Sunday, December 22, 2013

For the New Year: An Argentina-Chile Exchange Rate Update

For the past month or so, as I’ve been traveling in Chile (not counting a week in the Falkland Islands), the exchange rate has remained stable at roughly 530 pesos to the dollar – there have been minor fluctuations in either direction but, essentially, there have been no surprises. In the same period, across the Argentine border (which I haven’t yet visited on this trip), the official dollar has steadily deteriorated by about five percent from 6.06 to 6.42, while the unofficial “blue dollar” has fluctuated – it hasn’t quite reached the ten-peso plateau again and now stands around 9.65, for a roughly 50 percent “breach” with the official dollar.
Here in Pucón, just across the border from the Argentine resort of San Martín de los Andes, I was a little surprised to find that local exchange houses are handling the volatile Argentine currency at all, though I have come across a handful of Argentine tourists paying everything with credit cards (despite a punitive 35 percent tax imposed by their own government) because they have been unable to purchase dollars legally. I was less surprised to learn, from a friend who operates a travel agency here, that Argentina-bound Israeli backpackers have been “raiding” local banks and other sources to purchase dollars with Chilean pesos.

For many years, Argentine ATMs dispensed US dollars alongside pesos, but that was in and just after the decade of dollar-peso parity that ended with the economic collapse of 2001-2. To the best of my memory, Chilean ATMs have never dispensed US dollars, but it’s not difficult to buy dollars with Chilean pesos even though, in this case, the Israelis normally have to do it during regular banking hours. Otherwise, they have to seek out options like the exchange houses and my friend’s agency, where they’ll have to pay a little more for their dollars.

When I checked in at a Pucón exchange house the other day, I was told I could purchase Argentine pesos at 8.1 per dollar, which is lower than the blue rate but still significantly higher than the official rate. For somebody uncomfortable with the idea of risking an “illegal” exchange on the other side of the Andes, it’s not really a bad rate, though I have a friend in Bariloche who provides me better suggestions (which I am not comfortable with passing on here). The parallel market in the Patagonian provinces is not quite so vigorous as it is in Buenos Aires, but I’ll probably be able to provide a further update some time after New Year’s, when I expect to cross the border.

Usually, in the course of updating my guidebooks, I will not include a negative review of a hotel or restaurant, but rather just exclude it. Today, though, I will make an exception after an attempted dinner at Pucón’s Fiorentini (formerly Fiore), an Italian restaurant on Avenida O’Higgins, the town’s main commercial thoroughfare.

Fiore appears in my Patagonia and Chile books, but last night was one of the worst dining experiences of my life. Ordering crab-filled cannelloni, I waited over an hour in a lightly crowded restaurant as other parties took their tables, were served and even finished their meals with no indication when my own order might arrive. Finally, after telling the waitress I’d been waiting for some time, I received a dish of three cannelloni that looked (and tasted) as if they’d just been removed from the freezer and insufficiently microwaved. I sent them back, paid for my pisco sour aperitif, and went to bed without dinner.

I have already deleted Fiore/Fiorentini from my working text for the new edition of Patagonia but, for those who might visit Pucón in the interim, I recommend eating elsewhere.

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