February 5, 2023
Today we had a full day tour and our guide and assistant were Anahi and Lorena. We were headed out to the driest desert on earth, the Atacama desert. Like Arica, this city was once part of Peru. It had a large Chilean population and was conquered by Chile in the War of the Pacific. Today it is one of only two free ports of Chile.
The city name is pronounced I ki ki. It means “a place to sleep”. The population is 164,000. Anahi told us that most families have several cars here, because it is a tax free city, used cars are very cheap. But people are not allowed to travel to another city after 5 PM.
The desert is vast, with no animals of any kind living there. There is no rain, and the water for the city is piped down from the Andes. They are also using some desalination of sea water but Anahi says it tastes terrible so they mostly buy bottled water.
Our main destination was to the ghost town of Humberstone. During the nitrate years – mining for saltpeter, this was a thriving community with several thousand inhabitants. It closed in 1960 when a German invented synthetic nitrate so there was no need for it to be mined. The Chilean government has made it into a fascinating museum and it is a UNESCO world heritage site.
We spent about an hour walking all through the huge complex. The buildings are all still intact and it is sort of eerie to see the place abandoned in the middle of the desert. We visited the homes of the workers, the home of the doctor, the theater, the school and the working areas of the complex. Anahi provided commentary because a lot of the information was in Spanish.
Yes, I kissed a (fake) llama. Cute, though.
The workers were paid with these tokens, a different one for each area, and they could only use them in the place they were issued, decreasing their value.
After our visit, we headed to the Village of La Tirana and then on to the oasis in the desert – Pica, which means flower. On the way back to the ship we visited Matilla.
This is what passes as the forest – the Tamarugal forest. Pretty much scrubby trees.
We visited the hot springs. Since it was Sunday, many families were enjoying swimming there.
From the tour description, we expected a box lunch. No, we went to a restaurant in Pica! And, lunch is the big meal here, so again, we started with the aperitif of mango or guava sour, and a choice of the chicken or beef. Mine was just the potatoes and vegetables. We were served wine, and had a mango pudding with an oreo like cookie in it.
In the main square of Pica. I guess the people can’t read that only 2 people should be sitting on that bench!
The church in Pica.
The church in Mantilla. With the church dog and the depiction of the last supper.
These small houses are found everywhere along the highway. They are often religious shrines (85% of the population in Chile is Catholic). Or sometimes, they mark where a person died in an accident.
Our chef prepared a South American dinner on the Terrace Cafe deck and this is what is left of the chocolate covered strawberries that our butler brought to our room.
thanks. enjoyed reading
I love the church dog! Also, Cloudy Bay is one of my favorite New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. Thanks for sharing your adventure!