Through Calama and Antofagasta, back to Arica and on to Arequipa

We sat around eating a fantastic supper at Loki, and then went into the bus terminal in Salta, with two girls Robyn and Lucy, from the hostel at about 11pm. They are going on the same bus as us 1am, but will be getting off at San Pedro de Atacama. I got Argentinian Pesos out of the bank machine, but there was nowhere open Sunday night to change them into Chilean Pesos. We waited for the bus, and got on with almost no fuss. Aodhan didn't even balk when I put the suitcase underneath the bus. Everyone slept for most of the first part of the trip.

I woke at around 5 am, and watched the sun rise. We drove through the altiplano for hours. I am always so astounded by how big it really is. When I watched the movie Alive, where the people crash in the Andes, I never really understood why they didn't just walk out. One trip in the Altiplano, and I knew.

Our stops were relatively peaceful. We stopped at the border in Paso de Jama. I got Aodhan off the bus, and he complained, but went in and layed on a chair while I got our passports stamped. Then he started to whine about sweaters and demand one, and I said that if he wanted to stay on top of the mountain, that was his choice, but the bus would be leaving. He opted for the bus. 

We pulled into Calama at about 2:00pm. Instead of stopping at the downtown station, the bus pulled into it´s own little station in some back street. The only bus they had for Arica left at 10pm, and no, they did not take visa. I lugged my broken suitcase with my limpy leg, three blocks to where they said the money changers were. On the way, I passed several suitcase stores, but none of them sold little carts for carrying my broken suitcase. I found the money changers, and they had a crappy Exchange rate listed outside for Argentinian pesos. Oh well, I knew I was going to get screwed on this one anyway, but I didn’t really have any choice. But, then I had a new surprise. None of them would change my money. They just looked at my Argentinian pesos and laughed or waved me away.

I stood there looking at my broken suitcase, with my broken computer inside, and my son who I couldn't let near it or he might open the suitcase in the middle of the street looking for sweaters, tossing clothing all over the place. I stood there, my sore knee throbbing from hours of traveling and trying to sleep on a bus at high altitudes over the mountains, and I felt my bottom lip start to quiver. I swallowed deeply, refusing to give in to the panic welling up inside. 

I decided to hail a cab, and go to the main bus terminal. I would get out of this town. All the cabs that passed had passengers. I kept looking. They ALL had passengers. Then suddenly I noticed it. They all had signs in their front windows. All the taxis were not taxis, they were colectivos.  This means they operate kind of like buses, picking people up on a route. I finally managed to stop one that said he went to the main bus terminal, and I sat back and closed my eyes, wondering what was going to be thrown at me next. 

The main bus terminal was small, and only had three different companies working out of it. Compare this to Tacna or Arequipa that has about 40 different companies working out of them. Two of the companies went to Arica, one at 10:00pm, and one another day. I stood there saucer-eyed wondering what to do for the next six hours in this bus terminal with a suitcase that was becoming impossible to move, and a son that was going to panic every five minutes that we might miss our bus. A nice man noticed me and asked if I needed help. I explained in my broken Spanish that I wanted to get to Arica, but the buses didn’t leave for a long time. He asked at the booths, and then suggested I get a bus to Antofagasta, and from there, I would certainly be able to get a bus to Arica. It was a bit of backtracking, but it would save me sitting here. They took visa, and they had one upstairs, front seat available for Aodhan. The bus left in twenty minutes. I bought my tickets. 

The bus pulled into Antofagasta, and I found a bus to Arica that left in half an hour. They also took visa, and had an upstairs front seat for Aodhan. The bus was the wrong colour, yellow and orange instead of blue or green, but I thought Aodhan would just have to live with that (and he did). No one there would change my Argentinean money either. I spent most of the rest of my Chilean money buying spaghetti dinners and agua con gas for Aodhan and I to have on our 12.5 hour ride. 

The bus ride was long and tiring, but the spaghetti was quite good, and they gave us a big portion. The bus company also gave us a little box with cookies and juice, and a blanket. I was sitting behind Aodhan, and after an hour or so, the guy sitting beside him clued in that I was his mom, and asked if I would like to change seats and sit beside him. We watched a movie about a young surfer boy who died - it was the closest thing to a comedy that they had. Finally we fell asleep. I woke after about an hour, my leg in extreme pain. I crawled to the back of the bus, and found two empty seats. I stretched out across them and put a bus blanket under my head, and one over me, and fell asleep. I woke several times and tried to move around to a more comfortable position.

Aodhan was a little smelly by the morning. I think he is having constipation problems with his pills. We will have to try some natural laxatives for him. It was not better when he was gluten and dairy free, he was still having the same issue.

Finally the bus was pulling into Arica. I an not sure I have ever been so happy to get somewhere. We got off the bus and I knew the Sunny Days Hostel was near the bus terminal, but I couldn’t remember exactly where, since we had taken a taxi downtown before going there last time. But Aodhan knew. He led me right there. He wanted to stop and look at trucks. I went in and, yes, the hostel had room for us for the night. I had breakfast, and talked and drank coffee. I met a girl from France who was going to Arequipa in the morning, and we made plans to travel together. 

