Welcome to Argentina!

Welkom in Argentinië!From Johannesburg we fly via Dubai and Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires, a long journey of more than 40 hours. We take a taxi from the airport and let him take us to a hostel in the city center that we had booked a few days earlier. We receive the key for a cozy double room and fall down on the bed exhausted of the trip. Our idea to go to bed late that night according to the Argentine clock goes directly out of the window. We only take some time for a shower and then fall fast asleep. The adventure in South America can wait one more night.

It is still very early when we wake up for the first time the next morning. Outside, it is raining very hard. With the African sun still fresh in our minds we crawl deeper under the covers and turn a few more times. Only at mid-morning we go to the communal living room of the hostel to have some breakfast of bread, jam and a cup of coffee to wake up. We thankfully use the wifi to send a message home that we have arrived safely, because even that was too much yesterday evening.

When we look outside after breakfast it is still raining. We do not want to go out, but we have to because we need money. Not only to pay customs when we pick up the bikes from the airport tomorrow, but also to do some shopping today. After the third cup of coffee, when it finally rains a bit less hard, we walk into town. Without a raincoat or umbrella, because after all those sunny days in South Africa we had not thought to take them with us. We walk past beautiful old buildings and on wide avenues. It reminds us of cities like Paris and Rome, with the only difference that the buildings and pavement is in bad condition. It must have been very nice. All though it does not do the beautiful city any good that the sky is so grey today.

We do no get our money from the bank, but exchange our dollars ‘on the street’ on the black market. That has everything to do with the ‘blue dollar. In Argentina, a number of measures have been taken by the government to protect the Argentine pesos and to prevent another economic crisis. One of the measures is that Argentines can only change a small amount of Argentine pesos for foreign currency. In response to this measure the Argentines run to the black market to get their foreign currency, especially US dollars, there. This is not only for their holidays, but also as a pension because they do not have a lot of confidence in the Argentinian pesos. Welkom in Argentinië!The exchange rate of the “blue dollar” as it is called, is much higher than the official exchange rate. At this time we get 8,50 pesos for US$ 1 according to the official rate, while we get no less than 13,80 pesos for that same dollar on the black market (a difference of 62%)!

You would expect that the illegal trade on the black market happens behind closed doors, but the trade in blue dollar happens in public. In our hostel, in the supermarket, in the local bar, everywhere we can exchange our dollars. We could even pay our taxi in dollars. For the best exchange rate we have to go to the traders in Florida Street in downtown Buenos Aires. Since we have to pay a lot of money to customs and have to change a large amount, it is worthwhile to look for the best exchange rate. The only thing we have to ensure is that we do not receive false notes.

With a thick pile of dollars we walk through the wet streets of Buenos Aires. Florida is a shopping street in the center of the city. It is Sunday and most shops are closed. As we walk along the windows, we are called at from all sides: “Cambio dólares, cambio”. Every few meters there is someone offering to exchange dollars or euros to pesos. We can choose one of the street traders, but we heard that we can also exchange in the various magazine kiosks. To us this sounds like a better plan, because if we would get false money we can go back to the kiosk. Finding the same street trader again would be a lot harder.

Welkom in Argentinië!We walk through Florida until we find a kiosk that looks OK. We address the man in front of the kiosk and he holds up a piece of paper with the exchange rate. For bills of US$ 50 and US$ 100, we get a price of 13.80 pesos per dollar and for smaller bills he gives us 13.50 pesos. Sounds like a good deal, because in the hostel they would not give us more than 12 pesos per dollar. The man refers us to a lady at the kiosk who invites us to come and stand in the back. Not next to the magazines, but in the narrow hallway in the back where they sit to have their break. We count our dollars for her. It is a big stack, we could travel a few weeks through Argentina with this money. She counts it again, holds the bills up against the light and then types on a calculator how many pesos she will give us. Once we agree, she hands us a big stack of purple notes, which we in turn count. The amount is correct and it feels like real money, but it is questionable whether we would actually recognize counterfeits. We shake her hand, put the money in a large bag that Peter is puts around his shoulders and steps into the street again.

