28: Adventure for Two

28: Adventure for Two

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

Adventure for Two

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.

~G.K. Chesterton

My boyfriend Mike and I decided, after only three months of dating, that we wanted to spend our upcoming semester abroad together. It was a complicated decision and I was criticized by many of my friends for compromising the “real” purpose of studying abroad (apparently experiencing new things can only be done properly alone). However, by the time we were boarding our plane for Valparaíso, Chile, we were confident we had made the right choice and relieved that, after all our goodbyes to family and friends, we wouldn’t have to say goodbye to each other.

One of the greatest benefits of our decision was that it gave us lots of opportunities to travel to exotic places together, something most couples our age never get to do. A few months into our trip, we planned a weeklong excursion to the Atacama Desert in the northern part of Chile. Though we knew we would spend most of our time in San Pedro (the tourist hub in the middle of the desert that offers accessibility to the most popular attractions), we wanted to cover a lot of ground and not have to depend on bus schedules, so we decided to rent a car and leave ourselves free to follow a map and explore wherever we pleased.

Mike and I spent a couple days of our trip traveling around the northernmost region of Chile and then decided to devote an afternoon and a good part of a night to making the 500-mile and 14-hour trip to San Pedro. We passed through the last town we would hit before San Pedro just as darkness set in. Now there was nothing left (not even pit stops or gas stations) but miles and miles of unfamiliar desert in the dark. We had heard the roads in the north weren’t safe, and even that there were highway robbers in some areas, so we started to wonder if our late-night driving was such a good idea.

About half an hour after we had crossed into Región II (the region of Chile where San Pedro is) a large silver pick-up truck started tailing us aggressively, and then cut in front of us abruptly and recklessly. As soon as it was ahead of us it hit its brakes, forcing us to slam on our own. “What the hell?” Mike said out loud. My first thought was that it was a drunk driver, and it was obvious to both of us that we were better off avoiding the truck, so Mike passed back in front and sped off.

Immediately, however, the silver truck accelerated behind us and once it was tailing us again the passenger pulled out a flashlight and started shining it at our mirrors, flicking it around like he wanted us to pull over. Our next guess was that the truck wanted help, but we agreed it would be insane to pull over in the middle of the desert at what was now almost 1 A.M. for a complete stranger. However, despite all our obvious attempts to escape, the truck kept following us until it passed us again and slowed down ahead of us, still flicking the flashlight in our direction. Now every time Mike tried to pass the truck it would swerve to the middle of the road and block his attempts. It seemed it had trapped us.

I suddenly became very nervous. “DO NOT STOP FOR THEM,” I pleaded, worried that Mike would give up. But we still couldn’t get past. My heart rate sped up as I wracked my brain for an escape plan. Suddenly, Mike slammed on the brakes. “What are you doing?!” I yelled at him, panicked. The truck stopped too, just feet from us, and a tall Chilean man in a black jacket stepped out of the passenger side. I wondered what Mike was thinking, but I looked at his concentrated face and decided I trusted whatever plan he had. When the man was halfway towards us, Mike suddenly hit the gas and drove between the man and the truck. The truck slammed on the gas too and tried to block us, but Mike swerved around it.

We sped off in a confusion of headlights and screeching wheels. I watched in the rearview mirror as the truck slowed and allowed its passenger to scramble back in, but once he had, the truck sped up to follow us again. Luckily, we had a head start and we were going as fast as we could. I congratulated Mike on his stealthy escape but he was deeply concentrating and seemed convinced that we were far from safe. He put me in charge of looking backwards and keeping track of the headlights behind us, alerting him if any of them seemed to be moving particularly fast. But at the speed we were going I felt sure we had lost the truck quickly.

Just then a new thought occurred to me: what if it was customs? We had passed through what Mike thought was a weigh station when we entered Región II, but no one seemed to be there, and there were no indications that we should stop, so we had driven right through. What if it was a customs checkpoint and not a truck stop? I proposed this theory to Mike but he was unconvinced, mostly because of how recklessly the truck had been driving, and the fact that it was completely unmarked (in a country where outward appearance and formality are taken very seriously).

Mike continued to speed, since all signs indicated that our pursuers had bad intentions, and in the process we completely guzzled our gas. We realized this just as we were heading up into the mountains of the desert. Slowly, we registered the gravity of our situation: we were alone in the desert mountains, about to run out of gas, in the middle of the night, potentially with highway robbers following us.

Mike started driving especially slowly to conserve gas since all the driving was uphill. The gas tank arrow was down past empty, and I could tell that Mike had become the panicked one. I assured him that I had driven with the arrow past empty for a week without a problem, and he seemed relieved, but I silently reminded myself that the driving I did was infrequent and never up a steep mountain. We continued inching our way up and with such concentration that I felt as though we were pushing the car on with our minds, willing it around every turn. At each corner we would pray we had found the top and were heading down, but instead we encountered more and more hill.

Just as we started to hear a sucking, bubbly noise that sounded like an indication of a completely drained tank, the peak of the mountain came into sight. We willed the car on as it crawled to it and, miraculously, began its descent. I had never been so relieved. We coasted down the rest of the mountain, braking as little as possible to conserve momentum, and rolled into a gas station at the bottom. Hallelujah. We survived our first (and hopefully last) desert car chase.

The next day, we related our story to several people in San Pedro, including a police officer, and everyone told us we must have been chased by highway robbers.

A few days later, on the way back to where we started our road trip, we passed through the mysterious truck stop again, and this time we were asked to stop and hand in our documentation. It was customs after all. As the woman behind the counter was stamping and signing things, Mike turned to me with an embarrassed but amused smile and mumbled, “Look behind you.” I turned around, and there, in the parking lot sat the unmistakable silver truck.

Now we can only imagine how suspicious our very deliberate getaway must have looked, and we were extremely relieved that the woman behind the counter didn’t have us arrested for evading Chilean authorities! But in this moment of relief, just like in the moments of panic, fear, exhilaration, and delight that had preceded it during our trip, I was reassured that Mike and I had made the right choice in going abroad together. Having someone you love along for the ride, I decided, makes any adventure much better.

~Emily Oot

More stories from our partners