My bad trip: the ‘oasis’ was a fetid puddle and our tyre popped in the desert | Travel

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As 2013 turned to 2014, I was a fresh escapee from a regretful, youthful and short-lived marriage and was ready to rebound into life. I had an undergraduate degree in a very niche area of the arts that “won’t put food on the table” – My dad (2010-forever).

I had passion and the opportunity to work with mentors across the world and I would not at all be basing any of my decisions on a Kiwi backpacker I had picked up one night dancing on a table in Byron Bay. I was not desperate to be loved again and I was not worried that no one would ever date a 24-year-old divorcee.

And besides, he was moving to Chile … where one of my mentoring options was. I was actually very interested in that mentor’s work, teaching drama in prisons. If I happened to go at the same time as Kiwi backpacker, well that would just be a happy coincidence.

My new prison-based mentor was keen to have me. We spoke over email for months.

So there I was, sitting in a cafe with my Kiwi backpacker, waiting for my mentor, who on greeting us, extended their hand to Kiwi backpacker first and said “Hi Andi, lovely to finally meet you”. “Oh, I’m Andi,” I corrected. This was met with wide eyes and an “Oh no. You’re not a man … I can’t let a young woman into the prison. You won’t come out.”

I still don’t know what Andino means, but I felt like I was being told off a lot in Bolivia. Photograph: Andi Egan

So now I was a tourist in Santiago de Chile with the Kiwi backpacker (who I did not come here for) and a sense of adventure, which led to us meeting up with another English-speaking couple and heading out to find a waterfall we’d been told about.

It sounded glorious (based on our terrible Spanish): an oasis four hours into the desert. We hired a car – no air con, nothing in common with the other couple, sweat pouring off us – ready to find this wellspring that would wash away dashed career dreams.

And then we found it. It was more akin to a bladder-infected urination into Shrek’s swamp than an oasis. How had a village of 11 holiday homes sprung up around this depressing trickle of pink eye waiting to happen?

The four-hour drive through the desert back to our hostel was a long one and the other couple started squabbling; I was doubtful their relationship would make it through the “traveling together” test. Just as the squabbling reached a shrillness only replicated by Robin Thicke’s vocal range (2013 reference), our tyre popped.

Now, I had replaced plenty of tyres. The only problem was, this tyre wasn’t coming off. No amount of pulling or kicking was going to budge it. Kiwi backpacker and I had no other choice than to walk the hour back into the village, and, with our terrible Spanish, find a man wearing only budgie smugglers to drive us back out in his truck (the gear stick between my legs on the bench seat) who used his full force to kick the tyre loose (still in his delicates), make an offensive remark we couldn’t understand and drive away.

I don’t think I have ever trauma-laughed so hard in my life. I mean, we were Wolf Creek waiting to happen and by 9pm we were just sitting in the hostel drinking $2 tequila.

The next day, Kiwi backpacker walked me an hour into the city and broke up with me. I had no map and no Spanish, except for cervesa, which I used the rest of the summer as I toured around South American beer festivals. Turns out, I’m super allergic to gluten.

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