Things take a turn for the tedious
The Southernmost stop for the luxury tourist coaches that drone through Peru by night is the city of Arequipa. As we wrestled through its not very interesting but quite expansive outskirts, none of us were quite sure why. Until we got to the centre; a colonial, cobblestoned neighbourhood that wouldn’t be out of place in Portugal. The city sits under the ticking time bomb that is the Misti Volcano, which must be strange if you live there.
We checked into a hostel and went for an exceptional burger and some craft beers at a bar around the corner. This is not a sentence I expected to write in a blog post about Peru; it was a pleasant surprise. It got better when we bumped into a German post doc student who spends her days researching the Llamas that live in the highlands we had just ridden through. She knows a thing or two about Arequipa and quickly convinced us to stay another day. She also knows lots of things or two about Llamas, which Alex enjoyed immensely. Didier and I did as well, but for a shorter amount of time.
What Alex’s new best friend didn’t tell us, though, was that Arequipa would turn off its water supply for the entirety of our rest day. Even though this was planned, strangely none of the businesses in the city had taken the opportunity to corner the market for coffee or tea, for example. Or functioning toilets. Everybody just seemed to accept that these things wouldn’t be a feature of the day.
Besides the usual features of a rest day, like a visit to the supermarket, and talking Didier out of building a Hookah pipe out of materials gathered from HomeDepot, we had lunch in the bustling Piccanteria La Capitana. We ordered their Doble menu on the advice of a Peruvian couple. It turns out ordering this means you essentially get 4 main courses each. We didn’t get close to finishing it.
Even though Arequipa feels like it’s on the border with Chile, this is South America so the actual border town is over 300km further on. Another day on the Pan-American, then, and this time through a martian looking landscape where endless straights were broken up only by the odd sandy rolling hill, until, behind one hill no different to the others, we found the city of Tacna.
There aren’t really any tourists in Tacna, and that’s because they have filled the city with so many one way streets you just can’t fit anything else in. Eventually we spiralled our way to a posh looking hotel, which had parking around the corner. This incredibly is only a 15 minute ride away!
As we celebrated getting to the border that evening, in a restaurant which for some reason insisted on putting cardboard bibs around our necks, we had no idea that the next few days would be a little… challenging…
I could barely hear Alex complaining about his clutch (again) over the sound of Didier’s bike not starting. As I prepared to give Didier his second tow of the trip, Alex went out to into the lethal one-way system to find a mechanic. Instead, he returned shortly afterwards with a flat tyre. Apparently, we didn’t have the correct Allen key to remove front wheels, so I detached myself from Didier’s bike to go find one. For the next hour, I was consumed by a cocktail of incorrect directions given by the locals and the one-way system where the “one way” was the one away from our hotel. I returned empty handed. But Alex had gotten bored waiting and gone around the corner on foot where they a shop full of Allen keys or something. Bastard.
I had plenty of time to regain my composure as Juan the mechanic took apart Alex and Didier’s bike, giving Alex his third clutch and fixing Didier’s ruined valves. If only the other two had gotten red bikes. They’re just better.
We were finally spat out by the all-consuming one-way system (did I mention the stupid one-way system in Tacna, Peru?) in the late afternoon and we grabbed the chance to run for the border. It had been a difficult day. Things would be better in Chile though, right? NOT RIGHT. But I digress.
The people at the border were very confused by the white people on the Peruvian bikes and we spent most of the evening looking at a man in a cubicle reading all three of our purchasing contracts again and again. This was interrupted only by a crazy Argentinian guy who spluttered through the border in his destroyed Citroen 2CV, having to stop every 100 metres to fill up his radiator. We cheered him along. We understand.
After a very long day, a lot of paperwork, and to the soundtrack of Alex moaning that he was hungry for a fourth clutch, we rolled into Arica, the Chilean home of surfing, Pizza-Sushi restaurants, and as it would turn out, a world of trouble.
When The Eagles wrote Hotel California, they were actually talking about a small hostel run by an American Vietnam veteran on the outskirts of Arica. We checked in for one night, thinking we would feed Alex another clutch in the morning, buy some jerry cans and head up the altiplano. We were still there 3 days later. It turns out Chileans don’t work on weekends. And they don’t have jerry cans. Or metric bolts. Or water containers. But they do have a lot of money, because they took all of ours.
After the weekend rolled by and we finally found a person to fill up Alex’s bike with clutches, Alex hopped onto Didier’s bike to give it a quick puncture so we could fill up our final day in Arica. Luckily this happened only a few hundred metres from a tyre shop. The tyre man changed the inner tube in a matter of mere decades and with only a massive amount of help from Didier. But that’s OK, because it’s only his entire job to change tyres.
We went to the beach to drink away our sorrows, only to find that the altitude changes had broken the rum bottle so it wouldn’t pour.
The next day, we checked out of Hotel California…