It’s a good thing that I prefer reposing upright when sick because here we are, committed to our countless 24-hour bus ride, and I am a pukey mess.
Despite sending my shrimp salad plate back to the kitchen at Hot Chili Pepper–a Mexican joint their pitch girl sells us on hardcore for their delish cuisine and mega margs, cheaper than the neighboring restaurant–it seems the chef is convinced that shrimp must be eaten semi-raw, still grey-pink, and I think to insist some more that they be mas cocinar, por favor, but I desist and burry them under shredded iceberg.
This, most definitely, is not the Rio’s mango salad and matching blended margarita, and, yes, we know, the Rio is most definitely a bastardization of Mexican cuisine, but hell, it sounds about stellar right now.
So, crowded on an overnighter, my upchuck confirms my suspicions–this is most definitely baaaaaad camarones, and instantly, I regret my lack of balls, for there is nothing less disgusting than being ill in a moving port-a-John-esque bus bathroom with questionable supply of TP.
At least the morning brings some relief, sequestered to our seats for twelve more hours of dozing as we drive through uninterrupted desert scenery–literally, contemplate the stretch of land that represents, almost 16 hours of nothing but desert, no vegetation, no green, no water–and somehow, the scenery inspires an in-bus selection of a Christmas Carol–really?–followed by The Transporters which Graham first thinks is The Transformers until we realize that British dude and sexy Russian girl are driving in a car, not becoming one, followed by an American flic whose name I forget because it is dubbed and subtitled in Spanish–go figure, so, instead, we play a make-up version of Gin Rummy.
Like clockwork, we arrive precisely 24 hours after our initial departure, introduction to this desert town, San Pedro, done at the eleventh hour when the adobe buildings and dusty side streets and stray dogs appear a lot more sinister and less magical than they are, Chile’s version of India’s Jaisalmer to be discovered at daybreak tomorrow.
How we find our hostel is miraculous, receptionist spooky and aloof and entirely too pale blonde for the doses of UV available here, a walking ghost, and unlucky for me, the camarones make a comeback, twice, me passing out for a nap between vomiting in time to hear an Aussie stop Graham mid-Nalgene fill-up because–
“The water’s not safe, mate. High levels of arsenic.”
Welcome to the Atacama Desert.