El Norte Grande–what do you mean we owe you money?–Part 3

¡Hola todos!

To kick-off the third and final installment of my northern Chile adventure, I’m going to start with another how-I-(almost)-missed-the-bus story!

On  Thursday morning we left our hostel in Arica for the bus terminal a little later than expected. My friend (the one I was stranded in the desert with) and I were the first ones out of the hostel. Ironically, when we were about halfway to the terminal, I realized I had left my phone plugged in back at the hostel. I decided to go back and grab it while the rest of the group kept going. I ran–backpacking bag and all–to the hostel, got my phone, and ran to the terminal. I barely made it.

I later found out that the others, in order to buy me more time, tried all sorts of things to delay the bus’ departure. You know you have some bombass friends when they’re willing to act like idiot gringos to help you out. Mine walked in and out of the terminal, asking every attendant on the platform whether this was the right bus; they counted and re-counted the tickets (“Let’s see I have one, two, thr–…oops, silly me, I lost count, I need to start again…one, tw–…wait, are you sure this is the right bus?”); and pretty much didn’t board until I got there. I felt the love :) <3

After my heart stopped racing I was able to focus on the scenery outside. The ride to Iquique was beautiful. It struck me, probably for the hundredth time on this trip, that northern Chile has some incredible environmental diversity: deserts, geysers and alpine tundra, and beaches, all in a span of 265 miles (Chile’s widest point cuts through San Pedro and the Atacama desert). Crazy or what?! Driving into Iquique is a good example of this cold/hot, wet/dry paradox: we descended on road that zigzagged its way down a dry and dusty sand dune only to hit the beach a few miles later. Like I said, insane.

After running around for the past 7 days, we decided to take it easy for the remainder of our trip–this was a vacation after all! We unpacked our things at the hostel and then my friend and I walked around the city. Our search for a cafe led us to the boardwalk. Although it was cloudy, the weather was very pleasant. I was told by my host parents, who spent 4 years in Iquique, that the warm water and great waves attracted many surfers to the city every summer, and even now during winter we saw quite a few people surfing and bodyboarding. Their enjoyment was infectious; I decided to dip my feet in too! After walking around some more we finally found a cute little cafe, Doña Lucy’s Pastelería. The cake we had was good, but I was just really excited about getting free water.

Trying hard to contain the excitement, but it’s just too much!

Unlike restaurants in the States, you aren’t served water at cafes or restaurants in Chile–you have to order (and pay for) bottled water. If you really don’t want to pay for it, you could always ask for agua de llave, or tap water; (depending on the server and the place) they’ll bring it to you, albeit reluctantly. So I was happy to get some free agua (and we also got free refills!) haha :) My café helado was pretty scrumptious too! You don’t get iced coffees in California with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream in them, though you do in New Zealand right mom? ;)

Om nom!

Our second day in Iquique was really fun. Even though Arica was a beach city too I liked the atmosphere in Iquique much more. We walked up and down Baquedano, a large street that still had buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s in addition to open food markets and artisanal fairs. We stumbled across a book sale and I was in heaven–so many wonderful used books at reasonable prices (um, I rather not say how much I spent…)! Books here are super-duper expensive. I still haven’t figured out why, but that’s on my to-do list!

“The odd thing about people who had many books was how they always wanted more.”
― Patricia A. McKillip, The Bell at Sealey Head

After a late lunch we headed back to the hostel to relax. In the evening we cooked dinner (so delicious! I wish I had pictures…) and packed up our stuff since we were leaving for Calama (and Santiago) the next day.

Cue another harrowing we-almost-missed-our-bus tale!

So we were late to leave our hostel (sound familiar?) because we wasted time explaining to the guy on duty that we were supposed to get a discount. He said he didn’t know anything about that and since it was getting late we decided to just pay the regular price and leave. He calculated the total and, although it seemed much lower than what we expected to pay, we quickly gave him the money and ran out. Our original plan was to walk there, but since our bus was supposed to leave in 7 minutes we asked two taxis to take us to the terminal. My taxi reached first, and we were worried to see just one bus–not our bus–about to leave. The other taxi still hadn’t arrived, and we were hoping it hadn’t gotten lost. As the bus was backing out we asked one of the attendants whether there was another one coming in later. “What time does your bus leave?” he asked. “8:30. See, these are our tickets.” He told us that there were two bus terminals in Iquique and we had come to the wrong one. “But,” he continued, “the bus that’s leaving is your bus. It comes here first and then drives to the next terminal.” He stopped the bus for us and we got on. My friend called the other group and let them know we were coming to them (luckily they were at the right terminal).

We were congratulating each other on our narrow escape when my friend goes, “Hey, that guy running towards us kinda looks like the guy from the hostel…Oh shit, I think it is the guy from the hostel! Oh my God, did he run all the way here?!” All three of us looked out the window and saw a man running and waiving his arms trying to get the bus to stop. “What, no, why would he be here?” asked my other friend, “Unless…did he figure out that we didn’t pay him enough? Oh God!” After a lot of arm-flailing and pointing, the attendant had the bus driver stop the bus (again) and the guy from the hostel got on. In between gasping for air he explained that he miscalculated the total and that we still owed him $98. My friend had exactly that much on her (“Okay guys, now I really don’t have any money…”) and after handing it over to him he got off the bus and started running back in the direction of the hostel. We were too stunned to say anything for a few seconds, but then we, along with the bus driver and attendant, started to laugh hysterically. I mean, the poor guy running was such a sad yet funny sight (there should be a word for that), and we couldn’t believe what had just happened.

Thankfully there were no more incidents after this and we made is safely to Santiago later that night. I enjoyed this trip very much and wish I can make it up there again soon. Coming back “home” to Santiago, though, felt just as wonderful. After spending 9 days being actual tourists it felt good to return to something familiar. But see, I say things like that one minute and then the next I’m planning a trip to Argentina…Yes ma’ams and sirs, for my next traveling shindig I’ll be spending a week in/near/around Bue–wait. I want to keep this on the DL for now and I’ve already given away too much. Stay tuned for more updates! :)

In closer-to-home trip news, I’m hoping  to cross off another item on my South American bucket list this Friday: going snowboarding in the Andes! It’s a day-trip that a few of us are taking with the university and I’m excited to try my hand at it (I’ve only ever skied before). As my sandboarding experience won’t come in handy since the two are supposedly very different, wish me luck!

¡Chao for now!

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