We are always looking after our stuff when we are in a big city, but this time we are extra vigilant. If tourists step out of a kiosk in Florida Street the average robber would know exactly why they where there. We walk as nonchalantly as possible back towards the hostel. It all goes well, the only thing that surprises us is another huge rainstorm.

Soaking wet we arrive at the hostel where we use the rest of the afternoon to find out where we need to be the next day. We have an appointment with someone who is going to help us to get the bikes from customs. (For our blog we will call him ’Marco’). The stories we heard about the Argentine customs vary greatly. Some travellers get their motorbikes out within a few hours without any problems, others have to wait weeks and sometimes even pay bribes before they see their bike again. It seemed wise to ask someone who has some experience with Argentinian customs to help us, especially since we do not speak Spanish. Welkom in Argentinië! Basically a ‘fixer’, like we used in Egypt and Sudan. We got in touch with Marco when we were still in South Africa and have send him all the necessary paperwork. If all goes as planned we can pick up the motorbikes tomorrow afternoon!

The next morning we see from the breakfast table that it is again raining very hard outside. Our shoes are still wet from the previous walk, so today we take a taxi to the city center. With the map at hand and a few words of Spanish we tell the taxi driver where we want to go. First we go back to Florida street to change some more money. We visit the same kiosk as yesterday and again receive a thick stack of Argentine pesos for our dollars. Now we should have enough money to pick up the bikes and pay for all the paperwork that goes with it.

With a ridiculous amount of money on us we walk in the pouring rain through the busy center to the office of Marco. Peter in front with the bag of money around his shoulders and I just behind him to keep an eye on the bag. This time however with an umbrella that we borrowed from the hostel. A few blocks away we enter a posh office building. We ask for Marco at reception and the men refers us to the first floor. We enter a fancy office of a company that is well known for ferries and cargo ships. As two soggy cats we sit in the chic lobby while our umbrella leaves a large puddle on the ground. After a while we are welcomed by Marco, a tall man in a smart suit with a neat parting in his hair. He looks in no way like the “fixers” we used before in Africa. And frankly, judging from the shiny shoes he is wearing he does not look like a guy that is about to enter the warehouse of customs to pick up two bikes.

He takes us to one of the luxury conference rooms and tells us that he will go through the paperwork with us today and that his “agent” will assist us tomorrow to have the bikes released. That is strange. Firstly, we were under the impression that he would help us with the bikes. We did not know he would ask another person to assist us. And secondly, he says blandly that we are going to the airport tomorrow, whereas he had previously told us we would go there today. We had prepared for a long day at the airport and are both a little disappointed. When he then picks up the papers and tells us the details, we hear surprise number three: we have to pay him in US dollars. He not only wants to receive his fee in dollars, but we also have to pay all the costs that we have to pay at the airport through his company in dollars. Stunned we look at him in surprise. We thought he would take us and our big bag full of money to the airport where we would pay the customs Argentine pesos. We find it strange that customs, as a public authority, would even take dollars.Welkom in Argentinië!

Annoyed we explain that we cannot pay in US dollars, because we do not have any dollars and only have pesos. What we did not tell him that we also want to pay in pesos because of the good exchange rate we had gotten for our dollars. It is expensive enough to get the bikes out of the customs so if we can save money this way that would be great. When we refuse to pay in dollars, we soon get the idea that Marco only wants dollars because his company actually wants to benefit from the favourable exchange rate it selves. Marco tells a vague story about how it is forbidden for companies to take pesos from tourists, but we do not believe him. We stand firm: we pay in pesos. Marco goes to his boss and comes back a while later to tell us that they can make an exception and can allow us to pay in pesos. A group of Germans has just arrived with their motorhomes and they will also pay in pesos. We can have the same payment arrangement. It is a strange story, but we are happy that we can at least use our thick stack of pesos.

