Arica, Chile->Tacna->Arequipa, Peru
Alarm was set for 7AM. But after calculating how much time I needed to get ready and make it to Tacna, I overrided my alarm and snoozed until 8:30. I packed everything the night before with the exception of my yoga mat and shower supplies
Originally, I was planning on taking the Arica-Tacna train but when I went to get my ticket on Saturday, I read a sign that said service as of May had been suspended. Oh well, standard border crossing.
By 9:30, I was OMed up, showered, packed and inside a colectivo taxi headed to the the International Terminal to either catch a bus or colectivo to Tacna, Chile via la Frontera. Once inside the terminal, a man informed me there were no buses going to Tacna. The man pointed to the next corner, “al lado”. OK, no train. No bus. I had read that a bus was 1.5 Mil CLP and it took one hour for the crossing and to reach Tacna. Well, I guess I would pay a wee more for a colectivo 3 Mil but it would only take an hour.
The place where I directed to find my transport was kind of chaotic. A lady with a La Paz sign asked if I was headed there. “No (change of plans). Otra frontera.” Her, “Cerado”. Since she was a tout for the Bolivia bus, I went to get a second opinion from the pnly trustworthy source at the moment a Carabinero since they are always honest and helpful.
He finished up business with a few Chileans and looked at me. “Donde estan los colectivos para la frontera.” Him, “No hay.” Me, “No hay, aqui? De donde?” Him, “Si, aqui. Pero, hoy no.” Me: “Que? Por que?” Then he goings into a lengthy and rapid explanation. The gist: Today there were no taxis, buses, or colectivos running across the border. There is a strike. How long? Who knows. A day, a few days, a week. He said it was possible (key word I later realize) for me to cross by foot.
I paid more than I should for a 15 minute drive to the border, of the strike that is. A Carabinero stopped the taxi informing him of the situation and suggesting I get dropped off here. He pointed to me “la Americana” and said he wanted to take me as far as possible. He dropped me off next to the blockade.
I inquired about the distance to the driver said no problem. Not far. Just over the hill. I was giddy. Wahoo, adventure! This reminded me of the transportation strike when I tried to cross the state border in India between the Tamil Nadu to Karnataka. Me and PASt had to trek 7KM in the oppressive Indian heat while avoiding the crazy drama between the men in white and men in beige. Today, the men striking and the Carabineros were pretty tranquilo. Plus, 2KM in the desert = piece of cake!
There was a group of Chilean backpackers that were making jokes. A pair of Peruvian females walking along were in good spirits. The energy was good. It was only 10AM meaning the sun was still hidden behind a veil of clouds and most likely would not emerge until 11:30 or noon based on the pattern of the past few days.
As I walked up over the hill and looked out in the distance, hmmm, no aduana in sight. I kept walking and was glad I had unloaded the back a bit. Many of the items I picked up in Puerto Montt, I left freshly laundered and hanging in the closet of Hotel Lynch including my puffy pink Gap vest. Also, I left the adaptor with reception for any guests that might need one.
A guy was running in the other direction. I always feel the urge to join but even though my load was a bit lighter, I still had a pack to heavy to run with. Another men and his family also passed going the other direction. He was carrying his young daughter of 3 or 4 on his shoulders. The two other females were stuck carrying the heavy baggage.
Paying attention to the markers painted along the road, I had already walked more then 2 KM. I saw the sign for the Aeropuerto and Tacna 300m. There was a bend in the road. Sure enough, almost there. After bend, desert as far as I could see. CRAP! How far?
The sun picked a perfect day to break through the clouds early, 10:45. I paused to put on my baseball cap and grabbed my ever handy sunblock stick to lube up. It was heavy but THANK GOD I was packing a huge freaking thing of water. I swigged a few sips but not too much to make me need to pee. Still energized and now protected from the desert sun. I can do 5K, no problem. I was prepared to sit on my ass the whole day and was happy to get some exercise. I heard explosions off in the distance. Is there a bombing range?
At the 5K mark, I was now sweating profusely. My mood had changed from amused to concern. How much farther? I asked a few men that passed: “Cerca. 2Km. Then the women: “Lejos. Una hora. Una hora y media.” Me: “FUCK!!”
A news crew passed. An SUV full of Carabineros passed. A crew of military men riding in the back of a tarpaulin covered truck passed all hooting at me and giving me kissy faces. Fuckers! Pick me up!! If I flashed my boobs, would they give me a ride? Desperate times call for desperate measures!
