Day 48: Want to take the bus from Santiago to Mendoza?
Note: The Rules & Guidelines for the Yes Quest can be found here.
The next time you're on a bus from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina, be forewarned that the bus driver will put on a poorly dubbed Jennifer Garner movie about finding Jesus and blast it all over the bus, because there's nothing like Jennifer Garner's whiny church Spanish to serenade you as your double decker bus crawls through the stunning Andes mountains. Of course, you'll be lucky to make it this far and will be grateful for the giant Chilean family that seems to be using the bus as their personal moving service, because thanks to their bags of comforters, electric kettles, and cases of wine wrapped in black plastic bags, the bus left the station forty five minutes late. But gracias Jesúscristo, because if that family hadn't chosen 2pm on a Thursday to follow in their ancestors footsteps and make a pilgrimage back through the Andes, you would have missed the bus because your travel buddy got an ear infection and asked to take the early bus back from Valparaiso to Santiago so he could go to the ER and get it checked out.
You swear, you agree to get up at 6am not because the Yes Quest says you have to, but because you're not an asshole. Okay, maybe it's 90/10 not an asshole to Yes Quest. Or maybe 50/50. Empathy is fuzzy before dawn.
Por supesto, the ear infection couldn't have been that bad, because somehow you magically leave Valparaiso at 8:45am instead of the intended 6:45am, which gives your travel buddy all of two and a half hours to find the emergency room, see a doctor, get prescriptions, and do it all in the most poorly prounounced but well intentioned Spanglish you've ever heard.
Necessito una doctor par mi ear es mucho infectado y...y...creo que necessito ayudo rapido. Por vavor y gracias.
But apparently the hospital is on point, and they prescribe three medicines for your red eared travel buddy, and so everything seems like it's going to plan except for the fact that the hospital doesn't actually have carry any of the medicine it recommends, and apparently three pharmacies around the hospital don't either. But there's no more time to scour Santiago for a particular sort of ear drop, so your travel buddy grabs and Uber and then the Uber proceeds to immediately disregard any of the up to date, real time, Waze directions and instead drive 10 minutes out of town, all while you're standing on the street corner with all your stuff, and your friend's stuff, so you may as well be holding up a giant sign that says, "MUG ME."
While you're contemplating what you'd save in the event of such mugging (the bus sandwiches, obviously) and what you'd use to fend off the imaginary muggers (travel buddy's longboard and a well timed bitch face) you hear Travel Buddy sprinting around the corner, because Uber driver took another wrong turn down a one way street. You basically throw random bags at him and sprint back toward the car, where the Uber driver is casually bopping his head to his own playlist, in no hurry at all.
You slide into the back of the car, pull out your bus tickets, and realized you filled out the ticket info wrong and declared that you and Travel Buddy are actually from Canada. Even though you haven't checked the news in weeks, you assume that Trump has done something new to piss everyone off and that pretending you're from Canada isn't the worst. You'll figure it out later. That's what bribes are for.
Travel Buddy is screaming, "Rapido! Andale! Menos tiempo!" in the general direction of the Uber driver, to breathes in a big lungful of Santiago oxygen just as Kenny Loggins comes over the speakers...
Revvin' up your engine
Listen to her howlin' roar
Metal under tension
Beggin' you to touch and go
Highway to the DANGER ZONE
Ride into the DANGER ZONE
It's like you're living a movie montage of your life, and you make a mental note to remember the apropos timing of this song in case things go south at the border because Argentina thinks you're running from the law because you're not actually Canadian, and then you spend the rest of your life living as a woman without a country, living in the Andes in no man's land between the borders of Chile and Argentina, just waiting for the Lifetime movie about your harrowing rescue.
But it turns out that no one cares that you accidentally pretended to be Canadian for a segunda caliente, especially when there are 15 other double decker busses and hundreds of cars trying to get through the most inefficient border control that has ever existed in the world, ever. Despite passing the actual border miles ago, someone with the IQ of a potato (or perhaps, a group with the combined IQ of a sack of potatoes) decided to plop immigration right in the middle of the Andes, and to create a system so ineffectual, that even the Italians would be embarrassed.
