The crossing into Chile FROM Bolivia was a much calmer and easier crossing than entering INTO Bolivia. Alli and I were able to transfer directly from our salt flat tour in Uyuni, Bolivia, to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. However, we couldn’t escape the madness that is Bolivia quite yet…
Before being freed, we had to get our Bolivia exit stamps, and then drive about 20 minutes to the Chilean border crossing. Our driver decided to pile the 50 backpacks of each passenger into a pickup truck instead of on the bus. Okay. (This is South America… We try to just go with the flow…) Despite numerous protests, they piled the bags literally 10 feet higher than the back of the pickup truck and secured them with an old, leftover string.
Most people could see that the small string wouldn’t be enough to hold 50 heavy backpacks, especially when you’re flying down the highway at 100 mph. The drivers of the bus and the pickup truck seemed to think the bags would be fine, and they proceeded to RACE down the highway, playing leap frog and passing one another to arrive first in line at the Chilean border.
As we barreled down the highway, suddenly one of the other passengers shouted that they saw a backpack fall from the pickup truck to the side of the highway. The buses screeched to a halt to investigate. Everyone immediately assumed it was their bag, and our massive bus begins to back up on the highway to recover it. (Of course, didn’t we all learn in drivers ed. that backing up on a highway is a really safe move? )
We end up recovering the backpack and all of its contents strewn about the highway. We awaited with bated breath to see whose backpack had been completely destroyed by the negligence of the Bolivian drivers. To the dismay of an Israeli girl… It was none but hers. It was ripped pretty bad, as well as it seemed some of her electronics had been thrown about the highway. Alli and I were actually a bit disappointed that it wasn’t our backpack… It would have been a funny story, and after everything that happened in Bolivia I don’t think we would have even been mad.
After about a 20 minute shouting match between some very angry backpackers and the driver, we backed up on the highway (yet again) to look for more backpacks. The driver was impatient and drove only about 100 meters more, and ignored the cries to keep searching for more lost backpacks.
We arrived at the border and saw that our bags were safe under 20 other bags. Another backpack was actually knocked off at some point, torn up, lost a few items, but was picked up by a kind stranger. (Remember, our backpacks literally have everything we own inside them). The Bolivian drivers were quite unconcerned…
The guards at the border of Chile were overly kind and welcoming, happy to have us in their country. One of the guards even gave us each a Chilean keychain to welcome us! And just like that, WE MADE IT to Chile!!! Despite that fact that I paid the $160 reciprocity fee just 3 years earlier, Chile and the US are now on much better terms and we were accepted (fo’ free) with open arms.
Alli and I found our way to the absolute cheapest hostel in town, which turned out to be just what we needed. We decided to do an astronomy tour our first night, we ended up chatting under the gorgeous stars and galaxies until about 2:30am… (due to Chileans being suuuper chill and loving to chat.) We were awake for 23 hours straight. We’re both used to these long hours as former night-shift nurses, but we arrived back at our hostel absolutamente MUERTAS (dead).
The next day we made our typical delicious breakfast of eggs, onion, tomato and bread, then went on a tour of the Valle de la Luna. Our tour was complete with a handsome Argentinian tour guide and we watched the sunset over the valley with Pisco sours in hand (the typical Chilean alcoholic drink). We lucked out that our tour was cheaper than anyone else’s AND we were the only group to get snacks and free booze at the end. Boomshakalakah. (Alli and I hate to brag… But we LOVE to brag about the deals we get).
We went out with some of the friends we met in this tour (one girl happened to be an Irish lass we had met weeks earlier on our same Death Road tour!). Alli and I ended up having two different conversations (one in English, one in Spanish) with two middle-aged Chilean men, trying to convince them of the existence of God. (You know, light stuff). It was an enlightening conversation for all… This was not the first or last time that would happen…
We ended our night singing karaoke (Nicky Jam, “Travesuras”) to a bar full of beautiful people we did not know. They were extremely supportive of our bad Spanish rapping!!
The next day we rented bikes and rode out 12 miles on pure dirt and rocky roads to Laguna Cejar, the saltiest body of water on the earth behind the Dead Sea. We basked in the burning desert sun, swam in the salt water, and marveled at the experience of being completely supported by the density of the water. Even if you couldn’t swim, I’d feel comfortable pushing you in.
We rode our bikes back to town (which was difficult because the seats + rocky dirt roads were meant to murder your rear end). We found a place to post up our hammocks on the side of the road, and based off the looks, laughs, and double/quadruple takes we were given, you’d think we were doing something no human has ever done before…
After our adventures in San Pedro de Atacama, we continued our journey to visit Alli’s college friend, Nolan, in Antofagasta. Immediately upon arrival, Nolan picked us up and took care of us. He showed us one of the poorest immigrant neighborhoods in town, where he helps the community by organizing high school kids to come tutor the immigrant kids. We got to attend their final end of the year Christmas party, and play with the adorable kids. After that, we made our way out to the beach north of Antofogasta for the next 2 nights.
Camping on the beach in Chile requires very little. We showed up at the beach, along with Nolan, Gabby, Daniel, and Pablo, (a Jesuit priest). First time I’ve ever been camping with a priest…! We set up camp, then heated up the pre-prepared paella made by a true Spaniard. Alli and I must have been exhausted, because the next day we slept until 11am… Despite our blazing hot tent. Sleeping on the beach with real waves crashing in the distance makes for some great white noise!
We explored and hung out on the beach for 2 days… Made janky shade/sun-blockers out of our extra tents, swam in the powerful waves, played rugby, read, ate, sang songs around the campfire, made food together, and made absolutely “no planes” the entire time we were there. We were blessed to have another priest and another Spaniard friend join us for the last day we were there. We even had mass on the beach just before we left. Again, those two days were JUST what Alli and I needed! Thanks Nolan for such a great and relaxing time!
In order to break up the 22 hour drive to Santiago, Alli and I decided to jump on a 12 hour night bus (despite the fact that we hadn’t showered in 3 days) to La Serena. Trust me, once you’ve gone that long without showering, another day or two makes no difference.
We chilled in La Serena and the surrounding towns for a few days before making our way down to Santiago.
We had to arrive in Santiago in time to meet up with Alli’s sister Liz, as well as Aunt Sue and Uncle Stu, who were to visit Liz all the way from Indiana, USA!
Alli and Liz spent some solid sister time together for a few days, then Aunt Sue and Uncle Stu arrived. In order to provide some proper family time, I made my way out to Limache, about 2 hours outside of Santiago, where I stayed with one of my good friends, Rodolfo. His family is extremely kind and generous, and loved and fed me well. It’s incredible how wonderful it is to spend time in a real HOME after wandering from hostel to hostel for 7 weeks! They refreshed my weary body with a comfy bed, the BEST food, and no shortage of GOOOD Chilean wine.
Alli and I didn’t know what to do with being apart after being CONSTANTLY together for 7 weeks. The longest we had been apart was when I went to get a quick haircut in Bolivia (I was gone max 1 hour). Of course we immediately missed one another, but we met up a few times throughout the week with her aunt and uncle. (Who, let me say… Are a RIOT and a great time!) It was a packed but also relaxing week of time with family and friends.
So- what are we doing for Christmas??
I actually just landed in Chicago (found time to write this on the plane) to go home for Christmas. No, this is not yet the breaking of the fellowship between Alli and I, but a quick pause. I decided I wanted to fly home to be with my family for Christmas, then I fly back down to Santiago in just a few weeks! Our adventures resume come January. In the meantime Alli and her sister, Lizzy get to spend some solid sister time together and are spending Christmas with Liz’s Chilean host family.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!!! Until next blog!