January 8, 2013 - We left Chile with the idea of arriving in a grand country, once the fourth or fifth richest in the world. What we found was a hollowed-out shell of its former self.
Our first stop in Argentina was the town of Perito Moreno, a dusty outcrop on the intersection to Routa 40, the infamous road to the southern most areas of the continent. Looking around for a place to stay, we were shocked at the prices quoted for accommodation. We ended up in the smallest room on our trip so far for the princely sum of US$64.
A trip to the supermarket was reminiscent of my time in Yugoslavia, months before the war broke out a few decades ago. From the doom and gloom on people's faces, the near-empty produce and bakery shelves, it was clear this country had been brought to its knees. We fled the next day, south along Routa 40 towards El Chalten, at the foot of Los Glaciares National Park.
Although some of Routa 40 is paved, long stretches, hundreds of kilometers on end, are very badly worn gravel roads. It made for a back-breaking day. We covered five hundred and ninety kilometers to El Chalten and arrived exhausted. There, it took us a few tries to find a place that had room.
The Argentinean time-warp continued, with cars from my youth dotting the streets among the fancier tourist-funded vehicles.
El Chalten is a place of contrasts. You can either pay $7 for coffee and eat decent steak at a fancy restaurant, or you can go to the local supermarket and get candies in lieu of change. Credit card usage is discouraged due to inflation.
Here again we found empty store shelves most of the time. I lucked out once and arrived when supplies arrived, with people mobbing the store and virtually emptying it out in a matter of hours. One guy bought all the yogurt that came in, about fifty liters of it. It took him and two buddies to carry it all out.
Argentina has all sorts of esoteric exchange controls which make life complicated and expensive. Locals can't use a bank card outside the country without incurring significant penalties. The official exchange rate at the time we were there was 4.8 pesos for US$1. The black market rates in civilized settings like restaurants was 5.6 pesos and on the street around 6.8. And then there were the lineups to buy gas.
Economic insanity aside, the natural surroundings are spectacular.
Our first hike was to Laguna Torre. The weather was debatable with intermittent rain and cloudy views. I took a few pictures but none survived a critical look later on. The next day was rained out and we stayed inside, using the meager bandwidth in our hostal to browse the web.
Day three was a success, as the weather cleared up and we hiked for about six hours to Lago de Los Tres and back.
In the evening, I wandered around town a bit and bumped into this.
I had inadvertently found Nacho, the VW Van owned by Brad and Sheena, a couple I'd emailed with a number of times months ago.
The next morning we met up with them before heading out.
The evening before, I'd asked where they were heading next, and it turns out they were shipping the van to Asia around the same time we were planning to fly our bikes to Australia. In mere minutes we'd changed tack and decided to share a container with them. After enjoying a cup of coffee with them, we rode on to El Calafate.