Here we are. After the Machu Picchu and the highest plateaus of Bolivia, Isla Del Sol and the cliffs of the Death Road, our journey goes to an end. We just have a few days left to finish our loop and get back to Lima to leave. Heading South, last hours.
But it’s not the end yet. I still have 5 days before flying back, and Lima is still 932 miles away, in a straight line.
Last episode… this is the perfect occasion to look at the map form a certain distance and see how much we’ve traveled so far, and what we still have to cross…
And if you zoom out a bit, you can have an idea of the distance we’ve traveled compared to the size of the continent. Not so bad for a first journey there…
June 7, 2012,
Arriving in Chile. San Pedro de Atacama
We enter Chile around 11 a.m.
San Pedro de Atacama is only 30 miles away from the border, but in our little bus, and with the stop at the control post, it will take more than an hour to get there.
The change between Bolivia and Chile is pretty rude: from the rusty cars to the luxurious ones, from the dusty roads to the ones that look like they’ve been made the day before… the shock is pretty strong. From Bolivia, one of the poorest countries in South America, to Chile, one of the richest ones, the physical border is thin but the gap is huge.
When we entered Bolivia several days ago, we just had to get a stamp in our passport. No extra control. Here, the woman in charge of letting me go through the control is into her job that she checks three times the color of my eyes (“blue” in my passport and in life, but she really pay attention to that), and scratches the photo to confirm it’s really under the protective and official tape. Our bags are scanned, the bus is inspected, and we finally leave. It may be a road control, but in Chile, it’s taken seriously…
Direction San Pedro de Atacama!
San Pedro de Atacama, GPS : -22.9102, -68.1987
We finally arrive, and discover a really simple and beautiful city. Dirt roads, white houses just on a single floor… even if the city knew an important development during the last 10 days thanks to tourism, it managed to keep its small-town-charm.
We have a few hours to spend here, as the city is just a transit point for us, between Bolivia and Peru, 342 miles to the North.
A first travel agency, a second one, and we book our bus ticket to reach Arica, last city before the border. We have now the whole afternoon to discover the place (5 hours exactly)!
We get to a little restaurant, have a nice local beer and we walk in the city, to finally sit in a café on the main square… guess its name: Plaza de Armas.
There is WiFi here, I take my chance to call my parents on Skype. Even with all the adventures we live now, I have not to forget that today, it’s my dad’s birthday! A call, from Chile, having a beer. I know he liked it .
We finish visiting, and go to a restaurant for dinner. Back to the bus station, and we’re getting ready for a very long night: we leave at 8 p.m., and we’ll get to Arica tomorrow morning, after a 12-hours trip. Outch.
Anyway, it’s time to leave!
Leaving San Pedro de Atacama, the most Southern point of our journey. From now on, we’re going back up North!
June 8, 2012,
Back to Peru. Arequipa
I won’t give you the details of the hours spent in the bus. Nothing interesting, not even the movie with Jason-boom-boom-patatrac-pouf-Statam, which has been aired twice, in case somebody fell asleep and missed some parts of it…
After 476 miles (of a very nice trip, we’re far away now from the dusty roads and potholes of the road form La Paz to Uyuni), we reach Arica, of which we’ll see… just the bus station. We are now 248 miles away from Arequipa, our next stop.
Arica, GPS : -18.484, -70.313
Arica, the bus station where some security guy tells you every 10 minutes to keep your eyes on your bags, and the place where my GPS tracker disappeared from my belt… Nice city! Nice waking up!
Thankfully, Julien and JB quickly found a way to get to Peru. And it’s gonna be another adventure : there’s no bus to cross the border. You need to get a taxi, drive to the border, 12 miles away, cross, and then drive to Tacna, the first city in Peru, 22 miles farther.
Of course, we end up being 6 sitting in a small car. Maximum profits.
We get to the border. We wait a bit, get the stamp, have the bags scanned, and we are now in Peru again.
“Peru, hi! We’re back!”
