Monday, May 4, 2009

The story behind the much-alluded-to "great garlic debacle."

Today I'm going to tell a story that has nothing to do with Uruguay. It's not that I won't ever talk about Uruguay, it's just that I haven't downloaded the pictures yet and as Arun asked yesterday why I don't upload pictures (oy! because, the laze, it is strong with this one), I thought I'd save that until I've done some picture magic.

Today's story is about Argentina and Chile, and about garlic. We have special garlic in Chile called ajo chilote (garlic from Chiloé, the big island in the south just a bit past Puerto Montt where the continent breaks up like someone hit it with a mallet). It's alot like elephant garlic, I suppose, giant and heavy in your hand. But this story isn't even about ajo chilote, just garlic that is comun y corriente (regular).

Last southern summer, which would have been Dec 07 to the beginning of Feb 08, I was traveling around in the southern parts of Chile and Argentina. Ushuaia, El Calafate, El Chaltén, Mt. Fitzroy, Puerto Natales, Torres del Paine and all that good stuff. There were glaciers and lakes and wind to rip your hair out by the roots and many, many evenings spent whipping up something delicious over a hostel stove, or over my own trusty MSR dragonfly stove, which can burn white gas (bencina blanca in Spanish), kerosene, gasoline, diesel, and even jet fuel. Pretty cool, eh?

Well, Canadian tag questions aside, you should know that in the skinny part of the southern cone, you spend a lot of time crossing back and forth from Argentina to Chile and back again. On this particular occasion, I was on a bus where they'd told us that we should eat the lettuce off of our sandwiches before crossing the border into Chile (had to be, Chilean sandwiches don't have lettuce on them), because the rules on importation were quite strict. I know this already, and you, dogged readers, know it too, having read this entry on how SAG took my pecans away this past December.

Since I'd been backpacking, and cooking, I was traveling with food. As a rule, I separate out the dry from the fresh food, into two separate bags. So when I got to the border crossing and they had me open my bag, and ask what was inside a canvas zippy bag, I proudly said, "comida" (food), since this was the dry bag, the fresh one having been finished/given away earlier. I knew that in the dry bag I had powdered milk, cocoa, mate, rice and a few grains of sugar. What I didn't know is that I had foolishly classified a single clove of garlic as dry, and therefore had almost accidentally smuggled it into the country.

But have no fear, because the integrity of the garlic-producing parts of Chile is intact, as I was caught, told to fill out a new form, sternly talked to, soundly glared at, and registered on a very long carbonless copy triplicate (or perhaps quadrupilicate) as a "portador/a ilegal" de ajo (an illegal garlic mule, if you will). This, I was told, would be distributed to all the border crossings and that I would go down as a registered smuggler of agricultural products "a lo largo del país" (down the length of the country) which if you look at Chile, is a lot of notariety for a single clove of garlic. Which they said weighed 100 grams, which since it was regular, and not elephant, nor even Chilote garlic, is nigh on impossible. But since they didn't really hassle me that much (nor fine me), I decided it was best not to argue.

I hope those nice guys at SAG don't get in trouble for not fining me. They did seize the offending item, and do all the paperwork though. They also thought maybe I could stick around and teach them English, and if it weren't for the fact that I would have had to eat bland food for the rest of my days, having no garlic with which to flavor my rice, I might have considered it.

And that, my friends, is what I am talking about when I make reference to "the great garlic debacle of 2008." Or the international garlic incident, here.

And why am I telling this story today? Because stories are like clouds, drifting through the blue sky that is my mind. When they get seeded, or when the climatic conditions are just right, the story rains down. And if you're me, then you write it down (and share it with scads of people you don't know). And yesterday a woman was going through her change purse beside me while I was waiting for a friend to come out of a public bathroom. And amid her change (which fell to the floor), out flew a clove of garlic. And my garlic cloud story was seeded. And so the story rains down. Next time, bring an umbrella.

And if you're looking for an even more clever ending, consider the following: I'd bought a head of garlic in Chile, brought it to Argentina, cooked with most of it and was bringing one last clove back. Poor unrepatriated garlic clove. I'm sure it died a fiery death. Mmmmm, roasted garlic.

7 comments:

Sara said...

Hooray for smuggling. When I crossed the border from Mendoza to Chile there was a long, wide table of all the contraband. What did it have sitting on top of it? One teeny jar of mermelada and one dry looking orange.

Bystander said...

Last January I was looking for elephant garlic here (found some in Monserrat). I thought they would have it in Jumbo and I was sorting through the garlic there. Every single little bag of different options was imported from China! Not joking. So that would probably make you a multi-national smuggler of garlic if you got yours in a supermarket.
You could tease them next time you cross the border by chewing a few cloves just before customs!

Eileen said...

@ Sara, and of course, it was totally unintentional. I'd happily have purchased more garlic. No one is that cheap!

@ Bystander, I had no idea that our garlic came from China. Since I usually buy it at the Vega or local market, I just assumed it was from here! The supermarket garlic is different though, as the papery skin is more white and less purple. Who knows. What a life for a little clove of garlic!

Katie said...

Illegal garlic mule! hehe

They took a jar of dulce de leche from me once in Ezeiza because apparently it's considered a no-no in carry-on luggage. I just know they were eating my dulce de leche later that evening...

Abby said...

Haha great story.

And I find it amusing that Bystander was looking for Elephant Garlic at Jumbo...hehehe.

Eileen said...

@katie, I very nearly disrupted air traffic out of the Falkland Islands over a jar of rhubarb jam that I'd been given by a very cool driver/tourguide that took me to take pictures of penguins. She'd made it herself. We had to go hunt down my big pack to tuck it in and get it back safely to Chile. Who know that jam was gel? or for that matter, that dulce de leche was?

Maybe it's a story we need to tell. You game?

Katie said...

I'm game. What's the plan? ;)