Researching our trip we came across the Ramblewriters, that caught the 2010 Dakar; realizing in Mendoza that we may cross paths with the 2016 rally in Jujuy it was decided we’d make the effort to catch a stage. After a disappointing trip to Colome Winery we spent New Years Eve in Cachi. A quaint, local town with a beautiful cemetery and plaza where we decided to spring for a hotel. Greeted by a nice woman that showed the room it only took walking out to realize that we wanted a place for the night, out of the truck. More on our New Year’s Eve in a separate post…it’s worth one of its own as it was our first really scary experience and we blame it all on the dog!!!
That said, we readjusted plans [yet again] to catch the Jujuy stage of Dakar. So now we wait, almost like an old school rave, jonesing for music, we wait until the next section is announced. Spending an awesome day between Tilcara and Purmamara soaking in the colors, ancient ruins and chill Chicos ready to speak Spanglish then we realized the route was right over the Paso de Jama. So, in a quick minute we’re off and hoping to find a bit of an exhilaration rush…and maybe a bit of Fernet!
As we climbed over the pass, after the sun had set, realizing the views we were missing to make the race we finally arrived to a frenzy of trucks and bikes scrambling for parking and claiming their spot for the following days race. We were told that we could camp anywhere along the stage course as long as we were off the road and paid attention to security, so we headed up the road to find our own plot to join the crowd. About a mile in we started looking for a spot amongst hundreds of other vehicles. As we pulled off the road an Argentine by the name of Emiliano pointed us to a flat open area near them and invited us to join them. After settling in we joined Emiliano by the fire to keep warm as the night proceeded to get colder. A few shared Fernet and Cokes later the temperature had dropped and it began to rain so we called it a night and went to sleep with the excitement of the race upon us. Nothing would have prepared us for the chaos of the Dakar and the events of the next day.
Throughout the planning stages of this adventure we struggled over whether shipping a vehicle to Argentina was the best idea or not. We had obvious concerns about cost and clearing our vehicle through Argentine customs but never worried about issues on the US side. [side note: we did consider Uruguay but then our agent told us we couldn’t ship there without expatriate transfer orders and now after arriving in South America we’ve learned that Zarate, AR is a less expensive option all around ] As you may have already read in our previous post “Houston We Have a Problem!“, the US side was a nightmare due to the inadequacies of our state-side shipping agent (Warning: DO NOT USE: Sea & Air Experts). However, our agent here in Buenos Aires, Weber Servicio Internacionales, is 5 star; the family owed company in Buenos Aires was established by Francisco Weber and his brother over 55 years ago. It was comforting that they seemed to know exactly what was going on and who to talk to in a respectable, professional manner.
Claims – part I: Our vehicle is registered in Colorado, USA, a title holding state; meaning, if you have a loan on the vehicle the lender holds the title as a lien until the loan is satisfactorily repaid. We approached this issue a number of times and from a couple of directions within the months preceding our departure. We also had numerous conversations with our US agent who clearly didn’t have the ability to see the big picture and thought we’d satisfied the requirements. We really should’ve known when our trusting guts told us things were not going to go smoothly when we showed up to the Houston receiving warehouse and they didn’t have any idea we were coming, then later asked for the title. After our vehicle arrived and in our initial dealings with customs we learned that Argentinian law requires drivers to carry the original title in the vehicle at all times and must be presented to an officer if you should get pulled over. That being said, our black and white notarized copy was not going to be accepted. We needed the original title. After numerous hours on the phone with USAA and working every angle we could think of, we had a color, notarized copy in the mail.
Claims – part II: With a new document in the mail I jumped in a tiny car with Francisco Weber (who speaks German & Spanish) and Nicolas (who speaks Spanish & some English) and off we were to the port to continue negotiating. From the second we stepped out of the car Francisco seemed to know everyone he walked past and was sure to give them a hug and the customary kiss greeting or at the least a “Heeeeeyyyy” with some sort of open armed hand motion or fist bump. After providing a passport and finger prints I was ‘sworn’ in and given a badge so I could enter the gated section where customs and the unloading docks where. Francisco approached the customs agent that would eventually help us unload the container, hopeful we were making progress but of course it was lunch hour, so we had to wait. About 30 minutes pass by when finally the customs agent and two other men with hammers brought us to the container that held our overlander. What a relief to know that our container was actually there!
