Tag Archives: chile

You can’t make this bus ride up

A movie, a short nap and some staring out the window later and we pass a bus on the side of the road. Flipped over.

I was thankful that my seatbelt – while covered in gum – was fastened.

The drive continued. At the border we were stopped. Sitting, waiting. I was anxious. Maybe we’re almost there and time passed faster than I had thought.

HAHAHA.

We were the only bus at the border because all of the other companies had cancelled their route for the day. Awesome. Now I was genuinely concerned about my safety. This bus was going through the Andes mountains. Though it was a well traveled route and it was summer, had I chosen a bad route, and more importantly, should I have gotten off the bus when I had the chance.

I did believe I was the only one with a passport from the US on the bus so I figured my parents would be notified rather quickly should things take a turn for the worse (and sadly this was not the only bus ride I had this thought – wait for the Bolivia bus ride from hell).

We were finally able to get off the bus to go through passport control and I was able to take a quick bathroom break. Anything had to be better than the bus toilet … but with a quarter of an inch of liquid on the floor of this bathroom, who knows what was worse.

X-ray machines, dogs sniffing and a maze of stops to check in with a passport. Sometimes with a bag, without a bag – it was definitely a lengthy process.

Nearly 1 hour and 10 minutes later we depart. Remember, we were the only bus. How long this would take on a day where other buses were traveling this route, I am confident I would have lost my mind.

My seat mate and my translator have differing opinions on what’s ahead. My seat mate thought we passed the bad part. My translator thought the worst part is to come. I think I just want off this freaking bus.

From the time we left the border, it was about 12 minutes of driving. Then we slowed. And all I see is a hole in the road. Like an earthquake had separated the land.

This picture doesn’t do the scene any justice.

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Obviously we had some warning, but might there have been a conversation at the border like “Hey, for real, there’s a big problem up ahead.” Or did I miss that chance when I could have gotten off the bus before we started? Was that my warning? Probably.

We saw a 4×4 off road through the missing road – and so our bus went forward. Then back. Then I think we may have gotten stuck.

And then there it was. We were in the middle of the Andes mountains and we were asked to get off the bus. I recognized the word ‘peso’ which I pieced together that the bus was too heavy to make it through whatever the driver was attempting to do.

Everyone but the driver disembarked and I found it pretty hard to breathe. Duh. The driver motioned where we were to meet him (we were in the middle of the mountains, it wouldn’t be hard to find a bus). He revved the engine and went.

The rest of us walked and I was so thankful that the driver made us get off the bus because I probably would have had a heart attack if I had stayed on the bus for that part.

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Back on the bus…for a variety of scenery. And some gut wrenching twists and turns. Not to mention the drastic weather conditions.

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(Some of the few guardrails spotted)

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6pm: The bus stops to let someone off. Since so many hours had passed since this journey started, I was thinking that we may be in the home stretch (and if someone is getting off, we must be near civilization, I think). So I ask my seatmate if he thinks we are close. He pulls out a map and tells me we likely have five more hours to go. Looking at the map, we were closer to where we started than to where we were headed.

7.43pm: Entering Jujuy. I still don’t know if I should be taking my malaria pills because technically it’s bordering where I should be taking them. And it’s raining. I decide I’m going to wing it without the meds.

Arrived in Salta at some crazy late hour – my patience thinned and second guessing if I should have just headed to a beach instead. My 10 hour bus ride was at least 15.

Grabbed a cab and made it to the hostel. Checked in and requested a private room since I just wanted to go to bed. I’d happily be friendlier in the morning after sleep and a shower.

It was still raining pretty hard. I noticed that the window screen in my room had a gaping hole (but because of the temperature outside, the window needed to stay open). Concerned about the malaria situation here, but not enough to take the pills, I pulled duct tape out of my bag, covered the hole, hoped for the best and went straight to bed.


Back on the bus (or maybe not)

After learning that everything in the desert depends on rain, and everything is dictated by the rain, the three of us were now parting ways. My long awaited reunion with friends in the north of Chile was coming to an end and I would soon be on my own again.

