At this point I’ve driven three rental cars (named Blanca, Plata & Blanca Dos) in three cities in southern Argentina, logging north of 1,700km. Here are my take aways.
- Argentina is a middle income country with solid road infrastructure, good rule of law, and they drive on the correct side of the road. Great start. And then you get in the car and reach an intersection inside a city (excluding BA). Nothing. No light. No stop sign. No yield sign. No any sign. Apparently the bigger road has priority. Ok, fair enough. What if they’re the same size? Apparently you’re just supposed to know. Seems like a recipe for problems. And you definitely yield to whomever is already in the intersection, so assertiveness is key. Recipe for disaster? And you will get honked at if you’re too much of a wuss. Catastrophe? That said, I haven’t seen any accidents yet. But don’t drive here if you fluster easily.
BTW- It’s not as if they’re short on signs. Out on the highways, every hint of a curve gets one or two Curva Peligrosa signs. Potholes get signs. Uphills get signs. Downhills get signs. There are tons of no passing signs. There are no passing signs all over the place. Highway intersections have traffic circles (often with yield to the circle signs) or even jug handles. But basic city intersections? Nothing.
- All of the highways I’ve been on have been two lane undivided and you need to be pretty alert way ahead of you and behind you because
- There are some very fast drivers here (take it from a lead footed guy with a LOT of speeding tickets on his record)
- Aggressive tailgating seems to be a common practice. Apparently it is a normal prelude to passing to get within a meter or two of your rear bumper at 120km/hr (75mph). It’s pretty disconcerting and they seem to have no concept of how dangerous it is.
- While the signage around Passing and No Passing zones is excellent, compliance with them is not. More than once I’ve been part of a row of cars passed by another car going into a blind curve. Crazy.
You do have to be willing to get out there and do some passing yourself or some drives will take forever.
- Speed bumps are common. On the largest roads. On small roads. On dirt roads. A bit random. They do slow everyone down, and force some yielding (when they are placed at intersections).
- Headlights are required. Yet none of the three rental cars have had daytime running lights. (Hence me leaving them on in Ushuaia.) It makes sense to have the rule, given all of the undivided highways, but not designing the cars for it?
- Pedestrians, beware. You do not have the right of way and there aren’t any crosswalks. It’s Frogger time! Although the Yield to someone already in intersection seems to apply to pedestrians. Overall, this is unpleasant, especially so when traveling with small kids.
- Policia checkpoints are on the way in/out of every town. Signs warn you (and speed limit suddenly drops from 110 to 60 to 20). Then there is a line of cones down the middle of the road, with a cop standing in the middle of them (n.b. a high proportion of them seem to be women – is this equality or just that the women get the crappy job of standing in the middle of the road while the senior dudes supervise from the little hut across from the cones?). Most don’t even make eye contact or even bother to wave you one– except when you’ve forgotten to turn your lights on. In those cases, I’ve been scolded.
- Car seats. Ha! When we jump in a taxi and start madly strapping the kid booster seats in, the cab drivers range from bemused to befuddled to annoyed with the delay. They all seem proud that they have seat belts and don’t see the point of anything else. One cab driver, who we rode with twice in Ushuaia, called us “very American.” In short, we are a laughingstock for using car seats in Argentina.
BTW- we went out of our way to buy brand new inflatable booster seats (Bubble Bums) for this trip and both of them leak. Crap! And based upon our search so far, there isn’t a replacement within a thousand kilometers, possibly on this entire continent.Drive safe!
Today we went to see the penguins. What delightful creatures!
It started with an hour and a half bus ride on which we learned a bit about the history of Ushuaia, about their ski areas, and about their invasive beaver problem. We arrived at the estancia, which was across the Beagle Channel from Puerto Williams, Chile (the southernmost town in the world). We got into the covered zodiac boat and scooted out into the channel to the island. We landed on Isla Martilla and climbed off the boat. We were immediately amongst the penguins. And the wind, a very strong cold wind. There was a roped off walkway and our guide Laura (nicknamed Crazy Horse!) kept us all in line and at least a meter or two from the penguins.
We had brought all the cold weather gear we had in Argentina, except we unfortunately forgot Cassidy’s hat and gloves. The wind was so strong that it was difficult to keep Cassidy’s hoods on and she struggled to keep warm. Her hands were especially cold. She toughed it out for the full hour+ on the island – I was proud of both girls.
There were the three types of penguins: Magellanic, King and Gentoo. Many were in or around their burrows. There were quite a few juveniles who had been born a couple months before and were still partly fuzzy. They were a very curious lot, with many popping out of their burrows to look at us or even waddling right up to our group to check us out.
It’s hard to articulate why penguins are so alluring, but this really was a special outing!
More videos to come – they just take a while to edit and upload.
After the boat trip back and some hot chocolate, we got an hour long lecture and tour of the sea animal (seal, sea lion, whale) research station and museum. Sierra was extremely engaged during the whole tour, absorbing it all like a sponge – La Nina Curiosa!
The girls snoozed on the bus ride back. Fantastic day all around!
