Chilean Iron-Ore Miners and the Peculiar Miracle of the Little Red House

Salta, Argentina

This past week has been, without a doubt, the most exciting, crazy and terrifying week of my journey so far. Where we last left off, I was in La Punta, Perù, with a really nasty sunburn…

After limping back to my hospitable Peruvian friends’ house, I had a few meals and administered the healing aloe vera juice to my entire body. Soon after, I went to bed, and the next day, I departed for Chile around noon.

I soon found myself in a big rig motoring south through the desert. The mammoth engine moaned and the gears ground irritably as we went up and down hill after hill. Soon, we arrived to the small town of El Alto. Here was my stop, so I got out and walked for a bit, still rather stiff from my sunburn. After a few minutes another semi picked me up, this one taking me several more hours south to Moquegua. By this time, it had gotten dark, but that was all right, as I was planning on pulling another all-nighter, the Chilean border being my goal.

I started walking through the town, my thumb out, and soon found myself in the back of a pickup cruising through the town. The driver dropped me off at the bus station (something that happens often) and, since I had absolutely no idea where exactly I was, I queried a few female police officers as to the location of Panamericana Sur and Chile. I was greeted with much confusion (¿Panamericana Sur? ¿¿Caminando??) and when they asked me the inevitable question of why I didn’t just take the bus to Chile, I told them the truth: I had absolutely no money to speak of. When asked exactly why I didn’t have any money, I decided to try something new; now, I had heard from several different Peruvians that if you told the police you were robbed, they would throw a few Soles your way for food and other essentials. I was pretty hungry, as usual, so I tried it out.

I told them a couple of guys a few clicks back had mugged me. They chattered on their radios for a few seconds, and then told me to follow them. They brought me into the bus terminal and into the police substation inside. The guy behind the desk took my name down and told me to wait. About an hour later, they printed out a sheet of paper, stamped it a few times, had several different people sign it, and before I knew it I was on my way to a free bus to Tacna, near the Chilean border.

EDIT: Underhanded, but effective. Still, I’ll admit I don’t feel too terribly bad lying to the police. It’s my natural instinct to rebel against all types of authority. MN 29SEPT2010

Now, by now you all know my feelings on buses: I don’t like ’em, never have. However, Moquegua was rather a large town and getting out would have taken several hours on foot. So I accepted my free pass, and one of the nice workers at the concession stand to give me a free coke and some food for the trip, and soon was on the bus rolling down the highway. After watching “Taken” in Spanish, I slept for a good couple of hours until we arrived in Tacna around 0330. I shook the sleep from my body and exited the bus, grabbing my pack from the luggage compartment on the way out. I immedietly began trying to find my way to the border. A few taxi drivers gave me directions, and soon I was walking along deserted roads in the light of the streetlamps.

After about 45 minutes of nothing but taxis passing me (I really do hate taxis) I managed to stop a red pickup truck. The driver was pretty cool; he spoke Spanish, English, Portugese, and French. He even studied in Belgium, just like my Ma!He drove me about twenty kilometers and dropped me off at a red light about 25 clicks from Chile. He even gave me some early breakfast, which consisted of some sort of noodle soup with meat in it. I waited at the stoplight for a bit, but there were no cars in sight. So I set my bag down on the shoulder, and, using it as a pillow, took a light nap, keeping my ears open for the sound of approching cars.

Over the course of a half an hour, a few passed, but none stopped. One driver even ran the red light to avoid looking at me trying to guilt-trip him into picking me up. Finally, around 0430, a red car screeched to a halt and drove me to Chile. However, upon arrival, we found the border closed until six a.m. so we both grabbed another hour’s sleep in our respective seats.

Once the border opened, I was the very first person to cross from Perù into Chile that day. After passing through immigration and getting the appropriate stamp, I continued my journey south on foot. I passed several uncleared minefields on the side of the road, presimably leftovers from the seventies when Chile wasn’t such a nice place to be as it is today.

Soon, I got a lift about twenty kilometers to Arica. The first thing I noticed about Chile was how much cleaner and nicer it was than Perù. In Perù, more than half of the population lives in dwellings with walls made of straw and no running water to speak of. Here in Chile, all the houses are concrete and look very sturdy. I even saw hot water heaters outside of a few! The people in general seemed cleaner as well; fewer dirt-caked faces and more clean shaven ones.

