Now I don’t want this to come off as too negative, but Argentina can be jolly hard work. Today we had two tasks – change some money, and buy some credit for my phone.
This literally took most of the day.
I had been told to bring lots of cash (dollars, or euros) rather than relying on ATMs. So I did. I have been able to pay for a number of things with my no-fees, perfect-exchange-rate credit card, so that’s been good when it works, but then it has also been randomly rejected at times forcing me to use cash or other cards with big fees/commissions. Getting money out of ATMs with that card costs 6 pounds a go, and when you can only get 74 pounds per transaction, that’s huge! But for any other card, its 6 pounds a go plus whatever my home bank charges. So I could easily be paying 10% of your cash in ATM fees!
I was told by our hotel reception that if I had notes smaller than 100 USD or 100 Euro, that exchange houses may not want them, or give me a worse rate. Bonkers as this may seem, this tallied with other reports I’d seen of casas de cambios refusing smaller notes or giving much worse rates for them. So we headed off to the Santander Bank, 5 minutes from the hotel. The queue was immense and luckily a security guard told us right off that the bank didn’t have an exchange function. He gave us directions to a cambio that we followed but never found (which could have been my Spanish). We then headed for another bank that we were told did do exchange.
Their queues were even more immense (I counted 47 people just queuing to use the ATM – inside there were many more) and to even get in a queue you had to get a ticket from an electronic machine – but to get a ticket you had to input your tax ID number. There was literally no other option, and no helpful information desk. Hmmm. I asked a guy standing patiently behind us while I tried to work out what to do, and he said they also had no cambio. By this point we had traversed half of Iguazu – a town, let me remind you, that borders two different countries and receives millions of international tourists a year.
We were then directed to a cambio across the road – it was supposed to close at 12.30 and by now it was 12.20, so wonderful, we were in luck! Erm… no. It was closed already, and would only reopen at 4.30. By this point, the insatiable black hole that is Lauren’s stomach was getting grumpy and noises were being made about lunch… but I was reluctant to completely wipe out our remaining cash. We agreed to try one more cambio place, listed on google maps. It was a fair trek and we arrived after 12.30 so with little hope, but it was open and eventually when we got served gave us a reasonable (for Argentina) rate for my cash. Phew.
So, lets have lunch.
Ah, yes, even that seems to have a system here (to be fair this is the only place that we have encountered this system, but it was not the day for it). We got to a café and sat down at a free table. Not being served after a while, we figure out you have to take a ticket and wait in line. No problem! Happy to queue! We are British after all!
Leaving Lauren at the table (guarding our masses of cash, plus the bag with my passport in as I’d needed it for money exchange) I took a ticket and joined the huddle of people round the counter. When it was my turn I ordered. I was then given a piece of paper with my order on it. I then had to join another queue to get the drinks, and then another queue to pay – presenting my bit of paper and the bottle of water I’d chosen. Once I’d paid, (with my card, which required me to enter my pin, sign my name, and present my passport so they could write down the passport number) I then had to go to a different part of the first counter, with my bit of paper now stamped, and give it to the woman there. She had my order prepared and there next to her, but did she at this point (queue number 4 remember…) hand it over to me?
Oh no, she took my bit of paper and told me to sit down!!!! After about ten minutes she brought it over! Luckily just sandwiches and nothing hot as it would have been stone cold by then.
After lunch we felt sufficiently revived to tackle the task of buying credit for my phone.
I should say that the process of getting the sim card had previously taken 2 visits to the phone company, the entering of immensely detailed information into their system, presentation of my passport, and then being told that the phone company could only provide the sim card, not any actual credit, for which we needed to go to a service station.
Various places around Iguazu have the Movistar sticker in the window, but only sell the sim card, not credit. It seems like only service stations sell credit. Oh, and you can’t pay for credit using a card, or online, and if you have a phone bought outside the country it won’t let you download the app to manage your account. Nowhere on your phone menu does it tell you what your number is, nor is this on the information that comes with the sim card, so woe betide anyone who loses the post-it note the phone company gives you with your number on. Because without knowing your number you can’t buy credit.
We headed off to the shell garage, braced for drama, but in actual fact the guy there was very pleasant – he couldn’t work out one of the numbers on the aforementioned post-it note (I only use my phone for data so have had no need to find out my number after the initial top up) so he kindly used his own phone to phone me and check, before selling me 200 pesos worth of credit for …… 210 pesos…. Whatever.
So by the time we had changed money, had lunch and bought phone credit, having seen most of the town in the process, we felt we were entitled to a quiet afternoon under the AC, catching up on emails, and watching TV. Sometimes, travel is exhausting and some downtime is needed.
Given it was such an arduous day, we treated ourselves to dinner ‘out-out’ (as in, at a nice restaurant as opposed to the cheapest café we can find something reasonable in – I do miss cooking) and so the travails of the day were soundly compensated for by our first taste of Argentinian steak – yes, it was as good as everyone says, check out Lauren’s face below, she ate two thirds of my steak – and I even treated myself to a caipirinha.