On the road again!

We`re moving on! It`s nearly time to catch the bus so we are busy preparing, taking up our roles.

Darragh is our student, reader and illustrator. He draws maps of Argentina, sketching our route south from latitude 35 to latitude 54. To Ushuaia, the Beagle Channel and Magellan Straits. To the end of the world, last stop before Antarctica.

DSC_1432

Nan is our researcher, planner. Tracking penguins in Tierra del Fuego, plotting treks on Perito Moreno Glacier and walks through Torres Del Paine National Park.

The plan is set; we know where were going. Nan`s spent weeks studying accommodation, routes and buses.

I study buses too, dreamily sipping coffee outside Tolon on Coronel Diaz y Santa Fe.

I love Buenos Aires buses. There are so many of them, colourfully skulking the streets. Nan and Darragh laugh and think I`m cracked when I say they remind me of prehistoric creatures prowling the avenues of Capital Federal.

 My head is still in Buenos Aires; I have threatened to stay. Jokingly of course but I have really loved it here and am reluctant to leave.  It’s such an interesting place.

My responsibility is the family budget, figuring out costs, making sure we`ve enough to get us home.

Managing finance in Argentina reminds me of Shelley`s Ozymandias

 

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

 

DSC_1427

Don`t worry family, we`re not broke but Argentina is. It’s a financial wasteland and Prat Gay, newly appointed Minister for Finance, has a huge challenge ahead. He`s a very highly regarded past pupil and parent of our school here; I wish him well but don`t envy his task. He will be a key member of,fellow Newman past pupil, Presidente Macri`s team.

It’s really difficult to figure out costs here, a trip on my beloved 152 bus from Palermo to Boca costs 3.50 pesos. Using the official euro rate, this costs about 33 cent or 22 cent with the parallel blue rate. Buses are heavily subsidised at the moment but no doubt prices will soon rise rapidly. Porteños won`t like that.

 Presidente Macri is being inaugurated tomorrow and has committed to introducing a single rate for the dollar from his very first day of office, so no one knows how much things will cost.

 For us booking accommodation for the new year down south is totally confusing as we don`t know the most cost effective way of paying. Do we change euro to pesos now or next week or pay by credit card?

My Argentinian friends nod knowingly and laugh at me when I ask their advice. This is their life; they live with inflation and financial uncertainty. Unable to access loans and buy homes.

They tell me about hyperinflation, when they shopped not knowing how much things would cost on a day to day basis. Waiting at tills, hoping they would have enough money, deciding in their minds what could be left behind.  Baby’s diapers were the first to go; they’re imported and very expensive. Most switched to cloth or relied on friends bringing them in from Chile.

 I have a new found respect for my Argentinian friends.Since it’s impossible for them to plan with financial certainty, they have developed impressive skills; they`re resourceful, innovative and able to react quickly to emerging situations. They look at problems from a variety of angles, finding solutions I would never have considered.

 My friends have spent weeks looking at the developing economic situation. A currency devaluation looks likely, so they are carefully making decisions such as whether to buy new tyres for their cars or stock up on provisions.

Argentina is on the road again and I hope Presidente Macri has a good team with him.

Jim Collins’ brilliant book on Leadership, ‘From Good to Great’, states  that people assume great bus drivers( leaders) begin by announcing to people on the bus where they`re going,setting a new direction and vision. But Collins says good leaders don`t start with ‘where’ but ‘who’. They get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus and the right people on the right seats’

Let’s hope the right people are on the bus. For me, it’s time to move on from Buenos Aires and turn my attention south.

DSC_1428

Advertisements

Endgame in Buenos Aires

We’ve been in the thick of this fiercely-fought Argentine election, following its soap-opera twists and turns. Now, it was endgame and our Christian Brother school was buzzing with the possibility of a past-pupil president.

WP_20151122_042 (1)

Sunday´s election was a long day in the city; a strange day with many places closed. Lots of staff, parents and students were busy with a massive election-monitoring initiative, determined to ensure a fair vote.

We whiled away our afternoon in the touristic part of the city near Recoleta cemetery; lazy hours sipping café cortados, outside La Biela, in the sunshine. Three of us at a table under those magnificent Recoleta trees, with branches so big, they`re propped up by steel poles. So peaceful. So relaxing.

An arriving coach-load, of wealthy Scandavian tourists, was disappointed there was no beer. During elections, alcohol sales are banned in the city for twenty-four hours. Opting for freshly squeezed orange juice, they soon moved on to their next landmark, oblivious to the on-going vote in nearby schools.

