June 14, 2006

My Knight in Shining Beetlecrushers & An Illegal Border Crossing

Well, ít´s been an EVENTFUL few days! Right now, I´m back in Mendoza, Argentina feeling like I need a holiday from my holiday. I travelled here with Ringo, an English guy, two English girls called Sarah and Rachel, and Karen from DOnegal. On SUnday night, we made our way to the bus terminal in Santiago to reserve our tickets to Mendoza for the following day. On the way back, we were walking along the main street, the Alameda, deep in chat about world religions or something when suddenly my bag (which is more of a satchel really) was yanked violently. I had it around my body underneath my jacket and so the mugger nearly put my shoulder out with the force at which he pulled. The pretty sturdy strap gave way and he disappeared into a huge crowd of people while I looked after him completely helpless. Out of nowhere, this guy with a punk hairstyle, covered in studs, and wearing an enormous pair of boots, came running up to me and asked me in which direction the mugger ran. He took off running. I stood there not really knowing what was happening...thinking maybe they were together...realising slowly that my passport, my recently replaced credit card, bus ticket, money, MP3 player were all in the bag. I felt ill.
Two minutes later, the guy emerged from the crowd holding my bag. He had managed to get it back with EVERYTHING still in it. He didnt seem to want any thanks, but I hugged him so hard. Ihave never been so grateful to anyone in my life! Looking at this guy, you would expect him to be the one on the street to rob you. He was amazing, and now looking back I feel that I shoudl have made some gesture of thanks to him, but it all happened so suddenly. It was very surreal for all of us. Anyway, he left and, as we stood there recovering from the shock of what had just happened, the thief reappeared and grabbed the bag from my hands!!!!! This time, everyone around was ready for him, and he didnt manage to get enough of a grip on it to get away.
We took off up the Alameda at speed, back to the safety of the hostel. That night, I lay in bed thinking about what had happened, how fast it happened, the feelings of those moments. I remember the punk guy´s face so clearly, how glad he seemed to be able to help. I hope that something really wonderful happens for him. I wish I had done something more by way of thanks. It´s a great feeling when someone, especially a complete stranger, goes out of their way to help someone else.
So, the next day we got the midday bus to Mendoza. Not long into the journey, Ringo realised that he didnt have his tourist visa slip. Without this, you cant leave Chile. Panic ensued. Being the only one of us with any bit of Spanish, (yes, I am proud to say, I can now make myself understood without looking like some sort of tree-top creature, pointing and hooting) I explained the situation to the bus steward who said that, unfortunately, Ringo would have to turn back to Santiago. We looked out at the heavy snow and the white peaks of the Andes - the prospect of abandonding poor Ringo at the frontier in the snow and ice wasnt a nice one. As we sat, comfort-munching cookies and discussing RIngos plight, the steward calledthe two of us to the back of the bus. In hushed tones, he said that if we were prepared to pay he could bribe the Argentinian border officials. None of us had any CHilean, Argentinian or American dollars. All Ringo had was about $100 Australian dollars. HE told us to wait for him at the border check and he would tell us how much it was going to cost. He was very anxious to stress that none of this money was for himself...only for the border police. But later that night, when the bus finally arrived in Mendoza, he looked well pleased with himself..so Im sure he took a nice chunk of it for himsef...understandable really!
We got to the border and we negotiated a price with him. He wanted $100US, but in the end agreed to accept the Australian money (which worked out to about $80US...). He took Ringo under his wing while I went through the "proper channels". Ten minutes later, Ringo had his exit stamp and was grinning like a Cheshire cat! Success! The snow was heavy at the border and it was COLD! As we huddled over polystyrene cups of coffee and waited for our bags to be searched, we spotted a big Mercedes partially buried in the snow.
Anyway, so I´m back in Mendoza. It´s marginally warmer than Santiago and much sunnier. There are leaves falling everywhere, which I love. Myself and Karen are going horse-riding tomorrow, and then we are heading off to Cordoba for a few days, while Ringo, Rachel and Sarah go to Buenos Aires. I´m looking forward to Cordoba...apparently, there is a lot of Jesuit architecture there and a lot to see and do.

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