Don’t cry for me . . .

We recently did an 8-hour drive from the Chilean island of Chiloé to San Carlos de Bariloche in Argentina, where we had booked a room for three nights in a very nice hotel (much above our usual price range). Or at least we intended to drive there; we never completed the journey. Indeed it is highly unlikely that I will ever visit Argentina, at least in this life.

At 3 pm we approached the border in the Andes foothills and saw a long line of cars. On further inspection (by foot), the line was almost 2 kilometers long. More importantly, it was not moving. We gained a mere 100 or 200 meters during those three hours of sitting in traffic. At 6 pm, a police officer informed us that the border would close at 7, and there was no chance of our getting through, and that we should return the following day at 9 am. That meant a very long backtrack to an a part of Chile where there were almost no rooms available.

We eventually found a “hotel room” for $50, which was pretty primitive. The next day we went back up the long highway, and again confronted a 2 kilometer line of cars. This time we waited only an hour, during which time the line barely budged—more “computer problems”. We sat behind this vehicle:

At this point, we decided that perhaps Argentina was not for us. Our original intention was to do a vacation in Argentina, not Chile. When we found out that people using credit cards in Argentina were charged double (necessitating the carrying of thousands of dollars in cash), we opted for the Chilean alternative. Nonetheless, I thought there’d be no harm in dipping into Argentina for three days. But crossing borders down here is not like driving from France into Belgium.

Don’t cry for me; we’ve seen lots of great scenery in Chile. Cry for the Argentinian people who have to deal with their dysfunctional government every single day of their lives.

P.S. Things I like about (southern) Chile:

1. Clear sky—no airplane entrails. Upside down moon. Better stars.

2. Great scenery—delightful climate in the lake district.

3. Friendly people (mostly).

4. Chile reminds me of when I was young. Old fashioned diner-type places along the road, with virtually no corporate fast food. The parking areas are gravel, so lots of dust is kicked up by cars. Lots of hitchhikers, both male and female. Perhaps it’s safer than other Latin American countries? (Except Valparaiso.)

5. It’s almost a developed country.

6. The better restaurants–particularly the seafood.

Things I don’t like:

1. It’s almost an underdeveloped country–with all of the frustrating inefficiency that that implies. It’s nowhere near as tourist friendly as the US or Europe.

2. Unattractive towns with lots of wooden buildings. I had thought that Latin countries built out of stone.

3. Many mediocre restaurants, which have massive portions of meat and carb-intensive food.

4. Too many long gravel roads, not well signed.

5. As in many countries, it’s hard to just pull over to the side of the road.

One day you say to yourself: “Actually, Chile’s a developed country.” For instance, the cars and trucks are not as crappy as in many developing countries. And the next day you say “WTF?”

Last fall I was in Austria, and got spoiled. Travel here is more difficult.

Chile’s per capita GDP is about $16,000, or $29,000 in PPP terms. Basically, I would define a “developed country” as any country richer than Chile, and I’d define a “developing country” as any country that’s poorer than Chile. As I travel about, Chile looks almost exactly like I’d expect a country with a $29,000 (PPP) per capita GDP to look.

BTW, that’s why I’m skeptical of China GDP skeptics. China also looks almost exactly like you’d expect a country to look with its reported GDP/person (which is well below Chilean levels.) These things cannot be faked; it’s easy for any tourist to observe a country’s general level of economic development.

Speaking of China, it’s obvious that Chile has a close relationship with that manufacturing powerhouse. You see lots of Chinese cars on the road, and lots of trucks hauling natural resources that are likely being exported to China.

Chilean society is mostly comprised of a mix of Europeans and Native Americans. (I see very few of African or Asian descent.) I suspect that socioeconomic inequality in Chile is linked to ethnic differences, with the more “European” Chileans doing somewhat better than those with more native ancestry. (Can someone confirm?) I don’t meet many Chileans who know English, but you can sort of tell who’s more likely to know some English just based on appearance.

