We stood in line in the long queue for the third time; this time we got there before the sun came out in the vain attempt to get there before the crowds were up and about; unfortunately the borders don't work like the surf spots in Chile. After weeks of stress and sleepless nights about the bikes, we knew we had all the documentation we were possibly going to get and this was our last chance to get out of Chile and into Peru with the bikes. We had tried a few weeks ago, in fact, the day we got to Arica, Ross from Hostel Sunny Days encouraged us to give it a go that afternoon. With the documents we had, we couldn't cross the Chilean Aduana (customs) window. We knew we needed our Padron, an ownership card.
We had logged the transfer of the bikes some time ago but the process takes time; like everything in Latin America it seems. Meeting at 8 o'clock means meeting at 9 o'clock, in the same way that the 27th of January actually means the 9th of February. Lots of days in Arica we would go to the Registro Civil, get into the queue and request that they check on the system to see if the ownership of the bikes had been transferred to us yet. What we hoped would be days in Arica turned into weeks. We managed to leave a lot of our stuff at a Hostel in the store room and then we would ride to a beach a couple of miles out of town and set up camp amongst the local families for the night. Every few days we would book into the hostel for a night for a shower, wifi and to recharge the batteries and sort ourselves out. This worked out pretty well as we managed to save a fair bit of money.
Arica turned out to be a pretty cool city, there were a few good waves but nothing quite classic. There is the famous El Gringo that is a hollow, shallow, menacing tube that breaks really close to the reef. It's cool to watch but for a 'surf city', the most surfers we ever saw out there were one or two hell-men at a time. Around the corner was a less gnarly point break, La Isla. I surfed this wave a lot but it was pretty competitive and local and very strange. Only the North swell sets would break wide enough of the reef to surf properly and they would break really strangely, kind of bend around a corner as they hit the reef. I had about 3 waves and 3 dings in total. Not the best but the locals had it dialled and it was cool to watch and shoot them. Las Machas, the beach break, gave us a couple of fun sessions but nothing classic unfortunately. La Puntilla on the other hand was a perfect longboarding wave, waist high sets rolling down the boulder reef with turtles bobbing up all around you for maybe 3-400 metres. Like Malibu in reverse. The only problem was we don't have longboards. We had a little arrangement where we borrowed some from a local dude for a bit, it didn't last. We'll tell you that story over a beer one day.
We went into the mountains on the day we found out it would be at least another week for the Padron document. We loaded up minimal camp and camera gear and headed East towards the Bolivian border to a village at about 3,700m called Tignamar where there was a big festival of the ancestral villages. We got there a day before it started and rode through the village to the greenery at the side of the dry riverbed where we found a perfect camping spot. The scenery on the way up to the village was stunning. We had been in the desert way too long and to get up to some more green and leafy terrain and into the dramatic mountain landscapes was amazing. We had a cold night in the tent as we don't really have anything warm with us and didn't think to take whatever warm stuff we had. The next morning the camp felt super secure so we left the tent up with our stuff in it (I took my camera bag and valuables obviously) and walked up to the village for breakfast. The only people we saw near to our camo spot were the locals who were slaughtering goats on the big tree about 100m away from the tent. Apart from the fact they were slaughtering and butchering goats they had hanging with chains from a tree, and were covered in blood and guts, they were nice dudes. The altitude made me feel short of breath but the air was so clean and fresh. It was amazing to be in a place that felt so honest and pre-occupied with it's celebrations that we felt so safe. That day and night we hung out at the festival and listened to local music and checked out all the cool costumes and dances. We didn't get a lot of sleep that night, it was pretty cold and the party didn't stop until about 6am.
The next day we asked around to see if there was petrol in another town a couple of hours North called Putre, it turns out there was so we decided to head up there and do some exploring. Again, the scenery was incredible, endless mountains in every direction. We rolled into Putre and stopped at a hotel, it was pretty expensive so we asked if there was a cheaper option, it was too cold to camp a third night. The guy pointed in the direction of a friends place, we got there and there was a clean little room with a bathroom for pretty cheap (for Chile). The whole family were super friendly and swapped out the single bed for a double for us. We got some food at an awesome and cheap little restaurant that was really good and got an early night to catch up on lost sleep.
