On a group bus tour of backpackers, I immediately adopted the roaming, nomadic lifestyle which includes battling to be the first to run in the dorms to snag the best bed, re-discovering the muscle memory employed when taking effective cold showers, the inevitable wearing of dirty-clothes consistently (just use the sniff test), eating petrol-stop ice cream bars (which I am confident had nothing to do with my vacation weight gain), passing out the ear plugs due to the dolby digital surround-sound snoring from multiple culprits, and sleeping in hostel rooms with swarms of bugs. Cheers to that.
On the bus, everyone was on his or her own schedule of napping, spending hours lost in the magic of mp3 players, or scrounging around to find that last package of junk food from the previous petrol stop. Off the bus, if we weren’t in the middle of some adventurous, outdoorsy activity, we would fill our time with a mix of the following: bonding over crazy travel stories, figuring out some new shenanigan, or just hanging out and getting to know one another.
The only thing more fun than being on an amazing, active adventure exploring some of Chile’s great natural wonders, is doing so with fun-loving, ballsy, hilarious, like-minded adventurous people. Our trip consisted of a handful of travelers, all at different points in longer journeys with both radiant energy for fun and fantastic stories from other destinations along the way. About half of our tour group was somewhere in the middle of round-the-world journeys. I was the only American, but there were a few Canadians, Australians, English, Dutch, and a Brazilian outside our tour guide and driver, both Chilean and an absolute blast. Early on, I made a couple strong friends with whom I would hang out with the most. However, the cool thing of being in a group of 15 is that everyone really does everything together and you get to know each individual.
What surprised me most was the balance in activity; typically, tours have the people who want to party every night, and the people who want to stay in every night. With our group, the moods transferred from one to another, and be it a quiet night sharing a communally prepared meal and chatting about education and career prospects, or going out and partying it up until 4am, our respective moods and motivations were on par with one another nearly every night.
We had the usual suspects on any tour group: the fun ones, the annoying ones, the cranky one you stop bothering with, and the cute ones. It was great.
Six Days through Chile
While the group was chill while on the road, we were all ready for the next stop, the next activity, the next fun thing.
Day One: Antofagasta to San Pedro de Atacama
On my first day, we were headed into the Atacama desert to visit the salt flats which was only a few hours away. Once the salt has been mined for all the chemicals and substances, it is discarded in one place, which over time has developed into a salt mountain. We climbed up the side of it, and while it wasn’t too difficult, it certainly got the heart rate going and all the loose chunks quickly slid down leaving any exposed skin thoroughly exfoliated. In the late afternoon we visited the flamingo reserve to watch the desert sunset before rolling into San Pedro de Atacama for two nights. That night we all went out to dinner and enjoyed the lovely, 2-for-1 all-night happy hour on selected drinks. And being partial to sampling cultural delights, I had my fair share of Caipirinhas, a Brazilian drink. As the night went on, we found ourselves at a large, round table all with a 3-drink head start on a fun evening. Before we know it, Ian is explaining the infamous “handslap” game. All with our hands on the table, left hand on top, right on bottom, we went through the rules. Different numbers of handslaps can continue the sequence, skip a hand, or change direction. When you mess up, you drink. And when you keep messing up, you keep drinking, and then…. It can get a little ugly [hilarious]. After we were all sufficiently drunk, we headed back to our hostel, to share beers around the campfire, chat about travels, practice the dirty Spanish phrases I taught everyone, and discuss names for our new-found friend stray dog (we ultimately decided upon Bobby Red).
The Funniest Part
Trying to finagle the extra beers from one of our travel companions who was asleep as he had to get up at 4am to see the geysers. After a few of us tried waking him up to coax more beer, we were all unsuccessful, and such began a bit of a dramatic episode in the group and a unique display of questionable interpersonal skills...alas, there is always excitement in every group travel situation! For some reason he didn’t appreciate each of us waking him up. Still can’t figure out why…it seemed like such a good idea at the time.
Day Two: Day in San Pedro de Atacama
(this was also the day I received the email from Dave letting me know he crashed my car while I was away…)
While the morning was slated for visiting the geysers or doing other activities, a few of us slept in. In the afternoon, we went out to the Salt Caves to do some exploring and a bit of rock-climbing. Here I realized that hanging on to my turf shoes in lieu of trainers was indeed a good idea! Parts of the caves are indeed made of salt and when you put your headlamp up to it, a large area will glow. After the caves we went to climb up a huge sand dune to watch the desert sunset on the mountains. Again, talk about a workout—I felt like I was at St. Helens again (but this time without crawling into the fetal position, thank you!). The top was breezy, but incredible!