The bus crawls to a stop in the bus lane, and everyone is told to get off the bus. So you get off the bus and realize that your coat is in your suitcase and it's the middle of winter in the Andes mountains. Of course you can't get to your bag, even though you and the bus and your 70 new Chilean best friends just stand around for an hour. Eventually you're instructed to head to the cement structure, which looks more like a car was than border control. Another hour in line. Travel Buddy gets to the window first, and there's a momentary second of panic when he realizes he doesn't have the receipt he received from immigration on the way into Chile.
And suddenly, triumph. "I found it! Oh my god, that was scary."
By now you've realized that you definitely don't have your receipt. It might be back in your folder of Important Things, but it's probably more likely to be in a landfill somewhere in Santiago, because in the other 15 countries you've been to this year, the immigration guys always stapled the important documents to your passport. Also, this receipt was about as official as the receipt you get from Whole Foods when you return an expired tub of hummus.
"Mis amiga no tiene passaporto receipt."
You slide your passport through the window, double check the receipts in your wallet just in case Past Brooke was smarter than you think. Disappointed but unsurprised, you turn back to the window and in the with the most adorable and shockingly instinctive bat of your eyelashes and pageant queen smile, you say, "Hiiiiiiii."
You hear the distinct thud of two passport stamps. Success! And you don't even feel a little bit bad about tightening the bra of the women's movement.
Onto more important things. Travel Buddy thinks there might be alfajors in the restaurant, so you go on a hunt for more dulce de leche filled goodness. They exist, but are unfortunately mediocre, probably because they've been sitting at altitude in the god damned Andes for weeks. By now you've lost your group and it's gotten dark, so all of the busses look the same. You assume that your bus is close to the baggage checkpoint. It's been over two hours, after all. You wander from bus to bus like lost children in a mall, "Are you my bus? Are you my bus?" You board a few and realize you don't recognize anyone, and that's when panic number three sets in: the bus totally left without you.
Travel Buddy is freaking out a little bit more than you are, most likely because you're realizing that the Lifetime movie is back on! Once you realized the Canadian issue wasn't actually an issue, a small part of you was disappointed because you've been looking for a good story to tell (and an inevitable royalty check.) But now, adventure! Which new Chilean family will adopt you into their bus? Will they like you better than your old bus family? Will you have a slow motion reunion in twenty years, where Old Bus Family meets New Bus Family, to the tune of slow Spanish guitar set to the melodic words of Pablo Neruda?
Or, you notice your bus driver in the middle of the chaos and he tells you that your bus is exactly where you left it. It simply hasn't moved, and why would you think it would have in the past two hours?
Three hours later and it's finally your buss's turn to get felt up by the Argentinian equivalent of the TSA. Everyone off the bus! There's a scanner of some sort, that appears to be used primarily for decoration and as a cupholder for the five or so officers that are standing around. The belly of the bus is open and a pile of random suitcases is strewn about on the cement floor, like a gutted, harpooned whale. At this point, the bus driver and porter are holding up styrofoam cups and shouting, "Propina! Propina!" Tips! Tips!
Now seems like a mighty odd time to be collecting tips, but there are a few bags being examined and entire bus is searching for small bills and coins. But wait, the bus driver is giving the tiny cups of money to the immigration officers. Holy shit, it's a bribe and it is not subtle, but now you understand what's taking so long. Officers are piling up people's clothes on the plastic fold out table while passengers are fishing in their wallets.
You and Travel Buddy stand in the back and refuse to make eye contact.
Suddenly everyone heads back to the bus like a flock of geese that all turn around in unison, leaving you and Travel Buddy as sitting ducks.
Eyelashes, commence! "Hiiiiiii."
"De donde eres?"
The officer relaxes. He looks to be about 17 years old, gets halfway through my bag and gives up. He moves to Travel Buddy's bag, pokes it a few times, and wanders away.
Back on the bus! Now, Jennifer Garner's constantly furrowed brow is replaced by Benedict Cumberbatch's superhero debut. At some point Tilda Swinton comes across the screen as a the Tibetain Ancient One, and you vaguely remember some internet bedlam about whitewashing and cultural appropriation and chuckle at the fact that a white Scottish woman is playing an Asian seer that's been poorly dubbed in Spanish. Then you remember that you're now in Argentina and no one cares, so you doze off to sleep and arrive in Mendoza three hours later and five hours late.