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There are two ways to cross the border from Chile to Bolivia on land. One leads past stunning landscape, volcanos, geysers, lagoons, and wildlife; the other one might turn your trip into a nightmare. I tried them both.
Are you scared?
I had just gotten off the phone with Antonio, the Chilean friend I had only made 2 days earlier on Couchsurfing, and the only one I could think of calling before 6am. I happened to be the only tourist on the dark sidewalk in front of the “Frontera del Norte” bus terminal in Calama, where I found myself desperately holding on to my big backpack that early Thursday morning. The backpack they had NOT managed to take away from me.
No, I am not scared.
It wasn´t even a lie at that time, I was just detached from my feelings. My chest was trembling, and I couldn´t think straight. I kept kicking my backpack anytime I remembered something else that I had packed into my daypack before I meant to take the public bus from Chile to Bolivia. The daypack they DID manage to literally take off my hands.
But your daypack is right here, isn´t it?
The looks I earned from the bystanding locals ranged from amused to pityful. None of them had moved a finger to help me, and I will never find out who of them was in on it. Probably the smiley woman to my right. No, that totally-different-looking daypack they had placed next to me to distract me wasn´t mine. It would magically disappear again 5 minutes later.
You´re save here, they have already stolen your stuff, ha ha ha!
Eventually a driver offered me to wait inside his bus until it started getting light outside. I sat down next to a group of Argentinian tourists that were clearly entertained by my drama. They had arrived in Calama that same morning, but the driver hadn´t let them off the bus yet, because “it was dangerous”. Why did he make me wait outside? It was much too soon for Argentinian jokes on my behalf, and I moved to the driver´s cabin.
What was in your daypack?
The bus driver was curious. Emm, my GoPro, cell phone, camera, sun glasses, … everything ALMOST. Expect something had felt different that early morning when I, barely awake, packed my stuff and randomly decided to wear my money belt which I hadn´t used anywhere from Africa to New Zealand. What had I hidden away in it? My passport & half my bank cards, thank god! I wasn´t stuck in one of Chile´s most dangerous places.
Do you have a boyfriend?
Seriously? I was still upset two days later when I went to file charges and didn´t expect the police officer to start the questioning by flirting with me. In the police report he wouldn’t even bother mentioning the accomplice who pretended to help me to recover my daypack that morning in Calama. The one who must have been disapointed about me not leaving my big backpack behind when he tricked me into following his buddies away from the bus terminal. The one I´m so glad I didn´t listen to, despite my shock, when he sent me off the other way into a a dark alley all alone. The one I wouldn´t see again afterwards, and that i would fail to describe to the police, just like the others.
I would love to have a boyfriend.
In these moments. Preferably a strong and tall one. I might have been fine that morning had I not been there on my own. I might not have been struggling with anxiety in crowded places since. I might be able to sleep on night buses without clinging on to my new daypack. But that boyfriend just hasn´t presented himself yet, and life is too short to wait around for him. So for now I keep going, even though I am not comfortable traveling solo again just yet.
Things like that happen to anyone who travels for a long time, this is just a minor setback.
I am very grateful for the empathetic messages and support I received from many friends and fellow travelers after I lost my solo travel spirit. For the rest, I know it´s difficult for anyone who travels neither much, nor far, nor alone, to understand why this incident is still on my mind 3 weeks later. I am not putting my feelings into words here to pitty myself but to finally move one. The point is I am not depressed, because I have to buy a new laptop. Or because I lost several weeks of photos. But because I have a hard time letting go of the sense of calm and trust that had taken one full year to build up and that I consider the best part of traveling solo. It disappeared within seconds that morning on that sidewalk in Calama, and I miss it.
Will you come home?
Not yet. This is not the way I want to end my amazing journey around the world. There are still plenty of gorgeous places to visit in South America, and I know it´s just a matter of time for the negative feelings to fade. Until I learn to embrace the beauty of solo travel again, I will choose nature of cities. I am looking into volunteering options. And I am very excited for my friend Alejandra to join me in Peru for a few days tomorrow 🙂