I would be back in hostels. It was nice to be reminded to drink water (I was failing at doing so on my own), it was nice to spend time with familiar faces, it was nice to sleep in a double bed – and not a bunk, it was nice to shower without flip flops, it was nice to use a real, fluffy towel, and not my quick dry towel and it was nice to have a plan <gasp>.

But now I’d be heading to Salta, Argentina, crossing back into Argentina by bus. I made my way to the bus ‘station’ and upon arriving I found others headed the same way. One woman handed me a piece of paper with a notice to travelers from the Argentine government. It basically said no buses to Salta because of a road blockage.

Um, okay. We made our way to where we should have been departing. There was a delay (or cancellation, who knows, really) so I went with another woman to mail postcards (why not). We get back to the area and it’s time to board. I was confused, was this a go or not.

We boarded.

We drove. For five minutes.

Then we were directed to get off the bus. For customs. The bus had left the station at 9.33am, for a 10 hour journey, and at 9.38am we were asked to get off the bus.

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What was happening? Customs. I think. But it seemed that no one really knew what was going on. We got back on the bus at 10.30am.

A woman got on the bus, presumably from the bus company. She spoke in Spanish and far, far too quickly for me to understand – because she probably wanted to get off the bus as soon as she said it.

I didn’t know what she said so I asked if anyone near me spoke English. A young man did and his translation was along the lines of “The bus may not be able to go. There is snow and ice and a river on the roads (a flood, perhaps?). We may stay in Purmamarca, which is just over the border. Another possibility is to go through Santiago.” (UM NO. I FLEW north from Santiago to Calama to get to San Pedro – I would be going the opposite direction of the way I would need to go … adding about 14 hours to an already 10 hour long bus ride.).

Everyone gets off the bus. Then we get back on. My seat is now wet. I am wearing waterproof pants. I ask to move. I am now seated next to a smelly man but my seat is dry. Priorities have changed to be thankful my seat is now dry.

Bus driver gets up to talk. All I can make out is “No hotel, no food…it’s not our fault.” I ask the man on the other side of the aisle to translate and he translates, “We can go. It may be open, it may not. We may have to sleep on bus. If there is a room in town, we will have to pay for it. The only food they will give us is what is already stored on the bus. We have the option to get off the bus but we lose 30% of what we paid if you want to attempt the trip again later in the week.”

The bus driver clearly saw that I was receiving a translation and then asked me a question, that my new friend translated to he wants to know “What are you going to do? The bus waits for you.” Thinking that someone else would surely get off the bus, I see no one move. Quickly I weigh my options – spending a night on this bus, not moving, in the middle of the Andes, does not sound super appealing. But maybe there’s something all the other passengers know that I don’t. I ask my friend if anyone else is planning on getting off the bus. He said no. I said fine, I’ll stay.

My seatmate, now deciding to let me know he speaks English, said “Good decision.” I replied with “I am not so sure. This is going to be one hell of an adventure.”

I was not mistaken.


When the government says no, it’s a no.

Before arriving in San Pedro and well before leaving the US, Alana, Courtney and I had our hearts set on visiting El Tatio, the geysers. Your tour (you cannot do this trip without a licensed guide) picks you up well before dawn to get there for sunrise. Due to the massive rainfall and flooding the region had recently experienced, the government had suspended these tours indefinitely.

Disappointed, we really tried to figure out a way to go. The Chilean government would provide email updates on the status of the geysers. Our hotel would receive email updates at 6p and 11p; neither would give us favorable news.

Understanding that we could be arrested if we went on our own (therefore, eliminating that option), we told the front desk we’d set an alarm and check in for an update in the middle of the night … just in case the government’s restrictions were lifted. We were well aware at how far-fetched this was since our pick up was scheduled for 4.30am.

