That night, at the fireplace, Sergey told us of his experience from his previous Atacama trip. I wanted to know, if he’d ever met anybody, local or other, in the desert, and whether those had been pleasant encounters or not. “Yes,” Sergey confirmed, and shared a story with us:
Their three-man team was working on a plain in the pre-cordilleras, up near Calama. Sergey drove errands and used his spare time to search from the car. One day, they were on the way to a new area and at some point, they encountered a pipeline that intersected a wide plain. “The pipeline went on for many kilometers. You could see it from one horizon to the other.” As there was no overpass, Sergey decided to follow it, trusting that there would be a crossing sooner or later. “You know these things,” he gestured, “there’s always a way, somewhere.” They had been driving along the pipeline for twenty minutes or so, when in the distance a red pick-up appeared, similar to their model.
At some point, the vehicles met. The drivers got out, and in a mixture of curiosity and suspicion looked their counterpart over. The other guy, a tanned local with a wide-brimmed hat and some sort of “official” uniform, spoke first: “Buenas dias!”
“Hello, I am Sergey” replied Sergey.
“Hello, I am Miguel” said Miguel.
“Do you speak English?” Sergey asked.
“No,” Miguel shook his head, “Do you speak Spanish?”
“No,” said Sergey. Then, gesturing to Sergey’s car, Miguel asked something. As Sergey could only guess, he answered, “we’re here searching for meteorites.”
Miguel seemed to understand and nodded. “I’m here, watching pipeline” Miguel gestured. Sergey nodded.
“Meteorites good!” smiled Miguel, showing a thumbs up.
“Pipeline good!” Sergey returned, repeating Miguel’s gesture.
Visibly satisfied Miguel said good-by and parted. Everybody got back in their cars and continued on their way, feeling a strong sense of accomplishment. Referring to my initial question, Sergey added, “He was relaxed.”