Better don’t escape

August 7, 2008  
Topics: Chile

Originally written for

starting point in San Pedro for our trip to Salta, Argentina

starting point in San Pedro for our trip to Salta, Argentina

After San Pedro we needed a change. We have had enough desert, and were longing for green. Since Augustas got another website project, and Argentina is definitely a cheaper place to work in Internet cafes, we decided to head to Salta. We were lucky since two days after making a call on website for needing a place to stay, Federico from Salta invited us to his house. Off we went.

Our hitchhiking to Salta did not start successfully. After three hours waiting on the road towards Paso Jama, the most Northern border crossing from Chile to Argentina, we figured there was no traffic at all. When finally a private car stopped, we thought about a marvel, but it turned into a nightmare. Suspiciously watched by a Chilean couple we embarked upon following dialog.

“Where do you go?”
“To Salta, like you.” We did not seem convincing. “We are two Europeans travelling to Salta.”
“Do you have passports?”
“Yes, we can show them to you.” I was about taking mine out, when the driver said,
“Do you have your exit stamps from Chile?”
“No. We will get them on the border of Argentina.”
“No, you won’t. You have to go to the building of Customs (Aduana) in San Pedro to get your exit stamp. On the Argentinian border is no Chilean immigration office. You need this one here.” He showed us his exit paper. We swallowed.
“Well then, it seems we have to go back… Thank you, though.”

That happens if you do not read travel guides, nor sleep in hostels. The car left, and we walked back to the Aduana building.


Getting our stamps was not easy. Since we were hitchhiking, we would not get the exit stamp before we did not find a driver to take us. That was quite a task, which we were not used to. But anyway, we tried. Somewhen, a fat, about 55 year old man told the Aduana his destination. We listened. Salta. I came up to the Italian, who was actually Argentinian, but reminded me an old Italian chef. He agreed to take us. I run back to Augustas, he got quickly our stamps, and fore we run to the car of our Italian driver. Once we passed the tourist bus, which blocked the view onto his car, we saw him driving away. We sped up. Instead of stopping, he went into a small side street, and waved something unclear. He disappeared, but we still run, because we thought he wants to make a visit to the small shop around the corner. We were wrong. He was gone. Was he hungry? Did he mean to come back to pick us up? Should we wait at the Aduana building or better head to the main road towards Paso Jama, where he would later pick us up? Was it that what his arm waving meant? We did not know. I was for heading to the road, but Augustas thought the Italian might be confused if he does not find us near the Aduana. The italian finally escaped half an hour later sneaking silently away from us via the main road to Paso Jama. No chance to catch up with him. We were depressed. Well, I was.

After a while of bad mood, we found peace again. While waiting we enjoyed the company of our new dog friend, and just let the day be the day it was. Around six sun set and it became terribly cold. I needed to put my long undertrousers and shirts for not freezing to death. I asked the Aduana to help me find a room for changing my clothes, since the public toilet was locked for no water was available. It turned out an odysee of our modern world in which no one seems to understand the need for a woman to undress in a closed room. “What a shame for humanity!”, I throw them in their stupid faces, left, and undressed right in front of the Aduana building. That is what they wanted, that is what they got. For the change of the upper part of clothes I prefered to disappear out of sight. Still visible, indeed, but not from the street nor any Aduana worker, rather from everyone living around. Our little dog friend was then the one who cheered me up. He accompanied me, hoping I would never leave him alone anymore. It broke my heart, and turned my madness into love. If I only could have adopted him…

Around 7:30pm, after 8 hours waiting, Lisandro, a biochemic engineer, appeared. He was going much further than Salta. At the same time a French couple appeared, needing a ride for the bus would not take them with their strange luggage (a huge wooden box). We had to be quick. Good for us that the soldier watching the Aduana building all day long connected us to Lisandro before the others were close. At around 8pm we finally turned our back towards San Pedro.


It was a long night. Windy, terribly cold, and with altitudes up to 4.600m. Good, that we were sitting inside a comfortable pick-up. We reached Paso Jama. Entering the Immigration office the first thing greeting us was a sign “Smoking forbidden”. Right beside the sign sat two Aduana officers smoking on their desks. We were in Argentina, that was for sure. We continued into the second room, where five immigration guys surrounded the tv, concentrating on a football game. Calling for attention did not work right away. When we finally did get the attention, we got too much. The computer system stroke when Augustas passport was read. Result: Lithuanians need Visa. It was not true. Half an hour of discussion, madness from the officer’s side, educational hints in contra from my side, praying that the Internet connection would re-establish soon, and finally Google as our savoir for providing the right information, lead to the entrance stamp for Augustas. Lots of officer’s sorrys, he even kissed my hand, an extraordinary visit to the officer’s toilet, and the picking up of a new passenger, we were back in the car on the way to our destination.

The passenger joining us was actually the Italian, who broke his promise and escaped from us in San Pedro. He was altitude sick, and now needed urgently someone to deliver him further downhill. Funny indeed. Escaping does not pay off, a lesson he for sure had learned that day. Lisandro was amused. We left him finally in Susques, a small town about 130km far from Paso Jama on the Argentinian side.

Our search for a bank machine brought us to Purmamarca. Once we found the cash dispenser we decided to forget about Argentinian Pesos. The reason were three travellers wound up like worms in their sleeping bags, laying criss-cross on the ground of the cash dispenser room. There was no way we would enter and wake them up. They have had the perfect idea for surviving the difficult weather conditions in this town.

In San Salvador de Jujuy Lisandro invited for tea and sandwich. Since all sandwich have either meat, sausage, or cheese inside, we got cranola bars instead. It was a great feast, at three in the morning. We felt warm, since Jujuy has much milder temperatures than the heights we had traveled through. The gas station where we stopped felt like back home in Europe. Toilets where you do not have to pay, a nice area to sit and eat, prices untypically low for gas stations, simply fantastic. Our spirits were lifted up, staying awake was easy now.

look over Salta town

look over Salta town

The last 1,5 hours went fast. Lisandro left us in the central bus station, we ordered a fresh, hot egg – green salad sandwich with mayonaise, and soon hit the table with our heads, sleeping until the morning. Or at least trying to. Around 8am we finally decided to call Federico, hoping we will not throw him out of bed. His reaction, “You should have called when you arrived (4:30am). I would have picked you up, no problem.” Well, it was too late, but anyway sweet for our minds, making us feel come home to an unknown part of this world.