We had taken a bus to Santiago from Lima which made crossing the border simple. On the return however, there was no such bus, at least for a few days anyway.
We were able to take a bus from Iquique to Arica easily and had a good journey. The 4 hours on the bus were interesting as we spent them watching hundreds of tornadoes sweeping through the distant desert. I tried to get them on camera but they just wouldn’t turn out. The two photos attached to this entry are the best I could do, and I needed to turn up the contrast to get to see anything, but they still don’t give a feeling for how it really looked.
We had a decision to make in Arica… stay there, see the town and take a bus direct to Lima in 2 days time… or cross the border in a colectivo (shared taxi) to Tacna in Peru and find our way home from there.
The cloudy Arica day on arriving from sunny Iquique, and our desire to eat food with at least some flavour forced our hand and we prepared to leave Chile immediately.
The bus station has two exits, one is to a main street and to Chilean taxi drivers with a taxi into town, the other is towards a car park and swarms of Peruvian colectivo drivers trying to win your business. On hiding my money and credit card in my shoes, we headed out The Other Door. An Aymara guy (he didn’t give his name) barked at us, “Tacna!! Tacna!!” before calming down so as to not scare us away and instead questioned, “Tacna? Tacna?”. We agreed to follow him to his car, and old Ford classic. For 2000 Pesos or 18 Soles he would take us across the border to Tacna. 2000 Pesos being significantly less than 18 Soles (don’t tell him) we accepted his offer with payment in Pesos. He put our bags in his car and wandered off to find 2 more customers while I filled out my immigration card for my new 90 days in Peru. He soon found 2 more people, who hilariously paid in Soles, and we were off.
The border at 4pm was absolutely deserted and we crossed in no time and arrived in Tacna, we were glad to have arrived in Peru no matter how hideous Tacna is. We were again harassed by touts, this time selling bus tickets to Lima. The guy who’s offer of 85 soles for Cama seats won and we would be travelling home with Cial. Tickets paid for, we sat down in Tacna to real food, a two course meal and drinks for S/ 3.20 (US$1, EU€0.70, UK£0.52)
We soon knew we were back in Peru and no longer in Chile. Everything ceased to be ordered, serious, logical, efficient, dull and boring and instead became a hilarious game full of funny characters.
Tacna’s duty free status meant that the bus was laden down with dozens of TVs (dozens per person, I kid you not) hundreds of suitcases that wouldn’t fit in the hold and spilt into the bus as hand luggage instead. It took a while to get moving due to random people attempting to board the bus with no tickets, people getting off to say bye one last time to friends and relatives and people spilling things on the floor and complaining the floor is wet.
The people around us in the Cama section were equally interesting. An extremely large man who did nothing but sleep and eat tubs of ice cream. A Frenchman who did nothing to combat the smelly Frenchman stereotype. A paranoid man (who suffered next to the Frenchman) who kept checking his fragile packages for damage telling me “Fragil, Fragil, pero no escuchan, no escuchan!” in reference to just about everyone he had met that day. Finally a woman with a baby and young child who would respond to the baby’s crying with a blank stare.
We did finally get moving when they managed to close the baggage hold doors. And we had been moving for a whole hour when we had to stop at a customs station and unload everything for checking. Peruvian customs rules and allowances are plucked out of thin air – completely random – but followed to the letter by under-paid and under-educated police officers who are trying their best but don’t really have any clue what’s going on. They took random bags off the side of the road to a building with their owners to check them. They did this slowly and without order. They didn’t bother to open half of the bags that they took away, instead putting them back on the road a little further along to be loaded back onto the bus they had just been removed from (!). Every so often from within the group of passengers I would hear, “Fragil, pero no escuchan!”. After reloading the bags for a second time, and removing passengers who had wandered onto the bus instead of some other bus they arrived here on, we were off again. After a good nights sleep and a relatively good journey, we were back, in the great city of Lima in the great nation of Peru.