Everywhere in the world, border crossing can be a long process.
“Well, that’s gonna take forever,” I mutter to myself, counting the number of buses ahead of us, waiting to enter the Complejo Los Libertadores, the immigration checkpoint between Argentina and Chile.
The bus stops. It’s not going to be quick and easy.
It’s okay. I don’t mind being stuck on top of the Andes, between Argentina and Chile. The scenery is spectacular.
I get up from my seat. “Can we… go out?” I ask, hopefully.
“Oh yeah, sure,” the driver replies, opening the door. “Just don’t go too far. Enjoy!”
I’m the first one out and most passengers follow. For once, it’s not just a cigarette I crave, but the opportunity to stand here, 3,200 metres above sea level, in the Andes.
Plus, we’ve been sitting in the bus for 4.5 hours already, time to get some fresh air.
I take a few quick pictures—the Chilean flag, the border signs, the small shops and the mountains. Then, when it becomes clear that we’re really stuck there for a while, I grab a cup of coffee and go to the casa de cambio to exchange my last Argentinian pesos for Chilean pesos—I feel rich leaving the small stall with 37,000 Chilean pesos ($55), even though I’m pretty sure I was given the worst possible exchange rate (this is what happens when you don’t have a Chinese guy with you, challenging the exchange rate offered…)
I took the 8:00 bus in Mendoza. Yet another early start, but I didn’t have much choice. When I went to the terminal to buy my ticket, the only seat remaining in the 10 a.m. bus was by the toilet at the back of the bus—thanks but no thanks for a 7-hour trip. As for the 9 a.m. bus, it was full. But on the 8 a.m. one, I could secure a front seat. Fuck yeah!
“It’s alright, the earlier I leave, the quicker the crossing will be. It won’t be too backed up.”
The Paso Internacional Los Libertadores, the mountain pass in the Andes between Argentina and Chile, is the main transport route between Mendoza and Santiago. There’s a lot of traffic and the roads are challenging. Case in point, the pass was closed overnight because of a rock slide. So now, the pass is open again but the overnight buses—who must have had a hell of a night…—have priority.
We left Mendoza in an early-morning fog. I took a few pictures and slept for a while. It’s one of these super comfortable South American buses with fully reclining seat and a touch screen offering plenty of pirated movies dubbed in Spanish. The driver is drinking mate, I hope he doesn’t spike it with booze.
I open my eyes once in a while to take a picture and next thing I know, it’s around noon, the sky is blue and we’re about to arrive at the Paso Internacional Los Libertadores.
That’s where we got stuck for a while.
I relax, even though I’m always a bit nervous when I’m crossing borders. I dream of a world without them because entering a country is never a right, even though the Declaration of Human Rights does mention the right to freedom of movement (I know, I know, “within the territory of a State”….).
Eventually, we’re all invited to step inside the giant warehouse doubling as the migración and customs. I’m the first one in line for some reason.
“What bus is she with?”
The driver puts his hand on my shoulder in a very paternal way. “She’s mine.”
Sounds sleazy but it was kind of cute, actually, almost protective.
The Policía de Investigaciones de Chile officer looks at my passport. “Canada? Way too cold. Have fun in Chile.”
One thing done.
Then we move on to customs, a serious affair. We’re all brought to another room where we have to stand in line, our daypack in front of us, on a table, while the luggage inside the bus goes through a X-ray machine. They’re looking for fruits and veggies, mostly. A few suitcases have to be searched and then we walk back to the bus.
Now is the time for the great finale. I take a deep breath.
This is the most exciting part of the bus trip, but also the scarier one. On the way up, it was a gentle slope, but to go down, it’s a long series of 28 hairpin turns.
Everything is terrifying—how close we are to the edge, the skid marks on the dirt, incoming traffic with massive trucks, the complete silence as we’re all counting the switchbacks.
Hell of a driving test.
I can’t believe there are night buses taking this road.
Half an hour later, the zigzags and the Andes are behind us. It’s gonna be a straight line to Santiago.
I feel excited, as if I had accomplished something, even though I was just sitting in the bus, not driving it. Must be that fresh air from the Andes.