Written by Neon
If you ask anyone who lives in and/or has traveled to South America, you will likely hear similar tidbits of advice from them: “Make sure you have US cash; the mail system in most countries is terrible/non-existent; be sure to bring enough gear, because gear is expensive and/or non-existent.”
If you ask us at this point in our trip, we would likely say the same as those who came before us. As a person who had never been south of the United States border with Mexico before November 2015, this trip has been eye-opening in more ways than I’ll ever be able to explain. This blog is going to focus on my (and our) experience getting new gear in and to South America.
Fidgit and I were able to purchase in the US and bring down much of what we needed our first season (November ’15 – April ’16). The only issue we had was with socks and shoes – we went through multiple pairs each. Thankfully we were in Chile most of our first season, and were able to find and purchase overpriced-but-will-do-the-job-this-time shoes. We were also able to send ourselves gear via the Chilean bus system – which is oddly reliable. Okay, not so odd once you understand that many people don’t own cars down here.
Where we ran into trouble with getting gear was near the middle of our second season (season two spans November ’16 – November ’17).
As we neared northern Argentina in April, we were attempting to find someone who was willing to bring down some US gear for us, as we had once again purchased not great shoes and socks in Santiago to tide us over while we figured out what our options were. We decided to reach out to see if sending it to ourselves or finding someone to bring it was preferable – all our resources leaned towards finding someone to bring it down, because the tariffs we would have to pay in Argentina would be exorbitant, and that’s IF the gear made it through customs. So we reached out to people we know who travel to and from the US with some regularity, and found a willing friend.
Unfortunately, after we had begun ordering and mailing new gear to an address in the states, unforeseen circumstances forced our friend to cancel his trip. Thankfully, we were at a spot where we had regular and useful wifi (not the norm in most countries down here, though it is improving), so we began a new search for someone willing to bring our stuff down. Fortunately, we’ve met many people, and our old gear mule was quickly replaced by our new one, Dan. He was heading back to my home state, and we immediately began re-routing items to my sister’s house in Pennsylvania to be picked up and hauled down to Peru by Dan. Why would we ask a person who’s technically three countries away to bring us our gear, you ask? DESPERATION. The nights were getting colder, my sleeping bag was wearing out, as were my shoes, socks, pants, shirts, you name it. Also, three countries away is much closer than multiple continents away. So Dan gathered the gear from my sister and brought it down to Peru, where I met him to catch up and retrieve it after approximately two days on buses and two border crossings. We met in Tacna, Peru – a border town with cheap, tax-free goods. Dan and I met up with his travel partner Justin, and we got a hostel room, as we would be there a couple days – I hadn’t seen these guys since Santiago and wanted to catch up.
Dan, Justin and I were able to spend a couple days together before they continued northward, and I made my way back towards Argentina with new gear for Fidgit and me. This is where most of my trouble began, and I’ll put these hurdles in list form, as there were many.
-At the Peru/Chile border, the Chilean border patrol was staging a ‘slow down.’ Since they can’t close the border, the were only allowing so many people through per hour. I waited for five hours in a line in the sun to get through, feeling bad for the people who arrived after me.
-Arriving to the bus station in Arica, I find the pass I need to cross to get back into Argentina is closed due to snow and high winds. Thankful I had made it across mere days before a blowing snowstorm, I was now fretting as to when I would make it back across into Argentina.
-Impatiently waiting out a far-away snow storm at a 4,000+ meter pass wears on me, so I spend only two days in Arica before deciding to bus up to San Pedro de Atacama – closer to the pass. Bus goes through Catamarca and I am warned of theives so I keep a close, but tired eye on my belongings after a night bus through a 4 am checkpoint from Arica to Catamarca. Make the bus to San Pedro and am told the pass will reopen Wednesday (it was Sunday).
-Buy bus ticket Tuesday for Wednesday morning, and the moment of truth arrives – I get on the bus and we go to the edge of town and sit for two hours to see if the pass is open. It’s not, and I dejectedly return to my hostel. The bus driver says we will try again in the morning.
-Thursday morning, 8 am. I arrive at the bus station, get on the bus, and we once again drive to the edge of town and sit, waiting until 11 am. I see two garbage trucks, one dump truck and one bulldozer pass. I believe they are going to help clear the snow across the road, and concern enters my brain. 11 am rolls around and . . . the pass is open! We trundle up and up into the snow, then down to the Argentina/Chile border. The Chilean border guards seem to not be as slow at this border, and I am grateful our bus makes it through.
-We careen down the other side of the pass into Argentina, with a steep series of S-curves along the way, carefully executed by the driver of the double-decker bus, and I am finally able to contact Fidgit at the Jujuy bus station to let her know I’ll be in Salta around 11 pm. Taxi to where Fidgit is staying with no fewer than three stops by the cab driver to make sure the address I’ve given him is really there.
Gear retrieval success!!