Machu Picchu

I woke early, which is apparently a symptom of altitude sickness, and lay in bed for a half hour before I went down to eat breakfast. The free breakfast was huge, which made we wish I had more appetite, so I messaged Silvio but he came soon enough even if he didn’t get the message.

Once we had eaten as much as we thought we could safely eat, and Silvio took a pill for altitude sickness, we went to the town square to find that our guide was nowhere near ready. Instead, we sat around and waited. I was still feeling the effects of altitude sickness, but for most of the day I felt better. We caught a bus off the town square with a few other tourists, and before long we were following the fast glacial river and then climbing the switchbacks to the mountain above where we parked and the guide encouraged us to wait for someone who was likely our real guide.

We left him waiting and went in ourselves with an Italian couple and we walked up to the lookout where our guide was supposed to meet us. Machu Pichu is an amazing site. The rock work is not as incredible as it seems by photos, at least in the outlying area of the site, but the entire city is huge, and built on the top of a mountain. Huge boulders are incorporated into the building of the walls, and the crevices are painted with mud to join the stones. The walls that look like what people expect from Inca architecture are mostly those of the temples and other central special buildings. They are put together really well, and look like what we hear about the rockwork—so tightly placed that you could barely put a sheet of paper between them.

After we traipsed about on the lookout, and went for a detour to the Inca bridge, we had a choice between going much higher to the gate of the sun, or down into the city proper which had dozens of buildings largely intact. We went down to the city, and then, with hundreds of other tourists taking selfies, many many selfies, we went through the small houses and past the thick stone walls.

One of the most interesting encounters I had along the way was with Maclean, one of my students from the winter term. The look on his face was priceless, as he looked up and saw me coming around the corner. We chatted as he acclimatized to the idea, and discussed our travel plans, and then parted so they could continue the rest of their trip.

Silvio talked to several people along the way, for we had lost the Italians by this point, but perhaps the most interesting is the conversation he had with some Argentines who were standing beyond the cordon with some police. He went over to chat with them, and I kept moving, for he was getting tired and I wanted to see more before we left.

Once we met up again, Silvio told me how several Argentines, and some Israelis had crept into the park by climbing the mountain. They held them in the jail for a few days, and after that there were probably repercussions. One of the Argentines was not quite so lucky, for he has been missing since May 6. Apparently he was trying to sneak into the park as well and either slipped in the fast-moving river, or was bit by a snake or spider in the jungle. The Argentines that Silvio talked to were part of a team to try to find the—very likely—body, and when Silvio offered his drone, they slowly warmed to the idea although they had virtually ignored him at first. They can’t seem to locate a drone in either Argentina or Peru, so they called Silvio later as we were about to get on the train to come back to Cuzco, and then they met us at the station briefly so Silvio could tell them what the drone was capable of.

On the way back on the train Silvio sewed patches on his sweater, adding Peru to the many countries he had traveled to, and we talked about the drone possibilities. By the time we met Raul, the plan was beginning to solidify. We are getting up at eight tomorrow to have Raul pick us up, and we are returning to Machu Pichu to find the body. The argentine government is paying, since Silvio is doing a service for the country, and we will be there a couple of days to see if his drone work can find the body. The minister from the Argentine embassy is arriving tomorrow, and the search team passed on his contact information and Silvio called him from the car.

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Going to Machu Picchu

We left early, and in the rain, when we went to Ollantaytambo. We had our own driver, Raul, who didn’t speak English, so that gave him licence to ignore me when I spoke Spanish. We were able to stop and take photos on the way, so we got him to stop at some of the miradors. The miradors were crowded with people trying to sell local goods. We talked to some of them about a manta, or aguyo, which is a wrap the local women use to carry their babies or other loads. Most of the wraps they had were overpriced and fake, so we continued to the village for textiles. There they had an even more effective market for tourists, which was silly. The people were in their costumes but the place wasn’t meant for us.

