Costly Cows

Trip Start Jan 15, 2006
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Trip End Sep 05, 2006


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Flag of Argentina  ,
Friday, April 7, 2006

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Argentina's economy has been quite strong for the past three years, with GDP averaging about 9%. Unfortunately, much of this has been driven by overstimulative fiscal and monetary policy and we are starting to see inflation rear its ugly head. The president, Kirchner, has, (as many politicians are wont to do), tried to find a scapegoat rather than doing something unpleasant like reduce government spending.

Last year, Kirchner, lashed out at Shell Oil over the price of fuel thereby showing a complete lack of understanding of commodities markets. Unless Shell would sell diesel at last year's prices he would ask Argentine consumers to boycott the company. There wasn't much for Shell to do, so they gave him a temporary 4% rollback. Kirchner then shifted his attention to supermarkets and obtained a 'voluntary' temporary freeze on food prices.

In the past few weeks he has started to work on a target that is a little closer to home, beef. (As anyone who has traveled here knows, Argentines eat beef for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each night Kia scans the menu for the lonely fish or pasta dish. Demonstrating a somewhat steep learning curve, Kia is usually quite disappointed in her poorly prepared entry and looks longingly at my juicy steak. Fortunately for her, we are headed next to Chile, a land of seafood.)

The beef producers are protesting in the streets. In Argentina, the gauchos, are part of the national myth and will not be an easy target for Kirchner. Meanwhile, the few chicken farmers are busily raising prices on their now scarce commodity while hosting giant pro-Kirchner chicken barbecues. This cannot end well.

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We have now driven a total of 10,000 miles since we started out trip 11 weeks ago in Chile. We still have about 15 weeks of travel ahead until we hit the US border, but looking at maps, I am guessing our mileage will be a fraction of what we have done to date. Our bums are pleased.

To put 10,000 miles in perspective, that would take you roundtrip from San Francisco to New York, twice. On the other hand, last year at home I put about 13,000 miles on my car. My commute was pretty short and we didn't take any long roadtrips. I didn't even drive the car to Tahoe. I know that 13K is not that unusual for an annual mileage, but how did I manage to drive that much? No wonder our country uses so much energy.

One troubling aspect of driving in South America is the habitual imbibing of our fellow drivers. When we stop for lunch, most travelers order either a liter of beer or a bottle of wine to wash down their repast. (Beer is usually sold by the liter in restaurants, which makes it somewhat easier to get schnockered by just 'having a beer or two.') Despite this behavior, all of the trucks we have seen have been well controlled. We will be continuing our policy of driving only in daylight and being quite careful in traffic.

We have spent the past three days in the small colonial/tourist city of Salta. The architecture is quite beautiful and we have had a nice time taking it easy. We got some work done on the Jeep and Kia had a flat repaired on her bike for the princely sum of $1. (Evidently the tire repair shops, known as gomerias, are supporters of Kirchner's anti-inflation rhetoric.)

We next travel over a 13,000 foot pass in the Andes to meet Kia's parents in Chile. I am a bit nervous about performance of both the Jeep and its driver at that altitude. As always, it will be an adventure.
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