It was around 2am I first noticed the glowing crucifixes.
Whipping north along the Pan-American highway in the dead of night, somewhere deep in the Atacama, they came looming from the roadside black: eight foot high, luminous, lurid. Driving for 18 hours straight tends to do odd things to the brain, but glowing crosses were, I confess, a new one. Slowing in preparation to summon the Lord and recant my earthly sins, I realised with relief that the crosses weren’t otherwordly apparitions, but rather the strangest of memorials: giant homemade crucifixes wrapped in reflective bike tape. Some say it with flowers…
Still, if the aim of the lumi-fixes is to remind night-time drivers of their own mortality, it sure as hell works. During the thousand miles we’d travelled north from the capital Santiago, I’d been trying to figure out how, exactly, quite so many motorists had apparently managed to meet their fate on Chilean highways. After all, there’s not much in the way of plummeting drops or lethal, blind bends. Chile’s roads tend very much towards the straight and featureless: even if you veered off the tarmac, you’d likely end up annoyingly sandy rather than wrapped round a lamp post. But in that utter desert darkness, amid the glowing crosses, the culprits became clear. Trucks. Lorries of varying vintage comprise the vast bulk of Chile’s rural road traffic, chugging their way up gentle inclines at barely walking pace. Unless you want to arrive at your intended destination some decades behind schedule, eventually you have to overtake. And at this moment, every time, on even the apparently straightest of roads, another truck will rear up from behind an unseen dip in the landscape in the opposite direction, bearing down at unseemly speed, honking and flashing yet manifestly failing to slow down. Mistime a passing manoeuvre, and all that’ll remain is your luminous crucifix.
Pictures: Mark Fagelson
This feature originally appeared in Top Gear magazine.