Published: August 20th 2012August 20th 2012 Day 307 Monday 13th August
Up at 8 and after our breakfast we once again were packing our bags for a day of travelling. Checked out without a problem and got the hotel to ring for a taxi for us. At the bus terminal we had a choice of companies that would take us to Iquique and settled on one that looked okay and would leave at 11.30, which gave us a 90 minute wait. The last couple of bus terminals in Peru, Arica and this terminal we have had to pay a departure tax, and the irony of this, is that these terminals have been the most putrid.
We are travelling with Norte Cruz today and to our complete surprise we were served lunch shortly after leaving which considering that we only paid 6000 Pesos ($12) each of our ticket, was a bargain. The drive from Arica to Iquique was through more desolate hilly landscapes. Despite the area being dry and almost devoid of any vegetation, there were still isolated settlements of humans and heaps of strewn rubbish. It seemed that the closer we got to Iquique the worst the rubbish got. At around 4 we came over
the top of a hill and made a long slow descent into the town. Iquique is supposed to have a population of 197,000 but looking down on the town it looked more like the town was double that. The whole town is squeezed between 600 metre high mountains and the sea and the city can only spread north and south down along the coast.
We got dumped at the terminal and picked up a taxi without any dramas the driver was a lovely guy who pointed out the sites of the town as we drove along. Hotel de La Plaza is where we are staying, which is a budget hotel on the main pedestrian street in town. As per our usual routine, we dropped off our bags and went for a walk to get a feel for the town, and discovered what a great little gem Iquique is. This was an old port town and despite the influx of tourists and high risers the place still holds onto a multitude of old buildings. Baquedano is the main mall street and not only is it lined with great old Georgian timber buildings but has a timber sidewalk and tram lines
Shelley working out which way to run
running up it. Most of the buildings are run down and/or are just facades with no interiors but the place has a great feel about it. Despite the town being surrounded by mountains the city is very flat and sits probably only a few metres above sea level, and because of this on every corner is Tsunami warning signs and evacuation directions. At midday they test the warning siren, which as a non resident is fairly chilling and makes you think about how you would feel if that went off at 2 am. All through Peru we had Earthquake warning signs and every building had notices showing where the “best/safest spots” to stand in an earthquake. Having seen their construction methods over here and their complete disrespect for concrete I figured the signs were not so much indicating where you would survive an earthquake but perhaps just make it easier for people to locate your bodies after the event.
After walking around town taking in the vibe we had a couple of drinks and a feed on a restaurant on the mall. Started on the front veranda but the cold night air pushed us indoors quickly. Back at our
The replica of the Esmeralda
hotel we once again discovered the usual problem of not having WiFi and when I complained got the usual apathetic response. The hard thing to know is if the problem is a town network problem, an ISP problem or is it just the hotel management switching the WiFi off. Because there is a level of the unknown and a huge language problem I generally don’t push it too hard but have to walk away frustrated. Day 308 Tuesday 14th August
Up at 8 and had the usual simple breakfast of coffee and a bread roll with jam. First thing this morning we headed towards the coast and walked along the shoreline watching the pounding surf. Some of the waves were between 4- 5 metres and we spent time watching some brave body boarders catching them. The shoreline was covered in rough rocks so most of the surfers stayed out off shore and if they strayed in to close a guy on a jetski was dragging them back off shore. After our stroll along the shoreline we headed back into the old town and to investigate doing a tour or hiring a car. There are some interesting
The replica of the Esmeralda
nearby sites which we want to see but we aren’t too keen on doing another tour, and so thought we may hire a car. Discovered we can hire a car for 38,000 pesos as compared to doing a tour for 50,000 pesos. With hiring a car we also have to buy petrol but it will at least give us a bit more flexibility so we think we will do that.
After a quick lunch we decided to walk around to book the hire car for Thursday, unfortunately tomorrow is a holiday so most businesses are closed including the car rental companies. Then it was back to the coastline to see the replica of the frigate Esmeralda which sunk off the coast here in the war of the Pacific in 1879. Iqueque and the town of Arica were in fact part of Peru till Chile went to war with them, unsure what the exact reasons for the war were but like all wars I am sure it had something to do with Politics, money or both. This war saw a couple of minor but significant naval battles in which Ironclad warships proved their superiority over timber frigates. In the harbour
of Iquique the Chilean timber frigate Esmeralda was outclassed by the smaller Peruvian Ironclad Huscar, which ran circles around it and rammed it 3 times sending it to the bottom. In a strange twist of fate the Huscar was eventually captured by Chile and is a still afloat and a museum ship. Last year a replica of the Esmeralda was built on shore and it is a grand sight on arrival in town. Unfortunately we arrived too late it was just about to close to we will need to come back tomorrow.
It is such a lovely town it is just nice to wander around and look at the ocean. When we got back to the mall we visited the Teatro Municapal a beautiful wooden theatre which does not look like anything has changed since it as built in 1890 and has a very musty smell. We were able to walk all around the theatre including the stage and underneath to see the working side of the theatre. The place even had the original seats, including the cheaper cast iron ones up the back, and a parlour complete with piano for those pre show cognacs.
The food choices
as always when travelling are a bit hard here and quite expensive for the budget traveller with the average meal on the mall costing $AUD20.00 for a main meal. We had hoped we would find somewhere cheaper on our walk today but nothing leapt out which is a problem being in the centre of cities. We ended up where we ate last night and it is definitely colder so we headed straight back to the hotel. Day 309 Wednesday 15th August
Today is a public holiday and so this morning the mall resembles a scene from an old western movie minus the tumbleweed, most of the mall shops and restaurants were closed. We headed back to see the Esmeralda only to discover that it is done by tour and if we wanted English we had to prebook. If this had been an original we would have gone with the Spanish tour so we could see it, but it is a replica so we opted to just look around the outside. Across the road is the bus terminal so at least we could pick up tickets to leave on Friday.
