Coastal Drive – along Chile´s Hwy 1

San Pedro de Atacama is sort of out in the middle of nowhere in Chile´s Atacama desert.  We were trying to get there from Iquique and let me tell you it´s a process.  We woke up in the morning and caught a cab to the market where we had bought bus tickets the prior day and been told that that was where the bus would be leaving from.  As we climb out of the cab, I pull out the tickets, date – check, departure time – with half an hour to spare, bus terminal – Terminal de Autobuses, Esmerelda.  Um, we´re at the Mercado Central. We asked a girl at a different bus company´s ticket counter and were told that indeed, we were at the wrong place to catch our bus and needed to take a cab to get there.  So we go to find a taxi.  There are two men leaning against the first of 3 yellow sedans.  A third man stood facing them.  I asked about a ride to Esmerelda.  One told me 30 Lucas (sort of like saying “bucks” but here it’s 30 THOUSAND pesos (which would be 60 dollars).  I stared blankly back and he winked and erupted in laughter.  We start to walk away, he calls after us, “no, no 2 lucas,” but I’ve already shut down.  We hailed a cab that had a woman sitting in the passenger’s seat.  I asked the driver if he would take us to Esmerelda but he said he wasn’t going that direction. As we shut the door he says “oye” (listen), we open the door again and he gave us directions to the street where we could catch a cab going in the right direction to take us to Esmerelda.  We hail another cab a block up, as directed.  “Buenos dias” we say as we climb in.  The cab driver didn’t recognize the name but the passenger (who must have bathed in cologne and not rinsed) in the front seat did.  We drove along, the cab driver not slowing down for barking dogs, or anything, for that matter.  The car pulled over to let our Mr. Cologne – I called ciao after him and he said hasta luego (see you later) as he slammed the door.  We pulled up to the bus station and a proper bus station it was – high ceilings, long parking spaces for buses, a cafe, ticket counter, etc. 

We buy breakfast, warm chaparritas, similar to empanada but with a flaky dough and filled with cheese, ham and tomato – the tomato has that soft acidic taste it gets from being cooked.  I ordered a coffee, too.  We sat at the bus station and had our breakfast.  Before boarding the bus we paid 300 Chilean pesos (60 US cents) to get a token to use the bathroom. 


Ham, cheese and tomato chaparrita

As the bus backs out of the station, the second driver stood in the aisle, collecting tickets, noting phone numbers (emergency), ID #s (passports, in our case), and names.  I looked out the window at the Pacific Ocean methodically crashing its blue-grey waves on the shore.  This scene isn´t unfamiliar to me – driving south along a Pacific West Coast.  The sky is grey, fog still thick in the air.  It´s only 8:30 am.  There are tents set up on the beach, fishermen layng out the morning´s catch; the birds, gote, cormorrants, seagulls – the fishermen´s shadow, wait for a chance to steal a snack.  We drive along, the cormorants are perched on the tall white street lamps that line the boardwalk.  Every now and again the red head of a vulture appears, lifting itself from under his/her black wing.  There are more clam and mussel shells than there is sand on the beach.   It´s incredible, absolutely beautiful!  We pass the camelid pen: guanaco, and llamas hudled together, munching on hay.  They are perfectly groomed, unlike the ones you see out in the wild.  Their colors are magnificent, a soft cream color and another is deep chocolate brown.  On my right is the ocean and to my left the mountaneous desert. 

fishing boats, right outside of Iquique, heading south along the Pacific Coast

Pacific Ocean, view from bus, south of Iquique, Chile
more pretty ocean

A couple hours into the drive we stop at customs, we are heading south, deeper into Chile and I guess this is standard procedure.  We lined up with our luggage on a table and a custom´s officer, when she gets to me asks that I open my pack.  I unzip my beat up backpack and she lifts the top flap to reveal a plastic ziploc bag of electronics over my clothes.  “Gracias, mi amor,” as she squeezes my arm.  That was quick, I think to myself.  We are instructed to wait until the bus moves forward – the bus pulls up 10 meters, we board and are on our way.  Seemingly useless but whatever. 

We drop people off at Tocapilla, a coastal town in northern Chile and a woman climbs on the bus selling sandwiches.  “Palta, pollo, mayonesa” (avocado, chicken, mayonaise) she calls, “bebidas” (drinks).  The sandwiches are individually wrapped in celofan wrap and stacked neatly in a tupperware.  She sells them for 1000 Chilean pesos (2 US dollars).  A man in a butcher’s coat gets on the bus.  He had wavy salt and pepper hair that was combed back nicely, like Elvis’ but without the hair grease.  He had a huge underbite and his tongue peeked through a gap in his two front teeth.  He was carrying a weathered styrofoam box and was calling “empanadas al horno. pollo, carne, queso, pollo y queso” (oven fired empanadas. chicken, meat, cheese, chicken and cheese).  Also going for 1000 Chilean pesos.  He stayed on the bus when the bus finally took off and got off several blocks later at his bakery, this must be a routine.  

Los Andes

Eventually we make it to San Pedro de Atacama, a small town of about 5000 people.  It’s red adobe and just gorgeous.  It’s located in the Antafogasta region of Chile and is part of the Atacama desert.  San Pedro is known for desert sports like sand boarding and is a common jumping off point to other places around the desert like the Geysers de Tatio, Valle de la Luna, and Lagunas Altiplanicas.  More to come about San Pedro…

cute town of San Pedro de Atacama

adobe wall, with dried sticks and twigs built into the wall to keep people out of one’s yard

coppersmith’s shop, built around a tree 🙂

hello mountain, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

sunset in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

men having a beer at a restaurant in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

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