Chile could produce a lot of hydropower, but I believe there is opposition to building dams in the south.

Bonus question: Where am I?

1. It’s a very hilly city on the Pacific Ocean, with a grand harbor.

2. Based on the latitude, you’d expect a warm climate. But even in summer it’s only in the 60s (about 18 C)

3. But just 20 miles inland the weather can be much warmer, and there are famous valleys that produce great wine.

4. The city has a bohemian vibe.

5. Recently, they have an increasing problem with petty crime.

Still don’t know? Here’s some more hints:

6. Back in 1849, lots of men came through here on clipper ships, on the way to the gold fields in the Sierra Nevadas.

7. Its once great port has been eclipsed by nearby competitors.

8. In 1906, somewhere between 3000 and 4000 people died when a devastating earthquake leveled the city.

So where am I? Surely you ought to be able to answer the question by now.



29 Responses to “Don’t cry for me . . .”

  1. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    4. March 2023 at 04:44

    San Fran? Did you expect some might say Valparaiso because you’ve been in Chile?

    While $29,000 PPP might not be a lot by today’s standards, it’s still a fair bit. My guess is that many western countries outside the US would have had a GDP pp like that 30 years ago. But they didn’t have dysfunctional immigration processes.

  2. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. March 2023 at 05:16

    Rajat, I had the same thought. Chile’s at the level of Western Europe in the 1970s or 1980s. And Europe was viewed as “developed” at that time. Maybe similar to America around 1960?

    It’s all relative.

    No, not San Francisco.

  3. Gravatar of David S David S
    4. March 2023 at 08:05


    I have an acquaintance who is from Argentina. When I asked her if it’s a good place to visit she was generally positive in her response. When I revealed that I’m not an evening person she discouraged me from considering a trip because in Buenos Aires an early dinner is 9pm.

    I’ve been wondering if your South America trip would take you to Argentina. I’m sorry it didn’t work out, and I’m sorry for the people who live there who have to endure such Kafkaesque madness on a regular basis.

    If want to experience developing world conditions I just travel to New Hampshire. And central and western Massachusetts.

  4. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. March 2023 at 11:34

    Rajat, Actually, you were right about Valparaiso. I find the parallels with SF to be uncanny.

    David, Chileans eat earlier than Argentines.

  5. Gravatar of Andrea Andrea
    4. March 2023 at 12:53

    Patagonian here! I’m sorry about what you had to go through at the border but let me just say most argentines don’t drive when visiting the south of the country since distances are too long.
    Also, I’m from Ushuaia, in Tierra del Fuego and if you decide to do a road trip, it’s gonna take at least 8 hours to get to the continent, that is if the weather is OK to cross the Strait and if Chile isn’t on strike.
    As far as the credit card issue, nobody should charge you double but you should always check what dollar rate they are using because there are many, even for us.
    Someone commented on us having late dinners and while that is correct, you can find restaurants that will serve it earlier. In Ushuaia we get people from all over the world and I’ve never heard anyone complain about dinner time because you can eat whenever you want.

  6. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. March 2023 at 17:45

    Andrea, Aren’t there two exchange rates, with almost a 2-1 difference? (Say roughly 200/1 and 400/1)? If you pay using a US credit card, you’ll be charged at the inferior exchange rate. If you want the good one, you must pay cash.

  7. Gravatar of jschicht jschicht
    4. March 2023 at 22:12

    ssumner, there is now a tourist exchange rate with foreign credit cards that is very close to the free market exchange rate. I was in Argentina this summer and I can attest to it (though it sometimes takes a few days to reflect in your statement). It was something like 90% of the “dollar blue” rate, so it takes away the incentives to pay cash for most foreign tourists.

  8. Gravatar of ricardo ricardo
    4. March 2023 at 22:15

    Sumner is lying again.
    No business in Argentina charges double simply because you decide to use a credit card.