Let me clarify how insane we were. If the 11pm email said ‘closed,’ we REALLY didn’t need to wake up super early for a tour that was never leaving, or even bother with getting a status update in the middle of the night, since the chance of the geysers opening were nil.

We were persistent but when the government says no, they mean no.

The restrictions were not lifted that night. SPOILER ALERT: the geysers wouldn’t reopen during our time in the region.

 

Knowing now that ‘town’ didn’t offer much during the day but a convenient jumping off point to further explore the region, we spent some of the morning relaxing poolside, which, as you can see from our view, wasn’t a really terrible way to spend the morning.

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We had the pool to ourselves.

After lunch, one of the girls at the front desk connected us with Freddie, who, with his pal Sergio, would take us to several attractions in the region. And this is when we finally got to start exploring. It certainly took our mind off the geysers, but we still were keen on seeing if the government would lift their restrictions before we headed out of the region.

Our first excursion was a tour of the Valle de Luna, which translates to Valley of the Moon, appropriately so, don’t you think? What you might think in these photos is snow, is actually salt. Take a look at the scenery and the sky. The weather was fickle, changing from one minute to the next. Shorts and tees or sweaters and shivering? All of it.

This is what I would call ‘the middle of nowhere.’ Except we were somewhere in the north of Chile and it was pretty freaking spectacular.

 


Nightlife in San Pedro de Atacama

Based on the subject of this post, this is a short one. The altitude does not combine well with an active nightlife. Were bars and restaurants busy? Sure, but imbibe with care. The hangover wouldn’t be worth it. Altitude and alcohol are not the best combination.

San Pedro is a jumping off point for tours and trips to see the landscapes of the region – which start during the early morning hours and throughout the daylight hours.

Nightlife consists of travelers going to the ATM…seriously. We quickly learned that you can expect a 30-45 minute wait each time. In this photo, we’re pretty close to the front, after an extended wait. At this point you’re just hoping there’s still cash in the machine by the time you get to swipe your card.

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After securing cash and food, heading back to the hotel is up next.

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Once you leave the confines of the few streets making up the ‘town,’ there are no streetlights. None. Laugh all you want at the headlamp (my friends did) but this headlamp was a lifesaver (probably literally too) on our walk back to our hotel in the pitch dark.


A pizza place runs out of dough

The three of us arrived into town after a short walk from the hotel. After I dropped off my dirty laundry – a mere storefronts away – from the restaurant we chose on the main plaza (which was literally ‘town’).

We ordered a pizza to share. We were also warned it would take a long time. Not a big deal, we had drinks and plenty of catching up to do.

While waiting an extremely long time for a simple pizza, even with the warning we’d be waiting, we noticed another table had fries, which were not on this menu. So Courtney went to find out where they were from … another restaurant. She went to procure us some fries. We devoured them.

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Finding the fries!

After another excessively long period of time, the waiter came over and told us ‘no pan,’ ummmm, what? Pan is bread, or in this case, dough. Did you not know this an hour ago? We were no longer hungry but now we were three hangry ladies. We paid for our drinks and left.

Quickly found another restaurant and were able to catch up over food, that actually existed. Called it a relatively early night and planned to head back to the hotel for some much needed sleep. First, we’d stop at the (only) ATM (in town) to get some local cash for the girls.

We were ready to cover a lot of ground in the region over the next few days and it was unanimous that we all wanted to get some sleep!


What to do before check in?

I opened my eyes and was ready to bail on this place. It took me less than ten minutes from the time I woke up to be checked out of the hostel. I asked for a taxi and instead found out I could easily walk the 15 minutes to the hotel. ‘Muy cerca,’ I was told. Very close, I translated silently. And it was. Gear and all, I believe I made it in under 10 minutes.

Arrived at the hotel only to find out that I had hours before check in – which 2pm. I had just over 4 hours until I could check in and close to 6 hours before the girls would arrive.

It was a beautiful property.

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One of the gorgeous views.

