Arica & Lauca National Park

Trip Start Sep 05, 2007
Trip End Feb 24, 2008

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Hey, Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Not much going on for Thanksgiving here in Arica, just a regular Thursday.  I don't think there are even any other Americans in my hostel.  It would be nice to magically transport myself back to Cherry Hill right now for a few days, but oh well...

Anyway, this is my first post from Chile.  Took a bit longer to get here than planned (see below), but it's nice so far.  Definitely more expensive than Peru (and Bolivia of course) but also you can tell it's a richer country.  Arica's a decently nice city, sort of an urban beach resort (nearly 200,000 people and sitting right on the Pacific Ocean).  Seems fairly laid back though and in the center there's a large pedestrian area.  It's funny that, even though Arica's right on the ocean, it's surrounded by desert.

I left Arequipa at 4pm -- when I had bought my bus ticket, I had been told that the bus would arrive in Tacna at 9pm.  It actually ended up arriving an hour later than that, 10pm Peruvian time.  That was a problem because the border is only open until midnight Chilean time, which right now is 10pm Peruvian time.  So by the time I got there, the border was just closing.  So I had to spend a night in Tacna, which I had been hoping to avoid.

I had run over to the international bus terminal (right across the street from the domestic terminal) right after I had gotten my luggage from my bus, in hopes that I might not be late to make the border crossing.  Though I was, a guy started talking to me, telling me that I was too late, but he could arrange a crossing for me the next morning.  The way it works is that shared taxis cross the border and the taxi driver helps you take care of all the paperwork, etc.  The guy said he would pick me up at my hotel at 7am the next day (which would already be 9am in Chile).

So I found a hotel and the next morning someone was knocking on my door at 5:45am.  It turned out to be this guy who was meant to come at 7!  He said something about it being better to leave earlier since there were some problems right now with Chilean customs.  I wasn't sure if this was the case or if he had already found 4 other passengers and therefore his car was ready to go, but it didn't really matter.  I was now already up and the earlier I got to Arica, Chile, the better.  Actually, after talking to some people in Arica, there had in fact been a strike at the border crossing the day before and people had gotten stuck there for several hours. 

So we went to the bus station and it turned out this guy was not the taxi driver, but rather just some guy who gathers passengers for the actual drivers.  Five of us (and 2 kids sitting on laps) crammed into an old Oldsmobile and off we went.  The border crossing on each side was fairly quick and I got to Arica in less than 2 hours total. 

2 girls (Jess & Jules from England) I had met and hung out with in Cusco (and also hung out with one night in Arequipa) were staying at the same hostel as me here in Arica (Sunny Days Hostel -- really nice place with friendly staff, though a 20 minute walk from the center).  The three of us walked to the center of town and wandered there for a bit. 

Then we walked over to the beach and enjoyed some sun.  The water was actually decently warm, or at least warm enough to swim for a while.  It was nice to just relax on a beach for a while.  This was my first experience with the Pacific Ocean in the southern hemisphere (Bolivia's landlocked and I didn't go to Peru's coast).  I had also booked a tour for the next day to Lauca National Park (and places in between Arica and the park).

So the next morning I got picked up at my hostel at 7:15am.  Right now is definitely the slower tourism season here in Arica (though it'll start getting really busy soon, in mid-December) because instead of a big bus coming to get me, it was just a van and there were only 7 of us on the tour.  The tour was all in Spanish, as most of the passengers were Chilean (except for me and one person from Holland who spoke Spanish really well).  Overall, the tour was OK, but Lake Chungará definitely made the whole trip worth it.

We first stopped at Poconchile, which had a small church which wasn't too interesting, but had a huge cemetery behind it, which looked cool with the desert in the background.  The van then drove to a spot which apparently was a strong magnetic field (for example, compasses don't work there).  Our driver showed us the effects by driving up a small hill and putting the van in neutral -- the van then started going backwards.  I didn't really get it, since the van would have moved backwards anyway since we were on a hill, but maybe I missed something.

A little further, we stopped to look at some interesting cacti and then stopped for a small breakfast.  After a panoramic view of the town of Putre from above, we entered Lauca Park.  We saw several vizcachas and vizcuñas and then stopped to look at some volcanoes.  We then spent about half an hour in the town of Parinacota, which wasn't that interesting.  We finally got to the highlight -- Lake Chungará, with some beautiful mountains/volcanoes in the background.  The lake sits at 4,500 meters (nearly 15,000 feet) above sea level, so along the way, some people on the trip were having problems with the altitude (we started the trip at sea level, as Arica is on the coast).  I was more or less fine luckily, but feeling really tired.

We then drove to the town of Putre and had lunch.  Spent a bit of time in that town, then drove back to Arica, stopping at some places to take pictures, etc. and getting back to Arica around 7pm.

Later today, I'm going to buy a bus ticket to head to Iquique tomorrow morning.  It's about 4.5 hours south of here.  OK, enjoy your turkeys.
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