I held my breath as a few locks were cut and the doors were slowly opened. An exhale of relief…there it was, our truck in tact and seemingly in the condition we had left it with the exception of a bit of dust. I climbed into the container and was able to connect the battery while the two men with hammers dislodged the supports on all four tires. I sat in the drivers seat and again held my breath as I turned the key…without hesitation Hermes started right up. I must say that is was a fun and unique experience reversing out of a 20 foot container, then driving through the aisles of a customs warehouse to the inspection point. Workers turned there heads and smiled as I drove by as if it was the most exciting part of their day, I know it was mine 🙂
Now another clock is ticking; with Hermes out of the container we have 5 days to produce the proper documentation and remove the vehicle before we start getting charged ‘storage fees’. We were diligent to make digital copies of important documents prior to our departure so, determined, I searched city streets for a Kiosko that would print a double-sided, color document that I could provide Weber Servicio something worth another attempt with customs. Realizing the different paper sizes I also had to work to ensure proper alignment and cut to size so it looked (somewhat) official. With one more piece of paper in hand, we spent the better half of the afternoon waiting for the “persona correcto” to arrive…unfortunately, we were unable to connect so we try again tomorrow.
Claims – part III: The following morning, we were able to speak with “ la persona correcto” only to find out that our only option was to obtain a copy of the title that has been certified by an “Apostille“. When I heard this, my heart sank because I had no idea what that meant or where to start. So what else do you do when you have no idea where to begin, ask Google. After reading what an Apostille actually is and how to obtain it I was also able to find a service that was designed to help those in a similar situation. PERFECT! Apostille.net came to the rescue with getting a color copy of our title, notarized, certified, signed off by the New York Secretary of State and sent via DHL. Although we missed the Friday evening cut off, it was in the mail Monday for delivery on Wednesday or Thursday.
Claims – part IV: Monday morning rolls around after a nice weekend and German Weber, my Argentine agent, asked me to come in to sign some customs paperwork. Upon my arrival the FedEx truck was just dropping off the color, signed and certified copy of my title I requested from USAA the previous Thursday (not the Apostille). When we opened up the package we all thought it may be worth at least giving it one more try, so Francisco and I were off to customs to give it one last shot before giving up and waiting for the Apostille copy. After a ridiculous conversation between the two of us speaking in broken English and Spanish we arrived at the customs office. We were the only ones there this time, walked right in and as if they had never requested the Apostille they signed off on all the documents and it was off to the Port to begin another round of inspection and verification. Three hours later, with what seemed to be a dozen different agents and two inspections I was in the drivers seat pulling out of the customs warehouse and on my way. It was a surreal feeling driving the streets of Buenos Aires in our truck we had so patiently yet painfully waited for these past weeks.
Within the first days of wandering the streets of San Telmo it was clear street art was everywhere; Argentina has a long history of graffiti, growing and evolving with the ups and downs of the country. Stemming from a form of public expression, statements vary from political, personal, emotional but always intended to be a form of communication. Emotions evident through colors, images and even the locations to which they cover. We were excited to come across Graffitimundo, a tour operator that collaborates with various artists to display their work, provide exposure and educate people about street art and it’s contribution to the culture. The non-profit runs an art gallery in Palermo and offers daily tours in the North and South regions of Buenos Aires. We definitely recommend the tour and even suggest taking both to compare the artists and perspectives.
One of the greatest characteristics about street art is that it is always changing; as the days and weeks pass, life’s elements take effect and the original work settles into the landscape like it was meant to be there. The scribbles and color that shape the walls range from simple to ornate but as someone peering into the culture it contributes to the senses and awareness takes note of the ever evolving stories around you. Graffiti comes with such a connotation and depending on your associations appreciation can vary greatly. We are great admirers of art in all forms and would consider Buenos Aires to be a living gallery full of color that reaches all five senses.
We have laughed at the number of times The Simpsons have been on TV or even referenced in displays of modern art so below are a few shots from a collaboration wall of “Homer”. Artists band together tightly so when there is a meeting of imagination, great things can happen.
