December 25, 2014


On Argentina

      The View from Here


Argentina

Buenos Aries



Argentina had been in the news a lot when I traveled to that country in November 2014. A ruling over the summer by a U.S. court seemed to be driving Argentina to a default, the second time in 15 years, and there was a great deal of consternation in the U.S. media as to how this would affect the ordinary Argentine, already grappling with hyperinflation, currency devaluation, and severe unemployment.

I know just enough about a default to appreciate it is a very big deal in financial circles, and was anticipating trash piled up in Buenos Aries or a strike by public employees over unpaid wages or even unrest in the streets over high prices and shortages of commodities.

Perhaps all that is coming but I was surprised by what I found. Life seemed to go on as usual in Buenos Aries, which is in the southeast, and in Patagonia, which is deeper south, and in Salta, which is in northern Argentina. I should have said life seemed to go on as pleasantly as usual, for the Argentines, like most South Americans, seem to have a knack for enjoying themselves.

Argentina

Street life in Salta


Argentina

I raised the question with several Argentines and, perhaps not wishing to get into a political discussion, they dismissed my concerns and noted they are used to living with defaults and devaluations and associated ills. Indeed, the reality in Argentina was nowhere near the awful picture painted by outside observers.

Argentina

Downtown Buenos Aries



True, there is an open black market where locals will buy dollars at a higher rate. The hotel where I stayed in Buenos Aries gave me 10 pesos to a dollar, whereas the official rate was 8.5 pesos. But most establishments preferred dealing in Argentinian currency, as I discovered to my dismay when I tried to buy dinner and drinks at popular joints in Salta.

I travelled in Argentina by taxi, bus, and air and all three modes of transportation there seemed to be on a par with transportation in the U.S., más o menos. Bus travel is actually more comfortable and incredibly inexpensive, as has been remarked upon by every delighted North American tourist.

I had been expecting political turmoil and economic distress in Argentina and instead experienced a country rolling along merrily. In long walks in Buenos Aries I saw almost no beggars or aggressive touts, and a couple of men sleeping under cardboard boxes. I should specify I was walking around in touristy areas during daylight, and I understand the homeless are more common at nightfall. I don’t doubt petty crime is common, as many a tourist will attest, and it is easy to imagine day-to-day life must be a terrible grind for many ordinary citizens.

Nevertheless, my experience was far more pleasant than what I had been anticipating based on media accounts. In fact, in El Calafate and El Chalten, two small towns in Patagonia, and in Salta in northern Argentina, one could see visible signs of prosperity. In Salta, every evening throngs of people could be seen in the shopping areas well into the evening. The streets were clean, well-lit, and with a noticeable police presence.

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Salta – some people live well


Argentina

Argentina

Also in Salta


Argentina

Salta



Everywhere I traveled in Argentina I felt safe walking long distances and had no hesitation “flashing” an expensive camera. I suppose I used commonsense, and I certainly did not wander into isolated streets at night. I don’t do that in the U.S. either.