I spent about an hour walking out of Arica, but I didn’t mind, as it was a nice morning. As soon as I passed the Feliz Viaje sign, I took a break from walking and did the stationary hitch for a bit. After about an hour and a half, an old pickup with an even older man inside pulled over. The old fellow was nice enough, and just about talked my ear off. After about fifty clicks, he dropped me off at a truck stop smack dab in the middle of nowhere and sped off into the desert. Pickings were slim at the stop, so I set off on foot once again.

After about two hours through a flat, featureless desert and a basically empty highway, I finally got a medium-sized truck to pull over. Inside were two men who looked as if they worked with electronics of some type. One of them was smoking, and I bummed a much-needed cigarette from him (I had been considering picking up half-cigarettes of the shoulder of the road earlier…so it was a dire situation.)

We rode through the blank desert for several hours until we came to a small conglomeration of resturaunts in a dry, windy valley. Here was apparently my drivers’ final stop, so I exited the truck and stepped onto the lifeless soil.

The truckers were nice enough to pool together a few pesos for a small meal for me; afterwards I st off south once more.

This part of the highway, as I said before, ran through a desolate valley, and the wind whistled through it at impressive velocities. I even had to walk diagonally to keep the bluster from catching my pack and hurling me bodily into the middle of the road. Still, several strong gusts managed to take hold on a few occasions, and I was nearly knocked down. Finally, after about half an hour of battling the wind, a 4X4 Land Rover stopped and motioned for me to get in.

Inside was Alberto Silva Navarrete, a Peruvian from Lima who ran an adventure company called XplorePerù: 4X4 Expeditions. He was currently traveling to San Pedro de Atacama, deep in the Atacama Desert of northeastern Chile, to assist a couple of German cyclists who were biking up the second highest mountian in South America, the Licancabur stratovolcano. Apparently the higest-altitude bicycle ride ever attempted. This sounded like exactly my cup of tea, so I told him that San Pedro sounded like a fantastic place to travel to, figuring that I would just take the rural route to Santiago. We drove through monotonous, featureless desert for about six hours with Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd booming out of the speakers. At least he had decent taste in music. I entertained myself during the drive by trying to predict exactly what time we would arrive at kilometer marker so and so, based on the speed we were currently going. I was becoming quite accurate when we turned off the Pan-American highway around kilometer 1445 and headed east twords San Pedro. We stopped at a Peruvian resturaunt in Calama and had a nice meal (Alberto jokingly tried to pay in Soles, then seriously tried to when he didn’t have quite enough Chilean pesos.) There, we met up with the Germans, who followed us the 100 kilometers more to San Pedro. We arrived there around 2230.

The Germans were nice enough, and clearly completely mad. My kind of people. They were staying at a small hostal in San Pedro; by now, I’ve pretty much mastered the art of being able to tell if someone is going to help me out by letting me crash on the floor of their hotel and who isn’t. The Germans simply weren’t the type. So I bid them and Alberto farewell and began looking for the road out of there.

After a few French people gave me cigarettes and directions in heavily French-accented Spanish, I soon was walking on the road away from there. It was a beautiful, crystel-clear night, with a brilliant waxing creasant moon hanging daintily in the western sky. I took in a deep breath of the chilly mountian air and strode purpousfully south. After a few hours of dry rides, I began to get tired. So I found a nice stumpy little bush a few meters from the highway, rolled out my bedroll behind it, and crashed out for the evening, bundled up tughtly in my sleeping bag against the chilly Andean air.

The next morning, I found a ride about thirty kilometers to the next pueblito in about five minutes. As soon as I got out of the car, I noticed a man wearing a construction worker’s vest walking down the street and smoking a cigarette. I hustled over to him and politely asked the way to the south road. Now, I knew perfectly well where the south road was but it’s just a bit more tasteful to bum a cigarette after you ask for directions instead of just walking up and asking.

The man was happy to show me the way and told me to follow him. As we were walking, I struck up a conversation which ended with him giving me two ham sandwiched for breakfast without me directly asking. Soon, we arrived at the south road, and the man in the construction workers’ vest gave me two more cigarettes and told me “Buen suerte!” (good luck) before turning and walking back into town.

Puffing away happily, I mosied carelessly along the shoulder for about fifteen minutes until a white pickup stopped and gave me a ride fifty kilometers to yet another small town. The driver wasn’t much of a talker, and listened intently to a “Learn English” CD the entire way, dutifully repeating all the words the voice on the track told him to.

