Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Ice & Flamingos

Some days are so fun.

We arrived yesterday in Puerto Consuelo, a shallow bay far inland, north of Puerto Natales and well into the Patagonian Steppes. Sere grassland, vast spaces. A very different Patagonia than the dripping rainforest of the canales.

Estancia Consuelo is the access point from the anchorage. By going through the private property of the estancia it is possible to access a gravel road that can get you back to Natales, and onward to Argentina, if you so chose.

That second option, of going to Argentina by land, was of interest to us when we arrived. The end of our 90 days in Chile was approaching. Rather than deal with the bureaucratic two-step of requesting a 90-day extension, many sailors simply cross into Argentina by taxi or bus and then return immediately to restart the 90-day clock in Chile. Last night, looking at the weather situation over the coming four or five days (deteriorating), we decided to go ahead and make the border crossing today, in the last day we could expect no wind, when we could leave the boat for the day with no concern.

In the night we were awoken by a grumbling sound around the hull. The puerto had been ice-free when we arrived, but overnight the freshwater lens on the surface froze. The grumbling sound was ice on the hull.

We awoke to a perfectly still day. Ice all around the boat, though neither very thick nor continuous in the bay. Blue sky, alpenglow on the snowy mountains in the distance as an opening act to sunrise.

And then Elias, shouting, "Flamingos! Flamingos!".

There was a flock in flight over Galactic, their impossibly pink wings the only color that could have raised the bet placed by the orange alpenglow.

Our first frozen anchorage (as opposed to glacial ice) and our first flamingos, on the same day. Patagonia puts on impossible-seeming combinations.

From there, we moved from strength to strength.

We made our way ashore, Alisa and Elias using oars to bash a path through the ice from the bow of Smooches. Elias was, understandably, more exuberant than helpful, and received a steady stream of corrections and admonitions from the guy driving the dinghy.

Rudi Eberhardt, the owner of the estancia, proved to be perfectly simpatico. Interrupted in his morning of tasks by a family of strangers wandering around his place, he organized two taxis to get us to the border.

The first driver didn't have the necessary permit to drive to the border, which was as well since he drove like an idiot on the icy gravel road from the estancia.

He handed us off to his compañero, Luis, who did have the permit, and turned out to have worked on a charter yacht in southern Chile for years, and so was an interesting companion for the 25 km drive.

We all checked out of Chile, no problem.

Then we drove a few klicks through empty mountainous terrain to the Argentinean side.

Here, a problem.

Australians, Canadians, and Yanks have to pay an entry fee for Argentina, equal to the visa fee imposed on Argentineans by these countries. And, you have to pay the entry fee online, before you get to Argentina.

Even though Phil on Illawong had warned us quite distinctly on this point in Puerto Montt, I somehow flaked. We arrived thinking we could pay at the border. Which we couldn't. So we were denied entry into Argentina.

An attempt at online payment with an iPad getting dodgy signal in the no-man's land got us nowhere. Plus, you apparently needed a printed receipt, which we weren't going to get from the iPad no matter how good our signal.

So, we returned to the Chilean side, unsure what would transpire. We weren't actually entering Chile from another country, which we were expected to be doing in order to qualify for a fresh 90 days.

The Chilean official had a perfectly long official face. Where does such a young man learn such a morose expression? He gave no hint of sympathy at our situation. But he did give us all new tourist cards, good for another 90 days.

I didn't even dare to look at the cards until we were driving away, back towards Puerto Natales. When I did, exultation all around, even for Luis. And then I cracked the best joke I've ever made in Spanish, saying that in 90 days we'd go back to the border and do the same thing. Completely honest mirth from Luis.

You see, Eric's Aussie passport expires in a couple weeks, and so as to avoid any possible difficulties concerning traveling with a minor of a different nationality, we were all traveling on our US passports. Which meant that we were looking at $640 USD in fees just to clear into Argentina and to clear out again. Which is a lot of coin after you've been sailing the Pacific for almost eight years.

And...there's a little more.

The first thing that you see on this particular crossing into Argentina is a sign proclaiming that the Falkland Islands are Argentinean. Which, they are...if Alaska belongs to Canada, and New Caledonia to Australia. I figure the Argentinean claim has about that much weight. So their claim naturally offends anyone who believes in the right of self-determination for the Falkland Islanders.

Which is all fine, though a bit abstract. That isn't our argument. We don't have a dog in that fight, you might say.

Except that the Argentinean government does everything that it can to make yachts visiting the Falklands get permission from Argentina before doing so. The Falklands are on our itinerary, and it was already sticking in my craw, the idea of applying to the Argentinean bureaucracy for permission to visit "Puerto Argentino" (Stanley). And conveniently, this happenstance of being denied entry into Argentina might set the timetable for us never having to enter the country for visa reasons. And at $640 for entry, we might be happy to forgo the cheap re-supply options of Ushuaia. And if we never go to Argentina, we don't have to ask their permission to visit the Falklands...

Eric, meanwhile, was exultant that he got to throw his first-ever snowball in the mountains at the border crossing. He threw it at his brother, of course.

"I whistled it right at his tush!" he exclaimed, triumphantly.

We got no internet, no no.
We're as out of touch as we can be,
Yes, yes.

1 comment:

  1. Saludos Mike y Alice, cuidence mucho, cariños a los niños. Jaime