Arica - San Pedro de Atacama
09.08.2010 20 °C
We´re now in San Pedro de Atacama in (predictably) the middle of the Atacama desert. We arrived here this morning after an eleven hour bus journey through the night. Fortunately, it wasn´t as bad as I had anticipated in that I managed to snatch a few hours´sleep, despite the best efforts of the Chilean authorities to keep me awake. We were stopped and searched twice: firstly, for reasons that are still unclear and secondly, to check we weren´t carrying any illegitimate televisions or electronic equipment (don´t worry - it´s a mystery to me as well).
As for our final day in Arica, we climbed up the grandly named El Morro de Arica (essentially a lump of rock overlooking the city) to see a 50ft Jesus and some facist memorials from the Pinochet regime. Although this was ostensibly in interests of ticking off something else in the one-size-fits-all-lonely-planet tour, it was also to escape a day that struck fear into my very heart: la dia de los niños (or day of the children). Yep, that´s right, as if Christmas and a birthday wasn´t enough, the Chileans have decided to devote the last Sunday in July to those adorable little scamps, meaning that every restaurant/shop/road is full to the brim with bawling kids dosed up on grease and sugar. As all the decent restaurants had been temporarily converted into creches, we were forced into a Chilean fast food joint called ´Schopdog´. Unfortunately, it does not do as the name suggests and serve up antidote to Chile´s stray dog problem, but trades in a rather bizarre version of heart-stopping fast food. Apparently, if you´re Chilean, fast food means a pile of chips, onions and various pieces of meat (probably offal) topped off with two greasy fried eggs. In addition to this was the continual stream of rugrats and their frazzled parents and the understandably stressed members of staff who, in some sort of cruel managerial joke, had been made to dress up in mouse costumes. And there´s the reason we found ourselves posing like a 50ft Jesus perched on an overrated lump of rock...
In fact, come to think of it, Arica has a large number of people under the age of 18. At some point, strolling through the pedestrianised area of Arica, we suddenly realised that it had been quite some time since we hadn´t seen someone with (a) a skateboard, (b) at least one piece of black clothing and (c) bum fluff. Try to imagine that George A. Romero had decided to swap zombies for skateboard-wielding goths and you get the picture.
Anyway, despite the slight disappointment Arica held, we managed to escape on a bus heading to San Pedro de Atacama (in which our fellow passengers were, you´ve guessed it, young people out of their head on white cider or whatever it is underagers drink in Chile). The shirt I was wearing that night still doesn´t smell normal...
However, it was with some horror that we got off the bus in San Pedro to discover that skateboard-wielding goth-zombies had been replaced by rabid dogs and tourists (don´t worry - I include myself in that number). San Pedro itself is quite a picturesque village and not unlike the sort of village you stumble across in a Sergio Leone film, with flat-roofed whitewashed villas and a dirt road. It´s also surprisingly compact for somewhere so touristy, but the effect is that hostels, restaurants and tour agencies have all been concentrated into a very small space, which mean that these places spool by like a (very short) reel of film: restaurant, hostel, restaurant, tour agency, hostel, restaurant, currency exchange and so on. However, we´re due to journey into the surrounding salt plains tomorrow so hopefully that will provide some variety.
And now, as always, it´s time for Patricia´s nugget of wisdom. This is Patricia´s nugget for today:
"I´m annoyed that I get all the illnesses in this world - my feet are falling off, my skin is peeling off, my nose is running away (??), my head is exploding and my stomach is falling through. Apart from that, I´m having a marvellous time. That´s the end"
There you go, folks - you heard it here first. I would keep my distance if I were you, particularly from her feet...
Speak to you all when we get back from the salt plains,
James and Patricia