Chile here we came and went


It feels like I haven’t written for a while which is probably true.  Both of us have been feeling like the shine of the big city has worn off.  Yes we did discover another bar/nightclub to go to where we can dance to mostly our fav music from the 80s & 90s so that’s great since we know that our time is limited in i) being able to find such music in anything smaller than Lima for a city, and ii) we aren’t getting any younger so staying out late takes its toll on us.  As Mr.C5 says “I … wanna rock and roll all night and party every 3rd or 4th day…(you know the Kiss tune?).

So back at it once again. We spent last week traveling by air, bus and train as we journeyed to Chile in order to renew our visas. Things of course didn’t pan out as planned but heck that is the story of everyone’s life right?

The Peruvian government had introduced new legislation pertaining to the various types of visas folks get when coming into this country.  We volunteers with Cuso are on a visitor’s visa which can be had for up to 180 days.  Prior to the new law, one could step out of the country and then step back in and get another 180 days.  With the changes, a visitor would only be able to stay a total of 180 days within one year.  So as any good volunteer would do I passed along an article to Cuso staff, written on one of the expat websites where they asked a lawyer’s opinion about the new law and what it might mean for various types of expats in Peru.  Cuso response was yes this was a possibility but all will be fine, probably because they had never had a problem before?!?!  It turns out Suco volunteers, the equivalent Quebec organization, have some other arrangement with the Peruvian government and so they don’t have to send their volunteers out and then back in to country. More on this later…

So we flew to Tacna, Peru, not much of a city to boast about, sort of industrial looking (the plaza was quite disappointing compared to all the other plazas we have encountered – not even a decent coffee shop!!), surrounded by huge sand dunes on two sides acting like a funnel.  I guess there was a river carrying water from the distant Andean mountains that came to the surface thus the city sprang up in the middle of nowhere in a desert – not close to the coast, on the edge of more desert mountains.

We then proceeded to catch a cab to the train station since I had read that this was a pleasant way to cross the border.  Alas one couldn’t buy tickets on the day one wished to travel so we then walked to the bus station which fortunately wasn’t far.  Here I worked on figuring out how to get a taxi collectivo to cross the border.  Really – taking a taxi to cross the border you might ask? Well it is how they do things there.  And it all works rather smoothly.

Alas we had to wait in quite the lineup for our turn.  It just happened to be a Sunday mid/late afternoon and there were lots of folks who were doing the cross border shopping like folks used to do Canada – U.S.. Peru’s prices for everything are much cheaper so Chileans come over for their purchases on the weekend.  Tacna is the centre to which they go – the closest biggest city I guess.  They come from Arica which is almost literally across the border, less than a 10 minute drive.  Tacna is about 30 minute drive to the border.  Note to others – not a good idea to cross borders here on the weekend.

So eventually we got a car, the two of us sitting in the front with a family – husband, wife and child – in the back.  The driver takes our passports briefly which I knew would happen otherwise why would I give my passport to a complete stranger you might ask.  We also filled out the required documentation that the driver provided to us.  After waiting in line for about 45 minutes we were on our way.

We noticed lots of orchards along the way – it turns out olive tree orchards.  Not sure why this is the chosen produce but I guess with the river and thus extensive irrigation this is the place for olives and olive oil.  Didn’t manage to buy any but we did see someone with a huge bucket full of olives to take back to Chile.

So we arrive at the border, exit the car, wait in line to 1st exit Peru (which is where I realized I had forgotten these little slips of paper you get when you enter Peru and which you are to give back when exiting – uh oh – fortunately I guess they understood that after 6 months someone might forget these bits of paper), then back in taxi to wait in line for Chilean immigration, then walk a bit, wait in line some more to have our bags checked.  Throughout we were all to stay together – it was like the car was crossing along with its passengers despite the fact we had no connection to the driver or the other family.

And just as we were putting our bags on the conveyor belt the machine stopped working – I was wondering why the line wasn’t moving for a while there.  So directed to another building and another machine, wait in line some more, then checked through and finally back in taxi to Arica.  It all went smoothly overall just time consuming.

It was dark by the time we arrived but I recognized the place since I had googled earth it – it was a lot smaller than Tacna which I was looking forward to.  I had also booked up a place for 2 nights that was a 2 minute walk to the beach – a real beach with sand and not rocks found in and around Lima (why people think Lima’s beaches/coastline is nice I will never understand).  I knew it would be a short walk from bus station to the hotel but as we walked we missed the name of one street, kept on walking through a somewhat industrial area with only intermittent street lighting, only to realize that that one street was probably the street we were looking for.

You have to appreciate by this time we were tired – we had left our apartment in Lima at 10 a.m. thankfully being driven to the airport by Cuso’s ‘private’ chauffeur, Sr. Santiago, a lovely fellow who picks up/drops off all the volunteers and has for many years. Now it was close to 8 p.m..  So back we walk and lo and behold yes it was the street we needed.  Finally we get there, check in. Next stop – BEER!!

