I was just about to work on writing a new blog post, when I realized that I had forgotten to upload the last post I wrote. That leaves nearly a month long gap. For now, here’s Puno and Southern Peru. At the moment on I’m working on catching up to Santiago de Chile, where I am for the next couple of days.
Haven’t posted since Puno. There’s both a lot to say, and nothing to say about Puno. I’m not sure which details are incredibly boring, and which are genuinely interesting, but I’m leaning towards omitting the rest of Puno save a few exploits.
The last several days we were in Puno, I bought a hotel room for $8USD a night in town. I had to work on the new cell phone one of those nights, and needed wifi. The other night I just wanted something different, and $8 dollars is the same price as the cheapest lunch you can find in Fairbanks. The day the phone came in, I went and bought the best things you can buy in Puno for dinner: french fries, olive paste, avocadoes, salt, bread, a candy bar, some street cart desserts and a couple of bottles of soda. I got back to the hotel and turned on the TV to Forrest Gump dubbed in Spanish, opened my computer and ate dinner using a $.40 spoon. I’m pretty sure the lady screwed me on the price, because spoons are five for a dollar at Walmart, and don’t have edges so sharp they double as knives. It was like the design for KFC’s other utensil that they threw out in favor of the Spork due to safety issues.
The last day in Puno, I went into the city to buy a couple of last minute things: choclo seeds, half a litre of prescription strength mouthwash and some cavies for the people who owned the gas station that we stayed at. In between buying seeds and mouthwash, someone started following me so I had to hail a cab for the next street over. After walking through the market for forty minutes, and asking upwards of a dozen people, I located the ‘cuy’ aisle. Directions here are terrible, people say ‘up and to the left’ or, ‘down and to the right’ and you’re supposed triangulate from that, or find another person until you zero-in on it by taking so many up/downs and right/lefts. It’s like the orienteering version of twenty questions. Cuyes go for S/10, or 4USD, and all of them had far more toes than they were supposed to. A cavy should have fourteen. One of the ones that I bought had twenty three. There was also a cage of incredibly cute, cartoon-looking animals called ‘capas’, sort of like if you engineered a cuter guinea pig. They were S/12, so I decided to buy one after the lady told me you eat them as well. During this process, looking at different cavies, asking questions, an old cholita woman walked up, bought a capa, had it stuffed in a form fitting mesh tomatillo bag, then walked away with it tied to her belt. I bought two cavies and a capa after scraping together all of my change, leaving just enough for a combi ride back.
We camped that night on the altiplano. I do not like the altiplano. It’s great during the day, but at night it’s utterly black, cold and isolated. Also, most food doesn’t cook at 14,000 feet. The next day we climbed to over 15,000 feet on a pass that over looked two valleys, one being desert and the other wet plains. There was also a lightning storm on the one end of the valley, but it was still sunny. Overall, a very impressive view that can’t really be captured. Then the long descent into the desert. We stayed in Monquegua the next two nights, then spent one more night in Peru at an abandoned border station.
That, happened to be one of the most interesting nights yet, as I’m nearly certain people were smuggling stuff into Chile all night long. They kept running out of the desert, across the parking lot, dressed in all black with huge sacks to cars that would be hidden, idling, with their lights off, then drive away into the night. Every couple of minutes, a car would speed through the abandoned complex with its lights off. A couple of them kept coming back, an early 2000s all-black sedan, an old VW van with a bad motor and a generic 90s model car. The cops pulled a couple of times and everyone split.
The next day Chilean customs took forever. They had to search our whole car and trailer with a dog, which was better than putting everything we owned through an x-ray machine.
Chile is a developed nation. There’s not burning trash along the highways, or even trash at all for that matter. You can drink the water, and people drive on the right sides of the roads. The houses and buildings are finished, and look like they would withstand an earthquake thanks to building codes. There’s Walmart, under the moniker of Hiper Lider, and everyone owns cars. It’s actually quite nice, and everything seems to be of quality—no surprise anise cakes or syrupy bread filled with small rocks. It’s also expensive, in Peru it was half to a quarter of the price of the United States, sometimes less. In Chile, it’s about the same price as Florida, sometimes more far more in places like Arica. Still, the trade-off is worth it at the moment.
We spent a few days in Arica on the beach, and then drove to San Pedro de Atacama. San Pedro was a giant scam, prices were incredible, and everything about it was lackluster and expensive. Nothing compared to Peru. Some $16USD for lunch without drinks, more than $3USD a kilo for bread, and $19USD for a jar of Nutella. After spending too much time there, debating whether to cross the mountains to Argentina, we left for Calama and spent the night there. We had meant to do an open pit mine tour, but we got there on the Thursday night before Good Friday, and everything was shut. Considering the tour looked mediocre, we left after stocking up at Walmart (which was considerably cheaper than Arica, and had all the things that a Walmart should, the first time since Florida).
That was earlier today, and we’re outside of Antofagasta in La Negra, a city that exists solely because Antofagasta is 2000 feet and 10 miles down on the coast via a narrow, winding, road. To avoid hauling everything for the mines back up the hill, La Negra was built. I’m not sure anyone actually lives here save an old guy in a broken-down bus on the south end of town who sells sodas and two massive lithium refineries.