The next day we rode even further North East, towards the border and up to nearly 5,000m. It was cold on the road in the morning so we took the road to the Hot Springs we had promised ourselves we would visit later. The smaller, natural pools, were too hot to use but the main pool was perfect and we hung out there and swam around until our bones were finally warm after 3 days of cold. We were the only ones there in the little fold of the mountains and it was pretty special. Back on the bikes and we headed to Lago Chungara, a lake at about 4,700m. We passed Llamas and Vicuñas which seemed fitting in the landscape but unfortunately didn't see any Condors. The landscape became more and more dramatic with the weather hanging from the peaks until we hit the Antiplano where it flattened out and only a few peaks stood out, the huge volcano Parinacota dominated the landscape with snow on top. We got the lake and trekked down to get a closer look at the Flamingos which was cool. On the ride back we stopped at the hot springs again to warm up. That night it rained, the first bit of real rain we have felt in over 3 months. We woke up to the peak visible from the door of the room now covered in snow.
By the time we got back to Arica there was a good run of swell so the last few days, although tense and stressful waiting for the Padron, we had a couple of good surfs and I managed to sell some photos. We also bumped into some friends from Iquique that we wished we had said goodbye to.
The day the Padron came, the guy in the Registro Civil was such an awkward bastard. We were firm and got the paper in the end though which was such a relief, Sally's had come on the Friday and mine 'wasn't ready' until the Monday. The next day early we hit the road and were allowed past the border, we couldn't believe it after all this time but as we rode past the signs welcoming us into Peru, we were happy to be somewhere new and heading North for the good swells.
We rode straight through Tacna, it was chaos! Immediately, Peru felt different to Chile, more what we had imagined of South America. We rode through yet more endless desert until we passed a funny looking motorbike way over-loaded with stuff and people, I was sure it was the same German brothers from the start of the trip so I pulled over. Sure enough, Dumb and Dumber style, they came wobbling back up the road! They'd been all over and were going back to Chile to give the bike to a guy they'd met as a present. Cool kids!
A couple of hours later and we were in the beautiful chaos of Moquegua. More like Morocco than Chile with it's street food, market stalls, crazy taxis, colours and smells. We found a hostel and the first one we stopped at was the same price for a private room and bathroom than it was for one bed in a dorm in Chile. The next morning we got up early and travelled a few hours North to Arequipa, a big city that loads of people recommended. Driving through the streets with minimal GPS maps was a challenge to say the least, the cars and taxi's are 'assertive' to say the least but we found a nice hostel after an hour or boiling hot stressful riding. We found a veggie restaurant and ate a four course meal of great food for £6 with a drink...thats more like it. The city wasn't really a welcome break for us. We had set a point on the map nearly 1,000km North of the Chilean border we wanted to get to as quickly as possible, we had spent so much time in Chile that we needed to make some calls about where we wanted to spend our time along the way. Navigating into and out of a big City is a lot of time for not a lot of miles. The next day we really got our heads down and covered over 400km; that is the longest day we have done so far on the trip. We have two more days of riding until we are at the waves and we are exhausted but to make such a dent on a country this big was always going to be a challenge. The roads aren't busy but as you wind through the mountains on the single carriages, it is not uncommon to see the truck in front of you cut the blind corner on the cliff tops or overtake on blind summits. We both approach every corner with our little horns on full blast.
In contrast to Chile which had unimaginable gaps of just nothing, 4-5 hours with not so much as a bottle of water to buy and certainly no petrol, Peru has more to see along the way, more little towns and settlements. There is more fuel, more food, more colour and more people. I'm going to put it out there (and I am sorry to all of our Chilean friends) but it seems to have a bit more soul it's less in awe of the American dream and seems more comfortable with itself, it's chaos and its roots.
Here are some photos from the end of Chile and start of Peru and a video from the mountains called Alto Viejo. The videos better on HD from Vimeo if you click through.
Nos Vemos x