The motto of Chile’s police force, los carabineros, is ‘Siempre un amigo, or ‘Always a friend’. As I drove to the police station in the small town of Pisco Elqui, I found myself hoping it was a motto they lived up to. I was in need of some friendly support.

Less than an hour earlier, I had been involved in a minor accident in my rental car on a narrow, dirt road in the heart of the Elqui Valley. After sharing the details of the hire company with the other driver, I had continued on my way back to Monte Grande in a state of shock. On reaching the town, I parked the car and got out to stretch my legs. Walking round the main plaza, something happened. For the first time since the accident I started to think clearly and I realised it was probably a good idea for me to call the rental company to tell them what had happened.

I fished around in the glovebox among the CDs, maps and all the other junk that had accumulated in the small compartment over the past few days, until I found a copy of the rental agreement with some contact phone numbers. Calling the landline number there was no response, so I tried the mobile listing beneath it. A young man answered the phone.

“Hello, this is Econorent,” he said.

“Hi,” I said sheepishly. “I had a small accident in one of your cars this afternoon.”

There was a pause. “…what happened?” the young man asked.

I told him that I had swiped the mirror on another car’s when I was attempting to pass it. The other mirror had come out of its casing and my mirror had maintained a crack and a scratch but the electronics were still functioning.

“That should be fine,” the voice assured me and I breathed a sigh of relief. “The insurance should cover it. But you will need to go to the police and get a constancia.”

“A constancia?” I asked. “What’s that?”

The voice on the other end of the line gave a copmrehensive explanation and from what I managed to decipher, I gathered that it was some kind of police statement that was needed for insurance purposes.

“Everything should be OK, shouldn’t it?” I asked, just to make sure.

“Yes,” it should be fine,” the voice replied.

There was no police station in Monte Grande so I started out for Pisco Elqui, where I had seen one earlier in the day. Built on the side of the hill, the station was a sprawling brick building covered in green and white paint. Inside the double glass doors was an officer sitting behind a huge desk, absorbed in his computer screen. He looked up as I walked in.

Drawing on all the confidence I could muster, I launched into the explanation I had prepared on the way over.

“Hi. I’ve had a small accident in a rental car and the company told me that I need to get a constancia.”

It seemed like the officer had taken the force’s motto to heart. He flashed me a warm smile and gestured for me to take a seat on the other side of the desk. I handed over my Chilean ID along with my driver’s licence. The officer looked over them.

“This shouldn’t take too long,” he said, reassuringly. “Do you have the registration papers?”

I didn’t have anything on me but I remembered being told that all the papers were in the glovebox when I picked up the car. At least, I thought that was what I had been told. I began to wish had paid more attention. I walked back down the hill to where I had parked the car and for the second time in about an hour, I began rummaging through the glovebox. The CDs, the map and the rental agreement papers were still there but there was no sign of the rego papers. I felt a sense of panic.

Not knowing what else to do, I picked up the contract papers and returned to the green and white mini-fortress. Back through the uninviting glass doors and over to the officer sitting behind the massive desk. With more hope than confidence, I asked if the papers in my hands were enough. He had a quick look before pulling a face that said no, while still maintaining a sense of friendliness.

“They are usually either in the glovebox or tucked away behind the sun visor,” the officer suggested.

Ah! The sunvisor. I raced back to the car and looked behind both sun visors. Nothing. Panicking a little more now, I filtered through the glovebox again. Still nothing. Now I was really starting to worry. I picked up the phone and rang Econorent again. The same voice answered.

“Hello?” it said

“Hi,” I said more sheepishly this time. “I went to the police and they told me I need the registration papers to make a constancia but I can’t find them…”

“They should be in the glovebox,” he said. “In a small black or green wallet. Did you take anything out of the glovebox?”

“No, I didn’t take anything out and I’ve looked in the glovebox but I couldn’t find anything,” I said.

There was a pause. “Well now we do have a problem. I’m going to have to call my supervisor.”

“What should I do?” I asked.

“…keep on looking,” the voice said. We said our goodbyes and hung up.

One more time, I opened the glovebox and started pouring the contents out onto the passenger seat. And then when I had taken everything out, I saw it. Pressed up against the side of the storage compartment was a thin, plastic wallet, exactly same colour as the glovebox itself. I smiled.

To be continued…