Day 11 - Crossing the Frontera Chileano

Monday, August 6, 2012 - 05:45

Today was another travelling day, as I made my way from Arequipa down to Arica, the northernmost town in Chile.

To get to Arica I first had to get a bus to Tacna, which is the Peruvian town closest to the Chilean border. This lasted six hours and saw the bus primarily travel down a stretch of the Pan-American Highway. The highway is the almost continuous road which links Alaska to Patagonia, and I have previously driven it from San Francisco to San Diego in California. This time I was several thousand miles south, and unfortunately not able to drive myself, though that did mean I could concentrate fully on the scenery from my seat near the back of the bus. It was barren to say the least, with no sign of any water for most of the route. For the first couple of hours I could see the volcanos of Arequipa in the distance, and then as we got to lower altitude, the notorious fog of Lima made a return, and hung over the landscape for around 100 miles. The only civilisation of note was tiny native settlements of a very low standard, with the type of corrugated iron scrap houses I was used to seeing in South Africa.

Once I arrived in Tacna I had to find the bus to Arica. This was easier said than done since it was my first time alone having to use the Spanish I have learnt while on this trip. Eventually I worked out a bus was leaving in 15 minutes, so I quickly bought a ticket and jumped on it. It was slightly disconcerting getting on board, since I had to surrender my passport to the driver for border crossing purposes.

It was only a short drive to the border, and that was when the ‘fun’ began. I had heard South American land borders could be a slightly gruelling process, and it certainly made me appreciate the casual crossings in the EU. First everyone had to disembark on the Peruvian side to get stamped out of the country; this took around 30 minutes. Then, everyone got back on the bus to be driven around 100 metres to the Chilean side, where we disembarked again. This time we had to take all our bags with us, so we could have them x-ray scanned. I had to fill in a full customs form and entry form, and this whole process took around another 30 minutes. Only then could we finish the short journey to Arica.

On crossing the border there was an immediately noticeable difference in driving standards. Roads are freshly tarmacked, cars are less than 15 years old, drivers obey traffic signals and junctions are actually clearly marked with turning lanes. This made for a refreshing change after 10 days in Peru.

Tonight I am in a hotel for the first time on the trip, and it feels like luxury compared to some of the hostels we stayed in. Tomorrow I am going to check out the town and probably visit the beach to enjoy the sun.

Photo of the day: nothing great today, but here is one I took on my phone form the bus window.


Wonder what they are afraid of at the border. Its a similar experience on the bus from Israel to Jordan. The border guards would be shocked if they saw how easy it is to get into UK.

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