A little stop at Tacna, lunch in the bus stop. 30 minutes to wait until we leave are enough to meet an Peruvian old man, who starts speaking French, and tells me his life in Marseille, Lyon… Interesting and amazing to see how, 6,000 miles away from locations we have in common, people can meet, randomly, in an empty bus station in a small town. Moment, place, circumstance.
Tacna, GPS : -18.0182, -70.2509
Another bus, another 8-hours trip.
We get to Arequipa around 4 p.m.. The Sun is slowly setting down. From here, same story: get the bags, find a taxi to get to the center (or the Plaza de Armas), find a place for the night.
• Bags OK. We even take time to book the bus for tomorrow.
• Taxi which drives in the traffic jam near the bus station.
• “Hostal Le Foyer”. Little Skype with my girlfriend • Night visit of the Plaza de Armas, discovering the city by night, having mojitos in a little bar of the Paseo de la Catedral.
11 p.m., everybody’s in bed. 20 hours of bus in the day, it’s exhausting.
June 9, 2012,
Discovering Arequipa. Monasterio Santa Catalina. On the way to Lima
Arequipa, GPS : -16.3992, -71.5367
Up at 8 a.m.. I think my body got used to wake up early, no matter how tired it is.
Breakfast on the long balcony of the hostal, over the street. It’s sunny, warm and we need to get our sunglasses to eat like tourists .
We walk along the merchant streets, across the little squares… Arequipa is one of a city. At 7,546 ft above sea level, at the bottom of snowy-top volcano El Misti. Second most important city in Peru, with a rich past and an historical center in the “World Cultural Heritage” of the UNESCO since 2000. Its white buildings, made of sillar, a volcanic rock with a white/pearl color, gave the city the unique name of “La Ciudad Blanca” (“The White City”). An amazingly beautiful city.
Then we enter the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, one of the places you can’t miss in Arequipa. Covering an entire block, with a surface area of 2 hectares, hidden behind tall walls, the Monastery is a real citadel. Its inner streets look like a maze, its neighborhoods have different colors… a really beautiful and cultural episode.
Built in 1579, this monastery, at first, only accepted rich Spanish women, who were given servants and slaves. It had been then reformed in 1871 by a nun sent by the Pope himself, who sent the rich ones back to Europe, keeping only the ones who really wanted to stay and become nuns. This place has a really unique story.
After an hour visiting, we get back to the city, and it’s time to eat. The guys pick a bar/pub which has TVs, because the Euro 2012 is occurring in Europe now… Soccer… Ah… I eat and go out to visit a bit more.
It’s then time to meet again at the hostal, gather our stuff, find a taxi (that part is easy), and we’re back at the bus station, to catch the 4 p.m.-bus to Lima. Almost 24 hours in the same city, a new record!
Next stop: terminus, end of the journey at Lima, still over 621 miles and almost 16 hours of bus away…
June 10, 2012,
The end of the journey
Lima, GPS : -12.0480, -77.0622
Good timing, we get to Lima around 8 a.m.
Strange feeling. I’ve already been there, but I see its building for the first time. The loop started in Lima and will end here. End of the travel. But not end of the journey, I still have two days here, I kept some time to rest and discover the place.
And what a strange feeling! I feel like I already know this city. Maybe because of each city we’ve been in, it’s the one that looks the most European. The Spanish influence has been really strong here.
I go look for a hostal with Jean-Baptiste, Julien take a taxi to the airport to check his stuff in, he’ll be the first one to leave.
We find a room in Miraflores, the touristic and hype neighborhood of the capital city.
We then go to the center, to the Plaza de Armas, where we have to meet with Julien again, in front of the big Cathedral.
After two weeks walking to discover amazing places, having to use the Metropolitan (kind of a metro-bus) is a bit disturbing. But between a small town in the countryside and here, the distances are not the same.
We get to the main square with JB. Nervous laugh. It won’t be that easy to find Julien. Today, people are celebrating Santa Rosa de Lima. She’s a Saint, born in Lima, considered as the first Saint of the New World. “For eleven years her self-martyrdom continued without relaxation, with intervals of ecstasy, until she died on August 24, 1617, at the age of 31, having prophesied the date of her death exactly”. A real honor is given to her here, the city she was born in, and the main square has turned into a flower field and a big crowd is here, full of faith and good mood.
