Three Days in Antofagasta, Chile (March 2014)

Published: March 11th 2014
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7 March 2014 – Friday – Iquique to Antofagasta, Chile

On the smooth, long bus ride from Iquique to Antofagasta I finished reading Isable Allende’s Of Love and Shadows, a novel set during the Pinochet years in Chile. It is a bit melodramatic and the writing about sex is embarrassingly over-the-top, but the storyline holds together well and the characters are interesting even if they are sometimes mouthpieces for political points of view. The historical and fictional elements blend well. Very enjoyable and Highly Recommended.

The 300 kilometre coach journey consisted nearly entirely of dusty brown desert mountains to the left and the sparking blue Pacific Ocean to the right. There were small mining villages about every 60 kilometres or so that consisted of a few dozen temporary shack dwellings and a dirt road into the mountain. Apparently there are 10,000 mines in the area of northern Chile known as ‘El Norte Chico’ and ‘El Norte Grande’ (little North and Great north) that stretches south from the border with Peru nearly to Santiago. There was nothing but dirt, sand and stone the entire distance. There was no colour other than brown.

We did, however, pass a sand golf course near one of the larger mining towns. It was a very strange site indeed – colourful flags sticking up from the raked dirt of the ‘green’. This type of course is called a ‘lugging’ golf course. There are three of them in the Atacama desert. There are fairways and greens marked out in the sand. There is no grass, and blue-painted rocks denote ‘water hazards’. Golf fanatics/enthusiasts travel great distances to play these unique and unusual courses. Today, however, we didn’t see anyone on the course we passed by on the bus, although it was the hottest part of a very hot day.

We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn about 100 kilometres north of Antofagasta and are now in the Southern Hemisphere

We arrived mid-afternoon at our accommodation which is one of five en-suite rooms in a family home, a Chilean B&B. We had a quick walkabout the neighbourhood and visited the nearby Brazil Park, which is a tree-lined promenade of nine-blocks that was created with top soil imported from Europe, Asia and the US. The top soil was used as ballast in ships coming to Chile to load up and return with the valuable commodity of nitrate that was a major mining and export industry here in the late 1800’s.

We stopped for a coffee and cookie at Mi Tiena and sat outside in the lovely warming sunshine. Later that evening we had an excellent dinner at a restaurant called Amares restaurant. Amares had been recommended to us (as had Hostal 1127) by two English men that we had met in the lobby of the boutique inn in Iquique. (Joan had also noted both of these places in her research and their recommendations were confirmation of what she had learned about them.) Having said that, Amares was a surprise! The food was rich, intense and luscious. Joan described it as ‘serious’ food, ‘Michelin-quality’. It was owned by Chileans, but the head chef was Peruvian. Joan had Mahi-mahi in a very rich cream sauce and I had BBQ Pork, the meat was tender and juicy and the sauce was decadent. Joan has determined that this restaurant is ‘all about the sauces’ – they were heavenly. Two flaws, however – the background music was too loud, repetitive nightclub drivel and the desert we shared, while well-presented, consisted of a very little brownie (less than an inch square) with a thin layer of meringue and a scoop of sorbet was disappointing as it did not match the standard offered by the main courses.

8 March 2014 – Saturday – Antofagasta, Chile

Antofagasta is one of Chile’s largest cities (350,000 persons) and busiest ports. It grew from a prospectors base camp into the city it is today due to the minerals, nitrate and copper, that brought international interest to the area. Its fortunes and those of the country’s mining industry are closely intertwined. Surrounded by the mineral-rich Atacama Desert plateau that dominates the northern part of Chile, Antofagasta provides an ocean gateway to the world for exports of copper and other minerals. It also has the highest GDP per capita of Chile at an average of 37.000 US Dollars.

After our inclusive breakfast that consisted of a toasted ham and cheese sandwich, a plate of cookies and a glass of very sweet, tetra-pak juice we walked into town to seek out a cup of coffee at the Loft Cafe which was a very comfortable cafe on the pedestrian main street, Plaza Prat, to plan our day.

