“I’ll fly with the same clothes tomorrow. I should be okay wearing shorts, right?”
“Yeah, probably won’t be cold.”
I love how reliable the weather is in Santiago. You get up and it’s sunny, not a cloud in the sky, very little chance of rain—I mean, I heard Here comes the sun in a store the other day and I laughed because it means nothing here, the sun is always here. It goes up to 30ºC during the day and it’s slightly cooler at night. It’s not humid like in Brazil but dry and occasionally comfortably breezy. When it’s “rainy” and “cloudy”—note the use of quote marks here—you can still see some blue sky and you get three drops of water for about ten minutes, like on New Year’s Eve. I mean, we’re not talking extreme weather conditions here.
The downside is the blinding sun. No wonder there’s an entire street—calle Mac Iver and yes, I hum the MacGyver theme song every time—is dedicated to sun glasses and eye exams.
This was my plan that morning: get up, finish packing, take a taxi to the airport, check in, board the plane, sleep for the entire two-hour flight and wake up somewhere in the desert. Once again, I had gone to bed way too late. I needed these two hours of sleep.
And so we packed, checked out and hopped into a taxi.
I closed my eyes hoping to add the thirty-minute ride to my hours of sleep, but the driver was the chatty kind.
“Where you guys going?”
“I’m going on holidays too next week.”
My Canadian small talk training took over and I felt compelled to keep the conversation going. Plus, the driver sounded genuinely excited.
“Where are you going?”
“Are you Peruvian?”
“Sí, por supuesto, soy peruano.”
Duh. Of course. Half of Santiago seems to be from Peru (working in Peruvian restaurants, the best gastronomic experience around), Colombia (working in bakeries selling delicious fried and cheesy stuff), Venezuela (working in hair salons or beauty parlours) and from the Caribbean.
“How long are you going for?”
“A month. See…”
The taxi driver played with his phone, full speed on the freeway, and retrieved what looked a booking confirmation.
Just in case I thought he was lying, I guess, he showed it to me.
“Cool! Do you have family over there?”
“Wife, daughters, parents, dogs…” he laughed.
“Ah, so I’m sure you’re happy to see them.”
“Yeah, but my girlfriend is pissed.”
“… of course.”
I’m French, no need to explain any further. Our presidents have mistresses too, it sounds awfully stressful. I get it.
“She’s Colombian,” he added, grabbing his phone again. “See… this is my wife, my daughter… and here’s my girlfriend.”
He pulled out a picture of them taken at a party. “Dude, make sure to clean up your phone before you go see your wife,” I wanted to say. “And also, maybe keep your eyes on the road!”
“Has your wife ever been to Chile?”
“Yeah, but she didn’t like it here. Too liberal for her. She went back to Peru.”
We arrived at the embarques nacionales before I could get more details about the taxi driver’s busy sex life.
Once upon a time, which is about ten years ago, we took the bus from Peru to Santiago. It was a long and boring ride across the Atacama Desert, the kind of trip you take because you have to get from point A to point B. Now, thanks to budget airlines, we can actually fly from Santiago to El Norte Grande. It was a tempting detour.
In Chile, you land in Santiago and then you go North or South. There’s no East, really, and there is no West either unless you include Easter Island which is technically West but also fucking far and in the middle of nowhere. North it would be, The Atacama Desert we wanted to see.
“Sky is a pretty good name for an airline,” I noted in the lineup. “I mean, if the name had been ‘Water Airlines,’ I’d have been a bit paranoid.”
I’m like Mark—when I’m tired, I’m stupid and annoying.
I really needed to sleep.
Despite no leg room, a thirty-minute delay and the lack of on-board movies (get over it, Mark!), Sky Airlines did the job. The best part of budget airlines? Since they don’t have a free drink and snack service, you can actually pass out in your seat and sleep, which I did.
I woke up twenty minutes before landing, as we were flying over a lunar landscape. Sand, mountains of sand, roads in the sand—yep, we were almost there. Suddenly, I saw something deep blue. Would it be the coast? There was no buffer between the sand and the sea—just a strange meeting of the two.
The plane started to descent and I spotted Antofagasta. Well, it had to be anyway, there was no other sign of civilization around.
We twisted and turned, flying over the Pacific Ocean, then over the desert, then the over ocean again and just when I thought we were going to land in a random place in the desert—I was already planning to eat Mark’s meaty legs to survive—the pilot found the runway and we bumped several times against the asphalt.
We’re taking a little detour in the Atacama Desert, the world’s driest desert. We’re checking out Antofagasta, port city and a major mining area.