Saturday, January 24, 2015

Southbound Again: Patagonia, Argentina's Melodrama, & An Exchange Rate Update

It’s been more than six weeks since I left Buenos Aires to return to California and now, as I contemplate a balmy winter’s day (68° F or 20° C), I’m preparing to fly south again – this coming Wednesday afternoon I fly from SFO to LAX to catch the LAN flight to Santiago (where it’s an even balmier 86° F or 30° C). At least, unlike Buenos Aires, it’s a dry heat.
That’s misleading, though, as I’ll be spending most of my time in Patagonia, where the weather is generally cooler and, at times, downright frigid. The photo above is the cover of the new edition of my new Moon Handbook to the region.
It’s worth pointing that even in mid-summer, in the northern Argentine lakes district around Villa La Angostura, I’ve encountered whiteout conditions on a day hike – as the photo above shows. The most changeable weather, though, occurs in Chile’s southern Magallanes region and the Tierra del Fuego archipelago (divided between the two countries).

Argentina’s Ongoing Melodrama
By leaving Buenos Aires, I’ve missed any direct experience of the story of the century. It’s a Byzantine tale in which Argentine federal prosecutor Alberto Nisman (investigating a cover-up in the 1994 terrorist bombing that killed 85 people in the city’s AMIA Jewish cultural center; pictured below when under reconstruction some years ago) supposedly committed suicide last Sunday – or did he? If anybody knows the truth about this convoluted story – where is Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock when we really need him? - he (or she) is not telling, and may never do so.
Until we learn more – and there’s no guarantee that we will in a country where judicial investigations can last two decades with no results – I recommend reading Jon Lee Anderson’s essay “A Very Argentinian Mystery” in The New Yorker to put it all in perspective. Even given the political chaos, I would not discourage anybody from traveling to Buenos Aires but, given the political tensions that have surfaced since the event, I would recommend keeping some distance from public demonstrations unless you really know what’s happening.

Exchange Rate Update
Because I’ll be traveling in both Argentina and Chile over the next couple months, I’ve been thinking about money. Despite Argentina’s political uncertainties, both the official exchange rate (about 8.6 per US dollar) and the parallel “blue” rate (about 13.5 per dollar) have remained pretty stable since I left last month. That’s fortunate for me, since I took a risk by changing a significant number of dollars into pesos because I knew I wouldn’t be passing through Buenos Aires, and the market for dollars is smaller in Patagonia.

Though Chile’s economy is generally more stable and predictable than Argentina’s, the Chilean peso’s been in a recent slide due to falling prices for copper (the country’s primary export). When I flew out of Santiago at the end of last March, the rate was about 570 per dollar, while today it’s roughly 625; unlike Argentina, there is no black market, so changing at ATMs makes sense (especially at BancoEstado, which collects no service charges). Given low inflation (also unlike Argentina), Chilean prices are likely to be about 10 percent cheaper than last year.

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