Sunday, 3 November 2013

Suss the System.

Another frontier, another crossing, yet another system. When it comes to immigration, it's only at airports that any standardisation seems to occurs. A simplicity of procedure where you're herded along through holding pens and gates of protocol. It might be crowded, it will be slow, but it's comprehensible, in an illogical way. Batteries in camera- fine, out of camera- please hand them over.

We're crossing into Southern Bolivia, at Bermejo, way down in the high humidities. Sugar cane country. A political, geographical and cultural frontier. The vast flat lands of Northern Argentina lie at our backs, the first hill sits in front. Our first resort to the granny gears. The first office of officialdom on the crest, the first 'Cholita' in her pleated plaits and pollera skirts waiting in the queue in front. Only and oddly it's an area of peace and calm. No traders hawking China Goods, no money changers pestering after dollars, no manic manhandling of sack barrows, stories that have been such a feature of all our previous crossings. Armed with our first piece of paper and it's obligatory stamp, we progress as requested, over the road to another queue and to explain that we don't have a vehicle, and therefor don't need another scrap of paper. Thence to the surreality of the international bridge. Deserted, with the exception of two travelling students, hauling small wheeled suitcases. By now I'm starting to try to wonder what is happening. Has yesterday's Argentine elections created a financial instability, an upset of the normal mercantile balance? On to Migration de Bolivia and the expected and anticipated tourist card, with the new bonus of ninety days unrestricted touring, but still none of usual hustle and bustle.

It's only when we get down into town that the answer appears. The Rio Bermejo is at it's dry season low, not much greater than a stream, a pool no more than thirty metres wide, across which twenty small launches are plying. Flitting like pond skaters. Ferrying school children to school, grannies to the bazaar. Boxes of apple juice, cartons of cooking oil. Bags of rice and boxes of toys. Cement mixers and tea pots. All the paraphernalia that is stocked up on Main Street Bolivia, stacked in the cave-like booths that are shrouded in the ubiquitous blue plastic. In front of me is a vast polyprop bag, from which two bare brown bow'd legs protrude, smothering, bending double the porter underneath. Another consignment of flip-flops heading south. Only this load heads to another point on the river. To a wider more shallow stretch, the water only waist deep, across which our carrier wades. Others are using inner tubes to float loads across. They won't be paying the ferryman. Officialdom, in the form and uniform of the Bolivian Naval Police watch over this scenario with a total lack of interest.

An enduring tradition that has survived the modernisation of a road bridge, withstood the anominity of curtain wagons, the advent of pallets and containerisation. Another variation on a theme of frontera.