Buses, breakdown and oxygen!! Up the coast to Iquique and Arica

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April 17th 2013
Published: April 20th 2013
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17th April ’13 San Pedro de Atacama to Iquique, Chile

It was in some ways quite sad to be leaving the cute hostel and the little town, which we are now quite fond of but oxygen beckons so we caught the Tur bus to Calama and so left town. We drove through the desert passing lots of salt mines and spent the journey chatting with a lovely, broad cockney lass who now lives in Australia, who was sitting in front of us.

We had an hour and a half to kill in Calama before our next bus so we wandered out of the bus station and found a little place to eat, this time watching the Spanish version of Judge Judy while waiting for our grub.

The bus to Iquique arrived and left bang on time and we were soon back in the desert again. The bus hurtled along and kept exceeding the speed limit so there was lots of beeping noises – the buses have a display which shows the mileage while you go along and makes these warning beeps when it goes over 100 kmh. We stopped a couple of times at train track crossings, there are signs which say you have to but you can see miles and there was never a hint of a train. Then we stopped a couple of times for no apparent reason and finally we arrived in a mining town in the middle of nowhere and stopped for good!

Yep the bus had broken down, the conductor came in and spoke some rapid Spanish, which we interpreted as ‘we’ve broken down’, everyone started muttering and then a whole stream of people got off and looking out the window we could see it was for a fag so I decided to investigate.

Braving the barking stray dogs I had a fag with all the rest and couldn’t see what the problem was but as the drivers and conductors all started brewing up it was obvious this was going to take a while. As there was nothing to see in the town and the dogs were circling I got back on and we waited.

Another Tur (the name of the company) bus whizzed past us about an hour later and there were more mutterings from the passengers and eventually a break down truck arrived. Finally 2 hours later we were off again and by now its 7pm and dark. We reached the coast and it would have been a lovely scenic drive if it was still daylight but even in the dark we could see the huge white waves pounding onto the shore. We would have put this brake down down to just one of those things but the English couple we had spoken to back at the hostel had told us their bus broke down in the desert for 2 hours too, hmmmm suspicious!

We finally reached Iquique bus station at about 11.45pm and hoped there would still be taxis about and luckily there were. We had read about the taxi scams here, where they whisk you off to a hotel and get commission but it was just too late to walk it so we had no choice. We ended up paying far too much for a relatively short journey straight up the road but the area we passed looked well dodgy and there were lots of people sleeping in the streets so it was worth it. The driver did at least take us to the right hotel and he carried our bags in (very unusual) and stood staring at the receptionist with a hopeful look on his face but as we already had a reservation he got nowhere and soon shot off again.

All I can say is ‘Ah the joys of oxygen’!

18/4/13 Iquique

I am still saying ‘Ah the joys of oxygen’ and we set off to walk back to the bus station and book our tickets for the next stop, Arica. Tickets bought we had a walk around town, it’s a relatively quiet place and we found the pedestrianized area, with all its artesans stalls and ‘antique’ stalls which are really old second hand goods laid out on the pavement on blankets. We haven’t come across Man on a Horse yet but I’m sure he will be here somewhere!

It’s very different to the other towns/cities we have visited in some respects as architecturally it is a real hodge podge of buildings and styles, the old colonial buildings are there but jumbled between other rather decrepit but modern buildings and apart from a couple of tall buildings which look like housing everything else is mainly just 2 storey. There are tram tracks and a couple of trams but nothing seems to be operating. In fact at 11 am very little seems to be happening, I think we are just too early for life here.

Iquique is known as a seaside resort and apparently the wealthy Chileans all come here but the main season is January and February so that is probably why it’s so quiet. It doesn’t appear to be part of the back packer trail and certainly no one in our hotel speaks a word of English. As the actual beach as opposed to the port is about ½ mile away we haven’t got there yet but I’m sure we are going to see a lot more of the coastline on tomorrow’s bus, but as Tur are the only company operating here who knows?!

19th April ’13 Iquique to Arica

As our bus left at 1.15pm we hung around the hotel until it was time to walk down to the bus station. Once there we grabbed an empanada (as you can never be sure how long your journey might actually take) and soon the bus arrived. There was a mass scramble for the luggage hold, with all these people trying to get their bags tagged and in before the poor guy could get the departing passengers bags off.

Once we got on the bus we found two blokes sitting in our seats – which by a fluke were the ones with the most leg room, they tried telling us that the numbers were the ones rubbed out on the baggage rail rather than the official ones on the control panel above the seats. Luckily an older man intervened and I guess basically told them to stop trying it on and move and fortunately they did, with much grinning.

It soon became apparent we were sat with a right bunch of jack the lads, who were shouting out to each other and carrying on – a bit odd as most of them were middle aged! After a couple of stops a seat became free at the front where the bulk of the ringleader’s buddies were and he moved and after that things quietened down. This bus was unusual as despite showing non-stop films you had to insert your own ear plugs into a socket to get the sound, so you didn’t have to listen to it if you didn’t want to. The bus climbed up out of Iquique, up the side of what looked like a giant sand dune with views of the city going on for miles in each direction.

