Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Chile! Pais numero 8

Chile! We thought not to make it this far, but- oh! yes we have. It is a glorious place (all 15 km I have so far explored). With a lot of trouble, we took a rickety old, wooden train from Tacna, Peru to Arica, Chile last night. The locals were mighty hesitant to let us aboard and tried many distractions as reasons for us not to purchase our tarjetas. However, after much persistance, hours, help from the local tourist agency, and depression (since we had traveled hundreds of miles and spent much money for this purpose) we finally succeeded in our 7th form of crossing borders.

Among these methods are: by plane to Guatemala (not very original), by shuttle into Honduras (not reccomended), by bus through Nicaragua and into Costa Rica (mediocre), by sail boat to Cartegena, Colombia (eventful), by foot into Ecuador (surprisingly easy), and by Riverboat into Peru (exceptional).

In the hustle of tourism in Miaflores I felt constantly flustered, confused, and lost. Manuel was sick with the after effects of bad food and dehydration, and the only thing I remotely enjoyed was the small freedom of roaming a foreign city on my own for the first time. I chatted with many artesan merchants, bought a few things I didnt really want (urgh), and was constantly romanced by Peruvian men. After four nights of this, and with the completion of St. Patrick´s day festivities, we had a plan. To take a bus to Pisco (South, on the coast of the Pan American highway) and then hop another bus to Santa Ines, half way East towards Ayacucho. From there we wanted to take the back roads South-East towards Cuzco, and hopefully bipass the Santa Semana maddness. Turns out, we were shit outta luck.

Pisco has had a devestating Earthquake. It is littered with refuges and rubble. Everything in it has tumbled down. And there are no morning buses towards Ayacucho. And we got food poisening, again.

So we jumped a Southbound bus to Ica (thanks for the pills Debbie!), then another (running after it, then jumping, actually). Ended up in Nasca. Not such a bad town. Blistering hot, with dark rocks of desert, mountains, and the infamos Nasca lineos. We stayed at The Way Inn with pretty piscina, yummy frutas desayuno, and very friendly staff (whom I expect had a bit of desert spirit and magic in their blood). We bypassed the offers of flying over the desert with a tour guide, and instead opted to see the lines from the mirador built by a woman who dedicated her life to decocding the reason behind these massive works of art. As it was now the end of Semana Santa buses were becoming difficult to come by, and we ended up paying Colombia standard fees to 15 hour journey to Arequipa, the Southernmost large city of Peru.

The bus was not clean of course, and the service was not accountable for our outragesly priced tickets, but in a way it was fortunate to awake throughout the night as the full moon was reflecting along the coastal desert beach. Illuninating the crash of waves upon the red sand in the still and lonely looking night.

After a lengthy and loud dissagreement with the PERRA at Tambo Viejo hostel (NOT RECCOMMENDED), we found ourselves wandering cluster-fucked streets of Easter touristos in the heart of Arequipa. Then came upon the Hostal Regis, with friendly enough Peruvian host in a four story victorean house. It was prime spot to ignore our hell of being stuck in a city overrun with shoppers and religious fanatics. It was also a beautiful veiw of the nightly procession of Jesus on the cross, the local preist and accomplises, and the Virgen Mary and the whole town of morning locals and candles.

It was another six hour journey across the desert to Tacna, at the border of Chile, a pleasant enough town where we enjoyed our afternoon Easter feast of Chocolate cake and Pina Coladas to the waitress´s tsk tsk tsking. There is a nice Plaza de Armas, with fountains and vine covering canopies. And the 5 sole train museum is absolutly wonderful as I got to climb around on decomposing cabooses and box cars; Peek inside 1930´s dining cars; Open the coal gate to the steam engines; I even found a rotting cat (but I dont think that was part of the display).

Upon our entry into Chile, I immediately noticed the change in scenery. The rocks of the desert were bigger, the ocean flowed nearby, and the peublos bordering Arica are much more enchanting. Instead of the dusty, half- finished haze of concrete, and protruding-skyward steel rods, of Peruvian villages: there were grids of widely spaced picket fenses. The houses had rooftops, and there were gardens, channels of palm trees, eucalyptus, and and flourish of hibiscus flowers in every color!

The Peruvian woman across from me in the tiny passenger carriage, made me well aware of the nightmarish culture I was fleeing; With her disapproving sneer, and overly dramatic protest to my knee against her skirt, and refusal to awknowledge my existence with my initial attempt at ¨Hola¨. Immigration was done at the train stations, so everything went fairly smoothly (aside from Uely-s missing tourist card, found only a little late) and we were out on our first Chilean street before dark.

We marched across the highway a little apprehensive (since someone had stolen 100 soles from me amidst the chaos of the mornings train station attempt) and flagged a taxi driver. We have very little information on Chile (aside from my own hurried notes jotted down off other traveler´s blogs), let alone any understanding of the city Arica´s layout. The Cabbie was extremely kind (as has been every Chilean cabbie since), and when I pointed to my scrawled handwriting and simultaneaously pronouced , ¨Calle Maipu o Sotomayor, Por favor¨, he was kind enough to let us know that we needed no taxi and pointed us the 2 blocks in the right direction. We stomped along, hustling for fear of the darkness approaching, and found ourselves as audience to yet another kind Chilean. Upon our remark of ¨muy caro, neccesito 5 mil para noche¨to her US dolar priced establishment, she recommended us to a Hostel Americanas not half a block down the street. It is a colorful, fair priced, family-run establishment with cocina, television (yeah, starting to miss that stuff again), and hot water in a private bathroom. My reccomendations.

In our first hour of exploring Chile we had already encountered more friendly, helpful, and caring people than our full month stay in Peru (excluding the Jungle which is farther from civilisation and a different region from Peru in my mind). There is a wonderful balance of tipico style restaurantes and markets in Arica, juxtaposed by a full walking strip -free of cars- and lively with European style cafes, streep performers and and salads galore! It is such a shame that our return ticket is out of Lima, as we are down to 2 weeks remaining until departure, and not one tiny bone in my body wants to set foot back in Peru (despite having skipped the renouned Inca cities of Cuzco and Macchu Picchu).