When we arrived at the train station there was a huge crowd of tourists, which the locals call rooster face, cara de gallo, because gringos have long necks and tall heads for the local people. Some of the locals are very short, one and a half metres, so we look strange to them. Silvio and I walked the street a bit and then crowded on the smallest platform I have ever seen for a train with all the other gringos. We waited in a café and Silvio instantly found someone to talk to. He found two Indians living in Washington and we spent some time talking about the Trump quilombo that is the US now. Once on the train, we were seated across from two more Americans. One was Vanessa from Bolovia originally, and her boyfriend. Silvio mainly talked to the Mexicans across from him since he was frustrated by what he thought of as Vanessa’s snobbishness, based, as far as I could tell, in the way she spoke Spanish.

I talked to them, and endured the boyfriend telling me about some self-help classes that he is involved with. He told me about getting his Phd, but when I probed the question we discovered that the self-help classes tend to refer to their level of training in such terms.

Once we arrived in Agua Caliente, we ran into a problem. We looked at the room, and Silvio was instantly dissatisfied. He had specified with Jorge that he needed a heater in the room, and ours had none. He called Jorge, and by the time I was done my shower, he had organized Marco to take us to another guesthouse. There they had a heater, but Silvio was still not satisfied, so while I waited, he went to a rich hotel and signed in. We spent the night in the rich place, which had two heaters, and Silvio was more than happy with that. Unfortunately it was too late by that time to do much more than eat and crash.

We needed to be up and in the town square by eight-fifteen, and we wanted to take advantage of the free breakfast.

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Altitude Sickness

Silvio told me if I slept with my head downhill I would wake up with a headache. I used the pillow to make up the difference in the slope, and I think the headache I woke up with has more to do with altitude. We slept at four thousand metres and then drove even higher, finally peaking out at four thousand and six hundred metres. Even now, that we are in Puno, we are at thirty-eight hundred metres. My headache persists, but I am taking it easy and not walking too much or too fast.

Most of today, Silvio drove the switchbacks and gained or lost altitude. We stopped at a hot spring in a cave which was beside the road because Silvio wanted to try out his drone. I walked along the edge of the cave taking pictures, some of the hot spring geyser, some of birds which lived along the cave edge, and then, as I was taking a picture of a rabbit, I watched it jump across and road and realized it wasn’t a rabbit at all. It was something more similar to a guinea pig or some other rodent that a Canadian might have as a pet such as a chinchilla. I got some great photos of it as I followed the cave openings from above until I realized I had gone far enough and returned to the truck to sit around. Silvio was just untangling the drone software when I returned, so I relaxed while he chatted with a family of locals from Puno who work in tourism. They took pictures with him and when he brought them back to the truck, they took photos of me too.

They were super nice, although we had no language in common. That was the similar situation for me with the old ladies Silvio parked beside in a small pueblo near Puno. They were super sweet, and offered him a coke—not to be confused with coca leaves—and he bought some alpaca hats from them for five dollars each. They were excited to meet me, and encouraged me to eat coca leaves with Silvio to help with my altitude sickness, but that is not really me. I’m not very interested in drugs, natural or other.

Silvio bought a bag of coca leaves from them, and he is making a tea which he hopes will get him beyond the altitude sickness. We parked in a parking lot in Puno near the very touristy port. I went to check out the shops and especially see the boat made from reeds which resembles the ones the ancient Egyptians made—which was made famous by Thor Heyderal’s Ra Expedition. Once I did a quick stroll about the area, Silvio went and I worked on writing this.

Puno is a bit famous because it is where the Peruvian government decided to send their people once they emptied their prisons. We weren`t in town long enough to realize whether this had had a lasting effect on the culture. As it was, it seemed like a typical city which served a large area, huge markets, heavy loud traffic, many buses, and thousands of people in the streets.

