The landscape around the cities of Tacna and Arica, the border between Peru and Chile, looks like the aftermath of a nuclear war (or at least a Mad Max movie).
A single, 30km stretch of road connects the two cities, surrounded by lifeless, brown, sandy earth—not a single plant in sight.
Small buses and taxis charge about the same rate for transport between the towns—expect to pay around S$13 for the crossing (US$4). The Chilean border control is chaotic, time consuming, and intense about their searches for fruits, vegetables, and drugs (lots of dogs).
I rode into Chile in the front of a massive, dilapidated Buick Park Avenue (next to a tall, smelly Chilean man). I've never seen an American-made vehicle quite like this. The diver was changing gears manually (with a clutch), but the shifting mechanism was on the steering column (with absolutely no discernible indicator of gear position). A small key was used to unlock the steering wheel, but a big button was pushed to start the engine—bizarre.
I was surprised by the complete absence of money changers at the bus terminals and immigration checkpoints of both countries—just the like plant life, not a single one in sight. There's a money exchange booth at the international bus terminal in Arica (taking the typical 10%), as well as an ATM.
A single Chilean peso is worth about US$0.002, so I'm once again dealing with some big bills (not unlike Costa Rica)—less than US$2,000 would make you a millionaire.
Arica is one of the driest inhabited places on Earth. The average rainfall here is less than 0.03 inches (0.8mm) per year. I feel like I'm in Frank Herbert's Dune (minus the giant worms, of course). Arica… Arrakis—close enough.
Yesterday I did my standard spidering, city exploration routine. At one point my afternoon of walking found me taking a small hike up El Morro de Arica, a major battle site during the War of the Pacific. A massive part of this coastline use to belong to Peru, until about 150 years ago.
Arica is a port town, and the coastline reflects it. Concrete barriers near the docks preventing shore erosion looking like grey shards from Superman's Fortress of Solitude. I watch as container ships and fishing boats float by while I struggle to find a stretch of sand that passes for a decent beach.
A sandy spot isn't the big problem though—it's Spring in the southern hemisphere, and the temperature isn't exactly fitting for lounging on the beach. Barely 70°F (21°C) out (much colder with the wind), the water is probably frigid enough for orcas to comfortably swim off the coast.
Thinking back over this year, I'm pretty sure that my last nice beach experience (sand, water, etc) was back on the Caribbean island of Anguilla—in March. Nothing really did it for me in Central America, or any of the countries I've visited on this continent (so far). I've definitely been spoiled by memories of southern Thailand and a few places in the Caribbean.
…Well at least there's the US$1.80 bottle of Chilean merlot that I'm enjoying.