Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Argentina, finally on The Road to Iguazu

(Rio Uruguay at Monte Caseros, Argentina)

On the road again, oh, what a wonderful feeling. In the end it was nearly a month in Montevideo. What had started out as an emergency family visit turned into a restocking and re-arming expedition, with a little sightseeing thrown in. (see the previous blog). The packages from home had arrived. There was only a problem with our Olympus camera which we ordered from the U.S., as the local price was, believe it or not, 3.5 times more than getting it from via family relations in the US. The package was sent via courier, and to our surprise, the courier rather than delivering the package, showed up with a couple of documents which we had to take to the Airport customs clearance to get our package. Ok, so the next day we got on the bus and headed to the airport, a trip of around 30 minutes costing around 25 Sfr. At customs we were sent from one line to another, and after 1 1/2 hours and visiting a number of functionaries, who duly checked our documents, either stamped, appended it, or replaced it with other documents, our package was produced and inspected. Unfortunately, two pieces of bad news were to follow. First, they would not release the package without a power of attorney of the person named as the recipient of the package. In this case Katheryna's grandmother, Olga. Second, they calculated a tax of 60%, based on the price of shipping added to the declared value of the goods. The goods were in this case valued at 100$ and the shipping was listed by the courier company as being $40 although both values are fictitious. The shipping was 105$ and the camera cost 260$, even so we were looking at another 68$ tax. Ok, still cheaper than buying the camera here, but we found it a bit un-reasonable, considering the camera was imported as used. My brother had actually used it, and only sent the camera without any packing material or instructions. This didn't impress the inspector.

(Near El Palmar, NP, Argentina)

Maybe, I should at this point mention that at the time, the customs office in Uruguay, specifically the port and the airport customs officers, were being charged by a federal judge of taking bribes to facilitate the handling of goods. In the previous weeks, they had already indicted 13 officers of taking bribes and were still at it! Anyway, we went home the first day without the camera and with some (unwanted) insights into to the workings of the customs system in Uruguay. Which in my opinion is a vicious circle, in-efficiency, feeding in-efficience, with some unreasonably nasty customs charge to pay for all the inefficiencies. Basically, it employs tons of people and probably pays for itself by the customs duties. The government doesn't profit, and the end consumers certainly don't either. Hmm. Makes one wonder. I also had the pleasure of listening to an interview the head of the customs did with a television reporter. It was a travesty, the gentleman alternatively trying to defend and condemn the goings on in his bureau. What I really got out of the whole thing, was the guy came off as being completely incompetent, both as and administrator and as a politician. But of course this is deviating from the story.

Katheryna wrote a nice little note which her grandmother signed, and the following day we took the local bus (2 of them), instead of the expensive intercity bus, to get to the airport paying a total of 3 Sfr. for a ride which in the end only took 10 minutes longer! Well worth it.
This time, we managed to get the package and as an added surprise they cashier waved the customs charge levied by his colleague the previous day, saying that the camera was obviously used. So the only cost for getting the package besides the transport costs, was a handling charge of 2 Sfr. Nevertheless, I still don't think much of the system. At this point sparing the reader long winded discussions of similarities to the Brazilian port customs, or detailed discussion of the necessities of customs brokers etc. seems the only humane thing to do. So onward with our tale.

Of all the roads leading to Iguazu, which is in the far north east corner of Argentina, around 1700km from Montevideo, we chose one that first took us to the western parts of Uruguay which we had previously not visited. Followed by crossing the country and exiting into Argentina at Paysandu, Uruguay. Turns out that this part of Uruguay is pretty similar to the rest of Uruguay, for the most part, flat and boring motorcycling roads. With a small exception between Melo and Tacuarembo which was lovely, being partly forested, with rolling hilly terrain through which unfortunately passed much too quickly, or the stretch was just too short.

(Katheryna along the Rio Uruguay, Monte Casero, AR)

The crossing in Paysandu was un-eventful, but the bridge was spectacular. The Rio Uruguay is particularly spectacular here and the bridge is provides excellent vantage point to enjoy the splendor. Unfortunately I couldn't stop to get some pictures. And once again we are in Argentina.

(Piray Mini river, Missiones, AR)

We followed the river north into Missiones state, which is where the sub-tropical area of Argentina is. Only one small problem on the road, on the second day after getting into Argentina, my bike starting having problems. We stopped at a town called Monte Caseros, which lies just on the banks of the river Uruguay, looking across into Uruguay (logically). Here I diagnosed and fixed the problem; which turned out to be a bad coil. Having a spare made it a simple switch out the old, put in the new, and we were back on the road. Only one day lost.

Missiones was great, finally some hilly terrain, very lush and green, a lot different than the rest of Argentina. Unfortunately the roads were not all that good in places, and we were advised to take a different route to our destination, which in the end we did. It didn't matter, it was still excellent, very similar to the Amazon regions of Brazil. Deep red earth, and very green foliage, with lots of hills and curves. Luckily for us it was pretty dry and only rained once or twice, and even better the further north we got, the warmer it was. It is also an area which is very developed as far as tourism was concerned, so we got plenty of information on "un-missable sights", which we duly missed. So we got into Puerto de Iguazu in fairly short order and for a change both dry and warm.

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