Crossing Over to Chile

The Need
After three months in Argentina I need to renew my visa. This is done in town at the local naval base after waiting a while and then paying the amount due. This only works once however, after which the only way to remain legally in the country is to leave it and then return to start this whole process over again.

So that is what I did.

Jorge driving south
In the car driving south toward the city of Cdo Rivadavia.

My last weekend before my visa expired, I headed down south towards the town of Los Antiguos in Argentina. Since Jorge and Isa were heading down this way to preach in one of the local churches, I joined them for the ride down to Comodoro Rivadavia, the largest town in those areas. From there I would find a bus and head out towards Chile.

Heading West
The only bus available arrives in Los Antiguos at 2.30am in the morning. It seems ridiculous, well it is really, but it is my only available option. I take it, and journey out west through the night until finally arriving in a quiet town in the middle of the night. Nobody is around and soon those who had travelled with me had gone too.

The road towards Chile
The road towards Chile

The night air was freezing and even in my layers of warm clothes and ski-jacket it was hard to stay warm. I needed a place to stay, and quick. Looking around down the street of this unknown town I found a house offering boarding and knock brazenly on the door. A middle-aged lady opens it, not very impressed with my brazenness, and tells me that there is no available space. Once again I am homeless.

Returning toward back toward where I had come from, unsure of where to go, I chance upon a man in a ute who tells me that I am standing in front of a hotel. A small sign indicates that his words are true, so I press the doorbell and wait. Noise and lights and soon, after the formalities, I am in my own room with a warm bed. Sleep comes easily at 3am in the morning.

By 10am I need to leave the hotel or be charged another night. The penetrating alarm of my mobile phone ensures that I do not oversleep, and I take advantage of the shower and free breakfast before leaving.

Part of the river crossing
Unknown to me, this was only the first part of the river crossing.

Braving the River
With no luggage to worry about, I head out towards Chile. Someone had told me that it was only three kilometers from here so I figured that I could walk it. It turns out to be somewhat further than this. At the border post I check out of Argentina, grab some local knowledge and then keep going. The guys had told me that Chile Chico, my destination, was actually over 15 kms by road, but really was only 3 kms if I was willing to cross over the shallow river separating the two countries.

I was willing.

The frozen edges of the river
The frozen edges of the river.

Upon reaching the river, it seemed quite a simple task, so I stripped off my shoes, my thermal pants, and my jeans, remaining somewhat respectable in my boxer shorts. It is at this point, when my feet touch the frozen ground, that I start to wonder if I am in my right mind. Soon I would realise that I was not.

The first part of the river was freezing, and my feet left it feeling pained and showing it by their bright red appearance. Once there I thought I was finished and would be able to redress and continue on my way. What a misunderstanding that was. This was only the first of several sections of river that I needed to cross. I continued on, bare foot, dodging the spears of grass and sharpest pebbles and rocks that seemed to cover the ground.

Frozen ice on a branch in the river
Proof of the frozen waters in the river (that is ice on that branch)

The next section of the river was frozen at the edges. There was no way that I could cross without standing on the slippery ice edges, so with great caution I proceeded. One foot fell through the ice, but I was more concerned with staying dry at this time, so looking was not part of the plan. Only much later, once my feet had started to thaw, that I discovered that the ice had cut the top of this foot quite deeply.

Each rock on the bottom of the river sent pain up into my frozen feet. The ice-cold water helped to reduce some of the pain and yet increased other pains at the same time. Even my bones were aching now. I pressed on, half way between Chile and Argentina, and arguing with myself as to the sanity of this whole process. To help me continue, I focused on the pains and sufferings of missionaries in other countries and considered that what they would have to go through was much worse than this small moment for me. It helped.

Letting my feet warm up
Letting my sore and frozen feet warm up just a little.

Finally I reached the other side of the river, and sat down to let my feet thaw. The air was freezing, but even so my feet started to regain some warmth once again. I felt nothing still, my toes were like touching those of a cadaver. In that state, I dressed and carefully fit my shoes to each foot, and then started walking.

