The Atacama Desert is the driest place on Earth. It also happens to be the home of the oldest mummies in the world. But I went there for a completely different reason: my Spanish teacher in Missouri was Chilean and her sister put me up for a couple of weeks.
Maria, my Spanish teacher was super enthusiastic about Chile. She kept bringing in maps and told us stories about the country and its people. She reminded me of a friend of mine and one day after class I went to speak with her. I asked if she could help me find a place to stay in Chile for the summer.
The Atacama Desert – My New Home
Turned out her sister was quite high up in Chilean society and she offered to put me up. They had their own swimming pool, servants and her husband ran a trucking business. She let me stay at her house while I was looking for a room to rent for the next three months.
My term ended in Missouri in May 2008 and I needed to get to Miami for the 3 June. I decided to was to visit Chicago, Washington DC and Miami before flying out to Chile. By then I was quite familiar with Chicago so I set off on the Capitol Limited to DC.
Washington is simply amazing. It has some of the most spectacular national historic monuments and is spotlessly clean. I won’t go into too much detail here – I have published a separate post about it already. From DC I headed down to Miami for a couple of weeks. Here I caught a plane to Lima, Peru.
Arriving in Peru
In Lima I got a taxi into town. I told the driver to take me to the long distance bus station. It turned out there were two and I needed the other one! After some argument he promised to take me to the other place.
Instead of driving there direct he went around the back streets. I was slightly worried but when we finally stopped I knew what was going on. He was hungry and wanted to have breakfast! He took me to his local eatery somewhere in the slums. By then I was starving too and I joined in. I ended up inviting him for breakfast and thanked him for the experience. He then dropped me off at the bus terminal and helped me buy the ticket. What an amazing enterprise!
The Long Distance Terminal
Lima is not exactly a nice place. I had the misfortune to visit it a few more times and I never fell in love! It is terribly filthy, the roads are clogged and just doesn’t feel safe.
However, the bus terminal was clean and everyone I met was very friendly, so I cannot complain. I only needed to wait a few hours for the overnight to Tacna near the Chilean border. Since I had my bus ticket and I had a big bag I decided to just wait it out.
The Overnight Bus to Tacna
Tacna is a border town just north of Peru. Dentists and doctors as well as everything else is half-price compared to Chile. It’s like going from Germany to Poland to do your weekly shopping. The image on the left looks a bit out of place but this is the local Mosque in Tacna.
The double decker bus to Tacna was amazing. It was the first time I traveled on a long distance bus and I loved it. They served food, the seats reclined and there was a TV. I arrived in Tacna in the morning and luckily the international taxi station was just next door.
They call these services the “collectivos” which literally means collective travel. The taxi driver collects passengers and only leaves when it is completely full. A single journey cost about 2,000-3,000 Chilean pesos, about £2-3 or $3-4.
The journey to Arica took about an hour with the border crossing included. When I arrived, Maria’s brother in law waited for me and we went home to their villa.
Vera was super friendly and gave me her son’s bedroom. He was studying law in Santiago at the time. She also helped me learn Spanish and to look for a room in Arica.
As another coincidence, it turned out that her cousin’s half-sister rented rooms on the beach! She introduced me to Totón and Javier the following week. Their villa on the beach was breath taking. The views were fabulous and I had my own stairs to the room.
The room wasn’t anything amazing but I loved it. I had my own beach views, TV and a cupboard and a single bed. I could come and go any time I liked and soon we became very good friends. Totón, the landlady rented rooms to foreign students and from time to time we all had dinner together. After a while Totón’s boyfriend, who was a fertilizer dealer, offered to take me on a road trip – but that is for another story!
If you enjoyed this post and want to read a similar story, scroll down to see the related posts section.
If you enjoyed this post and want to read a similar story, scroll down to see the related posts section. You might also want to watch some of my other videos on Youtube.