Woke up at 6 am with the sun streaming in through my roof top awning window, and the heat from the sun quickly warming the canvas. I love waking up in strange places, and peering out of the window to see where you are !! In this case, about 20 kms NE of Tacna, in the middle of some Petroglifos (drawings on rocks).
The sunset last night had been lovely – No doubt all the dust and haze in the air that had obscured our views yesterday, served to give us a beautiful red sunset. But this morning there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and while it is cool when in the shade, the sun here has a burning intensity that will quickly burn you if you stay in it for even a short time. We breakfasted and then set off to follow the route advised by Juan. It was probably only a couple of kms, but it was rocky, dusty, and, in places, steep. One of our first obstacles was a rope bridge – And let me tell you, a real rope bridge is as unstable as a rope ladder up the side of a ship – Something anyone will only appreciate if you have actually tried to climb a true rope ladder up the side of a ship !! Within advancing 6 feet onto this bridge I had to stop – I honestly through the whole thing was going to collapse ! It swayed precariously and every time you took a step the boards beneath you moved from side to side, and you really had to hang onto the side ropes tight in order to keep your balance ! The secret was to put one foot directly in front of the other, and that limited the side to side swaying. But the ropes were definitely frayed in places – So it was with relief that we reached the other side !
We then wandered through the rocks, finding petroglifos on rocks marked by flags so you could find them amongst all the rocks strewn through the desert. It was hot in the sun, even at 7.30 am, and after an hour or so we had had our fill of the rock art, and headed back to the centre. No where is any age of these drawings mentioned, so I will need to get on the internet to find out more. None of our tourist books even mentioned the site – All we knew was that we had found the site on our map. I will report back, because I suspect these are pretty old.
Having said our farewells to Juan (what a lovely man – Gave us big hug goodbye as if we had known him for years – we set off down the hill into Tacna, and off towards the Chilean border. When we came to the centre of Tacna, we were really surprised to find a delightful colonial town, with wide palm tree lined avenues, and some really interesting architecture, even old wooden houses hidden away in the back streets so you only caught a quick glance. Suffice it to say that if I came back here again, Tacna is somewhere where it might be fun to spend a couple of days exploring further. Quite surprising, because once again the travel books don’t really say anything about it except that “you pass through it on the road to Chile”. This is part of the fun of driving your own car over here – You see places that just aren’t on the normal package tour or bus route itinerary.
After Tacna it was off across the Atacama some 30 kms to the border. And despite being out in the middle of nowhere, the Peruvian Adouane is great – new, airconditioned, and super friendly. It couldn’t have been a more pleasant experience leaving Peru. We have really enjoyed our time here, seen some amazing sights, and met a lot of lovely people, and our departure through the border only enhanced that enjoyment – May sound silly, but compared to so many of the Central American borders, those in South America have been a totally pleasant and enjoyable experience.
And entering Chile about half a mile further on was no different. All the Adouane and Police staff were so helpful despite our limited knowledge of Spanish, in two instances shutting down their office momentarily to lead us personally to the next office that we needed to visit, or getting us the correct form to complete. Total cost of leaving Peru and entering Chile ? $0. So pleasant after those Central American countries where you had to pay for every form you filled out, and pay every person you had to deal with, not to mention all the numbers of photocopies you had to provide – Not one photocopy requested today !!! We left the Chilean border post within an hour of arriving, with a smile on our faces !
It was only 22 kms into Arica, and as we had had such an early (and energetic) start this morning, we decided that would be a good place to stop, especially since the next leg to Iquique would be a full day on its own. We had been told by Eric and Monique, a French couple we had just met in Arequipa, of a possible camping place in the car park at the Arica Yacht Club, so we went through town and along the sea front until we found it – Unfortunately the narrow road out to the little isthmus was being re-made, so parking and driving was almost impossible. The gate man said we could park there overnight, but it wouldn’t be much fun, so we checked on the computer and found an alternative place just 5 kms up the road where a young couple have recently bought a hotel and also provide a backpacker type lodge, as well as loads of space to park and camp right on the beach, but inside their fence so very secure. It took us some time to find the road down, but once we did, we realised it was ideal. So we then went into town, parked the car, and wandered up the pedestrian mall to find a bank to get some Chilean Pesos, and then a supermarket to restock our fridge as we were empty of vegetables and fruit and meat as you cannot bring any of these items into Chile. We also needed to find some of that good Chilean wine – Much cheaper there than anywhere else so far !!
That done, we had a quick cup of (disgusting) coffee, and then headed up to the top of a rocky outcrop some 200 ft above the Yacht Club we had visited earlier, where there is a large Statue of Christ overlooking the city, as well as an enormous Chilean flag and a Military Museum about the history of Chile – We need to read up more about that !! But wonderful views over the city. After that, it was back to the camp site. I have to say that while they might have other issues, the coffee in central America is absolutely brilliant – It sucks in S America ! In Chile you may get good cheap red wine, but for coffee they are likely to give you a cup of hot water and a jar of instant coffee to make your own !!
We are camped right on the beach with the lights of Arica all around the bay. A delightful setting for our first night in Chile. First impressions of Chile ? Much more American than anywhere since Mexico. Lots of big American cars, very western shopping areas, and their infrastructure seems better – Lots of rubbish bins and people collecting rubbish, trucks watering the trees and plants in the central reservations, and a lot of much more “western” buildings. Oh, and cars stop for pedestrians crossing the road !! Peru’s biggest problem is its rubbish – It really is a major problem everywhere, with people throwing bag lods of rubbish out of car and bus windows as they drive along, and dumping of household trash everywhere – Just horrible. We are only 20 kms into Chile, but they seem to have a handle on that problem – We shall see in the coming days !!