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Tacna

Monday, January 4th 2010

Just a few miles north of Arica was the border with Peru. Colectivos plied the route, leaving from near where I was staying. I'd planned to spend three days in Parque Nacional Lauca, but was thwarted by arriving on a weekend and could only spend one day there, so I had time to spare and decided to spend an afternoon in Peru.

I got to Tacna in the early afternoon. I passed through the long distance bus station, saw buses going to Cuzco, Arequipa, Lima and other places, and felt outrageously tempted to abandon my flight home and disappear into Peru for a while instead. Touts shouted destinations at me, assuming I was on my way to somewhere. But I decided to be sensible, and carried on into town.

Tacna was astonishingly different from Arica. The difference of 20 miles made an appalling difference to the lives and chances of people on one side of the border compared to the other. Arica was a bit grubby and noticeably poorer than places further south, but Tacna was far, far worse off. Every time I sat down I was surrounded by shoe-shine children, desperately trying to make a little bit of money. If they'd only been born a little bit further south they might have had a childhood. It seemed horrifically arbitrary and depressing.

It was grey and overcast when I arrived, but later the sun came out, and Tacna's cathedral looked quite nice in the evening light. As it got dark I thought I'd better head back to Chile. I walked back to the bus station and got in a taxi. The border crossing was most of the journey, and I didn't make things easy for myself by misplacing my entry card, which I'd only got few hours earlier. I rummaged in every corner of my backpack, embarrassed to be causing delays. The border guard muttered something about me being a stoner, which I thought was a little bit harsh. He said I could pay 9 soles if I couldn't find it, but luckily I did, and got out of Peru without further incident. We passed through customs, and a Peruvian girl pointed out that one of the pockets of my backpack was open. We started chatting and she was a bit put out that I'd spent only one day in Peru. I told her about my previous trip where I'd travelled the whole length of the country, and that placated her. She was from Tacna but had lived in Cuzco and we chatted about places there.

And then my taxi was ready to head off. I got back in and crossed finally into Chile. As we approached Arica I saw a sign that said "Santiago 2085". I was quite glad I'd booked a flight and would not have to cover that in a 36 hour bus journey.

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