There and Back Again *

* I have been informed that this title has already been taken.

We’ve been in Chile a little while. Got a place to live. Kids have started school. I even managed to find a proctor and took my first MPH exam outside the U.S. earlier today.

Now that we’re settled, what’s the logical next thing to do? Leave the country.

One of my friends from the U.S. was planning a trip to Argentina, and we figured it would be great fun to drive across the Andes and meet him in Mendoza. So we started planning our getaway. Hotel reservation? Check. Winery tours and vineyard lunches set up? Absolutely. Duh. Obligatory Mercosur additional car insurance? Yeeeeesss. Payment of reciprocity fees to cross the border into Argentina? What do you take me for, a rookie? Document that says the car we bought does, in fact, belong to us?


We realized four days before departure that we still didn’t have the car title. Long story, but the notary who did the transfer didn’t exactly finish the job with the Registro Civil, so technically, as far as the Chilean government is concerned, that car still belongs to someone else. And once we brought it to her attention, it takes about two weeks to fix.

Cars waiting to cross the border back into Chile from Argentina, Paso Los Libertadores

Chilean side of the border crossing

I actually called the central office of the Chilean customs agency and even the border crossing itself to see if there wasn’t some way we could drive across with the paper that said we bought it and the ownership is “in tramites” (being taken care of) … pretty bold, if I say so myself, but no dice. There was no way they were going to let us drive our own car out of this country. (If you’re interested in the requirements to drive a car across the border, go to the web site of the customs service, Aduanas. This page is in Spanish.)

We found this out on Thursday around noon. We had been planning to depart on Friday around 5:00 a.m. Ryan made the excellent point that he never thought he’d see a process that made buying a car in the U.S. look easy. Well. There you go.

We can laugh about it now, but it was a rather stressful and frustrating experience. But of course, it’s also a pretty trivial problem to have. We couldn’t go on this vacation and drink fancy wine because the car we bought (in the country we chose to live in) wasn’t through the bureaucracy yet. With everything that’s going on in our world today, I felt a bit ashamed when I put it into perspective. We went and got coffee after our trip to the government office on Thursday and decided it wasn’t that big of a deal. Maybe we needed to make a little room for the Holy Spirit to work here.

Meeting a truck going around one of the switchbacks on the Chilean side of the Andes Mountains

Going up the Chilean side of the border

So, in that mindset, my dear husband insisted that I buy a bus ticket and go by myself. I got on the Andesmar salon cama the next morning at 9:30 and settled back for a relaxing trip across the mountains. The bus ride itself was great. It’s the three hours I spent at the Argentine crossing that wasn’t so awesome. I think maybe it was a blessing in disguise that the whole family wasn’t able to go – that would have been a nightmare with the kids. We rolled into the Mendoza bus station around 6:00 p.m.

There were two ladies sitting in front of me with their little boys, who both looked about two years old. Of the five and a half hours we were actually moving on the bus, the boys were awake maybe one and a half hours. HOW DO PEOPLE MAKE THEIR KIDS DO THAT? Seriously, any tips welcome.

The scenery on the drive was astounding. Mountains are probably my favorite of all the earth’s physical features, and the Andes do not disappoint. The switchbacks on the Chilean side of the border can be a little harrowing – I deliberately chose a seat in the downstairs portion of the two-level bus to minimize motion sickness – but the driver didn’t take it too fast so I didn’t mind too much.

Glass of late harvest wine from Bodega Lagarde, Mendoza AR

Wine pairing at Bodega Lagarde outdoor lunch

Mendoza itself is a delight. I immediately felt the cultural shift – things are closed in the afternoons, evenings begin very late, and there is a wonderful café culture. Things are also a lot cheaper than in Chile (a nice bonus). The city is full of huge trees, plazas, and parks and has a good balance of busy commercial streets and quiet residential areas (the latter are dotted with a notable number of apart-hotels and hostels).

Places I went that I would recommend: Bodega Lagarde, The Vines of Mendoza tasting room, El Palenque, Brillat Savarin bakery and chocolate shop, and pretty much anyplace selling you an alfajor.

Places I didn’t get to this time: Gimenez Riili winery, Andeluna winery, Atamisque winery, Vines Spa and Resort, 1884 restaurant, and the dozens of cute shops I passed but didn’t have time to enter.

It was a nice break. It was fantastic to see Jason and to meet his friend Rosie. And coming back to Chile felt like coming home.

Glowing sunset with shadows of trees

Sunset at our house