St. Martin & Economics

Well, I have been in St. Martin de los Andes for 3 days now. It is absolutely gorgeous country. Reminds me a lot of the western part of Wyoming. They say that it’s quite hot for this part of the country (meaning that it gets into the 80s during the day). But it drops into the 40s at night. The air is crystal clear. Been a long time since I’ve seen air this clean. Stars at night have been marvelous.

It is so incredibly quiet after the noise and bustle of Buenos Aires. I really notice my tinnitus now. 😊 I’m staying in an hostería, which is kind of like a small B&B here. Very nice. The manager insists on speaking to me in Spanish which is been good for me. Although I’m still finding it very stressful to have a conversation, I can at least get through a conversation … more or less. So, six weeks in, I have met my goal of being able to handle a very basic Spanish conversation. Understanding is still a problem. Mainly because they speak so fast. But I feel good that I hit my first goal. From my learning of French many years ago, I remember that the 6-week mark is a watershed. It takes about that long for your brain to get used to having all of these other words bouncing around. I’m looking forward to the next couple of weeks to see if starts to gel more.

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As I walked around the town, it just struck me how homogeneous the world is becoming. It’s a tourist town. Very crowded, but a year-round tourist town. The lake and water sports in the mountains during the summer, and the mountains and skiing during the winter. But one thing is the same as any other place in the world. A plethora of souvenir shops all selling the same blend of cheap crap. In this case they sell gaucho knives and ‘native’ looking textiles. All pathetically cheap. What amazes me is people actually buy this stuff.

I have found the local people here to be, at least to me, a bit friendlier than the people in Buenos Aires. And I’ve noticed that they speak slower as well. I’ve certainly had less problems with understanding people here.

I have certainly enjoyed just walking around the town, enjoying the quiet, and the scenery. But I have found that, once again, relearning what I should already know, that I’m not comfortable here. It’s an odd thing I guess, but there’s no work desk in my room. So, I have to go find places, usually in the dining room, where I can sit and work. Don’t particularly like that. The Internet here is… adequate. One thing that I have thought about since coming here though, is looking for a place to stay that is not in Buenos Aires. I’m wondering if maybe it might be a nice idea to go down the coast and find some medium-sized city that I could stay in instead of Buenos Aires (like Mar del Plata). It’s funny. Buenos Aires is right at the mouth of the Rio del Plata, but I never see the ocean. One doesn’t feel one is close to the ocean at all.

I think I have my apartment settled upon for my next stay. I’m going to be seeing it next week, but I walked around the immediate area several times and it’s very quiet with lots of cafés and restaurants. And, as I have said before, I’m a creature of habit. When I find someplace that I like I will keep going back to it again and again.

I’m actually heading back to Buenos Aires a day early. The bed here at the B&B is just ever so slightly uncomfortable for me, especially since I injured my back last week, and I need a comfortable work desk. Plus - if you look at the picture of fruit cake below, I had to get away from that café before I gained 10 kg.

I have uploaded a gallery of pictures from around the town. It really is beautiful.

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I will say though that flying internally on Aerolíneas Argentina in what they laughingly called business class was an interesting contrast to airlines in Asia. The flight was 2 ½ hours, about the same as from Hong Kong to Bangkok. When I take a flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok on an airline like Cathay Pacific, or Thai Airlines, it is a real business class. Seats that can almost go flat, they serve you a nice hot meal, they have pillows, electrically operated seats, LCD screens and entertainment options. On Aerolíneas Argentina, they had a cold sandwich in a plastic bag and some sort of biscuits. The seats, while roomy, were mechanically operated, and there was nothing like any sort of entertainment options that one could avail of. The staff was extremely nice and friendly, and the aircraft looked quite new, but it would appear that Aerolíneas Argentina puts most of its money into paying its pilots (who are among the most highly paid in the world -- second only to the Germans apparently). Since the pilots are protected by an extremely powerful union, they prefer to placate them rather than spend money on the comfort of their customers. I have noticed on thing after 4 flights on Aerolíneas Argentina. I think their pilots are hot shots. Every single landing is markedly faster than other flights with other airlines. They land extremely fast then max  reverse thrust and brake as hard as they can.

*A note on economics

Relatively speaking, the Asian countries that I spend the most time in ... Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, etc., for all their faults, are relatively open economies. Yes, of course the customs people are hopelessly corrupt. Yes, there is graft and inefficiency. But here in Argentina what I notice is that protectionism seems to be rife. They seem to have (at least by observation) serious import duties and restrictions on the free movement of capital. For example, if you use an ATM card from outside the country to withdraw cash from an ATM here, the maximum amount that you can withdraw is about the equivalent of US$100. And in addition to the fees charged by whatever ATM bank you are using from outside the country the local Argentinian banks impose a AR$200 (Argentinian peso) or US $10 fee. By contrast in Thailand or Hong Kong, using a foreign bank ATM card I can withdraw almost US$800 worth of local currency for that same fee. And transfering money in from out of the country is ridiculous. Fees can easily run $US100+. By comparison, a transfer of funds from Philippines to Thailand or China? $15. 

And you only have to look at the cost and availability of goods here to realize something is screwed up. Anything imported (North Face, Columbia, Merrell, and especially electronics) are easily 60% - 80% higher than what you can find in Asia (and that is if you can find it all). And this category of goods (imported) are probably double the price of goods in the US. Perfect example ; when My Samsung Note 8 was stolen ($US800 in Hong Kong) - It would have cost me $US1500 here to replace it (except the store said they didn't have any and didn't know when they would - This was the Samsung store by the way). This is not a scientific survey – I don’t pretend to that. Nor do I pretend to be an aconomist of any description. This is anecdotal observation only. Witness the glories of unions, socialism, and protectionism. Click below about the mobile phone factory in Tierra del Fuego if you want to know a little more about how stupidly this ideal can be pursued.

https://www.economist.com/news/americas/21702216-giant-economic-experiment-argentinas-southern-tip-starting-flag-tax-haven

Or listen to Episode #755 of NPR's Planet Money

Ironic - some moron in the U.S. just decided (in the last 24 hours)  that a trade war would be fun and wants to tack on massive import duties on steel and aluminum. When will they learn. Well ... he won't ... I'm pretty sure he is incapable of that.