Arica – first taste of Chile

Thursday, 13th November
We woke up not feeling that great. Altitude (we are still at over 2,300m above sea level) and a rich meal with alcohol doesn’t go together so it would seem. We had to make it to Chile today, with flights and accommodation booked so feeling groggy we got up, had breakfast and packed up out stuff. After check-out we caught a cab to the bus terminal in Arequipa. We went with the ‘Flores’ bus company which has the most buses running to Tacna, our next stop before the border. We bought our bus ticket then walked across to the ‘other’ bus terminal from where our bus would be leaving form. The bus had no toilet so for a seven hour ride we made sure we had done the business beforehand. Sometimes these buses just go all the way without stopping. We left at 11am bound for Tacna, a town close to the Peruvian-Chilean border.  Along the way we had to get off to go through a fruit and vegetable matter checkpoint where our bags were scanned. We also stopped many times for passengers to get off and on and for food vendors to sell their wares. At the very start of the journey there was a lady onboard proclaiming the benefits of ginseng to the whole bus. She had quite a sales pitch and several people were clearly impressed with the health benefits of ginseng, buying her products. That was the most intense experience of ‘bus vending’ so far on this trip. It normally consists of someone making one or two trips down the bus aisle, shouting what they are selling, but she had the floor for over half an hour. Not sure if she was stuck on the bus or this was her usual tactic. I grew very sick of her loud preaching and was glad when the bus finally stopped to let her off (or throw her off, not sure which).

The bus ride took us through the Atacama Desert which provided stunning scenery of sandy deserts, mountains, barren looking towns and tunnels made through rocky mountains. The ride lasted seven hours to Tacna and in that time we saw little else but desert. We arried into the Flores bus terminal in Tacna not long after 5pm, earlier than our projected arrival time. We walked over the road to the main bus terminal from where we organised a taxi to Arica, in Chile. There are no buses direct from Tacna to Arica, our next stop for the night, but there are taxis making the tunas long as the border is open. We changed our Peruvian Soles for Chilean Pesos in the terminal and paid the terminal transport tax before loading up in a taxi which was set-up for three in the front and three in the back. A total of five passengers with one driver. We paid 18 Soles each for the ride to Arica which included the driver handling our paperwork and showing us the way to get through the border.Before we set off from Tacna we handed over our passports to the driver and he came back with the Chilean paperwork all filled in for us, with us only needing to sign the slips. The border was straight forward and after getting our exit stamp out of Peru we had our luggage scanned for fruit and vegetables, got our entry stamp and we were in Chile. By crossing by land we avoided the ‘reciprocity fee’ charged to Australians entering Chile by air. Those arriving by air have to pay around US$100 for the privilege (because the Australian government charge Chileans this amount for their visas).

Arequipa to Arica

Atacama desert, seen driving from Arequipa to Arica

Arequipa to Arica

Atacama desert, seen driving from Arequipa to Arica

We were dropped off at the bus terminal in Arica at around 9pm and walked across the road to our hostel, ‘Tres Soles’. I found a roast chicken restaurant ‘El Pollen’ for a chicken dinner after which we went to bed. Chile is two hours ahead of Peru so have lost time crossing the border. We have a couple of nights booked in Arica after which we would be flying to Santiago, the capital of Chile. We have around one month left in South America before we are Cuban-bound and have decided to check out ‘middle Chile’ and some of Argentina before we finish up on this continent. We would see what Arica had to offer tomorrow.

