May 18, 2009

Argentina: The arcane and the arbitrary

When our tour group's plane from Buenos Aires landed in Bariloche, in Argentine Patagonia (photos), we were met by our local guide, Roberto, and welcomed aboard a minibus waiting to take us to our hotel.

As we neared a police checkpoint Roberto tensed up and remarked that he hoped the police didn't need any money that day.

"When the police need money," he explained, "they stop the bus and check everyone and give out fines."

For what? we wondered.

"There is a law on the books requiring motorists to carry at all times a kerosene lamp, wax and some matches. Chances are you'll be missing one, two or all of these, so you can get a fine. They can always put you some fines if they need some money."

Because Roberto seemed worried, I assumed we were missing at least one of the required items, and I hoped it was the kerosene lamp. Paying a fine seemed preferable to driving around Patagonia in a little bus filled with flammables.