Bus Travel: Waving Down a Bus Outside the Atacama Desert

August 25, 2015
chile
Bus Travel: Waving down a bus outside the Atacama Desert in South America

During the past week, I have experienced numerous miracles. First, I got detoured in Puno and avoided serious civil unrest in Bolivia. Then I was able to reroute via Chile. When I arrived at a border town in Chile at 2 a.m. in the morning, I had no Chilean money and yet, the hostel took me in without questions. The miraculous part was that I was able to walk to the hostel from the bus terminal without problems. You see, the bus terminal is not open 24 hours a day and there were a number of homeless people staked out at the terminal. Petty theft is common according to the Lonely Planet guide.

Bus Travel: Waving Down a Bus Outside the Atacama Desert

The very next morning, with less than 5 hours of sleep, I was urged by my host to check with all bus companies to find a way to get out of Arica because the international services are infrequent . I got lucky because I met a very kind and smart agent at Geminis. He told me to check with another international service bus company. Both men checked and there was not one single seat. Then the Geminis agent went to a national service bus company and arranged for me to go to San Pedro de Atacama, a small town near the Chile/Argentina border. He said if I waved down a bus on the throughway and begged really hard, I might be to get on a bus to Salta or the nearby city, Jujuy.

I haven’t met one local who has been mean to me whereas many of the tourists from developed countries maintain this superior attitude towards the locals, especially the dark-skinned indigenous people.

I went back to the hostel and told the other tourists. They all thought that it was outrageous. I rested a bit more and visited the town centre. When I returned to the hostel after my extreme sightseeing in Arica, my host suggested that I might even try to hitchhiking, especially with a truck driver. When I was at the bus terminal waiting for my bus to San Pedro, some passengers told me that there was a 7.9 earthquake off the coast of Arica two days ago. Fortunately there were no substantial property damages and no human loss.

After a pretty rough night on the bus, I arrived in San Pedro at 9:50 a.m. We had to get off the bus twice during the night at two control points for drug trafficking. It was freezing cold outside even though we were travelling the desert region of Chile. I did what the kind man told me to do. I waved down a bus and the driver was very sympathetic after I explained to him that I had to catch a flight from Salta to Buenas Aires in a couple of days. I boarded an international bus without having to plead with the driver too much.

Bus Travel: Waving Down a Bus Outside the Atacama Desert

I sat with local people for all my bus trips and managed to talk to them through hand jestures and words common in both English and Spanish. I haven’t met one local who has been mean to me whereas many of the tourists from developed countries maintain this superior attitude towards the locals, especially the dark-skinned indigenous people. My local neighbours have always tried to help me along the way even though I do not understand them half of the time. I feel very blessed indeed.

Bus Travel: Waving Down a Bus Outside the Atacama Desert top photo credit:  Jenn_Dyer

About Rowena Wong

Rowena WongI started travelling when I was 18 and was biten by the travel bug ever since. When I was working full time, I used to spend a month every year to have whirlwind trips in different parts of the world. Since retirement in 2011, I have been revisiting my favourite places for more thorough exploration, and lead a more or less nomadic life six months in a year. I usually enjoy spring and summer in Vancouver, Canada.

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