Friday, May 17, 2013

Gotta Love the Black (Blue) Market!

Day 170 (April 5, 2013)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Day's Ride: 0 Miles

I woke up with a little bit of a headache after the Kilkenny. Unfortunately, I had a pressing appointment: the final payment and paperwork for shipping the bike home. After another filling breakfast of coffee and bread, I walked downtown to the office of the shipping company that was handling my bike. The day before, Peter, Marichio, and I had all decided to meet up at the office together and make the payments at the same time for reasons that I will explain in a second.

We all arrived at the office at the same time and, in typical Argentinian fashion, were told that the agent wasn't ready to see us yet and that we should come back in an hour. We went down the street to a McDonalds, drank some coffee, checked the exchange rates on our phones, and discussed our gameplan for payment.

When shipping your bike you are presented with the option of paying in cash with American Dollars or Argentinian Pesos at the official rate. If you're savvy concerning "Dolar Blue", It doesn't take a genius to realize that you can save a ton of money by paying in pesos.

As I've mentioned before, one of the huge benefits of traveling in Argentina right now is Dolar Blue, aka, the black market currency exchange for American Dollars. The official exchange rate is around 5.13 Argentinian Pesos for every Dollar. The black market exchange is currently around 8.2-8.4 for every Dollar. The rates are usually better for larger amounts of money and larger denominations. So, if you're changing a couple thousand dollars in hundred dollar bills, you can get a pretty good deal. Of course, in order to get the black market rate, you have to haggle a little bit, go into some potentially shady areas, and deal with some somewhat shady characters. For these reasons, we all decided to team up, combine our cash, and spend some time finding the best deal possible. Furthermore, I think we all felt a little more safe having three people present instead of doing it on our own.

We went back to the shipping office, met with the agent, and received our final price for shipping. My bill came out to 9,450 Pesos or $1,838. Doing some quick math and estimating an exchange rate of at least 8, I figured that I could save around $700 by using Dolar Blue.

I had pulled out about $2,000 in hundred dollar bills while in Uruguay in preparation for this moment; I decided that I would change about $1,500 total into Pesos: $1,200 to pay for the shipping and $300 to pay for my final 5 days in Buenos Aires. Peter and Marichio already had a fair amount of pesos, but they still had about $600 that they wanted to change as well. Together, we had $2,100 to change and we all figured that we could get a good rate.

Unfortunately, for some reason, everyone decided that I should be the one to carry the cash, so I had to walk around downtown Buenos Aires, a city notorious for pickpockets, with a huge wad of $100 bills in my pocket while Marichio (who's Colombian and speaks fluent Spanish) negotiated with money changers on the street. I had both of my hands in my pockets the entire time; one hand clutching my wallet, the other clutching my pocket knife. As if a pocket knife would help me stop a pick pocket...

We finally settled on a woman named Blanca who was offering us 8.25. Apparently the rates had gone down during Semana Santa.

Blanca lead us to a building that looked strangely familiar. After we stepped inside and she showed us the freight elevator, I realized that this was one of the same buildings that I had changed money in last week. There's nothing like stepping into a freight elevator with a couple thousand dollars in your pocket, wondering if you're about to get robbed at gunpoint by some thugs that are waiting for you on the second floor. Figuring that I didn't have much to lose other than thousands of Dollars and possibly my life, I decided to sneak some pictures with my phone. Here's Blanca and the freight elevator:

We got off on the third floor and walked down a long hallway:

Blanca stopped at an unmarked doorway, gave a little knock, and lead us inside.

After we told them how much money we had to change, they told us that we would have to wait while they ran out and got more Pesos. I figured that this was the point where they would run out and get their crew of armed thugs to come back and rob us. Pocket knives aren't much protection against Pistolas...

Fortunately, they were true to their word, and after about 10 minutes of waiting, a big Argentinian dude came in with our pesos. I guess it's bad for business to rob your customers. We stepped into the money changing booth and slapped down our hundreds.

The man behind the glass slid us back an enormous stack of hundred Peso notes and we got to work examining each one to ensure that we weren't getting "truchas" (counterfeits), which are apparently quite common. After a lengthy examination and a few exchanges of damaged currency, we finally had our money. We thanked Blanca and headed back to the shipping office to pay our fees.

The payment was pretty straightforward. We went up to the cashier on the 7th floor of the office building, gave him our cash, and received our Air Freight Way Bills and a shipping date. My bike was supposed to fly out the next day on a United Flight and reach Portland by Monday.

So, here are some fast facts concerning my shipping experience:

Actual cost of shipping by air from Buenos Aires to Portland, OR: $1,838.52

ATM fees to remove lots of cash in Uruguay: $35
Referral fee paid to Dakar Motos: $85
Shipping Cost after Converting to Dolar Blue: $1,145.50
Total Shipping Cost: $1,265.50

So, in all actuality, I saved $573 on shipping. That's way, way, way cheaper than any of the other options. You would be crazy to ship from anywhere else. I could have done it even cheaper too if I would have thought ahead and used Western Union to wire myself the money in Uruguay. Then I would have only had to pay $5 to get all of that cash.

After getting all of our papers in order, we went to a nearby Parilla to celebrate.

I had a mixed plate with short ribs, loin, chicken breast, normal sausage, and blood sausage. Delicious!

In any event, things are about finished for me. The bike is gone and after gorging myself on meat, I had the realization that my two wheels to freedom were now out of the picture. It's strangely depressing to realize that you can't just hop on your bike and take off whenever you feel the urge. Furthermore, without a bike you are suddenly reduced to just another backpacking tourist. Blah! I spent the rest of the afternoon feeling sorry for myself, then, pulled myself together, went out and bought some cigars, and celebrated!

As far as this ride report is concerned; I'm not quite finished. I'm going to start working on a little summary and some observations concerning the trip, as well as a little summary of my last few days in BA. Furthermore, I've been asked by a few people to give a presentation on my trip when I return to the states; with that in mind, I would like to enlist the help of all of the people that have been or are reading my crazy ramblings. If you are reading this and are willing, I'm looking for nominations for the best pictures from each country, aside from the Salar pictures in Bolivia. Thanks in advance!

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