Heading Northward – Arica and Tacna

Arriving in Arica was a welcome relief to our tired bodies, tired of the travel and hungry for some decent food. So the first thing we did was store our backpacks and head to town for a hearty meal. Arica has some lovely beaches which are very tempting, although we only ever got to see them from a distance. Lunch was our priority.

The beach at Arica
The beaches of Arica, Chile.

Lunch was a hearty meal in some small restaurant in front of the local train station. Only two trains leave per day so our restaurant was not even remotely busy when we stopped by. A huge plate of rice, meat, salad, and fried potato chips combined with Peru’s unique Inka Cola softdrink went a long way to appease the hunger that we all had. Some icecreams afterwards helped fill up any remaining holes.

Paul ready to eat
Paul salivating over our delicious lunch… after days of bus food.

After lunch we wandered through the city centre and looked around for some tax-free shopping. Iquique is the city with tax-free everything and after looking around we could not find anything that was truly tax-free other than stoves and fridges. Wandering through the back streets we find our way back to the bus terminal, grab our bags and then head off to the other, international terminal, to take a taxi to Peru.

The main mall of Arica
The main mall of Arica, Chile.

wandering through the streets
Wandering through the streets trying to find our way back to the bus terminal.

Crossing the border to Tacna was without any problems at all. I had expected it to involve a thorough search of our bags and other checks for duty-free items, but since Tacna is also part of the tax-free zone, we only needed to get our passports stamped and were through.

In the international taxi to Tacna
Riding in the taxi on the way from Chile to Peru.

Peru border crossing
Arriving at the Peruvian border crossing.

Upon reaching Peru, the prices of everything dropped considerably. We were all exhausted so we bought bus tickets for the next day and then found ourselves a $10 soles per night room in a residential setting. Our night involved a wander around the markets and the town centre and then going out for a big meal of wood-fire cooked pizza. It was delicious.

Everything closed at night
During the night most of the shops were closed.

Breakfast at the markets
Eating breakfast the next day at the markets.

The next day we returned to the markets and picked up some very cheap bits and pieces. I grabbed some stuff for computers, while the girls were more focused on the clothes and leg-hair-pullers and stuff like that. It was tough trying to find each other in the labrynth of small shops within the markets, and by the time we all got together again our bus was about to leave. So with packaging and bags flying everywhere, we all jam our newly acquired stuff into our bags and race out to the bus terminal ready to start the next leg of our journey… to Lima.

Paul happy with his purchases
Paul returning from the markets, very happy with his purchases.

The city centre
The only part we got to see during the day of the city, because of our rush to catch the bus.

Heading Northward – Chile

Here are a few photos and some descriptions about our journey northward. The most significant part of the journey was what we saw along the way, so it makes sense to let you see the photos rather than write much about it this time.

water bottle
One of the things you do while bored at midnight on the bus to Chile… play with water bottles and headlamps and then take photos of it.

Making the next bus
Arriving in Santiago, we did not even get our bags off the first bus before they were calling us over to this next bus as it was ready for departure and waiting for us.

First beaches north of Santiago
Some of the first beaches north of Santiago in Chile were beautiful and very inviting too. If ever there comes an opportunity, I can see a return to the old sport of spear-fishing again.

wind power
Wind turbines indicate that this place sees a lot more wind than we experienced during our trip.

Sleeping beauties
It’s probably a bit mean to put this photo up, but the reality was that Yamila and Lorena slept through virtually the entire journey. So it seemed appropriate to share it as part of our experience on the journey northward. Of course they missed out on all of the wonderful sights because they were sleeping.

Vegetation exists
Note how much grass and vegetation exists here. This is still relatively close to Santiago. It changes quickly however.

Seaside resort
An (almost) island seaside resort. It does look very inviting. No idea where it is, as we only found our map of Chile once we had reached Peru. So it has not helped us at all.