The Esmeralda and the bus terminal
The chairs of Teatro Municapal
is about a twenty minute walk from our hotel and although most of it is through what appears safe friendly territory, a little bit of towards the port is dodgy, particularly today when everything is shut. As we passed through this area today a guy came stomping towards us, and when I say stomping I mean stomping, he was puffing with legs wide apart and bashing his feet down as hard as he could, and then did this slow motion fall in front of us throwing papers and a bag along the footpath in front of us. Generally our first instinct would have been to help someone that seemed distressed and had fallen over but it was such a pathetic acting routine that it just screamed “danger this guy is up to no good”. There were 3 locals all near that did not flinch or make any attempt to come to his aid maybe they have seen this routine before or were lookouts. Copped way too much of this nonsense so far on this trip so we just stepped over him and kept walking. Odds on he would have made a grab for our wallet whilst helping him up or
Inside the Theatre
he would have wanted money because he is with the CIA and people are chasing him (you may think I made that one up, but we have already got that one), or some other rot.
After that brush with an idiot we noticed the larger department stores were opened so we checked with the hotel if Zona Franca (Zofri) which is a duty free shopping mall was opened and got a taxi there for an afternoon of shopping. In fact all we brought was a camera lens filter and two more memory cards which we brought off a very aggressive woman that scared us both, she definitely could do with a customer service course. Some items seemed cheap and others about the same price as Australia so you would what to do research before buying up big. This place sold everything from high end cameras and TVs to cleaning detergent and crappy 2 dollar shop items. It was a massive complex of shops and it was fairly easy to get lost and although we didn’t buy much it at least gave us a few ideas on what we may want to buy on the way home.
was a public holiday hardly any restaurants were open so we opted for a pizza place which dished out great pizzas before heading over to a great café where we had a bloody awesome cappuccino with cake. It was exactly what we needed on such a cold night. Day 310 Thursday 16th August
Today start was a bit annoying we were served a stale bread roll and no jam, the usual breakfast lady was not around and the lady at reception who served us had the attitude this is not my job. We left the stale bread roll and went back to our room to discover no hot water, so I went back down and indicated the fact, guess it was not her job to turn it on.
From here on the day was outstanding, we picked up the hire car and were on the road at 10.00am navigating our way out of town. Iquique is only small and the streets are mainly one way so we could not get into too much trouble. We headed to Humberstone arriving there just before 11.00am, brought our tickets 2000 pesos each and got a map. Yes a
The town beach
map as this place is an abandoned nitrate mine including the houses, school, theatre, pool (1938), hotel (1934), church, shops and all the sheds with some machinery and locomotives associated with this mining town. It is an amazing site that was established in 1872 and closed in 1960 so there are buildings from different periods including Art Deco and in different degrees of decay. The population reached 3,700 in the 1940’s and closed with the development of synthetic nitrate. We wandered all over the town visiting the factory sheds and saw the huge lathes and the electricity turbines, the area is so quiet but at its height it must have been deafening. The swimming pool now empty is made of cast iron scavenged from a shipwreck and surrounded by dressing rooms and tiered seating there are rumours that it maybe restored back to its former glory. Certain buildings like the hotel and theatre look like there has been maintenance over the years and the theatre which had international starlets appear here in its heyday looks like it is still used. It is strange how when you travel some places you instantly love and this is one of them we eventually
Main street on a holiday
tore ourselves away at 1.30pm.
The next stop was to visit “The Dude” as we like to call him – El Gigante de Atacama, (the giant of Atacama) this is the largest archaeological representation of a human at 86 metres high. It is located about 80km from Iquique in an isolated area on the slope of the Cerro Unita. As you come along the road you can see him appear, you turn off onto a dirt road for about one kilometre to reach the base of the hill. Unfortunately there is no viewing platform so from the base some of the lines are not clear, but you definitely see his outline. We then headed to Pintados where the hills are covered with 355 geoglyphs, although they look more like pre Columbian graffiti when teenagers get drunk on a Saturday night. They include arrows pointing in certain directions, ladders, circles, animals and even a woman giving birth. We drove around the road checking out the hills some of which are cluttered with these images. On the way there and back we passed through an area Reserva Nacional Pampa del Tamarugal which contains a native tree Tamarugo. This tree covered an
Entrance to Humberstone
area of thousands of square kilometres but was cleared for the nitrate mining, there is now a replanting project to replace these hardy trees.
We could have kept the car till midday tomorrow but as we had a bus out of town at 8.30 we were keen to get it back today. We reached Iquique right on 5 and witnessed a small accident on a roundabout before getting to a service station to fill up. The fuel cost 18,000 pesos so with the car rental the cost for the day was 56,000 pesos ($112), which is only slightly higher than the tour we looked into doing and we got to see a bit more than they offered. We could have found a cheaper tour agency, but we were positive we could have got a lot cheaper car rental than Hertz. It had been such a great day and we both thoroughly enjoyed the freedom the car gave us made us realise how much we miss doing road trips. The downside to the day is that it made us realise how easy it is to drive around and how we should have been renting cars longer ago and avoided all
those horrible day tours we have been caught on.
Dropped the car back at hertz at 5.30 without any dramas and then hit the town in search of a drink and a feed. Tonight our last night in town and we went to yet another different restaurant, and got yet another below average feed. We both really love this town it has so much character but unfortunately we have just copped a lot of bad food, so because of that we are kind of looking forward to moving on tomorrow.
There are more photos below