination Santiago del Estero, northern Argentina.
It has happened to me a few times, but I don’t like walking in South American streets at that time of the morning with everything I own. It is the one time I feel completely vulnerable. I needed to get a taxi to the bus station 5km away.
I flagged down a taxi. The first thing he said to me was are you crazy walking this time of night with all your stuff. I now only had to worry that he was not a rouge taxi. I don’t usually flag down taxis here. I take them from a taxi rank. All worked out, and I made it to the station.
In Argentina, there are two different exchange rates for the dollar. The normal exchange and the Blue Dollar. A few months, ago the Government said people could only exchange two hundred dollars every month.
That’s a problem as most people don’t trust the Peso now. It has lost a lot of its value, and people want their savings in dollars. The Blue Dollar is a black market rate. They give you more for your Dollar and charge more for people wanting the dollar away from official channels.
When I arrived in Santiago del Estero, I was able to change my Dollars for about 8% more than the official rate. I had paid 2% to change my Euro to Dollars. If you are thinking about coming to Argentina, now is the time. Tourists spending money will help the economy, so don’t feel guilty.
Santiago del Estero is my last stop before I arrive in Cordoba on the 23rd of December. I will use Argentinas second city as a base for Christmas.
The guy who owns the place I am staying in Santiago del Estero told me it is the poorest region in the country. Having a coffee in the main square, I can see how it might be. I don’t think I have ever been in a city where so many people asked me for money in thirty minutes.
People are friendly, but you can feel a sense of sadness. I am sure the economic crisis added to an already difficult situation.
Argentina looks the most developed county I have visited during my South American trip. Despite that, over 40% are now living below the poverty level. I think poverty has so many levels.
One day in Cusco Peru, an indigenous lady asked me to buy a chain for my neck. I said, no thank you. You could be asked to buy something over one hundred times a day in Cusco.
She sat down next to me on the bench I had been sitting on. We had a good chat. She said it was very difficult to survive in Peru and every month she had to find the rent. I said it is the same in Ireland as rents are high.
She replied it is not the same. I felt stupid, and I said yes, you are right. It is not the same. I thought I would give her a few Euro but did not want the chain.
An elderly man came up to us. He had a severe back problem. He was bent over in a semi-circle and had a walking stick. I wondered how he could even get out of bed
He asked for some money. The lady put her hand in her pocket and gave him some money.
I thought it was remarkable that even though her life was not great, she knew it was better, then this mans life. I, in turn, knew my life was better than hers and gave her a bit more then I had planned.
The saying there is always someone else worse off than yourself will always be true.
I would like to wish everyone a very happy Christmas and a great new year. Thanks for taking the time to read my blog in 2019.