..more from Edith Parzefall's
After passing through customs and immigration in Santiago, Lara boarded a plane to Calama, a mining town nine hundred miles north in the center of the Atacama Desert.
From her window seat, she saw the snowy outline of the Andes, the brown peaks of the Cordilleras, and sometimes a strip of ocean and white sand. Anticipation chased away her nervousness.
Waiting at the baggage claim, she sent her mother a text message saying she'd arrived safely.
When she spotted her red suitcase, she hauled it off the conveyor belt, approached the car rental desk, and presented the printout of her reservation. “Hi, I've booked a Suzuki Vitara.”
The lady smiled up at her, took the paper, and punched keys, while scrutinizing the computer screen. “Ah, yes. You'll get an upgrade to a Nissan X-Trail.”
Lara's disappointment must have shown, because the woman added, “It would be twenty dollars more per day, but you get it without extra charge.”
“All right, it's just...the Suzuki is smaller and easier to maneuver.”
“Your driver's license, credit card, and passport, please.”
Lara gave up reading the Spanish contract and signed. She stepped outside into the afternoon sun. The dry air sizzled. Her gaze swept over the parking lot and beyond to the flat yellowish sand. Now she really had arrived in Chile.
She walked to the car rental pickup and showed the contract to a bored-looking man with a leathery, dark face. He pointed out a huge, black monster. She'd never driven such a beast.
When she sets out, little does she know she'll need all the crumple zone she can get...