Arica, Chile (11/30/2010-12/1/2010)

Trip Start Nov 15, 2010
Trip End Dec 30, 2010

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Traveling between borders has not been easy so far.  Crossing from Colombia to Peru proved to be very expensive.  The international flights were about 4 times more expensive than domestic flights.  Traveling from Peru to Chile was not as expensive, but it was very difficult.  There were no buses going from Puno, Peru, to Chile so I had to bus to Tacna, Peru, a border city, and catch a different bus from there.  In Tacna, I was dropped off at 4:45am in the middle of nowhere.  For the first time I really felt like a vulnerable traveler.  It was the middle of the night and I was basically lost in a small, poor city in Peru holding all my belongings.  After asking several people where the bus station was, I was finally able to gather that it was on the other side of town.  Why our bus didn't drop us off there is still puzzling to me.  Fortunately, there were taxi drivers around so I got a ride.  From there I learned I could only catch a "colectivo" (multi-passenger) taxi to the border, where I would walk through immigration and customs, and then I would have to pick up a separate colectivo taxi on the Chilean side.

At the Tacna bus station, I had to pay a bus station tax and fill out immigration/customs forms, all of which was confusing as all the instructions were in Spanish.  At one point, my colectivo taxi driver walked off with my passport, and at the border, he told us to leave our bags in the trunk of his car while we walked through what looked like the immigration/customs office.  At both points, I was uneasy and confused, but in both cases my driver was helping me out (he walked my passport (with me following close behind) to the counter where I needed
to fill out a couple forms, and the border was actually only the Peruvian border office so he picked us back up after we passed through and drove us to the Chilean border).  I have learned you simply can't do this type of trip without fully entrusting yourself to others at certain points.  Using you intuition is obviously important when deciding whom to trust, but it has been quite gratifying when I've experienced strangers taking care of me.  It reaffirms my underlying
belief that people are innately good people.  I truly believe when people see someone in need that they can directly help, there is a deep-rooted sense of compassion within them that shines through.

That is probably an ironic segue into what happened next.  When I arrived at the Chilean border, I learned that I could not pass through customs, because the Chilean customs employees were on strike.  They only let 3 people through each half hour.  So they worked for about 2 minutes, then for the next 28 minutes that sat around, playing the drums in their air conditioned office, while hundreds of people waited outside underneath the desert sun (see the video I uploaded).  Fortunately, a French couple that spoke English was in my taxi to the border, otherwise I would have been all alone.  I think we were the only international tourists at that border stop.  Either traveling to Chile via bus is not very popular or others knew of this strike.

As I chatted with the attractive French girl I couldn't help but think about one of my favorite movies, The Beach, in which the American guy wins over the French girl, after he spends enough time around the French couple.  I felt I was make strides in the right direction, ha, but my fantasy was cut short when AFTER 6 hours we FINALLY passed through customs and entered Chile.

The three of us caught a taxi to Arica.  The driver didn't have enough room in the trunk for my bag so he put it on the top of his car.  Ha, I immediately extinguished that idea.  My French friends were on the same page as me and so we held my bag over our laps in the back seat.  Ha, having my bag in the car turned out to be a relief, when, after about 5 minutes into our trip, I looked back and noticed the trunk was open.  I couldn't help but laugh out loud.  I immediately patted the driver on the shoulder and pointed to the trunk.  His expression of complete shock was priceless.  He quickly pulled over and ran out to shut it.  Fortunately, the French couple's bags were still there.  It provided a great laugh though and was a fitting end to a very difficult day of travel...

I was happy to leave Peru.  The society was just to ancient for me.  I was so excited to return to a developed city and meet travels at hostels again.  Arica is a really nice city located on the Pacific coast and within the Atacama desert.  My Chilean friend, Milton, recommended that I spend time here.

When I arrived at the hostel I had a very successful conversation in Spanish with the manager.  Later that night she actually asked me to translate what an English man was trying to say.  He was wondering where he could park his car.  I roughly translated and they were able to work that out.  I really enjoyed that moment.

There was a nice couple from Wales/Ireland in my dorm that I eat with that night.  They had already traveled through most of the cities remaining in my trip and gave me tons of great recommendations about places to stay and things to do.

The following day I took a stroll on the beach.  There weren't too many people out there, but it was a beautiful beach.  With the pure blue sky, pacific waves and sand dunes off the shore, it made quite a landscape.  I visited the Museo del Mar, which had a large collection
of shells and fossils from all over the world.  Then, I visited the San Miguel de Azapa Archaeological Museum, which contains mummies and artifact of the indigenous, Chinchorro people of the area.  Because items get buried in the sand and do not encounter much rain fall, the artifacts are still very well preserved.  I was shocked to learn that this museum contains the oldest mummy in the world, dating back to about 6,000BC.  The mummies were pretty interesting.

I left that night for San Pedro de Atacama.  I had planned on traveling to La Serena, another beach town close to Santiago, but only a few hour before I left for the bus station, I had a change of heart.  This will probably be my only chance to see the driest desert in the world, so I
am heading deeper into the Atacama desert (despite how much more I'd prefer the beach).

P.S. - While Chile is directly south of Peru, bizarrely there is a two hour time change at the border.  Chile is two hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

Special thanks to - Solene Marois and Frederic Bernet for making my time at the border somewhat bearable.
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