Suitcase on wheels     stuck in the snow   sniffer dog

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

75. Tough times (Bariloche, Argentina)

Well it's been three weeks since my last post, and since then I've been pretty busy, but unfortunately not in a good way. I'd love to be able to write saying things are going great here but so far they haven't been.

Firstly, my girlfriend hates it here. Being from the north of Argentina she's not made for the cold, and locals tell me this winter's been harsher than normal, with more snow (and rain) than usual. And since we came in the middle of the short winter high season, she'd already missed opportunities to pick up restaurant work, as places generally hire just before the season starts.

Secondly, the habilitacion (certification) I got on my van, i.e. the paperwork that took me six months to get, which covers the entire region of Patagonia, apparently doesn't cover here, so I have to do yet more paperwork. The certification I got in Buenos Aires is over and above the certification here, and the national authorities here in Bariloche tell me that yes, I can work. But then when I go and ask the local authorities they say no, that I have to also apply for their local certification. OK, screw what the local authorities say, I'll work anyway. But all the tourism agencies I spoke to told me the same thing, that if I want to work with them I have to apply for the local certification. So if the tourism agencies aren't sending me tourists I won't be able to work anyway. The local certification is basically a way of keeping outsiders from coming in and stealing all their business.
So I thought about trying to work with hostels directly, thus bypassing the tourism agencies, but backpackers are generally a tightfisted bunch and the money to be made is with tourism agencies. As part of getting the local certification I'll also need to sign up to pay local taxes every month. More taxes = less profit.

Thirdly, the weather again. When it's constantly snowing and raining, roads close. Hence, I can't work. And the cold is playing havoc with my van - lots of little things keep breaking, which is adding up to lots of downtime and lots of bills. Also, there's very few indoor garages around here so I have to park it outside in the street where it's at the mercy of the elements. More bills = less profit.
Camioneta con hielo
At the mercy: stalactites form

Fourthly, Bariloche is actually in the middle of a national park, and some law states that any excursion needs to have a qualified guide. To become a guide you need to do a 2 and a half year course here in Bariloche. Most of the drivers here have done this, so they're driver/guides. Since I haven't, I'll need to have a guide to go with me when I do tours. The guide gets about a third of the fee the agency pays me for the excursion, and I'll get two thirds. Hiring a guide = less profit.

Finally, depreciation. I'm losing money every month on my van, and the clock is ticking against it, as you can't certify a vehicle that's older than ten years for tourism. Which means every month it's getting harder to sell as well.

So with all this against me I decided screw you guys, I'm going home. Back to NZ. I'd sell the van and get back most of my initial investment, apart from all the fees I had to pay getting the paperwork done. Six months of time wasted doing paperwork, all for nothing. Dammit, I was pissed off.

So my girlfriend and I packed up the van again and prepared for the long drive back to BA. The last thing we had to do was buy some of Bariloche's famous chocolates to take with us. As we drove around downtown looking for a car park, through bustling Bariloche with it's crowds of happy tourists on a sunny morning, I felt really sad to be giving up and going back to dreadful BA having come so far. We hadn't even been skiing or done anything wintery.

So, we picked up the latest ABC, the free local classifieds, and found another apartment. We're gonna get the local certification on the van, depending on just how complicated the process is. Applications open in September so we have 2 weeks to get the paperwork prepared. After that it'll be another month of waiting for the application to be processed. I'm so sick of this country's neverending bureaucracy and I'm still at breaking point, so much so that if there's any hitch whatsoever (and let's face it, there probably will be) me voy a la mierda (I'll be outta here). At the moment I'm not sure if it's even be a viable business. My original business plan in the far south certainly was, but since I can't do that I'm here wondering if it's gonna be worth it.

I returned to BA a couple of weeks ago by bus (21 hours), but only for one night. I arrived the day after a massive freak hailstorm had hit, with golfball sized hail. I wished I'd seen that! I'd returned to pick up my DNI. The DNI is like a small passport with a photo and an ID number that all Argentines have to have (and carry with them), and is every privacy advocate's nightmare. Almost every daily transaction one does needs a DNI number - anything to do with governments, banks, even joining Blockbuster video. Most of the time I'd get away with it by giving my passport number, but the lack of my own DNI meant I couldn't put my business in my name. Finally I'd have my own!
My gringo DNI (NB. I've photoshopped a couple of the numbers out)

However, getting a DNI was a bureaucratic process I was loathe to tackle myself, so I actually paid an immigration consultant to help me with my work visa and the paperwork for my DNI. Carmen was pretty cheap and it was worth paying her fee to know that it would get done. Her webpage is still under construction, but she speaks excellent English and responds to emails promptly. It was lucky I had her help, as the Argentine consulate in Wellington later stuffed up my work visa application big time. They were supposed to fingerprint me and give me a sealed envelope containing my application and prints to take with me when I entered Argentina, but they didn't, which caused problems with my DNI application.
Road Trip - 47 - Lago mirror
The view from on the bus, just outside Bariloche

I got my professional driver's license the other day. In the land of bureaucracy it took me a week to get the paperwork for my driver's license in order, which included getting fingerprinted by the cops (to check for prior convictions), and getting my balls handled by a doctor (as part of a full medical). Then the driving test itself was laughable how easy it was - a 5 minute first gear circuit along a dusty potholed road away from traffic. And just like that I'm certified to have the lives of up to 15 passengers in my hands! No questions on the road rules, nothing. No wonder there's so many bus crashes here. As goodairs mentions, La NaciĆ³n recently reported that in 2005, 25% of roadway accidents in Argentina involved a professional driver as compared to 1-2% in the "First World".

