Before we left the hotel, Ken paid the bill for Internet and laundry service. We had left over pesos and wanted to use them, but the cashier said she would have to add 19% tax for local currency. If we used American dollars or a credit card, there was no tax. Quite an incentive to get more of our currency.
Although today was a mostly driving day, it was not tedious. As we left Torres del Paine, we stopped at a few overlooks for some final appreciation of the mountain formation here. With every change of view, we saw a different aspect of its magnificence. The local guide talked about pumas, which are making a comeback here due to protective laws. I had no idea they are as big as tigers and can jump over a fence with a German Shepard dog in their mouths. No wonder the local sheep owners would like to be rid of them.
Even on a driving day we bring piles of clothing on the bus. Every day Luis advises us to be ready for any and every type of weather and after being in Patagonia almost two weeks, we get it. Overall it has been warmer than we expected, since ice and snow are always nearby. Most of the serious rain has fallen while we were sleeping, although the drumming on the metal roof of the hotel, had me dreaming that we were back in the motor home. The Atlantic and Pacific are close to each other here. The bursts of sunshine warm the earth; breezes come off the glaciers and it all mixes into unbelievably strong wind gusts at times.
We ate lunch very near the border crossing, enjoying chicken soup like grandma used to make. Luckily, the restaurant had a gift shop. This was our final day in Chile and we had pesos to spend.
We crossed the border on a dirt road. Often small crossings are more tedious than busy ones. With little to do, the agents can get excited when a bus full of live ones appears. We checked out of Chile on foot, drove a strip of no man's land for ten minutes and had to enter Argentina in alphabetical order. The agents here just got computers - they haven't had electricity all that long - and it was slow going. Then we drove to a lot where our new bus, new driver, and new local guide waited. Luis, our tour leader, has been the only constant throughout the trip. It's nice to have the local knowledge, but after leading so many OAT trips, we get the sense that he could easily do it all.
On the drive to Calafate, Argentina our new local guide gave a talk about her country. More than half of Argentinians trace their roots to Italy, mostly Sicily. They brought a Mafia-like graft and corruption with them. They are very proud of their country and share the "everything is bigger and better here" attitude that makes me think of Texans. Their ranches and high quality beef also fit that stereotype. Education and health care are free here, and she spoke passionately about her grandparents who came here destitute and how easy it was for their children to get a good education and improve their lives. Many South Americans come here to study; currently their education is also free. There are even about 2,000 American students in Buenos Aries, also studying for free. Utilities are heavily subsidized. Typical electric and water bills are $5/ month. With all these freebies and people looking to avoid paying taxes, it's no wonder that the country lurches from one currency crisis to another. Our guide was traumatized in 2001 when all the banks ran out of money and closed. No one ever got any of their savings back. In such a situation putting cash under your mattress is sound investment advice.