The Big Backtrack

Heading Home the Long, Hard Way

While we didn’t know all the facts and figures at the time, one year of travel involving a little over 40 substantial bus rides had educated us to the fact that the distance between Cartagena, Colombia and Santiago, Chile was VERY long. Whatever the numbers, it was well and truly understood we had one helluva big backtrack awaiting us.

A big backtrack home to the tune of 7,000 kilometers (nearly 4,300 miles) and most definitely long in bussing hours which came in at an ungodly 100. A little bit more than four entire days to get between points A and B and that was only if we didn’t intend to break such a masochistic run up with periodic stops en route. It simply wasn’t going to happen. We needed help.

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Finally, a flight. Yeah!!!

Help in the form of flights, our first of the entire year (except for our jaunt out to the Galapagos).

As such, the search for something resembling affordable internal South American flights was on with Bec assuming the role of diligent ticketing bloodhound for a solid three weeks. Three weeks of analysing, sizing up, comparing, interpreting and at times translating the sort of pricing rigmarole that makes bussing such an attractive option for the vast majority of South American locals and tourists alike.

Until eventually, victory was ours. Victory in the form of two sets of tickets between Barranquilla, Colombia, an eight hour layover in Bogota before a 2 a.m. arrival into Lima, Peru. Flights whose payments would require almost one full day of back and forth frustration due to various credit card issues. But more importantly, tickets for two flights that, while only slightly more expensive than bus tickets, would save us the butt numbing horror of 70 bussing hours.

So try, if you will, to imagine our incredulousness upon showing up for our first flight only to learn the reservation

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Flying in South America is “Bulls@#t”

had been inexplicably cancelled. And, better still, in order to make our connecting Bogota flight, buying another set of tickets at the counter and at double the price was suddenly necessary.

Now imagine having to plead and explain your case (all with printed out booking confirmation in hand) in a language not your own, the words bottled up in a backlog to the point you have to simply relent for fear of your head exploding.

Only three long days later would we get to the bottom of the saga of our disappeared tickets. In the end we’d be reimbursed for having been inexplicably left out of the loop of what was essentially a fraud protection plan gone awry on the part of our bank. Still, it’d be three days that would include a lingering bout of what would prove a week of flu-like symptoms for yours truly and a Lima hostel that, while clean, was void of air conditioning, was poorly ventilated and, in the end, little more than a four story, city sweat lodge.

It could only get better so it was with great joy that we’d board yet one more bus for an overnight, 18 hour run to the Peruvian border and, after various border crossing formalities, to the north Chilean city of Arica. It’d be there an AirBnB room awaited for what was supposed to be a three day reprieve before continuing south. Of course, reality had a different set of plans in store for us.

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Iquique waterfront

All starting with a taxi ride drop off to what would prove to be the wrong address. Followed by the kind help of completely random strangers with a ride to the correct address leading to a five story walk up to a miniscule apartment that was anything but what had been advertised. But the deal breaker was a balcony that had little more than a series of one foot high flower pots serving as a buffer between a ridiculously low and baluster-less railing.

Which is how, after a quick thanks but no thanks, another taxi ride (this one into a bustling downtown Arica) and two hours of completely fruitless door knocking for a budget hotel room that didn’t look like a crime scene decontamination and cleaning unit hadn’t only recently left, we’d stumble onto a friendly Argentinian couple that would virtually take us by the hand bail us out of our early evening predicament.

The room was far from perfect—hot, kitchen-less and almost twice what we were accustomed to paying—but it was

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Our Iquique lifesaver, Andrea

clean and had a decent enough wifi signal to accomplish our most pressing concern. That being quickly securing the next AirBnB room…somewhere. Anywhere. Anywhere so long as it was out of Arica, had a bus departing the following day and, more importantly was further south and a step closer to the promised land of Santiago.

A roll of the dice and a couple internal AirBnB messages later and, just

like that, Iquique, Chile would pop onto our radar. I-key-kay, a mere six hour bus ride south. A sprawling but manageable coastal city wedged between a cold and swell fuelled sea and, as is par for the course for much of southern Peru and the majority of northern Chile, a bleak, mountain desert landscape the color of sandpaper.

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AirBnB Santiago roof top.

It’d be here our luck would finally turn for the better in the form of a dwelling that we immediately recognized as a true diamond in the rough in terms of value, amenities and, most importantly, people.

Andrea and her husband Daniel and their two young boys were delightful and, really, just what the doctor ordered. So much so that, on only our first morning waking in our new home (the morning after a very late night wine tasting session with our new hosts), we quickly jumped at the opportunity to make Iquique our journey’s last stand by booking two more nights. We knew doing so meant a final direct 24 hour bus to Santiago, but it hardly mattered.

We’d seen more than our fair share of busses. One more was definitely not going to kill us and as such, we not only

could see the finish line, we could feel its tension against our chests as we pushed triumphantly acr

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Final South American Sunset

oss the line.

Twenty four hour bus ride be damned. Hell, we’d made it.

 

 

 

 

 

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  1. Cecelia March 28, 2017 Reply

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