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First “Dip” into Argentina, ARG


October 25th, 2018

Argentina – our sixth country in South America and the eighth largest country in the world.  It like, so many of this continent’s countries, has many different climates and landscapes; from hot and humid jungles in the northeast and bone dry Andean plateau in the northwest, through endless grasslands to the windswept steppe of Patagonia and the end-of-the-world archipelago of Tierra del Fuego.  There is even a piece of Antarctica that Argentina claims.

The first Europeans arrived in Argentina in 1516 and the first missions to the Guarani people were established in 1609.  Independence from Spain occurred in 1816 and we led by General San Martin (most towns have a street/park named after him like Bolivar in the previous countries we’ve been in).  The country goes through two military coups in 1930 and 1943 (the latter brought Juan Domingo Peron into power).  Evita Peron dies in 1952 at the age of 33.  A further coup on Peron occurs in 1955 and Peron is exiled but returns in 1973 and is re-elected.  When Peron dies in 1974, power defaults to his third wife, Isabelita until once again a coup ousts the President of Argentina three years later and the country becomes a dictatorship and an ugly period in Argentina’s history begins known as the Dirty War.

In 1978 the country hosts and wins the FIFA World Cup in the middle of this military dictatorship.  The Falklands are invaded but the British prevail in 1982 and a year later democracy is restored. In 2008 the first female president is elected and a period of corruption, riots and rising inflation begins (this is when the “blue market” of US dollars begins and lasts until 2016).  The country has had economic problems ever since and earlier this year borrowed more money from the World Bank and its currency has been dropping ever since. 

After gassing up for a final time in Chile (we knew we were going to climbing up and over the Andes) we began making our way to Argentina.  We plan to explore the central highlands for a few weeks before returning to Santiago; the timing of this works for our visas and TIP.  Chile gave us 90 days to explore the country and that will expire while we are home in Canada so we are going to Argentina so that we can get a new TIP upon returning that will extend well beyond our return to Chile after Christmas.  We will get new visas upon reentering both from Argentina and then again from Canada.

Crossing the border this time of year gives you one choice here at this crossing although there are actually two options: (1) an older one that zig zags its way up to the Christ the Redeemer of the Andes statue which was unveiled in 1904 representing when Chile and Argentina settled their differences (it was rebuilt in 1916 and repaired in 1993) and (2) a newer crossing that is lower down, shorter and through a tunnel.  From about May to November, the first option is closed due to snow.  We had hoped to see the statue but looks like it’s not possible today – maybe when we return….

When you leaving, Chile, you pay a toll to pass through the tunnel.  On the other end you exit the tunnel and are in Argentina.  There is a police checkpoint there; the officer checks your Chilean TIP, confirms your license plate number and gives you a “ticket” upon which he’s written your plate number.  He then directs you to the integrated border facilities 15km / 10 mi down the road.  We’d read that this crossing can be very slow on weekends due to weekend travel between Santiago and Mendoza so we were happy to be crossing mid-week.

We arrived at the immigration/customs building and drove into the building.  The first booth is an immigration stop where you get stamped out of Chile and into Argentina – all in once place!  The border control officer sends you to the booth at the end of the short row where you hand in your Chilean TIP and they prepare the Argentinian one for you.  There was a cursory inspection of the truck, we handed over a few sacrificial limes (no fruits, veggies or nuts are supposed to be brought in) and we were on our way; all in seventeen minutes!

We had decided to do a circle route from Mendoza, a little south and back to Mendoza, then north up to San Jose and back down towards Mendoza before returning to Chile.  Our first stop was in the town of Uspallata where we hit a bank.  Getting money in this country is difficult.  The Argentine peso has recently fallen big time against the USD (which is good for us) but ATM’s don’t like to give you much cash and often run out.  After several tries, starting at attempting to withdrawn 20,000 Pesos, Doug managed to get 4,000 – this is worth about $100 so not a big withdrawal.  The bank fees are high too so again, we are thankful we bank with Schwab, which reimburses ALL our ATM fees worldwide.

