Monday, 7 December 2015

Carolyn in Buenos Aires & Uruguay

Carolyn.  We all landed in Buenos Aires, Argentina on November 23 – and two days later, Vern and Cooper left for Antarctica.  Brrr!  I decided many months ago when they booked this 10-day voyage that I was not going to join them for this - I would rather enjoy the heat of the southern hemisphere summer instead of donning my winter weather gear.  (see their fantastic Antarctica updates below)

So I spent 7 days in Buenos Aires (population 11 million) enjoying many things it has to offer:  tango lessons, milongas (tango dance halls both small and large), polo match, bike rental to explore city parks and neighbourhoods, late dinners with new friends from the B&B where I stayed (the Argentina lifestyle is for restaurants to open at 9pm, and it’s totally normal to still be out eating dinner with friends at midnight), and visiting museums (which we tend to avoid or rush through with Cooper, so it was admittedly nice to be on my own adult schedule) and a tour of the famous Teatro Colon (#1 in the world for opera acoustics)…and nice summer weather…temperatures every day around 30 degrees.

This is a big, beautiful city, with excellent public transit, amazing architecture, and ample green parks and huge tree-lined streets.  They say it’s the ‘Paris of South America’.  I loved it.  Everything except that there are LOTS of smokers here.  Also like Europe, apparently.  Cough.  One challenge is that the Spanish they speak here is a little different from the Spanish we have been learning and using in Ecuador and Peru for the past 3 months.

After a week in Buenos Aires, I decided to explore the neighbouring country of Uruguay for 3 days – easily accessible by a 1-hour ferry across the river.  I loved the small town of Colonia, it was very quaint for 1 day & night;  and then a 2-hour bus ride took me to the capital of Montevideo for the other 2 days.  This city has many beautiful white-sand beaches, and I enjoyed renting a bike and riding the 20 km of beach-front trails all along the coast.

But my #1 mission in Montevideo was to bring back US cash to Argentina.  There’s a crazy “alternate” economy in Argentina called the “Blue Market”.  I don’t fully understand the economics at work here, but it’s something about residents trying to hoard US dollars, in anticipation of a looming collapse of the Argentinian peso (apparently something like this happened in Venezuela in recent years too).  Practically, what it means for tourists is that you can increase your purchasing power by 50% if you have US cash:  instead of getting the ‘real’ exchange rate at a bank which is about 9.75% in the international market, you can go to a Blue Rate vendor and get between 13.5% and 14.8%, depending on the quality and size of your bills, and the amount you want to exchange.  If you come here on a typical vacation, just bring as much US cash, in new & large bills, as you need and you’re comfortable carrying.  But if you’re a long term traveller like we are, you simply don’t arrive with lots of cash in your pockets – usually we just use our debit cards in the local ATM and withdraw whatever we need in the local currency, which will automatically convert to CAD and debit our Canadian bank accounts at home, easy.  But in this case, it makes a lot more financial sense to take advantage of the USD.  Anyway – mission successful, I was able to visit the National Bank in Montevideo (the hugest retail bank location I have ever seen, with many hundreds of people queued in dozens of places for their different banking tasks – very overwhelming!), and I withdrew a large sum of US dollars as a cash advance on our US credit card (did you know if you move $ onto your credit card and keep it at a credit balance, you can take cash advance withdrawals with no fees, no interest – it’s a good way to access larger amounts than an ATM will allow you to withdraw).

So with Vern and Cooper soon returning from Antarctica, and us planning another 3 weeks of travel through Argentina together, I returned from Uruguay appropriately equipped with enough $ to finance our upcoming Argentina destinations optimally.  The trick is to not convert more USD to pesos than you need, because it is impossible to convert pesos back to dollars later.  And by the time you read this, the cash will all be gone, because we will be on our way to Brazil, where we will return to “normal” travel financing with ATM withdrawals and credit card purchases!

If you want to know more about all this, feel free to email us with questions – especially if you plan to travel to Argentina soon, we will happily share what we have learned in greater detail.

To see more pictures from our world trip so far, click this link:


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