What a Ride!

Trip Start Sep 15, 2007
Trip End Dec 13, 2007

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Flag of Peru  ,
Friday, October 5, 2007

The day started with hitching a ride downtown with Pedro on his way to work.  My bus for Arica, Chile was leaving at 11:30.  Getting downtown early would give me time to have a little breakfast and some nescafe before heading out on what was sure to be an interesting travel day.  It turns out there's no way to travel overland across the border to Peru directly to any major centre there.  This meant a roughly five hour bus ride to Chile's Arica, a city bordering with Peru and home to the only overland route into Peru.  This first leg of the trip was uneventful.  Things soon changed.  The instant you disembark in Arica you are bombarded with hucksters and hustlers trying to sell you a $6 collectivo ride across the border into a city called Tacna, which by the way, is pretty much to only way in. 

I almost got drawn in by one such character who gave me the impression he could get me all the way to Arequipa, but stopped short of signing up when I reminded myself that it was probably a good idea to at least look into the approach Lonely Planet loosely recommends.  Furthermore, at no time had I been able to determine that it was possible to get buses to anywhere in Peru without going to Tacna first.  So I trundled over to the so-called Terminal Internacional where Peruvian collectivo drivers swarm outside (you practically have to beat them off) and went 'inside' where the LP recommended chilean operators are situated.  After completing the necessary paperwork on an old Smith-Corona typewrite that required manual rewinding of the tape and strapping my pack to the roof of a Chevy 'Opala', I squished into the front seat.  There was a nice Peruvian lady seated next to me and three more adults and a child, a family as it turns out, and also Peruvian.  (They don't even use the peruvian operators!).  One of the family members is a young fellow about 20ish--speaks some english and has worked in Reno Nevada.  His dad is excited that his kid has an opportunity to practice.  He's quite helpful. 

I had to 'wear' the fake seatbelt up to the two boarder crossings.  It was out of the car to leave Chile, hand in my visa, back in the car, drive up a bit and out of the car to enter Peru.  The boarder crossing took about almost an hour.  The drive itself was about 45 minutes. 

Tacna's bus terminal is a piece of work.  The difference between Chile and Peru is readily apparent.  Hustlers, beggars, peddlers, are everywhere.  You can't walk two steps without being hit up--Arica, Arica!  Taxi, Taxi!  Leave me the f*%k alone! I book a ticket for Arequipa, leaving the next morning on a bus line recommended by the Peruvian guy, then grab a $2.00 taxi downtown, thinking OMG if downtown Tacna is anything like the bus depot... 

My single private habitacion con baņo at the Lido Hospedeja resembles jail cell, barred windows and all.  Apparently Tacna didn't make the cut when they were handing out toilet seats and paper. 

An evening walk around town reveals something of a strangely pleasant surprise. The streets are filled with diesel exhaust spewing taxis and buses that come in all variety of shapes, sizes and colours and are lined with an odd mix of high-end optical stores, shoe stores, an incomprehensible number of cellphone vendors--two or three per block along with many people hustling phones on the street--and Chinese (Chifa) restaurants.  It's all rather bazaar, highly entertaining and a stark contrast from what I experienced at the bus depot. 

I gotta talk about food!  It's cheap here.  Medio pollo asada, papas frita, ensalada, grande porcione and dos cerveza--five bucks and change!   And soooo good.  Off to Arequipa at 9:00 a.m. 

For those of you who made it this far, I apologize for the length. 
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