    However, they might charge you a fee for two main reasons:
    1. Processor fees are high and they want to earn money there mr feminist.
    2. Taxes

    And if you and your thugs attempt to create a closed blockchain to monopolize banking and garnish taxes on the spot, then you won’t be getting any coffee at all, because nobody is going to invest on such slim margins.

    And as Nigerian is learning: it wont work. You cant force people to use your thug currency.

    #Woke commie equals broke.

  9. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    5. March 2023 at 01:15


    lines at borders and inefficient bureaucracy from national(istic) governments is exactly why the EU was created. To get rid of that. People complain about Brussels’ rules but never question the clown shows from their “own” (really: closer to home, more parochial) centers of power that they have just as little power over.

    Now those Brexit idiots got what they wanted: a smaller jail cell. They also got their border lines back, and the border is closer now, and empty shelves on occasion and what have you. Re: your other post about non EU migrants rising fast in Britain, this is so hilarious because I said this in jest once at the time of Brexit and now it is actually happening. People from other continents may prefer British harrassment to their own countries’, by comparison, but EU citizens have better choices than being harrassed as foreigners in Britain.

    It’s so depressing because the bad old times aren’t really that far back but people seem to forget faster than even a generations’ time. I can remember needing a visa to visit nearly any country in the world outside Europe and even inside it I wouldn’t be able to work or move. That was the 90s! Most Americans (and Brits) have no idea what it’s like to be from a small country.

    [And now with the discussion of equity on top of equality the “people” apparently want communism back too.]

    Seen from Singapore, the gender debate is thankfully still far (though we did legalize male-male homosexuality a few months ago!) but equity has arrived in the form of all things ESG. Business worldwide has to dance to the tune of any latest US-derived crazes if only for “compliance”.

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. March 2023 at 02:59

    jschicht, Thanks for the info. The FT says the system you described was installed at the end of last year, so it wasn’t in place when we were deciding which country to visit.

    Last year, credit card purchases really did pay double—I spoke to someone who visited Argentina.

    mbka, You said:

    “Now those Brexit idiots got what they wanted: a smaller jail cell.”

    Great line.

  11. Gravatar of Tsergo Ri Tsergo Ri
    5. March 2023 at 10:42

    I’m not sure France’s GDP accurately reflects its living standard. Compared to Paris, German cities like Hamburg and Munich seem more prosperous. I was also impressed by living standard in Tokyo, Pohang and Shanghai. [My friend’s apartment in Pohang has heated floors, whereas I can barely afford to keep my Paris apartment at 18 degrees F.]

  12. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. March 2023 at 11:08

    Tsergo, I suspect that GDP doesn’t adequately pick up the quality of stuff in Germany/Austria/Switzerland.

    In fairness, perhaps homes in France are a bit bigger than in Germany?

  13. Gravatar of sara sara
    5. March 2023 at 20:31

    I fail to see why anyone would need to carry thousands of dollars in cash. You do realize they have ATM’s right? You can also book your hotels on Agoda, which is what everyone does now. It’s not 1985 anymore. I also do not remember Argentine businesses charging double prices.

    And if you are real smart, you’ll use your brokerage debit card to withdraw funds from the ATM since most reimburse the atm fees.

    I thought economists were financially savvy. Although, perhaps not if Fisher and Keynes 1929 bankruptcy are any indication of the group.

    If you struggle with simple travel, you wont be beating the market anytime soon.

  14. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    5. March 2023 at 22:43


    right on about GDP not picking up quality very much. I’ve had this impression many many times. Say, though I don’t always get along with Austria for example 😉 I have to admit the solid quality of everything there is just outstanding and prima facie it’s (as you once pointed out) at the GDP/capita level of Georgia (US). I’ve seen both, and well, in Georgia you get more space and larger supermarket aisles, for everything else Austria is killing it.

    My personal interpretation is that GDP is a measure of flux / production and does not directly relate to stock (say, capital stock in real estate, anything that accumulates over the long term and just sits there, such as even intellectual capital). Basically GDP is “income” and not “wealth”. The two are related of course, but not directly.