Local fishing villiage
A local fishing village, and the place where the bus almost left without us. I had visited the local loo, and when I returned to the bus, it had already pulled out from the platform and was about to take off. Fortunately the door was still open, so I dived inside before it closed. Somehow I suspect (hope) they were waiting for me in their own, rather rushed, way.

Barren household
Suddenly the landscape changes to mostly desert. This is one lonely house in the middle of a long drive to nowhere. It surprised me just how many people chose to live in the middle of nowhere… and I still wonder where they get the water they need to survive out there.

Not only barren, but also rocky
The landscape was not only barren, but also rocky and barren in some places.

The desert-scape was quite amazing in places as we looked out over the amazing mountains that surrounded us. Climbing up and over them caused our ears to pop frequently.

Greenery where there is water
Not everywhere was desert. In some places there were rivers that sustained enough water to reach the sea. Sometimes this water was a mere trickle, but the people built farms around it and dug holes to capture it. As a result there were a couple of places with really green farmland that stood out in sharp contrast with the desert lands surrounding it.

Sunset on our first day. There was still the entire night and half a day left before we would reach Arica, our destination city at the top end of Chile.

Climbing mountains
The next day was more of the same, until we started climbing up and down many mountains and valleys such as this one.

Houses in a river-bed
Houses and properties built along the riverbed of a large valley. We had almost reach Arica by now, and came over the last hill to see hundreds of these houses stretching out along the dry riverbed. I guess it never floods in a place like this.

Houses along the riverbed
Looking out along the riverbed scattered with houses everywhere. They extended for a long way to the left also.

Coca-cola mountain
Coca-cola gets to etch its advertising slogan even into the mountains here.

Finally arrived in Arica
Finally we have arrived in Arica, the northernmost city of Chile, and right next to the border of Peru. It had been a long journey and we were all exhausted, so it was wonderful to know that we had made it this far.

Our journey northward in Chile was now over, well, apart from crossing the border that was.

Ricky and Rosy Married

Well here I am in Santiago again. It seems that in the last few months I have been here a lot… if you count three times as a lot.

Ricky and Rosy with family
Ricky and Rosy with their parents on their respective sides.

This time I am here for a wedding that happened yesterday. Ricky, a young lad from the United States, was married to Rosy, a young Chilean girl, on Saturday at 6pm. It was a very typical ceremony with all of the typical wedding ceremony type of things. A wedding party, a short sermon, wedding vows, and the rings. There was also a time for the new couple to take communion together.

Rosy saying her vows
Rosy saying her vows.

The most different part of the ceremony was the candle ceremony where two candles are lit by the respective family heads and pased to their bride or groom. Together Ricky and Rosy then joined their candle flames to light a much larger candle on the table, and put out their individual candles. This is a visual act of showing how the two families that were once separate have now come to join together as one.

The candle ceremony
The candle ceremony.

With the wedding ceremony over we headed to the reception hall for a lovely meal and speaches. My part was mainly in helping Ricky’s parents understand what was happening through translation from the Spanish to English, but also organising a powerpoint presentation and helping Ricky during the nerves just before the ceremony started. Amongst it all I still managed to be able to take a few photos.

Rosy coming with her dad
Rosy coming up the ailse with her dad.

The wedded hands
Wedded hands now adorned with wedding rings.

You may kiss the bride
You may kiss the bride.

Plastic Everywhere

Having lived in Argentina now for almost four years, one of the things that still strikes me is the amount of plastic rubbish that covers the landscape. Seeing people throw their rubbish onto the ground when it is no longer wanted is still hard for me witness. The plastic bags are not normally in this category however, and most are used in the home as rubbish bags to contain other trash.

Plastic bag bushes

The myriads of plastic bags across the landscape therefore seems to be inexplicable. The only thing that I can consider a reasonable explanation is that the dogs that roam the streets, and there are many dogs roaming the streets, tear up the bags looking for food and the wind blows them off. With a landscape covered in thornbushes, these bags end up impaled on a thorn or two and remain there until they finally start to fall apart.

