Posts Tagged ‘border crossing’

Day 9:

I left Punta Del Este with a carload of crap, which certainly slowed the BobMobile’s acceleration and handling but did not cause it any undue harm. Literally floor to ceiling in back, and taking up a lot of the passenger seat as well. 6 boxes of books and clothes, my old drafting desk (sans top, which had to stay behind; I could have tied it to the roof but didn’t want a wing there with all the wind), power tools, the infamous Expat Usufruct Chair (TM), my clothes, camping gear, a couple boxes of Uruguayan alfajores, 6 bottles of wine, and a few other odds and ends. Most of the wine is the last remaining supply of a 50-liter batch of mead I brewed back in 2008, and I must say after aging 5 years it is truly excellent.

I digress, again.

I headed to BeelzeBob’s for a barbecue and to crash, for an early start. The Usual Suspects were there, along with some new blood, and we had a great time.

Day 10:

In the morning, I packed VikingBob into the passenger seat and headed to Montevideo where we had lunch with SwingdanceBob, then I dropped off all my human cargo and headed out into the Great Beyond. I’d say I left Montevideo around 3pm, and made it to Fray Bentos around 8pm.

Fray Bentos is the site of the Botnia pulp mill, which has been a source of Gran Lucha between Argentina and Uruguay. Mainly because Botnia explored Argentina first and the Kirchnerites wanted too much money and would have raped them out of their business, so they went to Uruguay instead. Then the hippies, funded by the Argentine thug government, protested for years, blockaded the international bridge, and essentially starved many of their own businesses out from lack of transiting tourists (it is/was the main road route between Uruguay and Buenos Aires).

Now it’s open again, and so I went that way.

The young douchebag on the Argentine incoming side did not like me from the get-go, and insisted that the reciprocity-fee sticker in my old passport was expired. “This is valid only for the life of the passport,” he told me.

“No, it is not. Otherwise it would say so. Instead, as you see here, it is valid until 2022. I have had no problems with this so far, entering Argentina twice within the past week, at Paso de Jama and Jose Falcon.”

Seeing I would not budge after we argued back and forth for 15 minutes, he took it in the back office, was told by his superiors that yeah, he was wrong, and then wordlessly did all the stuff he was supposed to do in the first place, taking his dear sweet time, and then not saying a word nor looking me in the eye as he handed me both passports and waved me on. He did not win his Vivo today. The Argies hate to lose.

The famous bridge at Fray Bentos. Sans hippies.

The famous bridge at Fray Bentos. Sans hippies.

Once I was driving through Entre Rios, the bugs were so thick and heavy that I had to stop every couple of hours to clean the windshield because I could not see anything. I managed to get through all the way to Rosario around midnight with no problems, and then came the toll bridge. I had been dreading this moment because during my routine bug-guts-scrapings, I had also been on the lookout for an ATM, which so far, to this point, I had not been able to find. And so I had no Argentine Pesos.

I told the bridge-tender as much, and offered any mix of Uruguayan, Chilean, Paraguayan, US, Canadian, Brazilian, whatever would work. She kept saying no. No credit/debit cards either. She would not accept my offer to wash dishes, either. Eventually she called her boss, and he told her to just wave me through. Much to the thanks of the honking line of drivers behind me.

Finally, AFTER the bridge, in the town of Funes, a suburb of Rosario, I found an ATM and made good use of it. Filling up fuel, I the girl at the station asked me if I speak English. I must still set off GringoDar with my cargo shorts and hiking boots with black socks. And t-shirts with English stuff on them. “Yeah, I speak English.”

She chatted me up for a while as she filled the tank, explaining that she had lived in the ‘States for a few years, and then come back to Argentina. “It’s getting tough for us here. We make the same, but everything else keeps going up. Clothes, food, even shoes are getting hard to afford.” We went back and forth about the Argentine industries, since a lot of that stuff is still made in Argentina, or at least was, and she explained that production from all those Argentine businesses is rolling down and even those local goods are getting expensive. The people still want stuff made in the USA but they can no longer afford it and lots of it has been banned from import. Sad.

I wished her suerte and moved on, determined to close the distance to Santiago to under 1000km. I finally got to about 945 and ran out of steam somewhere a couple hundred km from Cordoba. Slept at an YPF station, uncomfortably, since the seats no longer recline with all the crap in the car. So I did a sort of yoga over the dashboard to stretch my legs out. I had looked for camping spots but found none on the GPS, and neither my Uruguayan nor Chilean sim card would work with the internet here.

