The next day, our new buddy Dario picked us up and took us to get some gas. We had brought our plastic jugs from Bolivia, but it turned out that nobody would fill them. They said it’s a $2000 USD fine – all gas cans in Chile have to be ‘metal’. They then pointed us over to where we could buy some. Plastic ones. Apparently, their special blue plastic cans count as metal. In Bolivia, you could fill soda bottle directly from the gas pump if you wanted. People did.
No worries – Dario had us covered and we went to his house where he had about 50 liters worth of blue plastic tanks that we could borrow. After getting our second shock on gas prices in Chile – about $7 USD per gallon – we were off and up into the mountains. 120 km later, we were at the bus were everything was just as we left it.
We dumped all the gas in and took off down the mountain with Dario following behind. 4000 meters to 2000 meters pretty darn quick. Once we were out of the snow, I pulled over and went through everything.
Angela didn’t mention a few things from the other day. Those guys behind us on our way up the mountain? Drunk. All of them. Apparently, they had planned on a few more days of being stuck in Ollague and were hitting the sauce to pass the time. Whenever we stopped, they all piled out and wanted to stick their hands in our engine compartment to ‘help’. This included pulling off the air filters, messing with the distributor, etc. Not good, but I couldn’t do much – I was outnumbered and I knew I could put it all back the way it was. The problem was that my timing light decided to die that day, so now I really have no idea what my timing is. I had a mark on the distributor, so I knew I could get it close and I could try the ole’ listen for the spark jump the points trick.
Long story short – everything now seems okay. More or less normal. Still scratching my head over *exactly* what happened the other day. There was definitely water in the gas, but I can’t believe so little water could cause such a major issue. ‘Bad gas’ just seems like too amateur of an excuse, but it’s all I’ve got.
Dario was great and patiently waited while I went through everything. We all chatted as best we could. He wanted to buy the bus. Angela cooked roadside Ramen for everyone.
We ended up spending another night in Calama. Not a bad place, actually. There’s a pedestrian area with sidewalk cafes. I big new shopping mall and grocery store. No VW parts to be found (or a timing light). Still, if this town were a few hundred kilometers east, it would be the most modern city in Bolivia.
How do we put this? Calama is a shit hole.
-Lonely Planet guide
We did the math, and it was definitely a good decision to hire Dario to help us. I know he burned at least $50 just in gas. There’s no way we could have rented a car, bought a bunch of expensive blue plastic cans (Note: a real metal 10 liter can here is $100 USD) and done it all ourselves for less. Besides, he was good company and offered to help us with anything else we might ever need while in Chile. At least we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.
We also want to thank Nicolas in Alaska for a kind e-mail that brightened our morning. Sometimes, encouraging words from someone we don’t even know works wonders for getting our attitudes on track.