Do Borders Keep Us Apart?

Borders and unions are very much the talk of the day at the moment and my coincidental experience this morning is probably an answer that many know but can't or won't borders are created in big buildings far away from the reality.

Right in the north of Chile is the Arica and Parinacota region bordered by Perú in the north and Bolivia in the east (Pacific Ocean in the west). This area is known as the altiplano of the Atacama desert with spectacular snow-capped volcanos and gravel/rock mountains displaying a rainbow if pastel colours, advertising their mineral riches. Many villages in this part of Chile are at altitudes from 3,500m (above sea level) to 4,500m with winter temperatures dropping to -25 degrees Celsius.

Twin Volcanos (Las Payachatas) dominate the landscape.
Pomerape (left) and Parinacota (right)

I had been in the tiny hamlet of Parinacota, located in the Lauca National Park for two days where the night time temperature averaged -10 degrees Celsius. When all inhabitants are home from the grazing areas of their animals, there are 29 of them in the village.  Anyway, I digress...

This morning I was invited by the owner of the small alberque (hostel) to visit a local fair farther north near the border of Bolivia, near a village called Caquena. As is usual by 8am in the morning, temperatures were only just above the zero (excluding wind chill) so we were well wrapped up on the half-hour drive to Caquena through more spectacular landscapes dominated by the volcanos Parinacota and Pomerape. Most of the bofedales (wetlands) still had large sections of water frozen.

Twin volcanos keeping watch over everything

Arriving at Caquena, we stopped at the police post where they account for all people and vehicles passing. I didn't think anything of it other than it was just some control due to the proximity of the Bolivian border. 15min more along another dirt road, we suddenly came across a group of vehicles - 4x4's, little trucks etc. and a lot of unloading and loading going on. This was all kept "organised" inside some rock 'walls' - handmade as is the custom here for their grazing animals.

Welcome to the fería (the fair) also known as "Achuta" that takes place every 2 weeks (or 15 days says some) when people from the surrounding Aymara communities (non visible from here) meet and buy and exchange a variety of necessities that range from toilet paper, to candles, sodas (that don't need a refrigerator) to Alpaca wool and skins. Obviously some ladies were also serving huge bowls of food mainly consisting of rice and chunks of alpaca meat - actually looking very appetising.

Trading, meeting and eating on the border

This was taking place just inside the Bolivian border - I was in Bolivia and I didn't even know it...I didn't even have my passport with me! A few of the guys came over and chatted with me and told what the fair was about and explained where the borders were - a line of rocks designated the spot where the vehicles from either country weren't allowed (not saying "they don't") to pass. I felt very privileged to have been invited to this - it was very clear that this was not something where they expected to see gringos (foreigners) at all, if ever. Yet, they still made me feel at home and welcomed me to their little private fair on the border of Chile and Bolivia. borders keep us apart? When we ALLOW them to keep us apart, then yes they do!!


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