CALDERA, Chile- This is my fourth day in Caldera, and I could possibly be here for a week more. I tried to leave a few days ago. Unsuccessful. I began walking north out of town on the Panamerican highway to the next town. Trucks flew by me as I walked, made me think about being run over. My feet began to blister from the dry heat in the desert, the back of my legs began to sunburn.
Why would I wear shorts on a day of tramping in the desert?
More than likely because my pants were far too gone in filth to wear.
At one point, out in the middle of highway nothingness — the horizon showed only a road going endlessly in front and behind, and desert sand stretching away to my right and left — I thought of turning back to Caldera.
I sat down in the sand to ponder, some assholes in a beat up red pickup truck screamed at me out the windows as they drove by at top speed. I watched a desert fox hop across my plain of vision. I figured that I was already more than half way to the next town and may as well continue on in that direction.
I kept walking.
Finally, I arrived — parched, blistered, sun burned.
I found nothing more than a company town. A factory with a collection of uniform houses around it grew up out of a marriage in the distance. No hotels, not facilities for the traveler, not much of anything other than dust, wind, and a bleached, parched landscape. I needed food, I just wanted to lay down and rest my blistered feet. This was one of the first times in my life that I craved the comfort of a nice room with a nice bed upon which I could just lie down and do nothing.
Instead I found myself on the side of a dusty highway under a hot desert sun with nowhere to go but back the way I came. I was beat, and the knowledge that I would need to repeat the hike that I’d just completed made all semblance of hope or joy quickly evaporate from me like any speck of moisture in this land of desert dirt.
I peeled myself up off the ground and began the long walk back to Caldera. While my maps did not lie — there was a town out in the desert here — I certainly felt mislead. The unexpected often befalls the traveler who does not consult the guidebook, surprises come to the man who sets off in a random direction under his own power with only a map in hand and a rucksack upon his back.
[adsense]I returned to Caldera, found the room I was dreaming about while out in the desert, and fell asleep. I was awoken that night to copulating couples in the rooms above, to the right, and left of my own. It was like they were putting on some strange sort of pre-rehearsed performance. I don’t care. Four walls, a roof, paradise. I slept soundly that night.
This was my first journey into a desert, and the Atacama is one of the most extreme on the planet. The driest places on earth are in this desert. In some places rainfall has never been recorded. I was clearly not prepared for what desert travel entails, I will surely tuck this experience into my knowledge repertoire for use in future travels.
Every so often in travel you arrive to a place and an emotional state where everything just seems perfect. This morning in a port side restaurant, eating paila de huevos, watching sea lions and king fishers in the bay was one of those times. I watched as the sun glittered off the sea, the fishing boats anchored in the bay painted bright blue, yellow, red; the larger steel fishing vessels rising in the distance, the cool breeze coming in from the ocean. Caldera is a good stop.