Making It Up As We Go Along

24th Oct. 2016

Our new friend (but not our bestest friend)In Mexico, working out how to get from A to B was pretty straight forward – A and B tended to be towns or cities and we had a choice of comfortable buses running between them. In Guatemala and Belize it was even easier as all our transfers were pre-booked and our driver appeared at the agreed time and whisked us off. Now in Chile, there is a bit more head-scratching to be done and we’re going to do what I made a career out of – making it up as we go along!

The first leg or our Chilean adventure is not so much A to B as A to SPdA – Arica to San Pedro de Atacama – and getting there is more complicated and brain-achy. There are a number of reasons for this, the biggest of which is that we don’t want to go directly between the two but instead want to go via some tiny, remote towns and see some of the scenery in the high altiplano in the Andes. This is then compounded by us being in low season and hence there are not many other tourists wanting similar trips right now.

Madonna on the hillThere are tour companies in town that advertise such trips on the Internet and so, after taking care of the essentials – laundry, SIM for phone and coffee (who, me??) – we head off to see what we can find. One company that has an impressive website and is marked on Google Maps turns out not to exist – at least that explains why the didn’t reply to our email! Fortunately, nearby there is a Madonna statue on top of a hill looking back over town (and we have the pedometer with us).

Looking back at townColoured buildings in town

Once back in town, we spot the Tourist Information office and decide to pop in. Here, we hit the jackpot. After trying to explain what it is we’re trying to do in Spanish (and mangling verb conjugations, adjective genders and the grammar horribly) – the man helps us out in perfect English. Not only is he incredibly enthusiastic about the town of Arica and nearby environs – we have a mummy museum, cemetery, local market and hummingbird sanctuary added to the list of places we should see – he is also able to set out the options for our A to SPdA trip for us.

You could have warned me the seat might be dirty before I sat!There is a direct route to San Pedro via the town of Iquique (which is of a similar size to Arica) and this route is well served by scheduled, comfortable, buses (as per Mexico). However, the scenic route heads up into the Andes and runs through stunning scenery between tiny towns with little or no tourist infrastructure and for long periods on poor roads with no habitation of any sort. This route takes 5 or 6 days and needs a 4×4 with additional petrol containers on the roof (just like our trip onto the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia – and which is not very far from where we are heading). Unfortunately, at this time of year there are few tour companies in Arica that will run it.

Fishing boats big and smallWe are now absolutely convinced that we want to do this trip. Basic accommodation; rough roads; the chance of being eaten by a puma if we break down; and the need to cope with 4,000m plus of altitude – what isn’t there to love? We might be able to do it by getting a bus into the high town of Putre, doing a tour and then coming back to Arica and transferring to Iquique, but it would be very piecemeal and we couldn’t be sure of getting to see all of the things that we want to. In the end, we find a tour agency that runs a 4 day, 3 night tour to Iquique that covers all of the bases we want. We know that from Iquique, we can get to San Pedro and do day trips from there as a base and so we sign up to leave on Wednesday – giving us a day and a half to see everything in Arica. A day and a half to see all the things that our bestest friend in the Tourist Information office told us about!

And then there were twoIt gets even worse as we head out for a late afternoon stroll. As we arrived in Arica, we could see that it was an active port with boats large and small crowding the harbour. When we poke our nose in the harbour entrance (even though it wasn’t mentioned by our new friend) a workman points out the pedestrian path. Following this takes us to the jetty where the fishing boats land their catch. Whilst most of the fishermen have packed up for the day, there are still a couple cleaning fish. Watching attentively, are a couple of pelicans and a couple of sealions.

Easier to photograph when on land!Free fish!

The pelicans prove to be much easier to photograph than the sealions – and even to capture the boats and activity in the harbour. Janet is clicking away, quite happy in the knowledge that it is my blog day and hence my turn to sort and rate the photographs. I find that boats on land are easier to get a composition that works!

Lighthouse looking down the coastEventually, as the light starts to turn golden, we tear ourselves away and head south along the shore. We walk around the foot of El Morro the hill that towers over the town and head out along the causeway to the (ex) Isla de  Alcrán. Apparently, this is a prime surfing spot, with a regular place on the pro-surfer world tour. Right now, there is no sign of either surfers or big waves – just a spindly lighthouse, small flocks of seagulls and pelicans and great views along the coast.

Looking back at El Morro

The colours of sunset seem to confirm that in Arica, our ‘making it up as we go along’ strategy has struck gold.

Like us the birds are heading off into the sunset

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