Arica, volcanoes country.
This is the final push south, as we are obliged to leave Peru after almost 3 months here, we need to quasi, check out and check back in to keep our custom papers and visas clean. But from Arequipa, Chile is still more than 400kms away, a desert road through what is already the Atacama desert, in its wider definition. A lot of military bases and training grounds are all around, Peruvians are almost paranoid about their southern neighbor. There was a war once, war of the Pacific 1879-83, still today the tabloids spread fear that Chile's buying up Peruvian industries, recolonizing, preparing for war. These are the xenophobic words...
Via Moquegua and Tacna we get to the border, Friday 17th of August we enter Arica and Chile. And again I find it hard to tune my ear to a new Spanish, and set up a new Claro phone; the same company in all, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile, the way to set up internet is completely different in all. Make it complicated and the customer will stick to you...
It was in Arequipa that the boys walked into one of the many travel agencies and came out with a brochure of Arica province, that features volcanoes, lagunas, vicunas, snow. Ever since I had a plan to look for those in Chile, here in Arica on the coast, this evening I surf Google Earth and I come up with this 'great' project to go to Bolivia and La Paz and then back to Puna, Peru, via the high border Andes.
So on Saturday morning we get some more fuel and buy the bare minimum of supplies, keep some Argentinian money and head out. From the desert coast we follow desert Lluta valley, and then somewhere right and steep and up to 2,000m there is no vegetation at all. Then we get a few all dry scrubs and some giant treelike browningia candelaris (wiki), but I fail to take the picture, searching for the one cactus, near the road and well formed, then they all disappear, above 2,500m. All of this is the great Atacama desert.
Pukará de Copaquilla then is above 3,100m, a settlement, fortress, heaps of stones, pre-colonial.
To Putre and on we continue, higher to Volcan Tarapatra and there are more volcanoes behind, Parinacota, Pomerape, all snow capped and they light up in late light and 'somewhere there are lakes' I try to lure my boys, and 'look, Vicunas', to raise their excitement and I do not realize that today their tiredness and lackluster is of a different cause.
It has been such a quick ascent into the high Andes, and I am breathless and dizzy too, we reached our destination, Biofera Lauca, 4,500m shows the GPS, the volcano-scape can't be more impressing, Bolivia is near, somewhere over the volcanoes is Laguna Chugará, for tomorrow, I still think... Village Parinacota and its white stone church shines while sun sets, and where I had planned to stay for night. D&D have been complaining for a while but Daniel now shows signs of heart racing, 'too much air in the lungs' he puts it, and my poor baby really suffers, such is altitude sickness.
No way we can stay on here, it would be bitterly cold anyway, so we retreate to lower Putre (3,600m) and the symptoms are gone, and they play and they have a pizza in a completely overrated restaurant on plaza de armas, I eat nothing, better so. And damn it, after pizza, when we prepare to sleep in the van, Daniel suffers again and I massage his chest and back and tell him to concentrate on his breath and he manages to fall asleep. By 11 p.m. he wakes me, still 'too much air', and we pack it up and I drive us to lower grounds, another 2 hours of curves at night and the many trucks pushing over the Andes towards Bolivia, and I shout back to David to report to me how Daniel does. At 1,900m of elevation I park near the road and all is quiet, the little mountain devils, we left them in the high Andes, and we sleep a sweet night's sleep until sun wakes us early.
My Bolivia plans are dead and we have not even seen Laguna Chungará but the signs on the wall were clear: Go home man, it's a long way back north, bring them home safely!
The early Sunday morning we dive into the Lluta valley and it is is still full of fog and also in Arica all is hazy, cold, the morning beach not inviting. It clears and the wind slows, I force myself to just do nothing, let the boys play.
I like this Chile already, I gaze out at the ocean and imagine in the warm sun, what this 4,000kms long country might be like, anything could be found here, just not now, but hopefully later in the year... 20kms south from the border all is so different from Peru; every country in Latin America so-far has its own characteristic, they're all different. There is no police in the streets here, Peru has loads everywhere. And Toño was right, the food south of the border is terrible, it is indeed hard after the Peruvian gourmet cuisine.
And there while I ponder, I contemplate whether I should just head on, south and fly home from Santiago... but I force myself to stand still for the moment...
Blue skies in the afternoons make us explorers once more and we drive south, just a little to see the cliffs that drop into the Pacific Ocean, the white, full of bird's shit, rocks. Yes, beautiful country, another one, and I hope to see it in full one day...
Monday we are back in Peru.