By Isabella                                          

My name is Isabella and I have decided to enjoy a virtual journey of fun, enlightenment and discovery in Chile. Because of the length of the country I am able to discover so many diverse regions from the Atacama Desert to the polar ice of Antarctica. Travelling from one extreme to the other I will meet many interesting people and see some amazing sights. My first friend, Claudio, whom I met at Arica is my present travelling companion and shortly he will be introducing me to his family and friends in Iquique. But before we arrive there, we will be heading down to Pica to refresh ourselves after our hot and dusty time in the desert. Pica is an oasis; here we will find the thermal baths and a wealth of fruit, which has my mouth watering at the thought of it. 

Oasis at Pica ChileAs we travel in a westerly direction my anticipation rises and now at last we are here. To me it is magical and unexpected and certainly nothing that I could have imagined. Claudio is proud and very pleased to see my reaction. We descend the steps into the water, which is already full of happy people swimming, playing and lying on the rocks, calling to each other and shrieking with pleasure. The water is warm and natural and feels like Heaven, it is not too deep that we cannot bury our feet in the sand beneath the water. But at other times of year it can be quite deep. I can see people scraping mud from the rocks for a face mask, so I decide to do the same for a beautiful complexion. After lying on the rocks for a while to allow the mud to perform its miracle rejuvenation, I jump back into the mineral water to wash it off. The water is so full of small fishes that I playfully catch some for fun and allow them to return to the warm refreshing water, where they swim off thankfully. We find a little cave in the pool that we swim into and explore briefly. Feeling healthy and refreshed, this experience has made us hungry and we had already noted the many sellers of good things to eat and drink. We are enjoying so many different tastes here at Pica after our recent diet in the desert. The area is very green and many fruit trees are growing here bearing dates, mango, passion fruit, bananas, oranges, and the tiny lemons used to make Pisco Sour, a very popular drink which I enjoy. But not now, fruit drinks and smoothies for our thirst, alcohol later this evening perhaps, the mango juice is delicious. We also found some sandwich biscuits called Alfador which have a delicious taste of caramel. Walking through this Oasis with its pretty buildings, we noticed that there is a bus travelling from here to Iquique regularly. This is a trip that I will definitely be doing during my stay at Iquique. But for now we make our way onto the highway and head for Pozo Almonte and turn left on our way to Iquique.

Claudio is getting excited to see his friends and family and I am excitedly looking at this sandy plateau for my first glimpse of Iquique. Now suddenly there is a breathtaking view over the city and a huge sand dune. Looking back on the dune I promise myself a return visit to do some sand ski-ing and the sheer height of it promises a thrilling time. It does seem strange to be in a busy city after becoming used to all that space and quietness. Claudio takes me to his aunt’s house to introduce me and she makes us welcome with Pisco Sours and snacks. The house is full of people all clamouring to meet us, there seem to be many children and I am finding it difficult to work out who’s who, but there will be plenty of time over the next few weeks! Now Claudio is driving me to the hotel that I have booked myself into. In the short journey to the hotel, Claudio explains that his aunt Ana Maria is an amazing lady who presides over her large family of six children, most of them being married with children of their own who all gravitate to Grandma’s house after school. Some of the younger ones stay while their parents are working. Sadly her husband lost his life in an accident at sea while working as a fisherman.

I am impressed with the hotel of my choice as I am welcomed warmly by the owners and shown to my room. They proudly tell me that the hotel has been in their family for 20 years. It is a cosy room with an en-suite bathroom and T.V and I am only too pleased to find myself lying in a comfortable bed. This place will be my base while I explore Iquique and surrounding areas including its many beaches. I will go to the pool before breakfast and consider my plans for exploring the city.