With all the walking we are doing, Joan has worn through her jeans and needed to buy a replacement pair. There were a few department stores located on Plaza Prat (Fontabella, Hites, Ripley, Johnson = Kohls in USA or Cleary’s in Ireland) so she went shopping, credit card in hand, while I went photo-taking (after buying a couple of cds from an alto-playing street musician that turned out to be more instrumental muzak than jazz). At the top of Plaza Prat a Chilean rock band was performing on a raised platform. They included among the standard modern instruments a couple of musician playing Chilean pipes and flute instruments. I listened to a couple songs and then wandered off.

Plaza Prat leads onto Plaza Colon (Columbus Square) where there are a number of buildings that would not be out of place on Dublin’s squares. At the square’s centre is a replica English Big Ben donated by British immigrants in 1910 to celebrate 100 years’ of Chilean independence. The Post Office Building (started in 1921 and finished in 1930) is now a library; it resembles Dublin’s GPO. The former Central Bank Building (1925) and the Santander Bank Building (1923) are both neo-classical architectural styles and reminiscent of Dublin’s Central Bank building. I took many photographs here, of both the buildings and the square.

We met up and went to Sotomayor Square and the converted railway station that is now market with many restaurants thronged with families having lunch. Some have open kitchens. Joan studied these and we chose one. It was very busy and unfortunately very slow. Joan chose the fish menu of the day while I went for the standard roast chicken and chips. Joan was served and finished her meal nearly an hour before mine was served. The waitress kept apologising to us for the delay whenever we caught her eye. I think I received a double portion of chicken in compensation as the portion was supposed to be a quarter chicken but it was much larger. None of the wait staff spoke English so we never learned what had caused the delay. The chicken, however, when it had finally arrived (and just as we were rising to give up on it and leave), was delicious.

We walked a couple blocks north of Plaza Prat and found ourselves in a sleazy street of grungy bars and hookers loitering in their doorways. We scurried past (no photos here) down to the large modern shopping mall on the waterfront. I was hoping to find a proper music store here that might have a selection of Chilean jazz cds but there was none. We walked back along the seaside promenade that stretches the entire length of the city. It is very wide and pleasant walkway with exercise equipment and separate bicycle path.

9 March 2014 – Sunday – Antofagasta, Chile (and Night Bus to La Serena)

We spent a leisurely Sunday walking the wonderful waterside promenade of Antofagasta, this time southwards away from the historical centre and toward a cluster of high-rise apartment blocks. There was a road race along part of the route and we stopped to watch the starting of the race. We walked as far as the Hunachaca ruins, the structural foundations of a Silver metallurgical processing plant that was co-owned by investors from Bolivia, Chile and Britain. Construction was completed in 1893 and at its maximum capacity it could process 220,000 pounds of silver ore per day and produce 44,000 pounds of refined silver per month. It only operated for nine years. The high costs of production and the low price of silver forced its closure and it is now a preserved ruins with a small museum.

We had Sunday lunch at Soufala, a Greek restaurant overlooking Brazil Park that we had noticed during our walk in the area during the previous day. Joan immediately liked the look of the restaurant then and read a few Trip Advisor reviews last night to reinforce her decision that it would be a nice place for Sunday lunch. There were only an elderly lady dining on her own and one other table occupied by a woman and her elderly mother when we arrived shortly after 1pm, but the restaurant quickly filled up with families with well-behaved children. We both had the Sunday Menu of the Day special which started with a local cocktail, a pisco sour for Joan and a mango sour for me. The meal consisted of starter of either a ceviche, which Joan had, or a Greek salad, which I had; a main course of a very bony, local fish (Joan) or beef lomo (me), and desert of crème (Joan) or melon mousse (me) All the dishes were very good and we left only clean plates. Our server was a very friendly and helpful Colombian man who had spent 20 years in the US and had perfect English. With a bottle of Peruvian Pale Ale and a glass of Peruvian Sauvignon Blanc our bill came to about the equivalent of about 60 US Dollars.

We walked around the local neighbourhood for a while and stumbled upon an ice cream shop that was open (almost all the other shops and cafes were closed). We both had sorbet-like ice creams that had a nice crisp flavour but the texture was unusual and difficult to describe. It was neither sorbet nor ice cream, and not particularly creamy. Joan says it was probably because the quality of the cream used is not very high.

We wandered back to Hostal 1127 and collected our suitcases and caught a taxi to the bus station for the 12 hour night bus to La Serena.


11th March 2014

So much interesting information
almost makes me want to be on the road in South America again. Thank you for your wonderful blogs. I read everything! Safe travels!

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