Another strange but wonderful South American day. We woke up at about 2,000 m altitude, drove up to around 3,200 m around the base of the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas and ended up having a beer and photographing a sunset over the Pacific Ocean at 0 m. altitude. It can only happen in South America.
We set off nice and early and had selected one last Argentinean cactus stop, (S1143) about 22 km out of Uspallata for a last look at Eriosyce strausiana. It was the first time that The Database let us down. The area was (recently?) fenced off and fresh cow & horse dung indicated that it was used for grazing. The nice yellow grass outside of the fenced of area disappeared inside the wire and we concluded that with the grass, the cacti too had been destroyed.
We carried on towards the pass, looking for the track off the main road that would take us over the Andes, but failed to find any official roads or tracks to fit the bill. We turned round a bend to be confronted with the road passing through a valley, with tall, snow sprinkled mountains and a queue of cars as far as the eye could see. Our experience at the Paso Jama had not been great and we wondered how long this would take. It was 11:30 a.m. An hour later and we had moved on about a hundred yards. Lorries and busses seemed to enjoy special rights and zoomed past us. One or two cars with Chilean plates did the same. Half an hour later we decided that enough was enough, and if the cars with Chile plates managed to get through (we had not seen them come back) than so could we. We put on the 4 way hazard blinkers and went into the fast lane. You could tell by the looks on the Argentinean faces that this queue jumping was not appreciated. When we reached the front of the queue, closely followed by another Chilean car, awe found the road blocked by a stern looking policeman / border guard who told us to go back at the end of the (7 km long!!!) queue. He then went to the car behind us. At the sametime his colleague, ten meters closer to the border, blew his whistle and directed us to the end of the queue waiting to get into the customs hall. Those of you who know me will know that I always do as I’m told, so we followed this second gentleman’s instructions to the letter! Once in the hall, we had to park the car and join short queues of people at 5 different counters, one to formally exit Argentina, the second to clear the car out of Argentina, the third was immigration, to enter Chile (there was no problem with the wrong stamp put in our passports at San Pedro) then another to pay just £5 for the toll into Chile and finally one for the fitosanitary official to inspect and clear the car.
He found and confiscated the two Gymnocalycium striglianum fruits that we had collected the previous day and that had been over looked during Juan’s seed clearing session the previous night. Some people who cleared customs at the same time as us (c. 14:45) had been queuing since 8 a.m. in the morning, so we were lucky to get away with our stunt.
It is very difficult to see what real benefits countries obtain from these bureaucratic and ineffective capers at their borders. It causes no end of inconvenience and frustration for those wanting to cross borders and so must have a negative impact on international trade and tourism. This comment is not just aimed at the Argentinean and Chilean border processes, but at similar events all around the world. It used to be the same at the borders in Europe, before the European Community more or less did away with borders between member countries and no one can claim that this has had a detrimental affect on security, health and safety or whatever other reasons may be quoted in defence of border controls. The fact is that any one hell bound on breaking the law can do so by simply bypassing official border controls as it is just too costly and impractical to implement a totally tight system, without being compared to the Iron Curtain systems from say 40 years ago.
We arrived at Pichidangui around 18:00 hours and met up with Florencia on the rocks of the Eriosyce chilensis (albida) site in view of the church-that-sticks-into-the-Ocean. She was accompanying Steve & Phyllis Frieze from LA for whom they were arranging a tour in Chile. I had met Steve at a talk I gave at the Los Angeles Cactus & Succulent Society last February and at his request had introduced them to Juan & Flo.
Flo had contacted Maria and Juan Carlos Johow, whom we had met on the 2003 and 2007 Copiapoathons and who have a summer house at Pichidangui. We again enjoyed a look around their garden and watched the sunset over the bay and Pichidangui before finishing the day with a Pisco Sour, Lenguado & chips and ensalade paltas y tomate, words that in Chile ensure that I don’t go hungry.
Flo had found us a new set of Cabanas that will do nicely for future trips.