Southern South America (1997/98)

In 1983/84 (right at New Year) we had made a fleeting visit to Santiago, en route back home from a trip to Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. At that time we promised ourselves that some day we would return to visit the Chilean lakes district and the southern fiordland, if possible.

Now, fourteen years later, we gave ourselves a retirement present - a seven-month trip to southern Africa and southern South America. We spent three months of the trip in South America, travelling a rough circle from Brazil, across to Chile, south to Tierra del Fuego, and back north through Argentina and Uraguay to Brazil. Our main emphasis was on Patagonia and the far south.

The story is written up in five parts:

Was it worth going back? Absolutely! We traveled to what must be some of the most beautiful places the world has to offer, and met some great, friendly people along the way.

On the down side, we found that travel in this part of South Americal was much more expensive than we had anticipated, although we traveled as cheaply as was practical. We didn't hitch-hike or camp, but used the excellent, comfortable buses and stayed in cheap hostels and hospedajes. We very seldom ate out, but shopped in supermarkets and chose places that offered cooking facilities, where we prepared our own meals. We budgetted $US60 per day (for two of us), to cover absoutely everything. This amount was sufficient in Brazil, Uraguay and Paraguay, a bit more than required in Bolivia, break-even in Chile (once you balanced the less expensive north with the more expensive south), but totally inadequate for Argentina. When you travel for a long period you have to keep some check on the finances. I used to balance the books once a week, but when we got to Argentina I simply couldn't bring myself to write down the damage; the hostels and food were still affordable, but every bus trip cost us two or three times our daily allowance, and we were haemorrhaging money.

We were not alone in our surprise at the costs. From the Lakes District onward we met fellow travelers who, like us, couldn't work out why it was so expensive to travel in these areas - more expensive than Scandanavia or Germany. The costs also prevent young Chileans and Argentineans from travelling in their own countries, and the major roads have many locals hitch-hiking to save on transport costs. This tends to make hitching more difficult than it used to be; people will pick you up, but there is lots of competition for lifts.

2005 update: The fixed linkage of the Argentine currency to the American dollar has now been broken, and we believe that the exchange rate is now allowed to float. We have not checked, but seem to remember that it soon dropped to around a third to a half of the American dollar, so the comments above do not apply if you are travelling in Argentina now. Our guess is that expenses in Argentina these days will be rather similar to Chile and Brazil.

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