Friday, 14th November
We woke up after a decent sleep despite the light and noisy room. The hostel is down an alleyway (pasaje) that seems to have comings and goings all night. They do have a breakfast here but we decided to go out and see what Arica had to offer. Arica is just over the Peruvian border, by about 20km, and is a port city on the Pacific Ocean with a population of around 200,000. It’s a popular city with surfers, an activity which we wo’nt be partaking in. The weather is nice, being the ‘city of eternal spring’ and we went for a wander down to the coast first of all. The city is right on the ocean, being a port city, and has a beach which you can swim from. We were just interested in food at this point though so we walked away from the beach, towards the city centre. It’s a small city and has the feel of a bustling suburban city centre, like Dandenong in Australia or Luton in England. There are lots of markets around selling all kinds of wares, useful as we need another travel adaptor as we have yet another type of plug to contend with (two circular prongs). For lunch we found a cafe (‘Cafe del Mar’) along the main strip (pedestrian mall – ’21 de Mayo’) in the centre of town and I had a pork roll made up of three types of pork (loin chop, bacon and ham). Needless to say it was excellent. Kirsty had a salad which mainly consisted of basil. Not so good. The hot drinks were curious. I ordered a drip coffee and was served a black coffee with a froth and a glass of soda water. Kirsty ordered a black tea and it was served as a concentrate of tea diluted with lukewarm water. It is strange how different countries can be in their habits when they border one another. Satisfied by our lunch, we went for a walk and checked out some of the ‘sights’.


Checking out the beach in Arica

Pedestrian Mall

The pedestrian mall in town, where everyone hang out

We found the ‘Catedral de San Marcos de Arica’ not far from were we had lunch. This was built to withstand a tsumani, designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel tower fame)  and is situated by the main square, the Plaza Colón. Around this square we also found the old railway station, naval offices and other ‘historical’ buildings all with the ‘Morro de Arica’, a 100m tall rock formation, looming above them with the Chilean flag and a Jesus statue proudly sitting atop the rock. All in all there doesn’t seem to be too much to keep us in Arica as we aren’t really interested in the surf and the town is so-so. We walked back to the hotel to rest up for a couple of hours and sort out some travel stuff. We are coming to the end of having to book hostels, it’s a nice realisation to think that you can count the number of bookings you will have to make on one hand. I did some research and booked ourselves on a tour of the wine country in Mendoza, opting for a fancy guided tour, rather than bike ourselves around. Firstly, Kirsty has an aversion to bikes, secondly, our friend Henry lost some teeth to a bike in Mendoza and thirdly, it will be over 30 degrees when we are there so don’t fancy cycling around in scorching temperatures, tasting wine. We preferred the option of a guided air-conditioned tour with a four course lunch. Need I say more. Anyway, we enjoyed the comfort of our hotel room before dinner, which we had late. The two hours time difference not filtering through to the hunger receptors in our stomachs.


Arica Cathedral, built Gustave Eiffel

Railway Station

The old Arica Railway Station

For dinner we went for a walk along the beach, the opposite direction to to the centre of town, and only 500m or so from our hostel. I had heard that there were a few restaurants down this way but when we got there it looked a bit like a ghost town, or ghost seaside resort. The beach here isn’t that appealing. It looks dirty and there are cars parked on it which gives an indication of how it is treated I think. A few people were there working out on the communal exercise equipment or going for a jog. We walked until we felt that going any further would be walking into more nothingness so we opted to go back to a restaurant that we had passed earlier. It turned out to be a good choice where shared some grilled fish (Talapia), chips and some breaded prawns. We have found Chile to be considerably more expensive than Peru. This dinner set us back around US$30 for a piece of fish, some chips, six prawns (small) and two soft drinks. It was nice but a bit on the pricey side. After dinner we walked back to our hostel, about 20 minutes, and after picking up some imitation peanut M&M’s from the bus station over the road (‘Rockets’), we went to bed.


Walking along the beach in Arica


Beach in the foreground, docks in the background. Arica.

