Argentina... and then Uruguay

Although the cranky border aduana agent hadn’t been willing to cut us any slack, he did try and explain the process for officially, and legally, suspending our TIP in Argentina. We would have to go to a central aduana office in the City of Salta and plead our case.

We’d planned to fly out of Salta anyway, but our flights were still about two weeks away. We originally intended to take a bit of the infamous Ruta 40 into wine country and lay up at a nice finca for a while. We were really looking forward to resting a bit and recovering from our sprint across Southern Peru, Bolivia, and Northern Chile.

Instead, we found ourselves pushing a few hours more toward the city, arriving at dusk. Finding our chosen campsite closed, we drove through downtown, after dark, in rush hour traffic and finally arrived at the local municipal camp. It came fully equipped with hot-water showers and a water-less pool that can only really be described as a small lake.

We squared away the truck and went out to feed our hungry bodies with grilled meats and calm our tired minds with red wine! We’d made our first social misstep in Argentina: attempting to find dinner before 9pm.

Not to be discouraged, we bought two giant cans of excellent Patagonian IPA and proceeded to drink them while eating street bread in the center of a roundabout. Because we’re classy.

Dinner was worth the wait though. A huge chunk of steak and fries and a bottle of wine for about $22. We spent a chilly night in the camper, having run out of propane earlier, and steeled ourselves for the next morning’s adventures in bureaucracy.

The central aduana agent was helpful but couldn’t guarantee our suspension request would be approved. Faced with the prospect of being rejected after a week of waiting for approval or of an un-successful border run out of Argentina and back in an attempt to win more time on our new TIP, we considered our options.

Uruguay gives a 12-month TIP almost automatically, so it has become a popular place for vehicle storage. A small industry has bloomed around the safe-keeping of international overland rigs while their owners return to Europe or North America for months at a time.

Unfortunately, though, a couple years back the Uruguayan government began seizing stored vehicles for breaching the TIP contract. Their temporary import law was poorly written leaving much up to interpretation. After a long process that went all the way to the Uruguayan supreme court, it was decided that leaving vehicles inside the country was in fact legal and rigs were returned.

Simply because of this bit of legal wrangling, we’d originally written Uruguay off as a place to safely store our rolling home. Now though, it was beginning to sound like a pretty good option. We changed our flights to leave from Buenos Aires (for an additional $900!) and hardened ourselves to make yet another multi-day push for an uncertain goal.

Our drive across the farmlands of Argentina were relatively uneventful, although we managed to pick up a hitchhiker in the form of a packrat. He seemed to fill his nights chewing through wires under the hood and then pooping the remains onto the driver’s seat. After three days of solid driving, sleeping in truck stops, and skirting checkpoints, we pulled up to yet another border with the usual excitement, but a heightened level of trepidation.

Ordinarily, when you turn in your TIP, the aduana workers simply stamp it as cancelled and place it in a giant stack on the floor. No fuss, no questions.

After having our passports efficiently stamped out of Argentina and into Uruguay by the same woman we rolled up to the aduana station and presented our paperwork to the guard. He led me inside and, just like always, the Argentine aduana guy glanced at the TIP, and then waved me on to the Uruguayan desk. Easy as pie!

However, just as I was getting things sorted out to enter Uruguay, the Argentine aduana guy returned, saying there was an issue. He said we couldn’t leave Argentina just yet, took my paperwork, and commenced a huddle with his officemates. After a bit of time and a few phone calls, they still seemed pretty confused. One of them walked past and I asked what was wrong. He wanted to know if the original border agent, where we'd entered Argentina, had mentioned that we wouldn’t be able to leave.

No. No he hadn’t.

Eventually, a kind, younger agent who spoke perfect English came over and explained that the original agent, the one who wouldn’t let us stay in the country, had also put a hold on our TIP preventing us from leaving.

Awesome. When asked why, he said no one knew and they’d been unable to find out. He suggested we drive back to the border we came though and ask in person. I countered with the fact that it would be a five-day drive and that the border had been closed due to snow only a couple days after we’d crossed.

Mind working, I went and got Taylor from the truck to catch her up on the situation.

We waited together, sick to our stomachs as there were more phone calls and more consultations.

After what seemed like an eternity, the younger agent flashed a big smile and thumbs up. He stamped our paperwork and invited us to return to Argentina soon. We thanked him profusely and were given 12 months temporary import into Uruguay without question.

We’d finally made it!

Another day’s worth of driving through what looked like rural Oregon farmland and we finally pulled into camp. Hot showers, and plenty of space to get our work done were all we’d been looking for and finally we’d found them.

We spent the next few days taking advantage of the incredibly cheap and incredibly fast Uruguayan internet while also giving the truck a much needed once over. Finally we packed our bags, took a bus to a Taxi, to a ferry and another Taxi to the airport where we boarded our flight home.

Not before one last trip through the Argentine aduana cost us a $250 part, but that’s a short story for another time.