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Published: January 4th 2015
On Friday we left La Paz in pouring rain to make the short one hour flight to Arica in Northern Chile. In just sixty minutes we came forward about sixty years, from the traditional culture of the Andes, unchanged in centuries, into the twenty first century. It was a pity about the rain because flying over the Andes would have been most scenic. However, once we were over the northern Chilean desert, the clouds cleared to reveal a land of sand. After ten minutes more, our Airbus soured over high dramatic sandstone sea cliffs, dropping vertically to the Pacific Ocean. The pilot headed out to sea a short way then made a sharp turn to approach the shore and the airstrip, sitting parallel to the sea, beneath massive high sand dunes. Any readers who saw the “Fifth Gear” episode from the Bolivian jungle to the pacific coast of Chile, will remember that Jeremy Clarkson & Co. drove their cars down these dunes to the sea. They are terrifyingly high, dominating the city and in April last year, caused death by landslides following a huge earthquake (more of this later).
“The pace of Arica is simply delightful.
It's warm and sunny year-round, there's a cool pedestrian mall to flip-flop around come sunset and decent brown-sugar beaches are just a short walk from the town centre.” Lonely Planet
Arica is often called the “City of eternal Spring”. It has a fabulous climate; warm sunny days and cool evenings. It is so good to “flip-flop” around in shorts and t-shirts, after the coldness of the mountains. For two days we have been walking, enjoying being able to do so without gasping for breath!
On April 1st 2014, there was a massive earthquake off the coast, 86 miles away, which caused landslides on the Pan-American Highway between Arica and Iquique, buildings to collapse in Arica, and huge parts of the “Morro de Arica”, a large sandstone cliff which is a landmark of the city, to fall on top of houses, causing the death of six people and injuring over one hundred, and was even felt as far away as La Paz in the Andes. Along the bottom of the “Morro” there are monuments to those who died. They are simple structures, erected by families, where once their houses stood.
dominates the town and is the home to dozens of sea eagles, who have their eyries up there, and glide over the harbour on the thermals to fish. Other wildlife includes pelicans and vultures. It is the first time we have seen vultures close up, only having seen them in the air flying in the Pyrenees in Spain. Here they can be seen sitting out on the rocks by the sea. Sadly, those we saw close up, half a dozen of them, were waiting their turn to feed on the corpse of a dead dog: they were patiently observing the pecking order. Meanwhile, the pelicans sat majestically on the rocks, looking for fish to dive for, whilst others visited the fish market for scraps.
There are lots of dogs in the streets here, as elsewhere in South America. They are well-fed, however, from restaurants mostly. Many of them have been collared with luminous collars, so that drivers can see them in the dark. They live a very free and easy life, going where they please, when they please, frequenting places where they know they will get some food, and they seem to be accepted by the local
population everywhere; they are not abused, however, they are susceptible to disease, not having the benefit of vaccinations, as well as road death.
Arica has some fine buildings, mostly military, for example the Marine Headquarters and the Admiralty. Unlike in Bolivia and Peru, however, there is little military presence in the streets. The once glorious railway station is now a museum. After the Spanish left, the railways fell in to disrepair, not just in Chile, but across the continent. For this reason, there is little rail travel in South America. And so, we shall take the bus! Tomorrow we are heading south to Iquique, about 300 kilometres away, a journey of roughly five hours. From Iquique, after a few days there, we plan to fly to Santiago. We are loving the warmth and loving the laid-back atmosphere. So far, Chile is pretty much a “hit”!
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