The border crossing from Bolivia to Argentina was pretty fast and easy. Both immigration offices were in the same place, so we did not have to walk or drive from one to the other. And once in Argentina, this is the first thing we saw:
So I guess we still have a long way to go:)
Argentina is a totally different world. It is a pretty developed country, the people have a different way of thinking and behaving and one thing that shocked us (in a good way) was the very civilized traffic. We could not believe we didn’t have to worry about getting killed every 5 minutes! Everyone really follows the rules, obeys the speed limits and the continuous double lane. As on the bikes it’s really hard to go very slow, at some point we were stuck in some traffic going down a winding road with (obviously) continuous double line. Vasile started passing the cars and trucks and for a while I couldn’t do it. I was just so embarrassed, as we were the only ones braking the rules. After a few minutes I had to give up on my embarrassment, as I could not continue with 20-30 km an hour. But I have to admit it is such a peace of mind to drive here; we needed this break.
And we got to the Tropic of Capricorn, in Salta!
We found some good, inexpensive wine to buy on the side of the road (there are wineries everywhere).
And we started loving Argentina more and more (even though we haven’t open the wine yet:) )
The only downside was the 45 degrees Celsius – nice and toasty. We had to stop every hour to drink water and we still felt dehydrated all the time.
We got to Mendoza where we were expecting a bit more crazy traffic, as it is a big city, but same thing. It was busier, indeed, but same civilized traffic; we could actually see two different lines of cars not just cars all over the place, people politely letting us cut in front of them if we needed, no honking and yelling. Except a cab driver on my left hand side who was standing out with his lack of patience, honking all the time for whatever reason.
We managed to find a hotel right in the center of the city, but we had to find parking somewhere else. Luckily we got a good deal at the parking lot right across, so all set. We were planning to stay in Mendoza for a couple of days, so Vasile could go to the KTM dealership and take care of his clutch, as it started to cause him problems again.
As it was Valentine’s day, we decided to go for a nice dinner. Argentina reminded me of Romania in many ways. One of them was the way people enjoy their evening. We found a street in the center that was for pedestrian use only, and on both sides, as far as we could see, patios full of people dressed up enjoying a meal, a coffee or a drink. I kind of missed that. One of the things I didn’t miss though was people smoking everywhere. We were sitting at a table trying to enjoy our dinner and a lady sitting at the table next to us was smoking like a chimney, cigarette after cigarette, and we were inhaling all her smoke. Vasile was about to tell her a few words but I stopped him, as we were not in our country, and apparently here they are allowed to smoke wherever they please (even though it is not nice), so we have to adapt; I am not here to teach them how to behave.
When we got back to the hotel the receptionist told us that he had made a mistake, the room that we booked for two days was actually booked already for the next day. He offered to find us another hotel, but we didn’t feel like moving all our stuff again, find a parking for the bikes again etc. This would have taken a few hours of our day, so we decided to move on, and go to Santiago, Chile, as they have KTM dealerships there too, and from what we heard the best ones too.
So the next day we packed up and off we went. The ride from Mendoza was nice, scenic, but sort of boring for us, as there was barely any traffic. As I was a bit tired too, I was almost falling asleep (literally). I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open. I was longing for some crazy traffic to keep me awake, and entertained:)
We didn’t find any traffic, but we found this instead.
The Provincial Park Aconcagua. It is incredibly beautiful. And we were lucky and we had almost clear sky and we could see the summit in his entire splendor.
The idea of trying to climb it was quite tempting, as we were very well acclimatized now after so many days at altitude in Peru and Bolivia, but it was $1000 USD per person just the entry fee, plus all the equipment we would have needed, so we gave up.
From there the road was going higher up in the mountains. We were wondering where the border was or if we passed it already, as we knew we had to be very close. We entered a long tunnel, about 3 km, and in the middle of the tunnel we saw Chile’s flag, and the usual “Bienvenido a Chile” (Welcome to Chile). We got out of the tunnel, but still no border anywhere. A few km later we finally got to the border. The border has a very epic location, in the middle of the mountains (Paso Los Libertadores).
As it was a border crossing between two developed countries, we were expecting to have the best experience in border crossing so far. Well, it turned out to be the worst. As it is a joint border, both immigration offices, Argentinian and Chilean are in the same place. But “the office” was actually formed by lots of little kiosks where the border officials had their desks, but people were actually lining up and filling out the forms outside. There were no tables or anything where you could fill out the forms, so everyone was writing on their car’s hood or wherever they could. Unfortunately our bikes don’t have a hood. And to top it off, it started raining, and at some point hailing. It was impossible to fill out any forms in that rain. We got through a couple of those kiosks, and then we got to an old lady, who apparently didn’t know very well what she was doing. She kept sending us from an office to the other to get some stamps. When we would go to those offices, they would tell us we didn’t need those stamps, and they would send us back. This happened a few times until one of the officers from that office came with us, and explained the lady we did not need that stamp. She made us fill all kinds of forms, even though we told her we had filled those forms already and once we finally had it all ready she goes “Oh, you are entering Chile now, not exiting?” Duh! Yes, we are entering Chile. It says on the forms that you made us fill out and we mentioned a few times, in Spanish! So it turned out we did not really need all those stamps. Now it was time for her to enter all the info from the forms into her computer. She was asking me again everything I had filled out on the form “So what’s the document you are using? And what’s the passport number? What vehicle you are on? What’s the VIN?” “I am sorry, I do not know it by heart, it’s on the form you have there” “Where?” So I had to show her what line I put the VIN and all the other info on. It looked like she was not very familiar with those forms. And that would not have been a problem, maybe she was new, which I would totally understand, but she was loosing patience and raising the voice on us too, which I did not appreciate at all, since it was her job to know what stamps we really did need and where to find the info on the forms. And then she started typing with one finger, one key every two seconds. It took forever to enter my info in the computer. Then it was Vasile’s turns, all over again:)
When we finally thought we had all the stamps and all the papers, we had our panniers checked for food (you are not allowed to have any meat, fruit or veggies). At least these two ladies were more than nice, so in five minutes we were ready to go. Or at least that’s what we thought. Before we exited, we had all our papers checked one more time. “You need a stamp from the Argentinian immigration on the SAG form” (the declaration that we were not bringing any food items into Chile). I can’t believe this! We ride back to the Argentinian immigration office and ask for the stamp. “Sorry, that’s a Chilean form, it has nothing to do with us, we cannot put a stamp on something that doesn’t pertain to us”. Back to the Chilean officer, repeat the Argentinian officer’s words, finally he lets us enter Chile!!! Soaking wet after more than three hours in the rain and hail (or should I say hell) we were looking forward for the sun and clear sky we saw in the distance. Chile, here we come!