I kept going since really, nothing else I could do. As I passed others, I chatted briefly with a few to keep my spirits up. Now enter the tired and grumpy phase. I was dreaming of drinking nothing other than a CocaCola also reminiscent of the Indian strike. Me and PASt paused at a perfectly placed vendor along with other indians for the life-saving elixir. Then the entrepreneur in me wished I had a beverage stand right now, I could be making a killing!!!
Border still nowhere in sight. Like a long training run or Marathon, music is my motivator and keeps me going. Thank God for my funky beats. This instantly but some bounce into my step. My iPod shuffled to “One Tribe” by the BEP. I was no longer in Chile or India, I was now in the middle of the Athens Greece Marathon. This song randomly played at the halfway point of the race and top of the hill overlooking the race and Greece countryside. I remember getting a little vaclempt, emotional being part of a large tribe of runners in this international marathon, THE Marathon.
Today, I was not in an official race but it felt the same, I was making this tough journey with people from other countries but we were all one. Why do I feel so alive while I am in the process of killing myself? I am truly one crazy bitch! Like Greece, I made it to the top of the hill and looked down below. Was I hallucinating? Please don’t be a mirage. The Aduana! The border!! At least another 2KM!
I was completely exhausted but happy, almost glowing. A few ambulances passed. Hmmm, should I fake pass out to get a ride? No Keren! You gotta earn it. Almost there! You can DOOit! Almost to the border, there were more sounds of explosions off in the distance. A sign catches my attention: PELEGRO CAMPO MINADO, DANGER MINE FIELD. What? Holy Crap! Both sides of the road. “Keren, stay on the path. And do not spill a drop off water”.
Little girl getting carried was crying. I though of an expression that Jodi, my lovely friend from Perth says she would love to say to her kids “Harden/Toughen the Fuck up!”. I’m loaded down with too much shit and you don;t see me crying. Damn, what I would do to me carried right now. Um, I strong muscular man with bulging biceps, hard pecs and ripped abs carrying me. Oh yes, that would be nice. “Keren, hang in there. Stay with us. Almost there. Stop drooling.”
No strong men to carry me but I did spot something that could be useful. A man was carrying a box with a office chair of the rolling variety inside. Dude, take it out of the box and roll that puppy down the street. Better yet, how about I also sit down and you roll me?
I was beyond elated when I got to the Chilean Aduana. Even though this morning I did not want to leave this beautiful country. Now, I just wanted my passport stamped. I felt a strong sense of accomplishment. I had made it from the Southernmost city in Chile to the Northernmost city. Thank God I rested a few days in Arica for this last bit.
Much to my delight, one taxi was waiting with 4 people inside. They needed on more rider. Damn, I am one lucky chica. Have I mentioned that everything seems to work out perfectly for me? Um, well let’s just forget about the previous 2 hours. I hopped my happy ass inside on the hump seat. We rode less than a kilometer to the Peruvian Aduana. Again, having to lift my pack out of the boot and go through formalities. Welcome back to Peru. Bienvenidos a Peru!
Thirty minutes of bliss just sitting shotgun on the road to Tacna. The scenery was lackluster. More desert but know littered with trash rather than land-mines. I was dropped off at the Bus Terminal. Not having extra energy, I allowed a tout to take me to find my bus ticket to Arequipa. It was 12:30, the bus was at 1PM. Perfect. Actually, it was 11:30, Peru was an hour behind. Sweet, even better. Time to pee and eat. I enjoyed the best lentejas sin cerdo o carne con arroz washed down with a glorious CocaCola to celebrate my victorious border crossing (plus another bottle of water).
Exhausted, I happily collapsed into my comfortable bus seat for the 7 hour ride to Arequipa. I wanted to sleep but was to fired up from the day and reading Fifty Shades of Grey. Good Lord! I was hooked. Time flies when you are reading a delightfully dirty book. I had to force myself to pause to watch the sun set over the mountainous desert landscape before grabbing my headlamp and diving back in.
The bus arrived in Arequipa at 8:30PM and I made it Home Sweet Home Hostel. It was an exhausting journey but for me, sometimes with a little challenges thrown in makes victory taste that much sweeter. I was more than ready to be tucked in safely in my bed sweet bed.