When I landed in Santiago, Chile’s surprisingly chic capital, my travel plans were limited to one word; South. I had read Bruce Chatwin’s Patagonia and I wanted to do what that lad had done; walk to the ends of the world and see what all the fuss was about.
I stayed at the La Casa Roja Hostel, a mind-blowing property with a swim-up bar, a rock-climbing wall and a small cricket practice field. I spent my days drinking, sweating the alcohol out during long walks and pestering everyone for information about Patagonia.
On my third morning there, I got back from a big night out in town at 7 a.m. Dazed and stinking of booze, I walked into the dorm and apparently asked the dude in the adjacent bed if he had seen the British guy I had headed out with the previous night. When he said no, I told him I was going to bed and see you for breakfast mate. That’s how I met Thomas the Swede, and later his brother David. Thomas had a wicked sense of humour, an almost innocent love for weed and his Spanish made mine sound scholarly. We quickly developed a full-scale bromance, and two days later when they asked me if I wanted to join them heading South I said hell yeah! We agreed to head for Bariloche the next day; a gorgeous, lakeside town famous for its Alpine chalets and ridiculous prices on everything located somewhere in southern Chile.
Except that that wasn’t the case.
We bought our bus tickets online (website: recorrido.cl). The first one would carry us overnight from Santiago to Osorno, and the second one would carry us the rest of the way to Bariloche. We left the hostel late in the afternoon the next day, and made it to Osorno, a nondescript industrial town without a glitch. However, we were not far into the second leg of the trip when our driver pulled the bus over and asked us to disembark for what I assumed to be one of those routine police checks that South Americans appear to be so fond of.
We were led into a large, bare office and had our passports examined by the officials. When it was my turn, the officer took my passport and flicked casually through the pages, ignored my Chilean visa stamp, worked his way all the way to the last page, hesitated for a moment, started again in the reverse direction, tensed up slightly, threw me a quizzical glance, went through the pages one more time, looked up at me like what the fuck is this thing you’ve given me and finally called out to one of his colleagues.
As for me, my mood had proceeded from calm and collected to it must be his first day at work to shit I may just be in trouble here. What kind of trouble? I had no idea.
‘Donde esta tu visa?’ Enquires the colleague who has been called over.
I showed them the visa stamp on my passport. More confused looks are exchanged.
‘no, este es something something in Spanish!’ They insist, shaking their heads in unison.
‘Si! Si!’ I insist, wondering if the bloody immigration guy at the airport used the wrong stamp.
‘They say you have no visa.’ Some guy helpfully has decided to act as an interpreter by now, although his Spanish wasn’t fluent either.
‘Yes, it’s here. Tell them that’s my visa. I paid for it at the airport myself!’
By now, our bus driver has joined the proceedings and half the passengers, eager to get going, stand around looking either mightily agitated or bemused.
‘Man, are you trying to immigrate to Argentina illegally or what?’ Jokes Thomas, rather fucking unnecessarily.
Except that he had a point.
Turns out, Bariloche is in fact in Argentina, not Chile, and I had been trying to cross the border without having paid the reciprocity fee mandatory for Australians wishing to enter Argentina.
Fucking unorganised and clueless; typical me.
It took us even longer to figure out what I could do next. The payment had to be made online and there was no internet at the border crossing. Thomas said they would wait for me on the other side, we hugged it out and he followed the rest of the passengers back onto the bus. I stood in the middle of the road and watched my ex-bus disappear into the foggy distance, then turned around and stuck the ol’ thumb up for a ride back into Chile.
It began to drizzle. I was less than a week into my trip and shit was already going down, fast…
Find out how/if I got myself out of that gorgeous mess by clicking here.
Thank you and Merry Xmas.
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