We were up literally at the crack of dawn - 5:30am, but were fortunate enough to find a taxi waiting at the bottom of the street just asking for 2 backpackers to be taken to the bus station. After some wandering about trying to find our bus company and a bit of a debate on whether there was a departure tax and where it might be paid and then finally where our departure point was we were settled down on the bus, not too shabby by the standards we have become accustomed to from our buses in South America. The border crossing was very non-descript although cold - I was actually shivering and Chile X ray all their bags into the country which is more what you would expect of a border crossing - actual checks of some description, but still all very hassle free. The views from the bus window however, were awesome the landscape was just so desolate, there was no life out here, it was just all grey and lifeless and some of the hills and mountains here were huge. Made for a good bus trip. Shortly after passing through the border though, the bus performed a twenty point turn on a cliff face and had everyone get off the bus and remove their bags from the cargo, there was a brief "what the f***?!" moment before another bus appeared out of nowhere and had its own passengers disembark with their baggage and swap buses. I presume this is so that the drivers get to stay in their home for the night and do not need to sleep on the buses, which is apparently what they have to do ordinarily. On our new bus and we began for Arica again and by around 3pm arrived at its odd pyramid steel-piped bus station. We had however, not written down the address of the hostel we had booked (obviously!) but the bus station thankfully had free wifi soomewhere and I was able to check it on my iPod. So armed with the address we got into a taxi and directed him to it. He had no idea where it was and asked a few people for directions and as it transpired it wasnt very far, although far too far to have walked with our backpacks in the 30 degree mid afternoon sun. He then had no change of any description and had to go looking for some with a drinks stall, another taxi behind us... it was rather ridiculous from a taxi driver picking people up from what is, predominantly, an international bus station. That sorted out we checked into the hostel and it was very cute. The living room had photos of family members everywhere, daft little collectable things dotted all over the shop and the Kiwi guy who ran it was real nice. We checked into our room with a German girl who was earning money for her travels by translating papers and books from german into english and viceversa and had spent the last couple of weeks in Arica translating in anticipation of her Peruvian leg of travels.
We checked out our map of the area and saw that we could pretty much follow a now defunct railway line that would take us along the coast and to the town centre. So we set off along the railway line until we came to a small bridge about 8 foot above the ground, but which was made of thin planked and rather dodgy tracks we slowed our walking and made it maybe a third across before deciding maybe this wasn't the best idea and laughing about the possibility of a train coming along. I turned to laugh at Lucy and saw in the distance a train happily chugging along the tracks. Well if we didn't nearly s*** ourselves there and then and quickly retraced our steps back to the ground and off the line. Well if the bloody Lonely Planet didn't mention that only part of the line is shut down. We laughed about it for about a solid 5 minutes and the train was a little tourist device that we probably could have stopped by throwing a shoe at. We had a look at the map and discerned where we were and charted a longer, safer route to take into town.
Once there We had a wander about, went looking for the Gustave Eiffel designed church and refused to believe the one we found could be designed by him for all its ordinariness, before concluding that it must be and noticing that despite its traditional European architecture it is infact made of metal. Further wanderings around town didn't uncover much else other than annoying Chilean children who were all over the place and very obviously talking about us. We made for a restaurant we had passed on the way into town heralded as a tourist restaurant. Well I don't know what goes for a tourist restaurant in Chile, but this was by no defintion a tourist restaurant for a start it suggests that the proprietors have some familiarity with another language or familiar with dealings with foreign tourists at the very least. We were not sure what half the menu was and she was unable to offer any kind of explanation through the medium of language, pointing or interpretive dance. Indeed, and this example has been quoted many times over my travels, when I ordered a Sprite she had no idea what I wanted despite describing it (in spanish) as being made of lemon and lime, referring to its manufacture Coca Cola and an opening a can ringpull action that clearly depicted it as being a canned beverage. I ended up ordering a beer and she understood cerveza perfectly. As it transpires sprite is pronounced "eh-spreet" but even then given the similarities and show of communication skills one would have thought she would have got the jist. The meal turned out to be disgusting and we left about half of it and decided to write off the whole place. At least the beer was decent.
We headed back to the hostel and got directions to the nearest supermarket, which happened to take us past possibly the best primary school ever built that has been built to look like a (poorly constructed) fairytake castle with assorted related play things in the playground. Better yet they were playing the worst music their children could possibly play and applauding loudly - these kids had it made. We got our groceries and returned to the hostel where we had a chat with some of the other travellers whilst leisurely enjoying a few bowls of frosties. Among the discussion points we described the difference between the United Kingdom, Great Britain and its individual countries to the Germans and Dutch and the Dutch taught us about the differences between Holland and The Netherlands - effectively it is the same thing North and South Holland are 2 of the 12 provinces that makes up The Netherlands. They are the most historically powerful and today account for 37% of the population of the country. On this note we went to bed feeling very worldly, but not before having another last bowl of frosties.
The next day after a tasty free breakfast of bread, cheese and jams with some more cereal we headed into town to buy a cheap air ticket to Santiago. Buy sky didn't have any availability for like a week and LAN was ludicrously expensive - like $200US, which we didn't really have to spare so decided to opt for the 30 hour bus - a difficult decision let me tell you! As we left the airline shops there was a random parade of some description down the streets of school kids in various random states of fancy dress - there were a good few Hogwarts students and Disney characters. One of them ran up and gave us a poster it was something about reading - we decided it was reading week, but it could have been regarding a library closure or any number of things because there was a lot of spanish and far too much to make sense of. We grabbed a nice cheap oreo mcflurry from McDonalds and began the arduous walk in the sun to the bus station to buy a ticket direct for the next day as it would be a lot cheaper than getting it from an agent in town. And with that done we headed to the beach and did some good sunbathing - I didn't burn, which was a bloody first for the beach! And I read a book that I stole from the book exchange called Ender's Game all about a boy who is training to become this massive space hero and thinks he's gonna be the one to save the Earth, then learns that he's actually done it all already because his very last battle training wasn't training at all, but him fighting and beating the baddies. Its a kid's book, but it was pretty good and made for light reading. We went to this small food court round the corner from the hostel that the owner recommended, but most of it was shut by the time we got there 6:30pm and the menu was predictably in spanish and utterly untranslatable so I decided to order whatever it was that the table next to me had - it resembled chicken. And it did indeed turn out to be chicken, altho pretty s*** chicken, but it came with a s*** load of rice and was dirt cheap, probably about a pound so I wasn't complaining. Lucy was, her chicken had been a bit s***ter than mine and well she's not the biggest fan of rice (god help her in Asia).
But we had a 30 hour bus ride to look forward to tomorrow! ... And the next day ... Yay!