A chat with a local
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While in Mendoza staying at my Hostel, I had the opportunity to sit and chat over some coffee with the owner of the hostel, Sebastion, about vaious economic topics. His english was very rough so I am attempting to quote him as accurately as I understood it.
Sebastion had very strong feelings on the problem of unemployment. When I asked him how high he thought the unemployment rate was he said around 70%, when I told him it was somewhere below 15% he refused to believe me. I think he was still remembering back in 2002 when unemployment reached over 25%, but his belief that it was almost 70% shows how noticeable the unemployment is apparant to him. He believed it was the governments job to fix the unemployment problem and that permanent jobs should be created to correct the problem. He explained to me a system currently in place where work is given on a daily basis for only a few pesos a day. Sebastion argued this system is actually more destructive because the future income for these people is unknown and unstable and it is hard for them to save because they are living day to day. Sebastion suggests what these people need is not a single day of sweeping the streets for a few pesos, but the government should provide them with homes and more secure jobs. Outside the city of Mendoza are several little shanty towns, which Sebastion highly dislikes because they foster crime.
Sebastion use to live in Buenos Aires and believes that Argentina is being a hypocrite over the paper mills because. He argues that a country with so much internal pollution has no right to say anything to a neighboring country until they clean up themselves first.
He also discussed Social Security breifly stating that its up to the children to take care of their parents because the social security payments are too small to support anyone.
I asked him about the economic crisis and how that effected his buisness. Sebastion said he was very rich when the peso was fixed to the dollar. He said this was because he was in the tourist industry and the 1 to 1 ratio made him a lot of money from foreigners visiting and he was able to buy several more hostels. However, now is not so good because he gets much less for each dollar and was forced to sell and close some of his hostels directly after the crash and is only just now he is able to start expanding again. He however believes that the exchange rate will not fluctuate much in the next five years, because he argues that outsiders opinions of Argentina will prevent the peso from strengthening. He believes the outside world now sees Argentina as unstable and weakened and only if the recent growth rates continue will that attitude change.
Tourism in Colonia is the major source of income for the people living in the town, and thus the town has adopted to create the best environment possible to take advantage of it. Tourism in Colonia is operated a lot like a tourist town in the states and very little like a tourist town in Argentina.
In Argentina, upon arriving in an area known for tourism you are immediately attacked with flyers and brochures for various hostels, hotels, and restaurants. I don´t think I was handed one flyer the entire time in Colonia. Most of the souveiner stores I went to in Mendoza I was followed around and watched closely, but in Colonia there was never really an issue of distrust. I was not followed once while in a store. Also, at the market a woman had stepped away from her booth to get lunch and left a basket in front of her stand for you to put your money in if you decided to buy something from her booth. In Colonia there was a tone of trust and I felt less pressured and pushed into buying things.
In Colonia, I was not ripped off once. In Mendoza there were no price tags on most of the things I bought and I knew they were raising the prices because I was american. In Colonia, not only were the prices on everything but they were available in Argentine pesos and Uruguayan pesos for your conveinence. The store owners went out of their way to make it easier to purchase from them. I needed some local currency but the ATM only gave me a 1000 peso. At first i panicked thinking no one would take it, because in Argentina its near impossible to get rid of a 100 peso. However, the first time I tried to change my 1000 peso the woman did her best to change it even digging in her purse, but she simply did not have enough change. I then was able to break it buying a soda at the grocery store. The girl didn´t even look at me twice when I handed her the large bill she simply made me change, which is something similar to the US which I take for granted.
Even though the town was very small there were signs everywhere directing you towards different sights, these did not exist in Mendoza and Mendoza is a much bigger city and needed them more. More people spoke english in Colonia or at least made efforts to understand. The service at the restaurants was much more promt and friendly which reminded me of home.
Overall, I would say Colonia is run like a US tourist city. It is created to help the tourist move around and spend with as much ease as possible, but all with a friendly and inviting tone. Argentina is a much more pushy, aggressive, and untrusting society which makes it more uncomfortable to move about and enjoy yourself. Overall, I would rather spend a weekend in Colonia than Argentina.