Saturday, 15th November
We had a terrible nights sleep last night. This hostel had the bad combination of thin curtains, thin walls and loud guests last night. At last sight there were people still sitting downstairs chatting and playing on their phones at 3am. I was forced to step out onto the balcony in my underwear to plead for quiet. Not sure they understood me but the sight of a foreigner in his underpants might have scared them into silence. It worked for a while but the mobile phone noises started up again not long after (that irritating gem game that everyone is playing at the moment). Needless to say we got up and packed in a dark mood. We were unable to leave our luggage at the hostel as we have with most other hostels when we have had transport booked for later in the day but we walked over the road to the bus terminal we arrived at and the left luggage there where we could store our bags for the day at a charge of US$2 each bag. It was by now 11am and we were hungry for breakfast so we hot-footed it into town and stopped at the place we ate at yesterday. Being earlier than 11:30am we were able to order from the breakfast menu today at ‘Cafe del Mar’ and both had the omelette option. As a side note, we are finding Chilean Spanish very hard to understand. We had been warned of this but I don’t think either of us expected the level of non-understnading we would have. We actually got quite good in everyday situations of understanding people and making ourselves understood before we came here. In Chile though, we are often finding ourselves with blank looks on our faces and a request for repetition. Along with this, Chile has more pronounced differences from the other countries it shares it’s continent with I think. More noticeable differences anyway. Here are a few I have observed in Arica.

  • Men seem to like their shirts only buttoned halfway, or down to the navel.
  • You are served drinks at your table after being served an empty cup or glass which is left standing, empty, for 10 minutes or so.
  • Tea is served as a concentrate that is watered down at the table, if you are lucky with hot water.
  • Coffee is served as a sachet of nescafe which you pour into your cup, hot water added by the waiter.
  • Coffee is served with a small glass of soda water on the side.

These are a few of what we have noticed so far, I may pick up some more in Santiago. Anyway, back to breakfast. It was a well cooked omelette and not bad value for the US$5 or so it cost us each for an omelette, toast and jam with juice and a hot drink. We stayed in the ‘Cafe del Mar’ until a screaming baby encouraged us to leave to take up residence at another cafe/diner close-by called ‘Scala’. This was in the mould of an Amerian diner and they seemed to specialise in juices so we both ordered a fresh juice. Another quirk of Chile, or this diner, is that you get your glass with straw served to you first to stand empty on the table, then about 10 minutes later the juice appears in a large metal cup (like one you would take camping) which you then decant the juice from into your glass to drink. Two vessels when one would really suffice. The juice was good though and we stayed at this place for a while, reading up on Santiago. When we started to turn our attention to lunch and tried to order some food we were told that they would be closing up at 3pm for two hours. We think this is so the staff can eat a lunch together as that is what it seemed like they were getting ready for. So, being moved on, we found another place to have a late lunch at. This was in a small shopping mall and we ordered a chicken sandwich, chips and two cokes to share after not getting a word of what the waitress said the menu of the day was. We will have to get better at Chilean Spanish.

It then came the time to walk back to the bus terminal, release our bags from the ‘Custodia Subterrano’ and find a taxi to the airport. This was all straightforward and we jumped into a cab that would charge us CLP9000 for the 20km ride north of the city. Expensive by what we have got used to but I know airports always attract a higher fare than usual and we were coming out of a bus station with large heavy bags so an easy target. Too tired to quibble we accepted the fare. Kirsty did a good job of managing the smalltalk side of things with the driver whilst I stared out of the window at the bleakness that is the desert surrounding Arica. We are pleased to be leaving Arica. Not disliking it as such, but we just don’t find there is anything here for us. One day was enough to get a feel for the place and the beach wasn’t that appealing to keep us there any longer. We were bound for Santiago also which was exciting.

Morro de Arica

Morro de Arica, overlooking Arica from 100m high

Soccer Ball

A large football in town

The airport was quiet when we arrived, reminding me of an Australian regional airport (something along the lines of Coober Pedy). There are two gates and not that many flights a day. Our flight to Santiago stopped off at another city, Antofagasta, en route to Santiago, and we flew with Sky Airlines. They were the cheapest option but really quite a good airline. No frills but did the job and on time. We arrived in at Santiago airport around 10pm and after collecting our luggage made for the taxi shuttle desks. They have quite a good system here where you can pay for a group mini-van shuttle to your destination which works out cheaper than it would if you were to go alone. You pay in the airport, are given a slip of paper which you give to the driver who than maps out his route based on his passengers. We were checked into our hostel in Santiago, the ‘Casaltura Boutique Hostel’, by around 11:30pm and went to bed. We have a twin room here with bunk beds and as a side-note the tallest bunk beds I have seen. You wouldn’t want to fall out of this one.



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