After being dropped off in this last town (a bustling metropolis of fifty-seven inhabitants) I lit up my last smoke and continued my southerly march. At this point the road had turned from pavement to gravel,and after about ten minutes of walking there were no signs of human presence whatsoever.

It was one of the most beautiful walks of my life; to the east were the forbidding and jagged Andes mountians, silouetted unevenly against the clear blue sky.

The Andes altiplano; here forms the border of Bolivia/Chile. Also, vicuñas in the foreground (relatives of the llama)

To the west was the Salar de Atacama salt flats, a vast expanse of white streching endlessly past the western horizon far out of the reach of the human eye. On either side of the road were millions if clumps of bunchgrass, scattered randomly about from the base of the mountians all the way to the salt flats.

One of the smaller salt flats, away from the main Salar de Atacama and closer to the mountians

After about an hour of walking, a pickup cruised by and was nice enough to let me ride in the back. In the cab were two Chilean guides and two tourists. It was quite a pleasant trip, and I enjoyed the feeling of the warm sun on my face and neck coupled with the chilly air.

Suddenly, we skidded to a hault; one of the guides had spotted a beautiful female fox trotting gracefully along the side of the road. She stopped, noticing the truck, and slowly approached, sniffing the air curiously. One of the tourists leaned out the window and took several photos with a ridiculously expensive-looking camera. Eventually, the fox lost intrest and bounded away across the highland prarie. The guide leaned on the gas and we motored off.

A few kilometers later, the truck stopped. Here was where I got off; the guides and tourists were going on the road up the mountian. My road continued south along the prarie. One of the guides gave me a few waters, some cokes, chocolate bars, and trail mix, as apparently this part of the road was not very well-traveled and I may be alone for quite some time. I thanked the guide and set off, passing a sign that said “Paso Sico, 95 km.” The next town.

I walked for a long time with no cars passing. Eventually I took a break, again using my pack as a pillow as I dozed, waiting for somebody to pass. A few cars passed going to other direction but nothing going my way. Soon, I found myself fast asleep there on the side of that little dirt road in the middle of nowhere.

My lonely little road in the remotest reaches of northeastern Chile

I awoke with a start; a car was passing! It was already past me when I got up, and I ran after it, waving my arms frantically. But it was for naught. The truck continued on without me.Goddamnit. Missed my ride because I was napping. How embarassing.

I waited for about an hour more, and then decided to walk some more so as to keep the blood flowing. Fortunately, after about ten minutes, I spotted a semi rumbling twords me. Thankfully, it stopped, and the driver allowed me to ride in the bunk behind the seats, as the passenger seat was occupied by another young man.

This truck ride turned out to be amazing. As we drove through the countryside, the man in the passenger seat told me that we would see many animals on this ride. Sure enough, several minutes later we passed a few heards of Vicuña and Guanaco, wild relatives of the llama and alpaca.

A lone Guanaco taking a meal of dry bunchgrass, his only source of food in the harsh altiplano. That's Argentina far off in the background

Then, I noticed a medium-sized bird (called Tinamou, I later learned) dart across our path, trailing four smaller chicks behind her. The driver slammed on the brakes and told me, come on, we’re going to get them!

We leaped out of the truck and gave chase. The object was to capture the chicks, which would be raised at the homestead like chickens and then eaten. Apparently the meat was quite a delicacy, and cost a pretty peso at the shop.

To catch the chicks, you had to first frighten the mother away. Without the mother, the chicks were helpless, and would freeze totally and not move for anything. All you had to do was find them and pick them up. Now, finding them was easier said than done. The chicks had mottled feathers that enabled them to blend in perfectly with the surrounding prarie, making them almost impossible to see.

After searching for nearly an hour, we managed to round up all four chicks. One of them died soon after capture, apparently overheating from being held too long, but the other three remained healthy. We put them in a five gallon bucket and continued driving.

About ten minutes later, we stopped again, this time next to a rock outcropping. The passenger grabbed a slingshot, handed me one, and said that we were going hunting! How exciting! This wasn’t a ride, it was a safari!

Our prey this time was the Vizcacha, a small, rabbit-like creature realted to the chinchilla. They hung around rock outcroppings like the one we had just stopped next to. The three of us slowly poked our heads over the edge, and observed five or six of them hopping merrily about on the rocks.