Leaving town was a bit painful, since traffic was heavy, there are no street lights, and no one obeys any rule beyond me first. We finally got out of town, and then Silvio drove until nearly dark when I took over, much like last night. I drove until I was too tired. We should have pulled over long since, but instead we kept on to Cusco where we are now parked in a parking lot the tour guy Jorge Saul has the use of. Supposedly we are safe enough for the night, and tomorrow we will move to a better and more secure lot. The drunks who were partying here left and now I am cooking tofu and veggies and we are getting ready to crash.

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Hacking the Chilean and Peruvian Border

I have slowly learned that Silvio doesn’t eat breakfast most of the time. Since he doesn’t, he wants to leave immediately upon waking. This morning we followed that urgency and drove to the border nearly as soon as we were up and stirring. That meant we were there earlier, although when we saw how slow the line was moving at the Chilean exit border, we knew we had gained little from our alacrity.

We lined up with the others, produced paperwork for one office, and then went upstairs with a university student who has been tasked with asking tourists questions that are ostensibly meant to discover how to improve Chilean services for tourists but in actuality are more about finding out where the tourist dollars are going. She accompanied us upstairs to the cafeteria where a woman who sells food also sells the free border forms which declare what vehicle you arrive in. The forms that are free anywhere else in the country, are here 1000 pesos, or, as the woman from tourism told us, the charge can be arbitrary depending on who comes for a form. Once we had paid what was essentially a bribe, the tourism worker helped us fill out the forms and then we went to the large queue downstairs. The border officials are on strike, apparently, so that is why it can take up to four hours to pass through to Peru.

While we waited in line, Silvio chatted with a woman from Chile and a man from Paraguay, picking their brain for information about the road ahead. The problem with this technique is that he by times gets excellent information, but often is told pure balderdash as well. It enables him to talk to peple, which he likes, and by times yields good results. In this case, as Silvio went back to the truck, it worked out well. He found a border official who worked in the parking lot and chatted with him, and before long he came to me and told me to “play stupid” is anyone asks where he was. I figured that he would be getting me to go through the border alone, for it might be easier, but Silvio, like god, rarely explains what he is doing. Rather he expects you to play along and enjoy the result, although it may not be what you want.

In this case, Silvio returned after a few minutes, told me to go to the truck and he would come and we were getting through customs quickly. He told me to be casual. I said I was going to the bathroom and left, and behind me, as I walked to the truck, I heard Silvio explain I was going to the bathroom to the other people in line. Silvio was not far behind me, and soon we were going through the lengthy customs’ line. It turned out that Silvio had chatted with the border guy, the man had gotten our papers stamped, and we could cut ahead of the line.

The border in Peru was also a bit of an ordeal. We stamped into the country, then they examined the truck. I stood on the side and chatted with a border guard, my poor Spanish doing little to convey what I meant but easily identifying me as a innocent tourist. Silvio refused to remove our stuff from the truck on the grounds there was too much, and they went on to examine the vehicle. Before long they exited with our fruit, making me wish again that I had taken advantage of the time and eaten, especially the bananas. I am going to make sure that doesn’t happen on the way out of the country. And no more skipping breakfast to stand in the sun for hours at a border.

Once we crossed into Peru, we came to Tacna, the city closest to the border and Arica. Here we drove around trying to find a parking spot and finally came to rest beside the police station. Silvio gets nervous in cities, especially when the traffic is heavy and the streets tight, and he is terrible with relating directions. He wanted to go where the tourist info people who we’d talked to had suggested, but when I took us to that area, he wanted to go back to the main road and park by the police station instead. I might have been wrong about where we needed to park, however, for none of that was translated for me and I mostly guessed where we needed to be.

Our plan now is to go inland, through Monquegua and then further inland to Puno where Peru years ago had sent all their political prisoners. It promises to be somewhat interesting because of people living on the lake and using reed boats for transport, much like the Egyptians, but I remember Felipe saying to avoid the area.

