Saturday, November 2, 2019

Halloween in Argentina 2019: Celebrating the Good While Coping With the Bad

Halloween is one of our favorite holidays. You only have to look at the way we celebrated in the past to know we like going all out. But this year was different. As I mentioned in my previous post, we were victims of debit card cloning, which literally left us broke. So this is how we coped with the bad and celebrated Halloween in Argentina in 2019.

Fortunately, we had gone shopping for a couple of extra decorations a few weeks before our money was stolen, so that was a plus. The store we normally get our Halloween stuff from is called Ferniplast. Unfortunately, when I asked the employee when they planned on putting the Halloween items on sale, the guy just looked at us and asked, "Isn't that next month?"

Wow! I thought. How sad.

Fortunately, there was a costume store near Plaza San Martin that had a few things we needed like a Terminator mask with light-up eyes and a Freddy Krueger latex mask. 
We also bought some blood splatter stickers to decorate our home. But we had to travel to the Dinosaurio Mall in Route 20 to buy a couple of extra decorations at Party Love - Cotillon.
When we got home, we turned our mini white Christmas tree into a Halloween tree, with Jack-o-Lanterns in lieu of Christmas balls.
We recycled some of our old decorations from last year and turned them into something else, like this wall of spooky Halloween masks in the photo below.
We planned to create tons of different treats for Halloween, but we hadn't bought the ingredients yet. And then it happened. 

They took our money, which derailed everything.

What little money we had left in cash I gave to my husband so he could hang out with our friend Franco who came to Cordoba for a visit. I knew hanging out with him would cheer him up, and it did. But we still had my husband's birthday to get ready for.

So on the 30th, we made some makeshift soft tacos, bought an Oreo cake from a local ice cream store called Grido and celebrated his birthday. Admittedly, the menu options were severely limited. 
I'm actually kind of embarrassed because we're used to cooking so much more. But under the circumstances, this was the best we could do.

On the 31st, we went to the mall and had the most pathetic McDonald's lunch we had ever had--4 pieces of Chicken McNuggets, a burger and a large drink (that we shared). 
It was by far the lowest we've ever sunk since 2010 when I was in between jobs in the Bronx, NY.

We still had enough money to go watch "Terminator: Dark Fate." Ironically, the title seemed to reflect what we were going through. I brought my Terminator mask with me to the theater and took a few cool snaps. 
The movie was great. It may very well be the best one yet. It was nice seeing Linda Hamilton again. I've been a fan of hers since she was on "Beauty and the Beast"--the original series, not the CW remake.

Afterwards, we took a cab home and got ready to celebrate Halloween. Usually, we do this with our friends, but there was only enough food for the two of us. So, we made some chicken pizza, a zombie brain using macaroni and cheese and green food coloring, some Boo Oreo cookies, and an orange cake with pumpkin eyes and mouth made with chocolate chips. 
Afterwards, we tried on different masks and took some photos to share with our friends and family back home as well as our friends in Argentina. 
I won't say we're okay because we're not. Despite the smiles you see on our faces in these photos, we remain quite shaken. We just made the best out of a really bad situation. Now we just have to wait to get our money back and prepare for Thanksgiving, which is only three weeks away. Hopefully, our spirits will be a little brighter by then.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

I Became a Victim of Debit Card Cloning in Argentina

Whether you're a fellow expat, potential expat or a tourist, you should know that you're vulnerable to debit and credit card cloning in Argentina (and probably anywhere else in the world). 

Apparently, the number of reported incidents have been on the rise in Argentina. But as usual, I'm always the last to know about these things here. That's probably because my husband and I have chosen to live in virtual seclusion for security and personal reasons.

But on October 28, 2019, I became a victim of debit card cloning. 

I went grocery shopping the day before. I also bought a gift for my husband's 37th birthday. And then I went to McDonald's to pick up some nuggets. I used my debit card three times that day. Still, I had no idea that something insidious was happening without my knowledge.

My husband was in Cordoba City's downtown area looking to buy a few items for the tasty treats he was going to make for his birthday and for Halloween. They're only a day apart. But when he tried using his debit card, it was declined. This happened to him in two stores.