El Zanjon de Granados – ($15US)The city of Buenos Aires was first settled in 1536 between two water run-off ravines which naturally marked city boundaries. The Zanjon de Granados is claimed to be the site of the first settlement of Buenos Aires and uniquely displays the underground waterways as they were constructed. Now considered the most important archaeological site in BA, the museum describes the history through it’s many layers of architecture and construction. The original structure, a residence, that covered the zanjones was a block sized mansion. The plague that came over San Telmo forced the wealthy family to flee and the mansion was turned into a tenement where the structure was walled up and built over further burying the sophisitcated drainage system. The building was abandoned in 1985 and left in ruin until the gentrification of San Telmo posed the location as a potential restaurant. Little did the local know what he was about to uncover…
BAFreeTours.com – ($10-$20US)We definitely suggest getting a good overview of BA directly from a “Porteno”. This version of the ‘pay what you like’ Free Tours was brought to BA by a born and bred Porteno, as all tour guides are. There are two different tours you can take depending on what part of the city you have interest in, the “Downtown” tour or the “Aristocratic” tour. We enjoyed the “Aristocratic” tour so much we went back for the “downtown” tour as well. Gaston, the co-founder, was a great host and had us laughing just about the whole time. The BA Free Tours pitch is that they give a solid local-perspective tour and work solely on tips. They are upfront and provide the equivalent value of a tour if it were paid. We thought the tours provided an interesting (opinionated and funny) perspective of Argentine history from a locals point of view and was much more our style than that of a generic [bus] city tour.
Casa Rosada – (Free) Casa Rosada or the “Pink House” is one of those “must do” tours, if for no other reason, it’s a free tour of the President’s office, literally. Oh ya, and that famous balcony where Madonna sang that song from – I mean Eva Peron gave her historic speech to the people. The tour gives you a look into some of the history of the ‘house’, past presidents and important cultural influences. A couple tidbits: only one president was allowed to live in the Casa Rosada due to a handicap and it is not symmetrical because it was originally two buildings – one was the post office, there are several more so you’ll have to check it out. Offered only on weekends, there are free tours in multiple languages. Upon arrival check in with the staff to receive a colored coin for the tour in your requested language. Get there early because the number of tours in English vary depending on the day/weekend or season and people turn out in droves, so be prepared to wait.
Helado at Dylan’s – (~$4US) One of the first things you hear about when arriving in Buenos Aires is the great pride they hold in their Helado – and rightly so! There are Helado stands by the dozen around the city so it may seem overwhelming to choose which one to venture into but look no further Dylan’s Helado in San Telmo is the place to go. I would categorize our visit to Dylan’s as an “helado experience” from the warm welcome, multiple tastings and of course friendly and passionate ice cream enthusiast and owner, Dylan. If you find a better Helado stop in BA be sure to drop us a note and share your experience – because we may have to have a tasting runoff.
San Telmo Market Place – (Free) Every Sunday there is a spectacular market on Avenue Defense that stretches from Casa Rosada to Parque Lezama. Through this market you will find things from trinkets and jewelry to street artists and food vendors. The stands begin to close up in the late afternoon at which time you will start to hear drum circles filling the streets with echoing beats. As in any major city and crowded place, watch your belongings, we’ve heard there are pickpockets; we never experienced any trouble nor did we feel threatened or unsafe but when good reminder to always have good situational awareness and avoid creating the opportunity.
La Boca – La Boca is a ‘working class’ region of Buenos Aires that is seen as the old town but holds the claim as the birthplace of the Tango. We were advised to take precaution and just stick to the tourist streets as it can be considered a dangerous part of town. This forced us to take a closer look at the bus system and begin to navigate the city by public transportation instead of our growing tired feet. The apartment we rented in San Telmo provided us with a SUBE card which was half the battle. After researching online how to take the bus and what protocol was we decided to give it a whirl. We had read that you must actually hail the bus even if you are at the bus stop and once the bus stops, GET ON quick. The buses do not always stop and when they do you must make sure you are ready to jump on or off because the doors do not stay open long and the bus does not sit idle – time is money. Once we arrived in La Boca there were tourist attractions everywhere; the streets filled with bright colors, Tango dancers and restaurants advertising for the deal of the day. The downtown area of La Boca was filled with shops and characters that seemed to tell some kind of story about the times that were. We did not spend much time in La Boca, although it is certainly an area not to be missed when visiting Buenos Aires. We made our pass through the shops and down the streets taking in the colorful buildings and were ready to head out. We did enjoy our stop at the Fundacion Proa Museum exhibiting thoughful modern latin american art. The museum was self guided and did a great job of making sure there was english descriptions for the pieces in each room. Although our time in La Boca was fairly short it is a spot on the map that is a must see for the old culture of Buenos Aires and of course the birthplace of Tango!
