Route 5, Chile

Spending 24 hours bussing isn’t very pleasant.  But at least it’s much cheaper than flying.  Normally, I’d go for the semi-cama class of seats (cama means bed), which is comfortable enough…if you’re going for like 12 hours.  But if you need to sleep?  Full cama is where it’s at.  After all, it’s AtaCAMA I’m going to, not Ata-semi-cama.

Well, sort of.  My first bus was 17 hours to Antofagasta, and that was full cama.  I slept for a lot of that.  But how do you kill the rest of the time?

Watch terrible Hollywood movies that bombed at the box office, of course…with Spanish translations.  And the audio not working.

Read.  I exchanged my copy of “Water for Elephants” that I grabbed from Bariloche for “The Catcher in the Rye” in Santiago.  Seems like everyone is a “phony” in that book.

Listen to music.  But once you’ve listened to the same 4 GB of music over and over and over again after days of riding on buses, the radio is a welcome change.  Lots of English music, surprisingly, and also a ton of Spanglish – “Yo tengo tu love,” Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber references in songs, really?  And more indie rock stations than Vancouver!  Some memorable commercials…Pep-no, pep-sí, pep-no…Pepsi!

I arrived in Antofagasta with only five minutes to spare for what was originally a 15 minute connection.  This made me quite nervous, and I ran around the terminal like a chicken with its head cut off, after not seeing my bus there for 30 minutes.  After some survival Spanish, I relaxed a bit – turns out the bus was one hour late.

But still, one hour late!  Silvia and Óscar booked a hostel for me, the same one they were staying at for the last couple days, and asked for a hostel transfer from the bus station for me as well.  Arriving one hour late meant…hmm.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself again.  Antofagasta, for all 20 minutes I was riding the bus through it, is a lot prettier than I’ve heard from other travelers.  Nice beach, nice coastline, pleasant in general.  And we passed through Calama 5 hours later, but that was as ugly as people were telling me.  Oddly enough for a place in the middle of nowhere, there were plenty of Chinese restaurants.

Instead of arriving at 10:30 pm, I arrived at 11:30 pm, and my fears were justified – the hostel pickup didn’t show up, and no one I asked knew where the hostel was.  (I later found out that it was in an extremely obscure place – I would never have been able to find it walking, as it’s not even located on a street.  And in pitch darkness?  Oy.)  But some more survival Spanish… I think I’m getting better at that!  Some kind soul called the hostel for me after my explanation, and things turned out well.  The hostel owner told me that Silvia and Óscar were gonna come with her to pick me up (aww), but they were sleeping since they were taking a tour to Geysers del Tatio at 4 am!  They wanted me to join them, but unfortunately, it was full – they could have held a space for me, but we all understood not to because I wasn’t sure earlier if I’d make my Antofagasta transfer.  (If I missed it, I would be delayed by one day.)  I would’ve gone even if it meant only sleeping for three hours, too.

This morning, I booked a tour to Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley), which leaves in the afternoon.  But first, something that was a long time coming – I decided to mail my warm Antarctica clothes home, since it was taking up too much space in my pack.  Cue more language barrier hilarity, as I had to run around town asking for a box to store my clothes in without knowing the Spanish word for box (caja).  Well, I managed after awhile…but it looks like my clothes will smell like chorizo.

I also tried to book my passage out of San Pedro, to Salta, Argentina – but plenty more difficulties there.  All the bus companies run very odd hours, closing and opening at random.  Furthermore, my hostel is a ten minute walk from town, the furthest hostel from town (but comfortable and cheap).  Having to walk back and forth started to take a toll on me, and I’m not feeling too well after doing that four times, due to the altitude (it’s around 2500m here, which isn’t too bad – but those geysers are at 4300m, which would’ve become a problem).  Buuuut it looks like I’m stuck here until Sunday…wanted to leave Friday.  Oh well!  Plenty of time to try again.  However, I realise now I am going too slow in order to cover all the places I want to cover in the next 7 weeks.  Having to leave on Sunday makes things just a little bit worse.

More later, after Valle de la Luna and whatever else I decide to do in my five whole days here…

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