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Why Live in San Rafael?

Why Live in San Rafael?

San Rafael, in the province of Mendoza, is a city of just over 100,000 inhabitants, in the far west of Argentina.  It is an economic oasis, nestled alongside the foothills of the gargantuan Andes mountain range – 250 km from Mendoza the provincial capital, and 1000 km from anywhere else.  Small wonder then that it straddles the dark ages and the 21st century.  Toyota Landcruisers share the town streets with horses and carts; gauchos gallop fluidly along the roadsides, clutching their mobile phones.

“Because the sunsets in San Rafael are the most beautiful in the world, they are unique.” Juan Pi, Photographer 1875-1942
Or
“Because for the price of a beach hut on Brighton beach, you can own a farm with 40 acres of land”!

You may well ask, and where is San Rafael?  And the answer would be, in the middle of nowhere. 

San Rafael, in the province of Mendoza, is a city of just over 100,000 inhabitants, in the far west of Argentina.  It is an economic oasis, nestled alongside the foothills of the gargantuan Andes mountain range – 250 km from Mendoza the provincial capital, and 1000 km from anywhere else.  Small wonder then that it straddles the dark ages and the 21st century.  Toyota Landcruisers share the town streets with horses and carts; gauchos gallop fluidly along the roadsides, clutching their mobile phones.

But the area is like a honey pot to the financial bees, because not only is there sunshine and water in abundance; there is masses of land.  And good land”¦.grape land.  There are some 1800 wine producing bodegas in the province, a goodly number in and around San Rafael.  However, if you have a romantic notion that you can produce your own “˜label’, remember we are talking the wild, wild west here, and like anywhere else in the world you are subject to the vagaries of some increasingly erratic weather – hailstones the size of golf balls, torrential rain akin to the monsoons of Asia.

Having said that, San Rafael is an increasingly popular relocation destination.  As a retiring ex pat there is no doubt you can leave here on a fairly meagre amount of money, although do not be persuaded by the politicians who tell you there is no inflation in Argentina – prices have been hiked up over 40% in the last two years.  Most foreigners say they have come for a more tranquil way of life, but just remember that being in a diametrically opposed culture can bring stresses of its own.  Yes, everything is “˜slow’ but sometimes slow just isn’t quaint.  It is very frustrating.

There are mod cons”¦.you can get internet connection (but it’s of a fashion if you live more than 5km out of town!), and electricity unless there’s a tormenta (storm) and you are liable to lose it.  The streets (most of them) are paved, but turn into raging rivers the minute it rains”¦and then no one goes to work or school!  The biggest DIY outlet closes from midday until 4pm, observing the siesta, along with every other shop and doctor’s surgery in town. 

I would dare to suggest, that as an expat, you will never quite get used to the siesta, or the interminable bureaucracy; the need to photocopy anything and everything – even school books for your child.  Very few people speak English and unless you have immersed yourself in a Spanish course prior to arriving, you will spend most of your life not quite understanding what is going on.

{mosbanner right}There are reportedly some 300 English speaking ex pats in and around San Rafael – English, Dutch, South African, French, Australian, Scottish – so there is a fairly vibrant foreign community and consequent social life. And there’s a treasure trove of Anglo-Argentines too”¦married to Brits, Scots, French; so a great mix of interesting people.

After the UK and Europe, the climate is quite an attraction”¦.dry (no rain for weeks!!)  sunny winters, hot, hot summers, and an average of 320 days of sunshine a year.  It offers a very outdoor lifestyle with daily BBQs and pavement cafes all year round.

Day time temperatures in winter can reach the high 20degsC, although in the afternoons, they drop rapidly, and below 0degC temperatures are common in the early mornings.  If you live out of the centre of town you need to choose your garden plants carefully as the frosts can be lethal.

Summers are glorious”¦.though this is the wet season, and the high daytime temperatures 30degC plus, lead to massive thunderstorms in the late afternoons.  You do need to get used to the wind”¦it is fairly constant, especially late in the day, and can be overwhelming.  A normal daily breeze here would be headline news in the UK! 

If you can overcome these physical and mental hurdles, you can have a very rewarding life.

Undoubtedly, San Rafael’s surrounding landscape is stunning – a million miles of grapevines, hundreds of thousands of glorious trees, and in the mountains the fast flowing Atuel and Diamante rivers carving their gorges down through the blood red rocks, offer white water rafting. There’s horse trekking, camping, excellent cycling and in the winter, skiing at Las Lenas, the biggest ski resort in South America.

Having a house and acres of land and no neighbours is an infinitely appealing prospect if all you can hope for back home is a two up, town down and daily arguments with “˜them next door’ on whose turn it is to park the car out front. But you do have to prepare yourself for a culture shock”¦’they’ just don’t do things the same here.

www.sanrafaelatoz.com, an A to Z of living in San Rafaelis, is geared towards English speaking tourists and expats, and gives easily digestible information on how to do things and get things done in San Rafael.

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©Gilly Rich 2010