Imagine a narrow strip of North America running from Mexico to Alaska, then brighten all the colours and make the country fairy tale beautiful, and you will be imagining Chile. Crossing the border took a while, because the pace was relaxed. No crowds, lots of smiles. The biggest smiles were ours. We were so happy to be in Chile.
We drove into Arica. Arica is a pretty town about the size of Nanaimo, where many of the residents have never seen rain. A morning mist off the ocean brings moisture to the soil and the dunes behind the town, so that there is plenty of water for the gardens.
We have been to Arica before, so it is familiar territory. We have stayed at the Arica Hotel, right on the beach and the nicest in town so we headed there. It was Christmas Eve and we arrived without a reservation. They did not have a dog friendly room available but encouraged us to camp in their parking lot beside the beach. We set up next to the tennis courts and welcomed in Christmas with the noise of the surf and the birds. For the next two days we relaxed in one of their cabanas: a separate little cabin with its own little patio, and then it was back to the parking lot for a night before traveling on.
Our air conditioning quit. Although that doesn’t seem to be a hardship to Canadians in winter, the temperatures can get extreme in the desert and the dog suffers from the heat. The humans fare better but aren’t as happy as they’d like to be. Bill tried to get the problem fixed in Arica, but the Toyota shop didn’t have the parts.
We set out through the desert. This area is noted for geoglyphs, huge outlines of figures or patterns made on hillsides by clearing the rocks to expose lighter soil underneath. Some represent llamas, or birds, or people. A guide in Arica told us that they were basically the billboards of ancient people, advertising to travellers that various products and services were available nearby.
When the exterior air temperature neared 100 degrees F, we made a right turn for the coast, heading to what was advertised as a vast quiet beach with camping available. The temperature was a perfect 73 degrees, but the beach was far from empty. The Christmas week is the first week of summer in Chile, and everyone had headed to the beach. The village nearby was composed of really nice summer homes but there were no hotels, so we joined the throngs on the beach. With the overwhelming noise of surf and birds, and the length of the beach, we didn’t feel crowded at all.
The beaches go on forever, sand, surf and rocks. Next night was another empty beach (this time it really was) in a park. The cactus growing along the dunes were blackened, and at first we thought they had been burned. It seems that it is their natural colour. Guanaco tracks were everywhere, but we didn’t see any.
The temperature of the water is much cooler in Peru and Chile thanks to the Humboldt Current which keeps the coastal air temperature cooler than you might expect at the Tropic of Capricorn. We crossed the Tropic near Antofogasta, stopped to get our air conditioning looked at but were told there are no parts for our air conditioning in South America, so we traveled on. They did recharge the system and said it might work for a while – just keep recharging.
Maybe it is because of the Scottish heritage, but Nancy is superstitious about New Years. How you spend New Year’s Eve is how you will spend the year. So she cleans the house, tidies the finances, stocks up on food and completes projects. This year, as it got later and later on New Year’s Eve, we had no place to stay. We had detoured into a tourist town that promised all sorts of accommodation. The lovely wood, glass and stone cabanas on the outside of town were full. We were directed to the only place in town that might have a room. It didn’t have a sign and the gate was locked, so Nancy asked a neighbour if this was the right place. The neighbour, who was either a brick short or a drink over, started banging on the wrought iron gate with a piece of intricate wrought iron that he had in a plastic bag, while yelling `Halo`. He banged and yelled every few seconds, and continued to bang and yell without stopping for about 5 minutes. Nancy retreated, but eventually the neighbour was rewarded. He called Nancy over, and she saw a worried looking woman peering through another gate on the property. The woman was a guest at the hotel. She called out that the owner was not there, he was off celebrating, and she could not let us in. We stopped at the local love hotel. It was a bit of a dump, but empty. It was closed. (No romance happens on New Year’s Eve?)
We drove on prepared to sleep anywhere, and eventually came across a sign that said Cabanas and Camping. We pulled in to a really unlikely small place in the countryside, greeted by the contagious smile of the owner. He rented us his cabana, and we cooked dinner at a picnic table. Two little boys ran up to say “Hello”. It was their only word of English. Capi joined their dogs and the family on their porch. The daughter drove in to spend the night, much to everyone’s delight. She looked like she had moved to the city. She brought us slices of apricot layer cake for dessert, and later, a dozen fresh ripe figs.
So, if Nancy’s superstition is true, we will spend the rest of the year grateful for the kindness of strangers, and appreciative of all that we have. And eating cake and figs. We are so spoiled.