Saturday, March 19, 2011

Iquique - Northern Chile

After 4 days in the Bolivian desert, in accommodation that would struggle to be called basic, and with food that I never want to see the likes of again, I was happy to be heading to my next destination. Iquique on the coast of Northern Chile. A surfside beach town that promised some well needed r&r.

It's funny how you end up in places when you travel. When I left the UK I really did not have a plan. I made a bit of a joke about it, but I literally had the first 6 days planned, all in Buenos Aires. After that I had no idea where I would go and end up. Some of my destinations came from browsing my Lonely Planet, but many, as was the case with Iquique came from chatting to other travellers in the hostels.

I knew of one place in Chile before I came to South America, and that was the capital, Santiago de Chile. However, chatting to travellers is an invaluable resource and through this I discovered the identity of towns in Northern Chile such as San Pedro de Atacama (see previous post) and Iquique. A place that I was looking forward to for weeks whilst on the road. Beach time!

Getting there wasn't very relaxing. I had a 8.30pm night bus for 2 hours and then I needed to wait an hour before changing to a 6 hour overnight bus. I eventually rolled into the bus station at Iquique at the ungodly hour of 5:30am. Tired and grumpy, the taxi driver picked the wrong man to try and rip off that morning. He was all nice and friendly in the cab, jabbering away in Spanish, but on arrival at the hostel he tried to charge me way over the odds for what was a very short cab ride. What followed was a quite heated argument, me in broken Spanish telling him that I wasn't born yesterday, or words to that effect. And that he could sing for his $4000 pesos. Again, I didn't use those exact words but I did babble something in Spanish whilst raising my voice for effect. And I told him that he was getting $3000, no more. I firmly gave him the money, thanked him for his services and went into the hostel, leaving him muttering to himself on the side of the road.

Arriving in a new place at 5:30am is never good but it makes such a difference when you get a friendly welcome as I did at the Hostal La Casona. Granted, it was a welcome all in Spanish but between us we managed to determine that my room wouldn't be ready until much later, but I could have a blanket and sleep in the lounge. An offer I gratefully accepted. La Casona turned out to be a great hostel. A few blocks from an amazing beach. A fantastic supermarket almost on the doorstep. And great areas to sit in the sun and chill with a beer (or 2).

Iquique was the place that I did my parapenting. My first time and what a great experience. Taken high up in the hills surrounding Iquique to the spot where I would take a running jump off a cliff. Thankfully strapped to a chap who did this for a living. As it turned out he had been doing it for 11 years so I was greatly comforted. The experience was amazing as we caught the warm thermals and glided high above the city, climbing higher and higher. The flight lasted about 30 minutes and was so peaceful with amazing views and on the way down we drifted over high rise apartment blocks before softly landing on the beach. Amazing.

My four days in Iquique passed very quickly. Despite it being a small town I never felt that I needed to find something to fill my time with. Sat in a hammock drinking beer, reading my book in the sun, or just munching quality empanadas on the beach, the time I spent there was a real tonic. And just what I needed as I faced into my next challenge. Getting into Peru and negotiating another overland border crossing. Thankfully it would be my last as I am flying from Peru into Bogota due to the massive distance between the two countries.

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