We have breakfast and we finally meet Julien.
We walk around, in the little streets, between the small restaurants and the local stores, and decide to get our heads in the “Road of the Pisco Sour”. The Pisco Sour is a cocktail, really famous in South America, with many variations, made of Pisco (an alcohol extracted from grape, kind of grappa, but from Peru), of ice, lime, white egg and Angostura.
We start in the bar of an amazing hotel, the Gran Hotel Bolivar, which was considered for a long time as the most luxurious hotel is South America. Mick Jagger drinks his Pisco Sour here, so they say.
We continue our visit, walk a few kilometers and then stop and sit at El Cordano, an institution that have been here for over 100 years and which served every President of Peru since its opening (the Presidential Palace is just across the street , it’s almost like the local bar).
Pisco Sour, card games… the afternoon goes fast and at 5 p.m., Julien leaves us to go to the airport.
We go back to the hostal, tonight, we have a barbecue dinner on the roof .
June 11 2012,
The end of festivities
Up at 7 a.m., after a short but good night. Breakfast on the terrace on the roof, under the sun, with my laptop, Skyping and reading the news. I realize that a lot happened while we were traveling, in our own little world. Back to reality, but slowly and softly.
JB stays once again to watch soccer on TV, and for me, it’s gonna be presents and postcards day.
My luggages will be full of gifts made of Alpaga, after all, it’s one good product and it’s from here! Postcards, them, will be in limited number. The postcards are not expensive, but the stamps are 8 Bs. each (~ $ 3 / 2.40 €), the price of a wool hat or almost a lunch in a local restaurant…
The afternoon goes, and at 4 p.m., it’s JB’s turn to take his bags and get to the airport.
Same feeling that I felt when Julien left yesterday. We know each other for 8 years now, and even if we meet once a year, the happiness and the good times come back quickly. Saying goodbye to good friends always gives me a strange feeling.
Anyway, I’m the last one here. After Sophie, who left when we were in Cusco, Lisa, when we were in La Paz, Julien yesterday and Jean-Baptiste today, I feel like I’m the last adventurer of our group, at least for still a few hours.
Last time in the city after sunset. I buy another bag, because as usual, I get many presents, more than my bags can carry. Another 80 liters bags is not too much…
Back to the hostal. Packing.
I go out to find something to eat. I walk by the Central Park of Miraflores, and there, coming from not far from me, I hear a light music, in the John F. Kennedy park. A little girl is standing here, next her parents, and is playing with a little plastic toy, kind of a xylophone. Nice melody. She tells her parents she’s playing a “song for the cats”. I look at her, and following her eyes, discover the scene: in the middle of the park, two persons are sitting on the grass at the bottom of a tree, and have put small bowls full of food around them. Some cats are here, eating, calmly. Nobody moves, everyone is calm, almost frozen. I have time to count them. 28. 28 cats, sitting in a park, eating, in something that looks like a perfect harmony. This moment of peace, out of time, is really magical. The little girl keeps playing her “song”.
I finally find a restaurant. Dinner, little walk, back to the hostal for the last time. In bed at midnight.
June 12, 2012,
Last moments of the journey, last hours in Peru.
3 a.m., my alarm goes off. I feared that moment, but I feel good, rested.
3:18 a.m., I open my eyes again, get out of bed, run to shower and get my bags.
3:30 a.m., my taxi is here. Last travel in Lima. It’s still dark, but the air is warm and the windows are open. We take the road by the Ocean. I can’t see it, but I can hear it and feel it.
4:15 a.m., the bags are checked in.
6:27 a.m., the hostess calls rows 20 to 33 to get on board. 22B, it’s my turn.
7 a.m., take-off.
Heading South. Peru, Bolivia, Chile. End.
Next stop: PTY – Tocumen International Airport (Panama City).