Later I sat in our Recoleta apartment, glued to TV, as numbers were crunched and votes counted. The reaction from party bunkers said it all; sad Peronist faces in Plaza de Mayo contrasted with jubilant dancing at Macri`s Palermo bunker.

As I viewed history unfold, I yearned to be part of the occasion. By eight pm, I couldn`t resist anymore, both party headquarters were within easy reach so I headed out.

The cafe-bars on Avenida Coronel Diaz were unusually quiet except for an odd soul staring at a TV screen. Nothing was happening outside but I knew where to go. I’d seen enough Argentinian football celebrations to know where Porteños go to celebrate. At Santa Fe. I jumped aboard bus 152 and headed downtown to the iconic Obelisco.

The bus zipped along a surprisingly quiet Santa Fe and tore across Av. 9 de Julio, the widest street in the world. There was very little traffic.

It was a beautiful, balmy November night as I walked south on Pellegrini; the obelisco radiated like Borges’ Aleph drawing me to it.

The centre, all roads lead here. All points radiate out.

DSC_0023-ANIMATION

I soon saw the colourful celebrations. Cambiemos supporters wildly celebrating their victory, gazed up at big screens where Macri was finally introduced to thousands as the new Presidente.

Welcoming Argentinians beckoned and invited me among their ranks as they cheered, draped in Argentinian flags, and chanted Macri’s name. The huge crowd smiled and danced, moving like a wave of the sea.

Sky blue balloons bobbed about and loud firecrackers exploded as Macri pamphlets fell like confetti from the sky. The papers dropped and dipped in the wind around us, raining like tickertape.

cropped-wp_20151122_1231.jpg

TV crews and press photographers, caught up in the dancing party jostled to capture the magnificent moment.

Soon car-loads of die-hard Macri supporters arrived from the Palermo bunker. The party was just starting but it was time for me to go and let them celebrate.

Traffic was heavy for the return journey. Drivers happily honked horns as jubilant dancers tangoed between traffic.

Throngs of people gathered at junctions singing and waving flags at our bus as we slowly made our way home through the cacophony of blaring horns, Argentinian anthems and football chants.

WP_20151122_051

It was a privilege to witness and I hope Argentina and its wonderful people benefit from the change.

It’s endgame for us, we leave BA at Christmas so won’t be present to see how our Irish Christian Brother-educated president performs. We will follow closely from afar.

A change is gonna come!

Argentina is on the threshold of historic change.

On Sunday, the country votes for the third time since our August arrival. This time it will be decisive, with a final choice between two candidates with distinct political philosophies.

The whole country is gripped by an unexpectedly close contest between these  colourful candidates. Every conversation around us is punctuated by two words, Macri and Scioli.

Cambiemos candidate Mauricio Macri, a past pupil of our school, Colegio Cardenal Newman, is the former mayor of Buenos Aires City and a previous president of Boca Juniors football club.

DSC_1136

FPV`s  Daniel Scioli is the Peronist Government`s candidate and former Governor of Buenos Aires Province . He is the chosen successor of Cristina Kirchner who has been president for eight years, following her husband`s four year reign. Scioli is a former world powerboat champion who lost his arm in a boating accident.

DSC_0002-02

Scioli`s surprise failure to win the last round convincingly has forced a ballotage or head-to-head vote

Both speak of change, Macri promises instant change and a move to market-orientated policies while Scioli speaks of a more gradual move away from the Government`s protectionist policies.

Argentina has big problems.

While government statistics claim that Argentina has one of the world`s lowest poverty rates, there is obvious abject poverty all around us.

There is a huge social divide with shanty towns ‘villas’ right outside wealthy gated-communities.

The public education system is creaking and needs a major overhaul. Argentina once had a highly regarded  education system but in the PISA 2012 education rankings, Argentina came 59th of 65 nations  and sixth out of the eight tested Latin American countries.

The economy is in big trouble so the government operates a range of measures to stem the flow of capital from the country.  But many people tell us how corruption is strangling any economic growth.

We shop for  Argentinian made products as imported goods are prohibitively expensive. Items which Argentina doesn’t produce can’t be bought for a realistic price or are unavailable for purchase.

Argentina has cash-flow problems and low reserves but is still virtually excluded from international bond markets since its  debt default in 2001.

Polls predict a Macri victory, ending twelve years of Peronist power.

Both candidates speak of change but whoever wins it`s going to be a difficult road ahead.