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Chapter 6 - Leaving Chile. Kind of. Sort of. Eventually...

By Neil

sunny 32 °C
View Cape to Cape on capetocape2017's travel map.

“No Bus”, said the lady in the Andesmar Bus office in San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile.

Nik and I had been travelling gradually up from Cape Horn at the bottom of Chile, and San Pedro de Atacama was our last stop in Chile before heading south east down to Buenos Aires to meet up with my sons, Alex and Michael. However, the Andes had different plans.

It was in January 1817 that General Jose San Martin and Bernardo O’Higgins (that great South American Patriot), first crossed the Andes from Mendoza to Santiago in order to liberate Chile from Spanish Rule. We were planning to cross east of San Pedro de Atacama over the 4,320 metre Paso de Jama pass and go to Salta in Argentina, then south to Cordoba and then into Buenos Aires. Piece of cake. 5 days. No problem.

We’d taken a great tour the day before to Valle de Luna (Valley of the Moon), and Valle de Marz (Valley of Mars). Two amazing geological features just outside of San Pedro.


Valle de Marz, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

Our guide, Pablo, had said that the Paso de Jama pass was open and that, worst case, they might delay us a bit in order to snow plough the road, and put down some salt. But on the Monday night, it snowed. We didn’t get up there but here’s what it probably looked like.


“Do you think it will be open tomorrow ?”, I asked the Andesmar lady.

“Quizas”(Maybe) she said. “ No Se” (I don’t know), she continued.

So, Tuesday morning. We’re in San Pedro de Atacama and Alex and Michael would arrive on a flight on Sunday.

Time to look into various options. Time to get googling. There was an internet café at the bus station with two free monitors. The woman in the internet café was helpful.

“No hay Aeropuerto en San Pedro. Hay un Aeropuerto en Calama, pero no hay vuelos a Santiago” she said, letting us know about the lack of an airport at San Pedro and that Calama, 70 km’s away had no flights to Santiago.

“Para un vuelo a Santiago, es necesario ir a Antofagasta”, she continued. So we started looking up flights from Antofagasta to Santiago, and I checked with the Bus office to see if we could get a bus the 340 km’s to Antofagasta. All good. After lots of checking, we could get a bus to Antofagasta, a flight to Santiago (Nikki pointed out that, whilst we wanted to travel by land mostly, it was ok to fly back), a bus over the Andes from Santiago to Mendoza, and then a short 17 hour bus ride to BA. Getting in at midnight Saturday night.

So midday we’re on a bus for the 340 km trip to Antofagasta.

Antofagasta is a mining town that is pretty much ignored by the Lonely Planet guide, however, it was the imposition of a 10 cent per tax on the Compania de Salitres y Ferrocarril de Antofagasta that was the trigger for the War of the Pacific. It was during this war between Peru, Chile, and Bolivia (1879 – 1883), that Bolivia lost it’s access to the Pacific.

Maps showing South America before and after the War of the Pacific (1879 to 1883)

But wait, there’s more. Antofagasta has a number of claims to fame; the highest Gross Domestic Product per capita in Chile (USD 37,000 – That’s a lot (it’s USD 51,000 per capita in Australia)), dancing on the beach, a mammothy thing, and an honourable mention in the worst vegetarian food of the trip


Those of you who’ve travelled with me know that I like to be early for flights to allow for the unexpected. Like in Antofagasta, a water main that had exploded overnight closing off the main street and a number of other streets. Although it was close, we made the “Sky Airways” flight, and all was good.

However, at Santiago airport it was time for a travel lesson. There are always taxi touts at airports looking for business. At Santiago airport, it’s taken to a whole new level.

Not only are there taxi touts. There are minibus touts. And normal bus touts. Imagine, if you will, that you are at a market and you want some apples, oranges and an avocado. Then imagine that, instead of walking around the different grocers, that they surround you and are all yelling, no screaming at the same time for you to buy their produce. Then that you decide you’re going to go the supermarket to get your fruit, but they wont move. You gently move through the crowd, which results in a little meanness coming into the touts. Once you’re in the supermarket it’s all ok. But getting there is decidedly uncomfortable.

It was a lesson to us walk directly the taxi counter in airports and don’t think about minibuses or airport buses. It was a serious and salutary lesson.


However, once in Santiago it was time for some food porn. After the food in Antofagasta, the Bocanariz restaurant was very nice and with some great wine.


Bocanariz restaurant, Santiago – January 26th 2017 – One month on the road.

Trying to leave Chile, again.

The pass through the Andes between Santiago (Chile) and Mendoza (Argentina) used to be the Uspallata pass at over 3,832 metres until the 3,080 metre Tunel Cristo Redentor (Tunnel of Christ the Redeemer) was built at 3,200 metres in 1980. The road up from Santiago is the most amazing road I think I’ve ever been on. 24 hairpin bends. Astounding scenery. Plus I redeemed my soul when I went through the tunnel. We arrived at the Chilean/ Argentinian border post at 10.45 am.


The 24 hairpin bends on the way up from Santiago o the pass

“12.15 pm” I said to Nik, with my 1.5 hour estimation of the time it would take to get through.

But no. I’ve travelled a lot but this was the weirdest border crossing I’ve ever done. The bus pulled up at this large shed, with a shallow conical roof. We get off the bus and line up at the passport control window. That’s all fine. It takes an hour but it’s all fine. Except you don’t go through. Once your passport is stamped, you walk back to the bus, the bus then drives 50 metres to the customs check. Out of the bus again, everyone with their hand luggage, and they start going through it. A woman’s mobile phone is pulled out, she’s told to unlock it, then the customs man takes it away. 5 minutes later he brings it back and hands it to the woman. This happens a number of times.

Then two polystyrene cups are handed down the line of passengers and people put money in cups; one cup for Chilean Pesos and one for Argentinian pesos ! Why ? A bribe ? Customs duty on a mobile phone ? No idea.

They check our bags and seem vaguely interested in Nik’s iPad.

It’s midday at this point. When it seems that my 12.15 pm prediction could be right, the customs people find two large black plastic bags of new clothes, complete with sales tags, someone was trying to get over the border. I think they were confiscated.

We eventually pulled away from the border post at 1.45 pm.

Leaving Chile. Piece of cake. Eventually….

And Alex and Michael arrived safely on Sunday afternoon.


Alex, Mike, and me in the hostel in Buenos Aires, Sunday 29th January 2017

Posted by capetocape2017 13:54 Archived in Chile

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