Week of June 06, 2004
We spent our last couple of days in La Paz cleaning, tightening and securing Cindy for her next jaunt. We have a week or so journey before we get to Santiago, Chile and we wanted to make sure that Cindy was ship-shape, so-to-speak.
Just before we left, we presented Rolando and his girls with new work overalls, that we had embroidered with their initials, as a thank you for all of their help and kindness. The overalls went over very well and we were glad to have been able to give a gift that will definitely be used. Not to mention Gerson re-wiring Rolando's shop (they were used to plugging in bare wires into the outlets and Gerson wired everything into real plugs with a breaker).
Gerson even created a safe extension cord for Rolando's use wherein he used to have three single wires connected together and laid bare on the ground. It was the kind of electrical wiring that makes you cringe when you think the girls are running hither and yon directly over the open twisted wiring and they are plugging the bare wires into the outlets. We feel much relieved that we made their workplace a little (heck, a lot) safer.
We enjoyed a very nice last night with Sam and Christine and they are two of very few reasons why we were a little saddened to leave Bolivia - and I mean, very few reasons. We have a good feeling that we will cross paths with these two dynamic and charismatic people again.
Heading to the Chilean border was rather uneventful but wonderfully scenic. We aimed for what looked to be a small snow-capped peak way off in the distance and that which eventually evolved into a looming and coldly foreboding presence.
We passed through the Chilean border without much fanfare but we decided that Chile needs to change its name to "friggen freezing". But then, we were at 4500m (~16,000 ft) and there was nothing to block the wind. The wind had a mind of its own because no matter where you stood and thought you were protected, the wind snuck around behind you and briskly slithered right up your backside.
But, Chile is definitely a country with a tremendous amount to offer the visitor. 4300 km (~3000 miles) long and 200 km (~140 miles) wide, with the Pacific hugging one side and the Andes guarding the other, Chile boasts the driest desert in the world, the second highest peak in South America and more than 50 volcanoes. Chile can also lay claim to crystal clear lakes, fuming geysers, milky blue glaciers, wandering ice bergs, endless beaches, plummeting rivers, eerie ghost towns, jumbles of fjords, abundant seafood and an economic growth and political stability that is becoming the envy of many countries around it.
Arica was our first stop and we just walked the streets. We made our way up to a lookout that is a memorial to Chile's defeat of Bolivia and Peru (War of The Pacific) and their gaining Arica (from Bolivia) in the victory. The taking of this strip of land to the Pacific and between Chile and Peru, landlocked Bolivia and is still a sore point of contention for Bolivia.
We were in awe of Arica. Not so much for anything particular that the city offered but rather, because it was like a dream compared to Bolivia. OK, some of you might be cheering us on thinking that we were happy to relinquish our materialistic, gluttonous ways and that we were enjoying getting back (and behind) to basics. Well, I hate to disappoint but damn, we missed shops with nifty stuff, we missed hamburgers, we missed clean bathrooms with toilet paper, we missed walking down a street without being molested by beggars, we missed uncluttered sidewalks that were clear of Indian women selling the same thing as their neighbor, we missed going into a place of business and actually feeling as though we were welcome, we missed not having to dodge dog s***, we missed paved streets, we missed businesses opening up on time, we missed garbage cans, we missed smiling faces, etc.
At one point, we wondered why people were looking strangely at us when we were talking while waiting for a light to change. We did not realize that we had gotten so used to raising our voices in Bolivia to sound above the honking cars that we continued that habit here when they don't honk to get attention. Heck, the drivers here actually stop for pedestrians and they obey the traffic lights. Civilization will take some getting used to...
And, to further disappoint, we caved into our hamburger craving and slunk into a local McDonald's, our first visit to this popular franchise since Mexico. It was fantastic! Fresh hamburgers, hot fries, cold fountain cokes...along with a local favorite, cheese empanadas. OK, so McDonald's is not a culinary coup, but we just needed a fix of the United States. Heck, the restaurant even had a couple of whiny fat kids as well...ahhhh, just like home.
We headed on to Iquique (E-key-kay) and diverted to witness a Pre-Colombian (pre-1500 CE) etching on a desert hill (Cerro Unita). The "Stickman" as the geoglyph is called, is 86m (~260ft) high and out in the middle of nowhere. Viewing this ancient artwork reminded us of the Nazca lines and etchings. Very similar terrain and very similar, if not the same, methods of creating this relief. And, seeing as this is one big desert from Northern Chile to Mid-Peru, could there have been influence by the same culture? A question to ponder.
As hard as we tried, we could not find an acceptable place to park Cindy in Iquique (whether in location, security or especially, price) so we gobbled a quick and unsatisfying lunch, stocked Cindy's cupboards and ventured onward south. As luck (and eyes peering longingly at the Pacific Ocean) would have it, we noticed a small gated area that advertised "Cabanas Familias". We figured it would not hurt to ask if they would allow us to park Cindy for the night and of course, how much.
Well, for a small amount, we were able to park atop the cliffs overlooking the Pacific, have full use of the bathrooms (and that all-important hot shower), total hook-ups for Cindy, permission to jump into the salt-water pools and utilize the bar-b-que if we so choose. Not to mention the other benefits that came in the form of three yellow Labrador retrievers, two Irish setters, and two muttley cats.
Needless to say, we were well-entertained from morning to night. There is nothing like sitting in Cindy and feeling eyes on your back, only to look over your shoulder and out the window and not two, not four, but six eyes sitting on the wall next to Cindy and looking in at you. Or, to have a certain cat find our back storage box as a perfect place to sit and press his nose against the window and watch the goings on inside. Let's say we were very amused with our visitors (and they got the rest of our salami and ham).
We ended up staying a couple of nights and found the strength to just sit and relax. We made the effort to walk the beach and clamber over the tide pools and enjoy the warm, Pacific air. We really missed being by the ocean and we needed to infuse the salt air back into our lungs.