Fields full of plastic bags

Although plastic bags were a great idea at first, their effect on the environment has long outweighed any cost or convenience and it is time to ban them from our lives. There are already some cities in Argentina that have banned their use, and many others around the world have done so for some time. There are many better alternatives that we need to use now. Let’s do it.

Back Home in South America

I have never been so thankful to be here in South America. After two false starts that almost left me off my flights over here, I have sailed through Chile immigrations and customs checks without even stopping. What a difference to the letter-of-the-law hurdles I needed to jump over just to get here.

Waiting for a toilet to be fixed
Waiting in Brisbane for a toilet to be fixed.

Leaving Australia
First event was in Australia as I tried to leave Brisbane. With my return ticket to Chile I was almost stopped from boarding the plane because there was no proof of an onward journey. Fortunately I was able to argue that since my ticket left me in New Zealand for a couple of days first, that they could let me on for this part of the flight. They agreed and issued me a boarding pass, but it left me concerned about how I would get on with my next flight.

To allay these concerns I quickly visited the LAN Chile airline office and asked their opinion about my predicament. Basically they said that it was illegal to board a passenger who did not have proof of passage out of the country and the airline would be heavily fined if they let me aboard. The important piece of information that they gave me was that their responsibility lay only for that particular leg of the flight, and if I fulfilled this requirement then their legal requirements were satisfied.

Waiting for buses to come and take us to the terminal building.
Waiting for buses to take us to the terminal building in Auckland.

This meant I needed some sort of ticket, but to where. Buying a return ticket would leave me with the same problem as right now. A one-way ticket would also cause lots of problems too. So I first tried to find a more expensive ticket that I could cancel for free, but after looking around there was no such thing as a free lunch. In the end, the cheapest ticket to Buenos Aires one-way served as my sacrificial scape-goat. Instead of seeing it as a lost ticket, I try to look at it as the cost of my visa to enter the country.

Leaving New Zealand
So with ticket in hand, I turn up at the check-in counter in New Zealand and try to board the plane. Again I am met with the same problem. Even with my ticket they tell me that I cannot board the plane because Argentina has the same requirements. Everything looked dim at the moment, until I remembered what they had told me at the LAN Chile office. On presenting my case, that all I wanted to do was board this particular flight and deal with further problems when I get to them, and stating that their only legal requirement was seeing that I had this onward ticket, they finally agreed to let me on board.

Sunset as we takeoff in Auckland.
Watching the sunset as we take-off in Auckland, NZ.

Then came the baggage problem. Qantas shows in all of their documentation that flights to and from South America allow two checked bags of 32kgs each. So like a good traveller, I filled my two allowed bags with 31.8kgs and 31.6kgs and boarded the plane. This worked fine in getting to New Zealand, but now it was a problem. Apparently only flights continuing through Santiago to another destination are allowed 32kgs. My flight, that terminated in Santiago itself, had a baggage restriction of 23kgs per piece.

Once again there was another discussion explaining the differences between the Qantas policy and the LAN Chile policy which ended up including one of the supervisors. After seeing my dilemma this kind man waved the penalty fees for overweight baggage and allowed them through. Getting that boarding pass in my hand had never felt better.

Almost back in South America
Aboard and traveling home to South America.

Just as I was about to leave the counter girl asked to weigh my hand luggage. Gulp. That too was overweight, coming in at 9.3kgs for a 7kg limit. I started to sweat and ran through my mind all of the things that were in it and which things I may be able to get rid of. She then asked me, “Do you think you can reshuffle some of the things in there to reduce that weight to 7kgs?” I just smiled and said, “sure!” And I walked away.

Getting to Chile
With all of the difficulties in getting onto each plane, something inside me started to believe that the same thing would happen when I got to Chile. I started to imagine being pulled aside into a room to account for why I have two laptops, four telephones, dozens of books many of which I have several of the same title, and lots of other electronic gadgets and gizmos. It also seemed highly probable, after my Aus/NZ treatment that perhaps they would stop me from entering the country.

