Océano Pacífico, Te quiero

Trip Start Oct 10, 2001
Trip End Feb 19, 2002

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Flag of Chile  ,
Friday, February 1, 2002

We promised ourselves that this would be our last early morning bus ride. We woke up when the sky was still dark at 5am. Found a taxi to the Central Bus Terminal of La Paz and waited for the first bus to Chile. We bought the tickets with most of our Boliviano money and some snacks(breakfast) for our trip. Just when it was time to board the bus, the driver informed us to pay an international service fee in Bolivianos only. "COMO??" I was stunned. The only money we have was 20 dollar bills in US currency for emergencies only, and they did't have change. While I guarded our bags, Juliette ran into the station, found a "casa de cambio" (not sure where at this hour of day), and returned with some change. The bus almost left without us.

We were the last ones on board, and it was a luxurious bus by Bolivian standards, although later I understood it was a Chilean bus. The ride to the Chilean border was an unadventurous one, with mountains on either side, but by now the Andean mountains did not catch our attention anymore. It started to SNOW, wow!! first time I ever seen snow in the southern hemisphere. Not a big snow storm, just a little flurry; by Canadian standards, it was just an autumn tease.

After we passed through Parque Nacional Sajama, we arrived at the Bolivian Immigration. It was extremely cold and windy as we got off our bus, me and Juliette had about 4 layers of sweatshirts and our Llama jackets, and endured about 30min of this wintery weather before we got our exit stamps. Not far down the road, at the Chilean immigration, the entry procedure was extra slow as all bags were X-rayed and searched (probably for drugs). Another hour went by before we were on our way again. The stunningly beautiful Volcan Parinacota, with its snow capped volcano cone, was towering over the highland swamps around us as our bus drove through Parque Nacional Lauca (Chile). Then, suddenly, the landscape turned from green to brown and soon it turned into nothing but sandy hills. We were in the highland desert country, similar to the road between Cuenca, Ecuador and the Pacific. The clouds disappeared, and so went any kind of moisture.

We passed through a desert oasis on the way, the river valley had no "river" at all, only few watering holes doing its purpose by keeping the cactus and palm trees alive. The extreme fast descent was almost ear popping as we dropped 4000 meters of altitude in less than 2 hours. Of course, by now our 4 layers of sweatshirts, which served us well earlier, was a heat trap, and my face was on fire. What my body went through as the change from sub-zero temperature to 40 degrees heat during a 4000 meters descend was beyond comprehension. We arrived in Arica, Chile in mid afternoon.

In pouring sweat and toiling our backpacks we didn't wish to walk around to look for a hotel, so, we checked into a nearby concrete den near the bus station. After a quick cold shower we walked, in our bare feet, to the broad beaches of the Pacific. Oh my God, it felt wonderful to walk on a beach again, it was our first time in South America. I worshiped the Pacific as if it was the cure for all the evil in the world, not surprisingly my coughs and high altitude headaches disappeared.

Arica, this northern Chilean city on the desert coast was such a refreshment it could have been my Mecca.
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