It’s always the unexpected change in plans that are the best part of travel. It’s so common it sounds like a cliche.
Our plan was to visit a giant cross. Every night in La Serena, we go down to the beach and watch the sun set behind a giant cross up on a hill. Every night we say, “We really should go over and check out that cross.”
Our guidebook explains that it is the Cruz del Tercer Milenio in the nearby town of Coquimbo. Our guidebook also says it’s open until 10:00pm every night.
So, last night we drove over to check out the cross. Coquimbo is a port town built into the hills. It was only a few minutes away by car, but it had a completely different feel than La Serena.
After driving through town, out of town, and up a hill, then walking several blocks we found the cross to be closed.
So, we did the next best thing, or maybe something even better. We walked around town. Maybe it was the time of day, or just the town, but there was such a peaceful feel to the streets. Kids talked to us, dogs stared at us, and adults smiled when we walked by.
I love taking photos of houses and doors. It was almost like the dogs were purposely posing for me. A few cats and kids were also ready for a closeup.
If we had planned to take dog photos in Coquimbo I’m sure either they wouldn’t have been out, or they would have run away or something. Sometimes you can’t plan it, you just have to let it happen.
We also ran into this group of kids who asked us our names. Jeff they could handle but Sheryl was not only impossible for them to say, it was hysterically funny to them.
I hate rain. I don’t like thunderstorms, drizzle, sprinkles, mist, or showers. So, after 2 months in Salta during the rainy season, a Chilean desert sounded like a good change.
Everything started well enough. Our landlord Bernardo drove us to the Salta airport. Getting Jeff’s bike suitcase into the car was hard.
But it fit and after some hefty luggage overage charges we flew to Iquique, Chile without problems. When we landed we weren’t allowed off the plane until someone came through the aisles to disinfect us with a can of insecticide.
Iquique is in the NW part of Chile. It is on the ocean, but is also on the outskirts of the Atacama desert, the driest place on earth.
The beach was beautiful and the town was full of brightly colored houses against sand dunes. Being an old mining town it felt like the old west.
We stopped at the bus station and asked about leaving for the city of Antofagasta the next day. There were many buses with quite a few seats on each one. They weren’t sure if all our luggage would make it on the bus which caused me hours of anxiety, but Jeff assured me that with buses leaving hourly, surely one of them could take our luggage.
We left the bus station and got an Iquique beer.
The next day we got to the bus station with all our luggage and what do you know, all the buses were sold out. Why didn’t we buy the tickets the day before when we were at the station? Good question. This is why we can’t be on the show Amazing Race.
Another day in Iquique would have been fine except we had a non-refundable hotel and flight out of Antofagasta for the next day. I stayed with the luggage while Jeff went on a reality TV type “challenge.” Find us a way out of town. Two hours later he returned with Chilean cell phones for both of us and a rental car. Maybe he could be on Amazing Race.
The drive from Iquique to Antofagasta was amazing. For seven hours we had the coast on one side and dry desert on the other. Besides a few small mining towns along the way there was no signs of life. No trees, grass, tumble weed, birds, nothing. This desert never gets rain, N-E-V-E-R. Entire years go by with no rain. After 17 years in Seattle and 2 months in Salta during the rainy season, this seemed like a great place to live.
The first two hours were breath taking. Driving this close to the water for hours reminded me of Caramel, CA. I was ready to move here. Hours three and four were still beautiful but, I realized that perhaps no plants and animals lived here because there was no rain. And land without plants or animals is kind of stark.
We stopped for lunch in a tiny little mining town where this stray puppy sat by our table. He would have been cute no matter what, but after 4 hours driving in the desert without any sign of live he was especially adorable.
After six hours of driving I half expected a spaceship to land next to the car. So much land without plants and animals started to feel like the surface of Mars.
It started to feel like a highway treadmill, no matter how long we drove there was just blue ocean on one side, and dry, brown sand on the other. Once in awhile we’d see a small town flash by in the rear-view mirror.
It’s amazing to see these small towns and some really really poor people living with an amazing view, but hard hard landscape.
Then at almost the end of the drive we came across this cemetery.
We drove right by it at first and had to do a double take. It was shocking to see this cemetery with all wooden grave markers in the middle of nowhere.
It was a far cry from the elaborate cemeteries we had seen in Buenos Aires. It was eerie to see these wooden, weather beaten graves in the middle of such lifeless desert.
Then, after 7 hours, we made it to Antofagasta, We made the flight the next day and landed in La Serena. We both were relieved to see some grass near the runway.