Of course the 16 hour overnight bus takes more than 17 hours, just for giggles. As if when finish time at 10am rolls around you’re not keen to get off so staying till eleven is just joyful. All fun aside we arrive in La Serena, a town that is to us little more than a stop off point on the way to Santiago and hopefully the remaining gear we need to get from home. Moving south we are starting to see a touch more plant life springing up as if the desert is slowly releasing its grip with the slowly diminishing support of an overhead sun.

We check in and fall like stones onto a nice soft bed. The tent and beds in San Pedro were quite comfortable but after a long bus ride this touch of comfort and welcome cooler temperature is a blessing we aren’t too proud to welcome. Arriving into more familiar comfort is a final extraction from the craziness of the Atacama; the heat, dust and scalding sun makes for a heady mix to expel familiarity. What is still a long way away from leaving us so easily is the simple uncomplicated amazement of what a place it is, a pinnacle of Earths unique and extreme environments. To absorb the experiences we’ve just had will no doubt take a while yet.

For now it’s errand time, off to do some shopping, find coffee, buy bus tickets south and take a look around town. La Serena is a bigger city than we’d expected boasting a notable number of grand colonial buildings, a pleasantly attractive town. With streets bustling in the rush to acquire christmas gifts we are the fish out of the pond here, extensive christmas shopping is as far from our minds as it is from our travellers budget. We wander in the midst of it though enjoying soaking up the atmosphere of good will, cheer and generosity. Chile is unwittingly delivering for us all that we could possibly hope for in experience and in a therapeutic sense. I’d never really thought much about travellers confidence consigning it to the realms of giving a name to something not worthy of such credit. For now though it’s coming back to us at a rapid rate and it feels more tangible than it has a right to, bravo Chile.

This travellers confidence is given another shot of Chilean panacea in the form of a card. After visiting the ATM for hopefully the last time on a blocked card we’re so excited to be close to Santiago and a full stock of equipment; our awaiting outdoor gear an emotional gateway for us to finally head south into the mountains. In all this excitement I do the unthinkable and leave my card behind in the ATM; the appropriate word starts with S and ends in HIT. Although we should by all rights have new cards before we need an ATM again this remains our only worldly way to get cash so it’s a comfort we’d rather not do without. Charging back from the bus terminal to the bank I’m greeted by warm giggles from the bank staff and a security guard. The security guard produces the card with a comforting smile and guides me over to a desk to show my ID and sign for the card. In just a minute or so we’re on our way with no hint of an opportunistic chance to rip us off. When you’re feeling a little like the good in people might be getting overrun by the bad it’s small uncomplicated acts like this that help your headspace back to right. Again, Bravo Chile

We even have a little bit of freight luck, our replacement cards have arrived in the hotel in Santiago and it appears we’ve just sorted our issue with customs holding up our clothing; ladies and gentlemen I believe we may have just turned a corner. Bathing in the warmth of welcoming smiles and tourist friendly Spanish we allow ourselves to be elevated by a town that displays the positives of human collectivity. We even have a good long conversation with a woman in Spanish without a single awkward stumble which is very exciting. La Serena is pretty, clean, friendly and with two for one Pisco Sours it’s enough to erase any memory of a long overnight bus. This little pocket of beauty is no stopover, more so a gateway out of the amazing but harsh desert into the embrace of beyond.

It’s worth saying again: Bravo Chile.