Our biggest miss of La Boca was to attend a Boca Juniors match. It is advised that as a tourist you attend the rowdy event with group as it can be hectic enough to be considered dangerous.
Malonga – Everyone you speak to about Buenos Aires talks about the Tango and how important it is to their culture. There are plenty of Malonga’s that cater to the typical tourist that are fun and entertaining and you can even get a chance to learn a few steps. To see the true art form of the Tango find a locals Malonga, however unless you REALLY know how to Tango we advise you to sit back and enjoy the ever talented couples enjoying there night of Tango. We were lucky enough to befriend an Aussie living in BA for several months with the goal of learning the tango and we were able to see a real show in action.
Jardin de Japonese – ($20US) We visited the Jardin in mid-October and were able
Muchos Museums – Many of the museums have half price days or even free days so be sure to check out the deals and hours and work your trip to save you some pesos.
Parks – BA has many parks and when you are traveling with a crazy Lucia dog it is essential to find a place to let your dog run around like crazy. Lucia tends to chase butterfly, bug and bird shadows.
Boca Juniors Game – futbol
While waiting for customs to sort through all of our truck paperwork I was talking to one of the guys helping with translation at the shipping yard and asked him if he could help translate the song. So in rough translation this is what they are singing, if anyone knows a better translation we would love to hear it.
Boca, my good friend this campaign (season) we will support you again We are going to cheer with our hearts This is your fans that want to see you champions
We don’t care what the other teams say I go everywhere you play (stay) Everyday we love you more
The history of Argentina spans highs of great fortune, turbulent political climates and severe economic conditions before leading to a democracy in the 80s which still struggles with the economy. Even the government is providing a skewed look at the stabilization of the current market. Back in 2001, just to give an idea of how hard this economy fell and the challenges people have had to overcome, literally overnight valuation of the peso changed and (in addition) any US dollars in the bank were taken by the government and replaced with pesos at 25% the value. Can you imagine loosing 75% of your money if it was in a Bank? Reminiscent of the Great Depression?!?!? This caused a huge outrage and so began riots in the streets and daily protests that marched from the Congress building down to the Casa Rosada. To this day there are fences and police surrounding the building that can be closed to prevent people from overtaking the area. The valuation of the Argentinian Peso fluctuates weekly and many city locals exchange Pesos for dollars (or shelter offshore accounts) to preserve their money. In the years since the revaluing of the Peso, an embargo was put in place on importing goods and includes US dollars; causing a ‘blue market’. Additionally, there has been a huge influx of counterfeiting Argentinian Peso bills, so much so “they” say the best way to get rid of a counterfeit bill is to spend it. So far we have not run into any counterfeit bills (so we think) and are diligent in checking each bill when we exchange US dollars.
Prior to our arrival in Argentina we were told that cash is king and to make sure we brought US Dollars, specifically new $100 bills. Hearing about the “Blue Market” and the ease, if not strange, process of finding a “cambio” location we were unsure about how legal it was or how sketchy it actually is. As of the 1 October 2015 the federal market rate is approximately 9.2 Pesos to the US Dollar and the blue market is trading 15.6 Pesos to the US Dollar (the highest we exchanged at was 15.9). The money exchanges are legally allowed only behind closed doors. They can advertise freely on the streets and then bring you to their store to actually do the exchange, however be aware that if you respond to an advertiser on the street vs knowing right where to go the advertiser can take a commission of the exchange as a “fee” so try to figure out where you are going before hand or ask around for the best rate. Sketchy sounding huh… We were recommended a ‘legitimate’ place on Florida Street so we opted to try them out first. Once we arrived at the store front just beyond a shoe store in a mall it felt as though we were in an old school bank with a single teller station. We exchanged several $100 dollar bills through the glass to the man that looked like an accountant who ran the calculations then passed our several thousand Pesos back through. We counted for accuracy and checked each one for counterfeit bills before stashing the cash and walking out the door.
