Monday, March 31, 2008

Turning Northwards

Chile proved to be a fantastic land of surreal desert ripped from Dali s imagination. We took a bus from Arica to the Peublo of Putre, higher in the Mountains and inland towards Bolivia. A dusty town, with lots of sun and bordering snow-capped mountains- just beyond the dry yellow, grey and red hills on the horizen. We hired a guide to take us to Parque Lauca (not having a guidebook, internet, or a better comprehension of the Spanish languge it was neccessary, as we could figure no other transport into the Parque Nacional). Fancisco was pleasant enough for a stranger, and we had him all to ourselves, so we didnt have to aim the camera shots away form other touristos profiles, and he bent to our every whim. We spent the day in the hilly mountain plains only 2 km from the Bolivian frontera (what torture! As we hadnt prepared ourselves with $150 visas ahead of time). I saw the object of my first animal report at age 6, the Pika (kind of like a large mouse-rabbit). There were also four types of camiliads who grazed along the roadway 11, and moved high into the hills by late morning. There were shades of flamingos, many other varieties of birds, and endlessly amazing reflections against the still pools of Northern Chile´s desert.

Then, painfully, we headed back to the Peruvian nightmare border. We hitched a ride with our guide as the bus was not due until the following afternoon. Train tickets sold out, we decided to find a bus to Tacna, as this border is vast and uncrossable on foot. The station was a nightmare of untrustworthery persons who wanted our passports in their charge, so we hiked it back to where we thought there was the PanAmerican. We waited, tapped our feet, counted our meager amount of remaining Pesos, disdained the coming darkness, and saw hope in TACNA ARICA buses heading our way- in the wrong direction, yet we it ws a good sign we were on the right route. A bus coming the right way, too fast to read its sign clearly, was flagged easily enough. I popped my head inside, ¨Queremos viajar frontera...¨I explained. The driver motioned to hop in, ¨Frontera,¨I confirmed. Yeah- tough luck. He took us into the slums, away from the parallel line to the ocean. I jumped off the bus with matter- of -fact protest to not paying his fare.

We were lost.

The dark was flying overhead.

Cars rushing.

No guidebook. A small map of the city center from information in the happy- safe- bright- beautiful-joyful part of Arica.

We werent on the map.

$8 by Taxi to the border. Sigh of releif- but no. The windows are not marked salida or entre. There is frenzy in the air. Taxi drivers are waving papers in our faces, telling the immigration staff who knows what. We breeze faltingly around from window to window until one man makes a motion to give us an exit stamp. We are famished- tired and hungry. No he says- we need proof of transport first. A bus rolls into veiw, and a kind woman mentions no more than 800 Pesos in passing. GREAT. Thats all we got left.

Then- people are trying to rip our passports out of our hands, the immigration officer stops me from buying a ticket. I insist I have my passport. At last it is stamped, yet the bus driver has unsurprisingly raised his fare to 1500 Pesos each. Tears involuntarily stream from my eyes, Im trying to handle this, trying to hold it together and bargain him down. Somehow pity is given, and we are on the bus, fighting with the bus attendant in resist to his claiming our passports for entrance stamps. I WILL not give it to him. He is flaming mad, gripping the seat, yelling, other people are worried, chiming in- yelling at us, one woman (I tihnk the one who gave us the tip earlier) tells him its Our passport- leave us alone. We get it stamped ourselves, and then wait for the rest of the bus to reclaim their belongings. This is an impracticle thing. Chaos rules the immigrations- woman are clutching at their purses as they exit the scanner belt, officials are litterally ripping them from their hands, throwing it aside. Straps are tearing, people are wailing, suitcases are falling open upon each other into a massive lumpy pile, and then the citizens are released to sort through it all and find their belongings- hurridly stuffing it back together and panting. Our items roll through the conveyer belt and I hear, ¨No. Esta touristas,¨and it is thaknfully handed over peacefully.

Tacna, again. Why didnt we check back into our old hotel?

Then, 7 30 AM bus to Puno. It takes 12 hours ot reach the shores of Lake Titicaca. This is the hightest navigable lake in the world. We are tired, and unimpressed. We leave the following morning to the dock. A wait. W wait for a very slow boat to leave port, eventually, at noon. We are gliding over the dark, deep waters. We pass the floating islands of the Uros culture. I watch the duckings paddle through the watery reeds. Quechua woman sit indside performing their immaculate weavings in their full skirts and woven wraps. Dark, long hair with black alpacha tassles bulking at the ends.

The boat is having trouble. Actually, it stops. I look towards the penninsula. At least, where I think the penninsula is, and try to gage where Llachon is. I know I can swim it ( I remember swimming out in to the heavy waves of Carribean ocean. Everyone else turns back, and I am one of three people to make it to the San Blas island), but it is very cold, and deep- and I cant bring my belongings.

Eventually the engine is restarted, and after three hours in the open water we are ashore, wandering through the prettiest peublo in all of Peru. We are accompanied by Kuan who brings us home with him and his new door, which is lifted above his head. His beautfiul Quechua wife feeds us well, and we are warm, confortable, serene, and immersed in the beauty of a fully self sustained cultured with no need for money or the outside world aside from general curiosity. We spend a long time that evening chatting, laughing, learning some Quechua lingo, and I sleep well for the first night in a long time.

Now- we are in Cusco. The journey was long but forgivable as we had the help of Kuan and blessings of the nearby spirits. The city is built on Incan ruins, and they line the streetways. Our hostel is high up in footpaths and cobbled stairways. Everything is expensive, and I am looking forward to beginning our independent journey to Macchu Picchu in the morning. First stop, Pisac.