So this is what people call a “character building experience”…. It´s like 330 in the morning right now… or something, I really can´t figure out the time here. Every clock is different. I am sitting in our hostel, at the computer. Savannah is asleep on the couch. The couch… I know, weird right. Well… let me tell you how this all came to be.
We wake up this morning in Arequipa, and hop onto our comfy Cruz del Sur bus to Tacna. All is well in the world of Tessa and Savannah. We enjoy a nice afternoon nap and a free snack, while attempting to polish off all of our food before we get to Tacna and have to cross the border (cause you can´t bring food across of course). The bus takes a little longer than expected… but luckily (or unluckily, I´m not sure) we have nothing else booked, we are winging it from Tacna with the wise guidance from our Lonely Planet bible.
We arrive to Tacna around 6pm and deboard. The moment we step off the bus… we are BOMBARDED by these 2 men offering us a taxi ride to Arica. Now, GET AWAY FROM THEM, is your first reaction right? Ya, ours too. We have not even picked up our bags yet and oh man, do they want to give us a ride. The only reason this is the not the most blatantly obvious sketch case in the world… is that we are in Peru, and things are done differently here. Our Lonely Planet advises us that we should catch a taxi to cross the border. So, although this seems odd… apparently this is what you do! Still not able to convince ourselves that we won´t be entering some unforseeable danger by accepting this ride, we start off by walking with them to the International Terminal (where all these taxi companies have counters set up to arrange these rides). Once we get in there, we are SWARMED, LITERALLY SWARMED, with taxi drivers trying to convince us to travel with them. They all speak Spanish. We are absolutely OVERWHELMED. We look around and realize we are the only 2 white girls in the whole place, and it´s obvious that we are getting the most offers here. Something is not sitting right. I ask the original 2 guys who is riding with us. They say 3 other passengers. I ask if they are all “hombres”, and suddenly, those very 3 “hombres” appear and join in the chorus, trying to convince us to take the ride. We freak out a little bit… yell and it´s obvious that we´re pissed off. I yell out to see if anyone speaks English. One man pops up and says he speaks a little. Turns out his other 3 passengers are 3 Peruvian women in their 40s. We agree to take this ride. The LEAST sketchy that we can find…. We go up to the counter and complete the paperwork for crossing the border with the assistance of the Peruvian woman with the thick lip liner working at the counter. When it´s all done, we rush behind the driver out into the now very dark night. We come up to his car… it´s an old, rickety Crown Vic. Ah! We look at each other with a “well here goes nothing” look, and climb in.
Taking off onto the highway, we are driving along, at a truly “Peruvian” speed…. It feels like the intro scene into the next hit horror flick, but we just have to laugh it off and go with it. 30 minutes into the trip, we pull up to the border. The border crossings are a bit confusing, being that we understand very little Spanish, but for the most part, quick and easy. They do VERY little screening. We could have each been carrying tonnes of drugs and never would have been caught. (stop worrying everyone, we weren´t carrying any!) The trip consists of another 30 minutes in the dark Crown Vic and then we arrive in Arica. So all in all, it was totally fine… just… “character building”.
Now, once in Arica, we walk across the street to the bus terminal to try and find a way to Iquique. Remember, we were, in true “backpacker” form, winging it here. Most companies don´t have another bus that night (it´s 930pm now), but we manage to find one that is leaving “ahora” (NOW!). We convince them to give us 2 minutos to get some pesos out of the local bank machine (exchange rate 1$ = 527 pesos) and a famous Chilean hot dog from the local shop! It´s a hot dog smothered, not covered but SMOTHERED in tomatoes, guacemole and mayo. Our Lonely Planet actually highly recommends this, and with good cause. We rush onto the bus, our hands full of hot dog and bus tickets and an overwhelming amount of pesos (I took out 30,000, haha). We find our seats, way at the back, clearly the last ones sold and polish off our dogs. The bus takes off….
Shortly after the bus leaves, a man comes through the aisle to collect our passport information (guess it´s not like in Peru where they video tape you faces in case something happens and you need to be identified. We can´t decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing.). The man actually asks to keep our passports for something having to do with the Policia… but we can´t understand. We know a good backpacker never parts with her passport, so we refuse. So… we muddle along. Watch a movie on the TV´s, although in the back the engine is so loud we can´t hear the movie at all. The bus is sticky hot, with no air circulation, so I don´t sleep much. Just completely uncomfortable.
About an hour into the trip, we stop. We all have to leave the bus with our bags. Savannah and I specifically have to go up to the counter to show the Policia guy our passports. He looks them over and tell us we are beautiful, and then we are done. I guess that´s what it was for. Nothing to concerning, the bus is seached. The only reason I´m not having a breakdown right now is because again, I read about this. Every bus moving south from Arica has to go through this inspection. Shortly after, we are back on the bus and back enroute to Iquique.
About 2 hours later, maybe less because our bus driver must be from Peru, haha, I can see the lights of Iquique. I recognize it from pictures. It´s AMAZING!!! So beautiful. If my stupid memory card weren´t full and if my new one fit (which it doesn´t) I would have photos… but I don´t. We pull up and the two of us get off. We are the only ones getting off there it appears.
There is a taxi driver waiting for us (it seems these men are always around!). He says 3000 pesos to the Backpacker´s Hostel. Now that is the most expensive cab ride so far this trip. I offer him 2000 and pretend to not understand when he says 2000 and 500. (This does create a little bit of drama when we end up getting there and paying and I refuse to give him more than 2000, but I am not being ripped off my first night here, and honestly, it was the quickest cab ride ever!! He´ll get over it….)
FINALLY, our hostel. A long day of traveling and we are in desperate need of our beds. We get inside only to discover that because we indicated we thought we would arrive by midnight and it´s not about 230am, they gave away our beds (who the hell came in here at 1am looking for beds!!) even though we did book ahead of time and pay the deposit. We are just shattered at this point. The worker guy calls the owners and they agree to let us stay on the couch in the TV room for free tonight. We can have our beds at 12 noon tomorrow.
So… here we are. Thoroughly enjoying the first few moments here in Chile. Even if I wanted to sleep, not sure I can fit on the couch with Savannah. I may have to pull an all nighter. God damn, I wish I could find me some Chilean wine or a beer to make this more bareable. Will check in later… who knows, maybe in an hour because I am SO BORED OUT OF MY TREE and trying to not fall asleep standing up.