My last day in San Pedro de Atacama was spent doing nothing. I had not realized how exhausted I was from all my crazy traveling in Brazil and Bolivia. I had a 4:45pm bus to Santiago. It was going to be a 24 hour bus ride and I was looking forward to sleeping through most of it. I had paid for a "cama" seat which I assumed would be fully reclined, but was disappointed to find out it was only halfway reclined. I realized that the next 24 hours were probably not going to be the most comfortable. A few minutes after getting on the bus I realized just how pressed I was. I was so annoyed with myself, "Why would you drink so much water before getting on a bus?" I had been forewarned about how buses generally left passengers who got off the bus at restpoints and didn't get back quickly enough. I had already vowed that I was never going to be one of these passengers - who got off the bus, were left by the bus and had to figure out how to get their luggage from halfway across the country and also find another bus to your chosen destination - I had zero interest in being one of those people.
I tried to think dry thoughts to ignore my bladder - think of dry bread, ok, now think of deserts. No, not the oasis! Just the dry dry desert. By the time the bus made it's first stop, I realized I was going to need the washroom - my dry thoughts had only made me more and more pressed. The bus stopped and I was the first person at the door. The conductor drily announced that they were only going to stop for 10 minutes. I had thought of asking the person sitting next to me to make sure the bus didn't depart without me, but I did not know enough Spanish to say this. I thus opted for running really quickly to the washroom and back. The building we had stopped at had 2 floors. I ran to the first shop I saw and asked about the washrooms. The person behind the counter must have had some sort of speech impediment that made him speak reaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllly reaaaaaaaaaalllly slowly. I wanted to cry. "You are wasting my 10 minutes!" Finally he finished explaining where the washroom was. I ran there only to realize that you had to put coins into a machine, that opened swinging doors, that let you into the toilet. I had no coins! I ran back to the shop to get change. The guy who spoke reaaaaallly reallllllly slowly also worked reeeeeeeeeaaaaaaallly reaaaaaaaallly slowly. I wanted to scream as he slowly opened the till, slowly counted the coins, slowly handed them to me. I ran back to the loo and I was in and out in under a minute!
I ran back to the bus platform and was happy to see my bus (or at least a bus that looked like mine) still at the platform. I got in, went to "my chair", sat down and turned to "my neighbour" only to realize I had never seen this person before in my life. "Oh shit! I am on the wrong bus." I ran towards the exit and the bus had already started moving. I told the conductor (who I also didn't recognize) that I was on the wrong bus. He slowly looked at my ticket instead of letting me get off to figure out where my bus was! I was getting irritated. He assured me that I was on the right bus and told me that my neighbour had alighted at this particular location and that was the reason why there was someone new next to me.
Phewks! I sat down. Despite not drinking anything for the next 24 hours to avoid a repeat performance, my bladder still felt it was only proper to spontaneously fill every few hours. As such the scene narrated above was repeated at least 3 or 4 more times during the trip until we got to Santiago - the capital of Chile.
It was only when I got to Santiago that I learnt the buses had loos! Sigh......