I am horrible at getting up in the morning. Just ask my mom, who used to regularly pour glasses of water on me to get me out of bed, or my physics teacher who kept me out of detention all through high school by never reporting my daily tardies, or my roommates who have endured countless hours of me hitting the snooze every nine minutes. No matter what great aspirations I have the night before, come morning, nothing short of a miracle will get me to plunk my feet on the floor right after the alarm goes off.
This being said, at 6:30 in the a.m., I suddenly had very little interest in finding out if there was some miraculous Friday border bus available. I managed to drag myself to the phone in the hallway to call the company, but when they didn`t answer, it was right back to my nice saggy bed. I put a few more hours on the clock and headed back to heaven. The next time I awoke, I realized that tickets probably sell out fast being as there are so few departures. I called the company to find out just how fast, and they told me there were only a few seats remaining. I washed up as fast as I could under the dribble of water they called the shower and ran to change some cash. When I got to the station, they had four tickets were left for the Sunday salida. And, to my great disappointment, they also had a 7:00 a.m. Friday departure. Ack!
The woman who sold me my ticket was super nice, and very interested in hearing all about what it`s like to travel alone. She thought I should stay in a hotel closer to the station (I was six blocks away), but I told her I was paying less at my current abode. She wanted to know what it was like, and turned her nose up at the thought of sharing a bathroom with strangers. I realized that, in my country, I`d probably have the same reaction to the idea of staying in a broken-down hotel with saggy beds, creaky water pipes, dirty corners, and shared bathrooms. It was interesting for me to suddenly note my immediate dissolution of all expectations upon entering another culture. I mean, I already knew that I aspire to be open-minded, but it was funny to see just how clean I wiped the slate when I got off the plane in Buenos Aires. I have definitely seen a huge spectrum of places and lifestyles on this journey, thanks to my “go-anywhere, do-anything” attitude.
Because my bus ticket and three days of hotel had flung me well over my budget border-line, I prepared myself for some serious penny-pinching. I stopped at a fruit stand and bought up breakfast and lunch for the next two days. If you have to sustain yourself on fruit, avocados are more than tolerable! I headed for the plaza with the intent to read and journal away the afternoon (after all, it`s free!). The main plaza here is by far the prettiest I`ve seen in all of South America. There are fountains everywhere, climbing flower vines on trellises, an old clock tower, and excellent ambiance. Antofagasta is a great place to be stuck! The city has a great feel! It`s funny, because I wasn`t all that excited about coming here. The place is practically condemned by Lonely Planet as a chaotic and hectic stop-over, to be avoided if at all possible. Number one, that description doesn`t even come close to describing the city I experienced. Number two, since the world`s most popular guide book doesn`t recommend it, there are VERY few tourists there. It was so great to spend a few days feeling like a person instead of walking cash-machine. No tours, no craft vendors on every corner… what a breath of fresh air!
That evening, I went to the central market to try and find an empanada (meat in a sealed bread pocket) for dinner, but had no luck. On my way, I found a group of people setting up a stage in a public area, reminiscent of Pioneer Square in Portland. A concert! Awesome! I decided to buy dinner from the grocery store and then hurry back to see whatever it was the stage had in store. Winnie, a traveller and nutritionist from Canada whom I met a few weeks ago, had recommended the cheap dinner of tuna and salsa if I was ever broke and in search of a healthy meal. She swore up and down that the garlic and onion in the salsa killed the fishy-taste. Two dollars and twenty minutes later, I sat down in the square to watch the concert set up and try the tuna/salsa combination. One thing, though. I couldn`t find salsa at the grocery store (guess it`s a mexican/american thing), so I bought italian tomato sauce that had onion and garlic listed in the ingredients instead. I had some flat-bread to spread it on, and soon crunched into my first bite. Uhhh… okay. Not bad, honestly, but I wouldn`t really call it good, either. Maybe the salsa would make the difference. I`d be willing to give it another go if I found real salsa, but my advice as it stands it not to eat tuna and tomato paste on bread. Even if it only costs a dollar.
While I was eating, an little girl, age 8 or 10 maybe, approached me to find out where the strange woman with the bag of bread and cans of tuna, tomato paste in front of her was from. She also wanted to know if we had tomato paste where I came from, if I had a house in Antofagasta, and where I slept if I didn`t have a house. Her bold manner was adorable. Just like that, she took the hand of the little girl that had been trailing behind her and “ciao!” took off across the square. After feeding the tail end of one of my tuna/paste/bread concoctions to one of the many homeless canines, I took a walk and returned to find an orchestra warming up. Cool! The conductor talked so fast I could only catch every tenth word, and the sound system sounded like something from the 70`s, but it was really fun to be part of an audience at a cultural event. Antofagasta rocks! I love it here! I went to bed that night with the joy of knowing that, for the first time in my entire trip, I didn`t have to set an alarm! Wheee!
Saturday brought even more fun and relaxation. I really needed this break. Or, at least I am really enjoying it. After arising mid-morning, changing more money, and enjoying an avocado/tomato brunch to the sound of jazz on a pedestrian walk-way (this city is amazing!), I went to explore a new section of town. I ended up in a dead residential section, and enjoyed my banana/peanut lunch on the steps of a church. I wound my way back to the main thoroughfare (according to the map) keeping an eye of for internet and finally stumbled upon the park my guide-book had promised. I watched kids and their parents playing in the afternoon sun for awhile before pointing myself back in the direction of my hotel. Not two blocks later, the glint of the ocean caught my eye and I saw some of the biggest waves of my life rolling in from the vast Pacific, more green than I`ve ever seen ocean water before. I was immediately overcome with the joyous giggling and laughter that inevitably accompanies the first sighting of the ocean waves (at least in my world). I watched, almost mesmerized, as corny as that sounds, as the green slowly darkened almost to blue right before the wave crashed onto the rocks and sometimes up and over the short concrete barrier between the sidewalk and the ocean. I wanted desperately to stick my toes in the sparkle and glitter, but the waves pounding the rocks not ten feet from my post on a wagon-wheel bench kept common sense close at hand.
After I got my fill of Chile`s ocean beauty, I made my way to one of the loudest internet cafÃ¨s yet, a result of the proprietor playing internet war games. His computer was connected to the surround-sound. Cool. I was craving food, and let myself get talked into buying a churro full of dulce-de-leche (caramel) in the main square. I knew it was a mistake by the third bite, but I kept right on crunching because of this weird psychology I have about not wasting food or money. I procured dinner, yogurt, avocado, and some bran cookies, and then went to catch up on my journal entries only to find that the website was down. Horrible timing! Finally I have the opportunity, when I can`t afford to do anything else, to catch up on my entries and I get shut down. Ack!
I walked the streets nursing my growing belly ache. Bastard churro! Or maybe it was my over-consumption of avocados. That can`t really be good for you. Despite my digestive issues, I managed to enjoy the awesome vibe of the evening there. Because of siesta, people are on more similar evening schedules. The whole town was out in droves! It felt like the county fair or something, with everyone wandering around and all the shops open at 8:30/9:00 at night. People milled about chatting and laughing and I just soaked it all up. I think in the states, we all start our days on basically the same schedule, but there is no official cultural pace. So, come 4:00 in the afternoon, some people are dying to call it a day, some people are just eating lunch, and a few oddballs are just getting up. The only time I`ve ever seen anything that compares to this kind of social situation is the Main Street Festival in Gillette in July, or the Saturday Market in Eugene. But it`s like that every day here! Neat!
I`m going to bed early tonight so that hopefully the morning won’t be such a struggle. I absolutely cannot miss my bus tomorrow!