This is were it all gets interesting, and I start to feel like a real traveller !!!
05.12.2008 - 05.12.2008
Friday 5th December
Okay, up and out of the hotel in La Paz no problem ; everything going smoothly - got checked in at the Airport and my 2 bags safely through without any hassles. Then when my hand luggage was scanned the woman on duty decied to go through it with a fine toothcomb. Id stupidly put all my pills and tablets in a carrier bag and she went through each one looking at them as if they were illegal contraband. Mental Note - always pack medicine in luggage from now on !!!
Me and the remaining 6 Aussies were all getting the plane from La Paz to Iquique in Chile before we went our seperate ways. I was heading by bus ( hopefully) to Calama whilst everyone else was going on various planes down to Santiago. Jan, Chris, Yvonne and John were all supposed to be stuck at Iquique for a few hours so I thought I had company for a bit. But as we were queuing up for passport control, they were all offered the option of changing their tickets for an earlier flight - and they were wheeked out of the queue and rushed through.
I was left like a numpty, then the customs guy started asking me in Spanish for some form that I hadnt filled out. I kept saying I didnt understand - which fell on total deaf ears until out of sheer frustration he got one of his colleagues to fill it out for me.
Then I had to try and negotiate getting into Iquique town centre ( its 40 km from the airport). Jan was waiting to give me a quick goodbye so I didnt feel totally abandoned but I didnt really get a chance to say bye to any of the rest of them. NO ONE spoke english - really dont think I had expected this, and the airport was very basic.
Finally got someone who would take me to the TUR bus depot in town for US$20 - to be honest Id have paid 5 times that !!
Iquique is a strange town/city - as we drove in I kept thinking if you squinted your eyes a little it could almost be California ; beautiful beach, promenade and lots of locals in board shorts and flip flops. Oh yeah, and it was scarey hot !!! Amazing that just a 45 min flight between countries and it felt like I was in a different continent. Very much a Western european feel to the town -well, what I saw of it anyway. The TUR bus station was at the far end of Iquique, quite a nice building - but suprise suprise no-one spoke English and I had to rely on Angus's little phrase book to get over the hurdle of ordering a ticket to Calama. I thought Id done reasonably well and gotten a ticket for a bus, only it was the wrong time and when I tried to change it I was told briskly to hand over yet more money. Ridiculous, especially when I'd had so much hassle trying to book online or with help from both Enrique and Allessandro on the phone at different points of the trip. Not impressed !!
Anyway, with the job completed I decided to put my bags into left luggage ( another job and a half explaining how long I wanted them to be kept for) and go for a wander along the beach front which Id seen on the way in ( I had 2 hours to kill ). Had a really nice walk - no-one blinked an eyelid as I strolled along looking like a total tourist - didnt see another European at all. Got back to the station without getting lost but started to realise that my little stroll had managed to get me totally and utterely sunburnt on my face and neck. I looked a total sight !! Mad with myself as Id been so careful with sunblock all the way through Bolivia and Peru.
The bus journey between Iquique and Calama takes around 7 hours, so I bought what snacks I could find at the bus kiosk ( very expensive !!) and boarded the bus. Very comfy and although it was a bit hot I thought things were looking up.
Wrong wrong wrong !!! Got hotter and hotter as we drove slowly out of town, then the videos went on - a shocking Latino gangster film called 'Daddy Yankee' ( nothing but gratutious violence and lots of spanish screaming!!!), and it played at full volume so I could even hear it over my Ipod.
[ Oh, and just incase anyone is inetrested the 3 most played things on my Ipod so far this trip are as follows ;
1- Dance Floor Whore - The Dance Floor Whores , 2 - God Only Knows -El Perro del Mar and 3 - James Morrison's newest album. That album in particular will always remind me of the bus journey to Calama as I was blasting it to drown out everythinge else !!]
That was followed by the most ridiculous Chilean comedy act called Cementario Pal Pito ( think it means grave yard palpitations if you translate it literally !!). I swear, it was anything but funny - stupid, dated humour and two idiots dressed up. Of course, the rest of the bus ( I was the only foreigner on the coach) loved it. And joy of joys ...we got 4 volumes of the stuff as we travelled along the coast to Tocopilla. I was almost going insane.
Earlier, Id drifted off to sleep only to be rudely awakened by the bus conductor shouting at me ; everyone else was off the bus with their bags getting their stuff checked at a border patrol. Apparently they check buses and cars regularly as they move between regions in Chile because the zone where Iquiue is hosts a huge duty free shopping zone ( Zofri). No-one told me !!!! More to the point no-one told me what was happening so I felt like we were being stopped by the Gestapo !!
By this stage all my snacks were finished ( including the freebie ones from the bus conductor) and I was starving - although I didnt want to risk eating the empanada's that local women kept coming onto the bus to sell everytime we stopped somewhere. The smell became quite intoxicating actually.
After Tocopilla the scenery became non existent ; we stopped at Maria Elena ( a small nitrate mining town, but it was too dark to see anything).
Finally arrived in Calama around 10.20pm, and a woamna called Mol from the hotel was waiting for me in a jeep with a lovely placard. Never been so glad to see anyone in my life LOL !! We had a 70 minute drive from Calama to San Pedro, during which Mol stressed how stupid she thought I was for busing it. Probably agree with that one to be honest. Couldnt see much but enjoyed the conversation.
Finally arrived at San Pedro de Atacama around 11.30pm with Rodrigo, the hotel manager, waiting for us in the street. He was lovely and showed me to my room, even making sure I had a sandwich and something to drink. very classy service !!!
Well, I may have been shattered and desperate for my bed but the minute I saw my room I came to life ...just amazing. Wont go on and on about it here ( cause it will make me seem sad !!) but lets just say that it knocked spots of anything else Ive ever stayed in, and that was before I saw the outside shower.
For those who havent seen the hotel libk here it is www.awasi.cl - and believe me, its ten times better in real life !!
Certainly made the journey worth it !!!!