During my hiatus I made a couple of interesting, polar opposite trips: first, to a frozen floating land mass, Perito. Then, to a bumping beach spot, Punta.
In December, I spent a few days in the south of the country gazing at glaciers. The sights were breathtaking.
First, we made the mandatory visit to the Perito Moreno glacier.
We then hiked on the Perito Moreno for a couple of hours.
The next day we took a boat tour of the Upsala, Onelli and Spegazzini glaciers.
Pictured is Onelli, a glacier and lake littered with icebergs (and my sister).
After spending New Year’s in Buenos Aires, I took the ferry across the river to the renowned regional hotspot, Punta del Este. Although the Ibiza/Hampton’s/St. Tropez of Latin America is located in Uruguay, the beautiful beach town is traditionally taken over by Argentines.
This year was somewhat different. There was a notable increase in the amount of non-Argentines (for reasons discussed below). Many Europeans, North Americans and other Latin Americans flocked to Uruguay to see what the hype is all about.
Even Tara Reid and Naomi Campbell spent a few days, or should I say nights, partying and plundering in Punta. At a couple of parties I had the pleasure of talking to an intoxicated Tara who now makes a living partying. According to her Taradise website, “She’s Improving World Relations: One Party at a Time!”
Given Argentina’s and Uruguay’s recent conflict, Tara could have partied a little harder.
A dispute over the construction of two paper mills on the Uruguayan side of the border has led to an Argentine blockade of the bridges joining the two countries. The two brother nations are now involved in their biggest conflict in recent history.
Argentine protestors claim that the shared river will be polluted by the mills. Despite the complaints lobbied by citizens and the government, Uruguay is going ahead with the Finnish-Spanish construction plan – the largest foreign investment in Uruguayan history!
The European companies are planning to use a bleaching process which involves chlorine dioxide – a chemical which is harmful to humans and the environment. There is a new, cleaner bleaching process which is mandatory in the European Union, however the companies will not be using it in Uruguay because of the higher costs.
In response to this looming threat, Argentines living in the border town of Gualeguaychu have blockaded the border for most of January and February. Given Uruguay’s dependence on Argentina for tourists and imports, this protest has hurt the tiny country’s economy and soured what has traditionally been an excellent relationship.
In the past two weeks, the battle has become heated and created international headlines. Argentina is threatening to take Uruguay to the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Uruguay is menacing with legal recourse for Argentina’s lack of action with regards to the road blockades.
Mercosur, the Southern Common Market, is another potential victim to the conflict. The multilateral organization, which has been invigorated by the election of left-of-centre presidents in South America, could face a setback if middle ground is not reached soon.
If only Tara had stayed in Punta a little longer…
Aside from the paper plant dispute, Punta del Este has seen a decline in the share of Argentine tourists for other important reasons.
Another factor is that Punta has become too expensive for 99.9% of the Argentine population. Since the 2001 Argentine economic crisis and peso devaluation, Uruguay, which has long been a more expensive country, became prohibitively pricey. Gas alone costs two-and-a-half times more. The cover charge to enter Tequila, the most exclusive night club, ranges from US$40 to $60 per person. Tables in the VIP run from $2000 to $4000! Across the river, the highest priced clubs in Buenos Aires run about $30 pesos (or US $10).
Another reason why Punta is becoming less ‘Argentine’, is the recent tourism boom which has been sparked by Argentina’s weak peso. Most people from Europe and North America who visit Punta, usually come via Buenos Aires after hearing about how such a world class city is now a bargain. Upon arriving in Buenos Aires, they are told by Argentines that they must visit Punta. Once they cross the river they are shocked to find a) everything fixed at New York prices b) a town with beautiful beaches and a non-stop-nightlife that is not invaded by alcoholic American spring breakers.
However, given Tara’s recent trip, Punta may soon become another Taradise.