Aodhan came in, and after some negotiation, that is, I took his new truck away, he agreed to shower. He was quite belligerent at first, but acquiesced relatively quickly. After he showered, he fell asleep on the sofa. I asked him if he wanted to go downtown with me, but he only opened one eye and shook his head no. 

My leg was still throbbing, so I splurged on a bus to go downtown with some of my last centavos. I headed directly to the money changers, and held my breath. I pulled out the Argentinian pesos, and the guy in the office offered me an absolutely horrid exchange rate. I grinned ear to ear. Yes! The only bill he wouldn’t take, was one that had something written on it. The guy down the street took it at an even worse rate.  By the end of all of it, I had probably paid $300 or maybe even $400 for $200 Chilean. But, at least I had Chilean money. I danced down the street and found a little cart for my luggage. I proudly spread Chilean money on the counter to pay for it, leaving the large wad of Chilean bills tucked in my wallet. I also bought a new pair of reading glasses, since mine had broken this morning. I also bought a new pair of violently flowered capri harem pants that I will lovingly wear only as pajamas when I get home. but here, they seem to be all the rage and I was really sick of grey track pants. I bought a big glass of fresh squeezed orange juice too. I think I just wanted something to buy because I could. It was like a big huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. 

I went back to the hostel with roasted chicken and fries, ground beef and vegetables to make spaghetti and some fruit and vegetables for salad. We ate and I got ready to go out to the beach, but I never made it because interesting people kept showing up at the hostel, and I kept talking to them. A Canadian girl showed up, and I said she should come down and meet Milo with me. 

We met Milo at 5pm. Aodhan decided not to come because he was too lazy to walk downtown. We had cappuccinos and chatted for a long time and then we walked back to the hostel. I gave them some free drink cards for Loki La Paz, because they both intend to visit there. Aodhan was very happy to see Milo. 

In the morning, I told Aodhan that he needed to change his boxers again, because they were smelling. It took a bit of arguing, and the removal of his truck and the threat of staying in Arica and not going to Arequipa, but he finally changed. He took a long time. 

Natalia, the French girl, Aodhan and I, walked up to the bus terminal and got a colectivo over to Tacna. The border is having some disputes, so we could only take the colectivo as far as the frontier, and then we had to get another one after we finished with customs.

A guy hanging around the station helped us find a bus that suited us, and I did give him a tip. He really did help. Where was he when I needed him in Calama or Salta or Antofagasta??? He found us a bus that left in a few hours, and had the top front seats available. They didn’t take visa, but it was only 25 soles (less than $10 per ticket). 

Aodhan didn’t want to leave the station, so I set him up at a little restaurant there, with Arroz con pollo and an Inca Kola. Natalia and I went to the market and looked all around and bought arroz con pollo there. 

Aodhan was great on the bus, and we all slept off and on. We pulled into Arica at 7:22pm. Aodhan and I picked up some food at Wong, which has now changed to a Metro, which is a Chilean supermarket chain. We went to Yesenia’s. Before we went in, I could tell Aodhan was smelling again, and I said that either he took a shower, or I would tell them that he pooped his pants. He looked at me, and asked if I was really going to embarrass him that way, and I said I definitely would. He said he would shower, and he did. 

I was able to get my computer fixed in the morning. The cord is now a little touchy because the dickwad in Arica pried the box apart, even though I told him that it was working and I had tested it on another mac, and tested another cord with my mac. So now it is held together with packing tape. Idiot. Asshole. Stupid chauvinistic pig that ignored me because I am just a stupid woman who obviously has no idea about electronics. 

The Altiplano or High Plains

Cactus growing in the mountains

There are many small salt lakes on the altiplano

Amazing rock colours of the Atacama desert

Some of the small lakes have areas of black tar and then white salt. Many of them had pink flamingos on them, but for whatever reason, I couldn't catch a picture of them. I also never seemed to have my camera ready when we passed Llamas and Alpacas.

Aodhan sleeping on the bus

Strange rock formations litter some of the areas

The highway through the Andes - Paso de Jama

Strange ice formations - these giant crystals stand like surreal sculptures

The brilliant coloured lakes and the brightest skies

San Pedro de Atacama. This is the jumping off point for many tours. You can go to Uyuni in Bolivia to see the salt flats from here.

Windmills in the Altiplano

Salt flats behind me

Salt flats - (not like the ones in Uyuni though)

More beautiful colours

Beautiful symmetry

The beach down the street from our hostel in Arica

El Morro de Arica - the giant rock of Arica, Chile

Writing on the hills above the market in Tacna, Peru

Watermelon vendors in the market in Tacna

A train - there are so few trains left in South America

A fertile valley in the Moquegua area

The pisco fields near Moquegua

Aodhan's drawings - I think he has been on a lot of buses