Ushuaia all over again

It’s been almost seven years since I was in Ushuaia last, and nothing has really changed. It’s still cold and windy, it’s still the southern most port in the world only a stone throw away from the south pole ( or so the wind feels), and it still has only two Western Unions. Yes, just like Ushuaia, nothing has really changed for me in the past seven years, and just like seven years ago I am still trudging about the world in search of Western Unions to send money from.

Even though it's seven years since I was here last, and even though it has probably been fifteen hundred or so different port calls in between that last visit and now, just like an old matriarch elephant remembering where a water hole is, my aging creaky brain seemed to instinctively remember where the Western Union was.

I left the ship, instantly began to shiver in the fifty degree temperature, battled the wind down the long pier and headed in the direction my gut sent me. Yes, it all seemed familiar, too familiar. The memory is a funny thing, sometimes it remembers absolutely wrong, and sometimes absolutely right. This time, it was right, but hard to believe. Had nothing changed in seven years? The dangerous crosswalk with no traffic light outside the port was the same. The long steep climb up the side street to the main road San Marin still had uneven concrete half steps and uneven sidewalk. Everything I looked at was exactly the same as I remembered it from seven years ago, just a little older and more faded; just like me.

Well, at least I knew where I was going. I climbed up to the main street, looked down to my right for the Correo ( post office) and sure enough, there was the familiar yellow Western Union sign outside the same old post office building. As I walked to the post office and climbed the old wooden steps, I started to remember something else; and as I rounded the doorway and walked inside the building the lineup of around 50 people didn’t surprise me.

I also remembered that seven years ago I was able to use US dollars, but I am old, so not trusting my memory entirely I did the “rude tourist” and forced my way to the front of the line to ask a quick question; well two actually. After asking the girl if she spoke English and having her say “yes”, I asked if I could send American Dollars by Western Union. The girl at the counter nodded her head. Fine, I went back to the end of the line and waited my turn. It did not take so very long, maybe twenty minutes until I was at the counter. I told the girl I would like to send money with Western Union, she smiled, reached under the counter and handed me a Western Union form. Then she asked me to go to the table to fill it out so the rest of the line could move on. Ok, I WANTED to ask why they don’t put the forms out so you can fill them in advance, but I didn’t. I just took my form, went to the table, filled it out and got back in line with a new group of fifty people. While standing in line the second time, I looked around the post office and I swear the same posters and bulletins are on the wall now as seven years ago. In fact, I am pretty sure the girl I spoke to was also here seven years ago. She seemed very familiar.

Finally, when I made it to the counter the second time, I presented my form, my passport and my cash. She looked at my form, looked at my passport, looked at my cash, and told me pesos only. You can imagine I felt a little flabbergasted and angry, but, I have been around. I have been in many countries like Argentina and I know very well that getting upset will not change anything. The only way to win at this was to do it their way. Fine - I smiled at her, the same girl who told me dollars were ok; I smiled at her and said thank you, and left the post office to go change my money.

I found an exchange house just a block up the street, right where I remember it being, which probably means I went through this seven years ago. Wish I had remembered that more clearly. I stood in the line at the exchange for about fifteen minutes, got to the counter, handed over my passport and my cash and waited. I waited patiently while the girl at the counter eyed my money. She rubbed it. She bent it. She tried to smudge it. She held it up to the light. It was obvious she was very suspicious of the American hundred dollar bills. This is not unusual and happens in many countries. Finally, after she decided to accept most of the bills, she handed back several that she wasn’t willing to change. Fine, ok by me. I exchanged what she would accept and headed back to the post office to join the line of around fifty people for the third time. This time, my memory was working a little better and I got ahead of the game by FIRST getting a new form and filling it out with the amount I wanted to send in PESOS, not Dollars. I was confident. I stood in line and watched the girl at the counter. I observed her as one might observe a rival before meeting them in battle. It could be my imagination, but I am pretty sure she was observing me as well.

After about twenty minutes, it was my turn to approach the counter, but just before I could, my rival threw me a fast one and closed her window. Now I was suddenly faced with a new opponent, a man who sat at the window on the right. Ok, fine. I prepared for the worst and went to the counter. I handed him my Western Union form, my passport, a neat stack of Pesos all arranged head up and out in a neat stack, put my pen down on the counter beside my passport and waited. He took my form, read it over, looked at the Pesos, looked at me and asked me in Spanish if I worked on the ships. I replied that I did (in English) and he nodded and began to type.

A rush of victory filled me. I had won! It was only moments before he was handing me a Western Union receipt and confirmation and calling the next person in line. I stood to the side of the line for a moment, basking in the warm glow of my success. I put the receipt and my passport away in my pocket, and headed out into Ushuaia all over again. The next thing on my agenda before returning to the ship was to go to the Farmacia and get some Nurofen (Advil), I seem to remember one just down the street that wasn’t too much of a hassle…

1 Response
  1. Anonymous Says:

    I was afraid you would never blog again! Keep sending them!

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