Planet Hiker
2005-02-07 Welcome to San Pedro de Atocama, Chile

The buss driver announced that no fruits or any sort of plants are allowed and that at the border crossing ALL bags will be searched by the customs. I did not have any fruits but there was a bag of Coca leafs (fully legal to acquire in Bolivia) that was now feeling very heavy in my pack... Since there was no time for digging through the backpack, I tried to remember what Johnny Depp was saying to the customs officer in the movie Blow. But all I could remember was the scene where they were stashing the cache and there was no more space in the room for it.

When it was my turn, I placed the backpack on the table and opened the bottom compartment where the clothes were. The customs officer did not even bothered to look at the clothes (mental note for the future) and went straight for the other end, where I had a plastic bag with instant noodles along with the Coca leafs. As soon as he opened it, a strong aroma of Coca filled the room. He shuffled through the contents and wiped out a baggy with the raisins.

"What's this???" he asked with authority, looking at me over his glasses.

"RRRaisens", I replied cheerfully.

"Ahaaa..., OK, you can go" and that was the end of interrogation. Before he could change his mind, I hurriedly repacked and bolted towards the door. But just before I could make it out, a guard stepped in front of me, swaying his finger...

"The exit is that way" he pointed. Sure enough, the exit really was in the other direction.

So that was my welcome to Chile, the land of tall mountains, good vine and now, a little bit of Coca leafs. I was headed to San Pedro de Atocama, and on the same bus were two Brazilians, Marcus and Murillo, whom I met in Bolivia. They turned out to be a fun bunch to hang with. Both were just a bit older than I was, so they had a need to prove that they are still in shape given any opportunity of physical exercise.

On one such occasion, we were biking to the "dead sea simulation" (as Marcus liked to call it) - a swimming hole, heavily saturated with salt, about 26 kilometers away. We could have just taken it easy, enjoying the scenery while peddling down the road in a stunningly beautiful landscape. But there was no relaxing on this ride - Murilo kept a high intensity pace all the way to the finish line. By the time we reached the lake, we were drenched in sweat, thirsty and exhausted, yet we kept our cool - two beautiful French girls were there taking a swim. The Brazilians moved in immediately, as if the girls where waiting for them all along. They threw in jocks and funny stories yet despite all the charm, the girls maintained their distance. The only topic of conversation that the French awarded any reply was when it was about them. After 20 minutes of one-way questions the Brazilians did retreat, complaining mockingly - "First, we are going to talk about me. Then, we'll talk about what you think about me". Never the less, the swim in the lake was refreshing and that much we needed in order to get back to town, especially since we were covered in a layer of salt that made our shorts stiff like cardboard and our faces look like that of Japanese Geisha dancers.

Presenting Miki, Murilo and Marcus (photos are courtesy of Miki):