Back in Chile again.
Tasting freedom – back in Chile again.

After landing in Santiago airport, I wandered through the glass-walled corridors looking out at a land that I was starting to consider that I may never be able to enter. How wrong I was. The immigrations never even asked me for an onward ticket. They circled and stamped my paper as though I was a local and let me pass. Simple.

Customs was the same. Straight through after sending my bags through the x-ray machine. Never have I retrieved my bags so fast as I did today, but there were no problems, no questions, no issues, no fuss. I was back in South America again. My home. The land that treats people as people and not as numbers, that looks at the spirit of the law and not the letter, the land that I have grown to love.

Sunset in Santiago, Chile.
Enjoying the sunset over Santiago city, Chile.

Loving South America
People have asked me various times about what it is that I really like about South America, what it is that draws me back. I like that people here are allowed to use their common sense, to take risks, to be who they are. The governments here have not yet wrapped people up in cotton wool so tight that they cannot move in the guise of trying to protect them. Life here has a lot less rules, and I guess that is one of the reasons why I like it so much.

The Journey Home

Chilean flags
Saying farewell to Chile as I head toward Argentina.

Snowy border crossing
Heavy snowfalls covered the mountains between countries.

Argentine Immigrations
Passing through the Argentine border was painless.

Reaching Bariloche
Reaching Bariloche city, the last stop before home.

The bus home
The last bus heading back to Puerto Madryn. Only 11 more hours to go.

Puerto Madryn to Santiago in Chile

After an early start to the day, a cold snap caused snow on the road to delay my bus for an hour and a half. Wandering down to the beach to watch the whales play in the water seemed the best way to pass the time at this hour of the morning. A further delay in Cippoletti made it likely that we would arrive very late at our destination, but some fast driving through the night delivered us only one hour behind schedule.

In Mendoza, after purchasing my ticket for Chile, I heard of some other YWAM staff heading to the same place as me. So rather than try and find my way alone, a second ticket put us all on the same bus. Sandra and Marcela were heading to a seminar held by YWAM Chile for the weekend and had brought Lorena with them, a friend from church. It was not long before we were all well acquainted and chatting and laughing our way over the Andes mountains.

Our journey was not quite as simple as that however, as it had started to snow in Mendoza and the bus companies were beginning to cancel their scheduled journeys. Our company decided to continue onward, and after a break-down stranding us along the side of the highway for an hour, we climbed into the majestic mountains to be welcomed by bright sunshine and clear skies. It was hard to find better conditions than these.

A short delay of about an hour in the border crossing, with the compulsory luggage checks, and soon we were easing our way down the steep razorbacks winding their way into the valley below. The setting sun cast a beautiful pink glow over the powerful snow-capped peaks surrounding us, before slipping away into darkness through a variety of crimsons and reds on the horizon. It was night time in Santiago city when we finally disembarked from our minibus and wandered into the terminal to grab a bite to eat.

It would be a late night before we finally got to sleep in our new quarters on the YWAM base here, but our travels were now over, our main concerns gone. We had made it.

Crossing Over to Chile

The Need
After three months in Argentina I need to renew my visa. This is done in town at the local naval base after waiting a while and then paying the amount due. This only works once however, after which the only way to remain legally in the country is to leave it and then return to start this whole process over again.

So that is what I did.

Jorge driving south
In the car driving south toward the city of Cdo Rivadavia.

My last weekend before my visa expired, I headed down south towards the town of Los Antiguos in Argentina. Since Jorge and Isa were heading down this way to preach in one of the local churches, I joined them for the ride down to Comodoro Rivadavia, the largest town in those areas. From there I would find a bus and head out towards Chile.

Heading West
The only bus available arrives in Los Antiguos at 2.30am in the morning. It seems ridiculous, well it is really, but it is my only available option. I take it, and journey out west through the night until finally arriving in a quiet town in the middle of the night. Nobody is around and soon those who had travelled with me had gone too.

