24 Hours In Tacna…

23rd Oct. 2016

Our train ready to leave…and we unknowingly picked the day of the parade. In our planning, Tacna was just a stopover on our way to Chile. How wrong we were! We knew nothing about the place and expected just to pass through it. However, as we were preparing for the day, we heard a band playing and so just had to get out to investigate. In the main square, groups of half a dozen neatly dressed children marched in with their school banners and waited patiently. The army were already lined up on the other side of the square and at 9am sharp proceedings began as the dignitaries filed under the Arco Parabolico in the Plaza.


School children on paradeThe flags of Peru and of Tacna were ceremoniously raised and the (as it turned out, not so) eternal flame lit. Everyone (except us) sang every verse of the Peruvian National Anthem with great enthusiasm. Three soldiers in camouflage uniform marched across the square to greet the dignitaries. I say march but it was more of a slow jog raising knees as high as possible.


Ceremonially presenting the flagNot understanding what was happening some quick research was required. We came to the conclusion that this was the nearest Sunday to 20th October and so the parade was to commemorate the Treaty of Ancón between Peru and Chile at the end of the War of the Pacific on 20th October 1883. Although it was not till 1929 that it was agreed that Chile keep Arica (our next stop) and Peru took Tacna. (Having now stayed in Arica we think Chile got the better deal with the sea port of Arica).


All the dignitariesAfter an hour of watching we decided to move on but could hear the bands continue for another hour or so. We returned to the main plaza later to start our city walk to find a procession of a dozen men/boys carrying a litter covered in ornate decorations just leaving the cathedral and again had to investigate but did not come up with a specific reason.


Christ on the crossBy this time the walking tour was looking less appealing as we had walked most of it over the previous eighteen hours, so we headed for coffee. Dave was foiled when the café which was due to be opening imminently, was firmly shut with chairs still piled on the tables. We did have one more place on our must visit list, so it was off to the railway museum.


Clambering on the enginesHmm, still looking shut with no opening times or other signs of life except a very small door bell saying ring me. That was the magic key as a man came and unlocked the door to let us in. Another great museum as we could clamber over old steam engines and wander around the station. Our train for this afternoon was already there with a ramp to get into it.


I want one!We discuss all the railway museums we have been to in our various travels and Dave puts it up there with the best. I was not so sure as it was quite small and grubby but Dave liked the fact the engines and carriages had not been over restored. I did however like the converted cars with train wheels. The inspection pit and huge lathes reminded me of home (dad!).


Straight from the Whacky RacesEnough! Time to mention our train trip we have been looking forward to so much. We passed through the Peruvian border control in the station and boarded the train, all one carriage of it. We even left a few minutes early as everyone was aboard, without a seat to spare. The whistle tooted and the man ran to open the gates so we could head down the rickety track onto the road. Cars and taxis had to get out of our way so we could slowly go down the track in the middle of the road. There were no gated level crossings so everyone had to pay attention to the loud whistle and keep out of the way. Tacna is a sprawling town and still growing but the train has priority over everything and we almost feel like royalty waving at the locals as we pass.


Olive grovesAfter leaving town the track is straight for miles through the arid landscape. Occasionally we pass land full of irrigation pipes and very small reservoirs supporting the growth of vineyards and olive groves.


Crossing the borderWe even cross the Pan American highway making the few cars and lorries stop for us to pass. The only time we braked from our top speed of 40 mph was when a dog refused to move quickly enough at the loud whistle of the train. We loved every minute of the hour and a half journey, which just whizzed by. Even crossing the border was a very low key affair in the sandy landscape marked by a lone beacon one side and the distant border post building on the Pan American highway on the other.


I'm on the trainArriving at Arica station at 5:30pm Peruvian time, which was 7:30pm Chile time we all patiently queued for the Chilean border post and had our bags checked for fruit or meat products. The station was much smaller than Didcot Parkway, more like Helen’s Bay in NI where Dave got the train to school every day. Once settled in our hotel, we headed out for food but town was all boarded up and the only place we found open for food was Schopdog a fast food place and we had the cheapest meal to date. We did wonder what we had let ourselves in for but we’re told that it was voting day and it was a Sunday so maybe there will be more life tomorrow.



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