MY first thoughts, other than the dire need to take a piss, are of coffee. I roll over on my top bunk, making a fuck-load of noise and feel bad for old mate below me who seconds ago was fast asleep. I fumble for my shitty Nokia under the pillow to check the time and it reads 8.22am. No matter, there’ll be waves all day and by the time I paddle out I’ll have missed the early morning crowd. I hope.
Up on the rooftop deck of the hostel, which also houses its outdoor kitchen, I look out to one of northern Chile’s best waves but it’s a little fat with the high tide. It needs a lot more swell to really start firing anyway. Breakfast consists of a strong coffee, a banana and a few 15 cent bread rolls smothered with dulce de leche – a thick caramel spread you’ll find at the breakfast table Latin America-wide. This shit is their Vegemite.
When I eventually suit up, I’m joined by two other guys we’re staying with at the hostel. One is a tattooed muscular surfer from Santa Cruz who’s also repping the man-bun and beard combo, which gives him automatic props in my books. The other is an athletic hyperactive Uruguyan whose Jordy Smith-like physique means he throws big chunks of water with every turn. My other friends went out last night and are nowhere to be seen. But I can forgive them, it is the weekend after all. I later find out they stayed at the apartment of some local girls they met at the pub. A worthwhile evening indeed.
We surf a spot a five-minute walk north from the hostel and it’s not big but characteristically heavy. The entire coast is dotted with slabby ledges, lefts, rights, and consequently bodyboarders pervade most lineups. And they absolutely rip. There’s nothing worse to make you feel like a kook than seeing 14-year-old kids busting ARSs over dry reef every set wave. They thrive on that shit! I get a few good ones, a couple barrels on the lefts and rights but steer clear of the right-hander towards the end of the session when the tide drops out and there’s barely a foot of water on the reef. I’ve already lost some skin on my hand, bruised my hip and elbow and got urchin spines in my finger (those fuckers are everywhere here) from a wipeout earlier in the week and I don’t feel like testing my luck. I paddle to the beach while pelicans give me disinterested looks from the rocks. It’s not uncommon to surf with seals, whales and penguins here in the same session while pelicans and vultures watch you from above.
Back at the hostel and it’s groundhog day – in a good way. People are strumming guitars on the rooftop, singing and toking the reefer. The Uruguyan guy, his dreadlocked girlfriend and another mate head off to the traffic lights to ‘work’ (they wait ’til the lights go red then juggle and dance in front of cars for money). They’re putting their money together to get to Peru. I walk down the street to the supermarket and buy some rice and some pre-cooked beans and vegetables from the deli section. Back on the rooftop, I mix them together in a bowl, have another banana and settle in to continue this week’s book – Life and Death in Shanghai, by Nien Cheng. Man, that lady was oppressed, for reals. China sucks. The other boys return home from their debauched night and clamber into bed.
I’ll probably have another surf early afternoon. Then relax and chill with the hostel crew again. Then read. Send a few emails. Then eat again. Maybe have a wank if I can summon the energy or the motivation. Listen to some music. Then sleep.
I never know what the time is and it’s a struggle to remember what day it is or the date. Hours pass by basking on the rooftop, watching the waves and gazing towards the barren mountain range, which boxes the town in between the coast. This is the Atacama Desert – driest place in the world. It rains here about every 12 years (not joking). But for some reason the sidewalk grass is watered seemingly 24/7, rendering it a lush green. If it were back home folks would be up in arms about water restrictions, and we get regular rain. Apparently they’re trying to turn this place into Chile’s number one beach resort, so maybe that’s the reason for the incessant watering. They’ve also built a big casino and some pretty boardwalks to entice the masses. My mate Dango said he saw a bunch of cops and what looked like a garbage truck pull up next to some homeless guys sleeping by the beach yesterday – the cops promptly chucked everything the guys owned into the truck (blankets, water bottles, shelter) – then sped off down the road, leaving the poor fellas dumbfounded. Maybe it will be the stray dogs next.
I think next week I’ll go to Bolivia. Until then, you stay classy.