XLII. Back to Arica, then back to Arequipa:
After a sleepless night, I guess one can’t accurately begin, “We awakened early . . .” But we get the hell out of bed as soon as it’s remotely likely that the proprietors will be awake to take our money, perhaps feed us, and open the gate so we can drive away. And we don’t much care about the feeding part.
We do eat some breakfast, almost entirely in silence, and are quickly on the road. The white peaks looming over Putre are still in shadow. It’s a beautiful morning, and within minutes it gets more beautiful. We come around a curve and find this fellow perched on a hill just above us on the right:
I quickly stop to photograph him. He is astonishing, particularly in the early light. The moment is so beautiful it almost dissipates the emotional cloud filling the car.
Nor is he alone:
In awe, we share the early-morning silence with them. To our right, except where small hillocks like this stand just beside the road, there’s a long drop into the valley, while to our left stands a higher plateau, and eventually we realize that there are many more vicuna on the plateau, and these fellows want to join them – or are awaiting their company to wander further downhill together. Whatever their purpose, we’re extraordinarily grateful. I know that I’ll be extremely fond of my photograph of him, and feel humbled: no one should be so lucky as to have such beauty wander in front of his camera as we’ve experienced in the Chilean mountains.
After that, the drive down is anti-climactic, although we do have to stop to use the extra gas, and stop again much later to enjoy the fog beginning to eat the road on which we’re about to descend to sea-level.
When we reach Arica we decide to check out a hotel that’s right on the beach, but also quite near the road and the city. Hotel Bahia. We’ve noticed it before, but I feared that it would be both expensive and noisy. I’m delighted to learn I was wrong.
It is quiet, pleasant, and nearly deserted. (Since we got up early and drove about three hours, it’s also still just late morning.) The place has the air of a somewhat down-at-the-heels resort that the family who owned it is trying to improve again. We take a room with a balcony overlooking the water. Within moments we end our quarrel as all quarrels should be ended, and afterward we lie around for a long time, just listening to the breeze and the birds and the soft sound of small waves rolling in, then walk on the beach. When we return, we start looking at the stuff we shot up in the mountains.
Supper is simple. We get so immersed in editing video and processing stills that it’s dark all around us before it occurs to us that we’re hungry. We dress and go look for the other good restaurant in town, Tierra Amado. Perched part way up a hill near the church, it’s a much more modern-looking place than El Maracuyá. We eat very well, and enjoy the place and the decor.
We sleep marvelously, a wonderful night’s sleep that almost erases from memory the previous night.
In the morning, the sky and the sea are differing shades of grey, and the sea is so still it might be a lake. Even the smallish waves we saw yesterday have disappeared, but the birds are crying as loudly as ever. Pelicans and others, excited by morning and by men fishing and by life itself.
There’s also a very pleasant coffee house in which we breakfast one morning, chatting with the owner and other guests at the counter. The owner is simpatico, and not merely because it’s part of his job description. On the wall he has [in Spanish, of course] a poster with the famous quotation from Borges (who lived a notoriously sedentary life, partly because he suffered from a hereditary disease that limited his sight and eventually blinded him) about how much riskier and more exciting and contemplative he would live life if he could begin again.
That Ragna is Icelandic generates a conversation at one point about Iceland’s former President, Valdis Finnbogadóttir, one of the earlier female Presidents in the western world. The café owner tells us that Valdis visited Chile years ago, and much impressed people. “And so you copied Iceland,” I interject, having read that Chile now has a woman president. We discuss the two, and eventually, of course, Pinochet as well.
Discussing Pinochet is more moving than I might have anticipated. Our host (a bookish gentleman, friendly and intelligent) was arrested twice, once when he was very young and then once again at 26, when his wife was pregnant. Too, the government’s treatment of his father contributed to the man’s early death. He recounts all this, in a quiet tone but with a trace of tears in his eyes, before noting that things are surely better now – but adding, without a hint of swagger, that the police will never again get near his family, that he’ll kill any policeman who invades his house. He says it not boastfully, but with resolve. With the memory of pain.
I want to apologize to him for my country’s involvement.
Then we return to the harbor. Arica’s is a real, working harbor, with fishing boats and freighters and people who make their livings on them. It has the scents and sounds of the sea, and the unpolished feel I remember from fishing villages in my childhood, in New England. There are plenty of photogenic pelicans hanging around, and occasionally someone else pokes a head up out of the water.
We eat an excellent chowder and fish sandwich in the shack-style restaurant overlooking the water, then explore. We’re told that there are “lobos” (wolves, the term here for what English calls sea lions) in a nearby area, and we walk over there.
The lobos are extremely lazy, but occasionally stretch and yawn and preen (as if for the cameras, but perhaps for lobos of the opposite sex, or just for their own amusement). Once in awhile a quarrel breaks out, and there’s a flurry of snarls, but within seconds they’ve either resolved the dispute or dozed off and forgotten it. Once when I start back toward Ragna and pass too near them, one lurches at me, roaring, but he isn’t interested in pursuing me more than the step or two I quickly put between us.
It’s the kind of slow, sunny day on which you take your time and watch old friends gather slowly to tell stories:
Even when the place is crowded, there’s always room for one more:
Sometimes it even seems, at least to a frivolous mind like mine, as if the older pelicans are judging the quality of the younger ones’ landings and takeoffs.
The drive back to Arequipa is uneventful.
We stayed at the Bahia Hotel, a relative bargain, where we were about as comfortable and happy as we could be. Right on the water, though not overlooking the most beautiful beach or the most dramatic waves breaking. Also quite convenient to town, although quite quiet despite its proximity to a main road. I think we spent 22,000, but it’s possible at certain times to get a room as low as $23 per night. In any case, it had a nice feel to it. Ocean breezes and views. And sounds, though the waves whisper rather than roar. And scents. (Good ones.)
Tierra Amado, part way up the hill from the street the Eiffel-designed church is on, is a modern restaurant that serves good food. We ate well and enjoyed the evening, for 31,600 pesosm including wine. Note that to reach it on foot, you walk with the front of the church on your left, and continue uphill at the corner. The restaurant does have a parking area, so no need to park elsewhere and walk unless you want to.
We also loved La Maracuyá
— as noted a post or two earlier. Great food, great service, and a great location right out over the waves, a bit south of town.
If driving up to Lake Chungará, particularly in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, take extra gas.