The later it gets the more I begin to worry. Before I was hoping that every delay would stretch itself out, calculating that if we were delayed just the right amount then we would arrive in Tacna at around 5am, thereby enabling me to hop straight onto a bus to Arequipa. Unfortunately we’ve now been delayed for just the wrong amount of time, and I calculate that we’ll arrive in Tacna at around 1am: too early to take a bus and too late to book into a hotel. And apparently Tacna is cold. Bugger.
Dinner wastes more time. I order lomo saltado without knowing why: it’s midnight, I’m not really hungry and it’s overpriced. At first I’m by myself, the gringo apart, feeling a bit like the school kid who isn’t allowed to sit at any of the other tables because he can’t whistle, or because he’s got ginger hair, or combed hair, or some other arbitrary reason for exclusion.
Eventually the buxom girl with blonde highlights came and sat with me. Holding conversation wasn’t easy – by that stage I’d worked out that Peruvian small talk deals almost exclusively with the relative cost of things and, knowing nothing about typical prices for lomo saltado in Peru, I had little to offer in this department. At one point I relinquished the tantalising fact of how much shepherd’s pie costs in a typical English pub; but no-one seemed to care.
After much prodding and encouraging I managed to get out of my only friend that she’d lived in La Plata for 6 years working as a nurse and would come back for 3 months every year to see her two boys: four and seven years old. She sends money back to them in Lima, although what she sends back is worth less and less. But even though the Argentine peso is devaluing faster and faster it is still worth her while to stay in Argentina: there they pay 4 times what she would earn in Peru. She dreams of one day leaving Peru without having to leave her boys behind. As we leave the bus terminal she buys a smartphone from a street-seller for $200 US. “I can sell it to a cousin in Lima for twice as much.” I don’t doubt her; border towns are always the best places to buy cheap stuff.
As feared, we arrive at the terminal in Tacna at 00:30. It’s long and dark and quiet. The only place that’s open is a brightly-lit restaurant catering for lost men. The bus to Arequipa doesn’t leave until 4:15am.