I woke up early and wandered the sleepy dirt roads of the tiny northern town San Pedro, Chile. It consists of one main road with a dozen small lanes crossing over. The rows of short flat roof buildings and dusty streets make me feel as though I am walking through an old western movie.
The happenstance that brought me to this was a fortunate design.
The two long roads and four hour trip that lay between Antofagasta and my little town of San Pedro is well traveled. Many people hitchhike their way between the two places as it is quite safe. I decided to give it a go.
I stood on the roadside, thumb out like a small American flag. Almost immediately a petite elderly Chilean truck driver pulled over. He was going to the midway point, Calama city. He was happy to give me a lift. For the first time I found myself hoisting a backpack and then myself up the steep stairs of a tractor trailer cab. The ride was pleasant and the man quiet but friendly. He dropped me at the cross point of Calama and the road to San Pedro.
Again I stood with thumb out. Within minutes a van pulled over and I found a Brazilian film crew inside. They were on their way to San Pedro to continue shooting a movie about a man lost in the desert. They also had a side job to shoot a commercial for a local tour agency.
The van had an easy camaraderie and I felt at home quite quickly. We stopped several times along the way to take photos of the gorgeous landscape. Our last stop was Salar de Atacama, which is the largest salt lake in Chile. The ground of the valley being unlike any other I had seen. Cracked and dry white salt sand. Rigid in appearance but soft enough to crumble under my feet. The valley is surrounded by the Andes mountain range. Four ominous volcanoes stand as ancient sentinels guarding their hidden treasure. The sun sets and the clouds catch fire over the tops of the imperial peaks.
By the end of our ride the director asked if I would like to join their crew for a few days. I could be in their commercial if I liked and would also assist the crew by taking photos of their process. Assistant to the director, he said. In exchange they would give me free passage to the sites of the area.
At my hostel that night, a girl in my room said that she was amazed by my lucky coincidence. I smiled and replied, “Yes, it was quite a happenstance.”