The road towards Chile
The road towards Chile

The night air was freezing and even in my layers of warm clothes and ski-jacket it was hard to stay warm. I needed a place to stay, and quick. Looking around down the street of this unknown town I found a house offering boarding and knock brazenly on the door. A middle-aged lady opens it, not very impressed with my brazenness, and tells me that there is no available space. Once again I am homeless.

Returning toward back toward where I had come from, unsure of where to go, I chance upon a man in a ute who tells me that I am standing in front of a hotel. A small sign indicates that his words are true, so I press the doorbell and wait. Noise and lights and soon, after the formalities, I am in my own room with a warm bed. Sleep comes easily at 3am in the morning.

By 10am I need to leave the hotel or be charged another night. The penetrating alarm of my mobile phone ensures that I do not oversleep, and I take advantage of the shower and free breakfast before leaving.

Part of the river crossing
Unknown to me, this was only the first part of the river crossing.

Braving the River
With no luggage to worry about, I head out towards Chile. Someone had told me that it was only three kilometers from here so I figured that I could walk it. It turns out to be somewhat further than this. At the border post I check out of Argentina, grab some local knowledge and then keep going. The guys had told me that Chile Chico, my destination, was actually over 15 kms by road, but really was only 3 kms if I was willing to cross over the shallow river separating the two countries.

I was willing.

The frozen edges of the river
The frozen edges of the river.

Upon reaching the river, it seemed quite a simple task, so I stripped off my shoes, my thermal pants, and my jeans, remaining somewhat respectable in my boxer shorts. It is at this point, when my feet touch the frozen ground, that I start to wonder if I am in my right mind. Soon I would realise that I was not.

The first part of the river was freezing, and my feet left it feeling pained and showing it by their bright red appearance. Once there I thought I was finished and would be able to redress and continue on my way. What a misunderstanding that was. This was only the first of several sections of river that I needed to cross. I continued on, bare foot, dodging the spears of grass and sharpest pebbles and rocks that seemed to cover the ground.

Frozen ice on a branch in the river
Proof of the frozen waters in the river (that is ice on that branch)

The next section of the river was frozen at the edges. There was no way that I could cross without standing on the slippery ice edges, so with great caution I proceeded. One foot fell through the ice, but I was more concerned with staying dry at this time, so looking was not part of the plan. Only much later, once my feet had started to thaw, that I discovered that the ice had cut the top of this foot quite deeply.

Each rock on the bottom of the river sent pain up into my frozen feet. The ice-cold water helped to reduce some of the pain and yet increased other pains at the same time. Even my bones were aching now. I pressed on, half way between Chile and Argentina, and arguing with myself as to the sanity of this whole process. To help me continue, I focused on the pains and sufferings of missionaries in other countries and considered that what they would have to go through was much worse than this small moment for me. It helped.

Letting my feet warm up
Letting my sore and frozen feet warm up just a little.

Finally I reached the other side of the river, and sat down to let my feet thaw. The air was freezing, but even so my feet started to regain some warmth once again. I felt nothing still, my toes were like touching those of a cadaver. In that state, I dressed and carefully fit my shoes to each foot, and then started walking.

It was strange at first, the feeling of walking without feeling in my feet, but I quickly adjusted and continued on. About ten minutes later the road to Chile appeared, and I started following it towards Chile Chico. By now my feet had just started to thaw out, and the pain was incredible. Afraid that if I stopped walking, I would not be able to start again, I continued onward in spite of the pain, focusing on my destination of Chile.

The Chile border post
The Chile border post.

Chile Chico
The border post to Chile was empty and I was processed quickly. Chile Chico was now three more kilometers from here. I tried to flag down a few cars but after no success decide to walk the distance to town. Half-way there, a horn sounds. A friendly driver offers me a ride towards the town centre… on his tractor. Welcome to outback Chile.

Riding to Chile on a tractor
Riding to Chile on a tractor.

