“The Argentinians favourite hobby is collecting US dollars and shoving them under their mattresses” – Dale, a hostel manager in Cordoba, Argentina.
The blue dollar no longer exists in Argentina. I was there in an interesting time, Cristina Kirchner’s party was about to lose an election to a centre-right party that would end many of the socialist controls she had put in place. Most notable of these, for a tourist, was the currency exchange restrictions. Argentinians could only exchange up to $200 per month in a highly bureaucratic process. One person told me that to exchange the money, they could only be making minimum wage and had to explain their reasons for wanting foreign money – I don’t know if that’s true, but I imagine it was a hassle either way. The reason they wanted it, but couldn’t give, was that US dollars were worth much more on the black market than on the official Argentinian exchange. Argentinians don’t trust their own currency after years of high inflation following a famous default on their debts, that’s why there was such a strong market for foreign currencies. Though you could exchange Chilean pesos or British pounds for decent rates, the US dollar was king. The best price and the most sought after.
Arbolitos, meaning “little trees”, was a term to describe money changers. They stood on various streets shouting “cambio, cambio,” (change, change), the reference to trees was because they stood about all day with no visible function. There was always one main danger with these exchanges. Argentina has a lot of fake money. Fake Argentinian pesos. I never understood why the money forgers didn’t focus on forging US dollars instead of pesos, but I guess they knew what they were doing. I was told that if I exchanged with all but a few changers, I would get at least a couple of fake bills in my exchange. It would still work out better than the official rate, but I had no interest in getting scammed.
I changed dollars to pesos several times in my trip, never got ripped off, prices varied, but never too much. Then, when I left, the new president undid the currency controls, taking out the black market industry in one swoop. The real rate came close to the black market rate. I felt bad for the money changers, the value of their dollars took a small hit in one blow, and they lost a profession, but it’s probably better for the country overall.
The only thing that confused me about the blue dollar was it’s name. I assumed it would be dolar azul in spanish, azul meaning blue. But for some reason it was dolar blue, no-one ever explained why they used English.