Crossing through Narnia: The no-mans land between Argentina and Chile

Tags: Argentina, backpacker, backpacking, border crossing, Chile, Scenery, travel

Now, all of our border crossings this far have been fairly easy. We get our stamp out of one country and walk the short distance to the next country for our new entry stamp and there’s little more to it. Our crossing over to Chile from Argentina was a bit different.

For starters, the Chilean border’s terrain is very mountainous – we’d already met one couple in Mendoza who’d had to delay their travel plans because the passage into Chile was closed due to a snow storm high up in the mountains.

We would cross the border from Bariloche to Osorno by bus, and then catch another bus North to Pucon.

We planned to cross the border from Bariloche to Osorno by bus, and then catch another bus North to Pucon.

Luckily for us, there was no snow storm on our chosen route from Bariloche to Osorno and the roads were clear. When we arrived at the Argentine border and successfully stamped out of Argentina again (my second time, Dale’s third!), we looked around in confusion for the Chile border officials. Where on earth were they?

After a while of wandering around with our passports, asking various people where Chile’s border was (which generally involved miming a stamp and saying ‘Chile’ to people) we were told by our bus driver that it was still another 30 minutes down the road and he would be taking us there! Feeling a little stupid, we climbed back on the bus and were driven through half an hour of the most picturesque no-mans land I’ve ever seen. From huge swathes of green forest and huge rocky mountains, the scenery turned into a snowy-white Narnia.

It was one of the most picturesque bus journeys we'd taken

It was one of the most picturesque bus journeys we’d taken

The frost and snow-covered trees made it seem like we'd somehow crossed the border into Narnia

The frost and snow-covered trees made it seem like we’d somehow crossed the border into Narnia

After finally arriving at the Chilean border, we encountered the customs police. Chile is super-hot on making sure any fruit, vegetables or animal products from anywhere else do not enter the country. For a country that has Peru and Bolivia to the North and Argentina to the East, we found this a little hard to understand. There isn’t an electrified fence surrounding the country and keeping everything out as far as I could see – surely a stray seed or cow could get through somehow!

Still, while queuing for our all-important entry stamp, we were asked to put our carry-on luggage on a long black table. Then, a solemn-looking man appeared with an excited golden retriever, which proceeded to jump up onto the table and sniff along the rows of bags.

Warning! Dog at work!

Warning! Dog at work!

Suddenly, the dog barked and danced around looking extremely pleased with himself. The solemn man reached into the pile and pulled out… Dale’s bag. My mind raced – ‘What on earth could be in there? Did we have anything in there??’ and then a horrible feeling of realisation – we’d bought some chocolate milk a few days ago. We’d forgotten about it and it wasn’t open, but surely that wouldn’t be allowed.

‘Who’s bag is this?’ said the man. Dale stepped forward and followed the man and his dog outside, where they promptly started removing items from the rucksack one by one. Strangely, they hardly even glanced at the chocolate milk and instead asked Dale ‘have you been carrying fruit or vegetables in this?’. Non-committally Dale mumbled that he might have had some bananas in there a few days ago – this seemed to appease the man who stopped his search and returned to the table to find his next victim.

When we thought the search was over, official-looking staff then started taking everyone’s luggage out of the bus and letting the excitable dog check it over. Again, Dale’s was pulled out – the conclusion being that it might have been the smell of mosquito spray that had leaked everywhere which set the dog off.

Then came the next stage of the bag search, where officials picked out bags at random and looked through them. This time my bag was the lucky one to be plucked from the pile. We must look incredibly shady.

The bag-search man, who only seemed to speak Spanish, asked me what I had in my backpack and I tried to run through a list of everything that could be in the bag that I knew the Spanish word for – basically, not a lot. He took a quick look, taking some of the first items out before turning to me and saying ‘solo ropa?’. Now I knew ‘solo’ meant only, but I had no idea what ‘ropa’ meant. After a second of the man trying to mime and me looking completely clueless, he laughed and said my bag was fine. For those who don’t know and can’t guess, I later discovered that ‘ropa’ means clothing.

After all that bother, we were eventually allowed to cross into Chile

After all that bother, we were eventually allowed to cross into Chile

Although it was our most eventful border crossing, thankfully it wasn’t problematic. As soon as the searches were done, we were back on the bus and on or way. It was only days later when we were safely in Chile that we realised we’d managed to smuggle not only the chocolate milk but also a few biscuits and some packets of coffee across the border… oops!