The Chilean checkpoint and the behaviour of the Chilean officers on the border to Bolivia reminded me a bit how it used to be years ago on the border between Austria and Slovakia. Some Austrian officers were really arrogant and let the Slovaks or other Eastern Europeans crossing the border feel like they were 2nd class people ( there were some nice ones as well though, I don’t want to be unfair). Nevertheless things have changed a lot.
Not on the border between Chile and Bolivia as it seeemed. The luggage and passport control was pretty strict, we four were lucky anyway because we were treated a bit nicer. Chile had imposed some limitations for the visistors, one of them is not to import any food from Bolivia or Peru. We through all the food we had in the trash basket but of course I forgot a package of „corns“ in the bottom of my little backpack I’ve been carrying with me since Cuzco.
And of course the scanner machine through which we had to pass our luggage discovered it. One of the customs officers approached me asking me if I do carry any food and I asnwered with no really believing that I threw everything away. I grabbed into my small backpack and after a while I discovered the little package...damn. The officer was helding the package watching me with strict eyes and asking me what to do with it. I told him to throw it away and that I honestly forgot that I had it. I was lucky beceause he meant he could fine me with I don’t know how many hundreds of dollars, but he just sent me forward to the passport control. There they needed a while to find Slovakia (confusing it a couple of time with Slovenia) on the list of countries that don’t need any visas for Chile, but suddenly we all were released and could return to the bus.
The trip continued and the scenery was getting better and better.
In the chilean highplateau we were crossing were some amazing volacnos, this was the „Parque Nacional Lauca“. Next to us appeared the twin Payachata volcanoes, Parinacota with 6350m and Pomerape with 6240m. Just stunning. At their feet was the lake Chungará, at 4500m one of the world’s highest lakes.
It was getting dark slowly and like my friends I started dozing for a while. Next time I opened my eyes it was already black night outside but there seemed to be something white all around. Could it be true? Was that snow? Pavel who was awake too was watching surprised, just as me.
It was around 10:30pm when the bus suddenly arrived in Arica.
We had pointed out some accomodations near the bus station we figured out in my Lonely Planet guide book, but there was an older guy who tried to convince us in English to stay in his guesthouse which was nearby. He was offering a reasonable price and his place was near so we decided to have a look at least. We were actually afraid this might be one of the guys who get commission for bringing guests and the guesthouse would add then his provision on our bill. We were wrong. This was the owner of a newly opened guesthouse and he tried to gain this way some guests. We had September and it wasn’t high season for Arica, there weren’t that many tourists. The guesthouse was run by him and his family and the rooms looked really nice so we decided to stay. It was pretty late anyway. We just took a shower and went to sleep.
Next morning we got up at around 9am and I realized one thing. Dan has changed somehow, for the first time since Cuzco he looked fine.
His high altitude sickness, the soroche, it was gone. Completely. We got back to sea level and he got fine automatically. Gosh, he was so happy about it, hahaha.
Marian and Pavel at our nice hostel.
As we were close to the bus station the first thing we did that day was to arrange the bus tickets to Peru the following day. And of course to change some Chilean money. As usual we didn’t buy the tickets by the first bus agency but we compared the offers. In one bus company they had 4 tickets left on a bus around 11am for a cheaper price, perfect fur us. After we arranged our further transportation we took some breakfast in a little canteen inside the station. When paying the bill we realized one thing. Chile was definitely more expensive then Bolivia and Peru.
We might have probably exchange more money, damned.
Having our first breakfast in Chile.
It was time to explore the city a bit. With its population of around 185.000 inhabitants it’s the most northern city of Chile. There seemed to be some national holiday or something, we saw a lot of national flags around while we walked to the center. Arica is not really a big city with its 185.270 inhabitants, but there are a couple of sights worth to see. After a while we passed a little park called Parque General Carlos Ibanez del Campo and before we reached the pedestrian mall on the 21 de Mayo street we discovered a little market. They were selling souvenirs, plants and whatever possible from different regions of Latin America, it was quite interesting. The pedestrian mall next to this market was full of shops and cafes, we might come back later. Not far away from there is the building Aduana de Arica, the former customs house, and the old railway station that was connecting Arica with Tacna in Peru.
There’s even an old locomotive constructed in Germany which serves as a little monument. Another nice sight is the Gothic-style 1875 built church San Marcos on the Plaza Colon. One of the main attractions on this city is definitely the so called El Morro, an imposing rock looming some 110 m over the city. Of course we had to get to its top for the view. Dan was running like a little child ahead of us so happy that he didn’t feel the high altitude sickness anymore. The 110 meters were nothing, hahaha.
Dan feeling happy. No altitude sickness at sea level.
On the top of he rock is by the way a little museum commemorating the battle of 7th June 1880 between Peru and Chile. The truth is that Arica and the region around it used to be part of Peru but the Peruvians lost it in a war fighting together with Bolivia against Chile.
Besides the great view the visitors are welcomed by a huge Christ statue, similar to the one in Rio de Janeiro. Not as tall as the original, but impressive anyway.
In the streets of Arica.
It was time to get down again, our stomachs gave us signs that they wanted to be fed. Most of the palces were closed as it was a public holiday obviously, but nevertheless not far from the San Marcos church we suddenly found an open place. It looked like a family run place and they actually looked a bit surprised when we appeared but they served us…and the food was really good. Needless to mention that we were the only guests in the restaurant and the family seemed to have finished their lunch just before we arrived.
Slowly it was becoming evening and we spent it mainly on the pedestrian mall either walking around or watching the people.
We even made a little visit to the beach, but it was too dark there to see anything.
The Chilean flag.
It was around 11pm when we suddenly got back into our hostel, but I still wasn’t in a mood to go to sleep and watched some TV. In each room there was cable TV, not bad at all, haha.
Next morning we didn’t have to get up very early as our bus to Peru was leaving around 11am. Pavel and Marian (they had a room together) bought some food the day before, so me and Dan left a bit earlier to get some breakfast at the bus station, there were a couple of places where we could get some sandwiches. We were already eating when our two friends appeared. While we were chatting, a young European looking guy approached as he heard us talking. He turned out to be Czech so he understood what we were talking about.
He was traveling with his girlfriend since Argentina and headed like us to Arequipa via Tacna like us. They haven’t had the tickets yet though so he asked us for some advice. I offered him to help to buy the tickets by the same agency as we did.
When we both got in front of the agency agent he said first that it might be a bit difficult as it was already late for the connection we were taking but he promised to try his best and took the phone. Suddenly it worked out and even if the Czech guy had to pay a slightly higher price then us he seemed to be leaving the same time as us, great.
At 11am we were all standing in front of the agency desk but as usual in Latin America buses are trains are often not in time so we had to wait for some 15 minutes more what was still OK.
Then suddenly two taxi drivers arrived and we were told to follow them. Now we got it, they wanted to bring us to Tacna by taxi from where we would get into the bus to Arequipa. I mean, we didn’t mind as we have paid for the tickets already. As we were too many the young Czech couple had to travel in another taxi. Our taxi guy was very talkative and curious where we were from. Funny guy, he even asked us if it’s OK if we picked up his wife on the way, she would like to do some shopping in Tacna…whatever. It was me who had to squeeze him and her on the front seats. As Arica is quite close to the border we arrived there within some 40 minutes. Ahead of us was the Chilean checkpoint and behind it the Peruvian one. I have to admit that on one hand I was looking forward to be in Peru again but felt sorry as well that we spent so short time in Chile.
It was spring here.
Well…there might be a next time I hoped. This time it was “Bienvenido a Peru”.