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How far will you dollars go in Rio and Buenos Aires.

How far will your dollars go in Rio and Buenos Aires?

In the past two years, more than economic news has brought attention to the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. Because the dollar is so strong in these South American ports of call, a handful of airlines and tour companies have stepped up their direct flights and expanded their vacation packages offering high-quality accommodations in one or both cities.

For example, round-trip air fare from Los Angeles to Rio, with five nights in a hotel, can cost less than $1,000; a 10-day trip to both Rio and Buenos Aires, with hotels, costs about $1,500. Your travel agent can help you shop for the best current price package.

What will you find when you get there?

You'll be aware of the economic situation in a number of ways--not the least being the great purchasing power of the American dollar.

In December, the official exchange rate at Brazilian banks was 9,800 cruzeiros for $1. At a Rio exchange house (cambio) or tourist agency, you could ask for either the official rate or the open "parallel market' rate--14,200 cruzeiros per dollar. The difference is that you will get a receipt for a transaction made at the official rate, no receipt for an exchange at the parallel rate.

Be aware that Brazilian law permits you, upon leaving, to change back to dollars only a third of the receipted total you've exchanged for cruzeiros during your stay in Brazil.

For all its natural beauty, Rio is also a city of "haves' and "have-not.' Be sure to heed the standard tourist warning: don't carry valuables, especially to the beach; lock them in the hotel safe.

In Argentina, you may still find two types of money in use. Rapid inflation led to the printing of the new austral, in circulation since last June 15; 1 austral equals 1,000 Argentine pesos. In December, the official exchange rate for 1 austral was about 80 cents. However, U.S. currency exchanges were not yet well stocked with australes; they were offering a roughly equivalent amount of pesos per dollar.

Some years back, the Argentine peso replaced the so-called "old peso,' at the rate of 1 to 1,000; these old pesos are not supposed to be in circulation, but you may come across some of them--and they're extremely hard to tell apart. The result: it can be difficult to keep track of just how much cash you're carrying and which bills to pay with, though we found merchants extremely honest and helpful in this regard.

We also found that merchants will give you the best exchange rate if you simply pay in dollars. The flip side: you don't get change back in dollars.

Just how far will your dollar go?

Shopping for Rio's fnest goods

Rio's big drwas are gemstones, silver, lively beach- and sportswear, and handcrafts.

Unless you're a gem expert, stick to longestablished reliable firms like H. Stern and Amsterdam Sauer; both have many outlets. At Stern's headquarters (Rua Visconde de Piraja 490), you can take a tour to learn about Brazilian gem mining and watch lapidaries at work.

If you shop around at home first, you'll have a basis for comparison. Experts we interviewed say that the best buys are in the semiprecious stones--amethyst, aquamarine, topaz, and tourmaline. Seek pure and intense color--not pale, not opaque. Stones that have been cut in cabochon fashion (cut and polished but not faceted) are likely to be of lesser quality.

A pair of garnet earrings totaling nine karats runs around $280; a three-karat blue tourmaline ring $350.

Look for clothing boutiques in the Ipanema section (along Rua Visconde de Piraja and Rua Vinicius de Moraes). You can find a well-made, high-style leather belt with silver buckle for less than $30, biquinis for less than $5, and trendy cotton sportswear for much less than you'd pay for similar quality at home.

Look for handcrafted items in Ipanema and Copacabana-area shops: an intricate, handmade lace tablecloth costs about $75; naive "folk' ceramics less than $50; an agate-handled carving knife around $25; a brightly painted bird-shaped kite just $1.50.

Dining out. When it comes to food, it's difficult to pay even $20 for the most sumptuous spreads of beef or seafood. Try the big, lively Brazilian barbecue restaurants (churrascarias) along the waterfront at Copacabana; phalanxes of waiters continuously serve beef parts (from familiar to exotic) off sword-size skewers.

For grilled seafood specialties, try Grottamare, Rua Gomes Carneiro 132 in Ipanema. Restaurant Chale, an antique-filled colonial townhouse, serves such Brazilian gourment dishes as shrimp in palm oil and coconut milk, and steak with black beans and rice.

For a pick-me-up, Cariocas stop at cafes for cafezinho, a tiny cup of thick, balck, heavily sweetened Brazilian coffee.

Check the skin trade in Buenos Aires

In Buenos Aires, the greatest temptations are goods of leather, suede, and fur. Antiques can also be wonderful buys.

Along Calle Florida, Avenida Santa Fe, and Avenida Cordoba, you'll find fur and leather shops that manufacture on the premises. At Weton's (Calle Florida 1045), a gray fox jacket costs $560; a 5-foot silver fox boa $30; a full-length sheared nutria coat $400. In designer boutiques, a women's three-piece suede outfit costs less than $200.

Several shops bear names famous in European leathers (both skins and labor are Argentine); beautifully made belts, wallets, purses, gloves, and shoes can cost less than a third what you would pay in other parts of the world.

Visitors interested in outfitting their horses should not miss Rossi y Caruso (Avenida Santa Fe 1601), specialist for generations in equestrian leather goods and gaucho trappings.

Antique buffs should head to Plaza San Telmo, a charming square in a neighborhood solid with dealers in European antiques. there is a high-quality flea market every Sunday, weather permitting. You'll find such values as a chiming art deco mantel clock for $50; huge armoires can run $500. Shops have such specialties as old scientific instruments, gaucho gear, and porcelain.

Dining out. In B.A.'s finest restaurants, a sumptuous three-course meal with a good red Argentine wine costs no more than $40 for two. Try one of the 50 lively restaurants, such as Happening, that started as vendors' carts along the banks of the Rio de la Plata; parrillada mista (mixed grill) is the specialty.

Italian immigrants are behind longentrenched pizzerias such as Los Inmortales (Avenida Lavalle 746); at this Sardi's of Buenos Aires, you can get a wonderful large pizza with a choice of 50 toppings for less than $5, to eat amid movie memorabilia.

Photo: Vendor of lace tablecloths sets up shop along Rio's Ipanema Beach. Feather palms support clothesline waving other choices. Prices may be less than $15, but these laces are machinemade; nearby shops offer handmade items

Photo: Mini-malls and high-rises of a recent architectural vintage line Rua Visconde de Piraja, one of Rio's prime shopping streets, two blocks from the beach. Stores are open from 9 until 6 or 7 on weekdays, only until 1 on Saturdays

Photo: Topaz rings interest visitor at Rio headquarters of H. Stern jewellers, specialist in Brazilian gemstones. White-jacketed waiter offers quail eggs for shoppers to nibble

Photo: Reminiscent of both London and Paris, shopping area of Buenos Aires boasts European-style architecture, branch of London's Harrods

Photo: Posing persuasively, North American shopper tries on partially sheared red fox coat. Price tag reads around $2,000 at fur factory on Calle Florida in Buenos Aires

Photo: Sidewalk cafes come to life in Argentine summer (our winter). Chic locals, ensconced in bentwood armchairs, enjoy coffee or tea breaks at 11 and 4

Photo: From tabletop brazier, diners sample traditional Argentine mixed grill, consisting of various beef cuts
COPYRIGHT 1986 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Feb 1, 1986
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