Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Misfortune for Patagonia; Plus, the Dollar-Peso Breach

After more than two decades as a guidebook writer, my style of travel has changed from the days when I strapped on a backpack and took the train south from Mexicali, bound for Tierra del Fuego (a trip on which, however, I got no farther than Ecuador). These days, I rarely set out for new destinations, but rather revisit places that I’ve gotten to know in the process of writing and updating my Moon Handbooks for Argentina, Buenos Aires, Chile and Patagonia.

Of course, there are new sights and services, and newly accessible places in all these destinations, but one of my real pleasures is seeing how places have changed over time – when I first visited Argentina and Chile, in the 1970s, they were unsavory military dictatorships that, over the ensuing decades, have returned to representative government and grown to embrace foreign visitors. The other great pleasure is renewing old acquaintances.
That has a downside, though, as sights and people are not eternal, as I noted in writing about the closure of Gaiman’s Parque El Desafío a few days ago. Sometimes people sell their businesses or, as I learned a couple days ago from a friend traveling in northern Chilean Patagonia, they die. On my last couple trips along the Carretera Austral, I have stayed in Villa O’Higgins at El Mosco, a combination campground/hostel/B&B (pictured above) operated by the gregarious Galician Jorge Salgado who, I regret to say, died last month of a brain tumor in Spain at the young age of 47.
In a town reached by the highway barely a decade ago, Jorge (pictured above, at right) created a physically comfortable and sociable space where everyone felt equally welcome, whether they pitched a tent on the windy grounds, slept in a ground floor bunk and shared meals in the communal kitchen, or preferred a private room on the upper storey. El Mosco became one of the last stops before the rugged overland crossing to Argentina’s El Chaltén, or the first for those arriving from Argentina.

I can’t say that Jorge and I were best friends, but I will say that, when I return to Villa O’Higgins later this year, something – and someone - will be missing.

Peso-Dollar Update
According to the Buenos Aires daily Clarín, Argentina’s erratic domestic trade secretary Guillermo Moreno has admitted that, by year’s end, the Argentine peso could be trading at six to the dollar, as opposed to the current official rate of 4.96 to the dollar. On the face of it, that might sound like good news for intending visitors, but an inflation rate upwards of 25 percent is more than likely to offset any devaluation.

Moreno, of course, ignores the fact that the so-called “blue” dollar, about which I wrote a couple months ago, is now trading upwards of 7.5 pesos. Both Moreno and Banco Central president Mercedes Marcó del Pont have argued that this is a seasonal phenomenon, as Argentines seek to avoid currency controls to travel abroad during the summer high season, but the skyrocketing dollar is probably bothering the government more than they will admit.

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