I have never been so thankful to be here in South America. After two false starts that almost left me off my flights over here, I have sailed through Chile immigrations and customs checks without even stopping. What a difference to the letter-of-the-law hurdles I needed to jump over just to get here.
Waiting in Brisbane for a toilet to be fixed.
First event was in Australia as I tried to leave Brisbane. With my return ticket to Chile I was almost stopped from boarding the plane because there was no proof of an onward journey. Fortunately I was able to argue that since my ticket left me in New Zealand for a couple of days first, that they could let me on for this part of the flight. They agreed and issued me a boarding pass, but it left me concerned about how I would get on with my next flight.
To allay these concerns I quickly visited the LAN Chile airline office and asked their opinion about my predicament. Basically they said that it was illegal to board a passenger who did not have proof of passage out of the country and the airline would be heavily fined if they let me aboard. The important piece of information that they gave me was that their responsibility lay only for that particular leg of the flight, and if I fulfilled this requirement then their legal requirements were satisfied.
Waiting for buses to take us to the terminal building in Auckland.
This meant I needed some sort of ticket, but to where. Buying a return ticket would leave me with the same problem as right now. A one-way ticket would also cause lots of problems too. So I first tried to find a more expensive ticket that I could cancel for free, but after looking around there was no such thing as a free lunch. In the end, the cheapest ticket to Buenos Aires one-way served as my sacrificial scape-goat. Instead of seeing it as a lost ticket, I try to look at it as the cost of my visa to enter the country.
Leaving New Zealand
So with ticket in hand, I turn up at the check-in counter in New Zealand and try to board the plane. Again I am met with the same problem. Even with my ticket they tell me that I cannot board the plane because Argentina has the same requirements. Everything looked dim at the moment, until I remembered what they had told me at the LAN Chile office. On presenting my case, that all I wanted to do was board this particular flight and deal with further problems when I get to them, and stating that their only legal requirement was seeing that I had this onward ticket, they finally agreed to let me on board.
Watching the sunset as we take-off in Auckland, NZ.
Then came the baggage problem. Qantas shows in all of their documentation that flights to and from South America allow two checked bags of 32kgs each. So like a good traveller, I filled my two allowed bags with 31.8kgs and 31.6kgs and boarded the plane. This worked fine in getting to New Zealand, but now it was a problem. Apparently only flights continuing through Santiago to another destination are allowed 32kgs. My flight, that terminated in Santiago itself, had a baggage restriction of 23kgs per piece.
Once again there was another discussion explaining the differences between the Qantas policy and the LAN Chile policy which ended up including one of the supervisors. After seeing my dilemma this kind man waved the penalty fees for overweight baggage and allowed them through. Getting that boarding pass in my hand had never felt better.
Aboard and traveling home to South America.
Just as I was about to leave the counter girl asked to weigh my hand luggage. Gulp. That too was overweight, coming in at 9.3kgs for a 7kg limit. I started to sweat and ran through my mind all of the things that were in it and which things I may be able to get rid of. She then asked me, “Do you think you can reshuffle some of the things in there to reduce that weight to 7kgs?” I just smiled and said, “sure!” And I walked away.
Getting to Chile
With all of the difficulties in getting onto each plane, something inside me started to believe that the same thing would happen when I got to Chile. I started to imagine being pulled aside into a room to account for why I have two laptops, four telephones, dozens of books many of which I have several of the same title, and lots of other electronic gadgets and gizmos. It also seemed highly probable, after my Aus/NZ treatment that perhaps they would stop me from entering the country.
Tasting freedom – back in Chile again.
After landing in Santiago airport, I wandered through the glass-walled corridors looking out at a land that I was starting to consider that I may never be able to enter. How wrong I was. The immigrations never even asked me for an onward ticket. They circled and stamped my paper as though I was a local and let me pass. Simple.
Customs was the same. Straight through after sending my bags through the x-ray machine. Never have I retrieved my bags so fast as I did today, but there were no problems, no questions, no issues, no fuss. I was back in South America again. My home. The land that treats people as people and not as numbers, that looks at the spirit of the law and not the letter, the land that I have grown to love.
Enjoying the sunset over Santiago city, Chile.
Loving South America
People have asked me various times about what it is that I really like about South America, what it is that draws me back. I like that people here are allowed to use their common sense, to take risks, to be who they are. The governments here have not yet wrapped people up in cotton wool so tight that they cannot move in the guise of trying to protect them. Life here has a lot less rules, and I guess that is one of the reasons why I like it so much.
The Journey Home
Saying farewell to Chile as I head toward Argentina.
Heavy snowfalls covered the mountains between countries.
Passing through the Argentine border was painless.
Reaching Bariloche city, the last stop before home.
The last bus heading back to Puerto Madryn. Only 11 more hours to go.