And even after this first hurdle it is this quite hard to find out how much he is actually charging us. What could have been a perfectly normal conversation about the bill, became a very unpleasant conversation was because all had become quite grim because of his previous surprises. Once we agree on the bill and make preparations to give him the money, he makes clear that we cannot hand over the money. He refers us to a local bank where the company has an account. We must first go there to deposit the cash before he will give us the rest of the information.

In the pouring rain we take the big bag full of money to the bank. We do not speak enough Spanish to explain why we are there and on their side no one speaks English. Even hand and feet do not help us. Only when one of the customers that speak a little English steps forward, we are pointed to the right desk. We hand over the money and see how a machine counts it again and then receive a receipt from the man behind the counter. Once back at Marco we hand over the receipt and get the required documents and contact details of his agent at the airport. We say goodbye to him and leave his office with an awkward feeling. Despite the fact that all the paperwork seems to be in order and we could in the end pay in pesos we did not have the feeling that he really helped us.

Welkom in Argentinië!There is a number of other administrative matters that we have to deal with that afternoon. The most important one is finding a third-party insurance, because without that insurance we will not be able to get the bikes out tomorrow. Marco had promised to arrange this insurance for us, but even that did not quite work out. We find the headquarters of Allianz, a big insurance company, and explain at the counter which insurance we want to take out. We had asked Marco to write the Spanish name of the insurance down, which was a good thing because we would not have come far with English. The lady at the desk sends us to another office on the other side of town. We take a taxi to go there and again explain at the counter that we want to take out a third party liability insurance. The lady does not seem to understand our Spanish. If we then ask -in Spanish- whether she speaks English, she responds with a firm and loud: “NO!” She actually seems to want to send us away, but when we try a few more times she finally asks us to wait. After a while one of the managers comes from his office to meet us. Much to our relief he speaks a little English and understands what insurance we need. He takes us to one of his colleagues and (for the first time that day) are helped very kindly. The manager translates while the lady prepares the paperwork. After an hour we are back outside, with insurance!

We do some other errands and then go back to the hostel. Even though we do not have the motorbikes yet, this day was not without victories, because despite our poor Spanish we have: twice taken a taxi to the correct address, changed money, deposited money, bought a phone card, taken out an insurance policy, ordered a sandwich and bought motor oil. That is also worth something!

Yet we do struggle with the fact that we cannot make ourselves understood. Welkom in Argentinië!In Africa we came a long way with English, French and Dutch, even in countries where only Arabic was spoken. Here those languages are worthless. Even in a big city like Buenos Aires we find almost no people who speak English. And where we previously noted that a few words in the local language opens a lot of doors, it now seems that those doors remain closed because we do not speak more than a few words of Spanish. Too bad, because meeting people and making small talk is one of the nice things about travelling. We find some information about Spanish language courses, but are blown away by the high prices, so we first download a few apps for our phone. Let’s find out in the coming weeks how far that will take us.

Once in the hostel a brief search on the internet tells us that -as already suspected- the story Marco told us about companies not being able to take pesos is not true. In contrast, it is forbidden for Argentine companies to take sums in dollars! Not so nice of him.

While we eat our sandwich, we see how of a big yellow BMW1200GS with large suitcases and two people on it stops in front of the hostel! We go out to take a look and meet Charlie and Cecilia from Singapore! They are on a journey through South and Central America and are looking for a hostel for that night. Our hostel has one room left which they take. They can park the big BMW in the courtyard where our motorbikes will hopefully also be tomorrow. It is very nice to speak to some motorcycle travellers and hear about their trip. We cannot wait to have our own bikes again!

