Inflation is a fact of present day Argentinian life. It's measure and value dependant upon the political persuasion of the calculator. Our assessor is the first encounter with a peso price. The cost of a bus ticket from the airport to the centre of town. It's risen 20% in the last eight months that we've been away. Which tallies with the stories that we've collected from the British financial press.
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Our second check will come in town. A quick trip up to the city's major tourist drag: Av. Florida. A pedestrian thoroughfare, that by mid morning will be choked by a trip hazard of new age craft sellers and freshly breakfasted wandering tourists, tango-show-with-dinner touts and sundry business sorts. The navigator requires none of these, but searches for the pesomongers, the blue market touts. Not difficult to find, they're staked out twenty paces apart, five to a block, calling "cambio...cambio..." to any likely type, but never to the Portenos. Locals who either don't have access to Dollars or who carry a scowl like an Edinburger during that festival. 'Blue market', an officially unrecognised, semi official Dollar and Euro exchange, whose rate today can be found on the front page of the BA Herald. She returns with a wad of creased, tattered and well worn notes and an inflation rate of fifty percent.
Another repreese, were over west in the provincial capital of La Rioja, requiring a top-up of spending power. There's no Av. Florida, for there's few overseas visitors, no obvious cambio sellers. So she reverts to playing the ignorant gringa, and enlist the services of the visitor information service. Too often it's hard to know what these establishments are in existence for, and on occasions the navigator takes a perverse pleasure in confirming these prejudices. This time it takes a 'phone call to start the positive visitor experience. A young man appears some time later, say his father would be interested in purchasing some dollars. There's a collection of cycle police, complete with sirens, hanging around, there's a general tumult of population milling in the plaza. It feels safe for a transaction. Still as 'father' fails to materialise, the doubts mount. I suspect the parent is virtual, but a rate is agreed, the navigator is invited to 'step this way', invited into the privacy, in the back of the information kiosk. The same kiosk that's operated by the local authority. Officially unofficial.
Two physical measures. But it's on the gas station forecourt, one of the few places where prices are regularly displayed, that we see the creeping increases. A ticking clock that records the fact. There are others less obvious ones. The ghosts of priced stickers that are grubby sticky shadows of previouse costs, gathering dust on the shelf's edge. The map that was added to our collection ten years ago, that has increased fourteen hundred percent. Packets of biscuits come as cylinders, irrespective of brand, a recognisable length, that offers a neat symmetry on a shop shelf. Only now they're more bagel than biscuit in shape, having acquired a hole in their middle. A missing part that you can't but help feel has a potential for further inflation.
What never inflates is the cost of public transport. Our commuter train into the centre of town has in real terms, deflated to a quarter of it's value from when we first visited. The ticket to get all the way to Tucaman, that one and a half day trip is priced at around two quid.
The trick will be to leave the country with not a single spare pesos.