The Return – Argentina 2009

Flying into the morning sun

Well, it is now several hours since I arrived in Argentina. All items that I packed are still with me, although there were a few (mis-) adventures along the way…

Night Before
I guess everything starts from the night before. At midnight as I did my last minute checks on my luggage and weight limits, something on the airline webpage caught my attention. It stated that these weight limits were for tickets purchased BEFORE a specific date. My previous ticket had been purchased before this date, however the ticket that I was about to use today had been purchased after this date. Did this mean that my luggage weight was now wrong?

It took some searching – there seemed to be no direct link at first – but when I finally found the corresponding weights it revealed what I really did not want to know. The weight limit for my bags was no longer at 32kgs each but rather now limited to 23kgs each. This was going to prove a problem. Some of the items that I had expected to take with me would now no longer be possible.

It took two hours to unpack and repack my two bags, weighing them time and again until the weights were right on the 23kg limits. Many useful items, some clothing, books, cables, chargers, documents, and cds were all unloaded to reduce weight. Finally I had two bags reduced down to the new weight limits.

Check-ins
Three hours of sleep later and I am soon standing at the check-in counter. Even with a return ticket in my hand the girl at the counter argued with me that I would not be able to enter the country. Finally, after convincing her that I have been living in South America now for over 5 years and that there would be no problems, she agrees to let me board – but not before writing down my name to cover her hide should anything go wrong.

Nothing went wrong, and my luggage of 23.0kgs and 22.5kgs was accepted without hesitation. After some repeat scannings of my laptop bag to make sure all was clear I passed through into the “clear zone” and with no complications in Sydney airport it was not long before I was soon waiting at the gate for my flight.

Oh yes, there was one thing that happened while standing in the customs line in Sydney. The customs people were sending a dog down the line, sniffing for drugs in the people standing there, when suddenly it stopped and focused intently upon the shoes of a man just in front of me. The dog almost continued but then returned and stayed with that man. Not knowing what to think, I put a little distance between us. Was this going to be a drug bust?

Suddenly there was a commotion and people moving everywhere. The man who had been sniffed broke his line and headed for the customs entry lanes. It took a moment to take the whole scene in, but as I started to process what I had been seeing I saw the man standing and talking with the customs officials. He was not in cuffs and looked very comfortable. Something was not right. Then I caught a part of their conversation… it had been a training run, nothing more.

Sydney airport

Leaving Sydney airport

The Flight
The flight to Argentina took us down toward the Antarctic but not close enough to see it. Cloud cover over most of the ocean limited visibility but as soon as we reached the coastline it disappeared leaving a clear view of the majestic mountains and coastlines of the region.

Having spent considerable time in the mountain town of Bariloche, tucked into the folds of the Andes Mountains, it was thrilling to discover that our flight path took us directly over the top of this picturesque township and the huge lake it cuddles up to. Not only this, but crossing over the Andes led us over the top of the glacial mountain of “El Tronador” which Brodie and I had climbed in January 2007, giving a perfect view of the deep crevasses cris-crossing it everywhere.

Our path followed the road out of Bariloche along the barren desert plains embracing a series of dams until finally reaching the city of Neuquen and its lakes. From there we continued over the green plains of “La Pampa” until finally reaching our destination of Buenos Aires. Fourteen hours journeying only to arrive 50 minutes earlier than I had left. We departed at 11.50am on the 18th only to arrive at 11am on the 18th.

The Customs Debacle
At the airport I pass quickly through immigrations but then have to wait until almost last to finally be able to collect my bags. Moving into the baggage checking area I am very aware that the goods I am bringing into the country is excessive for just one person and had been praying that all would go smoothly during my entry into the country. Now, as I approach the x-ray machines an uncanny calmness fills my being and I feel an assurance that even if I were to pass through the x-ray machine, all would be well.

Passing the barriers it becomes obvious that all of the machines are in use. Before I realise what is happening I push my trolley past a man who stops me and then pushes a button. The button is linked to two lights, one red and the other green. A red light means you get x-rayed. A green light means you walk straight through. I look up at the light, wanting the random electronics attached to that button to smile upon me and give me green. I get red.

Pushing my trolley and four bags up to the x-ray machine I start unloading them one by one onto the conveyer belt. The uncanny peace inside me is like an anchor that subdues the wild thoughts about what is likely to happen that are trying to take root in my head. With two bags moving into the machine, I ask the guards if they want the other bag. They respond that every bag must be x-rayed. I load them on and then push my empty trolley to the other side of the machine, holding my breath and thankful for that peace that refuses to leave me.

As soon as the bags start coming out I begin loading them up on my trolley again. It looks like all is well until the guard tells me that he wants to open one of the bags remaining on the conveyor belt. Reaching for the other, he informs me that he wants to open that bag too. I look down with relief at the two bags that I had at least managed to save, now sitting on the trolley beside me. Then I hear the guard speak again, informing me that they too must be inspected. Every single bag needed to be opened. Gulp.

El Tronador glacial mountain

El Tronador glacial mountain that Brodie and I climbed in 2007

Caught Out
The guard calls me over and inspects my passport, noting countless stamps for entry and exit into Argentina. Next he asks me what I am carrying in my bags. In the split second it takes me to answer I consider whether I should fudge the truth or not, but quickly return to my senses and determine that all will be well. I start rattling off the list of items in my bags:

Laptop, hard drives, clothes, speakers, computer parts, motherboards, cd-roms, network cables, battery-powered drill, and bits and pieces…

Surprised at my list, the man with supreme authority over my cargo asks me if I have a house here in Argentina. My explanation is that I work with non-government organizations as a volunteer and that the items with me are for their purposes. I confirm that nothing I have with me is new, and then we move over to the bags and start the opening process.

As I open the first bag I add, “Oh yeah, there is a printer too,” and then pull out one of the few new items with me and show it to the guard. It is a small butane soldering iron which attracts no attention whatsoever and he directs me to put it away again. The second bag is opened and ruffled through, also attracting as little response as the first. I start closing them up again.

The third revealed nothing serious, and the last was my laptop bag. As the guard stared at the networking components I held my breath. This may cause a problem. Yet as quickly as everything had started, the guard told me to pack it all up and be on my way. Nothing was amiss as far as he and his partner were concerned.

Closing the lids of my luggage and loading them onto the trolley again, I walked the final few steps and passed through the non-returnable doors. I was back in Argentina again, and everything that I had brought with me was still here. There was a deep joy in knowing that many people would soon benefit from the cargo that I was pushing before me.

I have arrived, and it feels like home again.