It was strange at first, the feeling of walking without feeling in my feet, but I quickly adjusted and continued on. About ten minutes later the road to Chile appeared, and I started following it towards Chile Chico. By now my feet had just started to thaw out, and the pain was incredible. Afraid that if I stopped walking, I would not be able to start again, I continued onward in spite of the pain, focusing on my destination of Chile.

The Chile border post
The Chile border post.

Chile Chico
The border post to Chile was empty and I was processed quickly. Chile Chico was now three more kilometers from here. I tried to flag down a few cars but after no success decide to walk the distance to town. Half-way there, a horn sounds. A friendly driver offers me a ride towards the town centre… on his tractor. Welcome to outback Chile.

Riding to Chile on a tractor
Riding to Chile on a tractor.

Once in town, I wander down to the lake and enjoy lunch by the quiet waters, before climbing up the nearby hill for a view over the entire township. A barge leaves in a couple of hours for another part of Chile, and I am keen to continue onward in my journey but the only ATM machine is unable to give me any Chilean pesos so I am left without funds. There is no choice but to return the way that I had come.

The lake by Chile Chico
The lake by Chile Chico

So after a few chats with the locals about God, I return through the same border post only a few hours later, and then head back down the road to Argentina. This time I am considering staying on the road, but something tells me that I should brave that river again. Now I am sure that I am crazy.

Turning off the road once again I head toward the river, but this time to a different location. Surprisingly, at this new location only a few hundred metres upstream from where I had previously crossed, the river is united in just one stream. There are not three or four sections to cross, only the one.

The township of Chile Chico
The township of Chile Chico.

Once again down to my boxers, I step into the water and start the crossing. The air temperature is much warmer now, but the water has not changed at all and remains freezing. But with such a short crossing, I am soon on dry ground once again with my feet safely in their shoes. They even have feeling still. I continue onward.

Argentina Again
Upon reaching the road, a car is approaching heading in my direction. I try hitching… and it works. The guy picks me up and takes me the few kilometers down to the Argentina border post. During the journey we talk about going to Comodoro Rivadavia and how the buses leave at 1am in the morning. He informs me that there is actually a bus leaving within an hour that will get me there at 11am. It sounds much more reasonable to me, so I stick with him after being processed and head down to the bus stop.

Another view over the lake of Chile Chico
Looking out over the lake by Chile Chico towards the North.

Los Antiguos, the Argentina side, is such a small town that the bus stops are just small shops dotted around the town. If you do not know where they are then you will not be able to find them. Fortunately I was with somebody that did know where it was, and before long was safely aboard the bus heading back east toward the coast. My passport was safely tucked away, a brand new visa stamp inside it that gives me the right to be in Argentina for yet another three months.

The Snowy Return
Back in the main town of Comodoro Rivadavia, I discover that Jorge and Isa have arrived there for the night too, so we organise to meet up again and travel together back to Puerto Madryn.

Driving back in the snow
Driving back in the snow.

The night was extremely cold once again and in the morning, after leaving the city in its valley and starting to climb up to the high plains, we discover snow. In fact there is snow for the entire journey, in many places a light dusting but in others several centimetres deep.

The road becomes treacherous, and difficult to navigate. All along the way there are reminders of this too, with cars, buses, and trucks wrecked by the side of the highway. Some are rolled, others have collided with each other, unable to stop on the ice in the night. The scenes bring soberness to the journey and an awareness of the dangers of travelling in these conditions, especially at night.

Snow everywhere on the way back
Snow on the ground at the service station.

We continue without incident, and finally, late in the day, we arrive back home at our YWAM base in Puerto Madryn. It has been three days of non-stop travel, but I return triumphant, with a renewed visa in my passport.

The next time I leave Argentina it will be to travel to Australia.

NOTE: This journey happened a few weeks back now, at the end of May.