36 hours of my life

We left Salta at 7 a.m. After a couple of hours we were in the mountains. The scenery was beautiful. Unlike the mountains between Santiago and Mendoza, the mountains here were many different colours of rock - grey, green, yellow and red. There were also many unusual land forms, such as columns.

I met two girls on the bus from the United States. Nia and Sara were on their way to Arequipa where they were living! It was fantastic. They had just taken a horrifically long bus trip to Iguazu Falls. they said the falls was magnificent, the multiple 20 hour bus rides to get to it were not... Anyway these two girls were a godsend, because they stayed with me all the way to Arequipa, helping me with bags and kids and taxis and translation etc.

I realized a couple hours into the trip that we were going to cross into Chili relatively soon, which meant that I would have to throw out all of that nice food I packed. Chile has some rather harsh rules about bringing food across the border. There are tonnes of horror stories about people being fined $250 US or more for an apple, and people threatened with jail for bringing food across. We spent the next couple of hours eating as much as we could, and giving everyone around us food. At the border, we threw out the last of the chicken, but mostly everything else was gone. Our seatmates were all happy campers - especially the Scandinavian guy across the aisle who accepted my offer of sandwich (I gave him a large bun with three rare filet mignon steaks on it).

Near the border, things started to get progressively worse. The kids started to feel sick. I had not realized that we were climbing to around 5000 metres above sea level!!! The kids had soroche (altitude sickness). The began vomiting soon after the border. Luckily I had a bunch of bags left that had had my lunch packed in. No one on the bus was feeling all that great. There was another little boy on the bus (about age 5 or 6) and he was vomiting too. 8 hours of vomit. Yeah. All out of plastic bags.

At the border, we had to pull all of our luggage off the bus, and go have our paperwork scrutinized and our luggage inspected etc.

We stopped at San Pedro de Atacama to let off passengers. This is a big tourist, hitch-hiker spot, and apparently the prices reflect this. I read on the internet that they charge tourists European prices here. There are tours that go from here to the Salt flats in Bolivia, and to other scenic places. The bus stopped at a tiny assortment of wooden huts, with a couple of people with cars and binders showing accommodations standing there ready to take people to their hotel/hostel. There seemed to be no other choices, and we watched a few people look like they weren’t really happy as they got into cars. It was definitely one of the most un-scenic places I have seen. Hope there was a pretty little town over the ridge.

At 7 p.m. we reached Calama. We had a three hour wait, and then we had to get another bus the rest of the way to Arica. The station was very nice and let us put our luggage in the back room for free. I found an internet cafe down the street and let the kids play. They were feeling a lot better as soon as they got off the bus. I called Patty in Arequipa again to check on accommodations, and she said there was a lady they worked with that might have something. She was on her way out - could I call her in the morning, not too early, and she could give me the information. So I will be there tomorrow, and I may not have to sleep on the street. Such a relief. GGAAAAAHHHHH. I asked her if she could also e-mail me the info - she said she would in the morning. Great.

So we wandered around this little town for a couple of hours and warded off some cat calls. There was a pretty little street piazza which took us about 10 minutes to walk around. Finally it 9:30 pm - and we could board the new bus which left at 10 p.m.. I collected the boys from the internet cafe and our luggage from the back room, and Ciaran began throwing up again. Aodhan threw up on the bus and Ciaran threw up a couple of times. Finally everyone fell asleep and the rest of the ride was uneventful.

We woke up in the morning just outside Arica. 24 hours after leaving Salta.

In Arica, we found that the bus terminal didn’t open until 8am to buy tickets to Tacna. It was almost 7am. There were taxis there that will take you across the border to Tacna for about $5 per person. Sara, Nia and the boys and I and all our luggage, squeezed in one taxi. He filled out all the border paperwork for us, and off we went. We got to the border, which didn’t open until 8 a.m. at about 7:30. They boys played outside in the sand, and were told by the driver not to go more than a few metres off the road, or the guards in the towers might shoot them. The boys stayed quite close.

At the border, we had to hand in our “leaving Chile” paperwork, and get checked out, and then drive a few hundred metres to the “entering Peru” border. We had to pull all our luggage out again, and pass it through checks and have them scrutinize our paperwork and finally, after we were given the all clear, we were on our way.

It took us another half hour to get to Tacna. It was now about 6:30 a.m., because there is a two hour time change between Chile and Peru. Nia and Sara knew which bus went to Arequipa, because they had done this route a couple of times, so it was great for me - I just tagged along. We got tickets for Arequipa, and paid the one sole fee for the bus terminal and were on the last 8 hour bus ride.

We stopped periodically for checkpoints - lots of them! Guys with uniforms and guns would get on the bus and look at everyone menacingly and sometimes collect all the passports and take them away to be checked!

My phone started working in Tacna and I called Greg. It was too early to call Patty. My phone stopped working just outside of Tacna, and didn’t begin working again until the next big town. I called Patty at about 10 a.m. She said there was a place I could go, but I couldn’t understand her enough to get the address, both because of a bad connection and my lack of Spanish and her accent. I ran to an internet cafe at the 5 minute stop at the next town, and she had e-mailed me the information which I hurriedly scribbled down. I had a place to go. Who knows what I would find there, but I had an address. Sara said I could come to her hostel if I needed to.

We loaded all my bags in a taxi, and the drivers all looked seven ways from Sunday at the address on the paper. They had a big discussion, and then we waved goodbye to Sara and Nia and off we drove, almost 36 hours after we had left Salta.