After he contacted me, I checked our account through online banking to see what had happened. The total on my account was $98 Argentine pesos. The amount was even more pathetic than it usually is. Somehow, 13,000 pesos had gone missing from my account. So, I went to check my account history and it showed that four withdrawals had been made from the ATM. Three were for $4,000 Argentine pesos each and the fourth withdrawal was for $1,000 Argentine pesos. 

Unfortunately, I couldn't rush to the bank because Argentine banks close at 1 p.m. And I only realized what had happened after 4 p.m. But I was able to call VISA to cancel my cards.

I went to the bank the next morning to tell them what had happened. It turns out that this wasn't an isolated incident. The bank representative informed me that it's been a growing problem. But the real shocker came when he told me which of the two debit cards I owned was cloned.

I had assumed that someone cloned the debit card in our host province of Cordoba. The suspicious ATM withdrawals coincided with the three purchases I had made that day. I suspected two things had happened:

1. One of the cashiers cloned my debit card. It wouldn't have surprised me given how poor AF this country has gotten under former President Macri's regime. Desperate times tend to bring out the worst in people.
2. The person who provides me with my freelance writing work had done it. She's a local and she did have my bank information to pay me through direct deposit. So it made sense. But in my heart, I didn't believe that she would be capable of such a terrible thing.

So I asked the bank representative if he could tell me which ATM the money was taken from, and he told me it had happened in Buenos Aires. It got even weirder when he told me that it wasn't my debit card that had been cloned, but my husband's card. 

I think they might have cloned his card along with our friend Franco's card when we went to Buenos Aires in May for the Comic-Con. That's the only conclusion I can come up with. Franco had gone through a similar situation a couple of weeks after we came home from vacation. So, why did the MF who cloned our debit card wait five months to screw us over?

It doesn't make sense.

The bank made me sign some papers and then told me to call a number while I was in the bank so I could dispute the charges. If all goes well, I should have my money back in a couple of weeks. But before I left, I asked the representative if there's anything I can do to prevent this from happening again, and he just shrugged his shoulders and said no. 

Typical!

I'm not going to lie. This experience has left me shaken.

It's bad enough that we have to watch our backs when we're out and about. I hate that I have to carry a screwdriver in my pocket to defend myself if I'm attacked. On top of that, we also have to deal with random neighbors who vandalize the front of our home. We even worry that someone will break in like they did in 2016. Trust me! There have been signs they've attempted to do so but failed. That doesn't mean they won't be successful at some point. It's why only one of us can go out at night. The other person has to stay home and house-sit. But one's supposed to feel safe knowing that their money is secure at the bank. I don't anymore and for me, it's just too much. I've seen what the stress has done to us, and I don't like it all.

I can honestly say that when I post things about Argentina, I try to show everyone the best sides of this country. I look for the nicest buildings, the nicest people, and scenery to take photos of. I even share which restaurants we discovered that might help other expats feel better while staying here long-term. But after this experience, all I'm seeing is darkness. All I'm feeling is hate and suspicion for anyone I meet. Are these the kinds of feelings appropriate for an expat blog? I don't care.

But there is something I do still care very much about and that's my husband, who's turning 37. So we're going to celebrate that and Halloween. But once this year is over, we're going to sit down and figure out whether going home to the States is what's best for us. 

And not to go all Sandra Bullock from "The Net" on my fellow expats, but in her character, Angela's words, "They've done it to me, and you know what? They're gonna do it to you."

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Argentina Says Hello to a New President With a Familiar Face for Vice-President

On October 28, 2019, Argentines voted for the next president. It was a close battle between presidential and vice-presidential hopeful Alberto Fernandez and Cristina Kirchner versus Mauricio Macri and his vice president, Miguel Angel Pichetto.
This is one of the schools-turned voting center in Cordoba City

For those of you who don't know, Kirchner was the president for two terms before Macri won the last election.
In the end, Fernandez and Kirchner won the presidential election. You can get the 4-1-1 on the voting percentages here.

So, Kirchner is back, but this time as the vice president. However, some say she'll quietly be the one leading the presidency.