Easy as that huh, well yep I suppose…
Added Note: the recent elections have elicited major change in the government and economy – the blue market is being eradicated. We have still been offered cambio however with the significant rise in the dollar and the ease in “winning” at the ATM we haven’t checked nor exchanged since returning from Chile.
Undertaking an adventure of this magnitude is incredibly exciting but overwhelming and adding a four-legged friend definitely adds a layer of logistics and complication. Feeling somewhat reassured that others have successfully completed the journey and knowing there are resources available does help ease the concerns of figuring out what to do. That said, finding what documentation you need is only the first of many complicated steps.
We first mentioned our trip to our vet on a visit early this summer to get some feedback and ensure a proper vaccination schedule prior to and in preparation of our departure. The thing about South and Central America is that there are no formal quarantines and as expected we vaccinate both ourselves and our animals more than most other countries. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary that we needed to give but we did need to work with the USDA office for the proper health certificate.
Well, this was it, all packed and ready to go. After months of anticipation, planning and general wonder about how this incredible adventure will unfold we are finally ready to depart. Since we couldn’t break a bottle of champagne over the nose of the airplane we opted for the next best thing and headed to the United Club to cheers the voyage.
We were notified that a landing gear light needed to replaced and we were delayed a short time. Watching the minutes tick by all we could do was think about Lucia and hope that she was fairing okay, poor girl. After a long two hour wait we finally boarded and settled into our seats; we were obviously comfortable because before we knew it we were on arrival.
Anxious to start the customs process and rescue Lucia from her kennel we read and re-read the collection instructions and quickly deplaned. We arranged a taxi to pick us up and the contact was there with our name-card as expected; we tried to tell her we needed to pick up the dog and showed her the paperwork, she nodded her head, said something and gestured us to follow – so we did. We got to the taxi and our driver asked where the dog was, she was a little dumbfounded. Obviously she hadn’t understood a word we said, still working on rolling those R’s. We headed back in to the information counter and it was like no one understood the instructions that were provided, granted they were in english but they didn’t even seem know of the building locations referenced. We walked to a random United door, knocked and knocked but got no response, so back to the information desk and with new directions headed back to the taxi.
We needed to go to the Cargo area in an entirely different part of the airport grounds. No taxis were allowed through the secured area and there was no parking so Chad stayed with our backpacks in the taxi and off I went with the paperwork and directions I didn’t understand. All I really understood was walk down the street, turn left at the next security gate and find the building on the left. I wandered into the first building and up to the second floor like I thought I was supposed to; like a weird dream some random guy, in broken english said, you must be here for the dog and pointed me to another building and just like that was gone again. I finally found the United Cargo office and felt like I was on the right track, phew. I was concerned I had to leave all the original paperwork with United Cargo in Houston and just hoped I’d get it all back as expected. After about 20 minutes of who knows what and seemed like should’ve taken less than 5, the woman handed me a stack of paperwork, asked for payment and pointed me to the next office. Finished with United and now off to find the SENASA office for review of the health certificate and associated paperwork. It took another bit of wandering in and out of the wrong place to find the right office but I finally found it and I was beginning to notice the pace at which people move. With a YouTube video playing on the office computer and the first showing of mate sharing, I expected this review to go a little faster than it was moving. In a bit of conversation we were having I mentioned she was like my baby and he laughed; he said he would go check on her and would tell me how she was. About 30 minutes later he came back and said she was fine, sleeping.