Day 11:

That lasted for maybe 4 hours until my body couldn’t take it anymore, and I got headed out again around 8. I tried to fuel up at the same station but they had no gas. From here on in, it seemed that all the stations were out of 1 or more varieties of fuel. Usually it was the cheapest form of gasoline; not sure if that is because they want the markup on the premium gas, or everyone just flies through the cheap gas because that’s all they can afford. Diesel was always in stock. And, interestingly, there were GNC (natural gas) filling stations everywhere for cars that had been converted to run on it.

There was a campground/rest area maybe 30 minutes up the road from where I slept in the damned parking lot. BobLuck again.

Around lunchtime, late lunch perhaps, I decided to pull into the little town of LaPaz to refuel the car and my belly. Next to the gas station is the bus station, in which is a little comedor which advertised empanadas. So, I went in. They sold them by the dozen, but they were only AR$35 (about US$5, or US$3 on the black market) so I told them to give me a dozen, half ham-and-cheese, and half carne.

So I waited around for 15 minutes, which was fine because it allowed the blood to flow back into my ass, which is, interestingly, the same amount of time it takes to fill a short order in a roadside Argentine comedor, handed them my order ticket, took the bag, thanked them, and left. The bag was heavy, and I wondered if I would be able to eat a dozen empanadas before I got to the border crossing, but eh, whatever, they were cheap…

So about 30 minutes down the road I decide to open the bag and eat, and inside I find no empanadas; in their place are 5 enormous lomito sandwiches. WTF? Well, I am not going to turn around and go back for $3 worth of incorrect order in my favor, so I ate one and kept on trucking. In my mind, though, is “How do you botch an order like that when I am the only guy in there?” It’s not like there is some guy in LaPaz wondering why he has a bag of a dozen empanadas. Bienvenido a SudAmerica.

So at every place I stopped for gas, I tried to unload the sandwich surplus, and had no takers.

I got to Mendoza in the late afternoon. It had been quite a few years since I was here last, and I had forgotten how beautiful the whole area is. Seemingly endless high plains stretching out to the horizon, where they meet mountain ridges and then the snow-capped Andes beyond. Everything green and sunny and thriving. Life. Industry. Wal-mart. Ahhhh, civilization!

Beautiful Mendoza

Beautiful Mendoza

Past Mendoza and up into the mountains, past beautiful lakes and epic rocky peaks. The road was a pleasure to drive, despite its uphill grind at slower speeds. There wasn’t much traffic to pass, which was nice, and for the most part I had the whole road to myself. I like driving through tunnels. It must be a man thing. There were lots of tunnels, and it was cool. I reached the Chilean border checkpoint shortly before sunset. Sum total I was stopped twice at Argentine police checkpoints, but all they did was look at my drivers license and wave me on.

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Up around 3500 meters, near the border, I started to feel the altitude headache creeping in, but I knew it wouldn’t last. However, at that altitude, you get loopy while waiting around at the bureaucrat lines in the border station. I suppose being sort of high on lack of oxygen makes it more tolerable.

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The Argentine aduanas were boggled because the doofus at Fray Bentos failed to give me a piece of paper with a stamp in it, and that took them like an hour to muddle through. Also the Chilean folks were baffled by why I would have so many entries and exits in just 2 weeks. Seriously, the pile of stamped papers was ridiculous at this point, the Argentine temporary car import paper literally had no more room for stamps on it. They thought something was up, and my car got extra examination by the dog team. They didn’t open anything but my toolbox, though, which I had bought just last week, to hold all the Free-Floating Trunk Crap (TM), which the dog was fascinated by for some reason. I would have thought it would be obsessed by the alfajores or the 50 metric tons of lomito sandwiches in the front seat, but no. It was well-trained.

The time was made more pleasant, however, by the customs girl who kept asking me absurd humorous questions like, “Are you sure you don’t have a turtle in there?”

I’ve got a turtle in my pocket, baby…

And so the check was completed, I put all my shite back together, organized my mountain of papers, which will just go to the compost heap anyways, and rolled out. They didn’t make me get rid of the fucking lomito sandwiches and wouldn’t take them when I offered.

Bienvenidos a Chile!

Bienvenido a Chile!

Rolling down the pass into Chile, the crew is still working on fixing the road, and it is still closed down to one lane in places. Crazy switchbacks and no guard rails. Nice shiny new concrete, which has got to be a bitch to drive on when it’s wet. Good thing it is dry.