The newly elected president and his vice president will officially take over on December 10, 2019. This might explain why there haven't been any major change in the value of the Argentine peso versus United States dollar.

But I'll do one of my price comparison lists sometime in early 2020 to document any changes. In the meantime, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the economy might recover slightly and the cost of living will drop a bit with the shift in power.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Here’s How Argentine Grocery Prices Were Affected by the 2019 Primary Elections

The value of the Argentine peso has been a recurring topic in my blog over the years. But things have gotten pretty bad since the 2019 primary elections. I've been monitoring how the Argentine peso has continued to lose its value. For the moment, it has been fluctuating between 55 and 59 Argentine pesos per USD.

The Value of the USD in Argentine Pesos Over the Years
I wanted to share this updated list of what one USD is worth per Argentine pesos since we moved here in 2012.

  • On December 31st, 2012, the cost of one US Dollar in Argentine pesos was: 4.90
  • On December 31st, 2013, the cost of one US Dollar in Argentine pesos was: 6.51
  • On July 29th, 2014, the cost of one US dollar in Argentine pesos was: 8.19
  • On December 24th, 2015, the cost of one US Dollar in Argentine pesos was: 12.97
  • On June 19th, 2016, the cost of one US Dollar in Argentine pesos was: 13.89
  • On June 13th, 2017, the cost of one US Dollar in Argentine pesos was 15.90
  • On September 26, 2017, the cost of one US Dollar in Argentine pesos was 17.90
  • On May 13, 2019, the cost of one US Dollar in Argentine pesos was 45.52
  • On September 26, 2019, the cost of one US Dollar in Argentine pesos is 57.17

Here's my pricing comparison list for September 2019!
In 2013, a bag of Doritos cost 20.19 Argentine pesos. But now it's 60 Argentine pesos ($1.05 in USD).
In 2013, a bottle of Heineken was worth 21.85 Argentine pesos. But now it's 106 Argentine pesos ($1.86 in USD).
In 2013, a box of Rex crackers (They're like generic Ritz) cost 7.99 Argentine pesos. But now it's 82.99 Argentine pesos ($1.46 in USD).
In 2013, Maruchan Instant Lunch Soups cost 9.99 Argentine pesos. In March 2019, the price was at 76.99 Argentine pesos ($1.35 in USD).
But in September 2019, the price went up to 94.99 Argentine pesos ($1.67 in USD)

Before I continue, you're all probably thinking. "Oh, what's the big deal? It's only about 30 cents extra. Yes, that's true. No one would break a sweat over a 30 cent mark up in the States. But when your finances are solely dependent on the Argentine economy, the price hikes in pesos do a lot of damage to people's pockets and bank accounts.
In 2013, Hellman's Mayonnaise cost 10.59 Argentine pesos. In September 2019, the price was at 55.00 Argentine pesos ($0.96 US Cents)
In 2013, Quaker Oatmeal cost 12.99 Argentine pesos. In March 2019, the cost was at 95.99 Argentine pesos ($1.68 in USD).
But in September 2019, the price WENT DOWN to 87.99 Argentine pesos ($1.54 in USD).
In 2013, Quaker Oatmeal cost 8.65 Argentine pesos. In March 2019, the cost was at 42.49 Argentine pesos ($0.74 US Cents).
But in September 2019, the cost went up to 56.00 Argentine pesos (($0.98 US Cents).
 In March 2019, the cost of Pringles Tortilla Chips was at 132.99 Argentine pesos. But in September 2019, the price went up to 147.50 Argentine pesos ($2.58 USD).
In March 2019, the cost of La Lacteo brand milk was at 50.99 Argentine pesos. But in September 2019, the price was actually lower at 44.99 Argentine pesos. And there was a special sale, so the cost went down to 37.90 Argentine pesos ($0.66 US Cents).
In 2016, the cost for a Kit Kat bar was at 15.99 Argentine pesos. But in September 2019, the cost went up to 87.99 Argentine pesos ($1.54 USD).

Whether the Argentine economy will see better days if a new president is elected remains to be seen. But I for one hope that it does for everyone's sake. I've noticed that the number of people going out of business is climbing and so are the number of homeless people on the street.