That evening, we were all still up for a good party. We started at the fun happy hour restaurant, hit up a local bar, and then left at 1am with everyone to head to a private party. In this case, private party meant a one-room studio with little more than a bedroll on the concrete floor, with all the guests sitting and chatting in a whisper so the landlord wouldn’t hear and bust it up. I had a great time practicing my Spanish and Swedish, as we made friends with a couple Swedish girls who were there. The night went on, meeting new people from all over the world, all passing around one cup where I had mixed pisco and Pepsi. I am cringing just thinking about it—I had a bit of a rough night. It was one of those “who’s puking now?” nights. More like, “who’s dry-heaving out of the bus window the following morning?” nights. I am not proud of that one, and it is a fact that I stayed away from alcohol for the next few weeks.
The Funniest Part
Day Three: Travel day from San Pedro de Atacama to Pan de Azucar
After having Lucy wake me up, I packed my things as fast as I could and boarded the bus. I overdid it the previous night and was feeling like 1.) I got hit with a freight train 2.) my body was ready to refute any substance I opted to ingest, as well as refute in general, without substance 3.) I was way too old and responsible to be this hungover. After a tasty sandwich, some water, and potato chips, the hangover cleared and I was feeling rockstarish once again. That day we drove south to Pan de Azucar where we camped on the beach. While I am a fan of camping, freezing cold weather does not a fun camping trip make, but I toughed it out without a problem. Our Australians Kym and Chris cooked up a FABULOUS curry that night for everyone to share. We left early in the morning, all feeling a little less-than-rested but me (thank you Thermarest! I knew I was carting it around for a reason!!!).
The Funniest Part
Day Four: Pan de Azucar to Vicuna
The fourth day was also a travel day—I think I was going through a set of AAAs on my mp3 player each day. We were headed south again, toward the Elqui Valley. We arrived in the evening, just in time for me to get a—gasp—hot shower and leave for the Planetarium. I fully admit to being an astronomy dork, so I had been looking forward to this the whole trip. It was great, but also soooooo cold. What is with this country? Oh right, it’s winter… We first went up to the main telescope to view Saturn and Jupiter, the only planets viewable this time in the season. After that, we went downstairs to receive a rather odd presentation, and then outside to see more stars and parts of the galaxy from the smaller telescope. Two thumbs up, but go during a warmer season.
The Funniest Part
One by one dropping out of the planetarium tour to wait it out in the bus because we were dying of frostbite.
Day Five: Day in Vicuna
While there were some local tours planned for the day, our tour guide was so sick she needed to go to the doctor. In the end, we had a chill day writing emails, backing up photos, going out for meals, and taking naps. There was a nasty flu bug going around that was taking people down one-by-one, so we were all hitting the vitamins hard and trying to have as much juice as we could get our hands on. That evening we went out for a nice healthy dinner together and a few of us came back to our dorm to watch a movie on TV.
The Funniest Part
“This looks like shit. Smells of shit!” James enunciated loudly to the lady who washed his clothes. They came out covered in mud and dirt—way worse than when they put them in. Liz had to come and explain in Spanish.
Day Six: Travel into Santiago
The last day of the tour was a travel day. We made a stop in the Fray Jorge National Park, which featured a small rainforest climate up on the top of the mountain, overlooking the water. The bus twisted and climbed to the top (not without me getting a little nervous from problems in previous mini-bus trips), and we all piled out for a little nature walk to enjoy the scenery. The last day in the bus was full of passing around journals to get each others’ email addresses, chatting about upcoming destinations, and relaxing to the varied music mix on Lucy’s iPod. I seem to recall a heart-felt sing-along to Elton’s Tiny Dancer. We said our goodbyes, and such ended yet another segment of my trip.
The Funniest Part
After Dave went on and on about his “famous” hat—the one he explained was so famous because it made itself on the news (while on his head?) and was one of his most important possessions—he managed to leave it behind on the bus.
I was in Santiago for 4 nights with a couple awesome people I met on my tour. I didn’t do a lot of sight-seeing while I was there, but the little I did, I realized I didn’t miss anything! We did enjoy the Champion’s League finals with nearly everyone else in our hostel....and a package of cookies! Bummer for Liverpool.