The conductor came around, writing everyone’s names and identity document numbers down, we had to hand our passports in which seemed a bit odd, but not long after we stopped at a police checkpoint and once through we got them back. Then much to our surprise as we still thought we would be going on a coast road, we turned off and started up the side of a gigantic mountain that resembled a massive sand dune, with only the occasional glimpse of rock face to prove it wasn’t.

There were horrendously deep, sheer drops on our side of the bus with only a tiny curb to keep the bus on track! Dotted all along the way were little shrines with crosses and the names of people who (presumably) had died there which didn’t inspire us with a lot of confidence and made us really glad we hadn’t taken a night bus, especially as there were no lights anywhere! I’m now wondering if the list of names etc. was in case we went over the edge!!

The landscape was very surreal, fold after fold of mountains which looked like sand with deep ravines in between them, it reminded me of a scene from Return to the Planet of the Apes, but without an astronaut staggering around on the top of them. We worked our way up over one range, along a plateau and then up over another before starting down towards the coast. As we got near life again we could see small holdings marked out in the rocky sand of the valley, which gradually merged into housing and then into tightly packed houses and eventually into the town proper.

Once at the bus station the bag scrum started again, I stood back and had a fag with a few others while Howard dived in for that one. Suddenly I was tapped on the shoulder by a man in an official tabard who was jabbering in Spanish and wagging his finger at me, I turned around and he pointed at the big no smoking sign – ooooops! Trust me to be the one who got nabbed!! All the jack the lads surreptitiously hid theirs while grinning – buggers!

Reunited with our rucksacks, me suitably chastised and Howard suitably chuckling we left the bus station and walked the few yards to the International bus station to try and sort out how we could get to Peru. There appeared to be lots of collectivos (shared taxis) lined up and lots of drivers trying to get you in them and inside the bus station we found an Andesmar kiosk who advertised buses to Arequipa in Peru.

The lady at the kiosk spoke no English but somehow we managed to ascertain you could get a collectivos to Tacna just over the border in Peru and then a bus on from there. Not being able to speak the lingo we couldn’t find out how this was arranged or what would happen if you missed your bus. We decided not to book anything but to ask at the hostel instead.

So we took a taxi to our hostel – Hostel Jardin de Sol which got really high ratings on Trip Advisor. It’s at the top end of the town near a big rock with what looks like Jesus playing a guitar on the top of it (it isn’t of course!). The lady at the hostel speaks no English which is a real shame but they do have a long list of rules in the room that are in English as well as Spanish!

We went for our usual mooch about town and it seems a nice little place, being Friday night all the lads are out - drinking lots of beer and right in the middle of the street are two one man bands doing very good Dick Van Dyke impressions, so of course I had to break into a chorus of Me Old Bamboo (complete with actions) or it just wouldn’t have been right!

After attempting unsuccessfully to get someone to serve us at a restaurant we ended up eating with all the locals in a kind of fast food joint in a big echoey hall type place, where the service was friendly and quick, perfect.

On the way back to the hostel it seemed that there was going to be a parade as hundreds of young people, all in glittery, elaborate costumes with makeup and head dresses were packing the street. It was also quite obvious that it wouldn’t start for quite some time so after gawping at them for a while we carried on back.

At 11pm I was turfed out of the terrace seating area (as per the rules) and we went to bed, which was fair enough, but what wasn’t was that according to rule number 4 there was to be silencio from 11pm, with no TV, children or conversations but the lads in the room opposite had their tv blarring and were talking at the tops of their voices until 12 – tsk, one rule for the locals and one for the gringos methinks!

20th April ’13 Arica

Today we hiked up the mammoth hill that over- looks the town and god was it steep!! We had to have several stops and a go on the inhaler on the way up. The views were good though, you could see for miles and around the other side you could see the coastline made up of lots of little bays with sandy beaches and rows of bouys strung across them keeping swimmers away from what looked like lots of reefs and jagged rocks.

Also at the top was a museum commemorating the war between Chile and Peru, with a few cannons and guns to pose by, a memorial to those who died and another large statue of Jesus without a guitar.

Back down in the town, we found the main square with a really pretty church, we went inside and it was quite plain and simple, no gaudy gilt but there was a rather gruesome life size model of Jesus lying in a case obviously showing how he would have looked after being crucified, with lots of guts hanging out of the wound in his side!

Next up was the massive market – a proper one, then the small crafts one and then back for a rest and to research getting to Arequipa. Hunger drove us out again at about 3pm when most of the shops were shut but the bars were packed with men watching the footy. We joined them in one of the bars and had chicken, rice, salad and chips while watching the match, with lots of cheering and oooohhhinggg and arrrrringggg going on when either of the teams got the ball or did something with it.

Back at the ranch a really friendly Chilean man has appeared, who is something to do with the hostel and he speaks pretty good English, he has explained the whole crossing the border and travelling on thing to me complete with prices so now my mind is at rest, hooray and muchos gracias!

Additional photos below
Photos: 26, Displayed: 26


1 The road to Arica (12)1 The road to Arica (12)
1 The road to Arica (12)

Says it all really, gulp R.I.P

6th May 2013
2 Arica (9) - Don't play with the weapons!

Scared of you Mel! haha. and I love your description of watching the footy in the bar.... lots of oooohhing and aaaarrring when someone got the ball and did something with it! hahahaha!! xx
8th May 2013
2 Arica (9) - Don't play with the weapons!

lol you know me! x

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