Buying Insurance in S America

Attentive readers of our blog – Thank you, Rex! – know that my time had come to leave Karen and head for Buenos Aires. For our Swedish readers, btw, driving from Sucre to Buenos Aires is like driving from Malmo to Istanbul: 2,700 kms (at the bare minimum, my drive could have been 2,300 kms, but I was taking a slight detour to fish for dorado on the Parana river). And the roads are certainly no better in S America…

Yes, there is a seriously straight section in the middle, about 800 kms worth.

The drive took 40.9 hrs of true driving time, spread over 6.5 days. A pleasant drive, which brought back vivid memories of our trip so far, although I missed Karen – traveling by myself is not as much fun.

Being an experienced overlander, the drive did not concern me. What did concern me, somewhat, was our lack of insurance: just before leaving on the trip, I remembered that while we had had insurance for Argentina before, and currently had insurance for Bolivia, we needed Argentina insurance again. I sent an email to our friendly shipping broker Laura, who had helped out with insurance as well. Laura said she would get back to me, hopefully over the weekend. I also spent a few hours online, but could not find an online insurance policy for foreign vehicles.

But, as an experienced overlander, I also looked for the blogs of other travelers and found one where the bloggers had bought insurance in La Quiaca, the Argentinian border town. Sweet! My timing was good, I would spend Sunday night in Tupiza, Bolivia, which I had wanted to see anyway, and then cross into Argentina on Monday morning when the insurance office would be open. Clever.

On Monday morning I crossed over the border to Argentina – no issues whatsoever with immigrations or customs. I asked the Argentina customs guys, in a debonair, really-know-what-I’m-doing kind of way, if the insurance office was still on 189 Espana Ave. – the address I had gleaned from the overland bloggers. Instead of the “this guy knows what he is doing” look that I expected, I got the “soooooooo ?” look, and the answer “Well, that may be the address, but it doesn’t matter, because today is a feriado, and they won’t be open…”.

Turns out, I had crossed the border on July 9th, Argentina’s independence day, and everything was closed Clever?, not so much.

I took a cab over just in case, and as it turns out, while the insurance office was closed, the owner (?) was there. And no, they don’t sell insurance for foreign vehicles anymore. Neither does the other insurance office in town. So I had little choice but to drive to the first big town, Jujuy, about 280 kms away and try to get insurance there. Now I felt pretty good that I had crossed on Independence day, as my odds of getting stopped by Argentinian police were slim.

Buying insurance in Jujuy gives a good taste of why I love S America – and why it can be quite frustrating. I was directed – by the best tourist information guy in S America, he was good! – to Ernesto’s insurance office. Ernesto unfortunately could not help me, his company does not allow for foreign vehicles, but he personally walked me over to another office a few doors down. He introduced me to the Jefe – whose name I forgot. The Jefe stated that “yes, no problem, I will take care of him”. Ernesto and I parted ways with much thanks on my end.

The Jefe introduced me to one of his employees  – “Please take care of my American friend” – and then left the office. While the Jefe was nice, he was also wrong, as it quickly became clear that his firm could not do foreign vehicle insurance either. On my way to another office suggested by the tourist information office, I passed by Ernesto’s office. He saw me, came out on the sidewalk, and was very apologetic that his friend did not take care of me. He then spent the next hour walking me in, and introducing me, to two other insurance offices, neither of which could help, until he finally found a third one that could. This time he made sure to stay until the paperwork, it eventually took two hours to complete, had started.

Frustrating: in total seven (7) insurance offices visited – in person – numerous hours spent. Love: Ernesto, who I did not know before, and who knew that he could not sell me anything, spent a couple of hours walking me around – he didn’t call, he walked me around; relationships count –  making sure I got what I needed because it’s the friendly thing to do. Roberto, who finally sold me the insurance, spent two hours and 10 phone calls, wrestling the paperwork to the ground; all for a $40 sale.

(Apologies for lack of pictures, Karen kept the camera in Sucre. There will be some blackberry pics in the next post…)

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