As you all know things don’t always go according to plan when your traveling and sometimes there are little occurrences that set you back. It’s just part of the world of travel and a good reminder that you really have no control over what the universe throws at you. Flights will be delayed, mother nature throws a tantrum now and then, cultures clash and misunderstandings will inevitably occur. I’ve decided to start this little series of short stories and anecdotes of just such misadventures that I’ve experienced while traveling.
In the fall of 2012 I spent 6 weeks backpacking through Chile and Argentina with my girlfriend Jo. For about 2 weeks in the middle of this trip a Dutch girl named Sabrina, who we’d met at our hostel in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, traveled with us. Sabrina had injured her knee on our Bolivia Salt Flats tour and since she was headed in the same direction as us anyways, she joined our duo making us a trio. This way Jo and I could help her with her heavy backpack while she recovered from her injury.
The three of us were on an 18 hr overnight bus ride from Salta to Puerto Iguazu, Argentina and were fast asleep in our comfy reclining chairs on the upper level of the bus. We had the whole first row to ourselves, me and Jo on one side of the isle, Sabrina in a single seat on the other.
Around 1 am Jo woke me and as I removed my face mask, I was surprised to see that the bus had stopped, the lights were on and 3 armed Argentinian police officers were standing over us, gently cradling automatic rifles in their arms. Being stopped by the police wasn’t all that surprising, as police check points were everywhere along the highway in Argentina. Sometimes they would pull the bus over (and sometimes not) and board the bus, asking everyone for their passports before we’d continue on our journey.
So with a foggy head I reached for my bag, got my passport out and handed it over. Much to our surprise, the police weren’t that interested in our passports. What had caught their attention was the empty wine bottle that was rolling around on the floor at our feet. Speaking Spanish and gesturing with their hands, they were asking about it. Jo tried answering them, but at 1 am she was struggling to produce any comprehensible Spanish in response. Both Jo and I had very limited Español so we turned to our friend Sabrina for some help (Sabrina was fairly fluent in Spanish and spoke perfect English, with Dutch being her native tongue).
Sabrina explained that we had purchased said bottle of wine while visiting one of Argentina’s premier wine regions, Cafayate, the day before. We hadn’t finished it but didn’t want to throw away half a bottle of perfectly good wine (who throws away wine?!). When we had boarded the bus in Salta, we asked the stewardess on the bus if she could put it in the fridge. They served dinner with alcohol on this overnight bus ride so we thought we’d have the wine with our dinner. The stewardess was in agreement and after dinner we had simply placed the empty bottle on the floor beside our bags, waiting to discard it at our destination. Now the police were concerned, maybe thinking we had more alcohol, or drugs with us, I’m really not sure. But either way this empty wine bottle was causing a problem. Fearing that we might be arrested for illegal transportation of booze, Jo and I suddenly became very awake and a tad worried about were this was going.
In the end, we worried for nothing. Once Sabrina had translated our tale to the police they seemed OK with the explanation and that was that! They turned around and left and a few minutes later we were on our way again. But I have to say, waking from sleep at 1 am to find 3 armed Argentinian police officers standing over you was quite the wake up call!