We hunted them for about an hour, with no sucess. It was all right, I still had fun. We got back in the vehicle and drove the rest of the trip without hunting anything else, though we did see an eagle of some sort pursuing a small bird with a presumably murderous intent.

Around dusk, we arrived at El Laco, which is an iron-ore mine about 30 kilometers from the border of Argentina. Here was where I got off. I went up to the main building and asked if I could please have some food. The miners were very friendly folk, and happily let me eat at their cafeteria. They asked all the usual questions, like where was I going. I told them Santiago, and then they dropped a bit of news on me: This road definently doesn’t lead to Santiago. Ever. It leads to Salta, Argentina. If I wanted to go to Santiago, I would have to backtrack all the way back to the Pan-American highway and go south from there.

Now, I have a policy about backtracking: I don’t do it. So it looked like I was going to Argentina! One of the miners asked to see my passport, so I gave it to him. He flipped about in it for a moment, and then asked me where my stamp for exiting Chile was. I told him that I would just get it at the border crossing…that’s where you usually get exit stamps. However, he told me that there was no immigration crew at this border crossing, and that I needed to get my exit stamp in San Pedro. All the way back the way I came.

This made me rather upset. So I had a cigarette and clamed down, resigning myself to going back to San Perdo the next day and then coming back here. The miners insisted that I stay for the night on the gorunds that it was freezing outside. I was glad to accept, and had a nice, hot shower (yes, hot!)

When I emerged from the shower, there were several members of the Chilean national police in my room. They asked to see my passport, so I showed it to them, wondering what was going on. After a few minutes, they told me that I was fine,that I could pass the Chilean border checkpoint without the exit stamp in the morning. What a relief! Now I didn’t have to waste tomorrow going back to San Pedro!

So now I was in a better mood. However, I was freezing my nads off since I didn’t have a proper coat and it was well below freezing. The miners were very concerned, and gave me some socks, a new used pair of boots, some gloves, and insulated bright-orange iron mining pants, complete with reflectors! I bundled up and enjoyed the night, playing Mortal Kombat with the workers on an old Playstation.

The next day I rose very early and ate breakfast with the workers. The cook gave me three liters of water and four ham sandwiches to have for lunch later. I said goodbye to my miner friends and set off for Paso Sico around four a.m.

It was another beautiful walk. I watched a brilliant sunrise of a thousand colors bleed out onto the eastern horizon as I walked on the road up the side of a steep mountian. All day I simply enjoyed the scenery. Around noon, I took a lunch break and ate my sandwiches, reveling in the total silence of the place. No wind, no birds…absolutely no sound at all. It was incredible.

Towords about two o’clock I began wondering where all the cars were. I knew the road was low-traffic, but I was expecting at least one car every five hours or so. So far, there had been nothing. I began to get concerned when I noticed my dwindeling water supply, and suddenly became very aware of how hot the sun was. The mountians had become dry and barren, and even the bunchgrass had stopped growing. I began to think that this just might turn out to be a Survival Situation.

Fortunately, I had come prepared for such a thing; figuring that it was likely that I would find myself in such a situation at some point on my journey, I had hung on to the U.S. Army Survival Manual and Larry Dean Olsen’s Outdoor Survival Skills for the entire trip so far. (Thanks to Aunt Ann for both of those!) So I began preparing, should I have to survive out here.

I looked at the road. There were many Vicuña tracks going across it, and judging by the wind erosion, they had been there for several days. That meant that no cars had been by for several days, and possibly several more. So I began scouting for water.

It was a dry and moisture-free place, this one. As I walked along the road searching, I picked up several plastic bottles to store extra water in, should I find any, and a few tin cans with which to boil the water in and make it potable. As far as the eye could see, there were no signs of any kind of water at all. I looked at my bottle; less than half a liter left.

As I rounded the next corner, I saw a dry creek bed winding jaggedly away from the road. Figuring this may lead to water, I followed it for about twenty minutes, listening for the sound of approaching vehicles on the road behind me. Soon, the creek came out to a vast dry lakebed. Perfect! Dry lakebeds always have water if you dig deep enough! So I searched for the spot where it looked like water had been most recently, grabbed a flat rock, and began digging.