We decided to lay low in Ushuaia today, as the kids had not gotten enough sleep. The girls engaged in imaginative play in our room and headed out to the playground in the backyard (where the kids of the owner play).
We went into town for lunch in a cafe. On the way back, we had the taxi driver take us up to the hill above town so we could ride up the chair lift. Apparently it doesn’t run anymore – the perils of a 2014 guide book – but the weather was sunny and it was an okay view out over town.
After lunch, I got out for my first run of the trip. Apparently everybody runs to the airport here. I assume it is because the airport access road is paved so you don’t choke on dust every time a car goes by. I went there as well but on the way back I opted for the rocky beach of the Beagle Channel (as in the HMS Beagle that carried Mr. Darwin here in the 1830s).
The weather changes fast here. It started pouring rain on my way back – very refreshing.
In the evening, I took a taxi into town (10 minutes, ~100 pesos) to pick up the rental car. Weather changed again!
We drove to a great restaurant on the other side of town (Kuar) that had a lovely view and great food. Cassidy fell asleep on the way there. When we finally woke her for dinner she was extremely grumpy (again). With me as el Gordito and Linda as our spokeswoman (La Potravoz), there was talk of Cassidy as Senorita Fiesty Pants and Sierra as La Nina Curiosa. Cassidy took serious umbrage but Sierra’s has stuck.
Today was even hotter – 96 degrees. We didn’t even try to walk the kids around outside. Instead, we did what any American would do – head for the mall! This was no normal mall – it had an amusement park. The kids did a few rides
and we all rode on the ferris wheel.
We ate in the food court (thumbs down) and left to get ready to fly to Ushuaia.
Flight was unremarkable except that we somehow left our small camera and case on the plane. Airline didn’t find it. Sigh – iphone pics only from here on out.
Arrived in Ushuaia (we’re told that it’s pronounced “oose why ya”) in the evening. Got to hotel at around 20:30 – not even close to sunset. We walked up the dirt road (very dusty!)
to a hotel with open restaurant for dinner. Kids were exhausted – lots of spills, tears and moping at dinner (as usual, lot’s for El Gordito to finish!). Finally got them down at 22:00 – around sunset!
Although it’s dusty, windy and has a run down look in a lot of areas, Ushuaia has a positive vibe.
This morning we got a SIM card for the phone we brought and 100 pesos of phone credits (Exchange rate is currently 13.5 pesos to $1). It is entirely unclear what that 100 pesos has actually bought in the way of minutes, texts or mbs. We shall see.
After the phone purchase, we walked up to the famous church and cemetery that gives this neighborhood (Recoleta) its name. We took pictures at Evita’s grave,
and as the kids were melting, stopped at a heavily touristed café. The upsides were the couple dancing tango nearby (for donations)
and the incredible tree that provided the shade.
The downsides were the food and the prices.
Paying in cash with money from the ATM is the cheapest approach. Getting enough pesos is another story. You can only get 1000 pesos per ATM transaction (if it has money). Sounds like a lot but it’s less than $75. So far, meals here have been a bit cheaper than the Bay Area but maybe 25% cheaper.
From there we walked back to the hotel for a dip in the pool and a siesta.
After siesta (only C slept) we took a taxi to a playground in a waterfront neighborhood to the east. It was a bit run down but the kids played and then we walked toward dinner. There were cool things to see on the walk: ships, exercise equipment, old cranes and cannons.
We ate at restaurant on the river (one of few places willing to serve dinner at 7) and had our first good steaks of the trip!
We arrived to a very warm Buenos Aires on Wednesday, crawled through passport control (with the kids sitting on the floor under the tensa barriers, coloring), got our stuff and found the car Linda had booked. We fumbled the blow up car seats into the car and made it to the Poetry Building.
Great apartment/hotel – fold out couch beds for the girls, a loft for us, a small pool and even an organic garden on the roof. We ate lunch around the corner and went back for a siesta: no sleep achieved. Dinner was a nearby pizza/pasta place – the only place we could find that serves dinner @ 6pm. Most places don’t open until 8 or later.
The dining pattern is becoming set: I eat what everyone else doesn’t finish or doesn’t like. So far, it’s a lot. It has been a bit of a struggle to find the fight kind of food at the right time for those of us with discerning palettes (everyone but me). I’m going to have to start a running routine on this trip or I’ll be sporting some extra kilos very soon. This is why my family nickname has become “El Gordito.”
Our family trip to Argentina got off to a solid start. First flight was on time. Only snafu was having to pay the Argentina reciprocity fee in advance (pulling out of the check in line @ SFO to wrestle through it on the phone – good thing we got the airport early) and then get it printed (in the airport staff room @ IAH).
The long flight (10+ hrs) from IAH to EZE was supposed to be all about sleeping. The kids had other ideas, particularly Cassidy. Sierra eventually pulled on her eye mask and made it happen.
Estimated final tally:
Sierra – 7hrs
Noah – 5
Cassidy – 4
Linda – 30 minutes
Guess how that’s going to go…