For those in the know: Arica (Chile) ~ Tacna (Peru). New Year's Day 2015.
Can you get jet lag, even if you've not been on a jet? What do you call a two hour jump backwards when all you've done is take a single step forwards, stepping over a singe white line that stretches across the road? The geography doesn't alter, but you know that you've entered another place.
We live our day more by the sun than by any form of timepiece. In part, as the sun dictates the ferocity of that afternoon wind. Knowing that there's a possibility of needing to do battle with the westerlies, we break camp in the dark, riding with the first glimmers of safe light. It can be the most beautiful time of a day. The long light cuts hard edges to the sand dunes and clarifies the subtle tones of the sand hills. Fresh, sharp and new. So a two hour readjustment to a 6am start is not so vital. After all, it's only a manmade construct; four or six of a morning is still the same point in the day. That is until a body decides it's time for lunch, we stop at a suitable establishment, only to find that they're still serving breakfast. Always a most disappointing affair. Variations on coffee and bread. The accompaniment being a grease and a spread who's constituents came out of a chemical, rather than a strawberry plant. Distinctly lacking in cycling calories.
That quick start is also dependent upon not being trapped in an accommodation where the owner has invested heavily in a security of roller shutters, multiple padlocks and a portcullis. Who then employs a night-watch who sleeps his night-watch. In that instance it is was best not to consider the implications of fire, 'quake or bus to catch.
Only today's slow escape is not one of time zones or caging security, but the lethargy of an all you can eat breakfast from an hostel that feels like home. It's New Year's morning, that surreal moment in a year's year, when the streets have that post-party ghostly aura. That intensified Sabbathian silence, reminiscent of 60s Glasgow and the age before Sunday trading. The malls of car showrooms, the yards of builder's supplies, are very shut. The market stalls now blank-faced ranks of drawn steel shutters. Even the side armed, body-armoured security guards are absent. Burnt out rockets and drifting tickertape, empty fake-snow aerosols and a clutch of cava corks, part drunk bottles of beer lost on a wall top and taxis gathering up the last of the revellers. All that evidence of fiesta, yet nobody is obviously under the influence. It was the same last night.
We'd gone down to the seafront, along with the rest of the population of Arica, to see out the old and bring in the new. Fireworks sales in Chile are banned, so the local authorities lay on a display. A barge is moored offshore, which simplifies safety and security. Only Peru is a short drive away. So Jumping Jacks are crackling around our feet, one father repeatedly tries to light a recalcitrant squib, another stands like he's H. Potter, Esq.., his wand spouting coloured fireballs. Fire lanterns drift on the slow breeze, distress flares fall down into the sea. Some small boys have an arsenal of bangers and have discovered that lobbing them down the railway tunnel has the desired amplifying effect. All those cars, that this morning appeared to be poorly parked, were in fact, reserving the family's traditional spot for this evening's tailgate dinner, whilst my neighbouring family's small daughter is liberally anointing all with faux snow. Each party is armed with only a light libation, yet there's a distinct lack of inebriation. It's a restrained, civilised affair, even the ambulance officers are redundant. So Chileno, so unlike other Latin New Years. Nobody's chucking dynamite around. Nobody's stoking up my adrenaline. Nobody's assaulting my hearing. That is until everybody decides they have to go home. All those cart-width streets are clogged solid with fat cars. Nobody's going anywhere soon, so the best you can do is sit with your hand on the horn. Maybe it's frustration or revenge for not being able to initiate a rolling barrage of pyrotechnics. Or just the peculiarities of a local Arican tradition. Eventually a beat develops, that becomes almost musical.
We ride out, away from this surrealist world, out into the white light of pale desert and our time zone jump. Our jump into a very different place. Which leads my thoughts to another speculation. It would be perfectly possible to have two separate New Years. One Chilean, the other Peruvian, both would be utterly different.