Stress, relaxation and celebration

Trip Start Aug 11, 2010
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Trip End May 21, 2011


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Where I stayed
Hostel Iquique

Flag of Chile  ,
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

From Arequipa, we travelled south to the border town of Tacna. We always try to get up early on border-crossing days to allow ourselves plenty of time. For us, it is never a nice day as it invariably means lots of travelling, some anxiety, and a chance at meeting some unsavoury types. Which is exactly what this border-crossing day had in store for us. After travelling for 6 hours to Tacna, we went to the bus terminal to find transport to the Chilean border town, Arica. Our guidebook recommended getting in a colectivo which is essentially a taxi shared with others. This made us a bit nervous as our guidebook had previously advised us to never share a taxi with anyone….

Once in the terminal, we had different people approaching us trying to sell us tickets for something. One guy offered us the best price for a colectivo and actually had the Chilean immigration forms so we went with him but it was stressful as he wasn't very helpful and was difficult to communicate with when it seemed to suit him. For example, he didn’t want to show us the car but had to at Paul’s insistence, and he wanted us to pay him the departure tax for the bus station at 3sols rather than us just walk a few steps and do it ourselves for 2sols. His friend then came along and took our immigration cards outside somewhere. Then he returned and told us we needed to pay him 10sols each for a visa. He got quite angry and aggressive in his manner and tone when we asked questions. Paul said we didn’t need a visa which didn’t go down well. I told the men we were going outside to get money from our bags and they tried to insist in us getting it out in front of them. We walked outside anyway and were relieved to find that the aggressive man did not follow. Possibly due to the police presence. The other guy followed us though and put his hand out for money for his 'help’. He wanted 20sols! Paul gave him some small change, which he was no doubt unimpressed by, and we got in the taxi. It had been such a stressful and confusing experience.

Despite the fact it was over, we still felt a bit anxious about the shared cab ride ahead- this was not something we were used to. Luckily, the taxi driver was friendly which put us at ease and one of the ladies there was helpful. The taxi driver played some loud classical music which made it all a bit surreal. As we were about to pass through Chilean immigration one of the women in our taxi asked us to hold her bag and take it through for her. A big no no. We just pretended that we did not understand her…..

It was a relief to finally arrive in Arica but we decided to head out straight away and get a bus to Iquique so that we did not have to do any travel the next day. We went on a nice bus with the company Tur Bus. We started to relax a bit then. This was interrupted later though as an angry bus driver was shouting at us to get off the bus and show our passports to the police. We were the only people to get off and again felt confused, anxious and this time a bit embarrassed. He was shouting at us in Spanish and pointing at his watch. We showed our passports and the police were friendly and we got back on. The bus sat there for another 15minutes so we did not understand why the bus driver had been so rude and unfriendly. Another couple had to get off too in the end. We both felt quite stressed and unhappy at the end of a long day and were relieved when we got to Iquique, found a friendly taxi driver, found a nice hostel, Hostel Iquique, and went to bed.

It was nice to wake up the next day in a new place, in a new country, and to not have to travel anywhere. After a good breakfast of bread and caramel spread, and changing from a twin room to a lovely double with balcony, we went out and explored. Iquique is somewhere that is easy to like as it has all the things that you expect from a city but is still quite unique as it also has a long stretch of beach, which is heavily pounded by the pacific, and is overlooked by the slopes of mountainous sand dunes. It was a great place for us to relax. We especially liked the main street that ran through the town and into the central plaza because of its wooded pavements, tram lines, the peeling beauty of the wooden-faced buildings, reminiscent of ‘wild-west’ films, and street sculptures made from salt and stone.

We were in Iquique when the Chilean miners were rescued from their 70 days of turmoil. As we walked back to the hostel at night all the drivers began tooting their horns and shouting out of the windows in celebration as the news spread that the last man had been pulled out. As we stepped inside our hostel, everyone was focused on the news as the Chilean Prime Minister greeted the final rescued miner. It was an emotional time for many and we were pleased to share this moment with them.
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