Half an hour later, I had a hole about a foot deep that was totally bone-dry. At this rate, I was using up more water digging the hole that I would gain from it. So I abandoned my efforts and headed back to the road.

All my instincts told me to conserve the last of my water, but my mouth was dry and my lips chapped, and I remembered a quote from Larry Dean Olsen’s Outdoor Survival Skills:

“Store water in your belly, not in a canteen. People have died of thirst with water still in their bottles”

So I drank half of what I had left. I weighed my options. Going back to the mine would be impossible…it was nearly a twelve hour walk north, and that was with proper water hydration. I figured my only hope would be to see if I could make it to Paso Sico, which was an unknown number of kilometers to the southeast. I decided to just rig up a shelter here in the road and hope a car passes by within the next few days.

I broke out my tarp and began working on a shelter from the sun. There were not very many materials avalible, only rocks. This made building a good shelter difficult. I tried stacking as many rocks as I could to about three feet high and then draping the tarp over it, crawling under, and weighting it down with rocks from the inside. However, none of the rocks were perfectly flat, and once I managed to get them to stay up, I was under the tarp trying to weight the corners down when the stack collapsed, ruining my shelter. I tried several different methods with no sucess. So I gave up on the tarp and found a tiny patch of shade under a rock outcropping that only covered my face and neck. I tied one of my shirts around my head and lower face to keep the sun and wind off, and waited.

After about half an hour, I got an idea. There was a medium sized hill about twenty meters to the south that would afford a good view of the road ahead. Perhaps Paso Sico would be in sight, and if so, I would be able to walk there! So I went and climbed the hill.

When I got to the top, I realized I was definently in trouble. The road exited the dry mountians after about two miles and then streched indefinently out into a high altitude desert. I was up shit creek without a paddle, that was for sure. But wait! I saw something in the distance….two green objects in the middle of the road. What were those? I stared at them for a full fifteen minutes, waiting to see if they would move. Nothing.

So I thought. The most logical thing that those were would be a roadblock for a police checkpoint, since this was near an international border. Then again, they could be nothing; just a couple of old barrels or trash. I once again weighed my options:

If I stayed here, I would save energy and be able to wait longer for a car to come by. But if no cars came, I would surely die.

If I went to investigate the mysterious green objects, there’s a chance I might find water and help there. But if there was nothing there, I would die sooner, just over there.

I decided to chance the green objects. I packed up my things and began the trek there.

I walked…

…and walked…

…and walked.

The objects didn’t seem to be getting any closer. In fact, they seemed to be getting farther away! What was going on here? I thought perhaps this was a trick of the desert. A mirage. But they looked so real! So on I walked, determined to reach the objects.

By now I had exited the mountians and was in the middle of a flat desert with bunchgrass everywhere. No shade whatsoever. I tightened the shirt on my head as the brutal wind further chapped my already dry lips. But at last there was good news! The green things seemed to be getting a tiny bit closer! I walked a bit faster.

Half an hour later, they were definently getting closer. After another fifteen minutes, I realized with a lurch what they were.

Road signs. Nothing more. No people. No police. Just two giant green sings hanging over the road in the middle of nowhere. Fuck me. Fuck me. Fuck me.

I figured there was nothing to do but keep walking to the signs. Perhaps they would offer some useful information. As I got closer, I realized that they had distances to cities on them. The closest one looked like…11 kilometers?

No, as I got nearer, it began to look more like fourteen kilometers. Then forty-four kilometers. When i finally arrived to the sign, it informed me that the next town to the southeast was sixty-four kilometers away. Fan-fucking tastic.

So this was it. Things were looking pretty dire. I was beginning to get a bit panicky when I remembered another quote from Larry Dean Olsen’s Outdoor Survival Skills:

“I am reminded of the man who, alone in a vast desert with no hat, no water, and a broken leg pulled himself up on one bruised and battered elbow and smiled at a bunch of dry grass, saying, ‘You know, if this keeps up I just might get discouraged!'”

So I kept a posotive outlook. I noticed another sign about fifty meters ahead, so I went to investigate and see what it said.

“Paso Sico, Limite International. Bienvenidos a Republica Argentina”

So this was Paso Sico. It wasn’t a town at all! Just an imagionary line smack dab in the middle of nothing! That was extremely distressing, I tell you what.

