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Border Crossing by Thumb

We had been waiting at the crossroads for what seemed like hours, sitting on our backpacks to avoid the damp pine needles soaking through our clothes.  It had been hours.  Every 20 or 30 minutes a car would pass by.  We would jump up from our make-shift seats, flash our biggest smiles, and stick our thumbs out in unison.  Every time the driver flashing a chagrined smile or shrugging their shoulders helplessly.  Nobody wanted to take hitchhikers across the border.

Then slate grey sky that had been menacing us all day finally made good on its threats.  The rain fell softly at first, one drip, then two, the clouds building up momentum.  Before we knew it a steady permeating rain fell all around us, soaking through clothes, then shoes, then socks.  Soon we were wet to the bone.  Still the two of us sat, waiting for our savior to come pick up the two bedraggled girls waiting on the edge of the forest.

I felt particularly bad for Barbi, it was her first time hitchhiking.  (No, the humor of teaching a girl named Barbi to hitchhike is not lost on me, but that was how it happened.)  I hadn’t done an enormous amount of hitchhiking myself, but with my six months of experience I was starting to feel like an old hand at it and had taken on the role of guide.

The rest of the day had been fine; we had gotten rides easily from Bariloche to Villa La Angostura.  A lovely Argentinean couple on holiday had taken us to Villa La Angostura and a group of young adventurers had gladly taken us as far as the intersection not 15 minutes from the border.  But there our luck had run dry.   Almost all of the cars seemed to be heading for San Martin de los Andes and not to Chile.

Not that we could see past the gloom of the day, but the sun was certainly going to go down soon and almost no one picked hitchhikers up at night.  As two girls hitchhiking, just to be on the safe side we probably wouldn’t want to take a ride at night anyway, but that was probably beside the point.  To complicate things further, the border closed for the night.  There was some argument as to whether it was at 6 or 8, but one thing was certain: we needed to get a ride soon.

Cold, wet, and losing hope faster than water draining from a sieve, I brought up the possibility of heading back to Villa La Angostura to look for a hostel.  After all, it was getting dark, neither of us had a tent and Barbi didn’t even have a sleeping bag.

The red-headed 19-year-old gave me a decided look.  We weren’t going anywhere.  Barbi was definite on the matter. She wasn’t having any of my negative attitude.  I shouldn’t worry, our truck would come – we had to wait for the right one.  It just hadn’t come along yet.

I had to admit, even with the cards stacked against us, her faith almost had me convinced.  But half an hour later Barbi had started making noises about heading back to the nearby town.

Suddenly, a pair of headlights turned down the road towards the border.  We jumped up, a little less enthusiastically than earlier in the day, and flashed our best “please take us across the border” grins.  To our surprise and delight the semi flashed its lights and slowed to a halt.  I had never been so thankful to see a semi in my entire life.

We snatched up our backpacks and dashed for the semi as fast as our legs would carry us, not giving him time for second thoughts.  He asked us where we were going, thankfully we were all headed to Puerto Montt, Chile, but I am pretty sure we would have changed our destination if he were headed somewhere else.   We climbed in the warm cab of his truck and warmed our hands over the dashboard heaters.

Victor, for that was our savior’s name, was in his early thirties didn’t usually pick up hitchhikers.  In fact truck drivers in Chile are really not allowed to (that doesn’t stop them from doing it on a regular basis though)  But he had taken pity on us because of the rain, the impending night, and the fact that border was closing in less than half an hour.

Practically leading us across each border by the hand, Victor made sure everything went smoothly.  When the Argentinean border guards looked suspiciously at Barbi’s wooden staff Victor was there to assure them everything was okay.  When the Chilean border guards needed another piece of paper, Victor came to our assistance verifying that we hadn’t been given the paper on the Argentinean side.  Barbi had been right, the right truck had come.  I don’t know if we would have made it across without Victor’s help.

It was dark by the time we pulled into Puerto Montt.  I had started wondering where we would spend the night hours before, but somehow Barbi didn’t seem concerned.  Everything would work itself out, she promised.  True to her word Victor took us to a hotel.  He was sorry he had to work the next day, he would love to show us around Puerto Montt, but the least he could do was pay for our hotel room.

He dropped us off at the little family-owned hotel, wished us good luck in our travels, and drove off into the night.  I couldn’t believe it; I was really starting to believe in Barbi’s deep-seated faith.I love hitchhiking in South America, especially in Argentina and Chile.  Truck drivers in these countries have to drive long hours, sometimes 19 and 20-hour shifts.  They are often looking for company to help make the drives shorter and keep them awake.  Because of this the drivers will frequently buy you lunch at restaurants they stop off at, or occasionally pay for your hotel room.  Whatever the case, you almost always meet wonderful open-hearted people with fascinating stories; a part of the population you wouldn’t otherwise meet.   Hitchhiking is also a great way to see more of the country, some amazing landscape, and get a unique perspective.

As far as I am concerned hitchhiking across borders is the easiest way to cross.  You do not have to wait for everyone in your bus to get through customs.  Also your ride almost certainly is much more knowledgeable about this border crossing than you and will talk you through the ins and outs of the border crossing.

Saving money, seeing more of a country, and getting to meet interesting people who you would never otherwise have met; hitchhiking is definitely one of the most exciting forms of travel.  However, as safe as hitchhiking generally is, all it takes is one bad experience; I would recommend taking a buddy along with you.  It is just safer that way.  But don’t be scared to try your thumb at it.





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