The Grandmamaland

Well, here I am, in Argentina. The motherland. Well, my mother's motherland. So far all I have seen is the border and, to this point, the country doesn't strike me as hugely different. That is to say - I got into trouble at the border. Again.

This seems to be a recurring theme of the journey. From Brazil into Bolivia, I had to illegaly receive an exit stamp before getting checked for drugs 5 times. Moving from Bolivia into Peru, I had to wait in line for 45 minutes only to fill out a form I had never received, then wait in the same line for another hour, thereby holding up the bus. Peru into Chile was even trickier, needing to bribe a customs official over a lost exit paper. And now, from Chile into Argentina? I got into big trouble at the border for impersonating myself.

It seems that when you take a bus over the border here, what you have to do is show your passport to the bus company who then types your name onto a list of all the passengers. Then, at the border, the customs official goes through the list and checks everyone off. Well, it turns out that the woman at the bus company was just recovering from a severe case of glaucoma - either that or smoking too much of the treatment - and had somehow typed my name down as MOAK WHEELOCK. Sure enough, when I was called up to the customs official at the border he, using only the finest training, managed to note that my name was not, in fact, Moak. I tried to assure him that not only did I already know that, but that my name had *never* been Moak. He remained convinced. After 5 minutes of heated discussion he let me go, just severely reprimanding me for allowing someone I didn't know misspell my name on a piece of paper I was barely certain even existed. I wonder if there is a way to get from South America back home without dealing with customs; the word "extradition" comes to mind. It would certainly be easier.

I left Pucon last Saturday having never gone rafting - my trip got cancelled three consecutive times making me wonder if I was not the only person in town nursing a hangover. Somewhat relieved, I hopped on a bus and made my way down to Puerto Montt where I caught up with 4 friends I had met in Pucon: A Canadian, Jeff; Matt, an Australian; and two Americans, Mike and Amir "Flesh Wound" Shimoni. Excellent guys, all of them, we spent the night out and then on Sunday, after finishing breakfast at 3 p.m., headed over to a local island and relaxed for the afternoon. I saw some local kids playing soccer so I decided to head over there and teach them a thing or two, like, for example, how Chileans are much better soccer players than Canadians. After an hour of being run into the dirt I left graciously and said my goodbyes to the guys who all headed south.

So there I was the next day, drinking a bottle of Sprim, when I got to think of the weird finality of most travel friendships. The 4 guys were all a lot of fun and I would certainly hang out with them at home, but the truth of the matter is that I will very likely never see any of them again. E-mail definitely helps the odds of it happening, but not much. It reminded me of when I was in Salvador, Brazil, and went with my friend, Nicoline, and a nice guy who was at our hostel to the bus depot to buy some tickets. As this guy who I had only met 3 days previously went to get on his bus he said, "After traveling for a bit, it is nice to say goodbye somewhere with some nice friends." It was at that point that I realized I had no clue what his name was, nor had I ever even learned it. I have met some friends down here that I will most certainly meet again but the nature of the travel-friendship beast is odd, transitory and fantastic.

Monday, I caught a bus down to the large Chilean island of Chiloe. The Chilotes are renowned for being very pleasant, if not a bit back-woodsy. Darwin wrote, "I never saw anything more obliging and humble than the manners of these people" when he came here years ago. I decided to stay in Castro, one of the main island towns, and it ended up being, without a doubt, the most charming place I have been to in my journey. The town is located right on the water and many residents live in "palafitos", or local houses set on stilts and hanging over the water in the bay. The main plaza houses an incongruous and impressively clunky church covered with a salmon and violet corrugated tin exterior. Tragically beautiful, much in the same way a sad-eyed, three-legged dog would be. As for the friendliness of the people, it was most certainly true, but when I was invited to a bar by 5 beautiful local girls and it turned out those girls worked at the bar and the bar turned out to be a topless bar, I thought that was going beyond the call of duty. After a few years on the Galapagos, it is no wonder Darwin liked this place so much!

(Due to the sensitive and fragile nature of some of our readership - you know who you are, Abhish - the story shall end there. Or send $5.95 to Travelbugger Adult Enterprises for full details.)

My ongoing battle with the concept of time has me taking a severe beating at the moment. After hanging out with a Chilean guy for the day in Castro, I asked him what time it was. "7:00?" I ventured. He looked at his watch. "9:30," he told me. Ok, so I wasn't even within 2 hours, but it IS still August, isn't it?

And now that I have made it here to Argentina, I figure it is time for the final step on How To Be A Chilean:

Step 8, GIVE YOUR CHILD A GOOD CHRISTIAN NAME SUCH AS, WELL, "CHRISTIAN": Without exaggeration, I have met 9 Chilean guys in the last 4 days and 8 of them were named Christian. So much for originality. Oddly enough, the 9th guy was named Moak.

It is too bad I left Chile, I was really coming close to being a Chilean. In the last 5 nights I went to bed at 4am, 6am, 2am (it was Sunday, the holy day), 6am and 5am. Also, like the Chileans, I have managed to master the art of not speaking Spanish well. My only holdup was the fact that I never really got into the crack hot dogs - I just don't think that Canada has the lips'n'assholes recovery clinics to deal with that kind of chemical dependency.

Now, bring it on, Argentina!