Travel Story: Labour, Hitchhiking and Banana Officer
Digdy-digdy Readers! How are you? Coming up with another crazy hitchhiking story!
The extreme side of vagabond travelling often challenges life. As if the abnormal life is the normal, and when it feels ordinary… it’s because something is about to happen ― for the good or the bad.
One of the biggest pain-in-the-behind situations are the borders. How to collect the stamp when you look broke as hell? Well... Somehow we manage, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.
The storytelling that follows happened between the Argentinian town of Perito Moreno and the dusty Chile Chico, in Chile. The short adventure muses about the up-and-downs of the hitchhiking life and how to overcome obstacles. To make the reading less philosophical, you’ll get to know about one of the times the Customs almost detained me for smuggling.
To know how I got here, consider checking the previous post
If you are interested on the book about Patagonia, drop a comment and I'll let you know once it's out of the oven. Enjoy the reading!
Life seemed to shine on those days after the wobbling boobies and women peeking at my white-skinny butt. Perito Moreno had served me well. Still, despite the desires to further embrace naturalism, I had to pursue the goals of roaming the Carretera Austral.
The exploration idea popped back in Ushuaia, when Vadim ― the Russian friend ― mentioned about the world’s most beautiful road. The Chilean RN 7, known as Carretera Austral, starts on a humble village called O'Higgins, in southern Patagonia, and meanders along the Andes northbound until Puerto Montt. At the time I didn’t know bollocks about the journey, just the fact that the farther to the south, the wilder the experience. Later, Cyril added more fuel to conspire about my destiny.
― You have to visit Caleta Tortel and the Cuevas near O’Higgins! ― He said.
That’s how hitchhiking works, you never plan. You trace general ideas and go with the flow as new information get to you. There was just one problemo, amigo.
A viable route to reach O’Higgins was via Perito Moreno, westbound along lake General Carrera. Then, through Chile Chico, before a dirt road linking into the Carretera Austral southward. The other possibility meant crossing on a boat from El Chaltén straight to O’Higgins, but it costed a fortune. No worries though, I was already midway through and energetic after the surprise shower. Easy… ― I thought. Except not.
The fantastic mood at the campsite in Perito Moreno filled the ambient, with all the comrades chatting and drinking Mate. Every time I tried to departure another wonderful empanada landed on my plate.
― Check if it needs some spice. ― The fellow camper asked as he tinkered his recipe.
― It is delicious! But seriously now, I gotta go… ― I begged. The
positive torture continued, over and over again... until I finally departed late afternoon.
A short ride later dropped me off in Los Antiguos, a town situated on the Argentinean side of the lake General Carrera ― known locally as Buenos Aires lake. That region sparked curiosity, since the town is notable for the cherries, and for being an oasis amid the steppe where farming dominated over the desert. For a fact, the Tehuelche natives named the mystical valley as I-Keu-Khon (place of the old). For them it was a sacred place, provided with critical resources for maintenance of life.
I strolled around the principal avenue in search of cherries on the numerous cherry trees aligned on the median strip, but the branches were empty. By the lake people played soccer, others sunbathed and dogs raced for a stick thrown into the water. On the water, kayakers battled the wind splashing water with their paddles. By the shore a grizzled man taught a young boy how to fish. The thick sand tickled my feet as I vagabonded along the coast in search of a place to spend that night. That’s travelling without a goal: If given the time to observe, you note the details around and get to contemplate the value held on simple things that would pass unnoticed otherwise.
A private campsite called El Pobre Gaucho (The Poor Gaucho) presented the first attempt to exchange work for night. I was getting used to this.
― Buenas Tardes.. I saw the name, I wonder if you want to help a poor gaucho like me. ― I joked. The old man laughed and placed a hand on his waist.
― ¡¿Que!?… ― The man seemed confused.
― I need one night, can exchange some work if you want… ― I proposed.
― Work? I have my son already… and I have bills… ― He didn’t hesitate.
― Bueno... but I can cooperate with something… ― I insisted.
― Impossible, amigo. ― He finished and nodded.