The next day begins a bit different than we had imagined. Our alarm clock did not go off, so we only wake up at 08:00. In time for the taxi that we had booked for 8:50 am to go to the airport, until ten minutes later the receptionist knocks on the door to tell that the taxi is already here! She had ordered it for 08:15. Unfortunately again some miscommunication. We splash some water in our faces, shoot in some pants, throw all the stuff in a bag and run to the taxi. Pffff, not a great start of our day.

Welkom in Argentinië!We are already at the airport at 09:00 AM, but only have to be there at 10:00 to meet Sergio, the guy who was sent by Marco to help us at customs. We eat a sandwich and then call Sergio to let him know we are in the arrivals halls and ready to go. We agreed that he would pick us get there. If he is still not there after half an hour, we call him yet again. Ah .. only now he understands that we are there (humpf). He explains in Spanish where we have to go, but I only understand half of it. I am getting a little frustrated because this was exactly the reason why we had asked Marco to assist us, because he speaks English. We think we understand that we need to go to Terminal C and then to the ‘Cargo’ department. Once at terminal C, we still cannot find Sergio. We run from one office to another and are sent in different directions by different people until we ask a lady at an information desk to talk to Sergio on our phone. She then finally explains us where to go in perfect English.

It is well after 11 am when we finally meet Sergio. He takes us to the part of the airport where the freight is handled. We get a visitors pass and follow him to the offices of customs. After we have been waiting for a while and Sergio has taken the paperwork to various people, we are allowed to go to the warehouse. We look for the motorbikes and see two large wooden crates in the back of the warehouse! With a forklift to the crates are put down in front of us where the crates are opened by to men while the customs officer is taking a closer look. With a loud sound, the wooden crate is taken apart with a crowbar and a hammer. Then we peel of the rest of the packing layer by layer: the plastic, the cardboard, another layer of plastic. Right until the red and white plastics of the motorbikes appear. There they are!

Welkom in Argentinië!The customs officer attempts to read the chassis numbers, mumbles something and then gestures that we can take them with us. We explain that we will first have to put them back together, while we point to the front wheel that stands next to the frame and the handlebars that are hanging over the tank. No problem, we can do that here. We inspect the motorbikes and at first sight they have endured the trip without problems. Peter begins to put them together, while I take our gear out of the plastic and pack our bags again. Sergio looks at us with a stern face and had clearly not expected that we still had some work to do before we could go. Also a case of miscommunication.

By 01:00 pm he explains with hands and feet that the customs officer will inspect the motorbikes one more time when they are put back together. He will only do that when they are done with their lunch and since that will still take a while, he will now also have lunch. While we quietly continue our work, the warehouse is deserted when everyone goes to have lunch. Once the motorbikes are completely ready, Sergio comes back at 02:30pm with the customs officer. The chassis numbers are checked again and the bikes are cleared. One last signature and then we are done. The only thing missing is petrol. Peter walks to the adjacent gas station and fills up two jerrycans, so we can at least ride to the hostel. Time to go! The bikes start without any problem. We put on our helmet and gloves and then open the throttle, the second part of our trip has officially started!

We turn onto the highway and half an hour later we ride our very own motorbikes through downtown Buenos Aires. Very special! The GPS directs us through the maze of one-way streets to the hostel where we can park the motorbikes in the courtyard, next to the bike of Charlie. That does mean that we have to drive through the communal living room of the hostel where everyone is having diner, it is a funny sight. Charlie and Cecilia come out to take a look at the bikes. We share a beer and toast the beginning of our trip through South America.

Welkom in Argentinië!The next morning it does not take long to get out of bed, because today we are going to ride again! We have breakfast with Charlie and Cecilia and then say goodbye to them as they go into the city. We pack all the stuff and ride the bikes through the hostel onto the street. It is a beautiful sunny day, much better than the rain of the recent days. We drive past the tall buildings in the city center and follow the highway to the south. At the first garage we fill the fuel tank and all the spare tanks again which we had emptied for the flight. Then we open the throttle, the bikes are running well. We follow Ruta 3, one of the two highways to the south. Once we have left the city we drive along vast green meadows with wide waterways, lots of cows and only a few trees around the houses. If you did not know better, you would think you were in Holland. Although that comparison no longer applies when we see real gauchos, South American cowboys with their beautiful hats, that sit on their horses and lead the cows back to the barn with the help of their dogs. Cool to see.