  15. Gravatar of traveller traveller
    6. March 2023 at 03:26

    China’s large cities seem as developed as a median European city, but the countryside still feels much poorer. Their biggest chunk of low hanging fruit is probably still the ongoing rural-urban migration.

  16. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    6. March 2023 at 03:34

    Sara, You really ought to know something about a topic before commenting. Unless you enjoy typing.

    mbka, You can argue that consumption is better than both. And the measurement problems also apply at the level of consumption (with any given physical quantity of consumption being higher quality in Austria than Georgia.)

    Traveller, you said:

    “China’s large cities seem as developed as a median European city”

    Perhaps for a few places like Shanghai. But many of the larger cities are still considerably poorer than Europe. I agree about the countryside.

  17. Gravatar of Edward Edward
    6. March 2023 at 04:48

    You don’t find it bizarre that you use terms like “developed” and “developing” along with “third world” and “first world” to describe countries?

    If the people in the Philippines are happier, on average, than people in the U.S. (and they are), then why would you dare call them “developing.” You don’t find that arrogant, haughty, and snobby?

    Is Boracay Island, where the prices are on par with Manhatten and every street corner has a five star hotel, and which is part of the PH, “third world” is it “developing”.

    Is backwater Vermont “developed” because that entire state has less wealthy than the tiny island of Boracay. You could take the entire GDP of a number of states, and you won’t even come close to the output of Boracay.

    You are over generalizing; you are equating money with development, but even if you take those parameters and accept them as the standard, then you don’t account for rural, extremely poor, places in your own country which are not even close in power and prestige to some of the largest tourist destinations and/or cities in what you would call “third world” countries.

    Bogota, for example, would absolutely destroy concord New Hampshire. It’s not even close in terms of wealth.

  18. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    6. March 2023 at 06:36


    one of they key differences – in my mind at least – between “developed” and “developing” is how big the contrasts are between the richer bits and the poorer bits. So, the difference between the 5th Avenue equivalent in Boracay to some Manila slum, or even, the average provincial town. Hey, even Dumaguete or Cebu City, capitals of their provinces. Dumaguete is to Negros Oriental what Atlanta is to Georgia. And Dumaguete is not Atlanta.

    We can use more “sensitive” language to make it all sound nicer, but if you talk to Filipinos, as much as they love their country, most won’t put the Philippines in the “developed” corner. How do I know, I married one.

  19. Gravatar of sean sean
    6. March 2023 at 08:17

    Do you consider Argentina developed? Never been and income stats have them fairly low, but from people who have been there they are describe Buenos Aires as normal, just cheap.

  20. Gravatar of Henri Hein Henri Hein
    6. March 2023 at 11:35

    I went to Mendoza from Santiago back in 2003. I do remember a long line at the border, but nothing like you describe. They probably weren’t computerized back then. It reminds me of a line we had back in the 90s when we were scrambling to move over to imperfect digital systems: “To err is human. Real disaster requires computers.”

    Because of timing with my H1, I had to apply to renew my US visa while in Argentina. I have done the renewal process in several countries, but the process in the Buenos Aires consulate was by far the most byzantine. I don’t know why that should be. It was always a mystery to me, since the consulate is mostly run by Americans. But so it was.

  21. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    7. March 2023 at 05:20

    Edward, “You don’t find that arrogant, haughty, and snobby?”

    No, as you correctly point out it doesn’t mean they aren’t happy. Nothing wrong with “developing”. It’s just a description. Like saying “tropical” or “mountainous”. Lighten up.

    Sean, I’ve never been there, but if it’s poorer than Chile I’d say it’s developing. Santiago has sections that look developed, and sections that look underdeveloped.

    Of course this is all subjective–these countries are borderline.

    Henri, When it comes to immigration, the US is a banana republic. Utterly inefficient.

