Distant mountains surround a tiny shack in the middle of nowhere, marking the international border between Bolivia and Chile. Apparently we’ve arrived at immigration. The officer tells us there is no Customs here, it’s about 60km back across the desert, and we need to go there to hand in our vehicle paperwork. Running low on money, food, water and most importantly gasoline we know this is never going to happen, and tell the guy we’re just going to leave our papers with him.
“No problem”, he says while throwing them on a stack of identical papers.
To get an exit stamp from Bolivia, we need to each pay 15 Bolivianos (about USD$2), he says. Warren, Sara and Rob have already paid up when I ask for my usual receipt, which is where the trouble starts. The more-or less official-looking receipts, complete with hologram, are stapled to the tourist cards he has just removed from our passports. Unfortunately, he can’t give us a copy because they have to be sent to La Paz.
I’m tired, hungry, covered in dust and not at in the mood for any South American bribery crap and proceed to argue loudly with him for the next ten minutes about how this is an official border crossing and there is no way I would be required to pay money without an official receipt. Furthermore, I add, I watched at the immigration office in Uyuni while ten tourists were stamped out, on their way to cross this exact border. Nobody paid a cent there.
“Yeah, that’s different”. Sure it is.
Rob points out he only paid 12 or 13 Bolivianos, everything he had, and the guard accepted it happily. In my mind, this is always a sure sign of something screwy – the guy is happy to take what he can get. In the end he reluctantly stamps my passport and gives it back, though my tourist card doesn’t get a hologram-equipped sticker.
While waiting for Rob to organize some gear I stew in the Jeep, wondering if that was a really stupid thing to do. He could easily not hand in my customs paperwork, or mess with my tourist card, or …
I think I’m getting a little too big for my boots and taking this arguing thing a little far.
Next time I’ll keep my mouth shut and pay the USD$2.
We move off into Chile and can’t help but take photos of the excellent paved road we’re following for another 45km into San Pedro de Atacama. It’s all downhill and I think the gas gauge on the Jeep actually goes up a little, alleviating all my prior stress. It’s a serious shock to see a road with a great surface, well painted lines, distance signs, corner signs and emergency stopping lanes for trucks. On top of all this the other drivers even use signals to overtake and do so sensibly and safely.
I seriously wonder if I am hallucinating from exhaustion.
We pull over at the customs checkpoint just out of town, are stamped into the country after filling out yet another tourist card, and receive paperwork for our cars based on the registration.
No copies, no money, quick and easy.
Chile is pretty serious about keeping out fruits and vegetables, so we sign a very serious looking legal declaration before a cursory inspection where my honey and popcorn are both confiscated, currently my two favorite food items.
We roll forwards into Chile, a whole new world.