As we’ve discussed in our posts, we are having issues with our jerry cans (two have leaks) so before leaving Chile we bought three new ones (this is our fourth set in the life of Tigger).  These of course, don’t fit the jerry can rack correctly so we found a welder in Uspallata and he worked on reconfiguring the rack.

This took only a couple of hours and while we were there, his cousin, sold Fran a sim card using his ID and set it up on her phone which came with 200MB of free data for 24 hours.  She tried to recharge it at the gas station but the attendant advised it did not show up as activated as yet and could take a day for that to happen so we’ll try in Mendoza.

We left Uspallata and made our way half way to Mendoza, checking out a hot springs hotel/spa that we’d read you could use the facilities at.  It turned out to be way too pricey so we drove a little ways down the road from it and found a spot to camp in a large roadside pullout for the night.

Upon arriving here, Doug realized that the Jerry cans must have deflated some as they were not fitting in the newly modified rack properly!  We did a little improvising and upon passing through Uspallata in a few weeks on our way back to Santiago, we’ll return to the welder and have him correct the fit.

The Argentine peso exchanges at 37 per USD; 28 for the Canadian dollar and the gas price is about $4USD a gallon.  We have not bought beer as yet, so we’ll report on those brands and prices later.

We spent the night in a wild camp spot in a canyon a good distance from the road and after dark the traffic was minimal and the night was on the warm side.  Next morning we did a few chores and made our way a whopping 6 km  / 4 mi to an actual campground that had internet.  Camping Cabañas Coco has cabins to rent, lots of picnic sites, bathrooms, a pool and wifi.  We are too large to fit into one of the actual spots so we parked at the end in a grassy area near a table with a shade cover.

We filled out tank with fresh water and settled in to use the internet for a few hours.  Doug went to go have a shower but did not get any hot water so he used our outdoor shower; when the attendant came to ask how things were, Fran mentioned there was no hot water and he said he’d have to turn the hot water heater on and will do so only in one shower for us.  He advised waiting about 90 minutes and then going for a shower; Fran tried and it never got hot, hot but more than warm enough sufficed.

The night was quiet and we decided to stay another night since when we get to Mendoza, the camping pickings are slim (like most big cities) and we’ll probably end up in a parking lot for a night or two with no internet.  The internet is not fast but it will suffice.  It began to rain late in the afternoon and at times it was hard but was over before we went to bed.  First real rain we’ve had in ages!

Saturday we ventured out walking and found a couple of nearby restaurants; since we are low on groceries, we decided to go out for lunch.  We went to a small brewery and had a good lunch including some local Malbec for Fran and hot brownies for dessert for us both before returning to the camp spot for a final night before heading to Mendoza.

Initial thoughts/observations:

  • Argentina is not as affluent as Chile; more older cars/trucks; some in good shape (restored) others just old beaters and lots of older trucks

  • The roads are not as good as Chile but still better than Peru and of course, Bolivia!
  • Argentinians take the “siesta” to a whole new level; lunch time is 4 or 5 hours! Business hours are often 9-1 and then 4 or 5 to 7/8 or 9.
  • Dinner in Argentina is often after 9 pm – many restaurants do not even open before that!
  • Bodegas are wine shops that are affiliated with their own vineyards.
  • Argentina, at least in this part, has fruit control checkpoints – like California; and you are asked what fruit (and sometimes veggies) are you are carrying; they don’t like fruits with seeds to cross regional borders and will confiscate them.  We tend to leave a basket with produce in it (hide some stuff) and after showing them the basket, they don’t seem to want to search our vehicle.
  • Gas stations here, (the big chain ones anyway) much like in Chile, usually have a shop/cafe associated with them, lots of parking, bathrooms and showers and don’t mind if  you overnight there at no cost; although sometimes there can be a charge for hot showers.
  • Argentina uses a different type of socket once again so we are looking for new adapters; we were good in Peru and Bolivia with the ones we had when we began having to use our transformer but Chile uses a three pin configuration
  • and Argentina uses a slanted version of North American sockets
  • Argentinians speak with a slightly different Spanish accent here (kinda Italian sounding) and when they speak fast, it’s difficult to understand; we thought Chileans were fast talkers but we also really have to listen here.
  • this means your car is for sale: