FOREWORD: While some hitchhikers ‘collect’ cars and miles, I prefer to collect people and stories. Below are photos and short descriptions of the people who were kind enough to give me rides while hitchhiking north toward Peru. My motivation for posting these short anecdotes is to show that hitchhiking’s dangerous reputation—for both those asking and giving rides—is unfounded. In my experience, I’ve come into contact with generous, kind, normal people. Hitchhiking is sharing on its most basic, pure level. And yes, when I had a car I also gave plenty of individuals rides without incident.
Itinerary: Santiago to Bahia Inglesa
Drive Time: 12 hours
Marcos was a divorced father of two traveling the eternal length of Chile on a business trip. We got along instantly—he sleeps in his car at gas stations. Though the details were never discussed, he was en route the northern desert city of Arica for a new construction proposal. He has a cousin in Spain who begs him to visit; his family in Panama blasts reggeton when he visits for the holidays. When arriving to cities of interest he asked what we wanted to see, drive there, then we’d get out to stretch and look around. Marcos always phoned his daughter during these breaks, calling her princess before hanging up.
Itinerary: Bahia Inglesa to Caldera
Drive Time: 30 minutes
Ana is a business engineering student on a work-vacation. Originally from southern Chile, she spends her summers with her family in the resort town of Bahia Inglesa working several jobs, the most interesting as an underwater photographer. True to Chilean friendliness, she invited me to dive instantly upon hearing that I’m certified, forgetting completely that were hurdling in the opposite direction in her pick-up. She has 12 years of photography experience, the black Nikon between her and her silent mother evidence of her passion. In one month she will go to Brazil for ten days, again to take photos and vacation. When parting ways I wrote my blog address on her tan forearm with a pen. She smiled and said goodbye with a hug.
Name: Diego & Gloriana
Itinerary: Caldera to National Park Pan de Azucar
Drive Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Diego & Gloriana listen to Kenny Rogers with the windows down. When my hitch partner Cameron asked if they understood the lyrics, they replied no, not a word. The next few minutes were spent interpreting the “The Gambler” chorus: you got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. It was then I realized my Spanish poker terminology is lacking. Big smiles all around. Diego was an expert in the area’s mining industry and would point out rounded peaks in the distance saying simply, “Gold,” “Iron,” or “Copper.” He thought a dictator was needed to bring discipline to Chile and was happy the conservative right was back in power after the recent elections. Gloriana worked in a strawberry factory, mentioning in a sweet aside that the work had not killed her fruit cravings. Both were extremely proud of the desert flowers that rise from nothing to bloom bright whites across the sand.
Name: Nicole, Gabriela, Federico, and Valentina
Itinerary: National Park Pan de Azucar to Chañaral
Drive Time: 45 minutes
These girls (and Gabi’s brother Federico) were driving up and down the coast during their summer vacation—a common university student tradition. We spent five beach days in their company, though it seemed as if we had known each other for much longer. After cleaning the campsite the last day we packed six people—along with all the beach and camp gear—into Nicole’s compact car. The short ride was uncomfortable but playful, bringing back memories of my summer road trips from Nebraska to Florida. The goodbye was bittersweet since we may never see each other again. They left us near the outskirts of town in order to catch a ride out. Cameron and I now sincerely call them friends. We continue to stay in touch.
Itinerary: Chañaral to Calama
Drive Time: 10 hours
Roberto was our first long-distance commercial truck—which meant a bed for the long ride north through the desert. When the truck pulled to the shoulder I asked permission for another passenger to ride then yelled to Jonas the German hitchhiker down the block we met only minutes before. He had been waiting at the gas station three hours for a ride, the poor chump. Cameron, Jonas, and I all climbed into the cab together after securing our backpacks on the flatbed. The driver Robert regularly drives 24-hours with only short naps. Photos of his three children hung above the dashboard; a rosary dangled from the radio. During the silence he would crank the CB, letting the Brazilian and Peruvian trucker voices crackle in the cab. He was lively, quick to joke, interested in our travels, saying he picked us up because we were foreigners. Roberto explained the pay system for Chilean truck drivers, how chemicals are used to preserve banana shipments, and answered with great detail any historical question we posed about his country. We parted ways at 2am at a highway intersection. He was in his hometown Calama and wanted to sleep.
Drive Time: None
Originally from a German town near the French border, Jonas now travels the world full-time and without an end-date. His ex-girlfriend was a American foreign exchange student in Germany. When it was time for her to return home to Portland, Oregan Jonas accompanied her, then later they both flew to South America to travel Ecuador and Peru. She returned to the United States after three months. Jonas didn’t seem to keen to talk about the break-up. For eight months now he has traveled Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina—seemingly with no goal, destination, or plan in mind. Like so many young travelers I’ve met, he is wandering until his money runs out. He says he will finish his degree upon returning to Germany. Among other stories, he had recently met a Chilean man whose entire family was murdered by former dictator Pinochet’s regime.
Name: Christian and Isolina
Itinerary: Calama to San Pedro de Atacama
Drive Time: 2 hours
My cardboard sign convinced Christian to stop. When I ran up to the window and mentioned my two friends also needed a ride (I hid them because its easier to get ride hitching solo), he seemed deceived, but waited patiently for us to load our gear into his small car. He was driving to San Pedro de Atacama with his girlfriend Isolina in order to learn how to drive a stick-shift. The car stalled several times, clanking badly the gears. We sat in the back seat talking amongst ourselves because the music was too loud, the wind coming through the downed windows too strong. At one point, Christian and Isolina suddenly pulled over, got out of the car without asking if we’d like to also exit, then began to pour water over a roadside shrine. This took fifteen minutes; we waited with our confusion. When they returned I asked why they stopped. Christian’s two uncles had died in a car accident in that spot a few years back. He comes to visit the rustic shrine of white painted rocks and adobe flower pots regularly. Before arriving to San Pedro we stopped at a look-out point called the “Valley of the Moon.”
More photos and profiles to come as I begin to hitchhike from San Pedro de Atacama to Cusco, Peru within the next week.