Iquique is the capital of the Tarapaca Region. This region has been inhabited by many different cultures over a period of 10000 years. The Chinchorro harvested the sea along this coast, living and hunting here from 7000 B.C to 1100 B.C. They were hunter gatherers, relying on a combined living of hunting game and gathering root vegetables, nuts etc. and primarily fishing. Analysis of hair and bones shows a diet of 90% maritime 5% terrestrial animals 5% terrestrial plants. Also amounts of copper and arsenic are found and narcotics such as nicotine. They practiced mummification and there is a site at El Morro inArica. Some settlement sites have been found along the coast consisting of semi-circular huts built of posts with sea mammal skin roofs. Was it the arsenic and other toxic chemicals in the natural drinking water that caused the disappearance of the Chinchorro? The city is built on a grid system so it should be easy to find my way around. There are many modern blocks of flats built from cement blocks with every modern convenience inside. Because it is built in the desert there is a scarcity of trees and green plants.

Baquedano Street in Iquique ChileI make my way to the historic centre where most of the houses are built of Oregon pine. In Baquedano Street I am charmed by the buildings with balconies and verandas, they are painted in strong colours of red, gold, and various shades of green and blue. Some are white with coloured decorative arches and pillars. There are many beautiful and interesting buildings to see here, the cathedral was built at the end of the 19th century. As I approach it the sun is enhancing the honey coloured walls and glinting in the round windows and the over door windows too. It is very peaceful here and I wander round looking at the white columns with gold embellishments caught by the light which take my eyes up to the azure domed ceiling, matching the cloudless sky outside. The canopies over the side chapels match the blue ceiling. I am enchanted to see that they are covered in tiny stars. I spend some time in here as it is so quiet and peaceful and I look around at the altars and various statuettes. There is a large painting of Jesus with open arms welcoming me to the main altar. I will have to return one Sunday to join in a service of Eucharist and to hear the voices raised in prayer and praise. After I have had some lunch and a siesta I will hire a jeep at the hotel and drive out to one of the many beaches.

Playa Brava is a lovely sandy beach and I enjoy walking along the shoreline with the water lapping over my toes. I make plans to bring Ana Maria’s grandchildren here at the weekend, it seems perfect for children and as it is several kilometres long I am sure that it won’t get crowded even at the weekend. As I walk along I see the sun shining on the ocean, what a beautiful sight which fills me full of ‘joie de vie’. Turning my head I look beyond the flags blowing gently in the breeze and over the residences to the ever present comforting sight of the mountain range of the Cordillero. I feel very fit and relaxed after my afternoon of walking in the fresh air and feeling the sun gently warming my skin. I think I will go to Ana Maria’s house on my way back to the hotel to see if anyone would like to join me at the casino later on. I make my way to the casino through the well lit city and my excitement grows as I approach the building which is bathed in light. Then I spot Claudio and his cousins waiting for me on the steps. We all enjoyed an evening of fun and laughter and some winnings and some losses. Sadly Claudio will be leaving in a couple of days to return north toArica. Hasty plans are made to have a farewell meal and some time is spent planning where to go. Everyone had a different idea of where we should eat and I thought it best to let them choose because they would know better than me, after all. I am amazed to hear just how many excellent restaurants there are here and look forward to spending another evening with lovely people.               

I was told of so many places and beaches to visit last night and the most popular seemed to be Playa Cavancha. I told my friends that I would spend the whole day there in case anyone wanted to join me for a swim or for some surfing. I arrive at the beach soon after breakfast and see what an enormous bay it is with silvery sand and big waves. The temperature is very pleasant, around 20 degrees and very comfortable because of the breeze. During the day some of my friends arrive with swimming costumes and wet suits and boards. Some of the older children arrive on bikes after school to cool off in the ocean and use up any pent up energy. 

paraglidingAs I enjoy my time on the beach my eyes travel around the bay with its tall buildings interspersed with lower more traditional buildings painted blue and white. The wind is passing through the tropical trees and carrying the paragliders from the heights of Alto Hospicio. The two sports that I want to partake in soon are surfing because I have been watching this thrilling sport all day in between swimming and sun bathing on the soft sand. The second one is para-gliding. I have been watching people descending in a very comfortable position under a colourful fabric arc that catches the wind. I have been told that the thrill of leaving Alto Hospicio and looking down at the surf on Playa Cavancha is amazing. As I walk around the bay I see some lovely yachts at the yacht club and I think how much I would love to travel on one, maybe I will later on. The day has passed so quickly and just before I leave I will take a stroll through the gardens and have a look at the theme park with the idea of bringing some of Ana Maria’s grandchildren here on a another day.