Google reports that I've now earned a whopping $15 from this blog in six weeks. A couple of you have been so kind as to click the Firefox links, but I don't get paid my ten cents until you actually install it and run it for the first time - and only if you haven't already got Firefox installed. Bit of a scam really...


  • Mate, that all sucks. I understand what you're going through as Argentine bureaucracy sent my original business straight down the toilet. Hope things get better...i was going say something like 'well at least you're in a beutiful place the like of which you've never seen before' but then i realised that you're from NZ and you probably have seen similar things before...

    Good luck with it all,


    By Blogger realbuenosaires, at 11:26 AM  

  • Oh dear, I really feel for you, every bit of what you are going through and more because I handled my residency and DNI applications myself (well, with my Argentine husband). I still haven't got my DNI after one full year of paper shuffling although I am entitled one, being married to an Argentine.

    The Argentine Consulate in Sydney was also a joke. Before coming here, I rang them a few times and finally had to go to ask them for a list of documents I would need for my DNI application. Of course none of what they told us prepared us for the mind-numbing, cannot-think-out of-the-box mentality of a low level bureaucrat circa 1950.

    The consulate staff were 3 women, one heavily pregnant, all chitchating the whole time while staring at the million dollar view of Sydney harbour; what cushy jobs they landed themselves in, whoever went to their window were just disturbance to be waved away asap.

    Matty, I wish you and your girlfriend all the best. I really hope things work out for you down south, but worst case scenario is NZ which ironically is many people's dream scenario. You are very fortunate to have choices.

    By Blogger miss cupcake, at 12:29 PM  

  • hang in there buddy. it sounds like it's been tough, frustrating.. but you've come this far! i mean, c'mon.. you can't have your balls handled by another man for nothing!

    i think there is a reason why you didn't pack it in already.. even if it is not clear now. now is the time to get creative. just as your original business plan didn't work out exactly the way you imagined, i'm sure it could always use more tweaking.

    remember your competitive advantages and that nothing ever worth attaining comes easily. we will be pulling for you.. good luck brother!

    By Blogger johnny 5, at 3:36 PM  

  • zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:13 AM  

  • miss cupcake,

    may I offer you some wine with that whine?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:42 PM  

  • AAARRRGH! For fuck's sake. Why doesn't Argentina just go all the way and redesign its flag to feature a man banging his head against a wall (on a light blue and white background). It'd give a much better impression of what the country's all about.

    From what you're saying it sounds like getting out of Bariloche was the only sensible decision! Still, you must be monumentally pissed off.

    By Blogger The Alex, at 9:02 AM  

  • To the first Mr anonymous, who finds this post boring. Go away.

    Thanks matt, johnny5 and miss cupcake for the supportive words. Alex, I'm not really pissed off. Some days I'm really negative and I wanna sell up and throw it all in - fuck Argentina. And other days I shrug my shoulders and resign myself to it being that way here and there's nothing I can do about it, I just have to go along with it.

    Miss cupcake, consulates around the world have a bad rep for service but I actually had responsive service from the Argy consul in NZ both times I've applied for a visa. Unfortunately, they screwed up my application due to incompetence but they were attentive nonetheless. You're certainly welcome to whine here about your bad experiences so I don't know why the other anonymous had to chip in with a lazy pun. And you've got a right to be peeved since you still don't have a DNI and you are entitled to one! You could try send Carmen at baknowhow an email to get your DNI fast tracked. You won't pay her until you get your DNI.

    By Blogger mattyboy, at 11:13 AM  

  • echo all words of support above.

    Dunno if this is any help, but at least your problems are a little bit interesting, rather than those of us with standard, suburban, worrying-about-the-mortgage-and-the-kids stresses. Like cupcake said, your last resort is still pretty good.

    Having read that, it's probably not much comfort, sorry. Definitely rooting for yer.

    You ever think about a similar business in NZ? You forget how big tourism is here when you live in Hams, but we just went on the Taieri Gorge Railway, and it was packed, even at $63pp and on a winter Monday.

    By Blogger Slag, at 9:19 AM  

  • damn!!!!
    I am latin american and can tell you that in most countries you can bypass bureaucratic bull**** by paying a "fee" or hire a "gestor" or go between and avoid the hassles....

    cop pulls you over, and you've been drinking?? Andrew Jackson gets you from getting popped...dont want to wait 5 hours in line to pay a phone bill?, pay $2 and skip in line by buying a place from "placeholders"

    The problem with Argentina is that the people there think they are european as evidenced with the bureaucratic maze devised by 19th century frenchmen!! and what is worse is that the bribe approach does not work as well...............

    hang in there!!!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:23 PM  

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