First, I went to the Tourism office to register for my permit. Just as I overlooked some details about my flight, I managed to overlook the paperwork details for my permit. Yeah, those details are easy to find and readily available in most books. I just forgot about them. Between finishing up my semester teaching and getting a few manuscripts submitted before my departure, I just didn't have a ton of time or interest in remembering these details. Glad I came early to learn the ropes before Kathy and Patrick arrive in a little over a week.
Tangent... I messed up my flight by not paying attention to the duty and customs requirements. Yeah, sure I read about them before I left. I just forgot. When I checked into the gate in Miami to board the flight to Santiago, the gentleman working the counter informed me that I needed my reciprocity fee documentation - a payment that goes through some cryptic Argentinian site that pays for my visa. I neglected to pay the fee so he rearranged my flight and bumped me from my scheduled flight to the one following my flight - following it by 30 minutes. Boy was I luck! Better to be lucky and stupid than just stupid I figure. All was well. We rushed through Miami International Airport to find a computer to print out the document. I failed several times to even render the darn page. The guy who helped me was sweating profusely - saying I was probably going to miss my next flight. Needless to say, those words of encouragement made my fingers type all the wrong letters. I made it to the plane as the last one to board. You know the one....the person who looks totally disheveled and relieved to board as the doors close? That was me. I traveled business class on this flight so I snuggled into my chaise lounge chair as I peered back at the rabble - the place I always find myself on these flights - and felt a twinge of guilt. I lost that twinge when I fell asleep lying down on my seat. No, I wasn't lying on the floor in the aisle. I had a fully reclining seat with all the latest movings on demand. No wifi but who could complain about a fully reclining seat. After a glass of wine and a nice shrimp meal, this grateful, lucky, and stupid traveler fell asleep.
The permit fiasco took me all morning. I arrived at my superb hotel at about 11am and quickly set out to figure out what I needed to do to get my permit. Finding the tourism office was a piece of cake. I intentionally chose the hotel because of its proximity to the office. The fellow working at the office desk for permits looked at me when I asked about applying for a permit. He thought I was actually attentive to the repeated instructions. Well....he was wrong. After he carefully explained to me that this was going to be a long affair, I reassured him that I was in no rush. Boy! Good thing I didn't plan to leave Mendoza to climb today. It would not happen. So, off I pressed on my mission to get my permit. Stop one was at some office to hire a mule. Yep, a mule. I don't intend to climb with my newfound friend - or rather friend for hire - but could use a little assistance with my basecamp gear (mostly food and climbing gear not needed on the lower part of the approach). The mule service turned out to be a smoking good deal because by hiring a mule, I got roughly the mule service cost as a discount to my permit fee. Seems like a lot of hands holding out for climbers' cash but I hold no ill feelings. Everyone I dealt with all morning was really pleasant and apologetic.
Tangent...you see, nobody here likes the paperwork necessary to do everything in life. They grow tired of the long lines and endless bureaucracies encountered for much of their lives. I get it. Still, they all seemed very pleasant. I think I might lose my patience after a short bit.
OK, back to my permit mission. I managed to find the mule service office located way up in a building not far from the tourism office. The lady managing the service was delightful. She had me fill out multiple forms and after a few long waits for the computer interface to update my form submission, I was a client. Mule service here I come!
Little did I know at the time, hiring the mule service was just the initial step in a long, drawn out process. I paid the mule service fee in US dollars. Step 2 required me to pay for the permit fee - now that I registered for the mule service and submitted my paperwork to the tourism office via an online form I thought I was set. Nope. Gotta pay for these things. The tourism office does not take the payments directly. I needed to first take my US currency and exchange it for pesos....leading to step 3
Step 3 was an odd journey. I had to go back to the hotel to get more cash. Once I had my cash in hand, I sought out one of the many black market cash exchange guys loitering on the streets. Mendoza or rather Argentina in general has a cash crisis. The inflation rate is so high and the government controls are so numerous on cash that the citizens created their own little market for currency exchange. At a bank, I would get 7 pesos for each US dollar; my black market exchange guy gave me 12.2 pesos per buck. Not a bad exchange rate. Well, that little interim step took me 30 minutes to find the dude, 10 minutes to haggle with him, and then another 5 to count out the thousands of pesos I got for my US$450. It all felt really sleazy but when in Rome...do as the Romans. I was a willing participant in the black market. We shook hands and then I was off to Step 4 - still have yet to get Step 2 done by this time so wait for it...
Step 4 required me to take my cash to a PayGo stand where they process government payments. It seemed like a government run Western Union and probably was at one point. I passed the nice woman my paperwork and she asked me something in Spanish. For those of you who know me, you know I speak one language - English - and I don't speak that one very well. So here I am standing in front of this bullet-proof cage that reminded me of a NYC subway token booth from the mid-1980's. She patiently explained to me in English I could understand that I needed to pay the fee of $4,880 pesos and I handed her $5,000. It seemed like a test of my Spanish language skills to point that out but her intent was merely to alert me that I was getting money back. How gracious of her to point out the obvious. At this point, I was so relieved that I had passed another test, I thanked her profusely and moved on to complete Step 2.
Remember Step 2? Yeah, get my permit. Off I walked back to the tourism office with a fistful of paperwork. Stamps and duplicate copies of all sorts of things that seemed like utter nonsense. I didn't fuss at all; I was on a mission. So I made it up the long, winding staircase to the tourism office where a very nice young lady helped me with my permit. There we sat, filling out more paperwork and signing documents I had no clue what I was signing. My son might now be the property of Argentina....who knows?
Finally, I got my permit and headed back to the hotel. On my way back, I noticed that all the shops were closed. That expedition to get my permit consumed two and a half hours. I was relieved and somewhat exhausted. Time for a siesta.
I napped for about 90 minutes and then awoke to repack all my gear. The mule service woman told me that the buses to Penitentes leave at 6am, 10:15am, and 3pm. I want to get moving and up the hill right away so I intend to leave on the 6am bus for the 3-hour bus ride up to the ski area. There - at the ski area - I will find my mule and mule service whereupon I will drop off my basecamp duffle and start climbing the hill. Well, not exactly. The mule service provides a free shuttle to the Horcones trailhead. There, I intend to start my climb. It should be about 1pm when I embark on my solo attempt of Aconcagua.
I sit here in my hotel room typing out this blog post. After my nap and repacking, I headed out to get fuel canisters for my stove and a lighter. Now my packing is complete and I am ready to head out. All electronics will be shut down until I return but I will keep posting these updates on my phone with pictures; they just won't be posted until I return to civilization.
Thanks for following along. Hope you find these updates entertaining.