To tour or not to tour....

Trip Start Nov 26, 2009
Trip End Jul 31, 2010

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Flag of Chile  ,
Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The bus ride to Iquique started with a dash to the bus station just before seven as the guys in the hostel had not called as taxi as I had asked. It gave me about ten minutes to get there with a thirty kilo backpack. Loads of fun, but when at last I was seated it felt like bliss. I had opted for ´cama´ for the first time which is down on the lower tier of the bus with even bigger seats. To picture it think of flying a good business class.

The journey took us to Jujuy to pick up more passengers and then wound its way up past Punamarca and the salt flats of the Salinas before entering the wide open spaces of the Puna and then passing into the Atacama Desert.  The landscape was bleak and harsh, but sometimes very beautiful with shades of red, brown, even purple in it. The monotony of the journey was broken by first a stop for about an hour to complete Argentine border formalities and then a long, long stretch into the night to reach San Pedro de Atacama where we all had to tramp off the bus to repeat the process for Chile.  It was obvious to all that we were not going to arrive as planned in Iquique at one in the morning.  When we finally did get there it was close to four in the morning and by the time the taxis had dribbled in to ferry us all away it was nearer to five.  I had to wake up the receptionist at the hostel, but he was okay about it.  It was the first private room I had had in two months and the feeling of relative luxury was wonderful.I took full advantage by sleeping in beyond breakfast.  I got up, showered and headed out around eleven and into a blazing sun.  It was the sort of heat that you could use to cook on the pavement with. The surf was pretty naff and the water was full of bodyboarders so that rather put me off.

Instead I wandered into the centre which is full of colonial buildings and went around the regional museum with its display on the ancient Chincurro culture, its own Inca mummies and a rather tired exhibit on Humberstone, the now derelict nitrate mining and processing operation in the desert plain behind Iquique. Having had my fill of culture for the day I grabbed some sushi on the seafront overlooking a wee reef break where the spongers (sorry, bodyboarders) were throwing themselves onto the rocks with gay abandon.

Though I had planned a series of tours whilst in Iquique now I had made it here my mind was elsewhere occupied. The concerns about the problems with flooding around Machu Pichuu and then the news of a state of emergency and landslides around La Paz had me reconsidering my trip options and schedule.  As for the tours there were not enough people to have them running every day and so I found myself already itching to leave before the next one was due to run.

Instead I fell into a routine of a siesta in the afternoon followed by some beers, dinner and activity, card games, jenga and suchlike, with the other hostel folks, a nice mix of Germans, English and South Americans. In the end I do not feel I missed out on a great deal in Iquique. It was another pitstop, a place to recharge rather than charge around.  I was up and away fairly quickly on Friday.  The bus to Arica, the town right on the border with Peru, took me past Humberstone after all and out into the desert again. 

Nothing had been settled in Iquique, but by the time I left I had discussed rescheduling my Machu Pichu trek from the beginning of March to the beginning of May. It was later than I really wanted, but Inca Trail permits are like golddust and that was the earliest I could even get on the request shortlist.  That meant the bus ride to Arica was spent pouring over my Lonely Planet guide and weighing my options.  Do I go into Bolivia anyway via the Salar de Uyuni or do I delay and head north into Peru early and head north to Ecuador, the Galapagos and Columbia?  The freedom of travelling can be rather intimidating sometimes. How easy our normal lives seem when our greatest choice is what we are making for dinner that night?
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