Once in town, I wander down to the lake and enjoy lunch by the quiet waters, before climbing up the nearby hill for a view over the entire township. A barge leaves in a couple of hours for another part of Chile, and I am keen to continue onward in my journey but the only ATM machine is unable to give me any Chilean pesos so I am left without funds. There is no choice but to return the way that I had come.

The lake by Chile Chico
The lake by Chile Chico

So after a few chats with the locals about God, I return through the same border post only a few hours later, and then head back down the road to Argentina. This time I am considering staying on the road, but something tells me that I should brave that river again. Now I am sure that I am crazy.

Turning off the road once again I head toward the river, but this time to a different location. Surprisingly, at this new location only a few hundred metres upstream from where I had previously crossed, the river is united in just one stream. There are not three or four sections to cross, only the one.

The township of Chile Chico
The township of Chile Chico.

Once again down to my boxers, I step into the water and start the crossing. The air temperature is much warmer now, but the water has not changed at all and remains freezing. But with such a short crossing, I am soon on dry ground once again with my feet safely in their shoes. They even have feeling still. I continue onward.

Argentina Again
Upon reaching the road, a car is approaching heading in my direction. I try hitching… and it works. The guy picks me up and takes me the few kilometers down to the Argentina border post. During the journey we talk about going to Comodoro Rivadavia and how the buses leave at 1am in the morning. He informs me that there is actually a bus leaving within an hour that will get me there at 11am. It sounds much more reasonable to me, so I stick with him after being processed and head down to the bus stop.

Another view over the lake of Chile Chico
Looking out over the lake by Chile Chico towards the North.

Los Antiguos, the Argentina side, is such a small town that the bus stops are just small shops dotted around the town. If you do not know where they are then you will not be able to find them. Fortunately I was with somebody that did know where it was, and before long was safely aboard the bus heading back east toward the coast. My passport was safely tucked away, a brand new visa stamp inside it that gives me the right to be in Argentina for yet another three months.

The Snowy Return
Back in the main town of Comodoro Rivadavia, I discover that Jorge and Isa have arrived there for the night too, so we organise to meet up again and travel together back to Puerto Madryn.

Driving back in the snow
Driving back in the snow.

The night was extremely cold once again and in the morning, after leaving the city in its valley and starting to climb up to the high plains, we discover snow. In fact there is snow for the entire journey, in many places a light dusting but in others several centimetres deep.

The road becomes treacherous, and difficult to navigate. All along the way there are reminders of this too, with cars, buses, and trucks wrecked by the side of the highway. Some are rolled, others have collided with each other, unable to stop on the ice in the night. The scenes bring soberness to the journey and an awareness of the dangers of travelling in these conditions, especially at night.

Snow everywhere on the way back
Snow on the ground at the service station.

We continue without incident, and finally, late in the day, we arrive back home at our YWAM base in Puerto Madryn. It has been three days of non-stop travel, but I return triumphant, with a renewed visa in my passport.

The next time I leave Argentina it will be to travel to Australia.

NOTE: This journey happened a few weeks back now, at the end of May.

Crossing Borders in Bus – San Pedro to Salta

The bus ride from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile to Salta in Argentina lasted from 10.30am in the morning until 11pm that night, travelling over the Andes ranges during the day. Most of the sights were the same that I had seen during my tour of the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, but some parts of it was very different.

the road out of chile
The road to the left leads out of Chile and over the Andes mountains.

Continue reading “Crossing Borders in Bus – San Pedro to Salta”

Calama City, Chile

The city of Calama is in the middle of a desert. We travelled for an hour and a half from San Pedro de Atacama where we were staying to arrive in Calama and saw nothing but dry, dusty, desert with virtually no vegetation. Only a few tuffs of grass poked up here and there in a place that gets only 1mm of rainfall annually.

road through desert
The road from San Pedro to Calama is surrounded by desert.

Continue reading “Calama City, Chile”