Friday, January 14, 2011

New Flights to Easter Island; Argentina's Latest Cash Crisis

Today’s entry covers new air services to Rapa Nui (Easter Island), and Argentina’s latest monetary crisis.

Perú to Rapa Nui
More than half a century ago, Thor Heyerdahl surmised that the first inhabitants of Easter Island had arrived from present-day Peru, and set off to prove that on his raft Kon-Tiki. He deserves credit for asking big questions, but subsequent archaeological evidence proved that the stubborn Heyerdahl was wrong - in fact, Rapa Nui’s earliest inhabitants crossed the Western Pacific from Polynesia.

Contemporary travel from Peru to Easter Island is literally taking off, though, as LAN has instituted twice-weekly flights from Lima to Hanga Roa's Aeropuerto Mataveri (pictured above) - no longer will Rapanuiphiles have to fly three hours farther south to Santiago to catch another five-hour flight to Chile’s iconic volcanic speck in the mid-Pacific. On the face of it, this is a brilliant commercial move - archaeology fanatics fresh from Machu Picchu and other Peruvian sites will have an easy means of seeing the enigmatic stone statues of Rano Raraku and other sites without visiting mainland Chile. The hope, though, is that this will become part of a tourism triangle from Peru to Easter Island to Santiago (which has many more flights to and from the remote island) and elsewhere in Chile.

It also provides a possible way to avoid Chile’s unfortunate “reciprocity fee,” which is collected only at Santiago’s Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Moreno Benítez (SCL). Lima to Hanga Roa passengers should not have to pay the fee there, and the segment from Hanga Roa to SCL is a domestic flight (though it usually arrives at the international terminal).

Argentina’s Money Problems
No, it’s not the country’s foreign debt. Astonishingly, for a country that spent much of the 1980s printing money enough to fuel an inflation that often reached 50 percent per month, there is such a shortage of banknotes that the government has had to turn to Brazil to print three billion pesos’ worth of 100-peso notes. In the meantime, in many parts of the country, there is simply no cash in the ATMs - according to an overland traveler with whom I spoke in Villa O’Higgins last night, many arrivals in El Chaltén (whose ATM appears in the photo below) have no cash whatsoever, and their plastic does them little good as credit cards are still a little uncommon there.

For my part, I will be entering Argentina in a couple days and, as an emergency measure, I changed some US dollars into Argentine pesos thanks to Jorge Salgado, the Spanish owner of the new El Mosco B&B, hostel and campground in Villa O’Higgins. I will be crossing from Chile Chico to Los Antiguos and Perito Moreno, then heading south to El Chaltén, and don’t want to be caught without cash - especially when there are no credit card gasoline options along southbound Ruta 40. For the moment, at least, all Argentina-bound travelers should carry some US cash.


Andrew said...

I found the entire issue of money in Argentina absurd- the extra ATM fees, trying to break large notes and the constant issues with change, although that was more of an issue in the north. They also had some of the most tired bills I've seen in my life, and I was utterly clueless as to whether they were counterfeit or not. (Eventually a woman told me to look at the foil numbers and see if they turn from blue to green.)

It's just a drag on the trip and a pain in the butt. It was almost an issue to the extent that I think it would put me off visiting Argentina again.

Someone told me that it was the same across South America, although Chile seems to have its act together with its plastic bills.

Wayne Bernhardson said...

Andrew, I concur with you about most of these things, but it's worth noting that Chilean and Uruguayan banks impose the same extra ATM fees (with the exception of Chile's BancoEstado and one or two other small ones.

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