We left Tacna finally, after Silvio got internet on his phone and talked—as far as I can tell—with everyone in the supermarket across from where we were parked. Once we left town, following the winding streets and the poorly realized maps of the GPS, we drove high into the desert where a few bushes struggled to eke out a living. Soon the road wound up through the hills and into switchbacks above Monquegua. We went over three thousand metres in height over the hour or so that I drove a tortous set of switchbacks. We had a few hair-raising moments when people coming down the hill tried to pass the truck in front of them or came into my lane while they descended too fast on abrupt curves, but it was also a bit tricky when I passed a truck and had to rev high in second gear to get in front of the truck.

We are very high altitude now, at thirty-five hundred metres above sea level, and we are parked at the toll both. Silvio asked the cop who was checking traffic and he told us where to park so we could pull over. We are now parked beside the guard rail in the parking lane well behind a truck from Bolivia. We’re on an angle, so we have to sleep with our heads towards the front of the truck.

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Corpse Carrying Dog

We were asleep early enough, and up by eight-thirty. Supposedly Walter gets up at five, but he was sleepy looking when we finally stirred out of the truck. Silvio had a coffee with Walter, but I was more interested in seeing more ruins, so I went into another part of the village. I could see Silvio in the distance, and could hear him calling me to accompany him into the theatre, but I was more interested in places I hadn’t seen, like the communal kitchens and garage. I went through a few of those buildings, and then joined Silvio, only to have Walter come to meet us with his truck.

As Silvio said, “Does he walk nowhere?” Walter asked us if we wanted to see more of a tour, so we went with him around some of the same places we saw before. Once we had gone through most of the village, and stopped in the quincho of the big house of the owner, we toured the places where people break in to steal wood. Wood is at a premium in the desert, so people come to steal the Oregon pine left over in the buildings. Most of it is gone already. After, we went to the cemetery which was hit hard by flooding in the past few years. There Walter lifted the lid on a box which held the bones of a little girl, and encouraged us to look. We looked at the tiny backbone of the kid, and then Walter slapped the cover back on the box. We looked around the rest of the cemetery, which Walter told us is one only for children. I walked to the far end of the cemetery and took a few photos of crosses which had names, but for the most part I tried to discern what the crosses and the gates around them were made of. In one of the tiny mausoleums there were bones scattered around, which looked like small human bones.

The most macabre sight waited for us when we left. One of the dogs, the one we all liked the least, grabbed a portion of a ribcage of a child and was running up the road beside us to chew on it later. Walter stopped the jeep and then threw rocks at the dog in an effort to make it drop the bones. The dog merely went further away and then walter got back in the truck and drove away quickly so the dog would get tired of carrying the parts of a child and drop it. He informed us after a few minutes that the dog had given up so it could run better, but we all knew that Walter was not going back to pick up the portion of the body and return it to one of the graves.

I couldn’t help but think about the parents and how they felt when their child died, to not only to have the body treated with such disrespect that they had placed so gently in the ground. If my daughter were to die, and some dirty dog were running with her in its mouth, I certainly would be less than pleased.

We left Walter soon after. We refilled the water tank, and then left Walter to his empty village while we drove many hundreds of kilometres. I did most of the driving in the late afternoon into evening, although we stopped a few times to take photos of the abrupt and violent green of a river valley. We’d seen only a few trees, and most of those were planted and tended by humans, but soon more trees and bushes began to appear. At one such stop, at the bottom of the river valley, Silvio took the drone into the air and filmed the surrounding and I went exploring into the shrubbery along the bank. It is easy to forget how great green growing things smell when you are in the dry dust of the Altacama. The desert here has nothing, not a single green thing and no insects other than the odd fly which I am at a loss to explain how it eats.

As the sun dropped it tore aside the last of the clouds and unfortunately, as dark settled over the land we dropped into a huge valley. It was too dark to make much out, but I drove the winding roads for at least twenty kilometres into the valley bottom and perhaps ten kilometres coming back up to the plain after.

We are now in Arica where we found a gas station we are parked at. Silvio chatted with an older retired couple from Argentina and then brought them back to the truck, of course, where they gave us lots of advice about how to get to Cusco and Machu Pichu. We talked to them for about forty-five minutes and then went across the street for an empanada. I wanted to try the local food. I cut up some veggies to go with it, and then we ate until it was time to work on our respective projects.