However, I figured that if I was going to die, I was going to visit one more country first. So I strode across the line, out of Chile and into Argentina. Then I threw down my pack. It was beginning to get dark, so I figured I may as well make camp here. The wind was blowing strongly, and the temprature had begun to drop dramaticly. There was absolutely no way I could build any kind of shelter from the wind with my tarp, as there weren’t even rocks here to aid me. Then I noticed a little red house about the size of a doghouse off the side of the road. That would do to keep the wind off. So I walked over to it…and stopped dead in my tracks. All around the house, and inside, were hundreds of bottles of…

“Water,” I croaked. I fell to my knees. “Water! WATER! WATER!!!” I shouted at the top of my lungs. What was this miracle? I grabbed a bottle and twisted it open, sniffing it. It smelled like water. I took a tiny sip. It tasted like water! Then I glugged down the entire bottle. It was water! Water, just sitting here, in the middle of nowhere, in this random little red house just past the border of Argentina!

EDIT: I later learned that this was a memorial to the patron saint of travlers Deolinda Correa. Here is a quote from Wikipedia as an explination:

“During the civil war in Argentina in the mid 1800’s a man fighting in the war, Baudilio Correa, was captured, taken to the town of La Rioja and killed. Desperately wanting to recover the body of her dead husband, the grieving widow Deolinda decided to take her baby and walk to La Rioja to recover it. Unfortunately, Deolinda was unable to find water on the way to La Rioja and collapsed on the side of the road and tragically died. A passerby later found her body and miraculously, her baby was still alive, surviving by sucking milk from her breast. Deolinda’s grave soon became a holy site and people began to credit her for looking after them while lost on the road. Deolinda is now regarded as the saint of all travelers and more recently, has become especially popular among bus and truck drivers. Deolinda’s shrines are characterized by people leaving bottles of water for her in addition to photos of mangled vehicles left by people who credit her for saving them from seemingly fatal accidents on the road.

I now pay my respects to Deolinda every time I pass a shrine, when practical. MN, 02 OCT 2010

So I was saved! I drank to my hearts’ content, and fell asleep swaddled in my sleeping bag and wearing my toasty iron-ore mining pants. When I awoke the next morning, I realized how cold it had gotten in the night; not only were the bottles of water frozen, but they were frozen solid. What a drastic change in temprature, going from the heat of the sunny the day to the depths of the frozen night. I didn’t care. I had water!

I decidded to walk a bit farther down the road and see if there was anything else that might help me out. AFter about a hundred meters, I saw another sign. It said:

“Gendarmeire National Control de Frontera 11km”

Eleven kilometers? That was nothing! Elated, I ran back to camp, packed up, grabbed three or four bottles of miracle water, and set off for the police. As I was walking, I noticed A small black speck in the distance. As I walked farther, the speck got larger, and I realized it was moving! Fifteen minutes later, I came face to face with a guy on a bicycle!

Turns out, he’s nearly as crazy as I am. His name is Stein, and he’s a Dutch guy whose cycling all around the remotest parts of Pantagonia and Bolivia. That’s what I like about this part of the world: when I was in Central America and northern South America, I met a lot of fair-weather travelers. Here in the remote reaches of the Andes of southwestern South America attracts only the hard-core traveler, like Stein and myself. He was a really cool dude, and took a photo of me in my survival clothes. He’s promised to email it to me, along with some pictures of the scenery so you all can see what I’ve seen.

Me next to Stijn's bicycle. I am wearing almost every article of clothing I owned at the time, including the miner's pants. Behind me, about 10 km away you can see the mountians I came out of; a farther 25 kilometres back is El Laco, the iron mine

A few hours later I arrived at the military border control. They were very nice, though were concerned that I didn’t have an exit stamp for Chile. However, after contacting the Chilean authorities and learning that I had been granted permission to pass without it, they happily stamped my passport with a 90-day visa. They even gave me something to drink and a delicious meal of Argentine-style meat.

I was planning on waiting there with the military until I could find a car to the next town in Argentina, as it was still about 50 kilometers away. I did not have to wait long; there happened to be a few telephone repiarmen there at the crossing, and they agreed to give me a ride to the next town, San Antonio de los Cobres. I got to ride in the back with all the phone equipment.

