Back at the end of May I was nearing the end of my month-long trip to South America where I had been traveling through Peru, Bolivia and Chile. I crossed the border from Bolivia at San Pedro de Atacama in the north of Chile and spent a couple days there before making my way down to Santiago where I would be catching my flight home in a few days.
There are flights from the nearby town of Calama, Chile that fly to Santiago but I was on a strict budget and was nearing the upper limit of that budget already. Now, the distance from San Pedro to Santiago is not small either, coming in at roughly 1630km. There was a bus company, Turbus, that had a bus run from San Pedro to Santiago. It was a lengthy bus ride and supposed to take about 23 hours to get to Santiago. At a mere 45,000 Chilean Peso’s ($66 USD) for the 23 hour bus ride, this was my budget route to get to Santiago.
The bus departed from San Pedro at roughly 2:00PM and was scheduled to get to Santiago the next day at about 1:00PM. I know, I know, I must be at least a little crazy to spend 23 hours on a bus but hey, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do and bus travel is the way most local people get around in South America. If you want to save money when traveling, my best advice is to follow the locals and do what they do.
The bus ride was going smooth. it was actually a really nice bus with very comfortable seating, a couple snacks were offered and there were movies playing (some of which were in English once in a while because I imagine finding a Spanish man to do voice-over work for Arnold Schwarzenegger must be next to impossible). Best of all there was noone in the seat next to me so I had a TON of room to myself! I was really enjoying this ride watching the Chilean landscape roll by outside, which i would have missed had I been on a plane.
The only unnerving thing about the bus was that it would stop at random locations along the side of the road whenever someone waved it down looking for a ride allowing on complete strangers in the middle of nowhere. One thing I really enjoyed about the Cruz Del Sur buses back in Peru before this was that they only stopped at their terminals and did not make unscheduled stops in between. It’s just one additional measure to keep people safe in these countries where they do not have the greatest history of bus safety.
At about 6PM the bus pulled in to a designated bus station where a couple of kids (around 14 years old) got on board and came to the upstairs back of the bus where i was sitting and sat down beside me across the aisle. That was fine, whatever, they seemed like normal kids and I never gave it a second thought. That was until about 7PM. The kids started to look anxious and one was up out of his seat looking at something up ahead. I tried to look but didn’t really care so I just sat back and continued to watch the movie.
We were driving on a toll road so the bus made its way through the next toll station and paid the fee. When we emerged I saw a LOT of police car lights flashing and our bus got pulled over. I saw many police outside my window, the drug squad and their dogs were all gathered. Since we had just come through a toll station I just thought this might be a routine inspection. However as I soon found out it was not.
The cops came on board and up to the back of the bus where I was. I suspect someone tipped them off about these kids next to me because they went straight for them and didn’t even search anyone or anywhere else. I saw one of the police men asking the kids some questions and based on the shaking of their heads they were answering no. Then the cop reached up, grabbed down their bags and opened them up. He pulled out what was a brick of some form of drug and then I knew they were busted!
The man called over his fellow officers that were on the bus to escort the kids off the bus while he carried their bags. The kids were placed on their knees outside my window and placed under arrest while I watched officers put cuffs on them. Meanwhile, I, being a tourist was on board watching with amusement and taking lots of pictures of the fiasco!
The cops laid out the contents of both bags the boys had and turns out they had both filled with bricks of drugs. The cops laid the drugs out in rows on the ground taking pictures of their triumphant bust while the kids sat their with their heads hung in shame. Even the other local Chilean residents on the bus were amused by the situation. They couldn’t see what was all going on so I passed around my phone with the pictures so they could see and laugh in amusement. It was an overall good time for us, not so much for the kids.
The delay did add about an hour to the already lengthy journey and we ended up getting to Santiago the following day at about 2PM, 24 hours after departing San Pedro. It was the longest and most interesting bus ride of my life. After that, any bus ride of only a few hours is nothing and feels like a breeze in comparison! It was very reassuring to know that the Chilean task force is out and about, doing their job and trying to keep drugs off the streets. This encounter definitely helped improve my impression of Chile knowing they are doing their job. Well done officers!