Fri, 04 Apr 2008 16:39:51 +0000

Leaving Cuzco Index A Rant

I didn't sleep well, but enough to keep me going. When I woke up, we'd landed on Mars:

Not even a spinifex bush to break the dust and rocks stretching to the horizon. This thing about Peru having a huge variety of landscapes? Believe it.

We arrived in Tacna at a bus depot in the suburb of Nowhere in Particular, so I had to take a taxi to the actual bus terminal, to find a way over the border. Like all desert cities, Tacna goes out of its way to plant palm trees surrounded by green lawns, to prove that this is a paradise, not a dustbowl. Still, I'd have to say it's a pretty miserable town.

I found a collectivo taxi to take me and four other people over the border. Interestingly, in all the confusion, they forgot to actually take my money. Suits me, one less piece of bureaucracy. While going through the Peruvian/Chilean border formalities, I got to chatting to a used truck dealer called Robin who, due to living in the US, spoke perfect English. It's always nice to have someone English-speaking around when you cross a border, just in case. My strategy of just waving around every vaguely immigration-related piece of paper I have at my disposal isn't always guaranteed to produce the correct result.

We arrived at the Arica bus station, which is a pretty small and dusty affair. Since Arica isn't a big place, I decided to walk to find a hotel. I had no reservation, and the address of only one hotel, but this is a resort town and I was fairly confident I could find somewhere. Also, for once, wikitravel had supplied me with a usable map. I ended up finding that one hotel fairly easily, and although it's pretty crappy, it'll do. My major complaint is that there's only hot water in the mornings: this means waiting until the next day for a shower. 56 hours without a shower. Even I consider that a lot.

Having sorted myself out and caught my breath, I went off to explore the town. I stopped on the way to buy a coke and a massive plate-sized cookie from a pastry shop. By the way, that's one of the more surprising things about South America I've encountered: they seem to love their cakes here. Cake is ubiquitous, cheap, fresh, moist and delicious. While I was munching away, an old bloke with a limited selection of teeth and an equally limited English vocabulary wandered up and started chatting. He turned out to be the patriarch of the family that ran the shop. He explained, partially by mime, that Chile hasn't had a civil war now for ages. Good going, Chile! He was quite nice.

There's not a lot to Arica. Most of the town is dusty and run-down one and two story businesses, and then there's the tarted-up bit in the centre which is quite civilised and resorty. Parks with palm trees, al fresco restaurants, lots and lots of banks. I guess it's quite the bustling tourist town at the right time of year, although it wasn't today. The location is pretty amazing: it's parched desert right up to the ocean.

The hill in the background is El Morro, and of course I would be climbing that later. For now though, I went and took a photo of the Pacific Ocean, which was surprisingly difficult since they'd hidden it behind the container docks. Arica doesn't seem to think of itself as a beach resort. They also don't do postcards here: I spent ages looking, since I promised to send one from every country, and I'm only in Chile for two days. I'm going to have to improvise there.

Since I was feeling the heat a bit, I went back to the hotel to relax. I am fully prepared to spend the majority of my time in the hotel here: having taken a photo of the Pacific, I've already completed my todo list for Arica, and since I'm still not 100% healthy, I could use some veg time.

Nevertheless there was one thing to do in the evening: climb up El Morro and watch the sun set over the Pacific. Which I proceeded to do. El Morro is an oddly bleak place at that time of night, like one of the more obscure beaches in Perth at about 6:30 at night. There are flocks of birds riding the thermals up the rock, and it's very peaceful. I folded my jumper into a pillow, perched myself on one of the various monuments to Signficant Chilean Things they have up there, and chilled.

I had planned to have dinner on the way back, but my appetite seems to have mysteriously evaporated. If I hadn't spent the first week of the holiday so relentlessly pigging out, I'd be a touch concerned about how little I've eaten over the last few days. But to be honest, I'm a little uninspired by what's on offer here. There's a surprising number of Chinese restaurants, which I'm not going to bother with. On wikitravel's recommendation I lunched on a cheese empanada from allegedly the best cheese empanada place in town. Certainly what I got was a competently deep-fried pastry filled with cheese. But it wasn't exactly a taste sensation. Maybe I'm just not in the right mood.

So an evening reading the news and watching TV is in order, and then a good night's sleep.

Leaving Cuzco Index A Rant