Arica

Trip Start Oct 09, 2009
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104
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Trip End Oct 05, 2010


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Where I stayed
With Nino & Valentina

Flag of Chile  ,
Monday, August 2, 2010

V:  We traveled by bus from Arequipa in Peru to the border town of Tacna to make our crossing back into Chile. Within 30 minutes of arriving in Tacna we had found our way to the international bus terminal and found our transfer agent. He was supposed to be waiting for us with our names on a board but I had to go searching the various offices to find him. We crossed the border from Peru into Chile with ease, our collectivo (shared) taxi driver helped us through the immigration formalities. Once in Chile we were expecting to be dropped off at our guesthouse as agreed with the travel agents in Arequipa - but as always in South America this was not the case. Arica was not originally on our list of places to visit but one of Yuri’s friends, Nino, that we met on a few nights out in Santiago lived in Arica and had told us to stop by. Its always nice to see a familiar face when traveling in a foreign country.

Ash had booked the Sunny Days guesthouse based on its number one ranking on trip advisor. I’m not sure who has been reviewing this place but they must have been taking too many coca leaves as the hotel resembled a chintzy old granny’s living room. Luckily the owner was a delightfully friendly Australian who went out of his way to make us feel welcome. Not wanting to spend any longer than necessary in our 70’s inspired bedroom we headed straight out for a bite to eat - our first proper meal of the day. There were few dining options available to us at that time of night so we settled for a fast-food style restaurant near the market. We browsed the menu and noticed it had the usual fare of empanadas, hamburgers and the famous Chilean completo. Our last completo had been in Santiago in our first week in South America almost 3 months ago…Ash was keen to try another but opted for a hamburger version . My appetite had shrunk since my tooth started to give me trouble so I settled for an empanada. We were both shocked when the meal arrived, Ash’s Completo was the size of his head (no kidding), a giant burger heaped high with guacamole, salsa, cheese and fries inside the bun….it took him ages to devour even half of it and in the end he surrendered and waddled back to guesthouse.

I had a very unsettled night as I was suffering from very bad tooth ache, it had started on the last day on our Machu Picchu trek and had been going on for over two weeks now, so I decided it was time to go an see a dentist. Our guesthouse owner kindly offered to make an appointment for me at a clinic in Tacna, back in Peru. He advised against using Chilean dentist as they were much more expensive and the waiting times would be a lot longer. My appointment was at 5pm so we had most of the day to explore Arica. I was not too keen on going back into Peru to see a dentist and looking at the poor state of his teeth it didn’t seem like a good idea!

We contacted Nino to let him know we had arrived and within 10 minutes of the call he was at our guesthouse. Nino lives with his wife Valentina and their three young boys on an olive farm in the Azapa valley a few kilometers from the centre of Arica. They invited us to come and stay with them which was a lovely gesture. Nino spoke about as much English as we do Spanish so we managed to communicate in Spanglish. Luckily his wife spoke very good English and we explained to her that I had an appointment with a dentist back in Tacna. We are both big believers in karma and today was one of those days when we benefited from this. It turned out that Nino’s sister was a dentist. He immediately was on the phone to her arranging me an appointment. I cannot tell you how relieved I was!

We spent the afternoon picking up supplies for a bbq they were hosting at their farm that evening to watch the final of their equivalent of Champions League football.. Universad de Chile was playing a Brazilian club, we had seen the semi-final match with Nino, Yuri and friends a few months ago back in Santiago (the time delay was due to the World Cup). We then drove to Azapa valley to drop our bags off at the house. It was a lovely drive and each side of the road was lined with olive and tomato farms. The olive farm Nino owns was beautiful, there were row upon row of olive trees and the smell was noticeable as soon as we got out of the car. We met Eliah their youngest son who was 8 months old and the nanny Bertha, a Peruvian lady.

Later that day we picked up the two eldest children from school, Luca and Marco and headed to the dental clinic in the hospital where his sister worked. I was fast tracked in to see her and she told me I needed to have my wisdom teeth out. I was a little nervous as back in the UK this sometimes requires general anesthetic but here in Chile they do it under local anesthetic - eek. I had impacted wisdom teeth which was a bit of an issue so she referred me to Roberto, one of their friends who owns a private clinic in Arica.