A rejection is always sorrowful, but those who persist receive rewards in double. That’s what happened when I ended up finding labour at the trusty municipal camping of Los Antiguos. The gift came as one of the most beautiful of the hospitalities, proving the world is made of astonishing people.
I carried a broom and bucket back to the deposit after executing the tedious task of drying the restrooms. On the outside, the automatic lights started popping with the absence of natural light. A middle-aged lady approached.
― Hey! Do you know how to turn on the lights? ― She asked.
― Lights… I don’t know… I’m just exchanging work for the night. I don’t work here… ― I explained.
― Ah, it’s fine. ― She turned around. I reached the bucket on the ground and she continued. ― Where are you from?
― Brazil. ― I said.
― Fantastic! ― She opened her eyes wide and hesitated for a second. ― Look... my family is having barbecue… why don’t you come over? ― She proposed.
Without further ado, I raced to take a shower and meet them for the feast. How can one refuse an Argentinian asado?
Long were the hours chatting with the family, eating a stupendous asado, and laughing as the Gato Negro wine warped our vision. For several times I had to hug the enthusiastic elder when he tripped on his own feet and cried of laughter. What a legend! The delicious cherries on a metal bucket filled with ice, sweet and juicy! When we handled no more, I crashed hard onto the sleeping bag with the promise of meeting them again for Mate the next morning. Neither of us woke up in time.
January 29th, 2017. A banana provided energy and a second one shoved into the backpack completed the morning nutrition. Let’s go! High traffic on the road, thus It didn’t take long for a local to lift me to the border between Argentina and Chile. As of routine on border controls, the driver told me I needed to cross alone and meet him on the other side.
― We never know what you backpackers carry… you know… ― He laughed. ― But I don't have problems with drugs... ― He continued.
Obeying the order ― and assured I had nothing to hide ― I entered the customs building, handled the passport at the counter and signed a paper. I was just about ready to leave when the customs agent motioned to the machine.
― You. Put the backpack on the X-Ray. ― He demanded.
I did. The pot-bellied short officer scrutinized the screen. He looked like a steam engine ready to explode, his eyebrows almost touching each other.
― What’s that?! ― He fumed.
― What? ― I asked. I didn’t have anything to hide.
― A banana! There’s a banana in there! ― He pointed. ― Can’t bring that into Chile! ― He shouted.
― Why not? Bananas aren’t illegal... ― I said, scoffing slightly.
He pointed to the sign above his head, which read “NO PLANT OR ANIMAL PRODUCTS ARE ALLOWED TO ENTER CHILE”
― You signed the paper! Why did you lie?! ― He pulled a paper. Looked like a serious paper. ― There’s a fine for that, did you know? ― He continued.
― I didn’t know! ― I protested. ― Can I eat it now? ― I asked.
― Then do it. You should be fined! ― He pointed to the sign again.
“NO PLANT OR ANIMAL PRODUCTS ARE ALLOWED TO ENTER CHILE”
I shrugged, peeled the goddamn banana throwing the skin into the bin and walked to the door. The customs man blocked my way.
― I’m eating, and don’t want to miss the ride… ― I said.
― You have to finish your banana in here. ― He shook his head. The sour-faced old man was looking sourer by the second. I growled and stuffed the rest of the banana in my mouth at once.
― ‘ood ‘o go? ― I asked around the mashed banana.
He walked off, but I saw the sour-faced man mutter something as he turned around, sounded like “troubling backpackers” followed by “No plant or animal products are allowed into Chile, is it hard?”.
― Have a good daaay! ― I called over my shoulder, then raced to the car.
Getting fined because of a banana? It sounded absurd in every way possible as there was no way I could pay for the fine. On the other hand, I respect his duty, as if he were a corrupt cop he’d exploit me somehow.
Luckly my ride waited for me and I survived to life the next chapters in Chile Chico. Until next time!
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~Love ya all
Disclaimer: The author of this post is a convict broke backpacker, who has travelled more than 10.000 km hitchhiking and more than 3.000 km cycling. Following him may cause severe problems of wanderlust and inquietud. You've been warned.**
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