I will leave it to Mr.C5 to tell the remainder story of this evening.  Check out  Of course I would write this differently, and there were some embellishments but overall he captured the evening’s events nicely.  Yes crazy shit happens to him and us.  I got to imbibe a bit which was great along with good cheap beer and good music, vibe, bar staff. I had a great laugh with the sharing folks who taught me some slang: la raja which meansawesome/something really entertaining or fun. Something is “la raja” or a person can be “la raja” when they’re just all around awesome. But the word “raja” can also mean your behind/(ass) and can be mistaken for vulgarity”, “La pasemos la raja! We had a blast!, No me tocas la raja Don’t touch my butt, OR ¡La raja! Great!” I also asked from where do these fine substances come from – well I guess Chile is a consumer while Peru, Columbia and Bolivia are the producers.

The next day we simply spent relaxing, walking the beach for some time and then the downtown.  I had planned this since I knew our travel to Chile would be long and tiring. I did like the place overall. Much more cosmopolitan and relaxed compared to Peruvian small cities, e.g. far less security guards around and more ‘white’ folks.

The moro or big sanstone rock on the edge of the community:

Some pelicans waiting for their fish meal, and sea urchin harvest:

A cool food shack close to the beach – Mr.C5’s dream home:

These shacks either made of bamboo ‘sheets’ or bricks or stones are dotted around the place, usually close to reads and we understand they are there more to indicate property ownership rather than someone actually lives there:

Next day off to Arequipa but back to Tacna first and of course border crossing. This time we did take the train, all of one car, actually cheaper than the taxi collectivo.  This was much more pleasant and everything took a lot less time.

And then the hiccup which could have turned into a nightmare.  We were almost the last folks in line, luckily there were 2 immigration officials so we didn’t keep anyone waiting.  The woman was very friendly fortunately.  But she was essentially saying she couldn’t let us in, showing us on her computer screen the text of the new law.  I was like yes I understand this explaining we were volunteers, at which time I provided the letter we had from Cuso explaining who we were.  She essentially said that if she let us in for 180 days she would be the one to get into trouble.  I asked if she could speak with a supervisor – the place was so small that no one in a position of authority was there except the two officials and other security/support staff.  Of all things she actually had to use her own personal phone to make the calls. This took some time and in the end I have no idea who she talked to even if she did talk to someone but she gave us 90 days. Phew!! So on we went to the bus station.  I thought I better let Cuso know asap about this but this could wait until I got some wifi access along the journey.

Red sand desert mountains along road to Arequipa, the 2nd has powerlines if you zoom in:

The bus trip to Arequipa was supposed to take 5.5 hours.  Well this trip really made me learn that the advertised trip lengths are bullshit – only best case scenario and how often does that happen??  It took about 8 hours. For some reason when we finally got to Arequipa, by which time it was dark, the driver decides to practically go off road – meandering through tiny streets up a hill where he then had to keep backing up in order to either turn around or just get around tight corners, scraping the bottom of the bus along the way.  I asked a fellow passenger whether this was what usually happened and he said no. He was totally confused as well.  By this time folks are getting frustrated since with their stunning customer service we have no friggin’ idea what is happening (and of course we never get an explanation nor any type of apology).

Finally we get to the bus station, hope in a cab to our booked hotel. I was afraid that our room would have been given away.  Fortunately the place was ready and really nice and with a hot strong shower to boot!!  We by this time needed BEER!!  Found it easily enough even though the night desk clerk warned that everything was closing by this time.  Not true – not sure what city he was living in??

Me, tired, having me morning smoke on a swing of all places in the garden of the hotel:

Women carrying their belongings in colourful typical of the area blankets:

Alas the next day was also a bus journey day. I knew these 2 days would be long but in the end not as long as they turned out to be.  Why can’t bus companies say the trip duration is the worst case scenario therefore if you arrive early you are pleasantly surprised and will say great things about the bus company.  Note to self:  Why do I expect common sense??

This was the journey from Arequipa to Colca Canyon – Valle de Colca, the 2nd deepest canyon with U.S. Grand Canyon being #3, #1 being Cotahuasi also in Peru –  or more precisely to the small community of Cabanaconde. This bus ride was to be max 5.5 hours as well but it took closer to 7 for god knows why. On both day’s bus trips we actually had to go through various checkpoints, one being about agriculture, others I think being about crossing provincial borders – who knew. Mr.C5 was not a happy camper and not just because he needed his nicotine.  Fortunately we got some Nicorette gum in Arica, something we had not been able to find in Lima for some reason, so this helped, but as a tall guy he doesn’t do well in small spaces.

Note: almost all the pics below are taking from within the bus so lots didn’t work out but some did thankfully.

Pics of desert landscapes – volcano & sand devil:

Rock walls I believe for coralling the vicuñas and/or alpacas

More rock structures – heck there are so many rocks so this is the perfect building material:


Mining activity – salt mining?

Alpacas, these and vicuñas tend to hand out near the salt marshes:

Cool rock formations, 1st has these green moss covered rocks

Majestic vistas:

Some views from the bus as we come into Chivay:

Okay will stop here – to be continued – I need to work on the photos which is tedious as it takes time needing to resize them otherwise they take up too much space.

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