Slightly odd that I’m writing this from the UK…but will cast my mind back to the days of warmth…
It was an early start for the trip to Mendoza. One final trip to the post office (nothing) and a mad dash to the bus station. Lesson leanrned: don’t believe that locals know what they are talking about when they confirm the Metro DEFINITELY stops at the bus station. We made the bus but by the skin of our teeth.
Settled in our plus Business Class style seating, we set off on the 8hr journey from Chile to Argentina. Mid-way through we pulled in to the ever familiar outpost for the border crossing. Now, I should explain the process for getting from one Latin American country to another by land.
First you need to gain an exit stamp. Sometimes this is done while you are in the country of origin. Sometimes you see the ‘Bye Bye to [whatever] country’ sign then pass into what can only be described as no-man’s land where you are no longer in country of origin and haven’t yet been permitted into country of destination. (A second stamp is needed for entry at a different post in no-man’s land) (‘NML’). – Look at me still defining terms, the legal world doesn’t leave that easily!
As required, me and Said Girl (‘SG’) hopped off at NML and got in line for our exit stamps. Now, as I hinted at during Part 1, all of SG’s important beloniongs had been stolen in Santiago including her passport (the loss of her purse and credit cards…and new Tiffany necklace…were all her own doing at Heathrow airport – an ability we have in common). So, most people in these circumstances would go to their local embassy, join the three day queue and get a new, emergency passport which would allow safe, legal and easy passage from country to country. Not SG.
Comfrotably seated in a nice wine bar (the hostel common room), wondering why there was no Jo Malone in the plus bathrooms (communal hostel bogs), SG waited for her second passport to be Fedexed to her. Yes, I did say second passport. Now, don’t worry, SG is not some sort of international criminal…I gathered this from her lack of georaphical awareness skills. SG’s job required her to travel quite a lot to countries that required visas. Consequently her company had assisted her in getting a second passport so she could travel on one while her passport was held hostage at one of the embassies. Look, it may sound unbelieveable, but I was convinced ;p
So, with second passport in hand, SG proceeded to the Chilean-Argentinian border and after fourty minutes of waiting in line, she finally handed over her second passport to the border control personnel. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Another fourty minutes later and we were still at the border. I’d gained my exit stamp and was trying to keep the twitching bus driver from unloading our bags as the Border Control man had spotted a floor in the plan. There was no entry stamp into Chile which he could match up with a neat exit stamp. Of course there was no entry stamp – it was in the passport that had been stolen. The problem was, there had been no mention of a stolen passport and fourty minutes in was not the time to change stories. A quick cost-prison analysis suggested that explaining to an official that SG had two passports, with different numbers, one without entry stamp was not the smartest move. So we tried to bribe him instead. Which failed and caused a couple of raised eyebrows. Ok, what now.
Bearing in mind this exchange is happening mostly in Spanglish and the bus driver is now getting down to his last fag before almost certainly boarding the bus, probably with our bags on, we considered the options.
1. Make a run for it Thelma and Louise style – problems: we had no car and the police would likely shoot us before we took ourselves down in our own blaze of glory. And anyway, we didn’t want to die, just to tase Argentinian beef and Mendozan wine.
2. Confess the story from the start – likely outcome: prison forever.
3. Don’t cross the border – this would mean us living in NML a little like Tom Hanks in The Terminal, but without the shops and shiny floor. We actually gave this some detailed thought. We’d open up a cocktail bar – we’d determined our signature drink. Then the wind whipped up and we knew we’d die of cold in the freezing, dusty outpost.
We were out of ideas. But fortunately the Border Control man wasn’t. His main concern was that SG had been an illegal immigrant in Chile since her last S. American stamp in her passport – three years ago. All he needed was proof that SG had entered recently. Oh – easy. Handing over flight date, the man called the airport and confirmed SG had indeed been on BA452 landing from Heathrow. We are pretty sure he smelt a rat as the passport numbers would not have matched, but at this point we were sure he just wanted to see the back of us. And likewise from our perspective.
Phew! We ran to the bus, put on our seatbelts and held our breath as the bus trundled out of NML, on to get our entry stamps. With wet ink in SG’s passport acknowledging her legal entry into Argentina we let out the largest sigh of relief.
The added bonus: with the border control more concerned about the comings and goings of illegal immigrants, I was able to smuggle in contraband food in the form of two empanadas, chilli sauce and an apple.
Overall I don’t know what lessons can be learned from this slightly unbelievable, hopefully unrepeatable experience except – don’t f*ck with the Border Control people. But I guess we should have known this anyway 🙂