By Neil Bamfroir
Today I experienced anger and happiness in one fail swoop. Chilean style. It was weird, and here it goes.
After spending two great weeks in San pedro, and Bolivia. Soaking up the unearthly lunar desert landscapes, mixed with llama’s, flamingoes, and Huge salt flats, I decided it was time to roam further a field and this time to go right north to near the Peruvian border to Arica.
I climbed on the cool bus, from the hot, small, dusty, but welcoming terminal of San pedro, to go to Calama to get the overnight bus to Arica.
Il be truthful that I’m not a fan of Calama. Its a hot, dusty mining town, that has some good shops, and restaurants, but that’s it. It seems to be a place to pass through, not necessarily visit, and seems to be where most miners spend their time, boozing, gambling, and whatever -ing they want to do. Ha.
I ended up sharing the bus with a lot of locals, a French couple , who sat at the front, wilting, and I sat at the back, near to a travelling salesman in his White baseball cap, and pink company t-shirt. He looked rather more like a holiday goer then a business kind. His name was Igwaci, and I could tell he was keen to speak to me, since he kept winking.
Once upon a time ago, for my shame, I would have tried to ignore him, but nowadays I relish trying my crap spanenglish. And the nice people you meet on a daily basis is astonishing. Maybe its the beard.
Anyway we chatted throughout the entire journey. He was from Valparaiso. He was 47 years old. He had a lovely family. He loved Chile, but disliked all the political stealing, corruption, expensive education. Lack of free health care. Lack of a good pension, and disturbingly that disabled people are a hidden population, that receive hardly any benefits from the state, other than what they receive from the yearly telephone.
The state of Chile’s current political situation doesn’t bode well, since the el Presidente Michelle Bachelet, has only a 20% of support from the public, and her son has allegedly stolen a lot of money, and is mired in scandal.
I knew about a lot of this, but when you hear about it on a daily basis, from hard working, almost middle-class people, then you know its bad. These people are being screwed and no one is there to help.
Imagine it happening in the UK. The unions would have a thing or two to say about that!
So, an hour and a half later, I left the bus, slightly dejected and deflated, onto the hot streets of Calama. Alongside a disoriented couple of young American women. I presumed that the bus would drop us off at the main bus terminal, but instead it dropped us off at the Pullman terminal further down town.
Well not to worry, I thought. I grabbed my two bulging bags, and guitar, and asked the two Americans if they wanted to share a taxi. The said yes, so we took our luggage and walked a bit further down to the main street.
The street was bustling, and there was plenty of traffic , and collectivo’s, and taxis of many shapes and sizes, so this should be a doddle, I thought.
Before one of the American’s had stuck out her thumb, a battered black cab pulled up, ready for service. The old man got out of his taxi energetically, and then stood on the street smiling and asking where we wanted to go. I wanted to go to the bus turbus terminal, to book my ticket for Arica, and the girls wanted to go to Hostel America. Just a couple of streets behind. So 2-3000 pesos max I thought. He shook his head and pointed, saying 3000 per drop off. This was a five minute journey, not to the airport, but he argued it was far, and eventually he got to 5000.
He loaded the bags into the car, while I was still arguing about the price. Well I am from Yorkshire, and we’re as tight as a nats purse up North.
After a further discussion, he held up his hands, shook his head, and then carefully unloaded the bags back on the street, shouted, and drove off!
Well, to be honest, I wasn’t too bothered, since I thought he was charging far too much, but the poor American girls were stunned.
But as soon as the taxi had driven off, almost immediately after, a large, blue 4×4 pick up, stopped dead in the middle of the cross roads ahead. The driver reminded me a bit of a tanned Lorne Greene from Bonanza, and beckoned for me to approach. The traffic behind him started hooting, but he ignored them as he waited patiently for me to arrive. He smiled like he didn’t have a care in the world, and then in a calm, quite voice said hi, and did we want a lift?
Immediately I said yes, and threw my bags in the back of the pick up, and shouted back to the American couple to do the same.
30 seconds later we were driving towards the terminal, while I was trying to explain what happened. He laughed a big friendly laugh, and said many taxi drivers are greedy, and introduced himself as Manuel, and it was a pleasure.
In that moment, Calama became such a nicer place, and I saw it filled with nice people. Not just drunk miners and yobs. The sun shined a little brighter as well.
Later on I had so much chicken at a local cafe, that I nearly burst, and managed to drop my bags at a local policeman’s house, for a few hours, Herman, who had a lovely house and family, and shower curtain of the Eiffel tower.
So from now on, if anyone asks about Calama, Il say. Yes, Calama, its a town of miners, shops, and some great folks too. Honest, and hard working.
If you don’t know, then you’ve never been picked up off the streets!
Now. Off to Arica for Sun, sea and Mummies!
– Neil Bamford is from Yorkshire in North England. He is traveling around Chile to experience the sights, food, people and breathtaking scenery. He loves to share his stories to encourage more people to travel this way.
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