Friday, January 21, 2011

Clandestine Gypsies

By Alaena
We pulled into Hornipiren and watched the ferry pull out. As they were scheduled sporadically , there was not another for two days. We reserved our tickets and after a two day hike in a muddy forest I found myself back at the port.
“It’s 143 000 Pesos. Either buy the tickets, or leave. Hurry up and decide because there are people waiting”
I looked around at the queue of awaiting passengers in the cramped cabin that serves as a ticket office for the ferries from Hornopiren to Chaiten, before turning back to the young lady behind the computer in disbelief.
My patience, which had been slowly ground down over the last half hour, deserted me.
“Do not tell me to hurry up. We have been waiting for 2 days for this boat and today, an hour before the boat leaves you told us it is 100 000 pesos (200 dollars) more than we agreed with your colleague when we reserved the tickets”.
I swallowed back the lump in my throat and gave Zach, who had been standing by me, bearded and angry, a teary look.
“Let’s do it. We don’t have a choice” he shrugged.
Heated argument had lowered the supposed ticket prices from 200 000 Pesos to 143, still a steep rise from the promised 117. I assured her we only had six passengers and she tapped away on her keyboard for what seemed an eternity, eventually selling us the tickets for 126 000 Pesos.
We emerged from the office triumphant, tickets in hand and ready for stage 2; smuggle two passengers onboard.
The plan was already set in motion. The bus was in the queue and Zach, Bernadette, Ben and Tegan were wondering around town. The plan should have been executed somewhat like this;
-          Step 1: Tegan and Ben return and hide in the storage space under the bed as their names are not on the tickets.
-          Step 2: Zach and Bernie come back 15 minutes later in order for it to appear as though there are only 6 people on the bus at any one time.
-          Step 3: we drive onto the boat and have our tickets checked
-          Step 4: Passengers vacate the bus one by one. Tegan and Ben are slyly set free.
We could not know it yet but things were not to go as expected, especially for the only one adamantly opposed to the whole ordeal, Matthias. The first sign of trouble came when one of the employees told us to put away our stove and coffee as we would be the next to board, half an hour ahead of schedule. This unexpected stick in the wheel snapped us out of our caffeine-fuelled rejoicing.
“Just run, Alaena! Run!” Shouted Mike, as he and Alex put away the drying tents. I sprinted up the hill towards town, realising more with every step, the futility of this exercise. They were nowhere in sight. I ran back to the bus. There was only one thing for it.
“Matthias, we have to get under the bed right now!”
Matthias stared, wide eyed. “ NO, Why me?”  he shouted looking terrified. “I’m so high, Goddamnit! This is the worst thing you could make me do!” Matthias had recently befriended two Chileans who had amicably shared their potent hash.
Alex was driving and the tickets were in Mike’s name. It was the only option. We jumped under and the lid was closed over our heads, plunging us into darkness. “I fucking hate you guys. I fucking hate you guys,” Matthias whispered gently in my ear. “Our life is in Alex’s hands. If he misses the boat and drives into the sea we will die”.
“It’s okay Matthias” I assured him. “We put our lives in to Alex’s hands every day”. This seemed to calm him down a good deal and we giggled about the film-like drama we were living. We were being smuggled in a cramped dark space on a bus, on a boat with people shouting outside in a foreign language. It wasn’t long before he slipped back into the old mantra. “I fucking hate you guys”.
Mike’s whisper was a welcome diversion. “Alaena, we need you out here to talk to these guys. We are going to do a swap. Be ready.”
I waited, tense and ready to leap out, listening to the muffled voices. The lid opened and light rushed in. I jumped out past Tegan who was ready to take my place. Mathias feebly lifted his head “I want to leave too”. We apologised weakly and pushed the bed back into place.
Finally things were going smoothly. Tickets were checked and we were leaving port with 6 visible passengers. People wandered off the bus and we set Tegan and Matthias free. Matthias slowly crawled out and curled up in the foetal position on a seat, panting.
“I fucking hate you guys” he repeated, driving home his earnestness. His face was flushed, his eyes glazed over and his chest heaved with the heavy breathing. “I’m so high.” He stared into nothingness refusing all offers of food and drink. “I just want to lie here on the bus where it is safe”.
This he did. Tegan and Ben spent the boat ride as fugitives from the power crazed Captain who marched around the boat shouting at people and demanding tickets. “This is my boat and nothing gets by me” he explained loudly to a group of Dutch tourists. “If someone is hiding a bike on this boat, I will find it!”. He assured us he would check how many passengers left on our boat on the way out and wrote down all our passport details.
After the 10 hour ferry ride through some spectacular landscapes of fjords and islands and furtive note passing to the two clandestine passengers, we finally arrived. It was with great delight that we watched Tegan and Ben casually stroll off the boat under the Captain’s eyes. We picked them up along with seven newly recruited hitchhikers and the Gypsy Train struggled into Chaiten through the pouring rain.

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