Our final bus ride was right on par with the rest of our experiences in Peru. We boarded the run-down bus for our 18-hour ride after paying our extra luggage fees and being reassured that nothing would be piled on top of our bikes. We watched as the bus stopped and picked up more and more passengers, each with a heap of crates, bags and boxes piles beside them. Within the first hour of the ride Mike was outside arguing with the bus loaders as he watched them stack more and more 50-pound totes of fruits, vegetables, cheese and various other wares on top of our bikes. Despite his efforts, along with the help of another Spanish-speaking passenger, he was told to shut up and get back on the bus.
We were beyond furious at this point and if someone would have stepped on board with 2 tickets out of South America to just about anywhere in the world, we would have taken them in an instant. We arrived here with open minds, willing and eager to experience and accept a different culture, but were so tired of being treated worse than the mangy, homeless, trash-eating dogs that roam the countryside, constantly being lied to, ripped off, given cold shoulders and fiery glares, that we were positive anywhere would be better than Peru. I don't know how long a person can endure that kind of life and unhappiness before forming an unchangeable opinion about a place or its people, but if we didn't get out fast, I was going to have one of those outlooks where I couldn't remember any of the great things about Peru, but only the bad that never seemed to end.
Miraculously, when we reached the border of Chile it was like we had entered a whole new world. It's amazing to me that we could cross over an invisible line and life would immediately change, but the differences were unbelievably apparent. The Border Patrols were friendly folks who wanted to chat with us, willingly offered us information about traveling in their country and reassured us that, unlike the corrupt law enforcement officials in Peru who could never be trusted, those in Chile took their jobs seriously and could always be turned to for help. There was not nearly as much garbage piled alongside the highways and the towns are much cleaner, nicer, and considerably more western-looking than those in Peru. There were much fewer people just sitting around. It baffled me in Peru how we could walk through a city and it seemed like half of its population was simply sitting idle, doing nothing, staring blankly into the void of space waiting for life to pass them by. Sure, we've seen a few of these people, but overall, people are moving, going places, living productive lives. Chileans seem more physically healthy, more social and much more receptive to outsiders. We see them out riding their bikes for fun, eating at restaurants with family and friends, talking, laughing and smiling amongst themselves and extending their words and smiles to include us as well. We no longer have to pay twice as much for a hotel or bus ticket, get stared at, whistled at, run off the sidewalks or feel like we're going to get robbed at every corner as we walk through towns. We feel like we're once again living amongst human beings and we're so relieved to be here.
Welcome to Chile!
So far the riding in Chile has been tough, but good. We are now in the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world. It is going to be a major test of our willpower to get through the next 1,500 miles as we make our way south towards Santiago. Our days are filled with hot, dry air, major mountain climbs and descents, horrific headwinds and not much to look at other than sand, rocks and more sand. We have to carry considerably more water and food with us here than we did in the US, as the towns are very infrequent, often times close to 100 miles apart. We have yet to see any animals, other than a few dogs that live in the villages we pass through and we occasionally see a shrub or two growing where there would be a river if it ever rained. We feel small here, like 2 specks of energy slowly passing through a landscape of death, so harsh, desolate and nonsupporting of life.
Mike climbing one of many desert mountains.
Cari, tuckered out, but still not to the top of the mountain.
Although it may sound horrible, being out here does not worry us. There are so many cars, semi-trucks and buses driving along this route that if we ever needed help, it wouldn't take long to find it. We have received more honks, thumbs-up, peace signs and energetic waves as if people have spotted a long lost friend in a crowd after not seeing them for decades, than you can imagine. Nearly every vehicle that passes gives us an affirmative sign and even though we're painfully and slowly grinding our way through this desert, we almost always have a happiness in our hearts and genuine smile on our faces, both of which have been absent for the past month. Cycling is good once again.
Strange, yet wonderful things can be found in the desert.