10 Ways To Die Hitchhiking
I have 36 Argentina pesos (€6) to my name. I want to head north. So I make my signs: Feliz Navidad , Chile, Ruta 5 please etc etc… Time to hitchhike.
Here’s 10 ways I almost died whilst making my way to Northern Chile:
#1 Near Death Experience.
After missing the bus to Uspalata I take a local bus to southern Goody Cruz where I’m directed towards a gas station, then directed towards another gas station and once again directed towards another one all with my heavy 20kg backpack. I cross deserted landfill sites and rivers in the sweltering heat. The gas station that lies ahead is a blur. I swagger from side to side with the breeze from the fast moving trucks along the highway. Needddd water.
#2 Near Death Experience
# 3rd Near Death Experience
Using all our force and energy we roll the car back and forth once again, like a child drifting off to sleep. Its exhausting, and we have to be careful not to get run over. We use a dingy torch and my iPhone to warn oncoming traffic and signal for help. Eventually the car starts to work. We rush excitedly back inside. After a further 5 mins on the road we cut out again because of a slow moving truck in front of us. As we inspect the engine, the oil container explodes, spraying hot oil all over my face and ruining my already sweaty and dirty clothes. It burnnsss…
# 4th Near Death Experience
This time we now have no lights or electronics in the car. We manage to get started again but now I must hang my arm out the window holding my iPhone light as we battle to stay on course and simultaneously reverse the phone to alert the trucks behind. (We are literally driving a car thanks to Steve Jobs) We almost crash into the truck in front of us.
# 5 Near Death Experience
I close my eyes to hide from the realism that we´re probably gonna roll off the side of the steep Andes. This is where my life ends I remember thinking. We break down another few times before rolling down a hill in the middle of nowhere yet again. The fumes from the car are so strong and potent, we struggle to breath. But there’s no other option but to keep restarting the car in the hope we get somewhere safe. Alas, after many hours the couple give up and point me in the direction down a long dark road where some cabanas are (camping area). WHAT?!! They’re leaving me alone! So off I head with my backpack still using my phone to guide me down a path. The house dogs begin aggressively barking. I have little money to pay for accommodation and I don’t have a tent. The old man bargains with me and allows me to sleep in his shed where he keeps his motorbike for 30pesos, as long as I leave at 6.30am the next morning. I get no sleep as I toss and turn on the cold hard concrete, but look forward to sunrise.
Right on the button he wakes me up at 6.00 and demands me to leave. He offers me his bathroom to splash water on my face (gesturing hands towards face motion: that’s the signal for I need to clean myself) and off I go again. (I must look pretty homeless at this stage) No idea exactly where I am or which way I should go. Angry barking dogs that chase me help me with my indecisiveness and I pick up the pace down the road.
# 6 Near Death Experience
Beautiful sunrise scenery. Finally get picked up by my first truck driver Luis and his two buddies. He speaks no English but gestures to me he likes to drink when I say I’m from Irlanda. I struggle to make conversation with him for the 7 hour journey as you can imagine. We share lunch of pan (bread) and tomatoe as he jokes to his friends he’s actually planning to marry me. I laugh nervously. We pass border control and some awesome steep winding roads up and down the Andes. I struggle to stay awake but it’s rude to fall asleep so I engage in broken Spanish conversations along the way. He drops me off at gas station two hours away from Santiago in Chile. I later find a toll bridge where I assume I´ll find luck with my next hike. Within seconds I’m picked up by trucker number 2: Toothless Rodrego! He’s a sleazy smelly man with no teeth that beeps his horn at mildly attractive women walking along the sidewalks. Talks of wind turbines, Machu Pichu, bicycles times and music leave me baffled!?!? I continuously answer ‘Si Si‘ all the time. I notice he has no radio so enjoys my company even if it’s grunts and groans. His trucker radio makes high pitched alien sounds that become unbearable, as he tries to contact his other amigos on the radio. He tells me he´s not going all the way North and gets bored of me so drops me at yet another gas station where I devour a completo (hotdog with avocado). I manage to motivate myself to hitchhike again, along with some beggars and a poor family. They stare at me. I wonder who looks worse.
# 7 Near Death Experience
After 3 hours I´m rescued! But it turns out to be Toothless Rodrego again. Neither of us look happy to see each other. I’m annoyed, but he clearly feels sorry for me, but doesn’t like my constant ignoring and rudeness of my ‘no entiendo???‘ He drops me off again around midnight at a random desolate gas station where a group of Brazilians try to save me from death. This is really bad. I haven’t slept in two days, I’m surviving on caffeine from a bottle of coke and spoon fulls of peanut butter to keep my energy. This gas station is in the middle of nowhere and by the looks of it, its not even in operation.
# 8 Near Death Experience
I make friends with a gas station attendant who manages to smuggle me onto a convoy of new buses that are on their way from Santiago. The seats still have bubble wrap on them. The bus driver is completely complexed with my Spanish and doesn’t understand or care to make conversation. I manage to fall asleep! Not for long though as I’m suddenly awoken to be escorted off at a terrible dark bridge in La Serena (surf city) where I now have three options…
# 9 Near Death Experience
(a) I can stand by the side of the road looking for a taxi, and most likely get mugged under the bridge. (b) I could also consider sleeping in a nearby ditch with all my clothes on, but I decide it’s smells too much like cat piss. (c) I go with this option and start walking in search for help or accommodation. I find one fully booked cabanas who kindly direct me to another fully booked cabanas. However the owner speaks good English and manages to help me get a taxi to a nearby bus station where I can take out money from the ATM and get the fudge out of the city. At last, its 4 am, I´ve no energy and my back is killing me from carrying my backpack. My arms are shaking. I arrive at the bus station and happily book on the next bus to San Pedro de Atacama, another 13 hour journey on a bus. But HURRAH, peace of mind and no more hitchhiking.
# 10 Near Death Experience (well not so much near death but still)
A quick stop in Calama to stretch the legs, I decide to buy some bananas in a nearby supermarket during our refill and pee break. I almost miss the bus as it takes off in the distance. I run and run and manage to catch it while it stops at a traffic gate…exhausted.
Three unforgettable, dangerous and insane days later I arrive at the tourist trap of San Pedro de Atacama. The town in the middle of the Atacama desert. Supposedly the driest desert on earth…