We then went to the prison to pick up Valentina from work, she works as an occupational therapist for the inmates. Valentina is really good friends with one of Ash’s friends Nicky who used to date Yuri, we could see why they were such good friends immediately - they were unbelievably similar in personality and mannerisms! We visited the huge market which sold everything from meat to vegetables to get a few more supplies for the bbq. We couldn’t believe how much meat Nino bought, huge slabs of beef and racks of ribs at a fraction of the price you would pay in the UK.

Valentina accompanied me into the dental surgery for my appointment with Roberto, which was great as Roberto hardly spoke little English so she translated for me. I felt really guilty as she was missing the first part of the bbq but she insisted on staying with me which I really appreciated. After some x-rays Roberto discovered the problem and set about drilling into my tooth to remove the nerve. He gave me a fair bit of anesthetic to numb the pain. I was in the dental chair for about an hour altogether and he only charged me the cost of the anesthetic, again a lovely gesture. Back in the UK I would have paid at least ten times that amount. I expressed my gratitude to him and said goodbye but it turned out he was coming to the bbq after his shift!

The bbq was in full swing by the time we arrived, Nino was expertly cooking the meat on the grill and the table was covered with drinks and food. We met Ninos brother who lived across the road on another olive farm, his sister and her husband who was a lawyer, and several of their friends all of whom were incredibly welcoming and friendly despite our lack of Spanish and their lack of English. There were a lot of children there too. The football match was a disappointment with Chile losing by 2 goals to nil. Nino was not a happy man! Nino, Valentina and the two of us continued chatting and drinking well after the guests left and finished early morning !

We noticed that Latin American culture is very similar to Asian culture, it’s all about the family. Nino’s entire family live in Arica no more than a few Km’s from each other. They are also a lot more relaxed with their children who don’t have set bed times and are allowed to stay up much later than the kids back at home, its really common to see families out in restaurants at 10pm. I’m not sure how they get them up in the morning for school - In Luca and Marco’s case they got to have the day off the following day. Nino thought it would be a missed opportunity if they did not get to spend a day with us, explaining it was very rare for them to meet people of a different culture - any excuse!!!

We spent the following day recovering from the night before. Nino drove us out to some local areas where there were ancient geoglyphs on the hills. The area is one of the oldest inhabited places in South America. These geoglyphs are now protected areas but when Nino grew up here as a kid, he would spend his time running accross these hills moving the stones, not realising their historic significance. I spent some time that afternoon with Luca and Marco drawing pictures of objects, fruits and vegetables in English and asking him to translate them into Spanish - an alternative to regular classes. When Valentina returned from work we all went to visit the local museum which was set within an 18th-century olive-oil refinery. This museum houses an impressive collection of artifacts from the cultures of the Chinchorros and Tijuanacotas. Of particular interest were the Chinchorro mummies, the oldest in the world, dating back to 6000 BC. These mummies were buried with masks over the faces, It was incredible to see how well preserved they were. You could see the detail on the exposed body parts such as the skin on their hands, it was a bit eerie looking at them but the kids seemed to love it.

Over the next few days we were invited to family birthday parties and more bbq’s (called an assado in Chile) and got to meet many more of Nino and Valentina’s family and friends who were all lovely and really welcoming. Ash stuck up some deep political conversations with Nino’s father which poor Valentina had to translate. We also explored the town visiting its museums and churches as well as heading up to watch sunset over the Morro de Arica, a giant rock looming 110m above the city. We went to the beach and ate saltinas (a type of empanada) by the sea, visited the local fish market and were treated to a lovely home cooked swordfish lunch afterwards. Ash got a taste of parenthood too as we bought the boys a racing car set which they loved. From the moment they received it there was no peace for Ash with the boys screaming at him to set up the track and fix it when the batteries ran out or when the remote control stopped working!! There were tears at bedtime when they had to put it away. I’ll never forget little Marco’s voice shouting out ‘Aschwiiiiin’ every time he needed him to come and fix it.

It was such a pleasure spending time with Nino, Valentina and the boys, they are truly one of the happiest families we have ever met. We were both blown away by their kindness and generosity and sincerely hope they manage to come to England one day so we can return the favour. As a busy couple with children Nino and Valentina have inspired us and we hope can their achieve their level of happiness. They seem to have such a great balance of family time, work and an awesome social life to boot. I guess it helps that the have so much family around them who jump in to help out at a moments notice and an amazing nanny who I would love to steal and bring to England for when we have kids!!
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