March 18, 2006 GMT
Between the Rivers

Just as everyone has ripio stories and "how long I had to wait in some god-forsaken place for parts to get through Customs" stories, there are also "corrupt barsteward cops in Entre Rios province" stories.

Here's another.

I crossed the border from Uruguay back into Argentina at the Salto/Concordia causeway. For once there is actually a combined border complex on the Argentinian side, minimising the amount of runing around between offices you have to do.

Having had my passport duly stamped out of Uruguay and into Argentina, and surrendered my temporary import papers for the bike, I went to the Customs guy. All he did was give me a small scrap of paper with a stamp on it. Now, this being the umpteenth time I've entered Argentina I know there's more to it than that, but he insisted not. I went back outside to where most of the border officials were clustered around the bike (it was a slow day), and intimated to another Customs guy that I needed the big bit of paper, and he agreed. So we went back inside and I decoded my V5 for him to enter the appropriate details. As usual I checked he'd written them down correctly (no point taking chances, especially as I had 60 miles of Entre Rios to ride before escaping into the next province).

Off I went rejoicing, stopped for coffee and fuel, kept to speed limit (which meant I was more or less the slowest vehicle around), enjoying the ride.

About a mile before the provincial border there was a police checkpoint. I stopped, and the policeman demanded I dismount and produce my papers. He homed in straight away on the bottom left-hand corner of the bike document, where date of entry is written, almost as though he knew it would be wrong. And, of course, it was; it was today's date, not yesterday's as it should have been.

Big problem.

So we go inside, upon which I decided to reduce my grasp of Spanish by at least two-thirds. That way I understood much more than they thought but could feign loads of ignorance.

I suggested they ring the border. After all, it was only an hour and a half before and they were sure to remember me. The cop phoned (or pretended to phone) the border. No, they didn't remember me (hardly credible in the circs). So, the fine is U$150, including the charge for changing the date on the paperwork. No, I don't get a receipt - Customs will send a receipt and a refund to my home address within 30 days (oh really). No, they won't stamp and/or initial the alteration on the paperwork to show it's official.

Thank heavens I'd pulled some dollars from a magic hole a couple of days before, otherwise I'd have been in even deeper doo-doo. I imagine the two cops get $50 each and the Customs man gets the other $50.

The Argentinian government publishes a form, in both Spanish and English, on its website for the reporting of just such an incident. They are trying very hard to combat corruption, as are all S.American countries. So this form will be completed and returned.

On the bright side, once I'd crossed into the next province the police stops were back to normal - Where are you going, Where are you from, Jolly good, Off you go.

Anyway, I'm in Corrientes, which is a very historic city and the setting for Graham Greene's 'The Honorary Consul'. It's hot and very humid; and last night there was the most severe storm with torrential rain, and the tornado only just missed the town.

Posted by Cynthia Milton at March 18, 2006 08:04 PM GMT

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