Between here and Santiago is only 100km or so, amazingly close.

I got home around 9:30pm, unpacked the BobMobile in its entirety, and took it back to its parking spot for a nice long rest. I cannot tolerate loose ends and so despite being at the point of complete physical and mental exhaustion, I had to finish unpacking or I could not live with myself. Capitalism!!!

Walking home, it felt nice to move my legs again. All done by 10pm. Climbed in the tub to pressure-wash the patina of road scum off of myself and then hit the sack.

I’ll have the totals up in my next post hopefully, after I go back to the car and gather all the receipts from this run.

My fridge is full of goddamn lomito sandwiches.

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I hit the road at 8am after figuring out how to shower in the tiny bathroom (with a door that opened inward). I didn’t catch any creepy-crawlies. That I can find right now…

I got to the Paraguayan/Argentine border right at 10am, and it took 40 minutes to transit the madhouse. First you go to the Argentine immigration window, then to the Paraguayan immigration window, then to the Paraguayan police window, then they sent me on to the Aduanas window where I sat for 15 minutes while this old guy filled out a form with all my car’s information at 0.0000000001 lines per century, regaling me with tales of his brother-in-law who went to the USA to work as a police officer and then came back to Paraguay after the twin towers were blown up. So since he was a nice guy and it was a pleasant conversation, I forgave his slowness. Then from him to his supervisor, who again asked me the same questions that were already filled out on the form and signed to, told me to watch out because thieves like my model car, and then I was done. At which point I drove through without even a glance in my car or my belongings. So, in theory, if one were to arrive there with papers that looked official, one could probably just breeze past it all without a second look. They only pull over the ones who look “lost” to go and fill out all the papers and stamp this and that.

All told, it took 40 minutes to get through the whole thing.

Bienvenidos a Paraguay!

Bienvenidos a Paraguay! Member of Rotary International!

So, through my first entire portion of Argentina I have not been stopped at any of the police checkpoints. The way between Paraguay and Uruguay is reportedly the worst for this sort of thing, so we shall see.

I got into downtown Asuncion around 11:30, found the mall where I was meeting Ex-UruguayanBob for lunch, and found him. We had a good buffet at the pay-per-kilo in the mall. I am completely unaccustomed to prices here so I was a bit worried at the $31,000 price tag but it turned out to be about US$6.00 for a heaping plate of stuff. We had a good chat, interesting guy.

I had forgotten how cheery and helpful Paraguayans seem to be. The Argentines have become as tragically depressed and hopeless as the Uruguayans. I had also forgotten the bizarre, lawless, border-town vibe you get in Asuncion, the mix of skeezy and high class, trash and bums in the street in front of Gucci (which probably isn’t official Gucci).

The roadside empanadas I ate last night are fighting back, so I am getting additional rest tonight in Asuncion before I hit the road out again in the AM. Last night I didn’t sleep well because, in a not-thinking-well moment, I took half a modafinil to stay awake, about half an hour before I got to Formosa. I was tired as hell, had been on the road 12-13 hours, and the GPS was telling me I would be in Paraguay at 10pm. So, thought I, I can just hammer down and get it done. But then I remembered it was payday and I had to pay my employees, and then I was feeling my physical body fall apart, and it all came crashing down once I reached Formosa and saw the hotel.

So I sort of had to force myself to sleep. Put in earplugs, and moved my alert brain into dream mode. And had some freakishly weird dreams. BUT the bed was severely uncomfortable and the sleep was a sort of conscious-of-your-surroundings dream sleep. Not restful.

 

I got a late start today, mostly because I slept longer than I had wanted to. The altitude is rough. My people were bred to lug heavy stuff, like bricks/dirt/bodies, all day, at sea level, without drinking a drop of water. The thin air has given me a headache that has lasted all day, all night, and it won’t go away. It’s not debilitating but it is certainly annoying. I can walk around OK but anything more physical than that will make me feel like I have been running for a while and am starved of oxygen.

So, the day began with a hearty breakfast, a stop at the internet cafe to buy and print out my obligatory Argentina driving insurance ($20 for 5 days), stock up on water and fuel, and head out. On the way up and out of Chile, I kept looking at the road on the horizon and thinking, “Nah, it can’t keep going up there. That can’t possibly be it.”

But it did. It kept going up and up and up, and when it disappeared over the horizon and you got caught up with it, it kept going up some more. Juriques volcano was always there looming over you. BobMobile did admirably, but there were times when I was in second gear grinding up the mountain at 40kph.

