Once upon a time, there were two gringos, a girl and a woman.
They set out on a perilous journey to cross the Andes mountains towards Argentina.
Their quest: to obtain a stamp and permission to return to the magical land of Chile and roam freely in it for another 90 days.
Armed with passports, Indie music and unqualified tires they drove hours on winding stone roads fearing for the high risk of burst tires, which would have left them stranded in the middle of nowhere and their quest unfinished.
The Gods were with them for somehow, hours later, they arrived safe and sound to the village of Futaleufú. (Accent on the last u, all u’s pronounced like Kung Fu)
They found themselves surrounded by gringo’s everywhere and fell in love with the awesomeness of the Futaleufú river. “When in Rome, do like Romans do” they thought and made a promise to each other to raft and kayak the hell out of the Futa river, if and when they would return.
So off they set and asked a local which way it was to Australia, to which the local replied with a big smile to flip off. Sorry Argentina then – Oh yes, that way (the only road out of town to the east).
The scenery so far was candy to the eye every time the road turned, as the mountains were close to each other and the valleys green and cozy. Once they arrived to the border, the valley opened up and they saw men in green uniforms.
“All please step out of the car” – oh, here we go.
- “Stand in line, give us your passports. How many travelling together?”
- “Four, sir.”
- “Uhuh, it says here you entered the country in May, last year?”
- “Yes, well no, you see that was the first time, here and there you see when we left and then came back in. Then we left again and the last time we paid in Valparaiso to stay extra, you see…” Leaning over the desk to point at the passport – “right there.”
- “Uhuh, hmmmm, …. Ok.” STAMP. “Next!”
40 minutes later, they were officially out of Chile, now into Argentina….
The four drove a kilometer of no man’s land towards the Argentinian border. The first sign: ‘Las Malvinas son nuestras’. Silence in the car, they were all thinking the same: “Oh no, we have an Englishman with us”.
“All please step out of the car.”
Inside were 8 border control staff members neatly packed sitting next to each other, giggling and talking. They stamped the passports, made them go through a metal detector, checked the vehicle documents and necessary permits (see further below) and welcomed them to Argentina.
The gringos hardly spoke while they were there, as there were ‘Las Malvinas son nuestras’ signs inside too. When they got back into the car, they turned the volume up loud and drove happily into the ever widening valleys.
The other side of the Andes is endlessly vast and much drier, but beautiful nonetheless.
Red Welsh Dragon signs could be seen everywhere as it turns out that the first village on the way, Trevellin, was a Welsh settlement.
They drove further to Esquel, found a cabin and were marveled at civilization.
It felt like they had come out of The Wild!
Chile, however magical, at least La Junta, felt like the jungle stuck in the time of explorers and pioneers while Esquel in Argentina was a modern city. Real coffee, muffins, wifi-connection, shops, hairdressers, shoes, banks and restauraaaaants!
They had fun for two days, visiting National parks, eating, eating, eating and enjoying their mini vacation within the quest.
Migration issues need a short mention in this tale. Please allow me, it will be worth your time, I promise.
We found the best cabins ever in Esquel! Beautifully made, with wifi, a Jacuzzi, comfortable beds, luxurious amenities and a lovely landlady. The first thing she said to us:
“Where are you from? “
“Belgium, Chile, England and the US.”
“Welcome to Argentina! I’m from Paraguay and I hope I can stay here, because the Argentinians want all migrants out.”
The gringos and I were astonished. She continued saying she couldn’t understand it, because Argentina was a country of migrants: Spanish, Italians, Germans, Welsh mixed with the ‘aboriginals’ (I think she meant the native tribes).
The next day, Mark drove by himself to the bank and when he came back, he seemed agitated…
“Flipping Argentinian mingers man!”
“Waiting to drive into a road, a car with a man and a child inside stopped. The child, a boy maximum 10 years old, got his upper body to hang out of the window to explicitly show me his middle finger with an angry face to go along it. I did nothing to deserve it, so I came to the conclusion that it was because of my Chilean number plate”.