Cha-ching…It was time to pay another fee, then I needed to go get an ID badge to be allowed into yet another location. The guy was very nice and escorted me to the security location so I knew exactly where to go for the ID then said to come back to his office. At that point Chad and the taxi driver had found a place to park and were looking for me concerned that it was taking so long. I thought we were making progress and I was convinced that it wouldn’t be too much longer; I mean I was on step 4 of 8 on the instructions list. I headed back to the SENASA office and the nice gentleman asked if I wanted to see Lucia so we walked to the holding area. Along the way he informed me that the next office I needed to go to closes for lunch at 1pm, well it was 1:05pm – I wanted to scream, that meant I had to wait for an hour to keep the process going. As we approached the warehouse I could hear her and knew she wasn’t sleeping, uh oh. Poor girl was not happy and she was letting everyone around know it. I walked in and she looked so sad and scared, she was in her kennel locked in a wire cage so I could barely get my fingers in for a quick lick. Not sure if seeing her made it worse since it certainly had for me, my calm was waning and my patience tested. I headed to the customs office where there was already a line, I had to take a number and wait the next 45 minutes until lunch was over. Lunch, which consisted of the young lady chatting with a friend that came to see her, sharing mate, having a smoke and surfing the web while we all sat there and watched. At this point I was counting the hours, not only the hours since I’d last seen Chad but the long hours since we’d dropped Lucia and locked her in the kennel.
It felt like forever for 2pm to come and for the young lady to call the first person in line to the counter. Anxiously, I waited for her to call my number since I wasn’t exactly sure what the process was there. She entered some information in the computer and told me to sit back down and wait some more, ugh. 18 hours and counting, my patience were really being tested. I was then told to go into another room where some man took the paperwork and said to go back out to where I was and wait some more. This was becoming very painful. Almost 2 hours later (just in that office) I finally paid yet another fee and was told I could now, finally, go collect the dog. Informing people that I was trying to collect a living dog didn’t seem to increase the sense of urgency for anyone. I headed back to the warehouse with all the paperwork signed, sealed, paid for and ready to rescue Lucia.
This is where the process went from painful to full on excruciating; hearing Lucia cry, receiving the annoyed looks from everyone in the warehouse that had now been listening to her all day and being told that there was still another step I had to complete. The instructions provided by United were step by step but not entirely thorough or informative. I was unable to understand any of the directions and this step was not even mentioned on the procedure list so I was at a bit of a loss. I walked back to the security officer and thankfully he spoke a little bit of english and I asked where I was supposed to go to get the approval signature to leave the premises and he had no idea. He knew exactly who I was since Chad and the taxi driver were concerned and pacing around the grounds wondering where the heck I was. I headed back to the SENASA office and the guy was surprised to see me, said that I had everything I needed and should just be able to get her. I was very confused so went back to the warehouse office to get additional clarification, to which I received none but he did offer to have someone take me. So I waited until that someone was ready. He walked me to the security gate and tried to tell me where to go but I understood nothing. So I wandered around the building, in and out of security; I asked the next security guide where this office was that I needed to go and he pointed me around the corner and in the second door. This was still the wrong place and yet again I was pointed in another direction. Finally finding the right place I positioned myself in front of the window and said I needed a final signature. It took two people moving at a snails pace to sign the piece of paper and finalize the paperwork.
I went running back to the warehouse and came in like I’d run a race with the needed signature, handed it to the man to stamp and sign. He then told me to turn around to the window behind me and give someone else the paperwork to review, this was to create the document to leave the premises. He needed a license plate number of the car we were driving, I said we had a taxi and I didn’t have it. Well, he needed a license plate number and I needed to go get it. I was not allowed to take Lucia out so I had to leave her again on another wild goose chase. At this point, it had been a number of hours since I’d seen Chad and now way of getting in touch with him as I couldn’t find a wifi signal anywhere. Isn’t this why we brought 2-way radios!?!? In such a rush and having no idea what a process this would be neither of us thought about them when I jumped out of the taxi.
Now wandering the grounds, wondering where Chad could be and desperate to get Lucia the heck outta there I was trying to think through what the options were. Finally, I caught sight of him at another security gate. The taxi driver didn’t know the license plate number and had to walk all the way back to the taxi that was parked in some random lot, which took another half hour. Finally, with the license plate number in hand I ran back to the warehouse to complete the exit forms. Still not allowed to take Lucia out I just tried to talk to her as we waited for the taxi to pull up to the warehouse. The car had to be cleared to come into the secured area where they wouldn’t open the cage she was in until he was positioned to open the door and place the kennel directly in the back of the taxi. We were not allowed to take her out until we were off airport grounds.
After five (5) excruciating hours dealing with one office after another, and all of us dying over the screeching howl and crying from the back, but finally reunited, we drove down the highway until there was a spot we could pull off.