Long journeys, short tempers!

Trip Start Aug 16, 2003
Trip End Apr 21, 2004

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Flag of Chile  ,
Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Touching down at Tacna airport, we were immediately hit by how remote and desolate the surroundings were - the landing strip was literally in the middle of the desert. After swiftly collecting our packs we took a taxi to the bus terminal to claim some transport across the border to Arica, Chile. As we pulled up, local hombres ran to open the taxi doors and usher us to ticket offices within the building. Our driver assured us that this was common practice and that to take a 'collectivo' was indeed a safe and expedient way to cross the frontier. Since our travels in this part of the world we have become accustomed to sharing a taxi or similar vehicle with others - you sometimes have no choice when the driver veers to the side of the road to grab another fare - so we felt that we would be ok and that the cost would be nominal.

This did prove to be the case, and once we had filled in a declaration form and given our passport details to those in charge, we were bundled into the back of a large ex-American car and waited for the other passengers. With three of us across the back, and three in front (including the driver) we were ready to shoot down the highway to the first border check-point. Our driver handled most of the bureaucracy and we had to just show our faces to the officials behind the Perspex partitions. We then had all of our luggage checked by security guards, before squeezing our way back into the car and driving a couple of kilometres to the Chilean checkpoint. The whole rigmarole was repeated and we set off once again. To our surprise and consternation we stopped shortly afterwards for another security check, before finally arriving in Arica.

Deciding to press on to Iquique (a further four hours drive away) we made our way to the bus terminal, only to find that we could not leave until half past five - contrary to the guide-book's assertion that there were frequent buses. With nothing for it but to sample the local beer for an hour and a half, we lugged our packs up some stairs to a transit cafe and cracked open a couple of (litre) bottles of Cristal, which certainly 'took the edge off'!

When it was time to board, we checked our packs in and found our seats on a pretty decent coach, though without air-con. We proceeded to travel southwards with the Pacific on our right, and the Andes to our left - the landscape interesting, yet quite foreboding and harsh. After a couple of hours we were all turfed out at yet another security checkpoint, where once again, all luggage was inspected. We eventually arrived in Iquique shortly before 10 pm, feeling drained and certainly travel weary. As luck would have it, we were able to check-in to a small hotel and crashed out for the night; neither of us being bothered to go out for dinner.

Rising for a much needed breakfast, we were more than slightly disappointed by the 'meal' offered by the owners of the B&B: it consisted of a dry roll and instant coffee (no milk). We thought we had best head out into the town for some heartier fare after checking out bus times to Calama, our next overnight destination. Deeply overjoyed to discover that we were again misinformed as to the frequency of the buses - we bought our tickets and had to wait until 3.30 pm for the six hour trip - we would again be arriving in a new town very late. Realising we now had ample time for some food, we checked out and hefted our bags round to a recommended cafe near to the town square...and discovered that it was chock-o-block full and certainly had no room for us with all our stuff! We settled on a place diagonally opposite, which at first glance appeared quite pleasant. We were soon to discover that the cafe employed the surliest man in the world as its head waiter. With our various food items almost dropped onto our table and barely receiving grunts from 'Senor Charm', we had a brief, but ironically amusing brunch, before leaving ('sin tip') and spending some time on the Internet.

The ensuing journey was almost a carbon copy of the previous night, in terms of checkpoints and scenery, except that this time it was a couple of hours longer. Once again exhausted, we were thankful to head just around the corner from the bus terminal and check in to another small, but smart hotel. Unfortunately, by this time, and following days of stressful travelling with little reward, we found we were less than tolerant of one another and seemed to rile each other up with very little effort, or even intent! Consequently, we spent an extremely 'quiet' night in, grateful for the separate beds in our room!

The atmosphere between us certainly hadn't lightened by breakfast (another dismal affair) and didn't get better as the morning wore on. Andrea spent some time waiting for the Tourist Information Office to open (way past it's posted time), whilst I had to purchase another phone card and contact Barclays again, regarding the credit card fraud from Mexico. Unbeknown to me, I was initially given a pre-paid mobile card, which obviously didn't work in the public phones in the street. When I eventually realised what had happened, you can imagine that it did not improve my mood. With the admin finally completed we met back up and eventually sorted ourselves out and put the bad feeling down to all the travails of the previous few days.

With our relationship and travel plans still intact, we caught a bus for the hour and a half journey to San Pedro de Atacama, both of us extremely grateful for its proximity!

Dan and Andrea
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