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Beastly Blog
Thursday, 12 October 2006
BA Beastacus!
Buenos Aires

September 2006

This week's podcast is courtesy of Greg, the new food channel host as he explains how to make Mate the popular Argentinean drink –

We said sad goodbyes to our family after 9 weeks enjoying the 35 degree heat of the British summer, the world cup and family weddings. We travelled via Washington DC and stepped off the aeroplane into a freezing (1 degree) Buenos Aires on Monday 4th September. We headed to a recommended overlanders motorbike garage, Dakar Motos, in the northeast of Buenos Aires. We arrived bleary eyed to a big kiss from the owners Sandra and Javier and a coffee and a mate (mart-ay) were thrust into our hands. We sat in the workshop kitchen and talked Argentinean politics, roads and travel until they left the garage for the evening. Dakar Motos has become extremely well known in the South American overlanding fraternity as a garage that can help overland motorcyclists to reconstruct their vehicles and provides beds within the workshop for weary travellers.

Sandra was to become our new ally on combating the world of bureaucracy to release the Beast from the port. We expected our boat to be late arriving in to the country, but unfortunately for us the boat had arrived a week early. Argentinian port regulations give you 5 days to collect your crate or container before they start to charge extra per day for your precious cargo sitting on the port side. This meant that we had to get the car cleared and out of customs rapidly. Sandra made some preliminary phone calls and found that the agent we had been given as a contact in Australia knew absolutely nothing about our container and didn't even know if it had arrived. So time was of the essence as we were already 2 days down. We enrolled Sandra as our chief negotiator and she worked wonders.

Initially we had to obtain the bill of lading from the shippers. This is a document that states that your cargo has arrived. Once we had paid US$300 for 3 pieces of paper, we headed to the customs office (Emba) to start all the release paperwork. After waiting for 3 hours outside the office we were given a number and told to come back after their two hour lunch. We decided that we would try and sort out the port authority paperwork that we required, so we walked (you all know how Greg hates to walk!) to the Bactssa office. We spoke to the port authority officer who informed us that the cost would be $1400 (around #240 or US$450). This cost included the removal of the cargo from the boat and storing it on the dock.

So not having that many pesos with us and being unable to pay by credit card, we set off in a taxi to get some money. We soon found out how the country is still in recovery from the financial crash of 2001. We visited six banks and every bank we went to had no money, we could not obtain money from the ATMs or over the counter. After spending nearly an hour looking for a bank that would give us money, we converted the remaining dollars and travellers cheques that we had on us. We later found out that it was pay day and that since people have no respect for the government and their fiscal policies they take their entire salary out, emptying the banks.

Brandishing our newly converted pesos, we headed back to Bactssa to pay our port duties. We were offered a $12 reduction (#2) in the total bill as we had had to get a taxi to get money. A bargain! So we returned to the customs office to see a large queue that had formed. Sandra poked her head around the door to see if our number allowing us to queue jump was still valid. In the process she incurred the wrath of the waiting people who screamed at us. To abate the situation, we retreated to the corner and we waited for a further 3 hours, not gaining our required paperwork but another number from the weary looking customs officers for our return the following day.

We were second in the queue the following morning, obtaining our paperwork. We were given a time for the customs officer to come and carry out an inspection of the car and container. We went to the warehouse and port area to try and retrieve our container, but where only slightly hindered by the port not actually being able to locate our container – not an easy task when there are several million containers passing through the port every year.

As soon as they found the container a mere hour later, a big smile spread across Greg and my face and we realised that we could actually carry on with our adventure! We checked the unique metal seal (a metal bolt with a number) that Alexis had inserted in the lock in Melbourne to make sure that the container had not been opened without our permission and then the seal was cut off with bolt cutters and the doors flung open. And there she was…. Our Beast! We were hoping we would see her again but we weren't 100% sure as there is a high tendency for containers to fall overboard in rough seas or for them to be left in the port and not make the right boat.

The wheels and Maggiolina were still in the location they had been in before so we took them out and then tried to start the car to move it out of the container. The Beast wouldn't start so we contemplated having to push it out – not easy with a 3.5 tonne vehicle on rims! A squirt of magic spray in the air intake remedied the situation and allowed us to rev her up and then drive her out over the ramp and out into the sunny Argentinean port.

A small crowd of port workers collected around the car and all clamoured to help us to put the wheels and roof rack back on. A fork lift truck was brought over and used to lift the Beast as we removed the rims and put the front wheels back on, creating an image of a Beast awakening and crawling out of the port. The fork lift truck was positioned at the back and the car lifted with the aid of a piece of wood to stop the suspension being damaged. One wheel was put on safely but then suddenly there was a creak and a crack as the wood which had not quite been positioned correctly broke under the weight and the Beast lurched precariously to one side. The other wheel had not been put on but luckily the rim was still on and the forklift had caught the Beast before it crushed the port worker at the side. A deep breath was taken, damaged assessed and we quickly put the other wheel back on.

The customs verifier arrived. There was no quarantine or inspection inside the Beast as the customs verifier made a cursory glance at the car and left us to reconstruct the vehicle whilst he filled in the information with Sandra. We carried on putting the roof rack and Maggiolina back on the roof. All of it was due to Sandra and a very big thank you to Sandra for all her smiles and encouragement through the stressful process. We then drove out of the port into cold winter air and manic traffic of Buenos Aires…

The Beast is Back!

Notes from Argentina:

The capital of Argentina is Buenos Aires.

The currency of Argentina is pesos ($) and centavos which at the time of writing there was $6 to the # and $3.10 to the US$.

The Argentinian Peso is the official currency. The Peso was linked to the US dollar in the 1990s. By the end of the 1990s, the peso had become overvalued and Argentinian products became unviable in the global market. People saw that their government was inept and so started to take money out of the banks and transfer it abroad. In 2001, the government imposed a cash-withdrawal weekly limit of US$250 which lead to rioting. The financial crash has left people wary of the banks and when they are paid the banks are emptied of cash. Many keep their money in their houses now.

A good bottle of wine will cost you around $3 (around 50p).

The average salary in Buenos Aires is $600 – 800 (around #100 to #130) a month. Many poorer families have to survive on $200 a month (about #30).

Argentina covers an area of 2,776,890 sq km or 1,072,157 sq miles.

The population of Argentina is nearly 40 million.
Mate (pronounced as mart-ay) is a tea like tree which is ground up into small bits and put in a wooden lined pot. A metal straw with a filter at the end is put in the cup and hot water is poured over the top. The mate is drunk and then topped up with water and passed on to the next person to drink. Mate is a part of Argentinian culture that is very social and you are honoured to be asked to participate. If you linger too long over drinking your Mate you will be told that "it is not a mircophone!"

In Argentina there are four languages commonly spoken – Spanish (the official language), Quechua, Guarani and Araucanian.

The religions of Argentina are - 93% Roman Catholic, 2.5% Protestant, 2% Jewish, 1.5% Ukranian Catholic and 1% Armenian Orthodox.

The major indigenous groups are the Quechua of the northwest, the Mapuche of Patagonia and smaller groups of Guaranai, Matacos, Tobas and Wichi.

Posted by Alexis at 8:31 PM BST
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