As I approached the Bolivian border post at Villazon I could see loads of people all over the place. My guide book had said that this was a major smuggling route tolerated by both governments and that I should just jump to the front of any queues.
It was only on a second glance that I realised there were two rows of bicycles completely blocking the bridge. Between them lay a pile of ashes, presumably from a fire the night before. It looked like a meeting of French farmers.
What was going on?
‘They' had closed the border for the last five days. No one had been allowed across. Worst of all they had closed the other two borders into Argentina as well.
I sure as hell wasn't going to wait here hoping they'd open the border.
I looked at my map.
I wanted to get to Iguazu Falls which are where Paraguay , Brazil and Argentina meet. The only alternative route was to go back north to Boyuibe in Bolivia , head east into Paraguay , cross the whole of Paraguay to Iguazu. It would probably take me at least ten days.
It was so frustrating being so close to Argentina but not being allowed across.
I decided to try and get some more information to see if they would let tourists across.
I went to find the Chief of Customs.
His office padlocked shut.
After a little investigating I finally found him in the police office.
I asked him if they were letting tourists across?
‘Si, but you have a moto. All the tourists have been walking across'.
I asked him where the boss of the dispute was so I could ask him to let me through.
First of all he suggested I walk across just to make sure.
Still wearing all my biking gear I approached the tractor tyre which was preventing anyone crossing.
I smiled at the man holding it and, as I approached, he wheeled it away opening a gap.
I squeezed through and onto the bridge.
I returned a few minutes later and the Chief pointed out the boss of the dispute.
With my friendliest face on I asked him if I could take my moto into Argentina .
He looked me up and down.
The ten day alternative and two thousand kilometres flashed through my mind. I was yearning to get into Argentina : the steaks, the water was safe to drink, salads were safe to eat. It was paradise.
I smiled and thanked him.
All I had to do now was run the gauntlet of people with my bike.
I asked him if I could ride down his side as the pavement was wider and there were less people?
He waved his hand pointing to the other side of the bridge.
I didn't argue. I just wanted to get it over with and be in Argentina .
I asked the Customs chief to cancel my temporary bike import permit.
‘I will wait until you are across the bridge' he said.
I walked over to the other side and traced out my route in my minds eye. It was only about twenty metres of pavement but there were hundreds people milling about, their piles of belongings and goods piled up all over the place.
I had to move two hand carts just to create a space for me to ride up onto the pavement.
As I started my bike a crowd immediately developed behind me and started to cheer me on.
I was going to be the first vehicle allowed across in five days.
I had hoped to be a little less conspicuous and glide through unnoticed, desperately hoping the boss wouldn't change his mind at the last minute.
There were loads of cheers and a bit of a party atmosphere as I edged my way through the crowds.
I was pleased to have a noisy bike. It meant that people started to get out of my way before I got there and the noise and pressure from the exhaust kept them further behind once I'd passed.
I realised the atmosphere could change very quickly so kept inching my way forwards through the crowd, smiling at everyone.
I was about ten feet from the tyre barrier when a small bloke with a crazed look in his eyes jumped in front of my bike.
‘No, no no' he shouted waving his arms in front of me.
My wheel filled the gap between his legs. He wasn't very tall. He was very drunk.
People were trying to pull him away but he furiously threw their hands of him and started to push my bike backwards.
Bits of spittle were flying out of his mouth as he ranted and raved.
I put my brakes on so he couldn't move me back anymore. I could feel the crowd jostling my bike from behind. I used a few more revs to move them away from behind me. There was only six inches free on either side of the bike. The concrete wall of the bridge on the left and iron railings on the other, road side so there wasn't enough room to go around him.
The tyre man had already pulled the tractor tyre to one side ready to let me through but the nutter was stopping me going any further forward.
Just as I was thinking about using the bikes power to force my way through the Customs Chief forced his way past me and wrapped his arms around the guy.
He picked him off the ground and forcibly held him against the railings.
I immediately started to move forwards getting closer and closer to the tyre.
I couldn't get through. The gap wasn't wide enough.
Just then I felt my bike moving backwards.
The nutter had broken free and was pulling my bike back by the handles on top of one of my boxes.
I was so close to the end I used a lot more revs and let the clutch slip a little more.
The exhaust blast was getting him square in the face and chest.
The greater noise was making people get out of the way. I mustn't hurt anyone by hitting them with my panniers or dropping the bike. It could get ugly very quickly.
Someone grabbed the tyre and shoved it back out of the way.
I edged forward some more and then felt the bike lighten. I looked round to see that the Customs Chief had the nutter in a bear hug.
As I slipped through the gap a huge cheer went up.
I was free!
I was in Argentina !
Visit www.fowb.co.uk for more details on this and previous trips.Posted by Jeremy Bullard at September 30, 2004 06:11 PM GMT
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