  22. Gravatar of Kangaroo Kangaroo
    7. March 2023 at 05:31

    Edward said:

    ‘If the people in the Philippines are happier, on average, than people in the U.S. (and they are), then why would you dare call them “developing.” You don’t find that arrogant, haughty, and snobby? ‘

    Not at all. **LOTS** of people from the Philippines are very happy to come to the US, Canada, and other developed nations – because the standard of living is so much higher. For God’s sake people from the Philippines are so desperate to get away they’re moving to Winnipeg! Now *that* is desperation!

  23. Gravatar of TheManFromFairwinds TheManFromFairwinds
    7. March 2023 at 12:56

    Argentine here (as the name implies). It seems to me you still got a taste of the typical Argentine experience!

    Shame you missed out on Bariloche and the Llao Llao. I hope you are able to make it at some point.

    PS Argentina now has about a dozen or so exchange rates, including one specifically targeting foreign tourists, so now you no longer need to bring cash or a crypto atm card.

    This joins other colorful exchange rates like the ‘dolar coldplay’ (for cultural acts of foreign artists), ‘dolar qatar’ (for large expenses abroad, including roughly 75% taxes), and the classic ‘dolar blue’ (unofficial but not illegal, hence not black but blue).

  24. Gravatar of TheManFromFairwinds TheManFromFairwinds
    7. March 2023 at 13:04

    Having read some of the other comments on this post some things that need to be cleared up:

    1. If you paid by card before November 2022 you would be charged the ‘official’ exchange rate (at the time roughly 175 ars per usd) rather than the ‘unofficial’ exchange rate you can get in the streets (at the time roughly 350 ars per usd). Hence you’re charged ‘double’.

    2. If you were to remove money from an ATM you would do so at the official exchange rate and lose half your money’s value. Everyone recommending this course of action is very uninformed.

  25. Gravatar of JMCSF JMCSF
    8. March 2023 at 16:53

    Are you in Puerto Monty?

  26. Gravatar of Jonathan Miller Jonathan Miller
    9. March 2023 at 18:24

    You could have only said the oldest European city on the Pacific. I enjoyed my years in Valparaiso, but it is a different experience. It seemed to me that the Los Condes part of Santiago (and some other parts) was Developed.

    And even Valparaiso changed a ton during the 5 years I was there (2013-2018). The coffee got a lot better, the restaurants got more varied, the people got more varied and the non-petty crime was starting to increase (I hear it continued to increase the last 5 years).

    I know that there was a big deal with Haitian immigration in 2017-2020 or something, before that I saw almost 0 people with African ancestry ( and my wife, who has South Indian ancestry, experienced some racism), I would hope that they were changing the culture.

    Chile use to have one of the most easy requirements for a visa. Things use to move pretty quickly too, at least parts of it (and for the most part in my experience), but it started moving a lot slower sometime around 2015 (And from what I hear, has just continued to slow down).

    Now I live in the Bay Area.

  27. Gravatar of Jonathan Miller Jonathan Miller
    9. March 2023 at 18:28

    Apparently Valparaiso is only the oldest European city on the Pacific if you count Panama City as different from the original Panama City (5 miles away).

  28. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. March 2023 at 21:41

    Fairwinds, Yes, some of my commenters are idiots. Thanks for that info.

    JMCFS, No, I was near Valparaiso.

    Jonathan, Yes, crime is getting worse. A pity, as the city has great potential, but it’s not being realized.

  29. Gravatar of Sean (different one) Sean (different one)
    12. March 2023 at 09:00

    Was in Argentina last month. Can confirm the credit card issue has been fixed, at least for Visa and MC. Exchange rate very close to the cash or “blue” rate. Amex was still using the more expensive official rate. Interestingly, my Mastercard posted transactions at the official rate and then refunded almost half four days later to get to the better rate (called the MEP rate, spanish acronym for I don’t know what). I assume they do this to avoid some obscure short term FX risk with or related to the central bank

Leave a Reply