The staff invited me to eat breakfast, which was lovely. And since I had plenty of time to spare, and a solid internet connection, I decided to take care of business … I Skyped with family, booked a hostel in Salta, Argentina – my next stop, got the details for the bus terminal where I’d be departing from in a few days and emptied out all the papers, notes and tickets I had been collecting in my backpack, adding unnecessary weight to my load.

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Some of the tickets I had been carrying around, unnecessarily. Tucked into pockets here and there, the weight adds up.

I even went so far as to pull together my dirty laundry since I planned on dropping it off at a lavanderia in town. This must have been quite a sight to see … remember I’m in their ‘lobby’ since I can’t check in for hours.

While this seems like a lot of ‘to do’s,’ and a lot less travel, it was nice to regroup and get reorganized with this downtime. Once I was able to check in, I showered and began to download photos off my camera, so I could get those uploaded and clear out some memory.

After a few hours, Alana and Courtney arrived and it was quite the reunion!

arrivalSince they flew overnight, connected in Santiago for Calama and then took the hour-long drive from the airport in Calama to San Pedro de Atacama, they had a pretty long run of travel. They got settled, showered and we made our way into town. I didn’t go into much detail around ‘town.’ Since I was pretty surprised, I wanted them to be too! I was eager to see what they thought. We’d be there soon enough.


My first night in San Pedro de Atacama

After quite the treacherous bus journey from the airport in Calama to the small adobe village of San Pedro de Atacama, I finally arrived at my hostel. What an interesting set up. Once you entered the property from the dusty street, you were transplanted into a large courtyard. Looking around, you could see small huts dotting the property.

During check in, I realized that I hadn’t eaten since the plane, so I wanted to find something to eat. It was 8.50pm and the woman at the front desk advised me that the supermarket closed at 9 but was just around the corner.

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My hut.

After being shown to my hut, I left my bags and headed out into the dark, dusty street. From what I could tell, I felt like I was on a movie set. The streets were sandy, dust was everywhere. The town felt old and worn, like a cowboy movie type of town. At the same time it felt charming and I was excited to explore, if only a short walk to the supermarket at this point.

I first went into the wrong place … they only had day-old (or older) empanadas. I figured out my error and came back outside, found the supermarket (all the buildings looked the same). This was no supermarket with fluorescent lights. This was a very, very small bodega.

The choices were slim and hodge podge. I went with a roll (that looked fresh), wafers, apple juice and water. Seeing a sign for cheese, but no sign of cheese, I asked the person behind the counter how it worked. I was asked how many slices, and not seeing a deli slicer, I wasn’t sure what I was going to get so I replied, ‘cuatro,’ (four in Spanish). After all, I thought, I could easily polish off four slices of cheese. Instead, I must have gotten four 1/4 pounds of cheese. Oops.

I made my purchase and my way back to the hostel. One of the huts was designated a communal kitchen. The lights were on and I could hear voices so I went inside to eat. Inside I met a German man and Italian woman. They had offered me some of their home-cooked meal but instead I nibbled on my cheese while we shared pleasantries.

After dinner they asked if I wanted to join them for a walk into town to go to the ATM. I clearly had nothing else planned for the evening, and hadn’t yet seen the town so I went along.

The center of town was a couple of small alleys away and after a whopping five minute tour, I saw it all. As I would later learn, the ATM was the highlight of the nightlife. After waiting in line at the ATM (it was popular), we popped into a bar for a beer before heading back to the hostel and calling it a night.

I was happy to get to bed since I knew when I woke up I’d be moving to the lovely boutique hotel that my friends and I had booked before I left New York.

Knowing now how small the town was, I didn’t want to explore on my own since I’d be doing it again with the girls once they arrived. My plan for the following morning was quite simple. Wake up, transfer to the fancy place, check in, figure out my next steps after San Pedro, and finally, spend the rest of the day poolside until the girls arrived. I was so excited to see familiar faces and now, after some reflection on my ride from the Calama airport, I was immensely curious how their ride would be, not even 24 hours after mine.