We left Mendoza at a civilized 10 am for our 421 k drive. According to Google maps it should take about 5 ½ hours. I called Bart, our airbnb host in Valparaiso and told him we’d be arriving around 4. After all there are not many things to stop and see along the way. He wished me luck but did not seem very hopeful.
No one ever does it that fast… and not because of rockslides, which are frequent, or bad roads, the highway is in great shape. No! The problem is the border.
Argentina and Chile have a long history of not getting along. Their biggest disagreements stem from territory disputes. Given that they share the third longest border between two countries it’s not all that surprising. (Canada and the US is number 1, Russia and Kazakhstan is number two… who knew?) Warnings abound about delays at customs.
I ignored them. I find travelers like to exaggerate…about how challenging a trip is; how awful the food is; how rude the locals are; how long the lines are.
Traffic was light. We zoomed past Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside of Asia, one of the seven summits and a popular tourist and climber destination. It was all going so well.
We turned a corner and came to a halt. Cars stretched as far as we could see. Our driver said “uh oh!” Hmmm. He had never seen the line this long. Hmmm. We couldn’t see past the turn in the road. I hopped out and started walking. There were about two hundred cars in front of us. Trucks and buses were in another queue. And there were 10 customs huts. How long could this take!
Longer than I could have imagined. 2 ½ hours later we pulled up to the first wicket. It took them 15 minutes to examine all our passports. This was to leave Argentina. We pulled up to the next wicket, this time to enter Chile. A 20-minute wait while they examined our documents.
Ahead, cars were being pulled over while men and dogs examined their contents. Assuming we would bypass this step, tourists after all, we got back in the car. No such luck… every single car and every single bag is searched. There are huge fines if they find fruit, meat, honey or dairy. This extreme protectionism does serve a purpose. Chile is free of many agricultural diseases and problems that plague other countries. We only had chocolate; that was ok.
One more hut, one final check of our documents and we were back on the road. Our poor driver would face the same delays on the way back to Mendoza, only this time the authorities would be looking for electronics.