I have slowly learned that Silvio doesn’t eat breakfast most of the time. Since he doesn’t, he wants to leave immediately upon waking. This morning we followed that urgency and drove to the border nearly as soon as we were up and stirring. That meant we were there earlier, although when we saw how slow the line was moving at the Chilean exit border, we knew we had gained little from our alacrity.
We lined up with the others, produced paperwork for one office, and then went upstairs with a university student who has been tasked with asking tourists questions that are ostensibly meant to discover how to improve Chilean services for tourists but in actuality are more about finding out where the tourist dollars are going. She accompanied us upstairs to the cafeteria where a woman who sells food also sells the free border forms which declare what vehicle you arrive in. The forms that are free anywhere else in the country, are here 1000 pesos, or, as the woman from tourism told us, the charge can be arbitrary depending on who comes for a form. Once we had paid what was essentially a bribe, the tourism worker helped us fill out the forms and then we went to the large queue downstairs. The border officials are on strike, apparently, so that is why it can take up to four hours to pass through to Peru.
While we waited in line, Silvio chatted with a woman from Chile and a man from Paraguay, picking their brain for information about the road ahead. The problem with this technique is that he by times gets excellent information, but often is told pure balderdash as well. It enables him to talk to peple, which he likes, and by times yields good results. In this case, as Silvio went back to the truck, it worked out well. He found a border official who worked in the parking lot and chatted with him, and before long he came to me and told me to “play stupid” is anyone asks where he was. I figured that he would be getting me to go through the border alone, for it might be easier, but Silvio, like god, rarely explains what he is doing. Rather he expects you to play along and enjoy the result, although it may not be what you want.
In this case, Silvio returned after a few minutes, told me to go to the truck and he would come and we were getting through customs quickly. He told me to be casual. I said I was going to the bathroom and left, and behind me, as I walked to the truck, I heard Silvio explain I was going to the bathroom to the other people in line. Silvio was not far behind me, and soon we were going through the lengthy customs’ line. It turned out that Silvio had chatted with the border guy, the man had gotten our papers stamped, and we could cut ahead of the line.
The border in Peru was also a bit of an ordeal. We stamped into the country, then they examined the truck. I stood on the side and chatted with a border guard, my poor Spanish doing little to convey what I meant but easily identifying me as a innocent tourist. Silvio refused to remove our stuff from the truck on the grounds there was too much, and they went on to examine the vehicle. Before long they exited with our fruit, making me wish again that I had taken advantage of the time and eaten, especially the bananas. I am going to make sure that doesn’t happen on the way out of the country. And no more skipping breakfast to stand in the sun for hours at a border.
Once we crossed into Peru, we came to Tacna, the city closest to the border and Arica. Here we drove around trying to find a parking spot and finally came to rest beside the police station. Silvio gets nervous in cities, especially when the traffic is heavy and the streets tight, and he is terrible with relating directions. He wanted to go where the tourist info people who we’d talked to had suggested, but when I took us to that area, he wanted to go back to the main road and park by the police station instead. I might have been wrong about where we needed to park, however, for none of that was translated for me and I mostly guessed where we needed to be.
Our plan now is to go inland, through Monquegua and then further inland to Puno where Peru years ago had sent all their political prisoners. It promises to be somewhat interesting because of people living on the lake and using reed boats for transport, much like the Egyptians, but I remember Felipe saying to avoid the area.
We left Tacna finally, after Silvio got internet on his phone and talked—as far as I can tell—with everyone in the supermarket across from where we were parked. Once we left town, following the winding streets and the poorly realized maps of the GPS, we drove high into the desert where a few bushes struggled to eke out a living. Soon the road wound up through the hills and into switchbacks above Monquegua. We went over three thousand metres in height over the hour or so that I drove a tortous set of switchbacks. We had a few hair-raising moments when people coming down the hill tried to pass the truck in front of them or came into my lane while they descended too fast on abrupt curves, but it was also a bit tricky when I passed a truck and had to rev high in second gear to get in front of the truck.
We are very high altitude now, at thirty-five hundred metres above sea level, and we are parked at the toll both. Silvio asked the cop who was checking traffic and he told us where to park so we could pull over. We are now parked beside the guard rail in the parking lane well behind a truck from Bolivia. We’re on an angle, so we have to sleep with our heads towards the front of the truck.