Arica to Iquique…How difficult could it be?
To make sure everything went smoothly, we found the bus station and purchased our tickets a few days prior to heading south to Iquique. So when Friday, March 15th, 2013 came, we hauled our luggage down to the Main Street, and got on a city bus that would take us to the Terminal de buses. We sat in the back with our luggage and 2 surfboards as the driver picked up and dropped off people throughout the city. We had planned for plenty of time, so we arrived 45 minutes prior to our bus departure time. We found a couple chairs right in front of the bus-loading zone and waited. When the bus didn’t arrive on time, I sent Abe to check on it with the front desk. The woman told him that the bus had already come and gone. We couldn’t believe it. We never took our eyes off the loading zone. It was a budget bus line, so I thought for sure she was lying and taking us to the bank . After constantly being ripped off throughout South America and the Caribbean, you just start to assume that everyone is dishonest. So I told Abe to buy two more tickets from another bus company for the next available time.
We now had another hour and a half to wait. We we’re getting hungry and the food in the bus station was less than desirable. So Abe left in search of something to eat, while I watched over the luggage. When he returned he looked even more upset then when he left. “What is it,” I asked?” “We just missed the bus…again,” he replied. I said, “What! That’s impossible. It’s not set to leave for another 45 minutes and I have been watching the loading zone.” Abe replies sadly, “I just saw a clock. Its an hour earlier than we thought.” Day light savings had just occurred around the world a week before. But when we looked online it said that Chile wasn’t changing over and the online world clock, our iPhone, computer and ipad all didn’t change. So we assumed the time hadn’t changed. Guilt and devastation swept over us. I felt so bad for blaming the bus lady. Our only option was to return to the original bus company, explain our situation and purchase 2 more fares. We could have gotten a private taxi for the price of all our bus tickets. Another travel lesson learned. Always check a local clock!
After a very quiet and sad 4 hour bus ride we came over the mountain size sand dunes overlooking the isolated beachside city of Iquique. It was like no other city we had seen before. The sand dunes created quite a backdrop to this modern high-rise city. Once we arrived at the bus terminal, we tried to negotiate with the taxi drivers yet again, but no one would budge. We we’re getting tired of paying New York City taxi prices, but we just had to shake it off. We pre-booked a room at Backpackers Hostel Iquique. There weren’t a lot of good places to stay when searching online, but this hostel was a pleasant surprise. We were given a big room and queen bed on the second floor with a deck. The only option was community bathrooms/showers, but it wasn’t an issue. There was a really nice community patio area and kitchen as well. We paid 19,000 clp/night ($40 USD). There was a grocery store only a few blocks up, so we stocked up for the next three days. We returned back to the hostel around 9pm and shared a few stories with other travelers while cooking up some quesadillas. We instantly met some nice Australians and locals. They invited us to join them, but we were too tired from our long day of travel, so we slinked back upstairs.
The next day we walked up and down the boardwalk exploring the coastline. There were many surf breaks, but to Abe’s surprise, the majority of boards in the water were spongers, making him very unmotivated to surf. So instead of our normal active routine, we just chilled out. That night we were rested and ready for some socializing. We bounced from the different groups sharing laughs and beer.
Sunday was our last full day in Iquique, so we decided to make the best of it. Abe grabbed his surfboard and we headed to the water for a day at the beach. After Abe paddled out, a young boy around 13 came over and asked me something. I can understand Spanish pretty well by this point, but the Chilean accent is still the toughest for me to decipher. He kept repeating his question, but I just said, “No entiendo.” (I don’t understand). Frustrated he walked away with his friend, dropped his belongings, and headed towards the surf. Of course at that moment, the Spanish had finally translated in my brain. He had asked me to watch his things! I instantly felt bad and frustrated that I didn’t understand right away. But it was strange. I was the only non-Chilean on the beach and he only asked me. Why did I, a blonde American girl look more trustworthy than the many families around me? So I felt somewhat obligated and watched what they left behind from where I was sitting, just in case.
That night, we cooked dinner at the hostel and hung out with the other travelers. Everyone was heading to a nightclub, so we decided to live it up and join them. We loaded two taxi’s and headed off around midnight. It took about 30-40 minutes to arrive at this desert surrounded venue in the middle of nowhere. We both felt a bit uneasy about being so far from the city, but we just had to trust the locals that brought us there. We were also promised an entry fee discount and free drinks, since they wanted $20 to get in. However, once we got up to the window, this wasn’t the case. Abe and a few other travelers had to do a lot of negotiating. Once we got in, they still refused to honor the drinks, so they kept negotiating. Now for those of you that know me well, I love to dance! We hadn’t been out dancing since the coast of Ecuador (beginning of November). So I hit the dance floor and left the boys to haggle it out. Eventually, I jumped back in to help negotiate with the manager and he gave us a few beers. Unfortunately, this ruined Abe’s night and he wanted nothing to do with this place. Generally, I would agree with him, but I was beyond elated to be dancing. So I stayed on the dance floor with the biggest smile on my face ignoring my pissed off husband. A young female traveler from our hostel that didn’t speak any English must have found me to be safe because she followed me around and joined me dancing all night even though we never exchanged words. Eventually, I felt bad enough for Abe, and I said lets go. We said by to the others and hailed down a taxi back to the hostel around 4am.
The next morning we packed up our luggage and headed down to the patio to checkout. There we found 2 of the 6 Australians we had met the day we arrived. Their faces showed utter devastation. They told us not long after we left the club 4 of their friends/brother got jumped (beat up) by locals and ended up in jail. They were trying to get an expedited hearing since they were set to fly back to Australia the next day. We gave our condolences and wished them luck. We still have no idea what ended up happening to them, but sure glad we left that seedy nightclub when we did!
The hostel called us a taxi and off we went to the Iquique airport, located on the far south side of the city. Our flight was set to leave at 1pm, arriving in Santiago at 3:20pm and departing for Buenos Aires, Argentina at 5:05pm on Lan Airlines. We we’re able to bypass the reciprocity fee when we crossed overland to Patagonia, Argentina from Chile on January 6th, but the law changed on January 7th and we had no option, but to pay the $165 fee to get back into Argentina. So instead of busing it across again, we splurged and flew straight to BA! It didn’t matter, we were about to see one of our bestie’s from home, Mikey Gomez and his friend Ernie for two weeks of fun!