Tuesday, January 21, 2014

So What Happened? The Nomadic Expat Hits the Road Again

article from June 24, 2012
By Jamie Douglas

Those of you who have followed my writings may have noticed my silence for the past few weeks. No, I did not get arrested for sedition against the Argentinean turkey-necked vulture Presidenta Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. I was detained for a few hours, but that was much later.

What happened was that I took a Three-Stooges-like fall in our house in Mendoza a few weeks ago. I have absolutely no recollection of what happened or why. It was my Andrew Breitbart moment – without all the cocaine and alcohol. I crashed headfirst into a cement wall, landing on a carafe that we used as a doorstop and crunching my sternum. I was also suffering from loss of eyesight in my right eye, loss of motor skills, balance, etc. A scan done at our local hospital lead to study by the experts, which revealed that further study by more experts was needed.

At the same time, our living arrangements underwent a slight metamorphosis. Also, I had begun to feel the same way about Argentina as I once did about the USA, and we, that is, my wife Julie R and I, decided to once again migrate. We already knew that we could not leave the country with our Renault 12 from the last millennium, due to the Argentinean bureaucracy that prohibits foreigners from taking an Argentinean vehicle out of the country. Taking rentals is permissible. Makes sense, right? In Argentina, it does. So pretty much exactly a month ago, we made a no-brainer decision to use the car to go to the northeastern reaches of Argentina, Iguazu Falls, recently voted as one of the "New 7 Wonders of Nature.”

The cross-country trip was boring as can be, and gasoline had about doubled in price, when we could find it. Some of the cities we had to drive through were absolute chaos. Because of my vision problems, we always found an inn to spend the night at by late afternoon, where we met some wonderful people in really out-of-the-way places. After five days of driving, we stopped 40 km south of Iguazu Falls in a small town named Wanda. That was on Friday. The weather forecast called for rain and fog for the next couple of days, so we stayed in our cozy cabin, which we filled up with all of our belongings.

A couple of hundred yards up the road, we were told, was a lovely Swiss restaurant. We went there with a German couple who are bicycling across South America. We all ordered what would be considered filet mignon, including my until-recently red-meat-abstaining wife. We all agreed that it was the best beef we had ever had. The food was so good that we ate there every day, sometimes twice a day. Prices were below what one would expect to pay for such fantastic gourmet meals.

On Tuesday, we finally went to the most spectacular falls in the world. There is simply nothing to compare to its immenseness. Not even the price of admission, which is a steep Ar$130 plus $30 for parking, could dampen the experience. So for the two of us, it was $290, or, with the regularly falling Argentinean peso, about US$90 - worth every worthless peso we spent.

I have spent almost a month filming at Victoria Falls in Africa, much of it by helicopter, and been to Niagara Falls and various other earthly spectacles, but this filled my bucket list to overflowing. Julie has promised to write more about the falls as well as our travels through parts of Uruguay, so look for that soon. The poor thing is very ill right now, but she’ll be back soon. And I am getting ready to build myself a new computer from two super-motherboards and processors so that we can work independently again.

But back to Iguazu: We decided to stay an extra day with our gracious hosts in Wanda to repack properly. We had hopes to sell our Renault in some larger city down the road for whatever we could get, or failing that, we would drive it to the Uruguayan border and just take a taxi across the border, abandoning a vehicle that has many more kilometers to go. We packed everything neatly, loaded the roof rack with our suitcases and went to say our goodbyes, casually mentioning our plans for the car – at which point our hostess, Marta, stopped us cold. She told us that her husband’s brother was looking for a car. It turned out he did not have the money right then; however, another man did! Later that night, we had dinner at the Swiss restaurant again and related our good fortune to the innkeeper, who lamented his bad luck at not knowing we wanted to sell the car, because he, too, would have bought it from us.

Returned to the cabañas, we unpacked the car and waited for the guy to show up on Friday morning to go to the notary to transfer ownership. When he did not show at the appointed time in the morning, I became worried. But he showed about one hour later, so we went to the notary and – ¡que milagro! – it was more or less a done deal. After jumping through a series of bureaucratic hoops, we were free to go back to Uruguay with a few grand more than we expected. We gave all the household goods that we were not quite ready to part with when we left Mendoza to the housekeeper, and I traded my printer for three days stay at the cabañas and made arrangements to take a bus south on Saturday night to the border town of Colón, across the river from Paysandú, Uruguay.

This is where things got a little complicated. The bus we took, a Singer Line bus, was the most luxurious ever (though the food sucked, as always), but they decided that since we were the only two passengers getting off at this town, which was 16 km from the highway, they would just drop us off on the shoulder of the freeway in the dark, from where we had to climb over four sets of guard rails with all our belongings and hike to a Shell station. We had coffee and croissants, and they called us a taxi, which took us to the Colón bus station.

It being early Sunday morning, there was no bus to Paysandú until about 9 pm. So, after short deliberations, we decided to take a taxi across the border. Our driver, a surly woman sucking on her mate, was none too happy about all that luggage, explaining that her car was brand new. When we got to the border checkpoint, she was even less happy when they sent her to a holding area while we were interrogated for an hour or so. After a few hundred pesos changed ownership, however, we were finally allowed to leave the country, and we reentered Uruguay precisely three years to the day after we first entered in 2009.

The adventure called Argentina is over for us, but the continuing drama of the circular history of that poor country continues. Corruption and ineptitude must have been written into their constitution. The current president is even less capable that Juan Peron’s second wife was – much dumber; but having surrounded herself with a bunch of crony yes-men who are currently slowly working on having the constitution changed to allow her to run again, a Supreme Court that is stacked and both the upper and lower house majority, she can run roughshod over the population ...but more on all that in future personal attacks on the imbecile woman.

We have ended up back at our beloved beach house under the lighthouse in La Paloma where, as I write this, I listen to the gentle waves lapping at the shore while a small fire is keeping me warm. Our canine friends Vito and Luna where very happy to see us back, recognizing us even after two and a half years. I was amazed at how excited they were when they saw us. And two human friends we had left behind here just recently moved back, as well.

For those of you who were considering whether to move to Santiago, Buenos Aires, Asuncion or Montevideo/Punta del Este (yes you A.L.), they had a coup d’état in Paraguay a few days ago, and there is a new guerilla army that is growing by the day. I forecast changes for Chile as well. Some of you might remember my predicting, many months ago, that Angela Merkel’s lapdog, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, would be defeated in the French presidential elections, which started a shit storm from Francophiles. Well I am sorry to tell them, but “I told you so.” We are living in very unsettled times, and changes are coming at us with blinding speed. Latin America is still the evolving child of the old Spanish Empire. Uruguay, at present, is a good place to be. Will it stay that way? Only the shadow knows!

Jamie Douglas
No more Malbec Wine. It’s back to Tannat.

[All photos by Jamie Douglas and Julie R Butler]

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.