A Means To An End

22nd Oct. 2016

Outside Casa Suyay in MirafloresWhen planning the South American section of this trip, we had two primary objectives – wine & steak in Argentina (obviously) and before that, exploring the north of Chile down to Santiago. Previously we had done the section from Punta Arenas on the southern tip of the country up to Santiago. Lima was a convenient stopping off point and a city that we wanted to see more of, but it is still 1,300km from the Chilean border and more than double that to Santiago.

Fortunately, this wasn't our plane!Our options for bridging the gap were either a middle of the night flight from Lima to Santiago or a daytime flight to Tacna, the southern-most town in Peru followed by an overland border crossing. So, more sociable hours and (much) less conventional – an easy choice for us then! Indeed, our travel agent said that we are the only people he has ever booked to fly to Tacna.

Is this the only interest in Tacna?As it turns out, the flight is the easy part of our day. First we have to get to the airport. With memories of traffic on the way into the city still fresh, we research alternatives to another taxi – and it turns out that there really aren’t any. So, 3 hours before our internal flight we pile into our taxi. It is Saturday and perhaps the traffic isn’t quite as bad as a weekday rush-hour – or perhaps it is the winding, inventive route our driver takes. Either way, the drive isn’t too horrendous and neither are the queues at the airport. At least by getting there early we can have emergency exit row seats on the plane and I should have a little extra leg room.

Symbols in the dunes outside TacnaTrain leaving the stationHaving got to Tacna – courtesy of another taxi from the much smaller airport outside of the town – our priority now is to work out how to get out of it. Certainly, there doesn’t seem to be much of interest to the town itself. It’s just a smallish town in what appears to be the middle of a dirty brown coloured desert. Indeed, our first excitement comes when we spot a large version of the Peruvian shield and other emblems carved (drawn?) on the huge sand dunes that border at least one side of the town.

To get to Chile overland, the obvious choice is to get either a  taxi or collectivo – and TripAdvisor has plenty of advice as to what to look for, what to avoid and what to expect. Alternatively, we can take the train that runs just twice a day and about which the Internet is mostly silent. Again, it is an easy decision for us and the fact that the train is also the cheapest way across is just a bonus. The train station is close by our hotel, and we arrive just in time to see this afternoon’s train leave. If you imagine the experience of the first-class compartment on a Eurostar train to Paris – well then, you are at the exact opposite end of the spectrum for the train we are looking at!

Eurostar it isn't!We could see the train in the station (all 1 carriage of it) but were unsure as to which way it would exit the station. At the end we were standing, there were gates blocking the track and although there were tracks down the middle of the road, they didn’t look either sturdy enough or used enough. However, sure enough, bang on time, the train toots, the gates open and down the rickety tracks it trundles with passengers waving at the gawking onlookers. (Ed note: Ignore the time on the clock as it is only correct twice a day!) We are very excited about this train – irrationally excited. Even though when buying the tickets I had an inquisition  about our lives, ages and background, I learned a new Spanish word. My profession is now jubilado – retired!

Peruvian wedding celebrationOn our way back to town, we hear music and a crowd gathered on a side road, so we have to go and investigate. There is a wedding celebration in full swing and this seems to involve dancing in the middle of the road. As ever, the women have made more of an effort over their dress than the men and the bright colours of the traditional dresses and what appears to be an undersized bowler hat are very striking. The bride and groom had been showered with rice and we seem to remember that Peruvian weddings include spraying everyone and everything (including cars) with rice as a token of good luck.

And that seems to be about it for the town. We will do more exploring tomorrow but we are already wondering as to how we can stretch the day out before our train at 4:30 tomorrow afternoon. Even finding an open restaurant (on a Saturday night) seems to be a bit of a challenge – extraordinary given the number of people and taxis that are milling about. As it turns out, we have a very exciting day in store for us, but that is a tale for tomorrow…

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