Juriques volcano

Juriques volcano

Just about when I got to the Bolivian border checkpoint, I had to pee. So I got out, and just standing up to take a leak had my head spinning like I had just run a mile. Crazy.

Bolivia!

Bolivia!

And then, I had to slow down to avoid running over some guanacos which were congregating right near the Bolivia turnoff.

Bolivian guanacos!

Bolivian guanacos!

The rest of the up and up and up driving continued, with Bolivia and its creepy aquamarine salt lakes standing out starkly against the desolate rust color of the surroundings. I wish I had stopped to get a shot of it, but I didn’t. I was concerned that at that point, if I stopped moving, I wouldn’t be able to get the car going again. It struggled to start moving after my pee break.

Eventually I reached the Flamingo Sanctuary, which is a stinky salt flat with strange green bushy plants growing around it. And there were actually flamingos there. It’s simply amazing what a little water can do, even worthless overly salty water, in a climate that is more like the moon or Mars than earth. At this altitude, I was starting to get a little woozy even sitting in the car. Steering the winding roads was putting me out of breath, and my headache was getting worse. My eyesight started getting funny, it was hard to focus. But I kept going, and so did BobMobile.

Flamingos

Flamingos

Here is a photo of the highest point in the road. Read it and weep. 4829 meters altitude. For you metric-impaired people, that is 15,843 feet, or EXACTLY 3 miles! Yes, it was hard to breathe. I was about to pass out just from taking out my camera to take that photo.

4829 meters = 15843 feet = 3 miles!

4829 meters = 15843 feet = 3 miles!

From there on in it was fairly easy driving. Lots of downhill. It was here, trying to drive off the road to some interesting rock formations, that I found out that BobMobile’s 4-wheel drive is no longer working. It never engaged. I suspect a blown fuse or relay. Will investigate further when I get a good rest in some lower altitudes. It’s not necessary anymore, really, but it would be nice to have it for driving on the beach in Uruguay.

Passing the Argentine border was as straightforward as I could have expected. Bureaucurats had to wrap their brains around a couple of wrenches in the machine– my lack of valid Chilean cedula (it’s still “en tramite” and I have not received it, but I have the papers that said it has been applied for), and the reciprocity sticker in my old passport. The reciprocity sticker is valid until 2022, so it says, but it is in my old passport, which has a different number than my new passport. This part is what made the bureaucrats’ heads explode, but half an hour later, after they took everything into the back room, a few times, and had a big pow-wow with all the head honchos, they finally let me pass without forcing me to contribute to the Kirchner fund. Customs was a joke; the guy made me open my trunk as a formality but didn’t look through anything and the closest he got to the car was a couple of meters.

La Frontera

La Frontera

Heading down through the salt flats was neat, until the road got really crappy, with pot holes and suicidal llamas and guanacos blocking the road.

Como se llama?

Como se llama?

 

That's not snow, it's salt.

That’s not snow, it’s salt.

From the salt flats, it’s up up up up again, to 4170 meters, at a place called El Morado, and then it’s down a crazy winding road of switchbacks. The switchbacks then turn to gravel at the sharp 180-degree turns just to keep you on your toes. With no guard rail, and a dropoff that means certain death. Awesome, epic scenery though. Makes me wish I did this on a motorcycle, but then when I crack the windows, it’s COLD!!!

This is where things start turning green and alive again.

I arrived in Purmamarca at sunset, and found a nice place to stay. Headed down to the town square to see what all the racket was; apparently they are celebrating Carnaval. Lots of partying, handicrafts for sale, but it’s getting dark and I can’t see anything. BUT it’s nice to be back to a more reasonable altitude of 2500 meters where I can pee without passing out from the exertion.

A pair of hotel guests were having a rough time with the desk attendant when I got back from dinner. Seems they had a reservation but all their stuff was stolen at one of the “scenic viewpoints” along the road. They lost all their cash, passports, etc. All they had left was a single credit card, which the desk jockey said they could not use to pay for the reservation (only cash to fill reservations? WTF?) anyhow they didn’t speak any Spanish so I helped translate for them, and got their problem solved. They had to cancel the reservation and then do a new one like they had just shown up randomly. Why this has to be done, well… if you have been reading my blog, this is just another pebble in the road. Welcome to South America.

So far the tally, to arrive in Argentina from Santiago, is…

Tolls: CLP$ 18450 (about US$36)
Fuel: CLP$ 180417 (about US$325)