My apologies (ie. my excuses): Most of this post was written while we were Couchsurfing in Iquique. However, before I had the chance to polish it up, we took a bus to Arica, then another to San Pedro de Atacama, then drove for three days through a desert. This desert is over 4000 meters above sea level, and both of us were hit hard by altitude sickness. Brain swelling and lack of oxygen has rendered us practically useless, and we are now recovering in La Paz (getting here involved another long bus). We took a five hour nap yesterday, then slept for another 10 hours after scarfing down a delicious Bolivian meal cooked by our Airbnb hosts. I feel just rejuvenated enough to be guilty about neglecting the blog, so here goes…
Leaving Pucón marked the end of our Patagonian adventures, and our departure was incredibly bittersweet. We had been surrounded by awe inspiring scenery for over two months, and neither of us were eager to be in cities again (ie. around other people). On the other hand, there was the promise of oceans and sun up north, so we booked a bus to Valparaíso.
I was more than happy to stick to the coast and skip Chile’s capitol altogether, but our friends in Santiago – the couple we met on that rainy day in La Junta – persuaded us to come visit. We arrived with the intention of crashing on their couch for a night or two, after which point we would keep making our way north. We hadn’t figured that they would fall in love with us and try to keep us there forever. Apparently our charm overshadowed our dirty and disheveled appearance (Aidan’s socks could kill a small animal and my only remaining pair of pants have two sizeable holes in the butt). José’s wonderful mother kept us in a semi comatose state by plying us with delicious home cooked food, and we ended up staying much longer than planned.
We spent a very unusual week in Santiago, experiencing the city in ways no other backpackers have. We didn’t go to the typical tourist spots, and completely spurned the multitude of bars and discotecas. Instead, we climbed a Cerró, explored a university’s experimental farm, and attended a wine tasting class!
So as not to overstay our welcome, we decided it was time to continue our adventure. Besides, we were getting far too comfortable. It had been over a week that we had been enjoying hot coffee, rather than the swill of lukewarm water and instant that we’d become accustomed to, and we were becoming soft (in all senses of the word, because we were consuming far too much bread). So we planned our escape for the following morning.
Because neither of us enjoy confrontation, neither of us actually told them we were leaving. We assumed watching us pack our bags would make that clear. Alas that was not the case! All members of the household made their cases for why we should stay in Santiago forever, but we remained strong (although María Antonieta’s homemade empanadas nearly broke us).
Despite our aversions to being late for trains/busses/planes, we ended up staying far too long to make public transport a feasible way to make our departure time. We ordered an uber, and took off with plenty of time to spare. Or so we thought. Our driver made the unilateral decision to ignore her GPS, so we ended up getting to the station exactly when our bus was due to leave. Luckily Chilean time is a bit flexible, so the bus hadn’t even arrived yet.
Ten minutes later we settled into our seats, and we rolled out out of the station. We had achieved our escape! “Upbeat Latin music plays”*. It was at this point it dawned on us that we hadn’t fully thought through this trip. We had initially planned to head to La Serena, a port city 5 hours north of Santiago. But when we looked at the weather forecast for the upcoming week and saw that it would cloudy, we completely shifted gears and chose to go to Iquique instead. Which was 25 hours away. The full magnitude of this choice settled in when we woke up from a restless sleep and realized that we hadn’t even driven halfway. The fact that Narcos hadn’t downloaded was also quite a bummer. “Sad Latin music plays”.
You go through a myriad of emotions while on a bus. Here is a glimpse into the psychology of a busser**
Thoughts had while on a bus
- What a pretty view. I could just stare at the passing scenery forever…
- Every sand dune is different. Like a snowflake! Hmm, i wonder if there’s any snow left in Canada?
- Wow, we are seriously in a desert. I don’t think we brought enough moisturizer. We definitely don’t have enough sunscreen. How burned are we going to get?!
- I think I could live on a bus. It’s like a more crowded caravan. Let the gypsy life begin!
- Nope, busses are terrible. I really need to stretch my cramped limbs. And the bus smells are getting to me.
- I figured out I can do lunges down the aisle. This bus is now my gym!
- Aisle surfing is fun.
- Note to self – do NOT make eye contact with the man you fell on while aisle surfing. This is not a relationship you wish to continue.
- Do keep making faces at the little girl across the aisle. It’s a funny way to pass the time. Man I wish I was that small. She has so much leg room.
- Children should not be allowed on busses. At least not the crying ones.
- Ooh look, more mountains!
- I think I just spent 5 minutes without having a single thought. Have I figured out mediation?
- I am at one with the world. It’s just me and the beautiful country side.
- If I don’t get off this bus soon I may stab someone.
We got off the bus after sunset, with no plans for a bed that night. We strolled past a somewhat homeless man (he had a tent, which is a type of home right?) and strongly considered following suit. It had been ages since setting up our little Castillo! Our very faint sense of self preservation kicked in though, and we rented a room at the first hostel we found.
We used their sketchy wifi to contact Couchsurfing hosts in the area, and hit free lodging gold. We stayed in a bomb apartment with views of not one but two beaches, and spent our days body surfing and getting tan (finally! I swear I got whiter in Patagonia!) and living way above our means. For free. Which really expands our wine budget!
*the result of watching too much Narcos with English subtitles
** I was originally planning to only post this list – easier to do and that way I wouldn’t keep being told that I was neglecting the blog. I began by writing a simple introductory paragraph, and suddenly found myself 1000 words deep! Guess a career at buzzfeed isn’t meant for me…