I spent a weekend in Mendoza absorbing the culture and tasting several different wines. It is immediately obvious upon visiting the country of Argentina how important wine is in daily life. A country that consumes 70 to 80 liters of wine every year takes their wine very seriously and I learned to appreciate the wine industry´s importance in this society after touring several different winerys.
I was able to tour a large winery and a medium winery during my stay in Mendoza. I don´t think I was able to fully appreciate the tour of the larger winery, Lopez, because the tour was only in Spanish and I was unable to learn about the process and production methods. However, I was still able to observe the attitude of the massive winery. The tour times were very specific and if you were even a few minutes late they would cancel your tour. It was almost like they were trying to make you feel privaliged just to be there. After the tour they also only let you taste their bottom shelf vino almost as if to say we both know we have amazing wine thats why you are here so we aren´t going to waste it on on you. The Lopez winery would only let you try either red or white not both and they only let us taste for a very short time. Needless to say no one in my tour group bought any wine. I think tourists not from Argentina who may not know the reputation of that brand are turned away by an almost cold and snobby attitude of the guides and bartenders.
The smaller winery we visited was called Baudon. Even though they didn´t offer english tours our tour guide there new some broken english and after every description would turn to the english speakers and try the best she could to translate, an immediate difference. Also, not only were we able to sample several types of wine they gave us a lesson as well where we learned the different techniques for judging wine. I also learned that red and white wine are both made from red grapes, but white wine is made without the skin of the grape (fun fact).
The wine industry is a very important industry in Argentina and even more important to the province of Mendoza. Upon entering the province by bus we learned that no outside fruit or vegetables were allowed over the state line, in order to protect their crops. A spread of a disease or bug infestation can drastically effect the economy of the region, thus it is very important to protect the agriculture there. We also learned that due to certain winds from the mountains it will hail in the middle of the summer, which can devestate full fields of grapes. The people of Mendoza have two solutions to protect their crops. Nets can be placed over the vineyards to catch the falling hail. The first is the most expensive and only the larger vineyards use it. The other method involves three or four planes bought from the USA shooting ¨rockets¨at the hail. The planes shoot at the hail with these rockets that explode in the air and melt the hail. The second method is cheaper than the netting, but only some vineyards pay for this service the rest are at the mercy of the weather.
Every cafe, restaurant, club, and bar has an extensive list of wines to chose from. The wine industry in argentina is not only important as part of the social culture but a major part of the economy of an entire region and thus must be protected and preserved. Viva el vino.
Even though I only spent two days in Uruguay I like it much better than Argentina. Most of the comparisons I made were however between the large city of Buenos Aires and the small town of Colonia, which I realize may be an unfair comparison. However I have spent 4 days in another smaller touristy city in Argentina, Mendoza, and that is whatI tried to base most of my comparisons on.
The first thing you notice is the air and how you can breath it without coughing. I noticed that none of the cars or scooters emitted a cloud of exhaust the way the cars and motorcycles do in Argentina. I am not sure if there is stricter regulations in place or the people voluntarily attempt to reduce harmful emissions from their vehicles. Uruguay seems to be a much more environmentally and health conscious nation. In both countries people own a lot of dogs as pets, but in Argentina you have to constantly be on the look out for unwanted dog waste or your shoe will be covered in it. While riding my bicycle around Colonia I actually saw a woman with a plastic bag and she was picking up after her dog, which was something you would never ever see in Argentina.
The most important difference that I noticed was the lack of smokers in Uruguay. I don´t think I saw one person smoking the whole weekend. This is a very important difference for me especially because I have allergies to the cigarette smoke. The Latin culture seems to revolve around spending a lot of hours and time in cafes and bars, which in Argentina is less than pleasent when you are seated next to a smoker. Several places in Uruguay I saw no smoking signs and even the dance club we went to on Saturday night was non-smoking. There appears to be a big difference in priorities of health care in the two countries.
Mendoza compared to Colonia was polluted, loud, smoky, and full of dirty and smelly streets. However, I haven´t spent anytime in a large city in Uruguay so its hard to determine if the capital cities of Argentina and Uruguay really differ, but judging on the two smaller cities I have visited I would say there is aa significant difference in overall public sanitation. I would love to go back to Uruguay and spend more time there, if only to save my lungs.