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Ghost Town of the Altacama

We went to sleep fairly early, despite Silvio’s longstanding habit of watching television until he goes to sleep. We woke around nine, and were on the road shortly after washing up, Silvio driving until we pulled over for him to use the drone in the desert. We did that, dumped a load of waste water, and then I drove until we found a huge sculpture of a hand in the desert. It is apparently a common tourist site, and before long, a van full of four Aussies and Kiwis pulled up and unleashed their own drone. Silvio went to talk to them and brought the drone flyer back to discuss drone software and configuration. I talked to a couple about their trip and what the experience was like. Their camper van is a rental, so they were excited about Silvio’s truck. Mostly, however, Silvio and the drone guy chatted and the others merely wanted know how far it was to Bahia Inglesa.

I talked to a few truckers about what the hand meant and they said it represented the people of the desert. I asked them about the rest of the body. They laughed and then asked where we were going. I told them we were going north, although I was reluctant to bring up Peru. That has implications about how much money we have and contains too much information about where we will be on the road.

Silvio found out that he could program the drone from the traveler we met so he ran down one of the batteries trying it out. After we left the hand the highway widened, a new toll appeared where we had to pay full price, although the tarmac improved.

We had just stopped for fuel, and strangely got money from the gas station attendant who helped us, when we were climbing above the town and saw a ghost town. We turned around and drove up to the entrance and Silvio got out to ring the bell, which was done with a hammer. Finally an older man came and they chatted and I drove into the entrance. We parked beside the park office and the man’s house, if there was a distinction between them, and he drove us around the park. There is a route that he takes the tourists on, including a church a man made in a house when the church was burned by militars.

The town had originally been the company town of Salitrera Chacabuco. It was a mining town built by a British corporate which was meant to support the mining of nitrate. After the minerals ran out the town was used for housing political dissidents during the American Pinochet period in the early seventies. A number of people were killed here as well as tortured and some of the carvings into the dead trees in the square show that. The houses are row housing like you would find in a British mining town, and the entire village is surrounded by a wall. The houses are in ruins now, and the support buildings as well. Only the theatre is restored, although not likely to its former glory. It operates as a kind of museum with a few placards and posters as well as materials in cases.

Walter, who runs this place does a weeklong shift and then his friend comes. He is here to give tours, maintain the buildings for the park, and to make sure locals don’t come and destroy the place. Many of the houses are graffittied and the furnishings have been taken. As well, the park is used a crossroads for people smuggling cocaine out of Bolivia and into Argentina and Chile. The mules—who are people carrying backpacks of drugs across the desert for three days—wait outside his gate to transfer their load to the drug dealers. He has found drugs before lying in the desert but he just leaves them there. Otherwise he fears they would come by and kill him.

The other danger, if you worry about such things, are the ghosts which haunt the site. Apparently, two old man stroll about and then disappear. They seem to be as substantial as the living although the dogs do not seem to notice them. The other ghost is cuter. A young girl stroked the shoulder of Walter when he was sitting on a bench near the theatre. He told her she should go to sleep and she went away. She appears quite frequently, but when I went down to the square alone she didn’t appear. I stepped into the foyer of the theatre but it was dark inside and creepy so I didn’t go beyond a few metres into the yawning cavity.

I came back without sight of my ghost and Silvio later told me Walter asked whether he should shut off the lights while I was down there. I was thinking that when I was there. I thought I would try to scare them and then wait for them to arrive and freak them out some more. When they looked down toward the town centre this evening they could see ghosts pacing in front of the theatre. I saw nothing. Maybe they saw the trees moving in the wind. It is some distance away, so it was likely nothing, but their emotionalism demands a more vivid explanation. I ate my potato and ignored their assurances.

Silvio backed the truck into Walter’s compound and we are now working on our respective devices, him with his video and me with this attempt to record our adventures.

