During our stay in Iquique we took a day trip to see one of Chile’s ancient man-made wonders, The Giant of the Atacama. We anticipated that getting to see the “largest anthropomorphic geoglyph in the world” with our own eyes would be one of the highlights of our entire visit to Chile, and so it would have been, if we hadn’t vastly overestimated the number of fellow travelers to the same site. We presumed The Giant would be a mecca for a whole host of visitors, including everyone from the millions of credulous believers in Von Daniken to the thousands of people with an interest in pre-Columbian civilization – and all those in between. Obviously, knowing the remoteness of the site we didn’t expect everyone to be there at the same moment, but we took it for granted that there would be dozens of people there at any one time. Thus it never entered our minds that we would have any trouble getting to and from The Giant without our own car. Even worse, we had misread the distance on our – by now very worn – map, from the Highway 5 bus stop to The Giant as being only 2 kilometers (easily walkable, even under the desert sun) when it was in fact 12! Nevertheless, when a car stopped and we were given a ride to The Giant almost before we had even begun to raise our thumbs, our original presumption seemed to have been correct. However, we had been at the site barely ten minutes when our kindly lift-givers got bored and decided to leave. So, when they offered to take us back to the highway bus stop (which we now realised was 12 ks and not 2) we had a decision to make. Ignore the significant fact that we and our ride buddies were the only people there and stay on a while longer at this amazing site, or do the sensible – “been there / seen it” – thing and accept the lift. Like the classic “Darwin Award” idiots we all read about everyday in the newspapers (who go fell walking in sneakers, or swimming in pools known to be infested with salt-water crocodiles or who light up a cigarette while standing over a cesspit) we decided to stay on “a while longer”… Needless to say, an hour passed and nobody came. So, we decided to walk the actual 2 kilometers back to the dirt track (marked as “minor-road 15) and see if we could at least get a lift from there. Problem was, by this time we were already down to the last few sips of water in our single 1/2 liter bottle and beginning to roast as the sun reached its highest point in the vast desert sky. By the time we made it onto the track we knew that we might be in serious trouble. There was no shelter of any kind, our water was gone, and our exposed arms were beginning to burn. At this point we didn’t know whether we should stay put or attempt the 10 k walk to the main road. After a ten minute rest we began to walk – or rather, stagger along the track, and then almost immediately we heard a vehicle approaching from behind, going in our direction. But our elation was only momentary, as the car sped past without even slowing down, it’s exhaust and dust adding mocking insult to injury. But then, after about another hour, a second vehicle – a small truck – emerged from the east, heading west and its driver , this time, took pity on us and dropped us at the bus stop. Now whenever we think of The Giant, or just about any other South American geoglyph our first reflex is to reach for a water bottle…

13 20 kilometers! Not 2!


From Iquique we made our way to Chile’s northernmost major city of Arica. The picture below is an exaggeration of what at the time, we feared might really happen when, during the drive north we passed a military airbase of some kind. One can imagine our fright when a light aircraft flew just a few feet over the roof of the bus before landing on the road in front of us causing our driver to make an emergency break. For some reason unbeknownst to us and our driver too, judging by his outburst of expletives – and presumably something to do with financial expedience  – it turned out that this particular section of road  doubled as a runway. Whatever, it certainly livened up what up until that point had been a particularly dull, desert drive…

14 Dual purpose highway


One of the few things that disappointed – not to mention surprised – us during our first weeks in Chile was the fact that wherever we went, and wherever we stayed (smart or shabby) we could only seem to get instant coffee. To make matters worse, this wasn’t even granulated coffee, but old fashioned, cheap and nasty powder coffee. But then, in Arica, we befriended a likable and knowledgeable young English couple taking their gap year in South America – let’s call them Susan and Bob – who explained to us where we had been going wrong. It turned out that if one wanted real coffee in Chile one had to ask for it twice. In other words, instead of asking for a “cafe” one asked for a “cafe, cafe”. When they told us this we thought that our new friends were teasing us, but when we went to dinner with them for the first time, at the end of the meal Bob asked for “Cafe, Cafe”. And hey presto! As if by magic, four cups of exceptionally good real coffee were delivered to our table…

15 Cafe, Cafe