Our destination for today is Azul, a town south-west of Buenos Aires. We were told that there is a place that we should not miss as motorcycle travellers:”La Posta del Viajero en Moto”. The Argentine Jorge and his wife Monica offer a place to stay to motorcycle travellers passing through Argentina. Their house is now a well-known meeting place for bikers. That sounds like fun! At the end of the afternoon we arrive in Azul and follow the directions of the GPS to a residential area in the center of town. When the GPS indicates that we have arrived, we are standing in front of a small building bearing murals of motorbikes and brands like BMW, Honda and Yamaha. That looks good. On the sidewalk stands a broadly smiling man who leans on his broom and has his eyes fixed on our bikes, this must be Jorge. We park the bikes, take off our helmets and indeed meet Jorge and his wife Monica. When we ask if we can camp here, he throws his broom to the side and he opens the gate to his garden. With his arms wide in the air he welcomes us: “Bienvenidos amigos!”

Welkom in Argentinië!We can pitch our tent in the garden, next to a pond where ducks swim and three flamingos stand with their feet in the water! But before we take out the tent, we must first tell all about our trip and especially our bikes. Jorge clearly really loves motorbikes. Although he only speaks little English and we cannot talk Spanish, the talk about motorbikes seems to be universal because we understand each other perfectly. La Posta is not only the place where motorcycle travellers go to, but also the place where Jorge and his biker friends meet. Excited that we are here, he asks directly if we can stay a few days, because next Friday all his friends will be at La Posta for an asado, a typical Argentine barbecue. Sure, we do not want to miss that!

If the tent is pitched, we take a look at the clubhouse of La Posta. The walls are filled with messages of motorcycle travelers that have stayed here in the past 20 years(!). We see a lot of familiar names on the walls. ‘Celebrities’ we know from the Horizons Unlimited DVDs that we watched at home, travellers who inspired us to leave and also friends we have met along the way. Super fun and a place that we definitely did not want to miss. Jorge is building a room next to the clubhouse where travellers can sleep when they do not have a tent with them. He has just poured concrete and asks us to write our names in it. And just like that we are also immortalized at La Posta, cool!

The next day we take it easy. We practice some Spanish and use the newly learned words immediately when we do some shopping. Halfway through the afternoon we hear the low sound of a BMW motorcycle that stops outside the clubhouse. Charlie and Cecilia! Jorge is pleased to see them and opens the gate and not much later, there are two tents in the garden next to the flamingos. The charming and ever-cheerful Jorge persuades them to stay for the asado on Friday as well. Nice! That afternoon, and the next day, we do all kinds of chores: we select photos, do some laundry and bend over the map with Charlie and Cecilia to see where we will go next. Welkom in Argentinië!Jorge shows his motorbikes and the five thick guest books filled with messages from other travellers. While the men talk about motorcycles, I look over the shoulder of Cecilia as she prepares the most delicious food.

Then it is Friday, the day of the asado! Jorge told us that his friends would arrive around 08:00pm and we would eat around 09:00pm. He would buy meat, bread and salad for everyone, we only had to bring our own drinks. In the local supermarket we buy a few beers, and just after 08:00PM that night we enter the clubhouse together with Charlie and Cecilia and we see…. nobody. No Jorge and no biker friends. We look at each other puzzled: did we mix up the days? By nine o’clock Jorge comes to the clubhouse holding a heavy plastic bag which he puts on the table with a thud: the meat. So we had not been mistaken about the day. And judging from the size of the bag, this could be some party because there is no less than seven kilos of meat in the bag!!

