Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Coca...Si, Garlic...No.

It's our sixth Bolivian crossing and each one has had it's own unique character. Paso Changara is no different. For land locked Bolivia, this exit to the commercially significant Pacific coast, is a major arterial highway. At our previous crossings, much of the imports were man or woman handled across the frontera in wheelbarrows and trolley carts; on this high altitude entry it's all articulated lorries, all of them US, Scandic or European cast-offs. There's a three kilometre queue of fuel tankers, car transporters and Maersk containers. All waiting to clear Chilean customs, all with there engines ticking over, sitting stationary beside a pristine lake, Lago Changara, that's replicating volcanic reflections and a river of discarded soda bottles and dumped bags of coca leaf. Those at the rear will wait all day, those at the front already have. I can't help but think if the engines remained silent, one tanker full that's been hauled up 15,000ft on Andean mountain might have been saved.

All frontiers herald change, irrespective of phisical location. Be it cultural or political, climatological or financial. Some are subtle, some are emphatic. In Canada, crossing between the Yukon and the NWT, it was the sudden change between arboreal stunted black pine and glory of the flowering tundra. Between New Zealand and Australia It was the assault of dry over wet, brown over green. Even within Britain, there's the sudden accent shift between Scotland's Ayton and England's Berwick.

This transfer from Bolivia to Chile is similar and equally sudden. There's what every cyclist would note: the change of road conditions, from a friendly, wide smooth shouldered asphalt to a cracked, potholed route, hemmed in by a gravel berm that's used to replace barriers. And people tell you that this is the Switzerland of South America. Interesting and understandable, the vast majority of the traffic is heavy goods Bolivian. Why should the host country invest on behalf of it's neighbour? And that on a strip of territory that Bolivia lost in a 19th century war, and would like to reclaim.

All fronteras herald change, the most obvious being currency. We're entering a new country, and not carrying any leftover coinage from a previous trip. We anticipated the potential problem and attempted to cure the situation before crossing, down at the main road junction. Only the 'rent-a-cops' outside each bank were not keen to let us in. So we then reasoned that there was bound to be a 'cambio' up at the border. Every other crossing has been plagued with touts desperate to gives us their worst rate. Not this time. So it will now have to be the first town down the road. Only the 'caja automatico', doesn't take Visa, of course it's the weekend and the bank is closed. Pesoless in Chile. We might be swabbing out rooms if we can't find some plata. Eventually the Forager tracks down a den of usury, the smartest hotel in town, and suffers the extortionate commission on a dollar exchange. Monday, and the bank opens and all is back to normal. We ha' meat, an' we can eat and say The Lord be Thankit. Or at least 'la duena ' thanks us for paying for the night's lodging.