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Life in the Long Country October 10, 2009

Posted by Jen Pappas in Arica and Iquique, Chile Posts.
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Since leaving Peru on an ancient train at 6 in the morning, our fake daily lives have changed considerably. Now, we’re converting our money into pesos instead of soles, reluctantly adapting to how expensive Chile is (at least by South American standards). Now, we are struggling to communicate all over again, as Chileans speak a somewhat accelerated, slang-ridden form of Spanish that is tough to pick up on right away. Somehow, we are also one hour ahead of Peru, which still fails to make sense.

But let’s back up a moment…

Our final day in Arequipa, we toured the Monasterio Santa Catalina, a 16th century citadel surrounded by high walls that take up an entire city block. We ambled through a maze of sunny courtyards, humble living quarters and a multitude of large, stone kitchens for about two hours. These nuns must have loved to eat, judging from how many kitchens there were. But then again, what else was there for them to do besides eat and pray?

We packed up and left the next day for the wholly unremarkable border town of Tacna. We stayed just long enough to get lost, check in to a crappy hotel and get some sleep before our 5:45 a.m. departure. The single-car relic of a train left Peru on September 26 and actually arrived at it´s destination, Arica, Chile an hour and a half later.

Again, being a border town, Arica is fairly unremarkable, known mostly for it’s powerful El Gringo surf break and the looming El Morro cliff that towers over downtown. Despite the city’s shortcomings, it did bring us to Max, a fun-loving Aussie we befriended and ended up spending a lot of time with in Iquique for a week-long host of ocean-side shenanigans.

Romantically enough, Iquique means “where the birds and the wolves sleep”, and was our first real taste of Chile. Iquique is an emerging beach-front city that sits quite austerely below a massive sand dune about 1,093 miles north of Santiago. We checked into a hostel directly across from the beach and let ourselves get carried away ever so slightly by the party atmosphere and a flood of new friends. Along with being the most fun place we’ve stayed thus far, the hostel in Iquique also deserves the award for weirdest shower. The shower head is actually in the same tiny stall as the toilet. So yes, for eight days we showered right next to the toilet, trying not to get the toilet paper wet. A handy mop located right outside the door was used to dry the floor when you were finished.

The Iquique coastline. Big developments and numerous resorts are beginning to pop up overnight.

The Iquique coastline. Big developments and numerous resorts are beginning to pop up overnight.

After the party-hearty, city-like atmosphere of Iquique, we were both ready for some peace and quiet. The impossibly small, oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama, (the driest desert in the world) seemed to fit the bill.

Hence, here we are in San Pedro de Atacama, firmly ensconced in the solitude and silence only the desert can bring.

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1. Miles - October 13, 2009

Can we see pics of San Pedro? I didn’t make it up nearly that far when I was in Chile and wonder what it looks like. Awesome Machu Pichu shots, too!

And the price difference from Argentina -> Chile surprised the hell out of me. Wait till you get to Argentina–it’s at 3.8 pesos/1 dollar now, better than when we were there last summer, so get ready to eat and drink well and inexpensively (esp compared to Chile)!

(A couple more observations of the diff btw the two countries: I saw way more drunk Chileans in 2 weeks in Chile than I did drunk Argentines in 4 weeks in ARG. A guide in the Valle Cochiguaz (near Pisco Elqui–east of La Serena) told me that Chileans are more American in this respect–think of the CIA’s and big American business’s involvement during Pinochet–“work hard, play hard”, while the Argentines are more European like that–shorter work days/years, less intense about getting drunk. The difference is also probably economic, given the relative strength in Chile vs. weakness in Argentina.

I also thought the guys were hotter in Chile–IMHO.)

If you end up in Valparaiso, email me for an awesome underground (literally) club to go out and I figure out where it was, if not the name.

And if/when you get to Santiago, check out the club Bunker for the best drag (like members of the Chilean national ballet perform regularly) I’ve ever seen.


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