A Difficult Question

‘Oh would you look at all those dinky little roads Faye-bomb? I bet it’s super dooper quiet down there…’

Faye and I are pouring over the map and planning our assault on the ‘lake district’ area of Chile. An intricate web of small roads weave their way in between large patches of blue on the 2D page in front of us, and we instantly fall in love with the idea of what is to come: deserted wild camp spots on the edge of glacial lakes, rubble trails running between tiny villages, and smiling people. Oh how there will be smiling people, everywhere.

Of course before entering what we perceive to be Chilean utopia, we must cross the Andes mountains, and the inter-country border once more. After zooming down a long hill, we screech to a halt in front of a smartly dressed female Argentinian border guard, who is stood next to a white and orange barrier. Making our way inside to the neat wooden guards’ building we find three more female border dudettes sat at desks. How refreshing, I think, delighted to have happened upon the most femme-friendly of country crossings. The young woman sitting at the desk closest to us looks up, says hello and asks the most taxing question of the day so far: ‘Where are you going?’.

Faye and I look blankly at one another and blow out our cheeks. As is the way with all long distance travels, town names now merge into one. Neither one of us can recall the name of the Chilean hamlet just across the border, and so instead we stand there like two chimps, scratching our heads, pulling faces and making a few sounds. I venture some jumbled vowels and go up at the end of my sentence, hoping that the look on the woman’s face will change from confusion to understanding when I happen upon the right combination of letters ….Mooopuko?… Melanomu?.. Melipectra?… (this is surely the trickiest game of Countdown I have ever played). After a minute of insufferable stupidity, the border guard takes pity and snatches victory from the jaws of defeat:

‘Chile?’ She asks.

‘Si! Si!’ We shout, throwing our arms into the air. ‘Chile! We are going to Chile.’ And breathe.

It now becomes apparent that the guard was simply enquiring which direction we were travelling in. For all she knew we could have been crossing the border into Argentina rather than out of it. I apologise and make the internationally understood sign for ‘crazy’ with my finger swirling at the side of my head – she turns to say something in Spanish to her colleague and they both burst out laughing. Silly tourists. They don’t know if they’re coming or going.

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One border outpost down, one to go and today is now beginning to feel like a journey through the Crystal Maze. The mental challenge complete, it was off to the Red zone to complete a physical task…

The laws in both Argentina and Chile state that you may not carry fruit in any form across the border. As usual, we have forgotten this detail and our hearts sink when we remember a recently purchased cocktail of fruity things hidden in our panniers. Resistance of course is futile, and so we duly fess up to the border guard that we have in our possession… three bananas, two apples and an orange. CRIMINALS.

The guard tries to prise our fruit hoard from our grasp there and then, but we protest. This is precious, delicious fresh produce, says I! We are not about to give it up to the bin! And so Faye and I proceed (much to the guard’s disgust) to inhale all fruity items before his very eyes. I feel slightly sick as I cram the final banana into my pie hole, but can at least rest easy that my five a day has been reached in one fail swoop.

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Bellies bulging, vitamin levels rocketing, we are at last granted free passage to the lakes. Which, as it turns out are about as deserted and peaceful as a football stadium on match day. The lake district, we soon discover, is where every family in Chile and Argentina come to spend their holidays. Contrary to the expected minuscule rubble roads, we instead find bustling towns, traffic jams and many (many) opportunities to purchase inflatable flamingos. We are slightly bemused, if a little disappointed at first, but disappointment soon gives way to gratitude as we let the full force of our surroundings sink in. The sheer variety of nature on display is astounding.

We take great joy in camping one evening amidst a jumble of Monkey Puzzle trees, which perch precariously on rocky outcrops above ski-slope worthy sand dunes. Forests of evergreen surround vast expanses of crystal clear water, and snow capped volcanoes keep watch over lone kayakers who paddle, carefree, under the bluest of skies sprinkled with marshmallow clouds.

Tourist mecca or not, with or without my hoard of bananas – the lakes have me at hello.

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