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Maria Fernanda

This morning I woke to a dream that upon rising I soon forgot. It involved a number of other people but I’m not sure if they were people I met traveling or strangers from Winnipeg. The dream faded as we walked onto the beach in front of the truck and Silvio fought with trying to get the drone working. It required more software, of course, so we drove to Maria Fernanda’s home to hang out with her.

She showed us around the house and told us how her baking business was faring. The heavy unseasonal rain has struck here as well, and she pointed out the leaking roof from the rain coming around the chimney and the sagging ceiling. She indicated the chairs on the porch and then went inside to prepare tea and gave us some more cake as well. We sat and chatted, mostly in Spanish, since she was shy about her English in front of Silvio. Silvio knew that would be the case, so he left us alone, pleading he needed to work on the drone. We talked, still mostly in my terrible Spanish, but it was fun to try. We talked about the vicissitudes of our lives, the choices we have made that have led us to children and the background that we have that makes that choice sensical.

Silvio came back to continue to work on the drone, and Maria Fernanda and I went for a drive to her mother’s place to deliver some tomatoes at the supermarket. We kept going after to the beach where she rents beachfront in order to start a café. She pointed it out and then we came back to Silvio’s drone hovering over the house.  Silvio played with it some more but Maria Fernanda’s work and life was catching up with her. She remembered a cake she had to make, and before long it was time to pick up her daughter.

Silvio mentioned that we could stay in town and meet up with her again, and said he was OK with that, but it was time to go. She is a great woman, but I’m not sure what I have to offer her. Our interests align in a number of ways, but we live worlds apart and do not have that much language in common. A pity though, I would have liked to have had more time with her and met her little girl, but I can’t help but wonder to what purpose. When you meet people on the road it is with the poignant awareness that you will likely never see them again. It is the sad reality of traveling. The meetings are intense but ultimately doomed to sad departures.

We left Maria Fernanda in Caldera, and made our way north, once we fought free of town and we were soon at the strangely curved boulders that make up a roadside national park. We stopped the truck, and while Silvio droned I went into the hills to see the contorted rocks. I took a few photos which may not really capture the place, and then came down to see Silvio’s drone hovering at nearly a kilometre.

I drove when we left, but soon I pulled over to look at the shore. Silvio took a nap and I walked through the rocks along the shore and looked at basura, bones that had washed up, and thick shells from snails. Once I was back to the truck, Silvio was still asleep so I just drove further north. We are now hundreds of kilometres from Caldera, and Silvio is making a salad. I drove most of the way today, and I’m fried. The last thirty or forty kilometres were through construction and even more narrowed roads. Some of the towns we have gone through have been inundated by mudslides, and the road also caught its fair share of the destruction.

We are stopped in Taltal for the night at a gas station and the wind off the mountain slopes is strong and carrying dust. We parked the truck facing downslope so the bunks are more comfortable and then while I wrote on this blog entry Silvio made a salad. Now, after having eaten Maria Fernanda’s amazing cake for dessert, it is time for a shower and to crash. Hopefully we can get to sleep early tonight.

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Lunch with some Chileans

Although we were both tired this morning, we roused ourselves, looking forward to meeting with the Chileans Silvio had befriended from the tourist rest area. We drove north wondering where their town was, and although we were aiming for Caldera, Bahia Inglesa and Lorento, we managed to miss all three. Perhaps we were looking at too many different names.

Finally, once we realized the GPS had shut down, we turned around and drove the sixty kilometres back to where we had ignored the signs. The older couple met us beside a gas plant, and soon were leading us to the market. There the man watched the truck and Silvio, auntie and I strolled the market. Silvio let her identify prices, and he bought vegetables while I watched the crowd. I spent some time trying to identify the metallic origin of hand made tools at one stall, but most of the time I watched people interact and tried to identify thieves. In each culture there are similar identifying features of thieves and some that are different. In this case, I didn’t see anyone who was obviously a thief.