“Well, thank God they didn’t know you were and Englishman then.”
We laughed it off all day, but realized our little family of mixed origins and identities truly are screwed wherever we go.
Nationalism, it must make sense for people with simpler lives.
In the middle of fun and happiness, their quest was calling. To finalize it they needed to make it back into Chile successfully.
Reluctantly, they said goodbye to civilization and drove back towards The Wild, stopping at every chance they had. To marvel at the scenery, to show the girl climate in action (the clouds over the Andes and how dry this side was in comparison), buy bread from an old Welsh water mill, visit the Welsh village and have a picknick by a river.
Crossing the Argentinian border was no problem, but at the Chilean one, they got into trouble…
They had their passports stamped, vehicle documents checked and last but not least their SAG papers completed, when they were asked to drive their car up for a thorough control.
Great was the shock for the nervous gringos when the uniformed men found two apples in the car! The stern migration officer told them how lucky they were. Next time, they would have to pay a fine or worse.
Dangerous apples! Be warned, do not be a trafficker of Argentinian apples into Chile!
Once back into Chilean territory, the gringos wanted to stop and kiss the ground. Both were marveling at the scenery at every turn and bend of the dusty, stone roads. Gasping they agreed:
- Gringo 1: “This land sure is beautiful.”
- Gringo 2: “Yeaaahp”
And so their quest was successful, not having burst any tires and realizing how much they loved both sides of the Andes. They were now free to roam The Wild for another 90 days of their lives.
As a Belgian Chilean that had to tag along with the almost illegal gringos, I sigh and gasp too. Finally I may understand nationalism, if it means to feel love for a place and feel something special inside when humans from other countries share that love too.
Loving greetings from The Wild,
Tips on avoiding becoming an illegal in Chile and travelling to Argentina from Chile:
- You have 90 days in Chile as a tourist, if you wish to stay longer, you can pay a fee at the Immigration offices around the country. This is a one-time option only (we have been told).
- When your 90 days or extension period is almost over, leave the country and come back. The easiest is to travel into Argentina for a few hours or a few days.
- When travelling into Argentina by car, you need an additional insurance. It costs 14.000 CLP and it will last a month. They will ask proof of this insurance, both at the Chilean and Argentinian borders. In Futaleufu there is a friendly Argentinian lady that runs an insurance office. Wherever you wish to cross over to Argentina (there are several passes) ask around for the best place to buy this insurance.
- At the Chilean border you must show proof of parenthood if you are travelling with children.
- At the Argentinian border you must tell them where you will be staying (name, address, so forth). We had planned to find lodging when we got there, so couldn’t answer. Luckily, the friendly Argentinian insurance lady in Futaleufu had recommended a place, which we remembered and mentioned its name. If you cross over in Futaleufu and still have not booked a place, you can now mention ‘Los Cerezos in Esquel’ ;-).
- It’s cheaper to change money in Chile. We asked around Futaleufu town, on where to change money. We were sent to several shops where we negotiated to get the cheapest exchange rate. We lowered it from 40 to 38 CLP for one Argentinian peso.
Our recommendations in Esquel:
They have a great, truly it’s the best, tourism office in Esquel. We were given maps and told only good stuff there the three times we went back for more recommendations. In comparison to Futaleufú’s tourism office, where they claim not to be allowed to recommend anything and they don’t give you maps. (I mean, what’s the point of a flipping tourism office like that?)
- For meat lovers: Parilla El Viejo Expreso, simple, but tasty food and lovely people.
- For Italian food aficionados: Don Chiquino. A restaurant that has been around since 1886!!! The decor is wonderful, the food is fantastic and they have an enigmatic magician performing magic tricks around the tables. Try the Patagonian pasta options, Mark tasted an interesting combination: Raviolis stuffed with hare meat and a local mushroom (Morille) sauce.
- Our cabins: Los Cerezos. Simply wonderful. We paid 2.100 Argentinian pesos per night for 4 persons.