After a horrific bus journey from San Pedro in which the water in the bus toilet practically boiled for 11 hours, enveloping the bus in a eye-watering stench, I arrived in Arica. Chile’s northern-most city, on the border with Perú, Arica is like a mini-Santiago, albeit with friendlier people, less smog and a world-championship standard surfing beach.
I got to check into the lovely Jardin del Sol at the ungodly hour of 6am and after a few hours sleep, felt almost human again and ready to hit town. Arica was in the grip of Christmas shopping mayhem. Queues snaked out of the bank and the streets were lined with women wielding scissors and coloured paper, offering to take the pain out of wrapping presents for a few pesos.
On a budget, I went for Cazuela de Ave at the market for the bargain price of $1,200 CP (£1.50). Perched on a stool with barely room to move my elbows, I got chatting to the guy next to me, who was taking time out with his family from Christmas shopping. I had THE conversation that I’ve had at least a million times since I arrived here. It goes like this:
Where are you from?
England, but I live in Santiago.
Ahh! How long have you been in Chile?
A year now.
Are you an exchange student?
No, I’m an English teacher.
Ah, I see. Do you like Chile?
Yes, very much, it’s a beautiful country but I’m not a big fan of Santiago.
Well, everyone is in a hurry in Santiago aren’t they.
Urm, I suppose. (unsaid: No not really. To be honest, tortoises walk faster.)
(Bemused smile) Have you got a Chilean boyfriend?
Well, I hate to say it, but they are all mummy’s boys.
(At this point, the man’s wife almost slips off her stool she’s laughing and nodding so hard).
No, but Chilenos are so cariñosos (warm/affectionate)!!!!!!!!!!!!! Not like the English. The English are cold.
Maybe, but at least an Englishman doesn’t speak to his mum 154 times a day and have to run home in time for his tea.
And so it went on. He took it well. I liked the people in Arica. Plenty of time for a chat and noble with it.
I spent the rest of the day at the beach with some guys I’d shared the horror of the bus with, and had dinner with Sezgin, a German guy with a dark English sense of humour who was staying at the hostel. Before I went to bed I booked a taxi for 6.45am.
The next thing I remember there was a knock at my door. I sprang out of bed assuming I’d overslept and that an angry taxi driver was waiting impatiently outside. It was the eldery night porter giving me a wake-up call. I hadn’t asked to be woken up. Especially not at 5.30am. Half past five is not at time to be awake, unless you have tequila running through your veins and a hot date. I had a shower. As I turned the water off, there was another, more urgent knocking at the door.
“Your taxi is here! Are you ready?”
Urm. I didn’t order a taxi for 5.45am, it was for 6.45am.
Silence. And then.. “Bugger. Wrong person.”
Two minutes later I heard him knocking on a different door and the frantic yelps of a backpacker about to miss their bus. He shuffled off, grumbling to himself.
If the backpacker whose wake-up call I got was heading to Perú, there was really no rush. I got to the bus station to find that the 7am bus service I’d booked had been cancelled because the Chilean border police were on strike. It wasn’t until many hot sticky hours and several near punch-ups between passengers later that I made it finally to Arequipa. More on that to come.