Sad, but not tragic. A forced opportunity. Maybe even a fortunate adaptation…fuck it. Let's make taco salad.

Arica

After being so anxious to leave for over a month, my last two hours in Cusco were spent in absolute panic.  For the second time in one year, I was giving up what most would consider an incredible life and setting out alone.  Only, this time, completely alone.  With no specific destination or timeline.  Existential crisis, when it finds you, is a real bastard to overcome.   (I try to do it at least once a year, just to keep my mind sharp.)  Good thing they sell Valium over-the-counter on this continent.  Seriously, it took two to calm me down enough to be able to finish packing my bag.  I’d like to think that I’m mature enough and well-traveled enough to have no problem doing all of this by myself.  But, the reality is that I need and love the company of others and thrive on social interaction.  That makes the act of leaving a bit messy.

Getting into Chile costs $140 for US citizens, but I had heard that if you go overland (instead of flying on an international flight), you may be able to avoid the reciprocity visa fee.  So, without any reservations or plans other than trying to reach Santiago, I caught a bus from Cusco to Arequipa (S/50), and another from Arequipa to Tacna (S/30).  From Tacna, you take a shared taxi (S/20) across the frontier to the Chilean city of Arica.  I must say, that the driver earned his 20 soles – he filled out our exit paperwork for Peru, our entry paperwork for Chile, escorted us through immigration and through customs, and drove us a total of about 90 km.  And the best news was that I wasn’t charged for entering Chile.  (The only downer was that I realized, once we reached Arica, that the immigration officer gave me Oscar Oriendo’s immigration paperwork and not my own…guess we’ll sort that out later.)

I went out to the airport and got a ticket to Santiago (US$150), but had to wait 24 hours.  Into town we go…

Arica is on the edge of the Atacama Desert (the driest in the world), so there is absolutely nothing but sand dunes as far as the eye can see.  Ugly fucking place.  However, there were a couple redeeming factors.  First, this is a beach town, so all that sand does lead to sea at some point.  Second, the town center is full of life and quite vibrant.  I desperately needed the energy.

The first afternoon, I checked into a hostel, went next door for a quick bite, and then spent the afternoon and evening staring at the TV and trying not to think about how fucking depressed I was.  I really did think, more than once that night, about getting back on the bus in the other direction and going back to Cusco.  (But then I would simply put my hand on my swollen liver and realize what a stupid idea that would be.)

The next morning, I wandered in search of a cup of decent coffee (yes, this is a real fucking struggle in Chile too) and found that there was a pedestrian-only street in the middle of town full of shops and restaurants and sidewalk cafes.  I sat down at 10 am and didn’t leave until 4 pm, just soaking it all in.  Three americanos and then I transitioned to a draft beer…oh, god, draft beer.  Even if it’s crap beer, I haven’t had beer out of a tap in 6+ months.  Heavenly.  And then the street performers, music, talking, laughing…and not a gringo in sight.  Latin energy.  Now I remember why I’m here.  I went for a long walk on the beach and then back to the hostel to repack the bag.

 

I’m still a bit wounded, but Arica was a good step in the right direction.  As much as it pains me to be so alone, I knew in my heart that it was time to leave Cusco.  Big continent, lots of shit to see before the money runs out… I got on my flight (in the right direction…south) that evening and headed for Santiago.  And, based on what I saw out the plane window, I’m pretty sure that flying over the Atacama instead of driving through it was worth the US$150.

 

 


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