Once we had out food, we went back to their place and auntie made us a big lunchtime meal. I helped her a bit, but mostly we just chatted while she cooked fish for Silvio—after I assured her I didn’t eat meat—and then around the table while we ate. U

Their house sits in a small compound surrounded by a seven or eight foot fence with razor wire on top. They said the place is tranquillo, and seguro, but they also told us about a break-in that was stopped by uncle firing shots at the burglars. The food was great, the decorations of the house interesting—given the black dolls on the chair, the sitting Buddha, catholic decorations, and multiple trinkets including a model ship, and very hospitable people. After lunch we did a tour of the property and the man pointed out where the burglars had entered, and explained where he had shot. He said the word had likely gone out over the neighbourhood and that now the thieves never attempted again. They know he has a gun.

We left their place after many goodbyes and drove back south to Bahia Inglesa, where we are now parked off the main street. We first went to a beach where I walked to the rocks and collected a few shells, and then sat around and chatted while the waves thrashed and the wind blew off the ocean. It is a bit of a drinking beach, so we drove back to the downtown strip to park. There we climbed a rock hill that rears above a beach and took a few photos, and walked part of the beach and the boardwalk. This is definitely a tourist area. There are BMWs parked beside tourist cabanas and happy families on the shore. It is off season however, and the air is a bit chilly, so there are not nearly as many people as there would be in the southern summer.

Silvio ducked out to check the security of the surroundings and came back with a flat cake. He hadn’t paid yet, so he was going back with money, but I had eaten practically all of it by the time he gathered his bag. I asked him for more and he returned with a half cake. It is excellent, some kind of chocolate peanut butter tart.

Once we were settled in to Bahia Inglesa, Silvio went out to get internet and came back with a person, of course. Maria Fernanda is a really interesting single mother of a two-year-old girl. davInterestingly, she wanted a child so she told the father she only wanted the sperm donation and she had the child on her own. She is the cake maker, and before she lived in Mexico where she was a dive instructor. We mostly bonded over my bad Spanish and her worries about her English—which she rarely used—and how we both want children. We talked about adoption in our respective countries as well as about family in general before she left and we slept to the sounds of the crashing waves and the occasional car.

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The Guard Dog

This morning we woke around nine and then had a leisurely breakfast while trucks rolled by and windmills turned lazily in the distance. By the time we were nearly ready to go, Silvio was outside chatting with an older couple traveling with their friend. They chatted about where the ghost towns were and how we could get there, and then exchanged contact information. They are a short distance from home, and up the road for us, so we are going to meet with them this afternoon, apparently. We climbed a long way from where we camped, the road winding up through the hills, and before long Silvio passed the baton for me. The truck is easy to drive, although it is easy to forget that it is a large and heavy machine. The main problem is the tolls. We try to pass as a camionita, or small truck, but occasionally we have to pay the real toll for a dual axle. The difference can be as much as fifteen dollars and sometimes it takes some convincing.

We are at another truck stop now, and just had a huge lunch that Silvio made. He has determined to show me a good time, which is partly about cooking and cleaning up. I am writing this as he cleans up the dishes and prepares the drone that I delivered for him. He wants to configure it today and then try to fly it. Outside the dunes rise in the distance and stray dogs trot back and forth across the parking lot looking for handouts. I gave one a piece of bread but he turned his nose up at it; cuico. Perro de mierda.

Silvio was concentrating on his drone when I went for a walk into the desert. Someone had cut the fence down to two feet from the ground—I wonder what the purpose of the fence would be anyway, given that there are no large animals here—so I was able to cross through easily once I stepped past the half full bottles of amber fluid—you can guess what that might be at a truck stop—and walked onto the shifting sand.

There are few live animals here. First I saw beetles


shifting sand and walking around, and then something that jumped swiftly out of sight into a burrow when it saw me coming. I went back for my camera, and then went further into the desert, finally walking about two kilometres away from the truck as I traced the lizards that darted into tunnels and birds lighting on rocks. I followed what had been a watercourse, likely only a few days earlier for some of the low ground was still muddy, but there was no more life when I did so. The lizard tunnels are frequent, but few are moving around. Perhaps it is too cold in the desert. There are larger holes as well, but there is nothing stirring around them. As far as animal prints, I only saw some dog tracks, and the stitching that beetles leave on the ground.

