SOUTH AMERICA – THE JOURNEY PART 8
He drew his hand across his throat and his black eyes bore into mine. He took a step closer, his stale breath – tinged with alcohol from last night’s drinking – filled my nostrils. My eyes widened in fear as I digested his motion: he was going to slice my throat.
I’d arrived in Copiapo at the unearthly hour of six in the morning, an hour ahead of schedule and in complete darkness. I was dumped outside of the locked bus station, slowly dragging my bag from the coach’s boot in attempt to somehow kill time. I glanced around. A sense of dread filled my stomach. The place was deserted, I was alone and the sunlight wasn’t going to keep me company until another hour and a half. I saw a flickering street light and hurried over, using my padded backpack as a seat. I had nothing to do other than wait for the dawn and any unsavoury characters that might stumble my way.
I’d decided to head to Bahia Inglesa, a short trip from Copiapo, in attempt to leave the winter gringo trail – the well-worn route traversed by travellers. The becoming photos of white-shell beaches and turquoise had lured me here. But there had been one possible fatal omission – there a was drunken murderer on the loose.
I stepped back from his advance, stumbling over my backpack, the booze-fuelled local watching my clumsy manoeuver. A smile crept across his face. Oh God, he’s going to enjoy this. His arm jerked forward and grabbed my elbow.
“You need to be careful,” he said, “it’s not safe to walk far from here in the dark.” So that was the meaning of his gesture. Instead of pulling me towards him, he steadied me on my feet and apologised for grabbing me.
His name was Horizo and he was on his way to work after a celebratory night out. He decided it would be better if he waited with me until sunrise, the two of us perched on our bags. He told me about his three-year-old son and his job as an oyster picker. For eight hours a day he hauls monstrous sacks of oysters up from the sea and then onto the dock. His hands were rough, his clothes shabby but his smile was upbeat.
His eyes softened as he talked of his family and his inability, due to a lack of money, to return to Santiago, his home city. He listened carefully to my fumbled Spanish and at 7.30am he stumbled along to work.
A lingering fog had worked its way inland obscuring everything further than 200 metres away. Heading to the coast was pointless but just as I had given up hope, it cleared and blue skies advanced. I found a colectivo, a shared taxi, heading the short distance to Bahia Inglesa, which translated means English bay. The town was named after a visit by Edward Davis, an English buccaneer, whose ship docked down in the bay 1687.
A week later I met a Chilean lady whose grandfather, also from Liverpool, used to be the consulate general in Copiapo – only five kilometres from the cute beach town – and he threw elaborate parties in honour of the British King’s and later the Queen’s birthdays.
The colectivo drove through what looked like the desert, only to stumble upon the azure sea at Bahia Inglesa. The photos were accurate, the beach was picture perfect. I did the big toe test – as expected the sea was freezing so I decided against plan A – skinny dipping (yeah, right). Instead I stripped down from six layers to four.
In summer the water remains cold unless you’re in a wetsuit or the shallow rock pool. However that doesn’t stop the hoards from rolling out their towels come November to January. But for today, I had the entire beach to myself. And not a murderer in sight. Phew!
WHERE ON EARTH?
- The South American country that was under dictatorship until 1988
- One of the region’s most affluent countries
- On the Pacific coast but it still gets damn chilly in the winter!
- A beautiful beach that stretches for 2km
- Pricy restaurants and accommodation, best to stay in nearby Copiapo if you’re on a budget
- The tiny town feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere
- No ATMs (get cash out in Copiapo)
HOW TO GET FROM COPIAPO TO BAHIA INGLESA
- Take any of the colectivos from the plaza. It costs 800 Chilean pesos and there are plenty of cars going so you shouldn’t have to wait more than 10 minutes. Long-distance buses run from the north of Chile and from towns on the Santiago-Calama route. They stop, albeit at ridiculous hours, at Copiapo.