Hey y’all — hope everyone in the U.S has been enjoying some lovely summer weather (hope everyone in the big S.A has been enjoying the random winter conditions ranging from rain to suffocating smog). I’ve been pretty busy these last few weeks in Chile; we’ve been in the midst of wrapping up our semester, which has included plenty of final papers, plenty of cancelled classes, and plenty of taken school buildings (due to student lead protest in regards to making education free — go Chilean students, you got this!). With the cancellation of classes and the existence of a Monday holiday, I was lucky to get a super long weekend, and I took that time to (not do any of the work that I should have done for school) travel. I decided to return to the North of Chile and visit the coastal National Park known as Pan de Azuar (Sugarloaf).
It was a nice solo trip to take, starting with a 13 hour bus ride north to the seaside town of Chañaral, where I spent the night at a hostel and then went to the park the following day for camping and trekking. I made friends with a collectivo driver, and got a cheap ride into the park. Upon arriving at the park, I was kind of surprised to see how empty it was. There was literally no one there for the entire drive to the administration area (there was no one at administration either… so I just didn’t pay to enter), and after the collectivo left me in the park, it was literally just me for the entire day. It was a little creepy, but nevertheless, still an incredibly beautiful area to be in, where the desert met the Pacific ocean.
Since it was literally just me in the park, I decided to go recklessly exploring. Did I mention that there weren’t any trails or anything marked within the park? So I ended up just walking around randomly, which wasn’t a terrible thing to do since everything I needed could be seen from pretty much anywhere I went. I’m not going to lie: I felt pretty rebellious for being there and doing my own thing, and also for not having paid to get in. At one point, I wondered if I was breaking some national park guidelines by doing what I was doing, but that doesn’t really matter at this point. I eventually found a trail going up into the coastal mountains, and I decided I might as well go trekking, despite still carrying everything I brought with me in my backpacking bag. At the time, it didn’t feel like much, but let’s just say the next morning was rough.
The trail took me into the Cordillera del Desierto, and brought some pretty fantastic views of the surrounding mountains as well as the national park. I probably hiked for a good four or five hours round trip, which, who knows what that comes out to be in km or miles. It was odd though, because there was a lack of animals just as there was a lack of people. The only thing I saw once was some kind of mountain vulture (a great sign…), although at one point after I came out of the mountains, I was following some tracks that lead back to the camp grounds of the park, and I’m 87% sure that those tracks were of possibly a puma. Now that, was completely reassuring, except not at all.
I returned to the camp grounds finally, tired and ready to eat my poor trekker’s food. The camp grounds are set up on the coast of the pacific, such that the individual campsites look out onto the water and specifically toward the random island of the park. The island is supposed to house penguins, but I didn’t really see any penguins from where I was (probs needed binoculars). I did finally run into a human though! At the campsite, I met the lady who was in charge of camping, and I paid her for a night of camping. Because there was no drinkable water (something that should probably be posted on the internet somewhere, cause all the sights I looked at said that there was drinking water), she said that she’d bring some stuff in the next morning and I could pay her for it.
After a great night of sleeping in a tent on a windy shore while being convinced that a puma was going to eat me, I decided to pack my things up and peace out in the morning. There wasn’t terribly much to see in the park besides what I had already seen, and with a lack of water, animals and well… a bit of humanity, it was actually kind of creepy and apocalyptic. It just so happened that the park also didn’t have cell phone reception, and so, I walked maybe ten miles back down the park road towards town (the road is 28 km long — 17.5 miles) until I got some reception. It was then that I called my collectivo friend and got a ride back into town from there. I wasn’t terribly pissed about having to walk that with all my stuff; the way I put it while I was walking was “It’s an adventure! If it doesn’t work out, you can sleep in your tent along the side of the road and get into town tomorrow! Yahhh!” which probably would have worn off after the 11th mile.
Well, it was a hell of time, Pan de Azucar. I’m not going to say that it was terrible, because it wasn’t, and most of the time, I was enjoying myself. Once in Chañaral, I got a nice overnight bus back to Santiago for half the original price, and that bus ride is where all the action took place. A little north of Copiapo, our bus pulled over to a carabineros (police) station on the side of the road. We were all a little confused as to why we were stopping here, and people started getting pretty worried when the carabineros started unloading our luggage from the bus. One of them brought a dog onto the bus and investigated all the seats, and eventually, three people were taken off the bus, one of them in handcuffs. The bus drivers filled out reports with the carabineros, and after a good hour of being stopped and having this investigating take place, we were off on our journey again. I never did find out what exactly went down… something that is still on my mind.
Some last bits in regards to solo travelling — probably everyone that I met in the North of Chile was confused as to why I was travelling alone (except for some French people, they thought it was pretty “sick nasty”). It’s a big thing here in Chile for people to travel with the family or with the people that they’re dating. To an extent, it does get really tiring being treated as though there’s something wrong with me for wanting to go places and do things on my own. I look forward to having that freedom when I go home (also, to not be asked about my nonexistent partner within the first five minutes of meeting someone). But I understand the Chilean viewpoint, and why they think that travelling alone is a sad life: it is, if you want it to be that way. I think people can swing it with the right attitude, and for me, it’s something I enjoy. I also know that it’s not a lifestyle that I could keep up, and I do hope someday to find those people who are on the same page as me with wanting to explore the world. One of the ultimate lone voyagers that many of you might have heard of, Chris McCandless, said “Happiness is only real when shared” and that is something that I do believe in, despite all the solo travelling that I do. Now, to find those people! But until then, I don’t really mind doing my own thing, and I don’t intend to change that anytime soon.