Thursday, 18 March 2010

Very Cross Borders

It is an art, we’ve discovered, moving from one country into the next. This may not at first be obvious, particularly as back in the UK driving over to the continent is as simple and easy as pie due to the ever-so co-operative nature that exists between EU member states. Not so out here. And in particular not so when you are three Englishmen driving an English car. It is at national borders where the enormity of South American bureaucracy is realised and the unprepared can be left high and dry. Unprepared we were not, and the first three times we moved from Argentina into Chile and vice versa proved to be relatively painless (except when we tried to bluff the Chilean customs bloke at San Sebastian on Tierra Del Fuego than we had no food – see previous blog post for full, embarrassing details). We intended to cross for the final time into Chile at Paso Rodolfo Raballos which is about 70km south of Lagos Argentina.

It was going to be a cunning hop across the border as we would have been able to shortcut a massive loop round the Lago Jeinimeni National Reserve while taking in some awesome roads. By the time we arrived at the Argentinean border post it was dark. We had been driving for the past few hours on twisty singletrack, through mountain passes with not a yard of tarmac in sight, let alone any buildings. The small wooden collection of huts that greeted us really did look like some outpost to the final frontier in a western movie. We exchanged all paperwork with the one somewhat bored looking Argentinean officer before the gate was lifted and off we set into no-man’s-land.

A kilometre or so later the lights of the Chilean control post began to twinkle up ahead and soon we were standing in another wooden cabin scribbling out now familiar bits of seemingly unnecessary paperwork. “Where is your car from?” asks the officer. “England,” we reply. “The steering wheel. Is it on the right?” he enquires, to which we nod in conformation. We then hear those four horribly frustrating words. “There is a problem”. What problem? How could there possibly be a problem? We’ve crossed into Chile three times before with no problem. What now? The officer sighs and tells us that it is illegal to drive a right-hand-drive vehicle in Chile. Eh??? To prove his point he prints off some scanned memo dated 2005 with something to that effect. This guy ain’t budging. So we’re stuck, 10.30 at night in the middle of nowhere, with exit stamps from Argentina in our passports and being refused entry into Chile. Great. The officer leans back in his chair. “There is nothing I can do. You have to go away.” Sh*@±ar*et?tsb^l%cks!!! Despondently we turn the car about and pick our war back to the Argentine border. The same Argentine officer as before, looking somewhat confused, greeted us. He called for his Capitan and soon there were five officials and the three of us crammed into the office. The senior offer, an amiable chap in his uniform but with his boots off, padding around in his socks and ok with the fact we’d clearly disturbed his TV-time, took charge he even got on the radio to the Chilean jobsworth to ask what was going on, but to no avail. What he did suggest was to take the road north, hand-railing the border and try the crossing into Chile Chico. “There are more tourists crossing there,” he said, “so they will probably be more busy and not bothered to check!” Sweet! We waved them all goodbye, pointed our car north, drove a couple of k’s and camped down for the night on a dried-up mountain lake-bed. The next day we zipped into Chile unhindered. If you’re reading this, Mr Chilean-spotter-anal-border-guard, HA! IN YOUR FACE!!!!

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