Now I must return to my hotel and have a rest before I prepare myself for an opportunity to say ‘Goodbye and Thank You’ to Claudio and ‘Hello’ to his many friends and relatives. After a fun filled evening spent in good company and enjoying delicious food, excellent wine and many interesting conversations, we walk for a while through the centre of the city, before we go our separate ways. In the Plaza Arturo Prat we glance at the illuminated clock and briefly watch the fountains playing prettily along the walkway. I have heard that Arturo Prat is a hero in Chileand May 21st is a national holiday to commemorate his death. Having heard of this hero I feel that I would like to know more about him and today I return to the city centre to see the clock tower in daylight. It is a very grand, ornate building with arches on each storey, shining pristine and white in the sunshine, it is a focal point and a reminder of a very brave man. The Chilean flag flies proudly from the very top against the blue of the sky and the brown of the mountains, reminding the populace that they are proud to be Chileans. Especially so as I have discovered that Iquique belonged to Peru before the War of the Pacific, and Arturo Prat was instrumental in gaining this area from Peru. So I must go to theNavalMuseum to find out more, it is housed in the former custom house known asRimacPalace. Various mementos relating to the Pacific War at Iquique are on show here including the uniform and the sword of Arturo Prat.

In the afternoon I go to Bella Vista beach which is sandy interspersed with rocks. The sea is very rough so I will not be swimming here today, I will swim in my hotel pool on my return. As I walk along the broad band of sand my imagination takes me to the War of the Pacific and I conjure up visions of warships and bravery. This is how I understand the War of the Pacific in a nutshell, but I would be only too happy if anyone has any comments. It lasted from 1879-1883 and seemed to start with Bolivia’s threat to confiscate a Chilean nitrate concern operating in the Atacama Desert. Eventually Boliviaaccepted the cession of Atacama to Chileand became a land locked nation. There were two major campaigns during the war, Peru gained a victory and then Chile gained command of the sea and was thus enabled to dispatch large armies to the northern deserts which were rich in nitrates. For the next half a century, with the growing demand for fertilizers abroad, Chile went through a period of economic expansion to fill this need. Now as I walk along this beach I can imagine the Corvette Esmerelda, whose heroic commander and 100 men lost their lives sailing valiantly on. Esmerelda was trapped in the bayof Iquiqueby two big Peruvian battle ships. The sailors fought bravely for two hours, refusing to surrender, then as Esmerelda was rammed by the Peruvian ship Huascar. On May the 21st Arturo Prat, sword in hand, leapt onto Huascar and was killed. He was a very brave man and I have seen his sword in the museum and the whole battle as it plays out in the bay in my imagination!   

Ana Maria owns a dwelling and a small piece of land at Pica. Growing on this land are orange trees and lemon trees bearing the small lemons used to make the best Pisco Sours. So that explains the quality and taste of the drinks that I had enjoyed at Ana Maria’s house in Iquique. At the weekend two of her daughters will be going to Pica to pick fruit and have invited me to join them. We travel by bus and enjoy the bonhomie that you always get on a local bus. I am looking forward to this weekend at Pica which brings me full circle.   

On my return to IquiqueI will have many places to explore and I will start at the port and take a trip around the harbour with Arturo Prat still in my mind. As I finish this section of my journey I would like to know if anyone in the wide world knows what the clock tower is made of. It stands proudly in the plaza for all to see, shining white in the sunshine. I have made guesses that it could be stone or marble, if so where did it come from?


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