While Jorge starts a fire in a large fire pit, the first biker friends arrive. We are introduced to everyone as the world travellers from the Netherlands, the country of Queen Maxima. About Charlie and Cecilia tells Jorge proudly that they are the first travellers from Singapore at La Posta. The friends of Jorge are just as crazy about motorcycles as he is and want to see the bikes and hear all about the engine size, the weight and the maximum speed. With hands and feet we chat with everyone. Jorge’s daughter, Penny, has (inspired by all the travellers who visited her house) studied English and can help us with the language if we do not manage. It is a great evening and we feel very welcome!

Welkom in Argentinië!An Argentine asado is a tradition that is inextricably linked to the Argentine culture. There are many unwritten rules about the fire, the meat, the side dishes and all that an asado entails. It would be a whole study to learn the art of asado. It is clear that Jorge is the “Asador” tonight, he makes the fire and prepares the meat. The logs in the fireplace are burning for a while and only when there is only charcoal left Jorge nods approvingly, it is time to put the meat on the grill. He covers the shunks of meat with salt and places them carefully on the hot grill. Every so often he looks at the meat and the fire. He pokes the fire a little to stoke the coals or takes some coals out if he thinks it is going too fast. Once the meat has the right colour, Jorge retrieves it from the fire and he cuts it with a large knife. He nods approvingly again: time to eat. (It is now 11:00pm).

There are 17 people sitting at a long table filled with salad and bread. Jorge has cut the meat and is making sure everyone gets a piece. It is delicious! But actually that is a side issue, the truly great thing is sitting here and experiencing a true Argentine asado. We love it and try to take in as much as we can. The emotions at the table sometimes run high, there is loud discussions and even louder laughter. Well after midnight when the fire is almost out and everyone has red cheeks of the wine, the asado is done. Everyone gives me one kiss when they leave and Peter gets a firm handshake or even a hug from everyone. These might be small details, but even the way people great each other here is different from what we are used to at home with a formal handshake or three kisses. Even after a year of travelling these things keep surprising me in a good way. Sleepy and with a full stomach we crawl into our tents that night.

The next day we say ’see you soon’ to Charlie and Cecilia. We do not say ‘goodbye’, because -like us- they are heading south, so the chance that we will see them again is very big. We stay one more day at La Posta, pack our things again and also paint our ‘signature’ on the walls in the clubhouse. Who knows, we might just inspire someone to go on a trip to Argentine who will see our signature here on this wall in a few years.

Welkom in Argentinië!The days at La Posta and especially the asado were really great. The bad feeling we had during our first days in Argentina is gone and replaced by a big Latin American smile. On to the rest of Argentina!

Distance travelled to Azul: 33,643km (20,905 miles)

Click here to see the pictures.

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| Leonie | Argentinië, ZUID-AMERIKA

5 Reacties (Comments) - Welcome to Argentina!

  1. Jan en Mariët

    Ziet er mooi uit.En lekker glad asfalt!
    Leuk ook die muurschildering. Dikke kus xxx

  2. Sofie De Lille

    Even wennen aan het andere landschap. Het ziet er compleet anders uit dan bij de vorige blogberichten!
    Ik zou me ook niet zo blij voelen daar in Buenos Aires in de regen, met chagrijnige mensen en het gevoel ‘bedrogen’ te zijn.
    Gelukkig maakte Jorge het weer goed.

  3. Celine en Leon

    Jullie gaan lekker amigo’s! Fijn om te lezen dat na de struggelingen die motoren met alles d’r op en d’r aan weer rijden.
    Zo gauw jullie een kolibri of gifkikker hebben gezien, sturen jullie dan een foto?


  4. mario

    Hola si necesitan algo cuando pesen por rada tilly me escriben a este mail suerte

  5. Herman

    Hoi weer mooi verhaal, ik wens jullie veel plezier in Zuid Amerika en goede reis.

    groet Herman