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Published: February 3rd 2016
R: we're writing this one more for completeness really. We had some difficulties getting away from Cusco, as it's becoming clear to us that we have chosen quite a complex route and maybe we should have let the connections lead us, rather than our wish list.
Anyway, we intended to fly to the southern border then cross into Chile before moving on to the Atacama desert. Not wanting to waste too much time on buses we booked a flight to Tacna, but had to go back to Lima first with Peruvian airlines. They had gotten us to Cusco well enough (despite having realy old planes). But the day before we were due to leave, they abruptly cancelled our flight and rescheduled us so we were doing the border at night. Well, we had no choice, so we went with it. Our first flight, after a slightly hairy taxi ride through Cusco, was ontime and fine though they did worry us by sticking a yellow label to the bags, rather than printing a proper baggage label to it. It simply said connection, and then he wrote the flight numbers on it. We hoped to see our bags again one day.
When we arrived in Lima we found that our new flight had been "reprogrammed" for another 2 hours late. Great. So we waited, and drank Cusqueña beers in the bar until finally we were on our way to Tacna, making a brief stop in Arequipa. Again, the plane was ancient and it hit the runway in Tacna with such force I thought it might disintegrate before it came to a stop. Anyway, after arriving a total of 5 hours later than planned in Tacna, the official taxi stand was offering 20 Soles (£4) to the bus station where we could get a shared "collectivo" to Chile, or 150 Soles (£30) to cross the border into Chile which is 60km away and through an international border. We decided given it was now dark, that we couldn't be bothered with the bus station as the collectivo buses were 30 soles (£6) each anyway. For the sake of £15, we hired the driver right through to our hostel in Arica, Chile.
He spoke NO English. Which is fine, as we don't speak Spanish, so why should he speak English? But it did make it hard when he is filling in your customs
form for you, which he insisted on doing for us, and the issue of "Profession" came up. He didn't understand teacher so there was no chance he was going to get mine. We played some "Spanglish" charades and he finally got teacher from our rubbish attempts at Spanish, and I think I went down as a Professor. Oh well. The border was slow, but fine. In Chile we had to declare all nuts and seeds.... Now my bag is stuffed with microwave popcorn we bought in the US for Christmas and never ate. So I dutifully got it out before they x-rayed my bag (we were promised a heavy fine otherwise) and the bloke didn't care one iota. So good news, I still have my popcorn. We were conveyed on the Chilean side to our hostel, which turned out to be the hottest place on earth. After turning the light off, lying on the bed in the blistering heat, the next door house started pumping Calvin Harris through the wall, so there was little sleep to be had.
The next day we resolved to chill out in Arica. We were thinking wifi, iced coffee, trip planning, shopping... The night
bus to San Pedro was at 10pm so we had time to kill. Arica is a dump. We discovered this after very little time. We explored the downtown and found one shopping street of note. We walked to the beach and found all the bars were closed. There was a monument to surf boards and a set of seats, presumably for viewing parades, by the side of the road in the colours of the Chilean flag. The sun was baking on us, so we found a German pub near a port with a good view and considered our options. There were no iced coffees. There were no places with wifi. We then stumbled upon a square with a myriad of different restaurants, like a food court, but with table service. Once again, we found our lack of Spanish a real hindrance but eventually I ordered Cerviche and Cate had Sushi. We did a bit of shopping, then headed to the drab beach resort of Chinchorro. Not much to write home about, but we did find a rugby demo going on on the beach. My thoughts turned to the upcoming six nations, and how I will see none of that. (We
Parade seating area
Colours of the Chilean flag
have been following the Aussie Open tennis though as it seems to be broadcast a lot here). After a Pisco sour, and more water, we found an obliging Italian for dinner then headed back to our hostel.
The hostel had done all our washing for us while we were out which was appreciated, though it all now comes with lovely white washing powder stains on it. We met some Aussies who were also waiting for the same bus, and headed to the station with them. Their travel stories dwarfed our own. They were on a 12 month trip and had been most of the places we were going, so we grilled them a bit. We had booked "Cama" seats on the bus which are 80% or so reclining, and we were in a little room on the bus with only 12 people and completely blacked out. The bus was filthy, but the seats were really comfy, so after a dubbed Spanish version of Total Recall had ended on the TV we were able to get some sleep. Until I angered Chilean passport control by refusing to let the bus driver keep our passports during the journey. Passport control got
on and told me something about it being "official" and a lot of other things, then he checked our passports and got off in a huff. The other English on the bus had done the same thing. How untrusting we must be as a race...
We arrived in San Pedro de Atacama without incident at 9.30am, and our hostel room was available when we got there which was a bonus so an immediate shower was available. I managed to go nearly 12 hours without tackleling the bus toilets, but Cate tells me I am extremely lucky I didn't need to try...
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