Thursday, April 7, 2011

Some Argentina/Chile Comparisons

Today’s post discusses some comparisons between the Buenos Aires and Santiago subway systems, the two countries’ postal systems, and describes a proposed new link between continental Argentina and the Argentine side of the Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego.

Advantage: Subte

While Santiago’s Metro has long since surpassed Buenos Aires’s Subte in terms of its routes and service, the Argentine capital’s underground railroad has one distinctive advantage: except for its oldest cars (the wooden antiques on Línea A, which dates from 1914), it has placed all the seats against the cars’ outer walls, leaving wide aisles through which passengers can move relatively easily (the photo above shows the system at an especially quiet hour). It still gets crowded, of course, but that differs from the Santiago Metro (pictured below), where the few seats appear to be randomly placed with narrow aisles - so that there are often bottlenecks to get in and out of cars. This means everybody wants to be near the doors, which makes that part of every car so much more crowded.

Out of curiosity, as I added value to my Metro electronic “BIP” card yesterday, I asked the station attendant what constituted tercera edad (senior citizen’s age) for purposes of discount tickets. She told me it was age 65 for men, but only age 60 for women - from my point of view, a clearly discriminatory policy on the part of Chilean law. Ever since the 1980s, when the Pinochet regime imposed the privatization of the state pension system, men have been expected to work five years longer than women.

The Gaucho Express
As I was preparing to send off the finishing touches of the manuscript for the upcoming third edition of Moon Handbooks Patagonia, I asked my Argentine collaborator Nicolás Kugler to send me his updated maps by courier to Puerto Varas, where I expected to be at the time. He did so but also emailed me PDF copies that I could work from - fortunately because, two days ago, they finally arrived, one month after he sent them.

I could only conclude that Correo Argentino, the renationalized post office whose imposing Buenos Aires headquarters appears above, sent them by gaucho relay across the Pampas and over the Andes, as they arrived 11 days later in Santiago (about two hours by air from Buenos Aires). That said, it took another 20 days for them to arrive at my friend Andreas La Rosé’s Casa Azul B&B in Puerto Varas - having apparently spent most of that time in the Puerto Varas branch of Correos de Chile (the Chilean post office, which has never been privatized). My recommendation, for those who have to send urgent items internationally from either country, is to use a more reliable service such as FedEx.

The Fuegian Connection
According to the online Santiago Times, the Argentine government intends to establish a maritime link (apparently a ferry) from Punta Loyola, east of the Santa Cruz province capital of Río Gallegos, to Tierra del Fuego’s northern shores. The six-hour voyage would enable Argentines to avoid traveling through Chile, an issue that gained notoriety in January, when Chilean protestors blocked highways into and out of the Magallanes region for a week because of an increase in natural gas prices. That left Argentine motorists and other overland travelers stranded on the Argentine side of the island.

The Argentine government was correct in protesting the improper closure of an international border (though hypocritical in that it’s looked the other way even as ostensible environmental protests have closed the border between Entre Ríos province and neighboring Uruguay for more than four years). Where Chile has been more remiss, in the long term, is its failure to pave the roughly 125 km between the town of Cerro Sombrero and the border post of San Sebastián. That’s done more to slow down the traffic between the continent and the Argentine side of the island than a one-time protest that lasted only a few days.

When that finally happens, I expect nearly all traffic to continue from Río Gallegos south through Chile to the Argentine side of the island - especially since any ferry from Punta Loyola would have to navigate the wild waters of the open South Atlantic. My guess is that any such service would suffer frequent postponements, and eventually be abandoned - even if the Chilean route also requires a (short) ferry crossing at Punta Delgada (pictured above), on the Strait of Magellan.

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