Entering Is Easy, Leaving Is Harder
SOMETIMES you decide to take a trip somewhere and sometimes the trip decides to take you somewhere else.
The Chilean border control officer looked at my Chilean ID card and eyeballed me.
"It's out of date," he said.
True, I replied, but I was in the process of getting a new one in Santiago, then lost my job, global economic crisis you understand, and so I'll just be leaving your beautiful county now, if you don't mind stamping the exit forms, thanks very much.
The man was having none of it, even when I nipped back to the bus and produced three detailed forms showing I was in the process of getting a new ID card and that I could freely leave and enter the country.
In a way only cops can do, he dutifully studied each form, stared at me for too long and calmly said "And?"
And nothing. That was that. I had not paid a small administrative fee six months beforehand and so was not allowed leave the country. I would now have to go to the international department of the gobernacion in the nearest city.
Back on the bus and the two Japanese girls who chatted and giggled all the way to the border were suddenly silent, pretending not to look at me as the bagpack was hurled off the bus, a note of panic in their eyes.
"Not every Irishman is a terrorist," I said to them, making them clutch their handbags tighter. Couldn't resist that one.
And so an unscheduled trip was made from the border outside San Pedro de Atacama to the mining city of Calama, apt really as "boring" is a word that definitely springs to mind.
Luckily the paperwork only took two days, getting up at 6am to be the first in line for 8.30am - unluckily the next bus out of Calama to Bolivia was three days later.
For a populaton of some 240,000, Calama has surprisingly little to do apart from a visit to the local copper mine, the largest of its kind in the world.
I did find a park on the outskirts, an amazing site, being the only park I've ever seen without a blade of grass or a flower in it. It resembled a carpark.
Still, I found a large tyre which was filled with gravel next to a stream.
One local man in his 30s told me what I suspected, that there was very little to do.
He said that while the mine is the largest employer in town and workers there enjoy a relatively high wage with many benefits, not everyone works for them.
Life is expensive in Calama, he said, high rents, expensive food (it is a desert after all), and a huge immigrant population from Peru and Bolivia struggling to survive, means that the gap between haves and have nots is striking.
He added that the influx of cheap drugs, mainly cocaine from Bolivia, was another problem in Calama although the number one addiction was the drink.
"Have you noticed how many bars there are in the centre?" he enquired.
"Yes, yes I have" I replied. Kind of remined me of home.