Tuesday, 17 March 2015

0230 Lobos to El Palmar NP

17th March 2015
Pampas, bridges, rivers, and a major brush with the Law !

Well, today was certainly a mixed bag. I started off from the lovely lakeside campsite in Lobos, and to start with it was more of the flat and exciting  pampas. I was headed NW towards a town called San Antonio de Giles – I mean, after all this time of people not being able to pronounce my name, I was determined to go there and find out how they DID pronounce it !!  So after a couple of hours driving I was there,
pulledinto the gas station and asked – And the answer is “Heeless”, just as I had thought, and just like I have been saying for the past 6 months or more !!   Really, how difficult can it be ??

In the gas station a couple came over for a chat – Ezekiel and Victoria from BA. They were a fun couple, and were telling me they had nearly gone to Australia a couple of years ago, but , like so many, found a reason why they shouldn’t go, so they didn’t.  As I have said to so many people, one should look for one reason to do something, not one reason NOT to do something.  You can ALWAYS find a reason NOT to do something !  Anyway, Hope they come to Aus eventually !

As I pulled out of the gas station this motor cycle went past with more flags and stickers on than even I have !  So I chased him up the road, and we had a chat and I got a quick photo.  Couldn’t understand what his name was or where he was going, but he sure was a fun character !!

As I then drove out of town, I saw buses with “GILES” on their destination plate, I saw “Giles” and “Giles” that – And eventually I passed Restaurante Campos de Giles.  Unfortunately it was closed or I would have gone in, but I thought the logo was pretty good – Might have to become my logo on the blog ?!!!

Then I passed a sign to a place called “Open Door”……I mean, that isn’t even Spanish !!!!  God knows what it was, but it left me smiling !

Suddenly a horse and cart went galloping down the road past me in a cloud of dust – Accompanied by a motorcyclist and a dog !  As he passed he saw me taking a photo of him, and waved – This day was already proving more exciting than the past 3 or 4 days combined !  But by this time the temperature outside had already reached 35 deg C – It sure was warming up as I headed north.  Luckily it seems to cool down pretty well at night time – At least it has so far.

Lots of fields of pampas grass – As one might expect – and additionally there were an increasing number of roadside stalls for Carne and Vegetables and all sorts of thing.  This must be a warm weather thing because I haven’t seen any road side stalls since before Christmas, north of Santiago.  Then I drove down a section of unrestricted (speed wise, so 110 kms permitted) duel carriageway for about 10 kms, and every few hundred yards they had speed humps……..big ones !!  After flying over the first one, I saw the remainder, but for goodness sake – On a dual carriageway ????  Idiots.

Then it was a big bridge over the Rio Parana de Las Palmas – Which flows down into the Rio de la Plata, which is where Buenos Aires is.  Big Bridge – Big river.  I had skirted BA, not really seeing any reason to go into the city in the car – I might get a ferry across from Montevideo since I will have a few days to waste there before I get on the ship to Europe – But the traffic and roads (including bloody toll roads again) even on the outskirts were enough to make me glad I decided not to go in, even for a look.  Shortly after that bridge there was another similar one, over an even wider river, and then after that there was miles and miles of wetlands beside the road, with quite a lot of birdlife in it.  And I went past Fray Bentos which was just a few kms away on the other side of the border in Uruguay !!  So THAT'S where that stuff comes from !!

At about 4.30 pm, just when I was starting to think of looking for a place to stop for the night, I came up to another police check point, about my fourth for the day.  On this bit of road, in the “Entre Rios” region, there had suddenly been several police checks, and they had all waved me through no problem.  At this particular one, I did exactly what I have done at every other police check since Mexico, and as I pulled up, I turned my headlights off and left just my sidelights on.  It is law to have your headlights on every where over here, but because my car is right hand drive, the lights dip the other way, and I know they are a bit of a problem for other drivers at night, which is one reason I don’t drive at night.  But I also turn them off at the last minute when approaching police checks etc so I don’t blind the police – I am trying to be polite.  Silly, silly, silly me.  After 10 months of police knowing that I have just turned my lights down, these guys today said I had committed an “infraction” (the big word when you commit an offence on the road down here), and he just told me straight out that it was a 1700 peso fine – That’s US$200 !!  Well I tried everything.  No understand Spanish – But he pulled up the google translator in his roadside van.  No pesos because I am about to leave Argentina and go to Brazil – Well you have to go to a bank and pay it then (which would have meant hanging around till tomorrow morning).  But then he said if I pay at the roadside in cash, you get a 25% discount !!!    By now I was getting concerned because he had my passport and drivers licence etc, and I didn’t want him to keep them, so I asked if he accepted US$ ?  Yes, no problem, he said !!  So I ended up forking over US$150 cash, (and I did get a receipt !!), all for an “infraction” I never committed !  After I had my receipt and my passport etc back, I asked if we were finished, and he said yes.  So I then typed on his translator that he was incorrect, and that I had had my headlights on, and that he was talking to another car when I pulled up and there was no way he had seen me before I was stationary.  I was very polite (surprisingly), but I made  it quite clear that if he checked his video cameras (which he kept telling me about), he would see that I had had my lights on until the very last minute.

Anyway, no more being polite and nice to roadblocks – In future I might just put my lights on high beam to make sure they see them !! And to Officer Jorge Frederico Friesel, LP No 29893, of Mobile Vehicle number 107, of the Office at Gualeguaychu in Entre Rios state, and his Jeffe Donda Roberto of PML, thank you VERY much for showing that even though I have enjoyed Argentina and found everyone else helpful and honest, there are some downright dishonest cops out there who bring disrepute on their country and everyone else who tries so hard to be honest and welcoming to tourists from overseas.  If I am pulled over for an honest reason and I have committed an “infraction”, I will swallow it meekly, but when I am innocent, it is SO frustrating when you know in a place like this you have absolutely no avenue for redress.   


After that, I drove another two hours up the road, absolutely seething.  Ironically about 20 minutes further up the road I was stopped at another police check point (my headlights were on!!) and he asked for my licence, my registration and my insurance papers – In the entire trip I have not been asked for all of these !!  What is it with these guys in Entre Rios ?   Anyway, when I got my folder out, the piece of paper on the top was the receipt from my buddy, Officer Friesel, and when this cop saw that, he took it and read it.  Then he smiled at me, handed it back, and said “Drive on” – He knew I had already donated to the police benevolent fund today, so I wasn't required to donate a second time, and he didn’t want to see any of the papers he had just demanded – He just waved me on !!    Then I knew for sure that I had been “milked” the first time !!  
After a while  I turned into the El Palmar National Park where I soon forgot about my problem because I found capybaras all over the road, foxes, armadillos scurrying across the road, and bright green parrots everywhere.  I have the Uruguay River just below my camp site and half way across the river is Uruguay, so I close to getting out of Argentina at last !!   It was almost dark when I got to the camp site, so I had no time to do anything but cook a quick bight to eat before going to bed.  Basically a fascinating day was ruined by a cop who decided to take a gringo to the cleaners. 

C’est la vie – Or whatever they say in Spanish !!   

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