• Cozy in a Container

    I never thought I’d be sleeping in a shipping container. Yet here I am and I am grateful. We are at over 4,000 m (13,123 feet). The wind blows harder as the sun begins to set. It’s cold. One of our traveling companions is fixated on measuring the temperature. She reports it in Celsius. I am tired of doing the conversion. I ask her “What does that mean. Do you feel cold or warm?” 

    I’m feeling a little cold, but when I step into my container room I warm up. It is a small container, split in two. My half has enough room for two sleeping cots, one night stand, and a small crate that can hold one suitcase. There are eight hooks, which come in handy for hanging coats and day packs. There is a door and a small vent. The container doesn’t have any heat, but it has an LED light and a jug of water. That’s it. 

    As the wind picks up, I appreciate the windowless container even more. It is air tight and great protection from the wind. After a few hours, the heat exuded from two people noticeably warm the container. I am thankful we don’t have to stay in a tent. 

    This is really a small container “village.” Each of the two couples on this trip gets a container room for sleeping. A separate container contains the bathroom. Each couple gets their own bathroom with a flush toilet, sink, and shower. There is hot and cold running water. The bathroom has a gas lantern. It provides light as well as heat. I wonder why we don’t have one in our bedroom, but I know why. The altitude is so high that a gas lantern would use too much oxygen for living quarters. As no one stays in the bathroom too long, I assume having a bit less oxygen is okay. But I wouldn’t want to lose any oxygen in my sleeping area.

    There is a kitchen container that we gather in for meals. I really like the compactness of it. There is everything a chef needs to cook—pans, spices, gas stove, and sink. We sit at a table with bench seating. It is all quite civilized. I am amazed at the supplies they bring. This is far better than backpacking fare. We have hors d’ouvres of empañadas followed by homemade soup followed by an entree of quinoa and dried llama. Finally a fruit desert. Those who like to drink at high altitude can enjoy wine. I avoid the wine in favor of a better night’s sleep at altitude. Our French-Canadian travel companions opt for wine and end up complaining about a poor night’s sleep.

    After dinner, we were sent to our container bedrooms with a hot water bottle. It amazed me how long that bottle felt hot. It warmed the sleeping bag so much that I didn’t miss the lack of heat. I was quite cozy in the bag.  (All photos courtesy of Glen Gould.)

  • Crossing to Bolivia

    San Pedro de Atacama is about one hour driving time from the border with Bolivia. I wondered why our van had to stop in San Pedro to complete the exit paperwork for Chile. My guide said that someone who lived up the road, let’s say a half hour towards the border, would have to drive to San Pedro to complete the paperwork. Only then could that person turn back proceed to the border. How inconvenient for the traveller!  

    I wondered why border control wasn’t close to the border. But when I arrived at the Chilean-Bolivian border I understood completely. There is absolutely nothing there except a hut for the Bolivian border control personnel and a few modest one-story buildings which I assume are for the border people who drew the lot to be stationed at this outpost. 

    The altitude is high enough for me to feel, so I assume it is at least 3,657 m (12,000 ft). The wind is blowing, and the cold biting. The door to the border control office is wide open. Two men sit at a modest wooden table. I can’t imagine working in an unheated building in this cold, but they seem to manage. I present my paperwork for them to stamp. 

    Outside, our Chilean driver stays on the Chilean side of the border. He unloads our van and passes our luggage and supplies to our Bolivian driver. This exchange makes me feel as if I am a spy being passed from one country to another. But it is all for the good. From this point on, the road system is pretty much non-existent. Our Bolivian driver is supposed to be one of the best. I’ve been told he has memorized the entire countryside—every rut and every crevice—and he can navigate from point to point without GPS. Let’s hope this is true. 

    When all of our crew—Oscar our guide  and my three traveling companions—are finished with the border control paperwork we hop into the van with our new driver, Felix. 

    I see ten different vans at the border control. I assume we’ll leapfrog each other as we get farther and farther into Bolivia. But is turns out that we will never see these people again. From here on out, there isn't a road as I know it. (Try to find one in this image.) You have to wend your way through the altiplano. Felix seems to know routes that no one else takes. The Bolivian adventure begins!