In Antofagasta Carol and I realised that we were something akin to supermodel celebrities from the level of attention we got from every truck that passed us. The terrain looked like an arid Californian desert, with cacti, crashing waves on one side of the road and towering mountains on the other.
We settled on a guidebook recommended hostel, which turned out to be a huge mistake. It was run by a hunchbacked, shuffling woman on the verge of death and our room consisted of a high-ceilinged prison cell with just a small, gauze-covered window at the top. The two pieces of furniture were old and broken, our beds were iron and dirty-looking and the bathroom hideous.
The room faced into a courtyard full of strange characters and throughout the night buzzers sounded, doors slammed and some kind of factory operation went on next door. One night, we couldn’t shut out the sound of extremely loud and unpleasant sex next door.
Our days were spent by the slightly grimy beach, which was full of flies but fun anyway. We walked back along the volcanic sand in the balzing heat and saw ‘Jesus Lives’ written huge on the hillside. Shrines to the dead lined the seafront, some more lavish than others, as well as tents of people who lived in the shelter of the groynes and rubbish tips.
Kids were everywhere practising skating, backflipping, forming human pyramids and generally proving how much more sporty they were than English children. Pairs of names were etched all the way along the front – the international teenage symbol of everlasting love, Carol pointed out.
The town itself had little to offer, although its plaza was decorated with a miniture Big Ben model, and relics of the old railway to Bolivia scattered the port. In the plaza, two gypsy women approached and aggressively tried to read our palms.
We decided to leave pretty quickly, revising the plan yet again as we travelled onwards to a new and unknown destination.
posted Thursday May 2008