“Are we going to another city?”
“Yes. In another country. Be nice with the police and you’ll get a new stamp in your passport.”
“Are we taking the plane, then?”
Feng and I looked at each other.
“Mark … this is the time to introduce you to the fine art of land border crossing.”
“Nope. We are going to walk across the border. Or drive, really. But no fancy airport this time. You’re a real backpacker now, we can do it.”
“Only big boys can do that.”
At least those with irresponsible backpacker parents.
We had slept on our border-crossing plans and in the morning, and we kind of had two options. Plan A was to check if a taxi could drive us across the border for a reasonable price—we had Argentinian pesos left. Plan B was to try to take the noon bus to the border.
At first, I wasn’t too keen on the taxi option. I’d have to bargain the unmetered fare with the driver and we were in a gaucho town where dealing with machismo culture could be a pain in the ass. Plus, we had to make sure the driver wouldn’t overcharge us or leave us at the migración.
We walked to Plaza 25 de Mayo. “Ask an older guy,” Feng advised.
The driver didn’t hesitate. “450 pesos,” he announced. This was the rate suggested the day before by another driver, so probably the actual going rate. Less than $40. That was pretty fair for a one-hour ride. Three bus tickets wouldn’t be much cheaper.
It took about thirty minutes to reach the Paso Fronterizo Internacional Concordia — Salto. I took a quick picture and we went in to have our passport stamped. It was quick and easy, zero questions asked. The officers were all drinking mate and checking their phone.
In the taxi, I admired the Uruguayan stamp.
Then we drove on the Salto Grande Bridge built over the Salto Grande Dam, the large hydroelectric dam on the Uruguay River. It is shared between Argentina and Uruguay and provides more than 50% of Uruguay’s electricity. It was a pretty cool experience, definitely a unique border crossing.
In Salto, the driver had to ask for directions to the hotel, located in the city centre.
“Dos por allá.”
“Una por allí.”
Calle Sarandí was found, the driver was paid—and he presumably found his way back to Argentina—and we settled in yet another hotel room. It was cleaner and nicer than the one in Concordia—this is why you need crappy hotels once in a while, so that you can appreciate nicer room. We even had a tiny fridge, great to keep water cold when it’s 40º C outside.
“I want a drink!”
“Yes Mark. Now, we are in a new country, so we need new money. Each country has its own money.”
Mark looked at me as if I had just given him the shittiest excuse not to buy him a Sprite.
“No, seriously. We need money.”
“Get it, then!”
Right. Life is easy at four. I’ll use that line with you in twelve years or so when you’ll need cash from mommy and daddy.
Feng and I counted the Argentinian pesos we had left. About $100. We exchanged them at a casa de cambio, then withdrew money at the bank. Uruguayan banknotes were large and crisp after Argentina’s crumbling paper money.
Border crossing mission accomplished!
Time to get these drinks.