I walked back past a large cactus growing on the edge of one of the watercourses and took some pictures of it in the landscape, as well as close-ups of where something had chewed on its bark. By the time I returned to the truck, it was time for us to leave, so Silvio took over the driving and we drove even further north, turning on the highway to see Copiapo, where Silvio has gone into the mall called the Falabella, which for me sounds like Fabella, or slum. He is hoping to get warmer blankets as a backup to the diesel heater, and find internet to download his drone software. I am here guarding the truck, and watching the locals be annoyed that we are taking up four or five valuable parking spots.

Silvio came back a few hours later happy that he`d found two feather comforters and downloaded the software for his drone. I was just walking from a nap so he drove us out of town and before long we were at a copec—gas station chain from here—and he was bringing the manager over to the truck. She was excited to meet the foreigner so I tried not to disappoint. She assured us that the place was secure, and before long we were cooking dinner and readying for the night. I was tired for the nap hadn’t been at all substantial but we still stayed up too late watching The Brand New Testament once Silvio had been unable to get his direct TV antenna working.

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Lunch in La Serena with Argentines

This morning I woke early, and soon Silvio was telling me he was waiting until I was awake. I wanted to put up a blog post so that people would know that I had come back to the land of the wired. Once that task was accomplished with the free wireless from the highway stop, and we’d eaten, we got on the road again, the land gradually drying out, although pools of water lay in the low spots as a testament to an unusually wet fall. In the last number of years the desert had gotten more and more rain, and apparently, according to a guy Silvio talked to at the gas station, the desert is blooming.

We are now in La Serena, and I am in the truck while Silvio is shopping in the grocer. We don’t like to leave the truck alone. I’ve been approached twice but I put them off by speaking English or even worse Spanish than I regularly do.

We filled the two jerry cans that Silvio had bought for the trip, and now that one leaks we need to find another. Right now it is resting against by knee, upside down so the leak is on the top, with a garbage bag over it. Once we fill up on groceries we’ll pick up another jerry can.

While Silvio was shopping I caught up on writing and spoke English for two people who approached. One of them was a guy asking for change in the parking lot, but the other one was a woman in her forties. For both of them, once they heard my English they left immediately. Once Silvio came out pushing a cart, he told me he had spoken to the woman and she’d ignored him until she realized he belonged to the RV where she had engaged with the gringo. Then she was more friendly and before long we were seated at her and her husband’s table while they discussed tattooing, marijuana use, sites we should visit in Chile and why they left Buenos Aires. We were at their place for perhaps an hour or so, filling the water tank for the desert, and enjoying yerba mate.

By the time we left it was later in the afternoon so we picked up a jerry can in a place like a home depot, and left La Serena. By later in the afternoon we were showering in the camper and eating dinner. It was late when we stopped in at a station de servicio. Silvio asked a dad driving his two daughters if the place was safe for the night, then we went to where a cyclist from Germany was stretching beside his bicycle and tent. We drove beside him to ask him if the place was safe but found him as unfriendly as anyone we have met. We established that our language of communication was English, and then discussed his trip. His recalcitrance made him a bit difficult to talk to and when we invited him to share a meal with us he declined. After the friendly Chileans, his lack of socialisation stood out. We left him lying on the rocks in his tent while we enjoyed a hot meal in a heated caravan. As Silvio said, he could have slept inside and hung out and had fun. We would have fed him and taught him how to be a human being, but he was a Bartleby to our invite.

We slept late, for we looked at Silvio’s pictures and were finally asleep by almost two in the morning. Even though we are parked in truck stops, it never feels like we are in a public space, for it is quiet enough inside that we ignore what happens outside except for the sight of the back and sides in the camera’s view.

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