We were cruising along when suddenly, the motor made a strange sound and we ground to a hault. After tinkering around under the hood for awhile, the two repairmen decided that this repair was out of their league. So one of them began walking to San Antonio to try and find a mechanic, which is impressive because it was more than forty kilometers. I’m assuming he found a ride somewhere along the way. The other fellow and I began walking the roughly ten kilometers back the way we came to a small village, a hotel room on our minds. Fortunately, we only walked about two clicks before we found a truck to take us the rest of the way there.

We stayed the night in a cheap hotel. There was no hot water, and it was below freezing outside again, so a much-needed shower was out of the question. The next morning, the other fellow arrived to our hotel with two mechanics in tow, who drove us back to the broken-down pickup. After about an hour they had the old girl running again, and we were off to San Antonio.

When we arrived, the two telephone men gave me $25 pesos (about 5 dollars) to use for the bus. I told them I didn’t want to take the bus, but they insisted I take it anyways. So went straight to a spot with Internet and began posting this epic update. However, I got just to the part where I was in the middle of the desert and realized the next town was 64 kilometers away when the computer had a heart attack and everything was erased. Needless to say, I was infuriated, and refused to pay the man for his faulty computer time (which was nearly four hours.)

I was still extremely upset, so I bought a pack of cigarettes (Lucky Strikes) to help calm me down. Then I decided that I wanted some food, having not eaten all day. However, I soon discovered that everything in this town that serves food closes at three and doesn’t reopen again until eight at night. Doesn’t anybody here eat an early dinner? So I went into a convience store and bought a coke, which cost me AR$2.25. I gave the girl behind the counter four, and she only gave me twenty-five cents back. I kept asking her where my other peso was, and she seemed clueless. Then I told her that I wasn’t leaving until she gave me my change, and she handed over the peso, looking at me like I was the bad guy.

So I drank my coke and then decided it was time to get out of here. So I spent the next four hours unsucessfully looking for a ride. As soon as the sun went down, so did the tempreture. I donned my iron miners pants and every single shirt I owned, and was still freezing. Then a few things happened that have totally reaffirmed my faith in the human race in general.

First, a lady and her young son brought out to me a blanket to wrap myself in and some coffee and crackers. Then, another guy came out and actually gave me a windbreaker jacket and a scarf. That seals the deal; people are awesome.

I hear folks talking. They say the human race is sick, on the decline, and has a one way ticket to damnation and the fires of hell. I heartily disagree. I say the human race is fine, better than ever, in fact. Sure, we’re not perfect, but if anybody in the human race is sick, it’s our leaders.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

All night I wasn’t able to find a ride. Then, another man came out to me and told me that he had called his police friends and that they said I was welcome to crash with them at the station if I wanted to. That sounded pretty good to me, so I went with him there.

The cops were, as always, super cool. They fixed me some coffee, gave me some bread, and even dragged an enourmous and probably super heavy heater in the room I was to sleep in so that it would be warm. I slept in peace.

This morning, I rose early and began looking for a ride out of there. It took ages. There seemed to be pleanty of cars coming into town, but very few going out. Finally, I got so bored that I just started walking down the road for a change of scenery.

Around two o’clock, I was about four clicks outside of San Antonio. Suddenly, something smacked into my ear. It felt as if someone had thrown a rock at me. I looked around. Nothing but flat, bunchgrass covered ground as far as the eye could see. I shrugged it off and kept walking. Then it happened again.

Thwack! Thwackthwack!

What the hell was that? Then I saw something small and white bounce onto the road in front of me. I bent down and picked it up.

Hailstone. It was hailing! A few seconds later, the hail began to come down in earnest, stones the size of peanuts. Of course, there was absolutely no place to take shelter, so I picked up my pack over my head and kept walking. At least this pretty much garunteed a pickup; you’d have to have no soul pass by a hitch hiker during a hailstorm.

Sure enough, the next truck that passed by picked me up and drove me all the way to where I am now, Salta. It’s strange; Salta is only about 160 kilometers from San Antonio de los Cobres, but the climate is dramatically different. It’s the mountians, I suppose. Here in Salta it is nine o’clock at night and it’s about eighty out. I haven’t seen this much vegatation since I left Ecuador!

Anyways, as soon as I left my ride, I spent every last centimo I have writing this update. It feels great to post it, I’ve been literally about to explode with my words for the past few days.

So after this I’m going to go and try and find a ride to Cordoba, roughly 800 clicks to the south. I’ll try and post again upon arrival.

The Modern Nomad

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