The following takes place between Tuesday, February 8 and Monday, February 21, 2011
Oh, how grand life is. There are certain moments that really hit it home that I’m on a trip like no other. How else can one go from giant expanses of salt, to desert, to ocean side in the space of a week? It’s hard sometimes to remember how fortunate I am to be able to experience all that I am experiencing. The idea of going on a Round The World trip is such a foreign concept back home. You rarely, if ever, hear of people doing something like this. Either because it was always thought to be too expensive(back when the province was struggling), to now where it’s thought to be too much time to take off(now that the province is booming and everyone is putting more value in making money than in leisure time).
So here I am, in Iquique, a beautiful little city(smaller than Saskatoon even), nestled between the beginnings of the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. Rarely is there a cloud in the sky. Rarely is there a breeze in the air, and when the wind does blow, the smell of the salt water is ripe. It’s as close to paradise as I have been.
My first couple nights in Iquique were a bit of a mess. I arrived late Monday night with a place already booked. Unfortunately, the place wasn’t nearly as nice as I was expecting and I ended up paying a lot more than advertised. Needless to say, I left the next day and walked for a few hours in the hot sun until I finally gave in and found another place to stay a night. Again, not the best.
With the help of a friend I had met on the bus, we looked through the local newspaper for apartments as those are very popular in Iquique and easy to rent for short periods. We found one and went to look at the place. A shared kitchen, but the room had it’s own bathroom, a large queen sized bed, view of the ocean, its own refrigerator and dining room set. With the place rented, I moved in the next day. Finally, after two whole days in the city already, I could actually explore it.
Now, Iquique, much like a few of the cities I’ve visited lately, is not usually on travellers itineraries. The only other people in the apartment building that I met were Jacqueline and her boyfriend who worked in a mine; William and Wilson, twins from Paraguay working in Iquique; and Diego and Francisco, two guys who made my gaydar go off like crazy. All were from Chile/South America. I was the only gringo around.
The time in Iquique was spent relaxing, going to the beach(then subsequently avoiding the sun for three days after getting a massive sunburn), and getting to know the others in the apartment. Cooking my own food, and having a fully stocked fridge was amazing. Nothing better than being able to have a whole fridge to myself and putting whatever I wanted in it(grapes, fresh watermelon, ice cream, etc).
Swimming in the ocean at Playa Bellavista is an experience. The power of the waves is absolutely stunning, and surprisingly fun! I spent hours just sitting in the water, letting the huge waves wash over me, pushing me back onto shore and then pulling me back. Simple things for simple minds. There were numerous jellyfish in the water here, but because of the large amounts of jutting rocks in this particular beach, they were all dead.
And then, on Valentine’s Day, I got a chance to talk with Francisco. With some hints to him that I was ok with gay people, I finally confirmed my suspicions. Both he and Diego were gay, but had broken up a few weeks earlier. Being V-Day, and both of us being single, we agreed to go out for a few beers that night in a ode to singlehood.
As we were sitting at the table in the hallway, watching the sun setting, the table began to shake. I didn’t notice at first. Francisco had to point it out. But it was happening. The entire building shook slightly. Dogs all over began to bark. Light posts and TV antenna’s outside swayed. Could it be? Could this actually be an earthquake? Other tenants came out of their rooms, all asking the same thing: “Fue que un terramoto?” A few minutes later, and a quick search of the USGS website confirmed it. Just over the mountains, 75 miles away, a 5.6 magnitude earthquake had hit. My first earthquake!
Skip forward to that night. After a long walk along the beachside boulevard, we arrived at the bars near the university. Francisco and I shared a pitcher of beer, danced, had more beer, and then hailed a cab to take us back home.
It moved so fast. We went from relative strangers to handholding and going on dates within a matter of hours. There’s a scene in the movie “A Map for Saturday” which talks about travel romances. I honestly never thought I would actually be in one.
We spent an entire day at Playa Cavancha, the largest beach in Iquique. We watched surfers, and spent a considerable amount of time in the water swimming out to try to get over a wave before it crested. I learned fast how to know when and where a large, 10 foot tall wave would crest. If the wave hadn’t passed you by the time it crests, and you’re under where it will crest and crash, just dive into the wave. It’s better to be under the water already of your own volition. I was hit a few times by a cresting wave and it’s disorientating as you tumble in the violent water. You don’t even have a chance to get a big breath as the force of the wave knocks whatever breath you have out of you. Still, Amazing fun!!!
When Francisco’s friends from back home in Punta Arenas arrived, we had even more fun. Going to the beach, shopping in the tax free zone of Zofri, going to the Casino, going to the south end of Iquique to the discos, and drinking on the beach in the middle of the night.
It was amazing. Intense. And it made the realization that I had to leave to continue my trip extremely hard to accept. We both knew it was coming and it sucked big time. When I bought my bus ticket to leave for Santiago, I nearly started to cry. It’s silly really. I mean, I had just met him. It’s not like we had been together for a significant amount of time.
We said goodbye at the bus station and had one last hug. Will I see him again? I’m not sure. I’d like to think that I will. But sometimes fate has other things in store for you. You just got to roll with it.